House of Commons
Monday 16 July 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—
British Citizenship Fees: Children
The Home Office sets fees for border, immigration and nationality services at a level that ensures that they make a substantial contribution to the cost of running the immigration system, thereby reducing the burden on the UK taxpayer. Although the economic impact assessments that are published alongside immigration fees legislation do not separately consider child-registration fees, they show the impact of fee increases on the volume of applications to be minimal.
The Home Office charges more than £1,000 for children—including children who were born here and those who moved in infancy—to register as British citizens. Is this not profiteering at the expense of young people who seek to pledge their future to Britain? Is this not another Windrush scandal in the making, with people not getting the documents now that officials will rely on in future? The Home Secretary knows that he faces a legal challenge on this issue, so will he do the right thing and end these excessive charges now?
I will not speak about the legal case, for obvious reasons, but I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is right that there is a balance between the costs faced by the individuals who make applications and those faced by the taxpayer. It is sensible to keep those costs under review, and it is right that Parliament makes the decision on whether costs are changed.
The hon. Gentleman talks of it as profit, but the revenue generated is used not just to provide public services to those people who make applications but to support wider public services. As I said, it is right that we have a balance between the costs of an application and the costs to which the taxpayer is exposed.
UK Visas and Immigration
The UKVI contact centre has set contractual targets for the commercial partner that delivers contact-centre services on its behalf. The achievement of those targets is monitored daily through the service-management team, to assure achievement. The team holds formal board review meetings monthly to review performance against the set key performance indicators.
It is important to note that service standards are met in the vast majority of cases. If applications are not straightforward, we do not set a service standard, because we think it is right that applications should be considered thoroughly and in detail.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the chorus of complaints from countries such as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, where businessmen who want to come to do trade deals with us—indeed, in some cases Members of Parliament or Government Ministers from those countries—are facing lengthy delays in obtaining visas, and in some cases outright refusal? Will she have another look at the issue? It is doing real damage to our relations with those countries.
UKVI issues 2.7 million visas every single year and, as I said, the vast majority are done within our service standards. I am happy to look into my right hon. Friend’s point, because in a Britain that is outward-looking, global and open for business, it is important that visas are issued efficiently.
The Home Affairs Committee report on Home Office delivery of Brexit found that a lack of experience among staff resulted in life-changing consequences. What is the Department doing to improve the recruitment and retention of staff to make sure that, while targets are met, the quality of decision making is still ensured?
The quality of decision making is of course important. We work closely with our caseworkers to make sure that they have the right level of training. In many instances, we sit senior caseworkers with those who are more junior, until such time as they can be confident in the decisions that they make.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that UKVI has the resources it needs to be effective and efficient?
There is of course a mixture of resources. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the fees that are levied for the UKVI service make a contribution towards the cost of that service and towards the wider border costs in general. It is important that we have the right number of staff and that they work efficiently, and we are taking steps to ensure that that is the case.
Is the Minister aware that delays in responding are one of the biggest problems for the public, for business and for Members of Parliament trying to help their constituents? I have innumerable such cases, including that of Ms Rettie Grace Downer, who submitted an application for further leave in 2005 and whose application is still outstanding 13 years later. Does she recognise the danger of sounding complacent on this issue, and what will she do to further bear down on these unacceptable delays?
Although I cannot comment on individual cases, the right hon. Lady has, of course, pointed to a case that was started in 2005 under a previous Labour Administration. I am sure that she will be pleased to hear—[Interruption.] She can shout at me from a sedentary position, but I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that, at a recent away day for border and immigration staff, I made it very clear that one of my highest priorities is making sure that responses to Members of Parliament and the public are of the highest priority so that we see prompt responses.
The Government are very concerned about the increase in knife crime and the devastating impact that it has on victims, their families and communities. That is why we published a serious violence strategy in April, setting out action to tackle knife crime, including new legislation in the Offensive Weapons Bill, the launch of the £1 million community fund and continuing police action under Operation Sceptre.
I welcome the Offensive Weapons Bill, which will put tough legislation in place and make it harder than ever before for people to get dangerous weapons. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that banning the delivery of bladed articles to residential addresses will not prevent the legal pursuits of tradesmen and hobbyists?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am happy to confirm that the Bill provides defences for a number of items that otherwise would be prohibited, especially those that otherwise would have been delivered to a residential address. This includes bespoke knives and bladed products and those that might be used in re-enactment activities. I can assure him that he will still be allowed to toss the caber in the Highland games.
This Wednesday, the Youth Violence Commission will publish its interim policy report. Last year, knife crime increased by 22% and, in London, we have had another tragic spate of stabbings over the weekend. We must urgently seek long-term solutions. Will the Secretary of State commit to engaging with the recommendations of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission?
First, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. I can assure her that we are doing everything we can working not just across parties, but with a number of groups that have a lot to contribute. We have already made a commitment to work with the all-party parliamentary group. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), is doing just that, and we are very happy to listen to its suggestions.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, often in restraining suspects with knives, service animals such as police dogs are injured. It is very welcome that the Government are supporting my private Member’s Bill, the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, but does he agree that the recent consultation by the Secretary of State for the Environment is also an important step forward in trying to increase the sentence so that this sort of knife crime is really put down?
I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I would like to see an increase in sentencing for those who engage in terrible cruelty to animals. May I also take this opportunity to thank him for his Bill and say that we are very happy to support it?
I am sure that the Home Secretary does not want to trivialise this issue, but the fact of the matter is that the real concern—the deep roots of this issue—is very often the emergence of gangs in all of our towns and cities and in our schools. What will we do to combat not just knife crime, but the gangs that seem to promote it?
Again, this is an important issue in this debate. There is a lot more that we can do both in Government and in working with other organisations, including community organisations, especially in terms of early intervention and prevention. The funding that was allocated, such as the £11 million on early intervention and youth grants, will make a difference as will the new national centre to co-ordinate action based on county lines.
I wonder whether the Home Secretary has decided to accept the suggested amendments that I made on Second Reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill, not least the one where, currently, the offence of threatening somebody with a knife applies only to public places. Does he agree that the offence of threatening with a knife should apply to everywhere it is done, including in private places as well?
The law governing what type of knife people can buy across the counter in Scotland is different from the law in England, yet a knife can kill regardless of whether it is English or Scottish. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Scottish Government with a view to bringing these laws more into line?
Knife crime is often associated with county lines. I asked the Security Minister at a recent Home Office questions how the national county lines co-ordination centre was to be funded and was told that it would be through the police transformation fund. I then received a letter saying that
“it does not come from the Police Transformation Fund…and I apologise if this is the impression given.”
But the same letter says that
“projects and programmes funded through the PTF will support the strategy’s aims.”
So how are the Government funding their anti-county lines programme? Is it all from new resources or not?
First, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of dealing with the whole issue of county lines and welcomes the new co-ordination centre. It will be funded through the commitment of £40 million into the serious violence strategy, and the centre’s funding specifically will be £3.6 million over the next two years.
Immigration: Skilled Workers
The Government are committed to an immigration system that operates in the national interest and ensures that businesses can attract the talented migrants that they need. From 6 July, we removed all doctors’ and nurses’ posts from the yearly cap of 20,700 places, ensuring that the NHS is able to recruit the clinical staff that it needs.
The hot weather means that apples and pears may be ready to harvest early this year, as was the case last year when growers in my constituency struggled to harvest their crops. Will my right hon. Friend update me on the prospects for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to ensure that farmers have the workforce that they need to harvest British fruit and vegetables?
I am very sympathetic to the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. As we design our future immigration system, I want to ensure that it takes into account the seasonal demand for labour not only in agriculture, but also perhaps in hospitality. That is why we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to look at this issue. We will see what we can do when the committee reports back.
I know that my hon. Friend will agree that it is fantastic that we will now have an opportunity—for the first time in decades—to design our own immigration system. We should take that seriously, as we are. It will be led by the White Paper, which will come out soon after the summer recess, and an immigration Bill that will make all the changes that are recommended and debated in Parliament.
I am glad that doctors and nurses have been excluded from the cap on skilled workers, which will free up many additional places for other highly-skilled occupations. Will my right hon. Friend give an assessment of how these regulations have worked since they have come into force?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the changes and for his support. It is a bit too early to give an assessment, since the changes only came into play on 6 July. Like my hon. Friend, I am confident that they will not only help to provide some of the high skills that our economy needs, but will actually go on to create jobs.
Ministry of Justice figures show that half of immigration cases that go to appeal in England and Wales are overturned. Does the Secretary of State agree that the situation needs urgent attention and that those flaws need to be addressed before the European citizens who are in the UK have to apply for settled status?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we get tens of thousands of applications each year. Unfortunately, in many cases not all the information that is asked for is provided in the first instance. Officials will chase that up, and they will do so in a way that is as helpful as possible. If people want their application to be looked at in a timely manner, it is always helpful if all information is provided up front.
We have had numerous debates and countless questions on this issue. Is it not about time that the Home Office got together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and sorted this problem out? It is estimated that last year we ploughed back into the ground about 10% of our fruit and vegetables: what is it going to be this year?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Home Office works very closely with DEFRA, as with other Departments, on issues affecting migration. With regard to making sure that we have the talent and skills we need for our agricultural sector, working with DEFRA is exactly what we are doing.
Scotland needs more than those termed “skilled” under the immigration rules. The continued availability of workers from other EU countries is vital to employers across the Scottish economy. Is not the comprehensive economic and trade agreement-style mobility framework suggested in last week’s White Paper a recipe for disaster for employers other than London-based multinationals?
Maintaining and increasing Scotland’s working-age population is vital for Scotland’s continued economic prosperity. Last week’s White Paper says that the UK Government will design a mobility framework that works for all parts of the United Kingdom. When is the Home Secretary going to meet his Scottish Government counterparts and engage in how the future immigration policy will impact on Scotland?
I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady agrees that we want an immigration system that serves the national interest—that brings immigration down to sustainable levels but also gives the skills that we need for the entire UK, of course including Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister is planning to visit Scotland this summer to meet Ministers.
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a very important point. While we are working on the basis that we will not need it as early as 30 March, he is absolutely right to point out that we should be prepared for all eventualities, and that is exactly what we are doing.
It is extremely important that every firefighter receives the right level of training for the very demanding work that they do. The new national framework makes a requirement for every single fire service to have a strategy, as all 45 do, and now independent inspection will help us to get a better view of what good looks like and where training is not good enough.
Across Greater Manchester in the past year we have seen a 31% increase in the number of special service calls to our fire service, including many calls to reports of cardiac arrests. This is placing an enormous strain on our talented and dedicated firefighters. What will the Government be doing to resource fire services to provide the support and training needed to cope with this additional pressure?
With respect to the hon. Lady, I do not think it is an issue of resources, because fire budgets have been held flat in cash terms despite a backdrop of a 50% fall in fires over the past decade. The fire system has found the flexibility in its budgets to move over a quarter of a billion pounds-worth of taxpayers’ money into research. However, it is absolutely important in this next phase that we have a better understanding of how consistent good training is across the system.
Firefighter staffing in Northamptonshire will soon be the responsibility of the new combined police and fire commissioner. Will the Minister work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that Northamptonshire County Council, which currently governs the fire service, hands over to the commissioner the correct financial resources to get the new organisation off to a good start?
Firefighter Michael Dowden told the Grenfell inquiry that he had not received any familiarisation training before his inspection of Grenfell Tower in 2016. With cuts to 11,000 fire service jobs, station closures and privatisation of training delivery, our overstretched fire services—despite the Minister’s usual comments about resources—are struggling to complete the training they need. With all this in mind, what specific measures is he taking to ensure that fire services have the capacity to deliver the training that our firefighters need to keep both themselves and our communities safe?
Immigration and Nationality: Fees
The Home Office reviews all immigration and nationality fees annually, with any changes normally implemented in April each year. We currently have no agreed plans to change fee levels, but the process for considering whether any changes are necessary commences in the summer and parliamentary approval has to be gained before any changes are made.
The Minister will be aware that immigration fees for limited leave to remain have increased by 79% in four years to £1,033 per person, with no reduction for children. Does she appreciate that the cost can be crippling for families with a number of children going through that process, and will she at the very least look at reducing fees for children so that they cover processing alone?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am of course alive to the points made at recent Home Affairs Committee meetings and in the recent Lords debate on child citizenship fees. In due course, I will also consider the findings of the scheduled review by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will of course have heard me say that fees are reviewed annually, and we will continue with that policy. He is right, however, to point out that we will still seek to attract the brightest and best, and our future immigration Bill will set out exactly how we intend to do that.
Does the Minister agree with Mark Thomson, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration, who said at a recent MPs’ casework meeting that those who pay for premium services but do not get their visas on the same day should have their fees returned to them?
I was not present at that meeting, so I cannot comment on that specific case, but I am very conscious that Her Majesty’s Passport Office and UKVI work very hard to ensure that we deliver within service standards. Where fees are looked at and there is a genuine case for a refund, we do make refunds.
The Home Affairs Committee’s recent report on the Windrush scandal shows that the whole immigration and nationality application service is hugely complicated, very bureaucratic and needs completely overhauling and streamlining, and that fees bear no relationship to the service’s efficiency or cost. Will the Minister guarantee that the additional costs of sorting out the Windrush scandal will not be used as an excuse, under full cost recovery, to jack up fees yet further?
Of course, the lessons learned review that is commencing into Windrush will be an important opportunity for us to review all practices across UKVI and ensure that such an appalling scandal cannot happen again. My hon. Friend will have heard comments about reviews of fees, which happen annually, but I point out that we passed primary legislation in 2014 that allows the Home Office to charge fees that not only recover the cost of individual applications but contribute to the whole borders and immigration system, thus helping to secure our borders and ensure that we are safe.
Immigration Detention: Children
The welfare and safeguarding of children is at the heart of the family returns process, and our policy is clear that we do all we can to keep families together. Other than in exceptional circumstances, a child will not be separated from both parents for immigration purposes. Detention is used sparingly, for the purposes of public protection and removal. We encourage those with no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and all detainees have the right to bail, which is decided by a judge.
Despite compelling evidence of the harm caused to children by the indefinite detention of their parents, the Home Office continues to separate them in an arbitrary and cruel manner, but its replies to my questions show that it has no idea how many children are currently separated. The Department paid £50,000 in compensation after a three-year-old girl was unlawfully separated from her father, who was placed in immigration detention. She was reunited with him just days before she was due to be placed for adoption. What is the Minister doing to get a grip on the situation, stop this unlawful practice, tell us how many children are affected and reunite them with their families?
In the case raised by the hon. Lady, the Home Office acknowledged its mistakes and indeed paid compensation. It is worth remembering that more than 1,000 children went into detention in 2009, whereas only 44 did so in the last year for which figures are available. The Home Office has taken significant steps to ensure that children are not detained with their parents, and they can be in an immigration removal centre only when they can be removed within 72 hours.
This year, Bail for Immigration Detainees has represented 155 parents separated from their children while in immigration detention, yet the Prime Minister states that that is not the Government’s practice. Can the Minister condemn the practice and finally stop it?
There is clear and published guidance on how a family unit may be defined, and on the separation of individuals from their family group for immigration reasons. Cases may involve pre-existing separation of family units for non-immigration reasons. For instance, in the case of foreign criminals, children might already have been taken into care when the individual received a custodial sentence.
The Prime Minister has condemned Trump’s family separation policy, but this Government’s hostile environment separates parents from their children every day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) pointed out, last week the Home Office was forced to pay £40,000 in damages for falsely imprisoning a father, unlawfully separating him from his daughter for three months. The Home Office failed at every stage of the process. The Home Secretary has said that he will pause the hostile environment, but immigration detention is a key part of it. Will the Government look again at indefinite detention, and at the use of detention more widely, and publish the Shaw review in good time for us to examine it before the summer recess?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that some cases might involve pre-existing separation. As I have highlighted, back in 2009 there were more than 1,000 children in detention, and that number has now been reduced to 44. The Home Office has acknowledged the mistakes that were made in the case he mentioned, but it is important to reflect on the role that detention plays in ensuring that those who have no right to be here and no right to our public services are removed in a timely manner.
Police Officer Numbers
In April, we published our serious violence strategy, which sets out a range of factors driving increases in violent crime. Our analysis shows that changes in the drugs market are a major factor behind the recent increases in serious violence.
South Yorkshire police have seen their budget reduce by £66 million in real terms since 2010, and they expect more to come. In Sheffield, knife crime has increased by 41% over the past year. Does the Minister agree that reducing police numbers has a direct effect on this staggering upward trend in violent crime, which has led to many tragic deaths and left many families grieving?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She will know that the South Yorkshire constabulary is receiving an extra £5 million this year and that the Government have protected police funding since 2015. Indeed, police constabularies across the country will see up to £460 million more in funding with the help of police and crime commissioners. Serious violence has to be tackled as part of a national strategy, which is exactly what we have set out.
Bedfordshire police are under unprecedented pressure: violent crime is up; they face the third largest terrorist threat in the country; and they have had to support the visit of President Trump and deal with an increase in mental health cases. Can the Secretary of State explain how the police can keep the people of Bedford safe when they do not have the resources to attend 999 calls?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would agree with me that the way in which Bedfordshire is kept safe is through the excellent work of its police officers and its Conservative police and crime commissioner, who has managed to increase officer numbers in her constabulary by 6.5% over the past year.
Has the Minister read the evidence produced by the Home Office for the serious violence strategy, which shows that it is highly likely that police cuts have contributed to the rise in violent crime? If she has not, will she publish it?
This rather demonstrates the difference between this Government and the right hon. Gentleman’s party. We are concerned with answering the question that the public ask us: how can we make our country safer? We have taken a cold, hard look at the rise in serious violence, and we have drawn together, from a range of parties, including the police, healthcare providers, schools and so on, the serious violence strategy, and it is through that strategy, with the help of those providers, that we will tackle this issue.
Today, the Daily Mail published the results of an exclusive survey, which showed that 57% of people say that police officers have surrendered control of our neighbourhoods and criminals have no fear of being caught; a quarter of people do not feel safe going out at night; and more than half of respondents who reported a crime did not have a police officer attend. Does the Minister accept any responsibility for those figures, or does the Home Office still labour under the dangerous delusion that its cuts have not affected community safety?
I gently remind the hon. Lady that the Government have provided £460 million in additional funding for the police this year, which I understand she voted against. Again, we have to look at this as a strategy. The problem cannot be solved by police officers alone, vital though they are. Early intervention and tackling young people before they get dragged into criminality are key, and I hope that the Labour party will support the Offensive Weapons Bill, which gives the police the powers they need.
Air Weapons Review
Our review of air weapons regulations received about 50,000 representations. We are just finalising our consideration of those and my intention is to publish our conclusions as soon as possible after the summer recess.
The hallmark of this Question Time is delay. The review was announced in response to my Adjournment debate last October, following the shooting of 18-month-old Harry Studley in my constituency. The family submitted a response on 5 February, which was acknowledged on 22 February. Already, almost five months have passed and they have had nothing in return. Such a delay is insensitive and unacceptable to victims of such crimes. What assurance can the Minister give the Studley family that, over the next few months, they will be treated with more respect by the review?
I assure the hon. Lady that it is not a question of respect. I know how strongly she feels about the matter, not least on behalf of the Studley family. She knows that the review was in response to a recommendation by the coroner in another case. She also knows that the issue divides opinion and that many people have strong views about it. I hope that she agrees that the most important thing is to get this raised. Once we have finalised what we are going to do, I will be happy to sit down with her and discuss it.
The targets for those who use air weapons are not only people. Last year, the RSPCA had 900 calls about attacks on animals. Is the Minister considering increasing the penalties for people who are caught and convicted of that heinous crime?
I assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking at all our options on a spectrum. We have a set of regulations on the use of airguns, but we are considering how we can strengthen them in a proportionate way that gives greater protection particularly to children and, to answer my right hon. Friend’s point, animals, which are often the victims of those guns.
British Passport Fraud
The Home Office shares reports of the loss or theft of UK passports via Interpol to prevent the illegal crossing of borders. We also work closely with partners here and overseas to share information and intelligence on that threat and the websites that purport to sell false and genuine documents for criminal purposes.
There have been some very worrying reports in the past month that British passports have been stolen and sold for large sums of money in countries around Europe. How many passports have been stolen and subsequently suspended in the past year? Does the Minister agree that it is crucial to co-operate through Europol as well as Interpol to ensure that those stolen identity documents are not used?
In 2017, less than 1% of passports were reported stolen, but to tackle the threat and the abuse of stolen passports overseas, we have based immigration enforcement officials at international locations—embassies, high commissions and key transit points—to work not only with law enforcement to try to catch the people committing the fraud, but with airlines and border points so that they can spot what a false passport looks like.
The Home Office has confirmed that it takes on average 73 days for people to report lost and stolen passports and that many countries do not regularly use Interpol’s stolen and lost travel documents database to check lost and stolen passports. What are the Government doing to encourage the true utilisation of both methods to stop the illegal trade of those documents?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is why in 2014 the Passport Office introduced an online tool for reporting. Since then, the number of passports lost has increased annually by 33%, so it is much easier to ensure they are reported and then picked up when being used.
Immigration Refusal and Deportation
There is no set time, as each case progresses on its own merits. Wherever possible, we afford people the opportunity to arrange a voluntary return to their country of origin. If someone does not comply with our directions to leave the UK, we will pursue an enforced removal. Again, timescales will depend on individual circumstances.
My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right to point out how important it is that we distinguish between people who settle here legally and those who are here illegally. It is vital that the compliant environment protects vulnerable people and that appropriate safeguards are built into the measures. We remain committed to tackling illegal immigration and to encouraging compliance with our rules and laws.
This weekend, we learned of an Ethiopian asylum seeker who was removed even before his application had been decided, requiring a court to order his return here. How did that happen, and is it not now time to hand asylum decisions over to an independent body?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong in the final part of his question. It is important that UK Visas and Immigration continues to work to establish people’s right to be here on a fair and humane basis. The Home Office is absolutely committed to making sure that we consider each case on its own merits.
I am committed to establishing a compensation scheme as quickly and as carefully as possible to help address what has gone wrong. The design of the scheme is naturally complex. I am therefore determined that we get it right and that we properly listen to those affected before taking final decisions on the design.
The Windrush scandal and the Government’s wider hostile environment policy have created an urgent need for independent advice for Windrush citizens seeking to confirm their status and access compensation. As there is no trust in the Home Office, the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency has for several months been running legal advice clinics for Windrush citizens, staffed by volunteer lawyers. They have seen hundreds of people and there remains unmet need. This essential work should not fall to volunteers. Does the Home Secretary recognise the need for independent advice from trusted organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives, and will he provide funding to enable independent advice to be available to everyone who needs it?
When I became Home Secretary, I said it was my first priority to help those affected by the Windrush situation. That is why one of the first things we did was properly staff the taskforce, and over 100 officials now work on it, ensuring that people are listened to and that applications are processed quickly. More than 2,000 applications have already been processed, most of them in a single day. Last week, we announced that some 584 applications for citizenship have been granted. I think we are dealing with this appropriately. I am always happy to listen to fresh ideas, but I think this is being taken very seriously by the Government.
A couple of months ago, I raised the issue of Raj Unalkat who was thrown out of Uganda and came to live in Taunton Deane for 40 years. As with the Windrush cases, he was welcomed to the UK but then told that he was going to be thrown out because he had no passport. Great news: today we have heard that he has got his passport. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking everyone who helped and in praising our fast-track system, which is absolutely working? Will he work with me to try to get compensation for the work days Raj has missed?
I happily join my hon. Friend in welcoming that outcome. Of course mistakes are sometimes made in an organisation as big as the Home Office, with tens of thousands of applications to deal with each year, but it is appropriate that when mistakes are made they are corrected.
The Home Secretary’s letter to the Select Committee on hardship issues appears to suggest that members of the Windrush generation have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements to get financial help before the full compensation scheme comes in. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If so, how many people have been asked to do so? Does he agree that it would be shocking if people who have been wronged by the Home Office are now being gagged by the Home Office to get the hardship support they need?
Let me be very clear that we are in the process of designing a compensation scheme. There has already been a call for evidence, and I will shortly be launching a consultation. Its design is going to be overseen independently by Martin Forde QC, and there will be no question with respect to the compensation scheme—no one will be asked to sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement or anything like that.
Asset Recovery Regime
We have recovered £1.6 billion under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 since 2010 and frozen many hundreds of millions more. The Government are also implementing the recommendations made in the Public Accounts Committee report of 2016. Our asset recovery action plan, to be published shortly, sets out how we will strengthen the regime by making the best use of new and existing powers, improving operational systems and ensuring that efforts are targeted effectively.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Lincolnshire police have been working hard to reduce hare coursing. The removal of dogs has been the most effective deterrent, but kennelling costs are now running to tens of thousands of pounds for Lincolnshire police. Will he look at what can be done to ensure that these costs, too, can be recovered from the criminal, rather than being borne by the taxpayer?
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, police and prosecutors have the power to recover either profit or money accrued by those criminals from those processes. When they take that money, under ARIS—the asset recovery incentivisation scheme—50% of it or more will be released back to law enforcement prosecutors so that they can invest.
UK Visas and Immigration: Religious Literacy
The UK Government value the role of faith in public life in the UK, and protecting religious freedom abroad is important, including in achieving the UK’s vision of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom with its overseas partners. Within UK Visas and Immigration asylum casework, we continue to engage a range of faith groups to improve our policy guidance and training provided to decision makers, so that we approach claims involving religious persecution and conversion to a particular faith in the appropriate way.
Will the Minister set up a specialised unit in the Home Office so that we can have some religious literacy on this matter? Nuns and priests seeking to come from Iraq have been asked why they do not have a bank account, with officials seemingly unaware that they have made vows of poverty. A sister from Qaraqosh in Iraq is a perfect example: seeking to visit her sick sister, she was asked why she had not visited her since 2011. Officials were seemingly unaware that ISIS had forced her to flee from her convent and to flee for her life. Please may we have more religious literacy from our officials?
When it comes to visitor visas, it is of course important that each case is decided on its own merits, but my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am very happy to work with him, so that there can be better training for visa caseworkers so that they understand the specific points he makes about those from religious communities who may have taken a particular vow of poverty.
The Minister was here for Prayers, so I am sure she will be able to answer the question asked of one of my constituents, whom the Home Office initially wanted to send back to a country where he was persecuted: how many books are there in the Old Testament?
On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Police Bravery Awards. The top award of the night went to PC Keith Palmer who was fatally stabbed outside Parliament and to PC Charlie Guenigault who ran towards three terrorists who attacked the public at London Bridge. The awards were a reminder of the courage and dedication of our emergency services, which we have also seen most recently in Salisbury and Amesbury. Across the UK, police acts of bravery, both big and small, take place every single day. I am sure that the House will want to join me in taking this opportunity to say thank you to our police officers for their extraordinary bravery, hard work and sacrifice.
I join the Home Secretary in those tributes. I asked the Immigration Minister in the House last week to offer students whose visas were cancelled for allegedly cheating in TOEIC—test of english for international communication—English tests a new secure test to see whether they can resume their studies. Her reply was:
“It is, of course, an issue that we are considering very carefully.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 1121.]
Will she indicate to the House when she expects to reach a decision?
My hon. Friend asks an important question. We have set up the joint fraud taskforce, bringing trading standards and the private sector, including banks, on board, along with law enforcement agencies, to make sure we work together. For example, it has produced a banking protocol under which banks train till staff to spot vulnerable people being exploited. So far, that work has prevented £21 million from being taken out of bank accounts and led to 180 arrests.
Five months after the interim guidance on discretionary leave for victims of modern slavery, published in response to the PK (Ghana) judgment, too many victims are still being left in limbo. Do we know how many victims have received temporary status or even know their status? When will the Government update their guidance and end this human Russian roulette?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government are looking to review and reform the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is world leading, to ensure that its practices stay in track with the criminal gangs that support modern slavery. She will also know that we have announced substantial reforms to the national referral mechanism that I hope will address the points she has raised.
It has made significant preparations. We are looking at issues around security, borders and people. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to ask all Departments to step up preparations. It is the prudent thing to do—that is why we are doing it. We want to prepare for all outcomes. It is very important that we send a strong message to the European Union that, while we want a deal, we will not accept a bad deal.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when detention is being considered every case must now go through a single detention gatekeeper, but I will undertake to look very closely at the case he raises. Our adults at risk policy, which Stephen Shaw recently reviewed, will be part of the response that the Home Secretary will bring forward before the recess.
The common travel area was in existence long before the EU and all parties have agreed and signed up to continue those historical arrangements. In Northern Ireland, for example, we have always done checks in respect of immigration, customs and duty and, of course, simple criminal movement of individuals. That has always gone on and will always do so.
I was very pleased to meet elected representatives and officials from Newcastle City Council last week, when we discussed dispersed asylum accommodation. The Home Office has worked closely with our providers to improve property standards over the lifetime of the current asylum accommodation contracts and ensure that they continue to provide accommodation that is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and adequately equipped. We will thoroughly investigate any reports of poor property standards.
My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations, and I know how strongly he feels about the adequacy of policing in his constituency. He will be aware that a further £3 million has gone into Bedfordshire’s policing this year, so there is a conversation to be had about resources, but we need to ensure that the 2019-20 funding settlement and the next comprehensive spending review provide for our police forces—including Bedfordshire’s—to be properly resourced.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. The Home Office is not undermining good maritime jobs; it is working with all partners to ensure that as we leave the EU there are appropriate employment opportunities, which will be set out in the forthcoming immigration White Paper.
I know that, in seeking to tackle terrorism, the Home Secretary will always ensure that the security services have the resources and powers that they need, but will he reassure me on one point? Does he agree that, in ensuring that there are no safe spaces for those who wish to do us harm, we should consider tackling the incitement of terrorism in private as well as public settings?
Tomorrow, my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) will lead a debate in Westminster Hall on labour shortages in the inshore fishing industry. Will my right hon. Friend consider reintroducing a concession in the current visa rules that would allow non-EEA fishermen to come to this country to work within the 12-mile limit and support the regeneration of our inshore fishing fleets?
Not only will there be that debate tomorrow, but there was an Adjournment debate on the subject last week. I said then, and I repeat now, that we will work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee, whose report is due in September, to understand the specific needs of the fishing industry. I have also offered to meet representatives in Scotland this summer.
Simon Chesterman of the National Police Chiefs Council has suggested that police officers in rural communities could be routinely armed to avoid the provision of funds for specialist armed response units. Will the Minister provide the funds that those units need, rather than eroding public trust by arming police officers?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the model of British policing has non-armed officers at its core, but where an operational need arises specialist armed officers should be available to be deployed. He will also know that we are investing £144 million of taxpayers’ money to upgrade that capability.
Emergency services around the UK know how brave and expert our cave rescue services are in the way they support emergency services in this country. Does the Home Secretary share my admiration for two of my constituents who were involved in the Thai cave rescue, along with the other two British rescuers, who did such brilliant work to bring those 12 boys and their coach out alive last week?
Last week, a much loved grandmother, Riasat Bi, was murdered in her own home during a knife fight; she was 86. West Midlands police are doing everything they can to respond to the growing spiral of violence in east Birmingham, but they need help. The force is at its smallest size since 1974: it needs new investment and we need new investment in youth services. Will the Home Secretary listen to our experience in east Birmingham as he prepares his bid for the Budget later this year?
The right hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important issue, and it reminds the whole House how much more needs to be done to fight the rise in serious violence that we are seeing. Our serious violence strategy is dealing with much of that; it will take time as the issues are complex, but it is right that we work more closely with West Midlands police to see what more we can do.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the NATO summit in Brussels last week.
Transatlantic unity has been fundamental to the protection and projection of our interests and values for generations. At a time when we are facing dangerous and unpredictable threats—from state and non-state actors and from the use of chemical weapons, terrorism and cyber-attack—NATO remains as vital to our collective security as it has ever been. So the focus of this summit was on strengthening the alliance, including through greater burden sharing, stepping up our collective efforts to meet the threats of today and enhancing NATO’s capability to meet the threats of tomorrow. The UK played an important role in securing progress on all three.
The UK is proud to have the second largest defence budget in NATO after the United States and the largest in Europe. We are increasing our defence spending in every year of this Parliament. We are meeting our NATO commitments to spend 2% of our GDP on defence, and 20% of that on equipment. We are investing heavily in modernising our armed forces, with plans to spend £180 billion on equipment and support over the next 10 years. This morning, I announced the publication of the UK’s combat air strategy, confirming our commitment to maintaining our world-class air power capabilities. This is backed by our future combat air system technology initiative, which will deliver over £2 billion of investment over 10 years and lay the groundwork for the Typhoon successor programme. We are deploying the full spectrum of our capabilities in support of the NATO alliance.
In the week in which we marked the centenary of our extraordinary Royal Air Force, I was proud to be able to announce at the summit the additional deployment of UK fighter jets to NATO air policing missions. We are also leading standing NATO maritime groups, contributing our nuclear deterrent to the security of Europe as a whole and continuing our commitment to NATO missions, including in Estonia where we lead NATO’s enhanced forward presence. But as the UK plays this leading role in the security of the whole continent, it is right that we work to even burden sharing across the alliance and that other allies step up and contribute more to our shared defence.
The summit included an additional session in response to the challenge posed by President Trump on exactly this point. Non-US allies are already doing more, with their spending increasing by $41 billion in 2017 alone, and by a total of $87 billion since the Wales defence investment pledge was adopted in 2014. These are the largest increases in non-US spending in a quarter of a century. Over the decade to 2024, we are expecting that spending to have increased by hundreds of billions, but NATO allies must go further in increasing their defence spending and capability. During the summit, leaders agreed that all were committed to fairer burden sharing and that they had a shared sense of urgency to do more. That is in all our interests.
Turning to specific threats, there was an extensive discussion on Russia. The appalling use of a nerve agent in Salisbury is another example of Russia’s growing disregard for the global norms and laws that keep us all safe and a further example of a well-established pattern of behaviour to undermine western democracies and damage our interests around the world. In recent years, we have seen Russia stepping up its arms sales to Iran, shielding the Syrian regime’s barbaric use of chemical weapons, launching cyber-attacks that have caused economic damage and spreading malicious and fake news stories on an industrial scale.
Our long-term objective remains a constructive relationship with Russia, so it is right that we keep engaging, both as individual nations and as a NATO alliance. I welcome the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki today, but as I agreed with President Trump in our discussions last week, we must engage from a position of unity and strength. This means being clear and unwavering about where Russia needs to change its behaviour, and for as long as Russia persists in its efforts to undermine our interests and values, we must continue to deter and counter them. That is exactly what we will do. In that context, in a separate discussion during the summit, the alliance also reaffirmed our unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine. We continue to support both Georgia and Ukraine in their aspirations for full membership of the alliance. The alliance also extended an invitation to the Government of Skopje to start accession talks following their historic agreement with Athens. This builds further on the progress made earlier in the week in London at the western Balkans summit, which took important steps to strengthen the stability and prosperity of the region.
For part of the summit, we were joined by President Ghani, who provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan. There are encouraging signs of progress towards a peace process, and allies were united in our strong support for his efforts, but the security situation remains challenging and is compounded further by Daesh fighters who have fled out of Iraq and Syria. So, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced to the House last Wednesday, at this summit we increased our support for NATO’s mission Resolute Support with a further uplift of 440 UK troops for the UK-led Kabul security force. This will take our total troop commitment in Afghanistan to around 1,100.
Together with all allies, we also committed additional financial support for the sustainment of the Afghan national defence and security forces until 2024. As I discussed with President Trump at the summit, our commitment to Afghanistan began as NATO’s only use of article 5, acting in support of the United States following the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. Our uplift will also enable the release of US personnel to conduct increased mentoring and counter-terrorism activity across Afghanistan. The summit also agreed to extend defence capacity building to Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq, and the UK’s contribution will play a vital role, particularly in increasing our support to the Iraqi Government in strengthening their security institutions and promoting stability for the longer term.
Facing today’s challenges is not enough. In the UK, our modernising defence programme will ensure that our capabilities remain as potent in meeting the threats of tomorrow as they are in keeping us safe today. NATO too must adapt to meet these challenges. This means delivering the reforms agreed at the Wales and Warsaw summits politically, militarily and institutionally. At this summit, allies agreed a stronger NATO command structure, including two new headquarters, and the UK is committing more than 100 new posts to that structure, taking our commitment to more than 1,000 UK service personnel. We also agreed to improve the readiness of our forces through NATO’s readiness initiative known as the “Four Thirties”. This is a commitment to have, by 2020, 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, all ready to use within 30 days. The UK will play its full part in delivering this.
We also agreed further work to help to counter cyber and hybrid threats by enhancing the capabilities of the alliance to respond quickly and effectively to these new challenges. This includes a new cyber-operations centre and new support teams that will be able to assist allies who want help, either in preparing to respond, or responding, to an attack. Again the UK is at the forefront of these efforts. For example, we were the first country to offer our national offensive cyber-capabilities to the alliance, and we have also committed to host the NATO cyber-defence pledge conference in 2019.
As I have said many times, the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. That is why I have proposed a bold new security partnership between the UK and the EU for after we leave. But in a world where the threats to Europe’s security often emanate from beyond its borders and where we face an array of profound challenges to the entire rules-based international order, the strength and endurance of our transatlantic alliance is vital in protecting our shared security and projecting our shared values. That is why a strong, united and modern NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, and why our commitment to it is ironclad. As we have done across generations, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our closest allies to defend the rules-based order and the liberal values of democracy, human rights and justice that define our way of life. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement.
At the heart of any military alliance is the aim that rogue players cannot derail established Governments. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has reflected on that as she deals with the present threat from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg).
Protecting the British people will always be our first priority. From climate change chaos, cyber-attacks and acts of terrorism to perpetual conflicts in the most fragile parts of the word, it is the Government’s duty to ensure that their approach addresses the drivers of those security challenges. As one of the richest countries in the world and a member of NATO and of the UN Security Council, we have a real responsibility to ensure that our policy provides real security for our country and does not fuel insecurity beyond our borders. Last week’s NATO summit was an opportunity for the alliance to reset its approach to some of those challenges.
Once again, however, another global gathering has been dominated by the erratic statements of President Trump. Did the US President ask the Prime Minister and other NATO leaders to double defence spending to 4%? Did the President outline how threats to our security had doubled over the course of the past week? Are the Government seriously considering that increase? In 2014, NATO countries agreed to meet the 2% target by 2024. Does that remain the case? Labour is committed to spend the agreed target of 2%. Furthermore, does she agree with President Trump that Germany is “a captive of Russia”? Under no circumstances can our policies be outsourced to the whims of Washington. Of course, we all await the outcome of the Helsinki meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin. Will the Prime Minister condemn President Trump’s intervention on his preferred choice as her successor as Prime Minister of this country?
NATO states that seek to destabilise and undermine democracy and national independence, whoever they are—including, but not only Russia—must be held fully accountable under international law and collective engagement. In addition, the use of chemical weapons as a form of war, whether on the streets of Salisbury or in the cities of Syria, is deplorable and must not be tolerated. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg was right to say recently that NATO’s dialogue with Russia is not easy and that the more difficult Russia is, the more we need dialogue. However, democratic regression among NATO Governments makes that approach more difficult.
NATO prides itself as being the guarantor of freedom and security in the world, so it must be held to a higher standard. The rise in authoritarianism and the suppression of basic human rights in many countries should be of great concern. The Brussels declaration highlighted how arms control
“should continue to make an essential contribution to achieving the Alliance’s security objectives”,
so what steps is the Prime Minister taking to drive forward the effort on that? Does she agree that UK arms sales to countries with poor human rights records undermines their citizens’ freedom and security, and will she therefore finally suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia while bombs rain down on the people of Yemen?
On Europe, it is vital that Parliament fully understands what the Government are proposing for their future defence partnership with the EU after Brexit. However, on yet another fundamental issue, the Government’s White Paper is lacking. There is no substance on UK-EU co-operation over diplomatic collaboration, intelligence sharing, or defence and security policy. While the aspiration to strengthen ties with the EU and NATO on issues of cyber-security is welcome, the White Paper offers little clarity on how that might be delivered. Does the Prime Minister accept that her chaotic approach to the Brexit negotiations risks future security and defence co-operation with the European Union?
The “bomb first, talk later” approach to security has clearly failed, leaving a trail of destruction abroad and leaving us less safe at home. NATO talks of wanting to work more closely with the United Nations, but that means treating the United Nations with respect and ending double standards. In Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, this Government are the responsible penholder on the UN Security Council, yet they have failed to deliver long-term political settlements. Hopefully, the new Foreign Secretary can succeed where his predecessor failed, or did not make sufficient effort to succeed.
The Government have deployed additional troops in Afghanistan to support the Government in Kabul. Can the Prime Minister be clear that those troops are there in a training capacity only and that there will be no mission creep?
Our security is collective—it cannot be achieved at the expense of others. Aggressive military intervention, destabilising democratic institutions, tearing up hard-won international agreements and disregarding human rights and international law are a new threat. Governments on that track must change course.
Labour in government will deepen our commitment to UN peacekeeping and will work with allies who strive for peace, diplomacy and real security for all people. That is how we will deliver real security in a changing world.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. He talks about President Trump’s intervention at the NATO summit, and President Trump has made a difference. We share the President’s view that we want to see allies all stepping up to meet the commitment they gave at the summit here in Wales in 2014 to spend 2% of their GDP on defence and to spend 20% of that on equipment. That is something we meet, as do a limited number of other NATO members, obviously including the United States of America.
President Trump’s making this point about burden sharing has made a difference. As I said in my statement, in just the last year we have seen an extra $41 billion added to defence budgets across the NATO allies. There was a real sense at this summit, following the discussion that he initiated, that we will see not just people stepping up to meet their 2% target, but an increased urgency in doing so.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about Germany and its relationship with Russia. Can I just say to him that Germany was one of the many countries in Europe and across the rest of the world that stood shoulder to shoulder with the United Kingdom after the attack in Salisbury? Germany did expel Russian intelligence officers and took a very firm view in relation to Russia.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about arms exports. Of course, as he knows, we have one of the strongest arms export regimes in the world, and all decisions are taken very carefully against that background. He talks about our future relationship with the European Union. We will have a fully independent defence and foreign policy, but we will work with our European Union allies where it is right to do so, just as we will continue to work within NATO.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about how we ensure that we have security around the world. Well, NATO has been the backbone of Europe’s security for the years in which it has been in place. We continue to support NATO, and it sounds as if he has changed his mind about NATO, because it was not that long ago that he said about NATO, “I’d rather we weren’t in it,” and, “Why don’t we turn it around and close down NATO?” Well, we are not going to close down NATO. The United Kingdom will continue to contribute to NATO as the backbone of European security and wider security around the world.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on what I think was for her a successful NATO summit. May I return her to the point of the Germans and the issue of energy? Exactly what discussions and conversations have taken place with the Germans concerning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline? If Germany insists on going ahead unilaterally with this pipeline, it will have the strategic effect of diminishing the likelihood of Ukraine and others being able to support themselves.
My right hon. Friend has, of course, raised an important issue. This subject has been discussed on a number of occasions around the European Council table and it will continue to be discussed around that table. Obviously, we recognise the concerns that have been raised in relation to Nord Stream 2 and, in particular, in relation to the impact it would have on Ukraine. We will continue to talk, not only with Germany, but with other European allies, about this issue, and we will contribute to that discussion around the European Council table. There is a growing recognition that this issue needs to be addressed and a growing recognition of the concerns that have been raised.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. I thank the thousands of Scots who protested in peace over the weekend and of course the officers of Police Scotland, who did such an excellent job, working around the clock.
Last week, we witnessed extraordinary scenes at the NATO summit. The President of the United States flew to Brussels to lecture the NATO allies on their commitments to defence. These were embarrassing, shambolic scenes from a US President who takes a childish approach to foreign and security policy, rather than working with allies to tackle common security threats. What is more embarrassing is that, after this treatment, we witnessed the Prime Minister roll out the carpet to the President as he visited the UK. This is a President who went on to publicly criticise the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans after advising the Prime Minister to sue the European Union—you really could not make it up. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether she intends to use the President’s advice and does his advice not give her a real sense of reality of just how shambolic any trade deal with the US Trump Administration would be? I would advise the Prime Minister that, instead of seeking advice on Brexit from the President of the United States, she should seek it directly from the devolved Governments, who are directly affected by her Brexit chaos.
We are of course today witnessing historic scenes as the US and Russian Presidents meet in Helsinki. There are high stakes in this summit; China, nuclear weapons, Syria, Ukraine and US election hacking are all set to be discussed. I thank the Prime Minister for the remarks she made about Ukraine, as we should all make sure we stand up for the independence of that nation. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what discussions she had with President Trump on operations in Syria at the NATO summit last week?
First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that we continue to support Ukraine. As I said in my statement, we continue to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia. Obviously, we are supporting the Government of Ukraine in a number of ways, but we also recognise that there needs to be reform in Ukraine.
We want to see the Minsk agreements fully put in place. Obviously, the failure of that is why we have been supporting, within the European Union, the continued imposition of the sanctions that were introduced in response to the action that Russia took in Crimea.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about President Trump and his approach to the NATO summit. As I said, President Trump has made a difference; he has focused the eyes of those around the table on the question of the 2% commitment. As I said in my statement and have just repeated, $41 billion of extra investment in defence has been seen across the allies just over the last year. In fact, the United States itself has increased its defence input into Europe over the last year or so—in capability terms and also in financial terms.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the importance of working with devolved Governments. We continue to work with the devolved Governments on a whole range of issues, including the European issue that he referred to. I would hope that the Government in Scotland would be willing to work with us on these issues, because we will deliver something that is in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.
Order. There is considerable interest, which is to be anticipated, but I make two points to the House. First, there is a statement to follow, in which there may well be considerable interest. Secondly, we have a substantial debate on the remaining stages of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, necessitating brevity in this session, from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, and the non-participation of people who arrived after the Prime Minister had delivered her statement.
Although the opening of accession talks with the Government in Skopje is to be welcomed, will the Prime Minister also confirm that, irrespective of Russia’s views, future membership of the alliance is open to any other country that meets the membership criteria, including other countries in the western Balkans?
Yes, I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that confirmation. Indeed, we look forward to seeing others aspire to membership of the NATO alliance. It is important that they meet the criteria for membership. At the NATO summit, Montenegro was of course sitting around the table, having already become a member of the NATO alliance, and we were pleased to extend that invitation to Skopje. Other countries could follow, provided that they meet the criteria.
The Prime Minister rightly said in her statement that the United Kingdom is “unconditionally committed” to Europe’s security, but over the weekend President Trump described the European Union as a “foe” and the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Europe can no longer completely rely on the White House. Does the Prime Minister share that assessment and, if not, why not?
When everybody left the NATO summit that took place last week, what was felt was not only that people had stepped up and recognised the importance of burden sharing, but that there was indeed a unity around that table on the importance of us all working together in the future of Europe’s security. As I reminded President Trump, the one time that NATO has used article 5 has been in response to an attack on the United States.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for Ukraine and the recognition of the potential threat of Nord Stream 2. Will she confirm that there is absolutely no question of any NATO member country recognising the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation?
We are very clear—as was, I think, everybody around that table—that an illegal annexation took place. Significant support was shown for Ukraine around that table. There are of course requirements on Ukraine and Georgia for their potential future membership of NATO, but we look forward to working with them to help them to meet those requirements.
I have often supported the Prime Minister on security and countering terrorism, because extremists must never divide us, but one of our NATO allies, President Trump, chose to single out London’s Mayor, who is Muslim, and attack him on terrorism. I know that the Prime Minister will not agree with President Trump and will understand what a vile and false attack that was, but has she said so to President Trump? Has she challenged him on it? We cannot pander when our democratic values are under attack.
I have made it clear to President Trump on a number of occasions that some of the views that he expresses about the United Kingdom on these issues are not shared by this Government. There are issues on which I disagree with the Mayor of London—for example, I want to see him building more homes in London than he is doing—but on the issue of fighting terrorism, the Mayor of London and this Government work together, as we did last year following what happened here in Westminster and at London Bridge and Finsbury Park. It is an issue on which we unite, because we all recognise the importance of ensuring that the terrorists can never divide us.
Given President Putin’s long-term goals of destabilising the European Union, seeking to restore Russian influence in eastern Europe and undermining NATO, is it not important—and was it not discussed at length during the NATO summit—that NATO’s strategic concepts continue to advance at pace, and that the British Government should therefore wholeheartedly support the 30-30-30-30 proposal, generated by our great friend General Mattis?
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend the assurance that we do support the four-30s approach that has been adopted by NATO. We will ensure that we are able to contribute to it as appropriate. He is also right that, as NATO looks at the threats that we face, it needs to modernise and reform itself and consider the capabilities that it needs for the future.
NATO has been the bedrock of our security since the second world war and a vital commitment to collective security, but at times during the summer President Trump’s behaviour was disruptive and undermining. Can the Prime Minister assure this House that she took action to impress on him that that is not acceptable in those circumstances?
What I have impressed on President Trump on a number of occasions now, starting with the very first visit that I made to the United States following his inauguration, was the importance of NATO and the importance of that transatlantic unity. That was a message that came through loud and clear at the summit.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s recommitment to the principle of NATO being the cornerstone of Europe’s defence policy, and she is absolutely right to talk about a close relationship with our current EU partners post Brexit, but will she exclude dedicating any Ministry of Defence resources or British taxpayers’ money to advancing the cause of a European army?
I think my right hon. Friend knows full well the views that the UK Government have taken for some time now on the concept of an EU army—a European army. There have been developments around the European Union table, and there continue to be, in the defence field. We have been very clear that those must be complementary to NATO, and that is a view that is accepted.
Does the Prime Minister agree that peace and prosperity since the last world war have been secured by the United Nations, by NATO and by the European Union? Does she agree that she now has a real opportunity to be the real leader, reminding all our European allies that she has this responsibility?
The hon. Gentleman is right that we have a number of multinational organisations. As I said in my response to earlier questions, NATO has been the bedrock of European security. The unity of NATO and that continued transatlantic unity is important not just for Europe, but for the United States and the wider world, and we will continue to champion it.
The United States obviously plays a very important role within the NATO alliance, but may I also remark—my right hon. Friend made the comment about defending conventionally against attacks from Russia—that, as we look at NATO for the future, we need to look not just at the conventional capabilities and the conventional threats. That is why I am proud that the United Kingdom was the first to put its offensive cyber-capability to the benefit of the alliance.
What assurances did President Trump give the Prime Minister that he would raise with President Putin the poisoning of the Skripals and the murder of Dawn Sturgess on British soil? It is unacceptable that Russia has put lives at risk, with poisonous substances being left to kill innocent people on the streets of our country. If President Trump is our ally, he will raise this. Will he?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right in the way that she describes the attack that took place in Salisbury and the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the United Kingdom. We know that an individual has died as a result of contact with Novichok. I did raise the severity of this issue with President Trump. The United States reacted alongside us after that attack. It expelled more Russian intelligence officers and more Russian diplomats than any other country. I raised this among other issues that I would expect President Trump to raise with President Putin.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that, while focus is often on the numerical figure for spending, capability is important as well. That is, of course, where the United Kingdom scores not just in terms of the spending that we make, but in ensuring that we have the capability necessary and that that is available.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statements so far. Was she successful in her attempts to secure additional funding for defence from other NATO countries—some of which consistently underfund their contributions to NATO—considering the war against terror that we, as NATO members, are supposedly fighting together?
Next year, more than 600 parliamentarians from across the NATO alliance will visit London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very important opportunity for Britain to show that we are absolutely a global nation and that our commitment to the alliance moving forward is absolutely at the heart of what we believe?
Our NATO obligations are entwined with our other collective security arrangements. The Prime Minister has previously said:
“Thanks to the arrest warrant, more than 2,500 people wanted for crimes abroad are no longer roaming the streets of Britain…These include serious international criminals like murderers, paedophiles, human traffickers and terrorists.”
Can she tell us how she intends to defend us from these undesirables, as the White Paper does not commit to keeping us in the European arrest warrant system post Brexit?
Although we did not discuss at the NATO summit the precise point that the hon. Lady raised, we did of course discuss our collective security. The hon. Lady can rest assured that in all our considerations on these matters we will be ensuring that we have the powers and tools necessary for our security.
NATO seems to enjoy spending large amounts of money on new headquarters. Its swanky new main HQs were opened last year, and I think that the Prime Minister announced that two further HQs will be opened. How can we persuade our NATO allies to spend less on HQs, and more on frontline troops and offensive cyber-capability?
Although I used the term headquarters, the point is that these are about personnel who will be situated and who will be able to ensure that the capabilities are where they need to be in relation to NATO. For example, they are looking at possibilities around various parts of Europe to do this, but this is not just about a building; it is crucially about NATO’s capabilities and ensuring that it has the capabilities in the right place.
We face not only chemical and cyber-attacks from Russia, but constant attempts to undermine our democratic and political processes. In the midst of last week, 12 Russian agents were indicted by the US Department of Justice for attempting to influence the US election. Can the Prime Minister say whether these matters were discussed at the NATO summit? Did she discuss them with President Trump or does she believe—like he said—that it was all part of a “rigged witch hunt” against Russia?
We have made very clear our concern at the way in which Russia has been seen in a number of countries to attempt to undermine the democratic processes in those countries. This matter was discussed not in specificity, but in the generality of the question of Russia’s interference and the malign state activity that is undertaken by Russia.
I welcome the NATO-Georgia commission declaration, which was made following the summit, about the ongoing dialogue with Georgia. As Georgia has reaffirmed its determination to achieve NATO membership, does the Prime Minister know whether any progress was made on timetabling the delivery of the membership action plan to Georgia?
We did discuss the potential accession of Georgia. The President of Georgia was there and was able to update us on the moves that Georgia has been making. The issue raised by my right hon. Friend will be an important part of the process. I am happy to write to her on the specific issue that she raised regarding the date.
Trump looks more comfortable straddling the world stage next to Putin than he did beside the Prime Minister. How can she justify sabotaging our secure economic relationship with our friends in the EU and craving favours of a man who prides himself on shredding the rules-based order?
With a looming and large predicted overspend on our defence budget, can my right hon. Friend assure me, the House and the country that she will maintain the NATO 2%—ideally 2.5%—which, as I understand it, will pay for the ongoing programme as laid out?