House of Commons
Tuesday 30 October 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Sexual Violence in Conflict
The UK Government continue to lead global efforts to end the horror of sexual violence in conflict. We have developed tools to improve the chances of justice for survivors and in June secured sanctions against seven Burmese military officials. We will host an international conference in 2019 to galvanise the world into further action.
Given that the recent UN taskforce report highlighted appalling examples of sexual violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, I welcome the announcement that the Secretary of State made on his recent visit to Rakhine of increased support to victims of this terrible crime, but what can be done to increase the resources available to other conflict regions?
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the announcement and highlighting the work of that team of experts, who have now been deployed, I think, to 26 countries on a wide range of cases, have helped to train 17,000 people to make sure that evidence is secured and have worked extensively on this important issue in a range of situations around the world.[Official Report, 12 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 2MC.]
The use of sexual violence was an ugly characteristic of the Sri Lankan civil war under the stewardship of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and now the very same man is back in office, illegitimately, as the Prime Minister of that country. Will the Minister now, and the Foreign Secretary shortly during topical questions, condemn unreservedly the turn of events in Sri Lanka and make sure we never see a return to those dark days of appalling human rights abuses under the Rajapaksas?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, which I know has captivated the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will be calling the President today, I think, to discuss this very matter.
What diplomatic actions are being taken to assist with the return of the 113 Chibok girls who were seized from their school by Boko Haram in 2014, four and a half years ago, and are still missing? Tragically, many of them will have suffered terrible, horrific sexual and physical violence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. As many will remember, that campaign is now four years old, yet 113 of the girls have still not been returned. The UK consistently offers its support for the Nigerian Government’s efforts to return these girls to their homes, and we stand ready to do more if requested.
The hon. Gentleman is right to widen the question to the extensive part of the population affected by this terrible crisis. He will know that, from a humanitarian point of view, the UK is contributing £129 million to address it, including through the kind of psychosocial support he refers to.
In recent years, the UN Population Fund has operated fearlessly at the frontline of conflict, helping hundreds of thousands of girls and women who have suffered sexual violence. Does the Minister agree that it is utterly reprehensible that Donald Trump has eliminated US funding for that agency to the tune of $700 million? Is that not one more demonstration that the current US President could not care less about women and their rights?
I am happy to be answerable at the Dispatch Box for the actions of the UK Government, and I can assure the hon. Lady that the UK continues to support this important work and, in fact, to do more on things such as access to safe family planning around the world.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
Earlier this month, London hosted the largest ever illegal wildlife trade conference, with representation from more than 70 countries and 400 organisations. Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Development announced additional support for developing countries to tackle IWT. I pay tribute my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for all the work that they have done and continue to do to advance this agenda.
Many of the countries where there is wildlife crime involving iconic species such as elephant and rhino are war-torn. That is a huge problem that makes it dangerous for the rangers and others who try to protect the wildlife. What more can we do to help war-torn countries? It is essential that we do so.
I am sure my hon. Friend is grateful that the London conference highlighted the links he has pointed out between human conflict and IWT. DFID has committed to spend at least 50% of its annual budget in fragile and conflict-afflicted states. Although that does not impact directly on IWT, it should help to reduce it. The IWT challenge fund and the Darwin fund have also supported projects in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Sudan. Trophy hunting occurs in a few countries with well-developed tourist industries, but it is unlikely to be a major feature of war-torn countries.
I congratulate and thank the Ministers for what they are doing to tackle this appalling trade. Does he agree that one of the most important aspects of tackling it is to create mutual economic interest for local tribespeople and farmers to support wildlife? Does he support the work of the excellent Laikipia Wildlife Forum in Kenya, which was set up by the great British conservationist Dr Anthony King?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. A Chatham House study presented at the London conference on transboundary green corridors supported the view that the creation of jobs and local prosperity partnerships can indeed help to protect endangered species. That is why we secured an uplift of some £6 million for the IWT challenge fund, and why DFID is committed to further such work to address these issues.
Now that the Government have confirmed that we will adopt a world-leading ban on the ivory trade that applies to ivory of all ages, what steps is the Minister taking to put pressure on other countries to adopt a similar measure, particularly those in the Chinese area?
We very much welcome China’s closure of the domestic ivory market. It is, of course, the single largest market in the world. It is vital to ensure that the ban is properly and fully enforced, and that the ivory trade is not allowed simply to relocate to other parts of south-east Asia, or indeed anywhere else. We shall continue to work with the Chinese Government and other Governments to ensure that that does not happen.
In specific terms, I cannot give direct assurances, but that is clearly something we will work on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the illegal wildlife trade is very much a security issue. One of the real achievements of the conference—something for which I have pushed for some time—was that it made that clear. IWT is often the soft underbelly of the very worst sorts of criminality, not least money laundering, the narcotics trade and people trafficking.
We are aware of the announcement by the Chinese State Council in the last couple of days concerning the domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn. We are concerned, and we will make representations that any changes should not have a negative impact on the tackling of the illegal wildlife trade. Of course, we will raise this issue at the earliest opportunity with our Chinese counterparts.
I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister speak about the connection between wildlife crime and other forms of instability. Does he agree that the work that is done by several organisations to preserve not just natural heritage but architectural and archaeological heritage is essential in helping people to have the sense of identity, place and belonging that is so essential to resisting forces such as ISIS and other extremist elements?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I spoke earlier about the need globally to recognise that in the case of criminality, we live in an interconnected world. As he rightly points out, a sense of place and being is an important aspect. Many might feel that a concentration on the illegal wildlife trade is, to a certain extent, a Cinderella area, but it is an important aspect of what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is trying to achieve through its soft power initiatives.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his work in making the illegal wildlife trade summit a couple of weeks ago an enormous success. I know he will join me in welcoming the efforts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Botswana to work together to deliver the KAZA programme, a massively ambitious cross-border conservation plan linking their countries together. May I urge him to use all his diplomatic skills to support that initiative and also to ensure that DFID provides whatever support it can?
I should perhaps thank my hon. Friend again: not only is he very committed to this, but a huge amount of his time over the past six months was spent on ensuring that the IWT conference was such a great success. I do not want to step on the toes of my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa on these matters, but I will of course do all that I can. The other important aspect of what we are trying to achieve with elephant corridors such as the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) referred is to recognise that technology has an important part to play in clamping down on the illegal wildlife trade. That is an important aspect of where we see this issue going in the years to come.
Saudi Arabia: Human Rights
I regularly discuss human rights concerns with my Saudi Arabian counterpart Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, most recently on 27 September and 20 October.
Media reports have surfaced this weekend suggesting that UK intelligence services were aware of the Saudi plan to abduct the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and take him back to Riyadh, and of the deployment of the hit squad to Istanbul for that purpose. May I give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to tell the House today that those reports are categorically untrue?
It has been reported today that 17 Filipino women are being held in custody in Saudi Arabia for the heinous crime of attending a Halloween party. How much more oppressive does the Saudi regime have to get before it loses its esteemed place as Britain’s greatest friend in the middle east?
Saudi Arabia is a human rights country of concern for the Foreign Office. We have regular discussions with the Saudis about our concerns—the guardianship system, freedom of expression, the death penalty and a range of other issues—but it is because we have a relationship with them that we are able to raise these concerns both privately and in public, and the hon. Gentleman should rest assured that that is exactly what we do.
All sorts of issues with respect to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record are in sharp relief at the moment, but I think I have spoken more clearly than perhaps any other western Foreign Minister in saying that if the Khashoggi stories turn out to be true, that will be inconsistent with our values.
I was going to ask a question about Yemen, but I am afraid I have to follow up on the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), because if the allegations in this weekend’s report are true they are extremely serious. It was reported that in early September our intelligence services became aware of the Saudi plan to abduct Jamal Khashoggi, and on 1 October they knew that a Saudi team had been dispatched to Istanbul for that purpose. I hear what the Foreign Secretary says that he did not know, but did the intelligence services know, and has he asked them?
I have to repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), and I am sure the right hon. Lady will understand that it is not possible for a Foreign Secretary, or indeed any Minister, to comment on intelligence matters, for very obvious reasons, but I did not know about this attack. It is very important that the right hon. Lady and the House understand that. We are as shocked as everyone else is about what happened.
I understand what the Foreign Secretary is saying, but he must understand that these allegations are extremely serious, and I am afraid it will not do to hide behind a blanket refusal to discuss intelligence matters. So will he, first, agree to attend an emergency session of the Intelligence and Security Committee to answer these questions behind closed doors, and, secondly, if he is not prepared as a point of principle to say what the intelligence services knew, at least reassure us that something will be done about this and that Ministers will find out what the intelligence services knew at the time?
If I am invited before the Intelligence and Security Committee, I will of course consider that invitation, but the right hon. Lady must know that her desire for me to release important intelligence information to the House or anywhere else is totally inappropriate. I do not think for a moment that she would be doing that if she were Foreign Secretary. I respect and understand her concern about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, but I wish that she would show the same concern for what is happening in Venezuela and Russia, and indeed with antisemitism. There seems to be a blind spot when it comes to countries that share Labour’s anti-western world view.
Conditions remain dire for civilians in Syria. Half the population is displaced and some 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance. We continue to engage with agencies and Governments to ensure humanitarian access and the use of supplies. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet Staffan de Mistura here in London.
As the Minister has said, civilians in Syria desperately need calm, and they need a political process to lead them out of this conflict. On Saturday, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia met in Istanbul. How will we bring the UK’s influence to bear to ensure that this is a Syria-led process that puts Syrian civilians at the heart of whatever the political process brings next?
I should like to start by thanking Staffan de Matura for all the work he has put in. As the House will know, the United Nations special envoy will be standing down in November. He has devoted the past few years of his work to trying to achieve a settlement and agreement in Syria that will indeed enhance the rights of civilians. At present, he is still working on the details of the constitutional settlement. It will involve a constitutional committee, for which he has put forward various names. There is an impasse on that at the moment, but his work, and the work of the Syrian high negotiating committee, to ensure that civilians have a recognised role in the future of Syria remain a key part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to these discussions.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but could he take this a little bit further and tell us what conversations he is having with his counterparts in other countries to ensure that civil society and civilians are at the heart of the post-conflict resolution and the peace and reconciliation that are so needed?
That is a good question. We as a Government are engaged in regular consultations with states that have an interest in supporting the UN process. Essentially, this is a UN process, supported by the UN Security Council, to ensure a settlement that involves civil society. All the evidence suggests that conflict will reoccur unless women, civil society and others are involved in the resolution of that conflict. The United Kingdom takes this issue forward very carefully.
But as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the UK was not at Istanbul and it will not be part of the EU-US summit organised to take place in France next month. Is it not a source of profound dissatisfaction and, potentially, shame that the UK will not be at the table? What are the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister going to do about that?
Yesterday, the UN small group met in London with representatives of a variety of countries and the UN special envoy in order to be part of the process that is supporting the special envoy in his work. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been involved, and I was at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with other Foreign Ministers to discuss the future of Syria. We are engaged—we cannot be at every meeting, but the United Kingdom is heavily involved in backing the work of the UN and will remain so.
The White Helmets and their families were evacuated from southern Syria under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. That support has been delivered, and we continue to work with other countries to ensure the resettlement of the White Helmets’ supporters who left Syria a short while ago.
Mongolia: Diplomatic Relations
Diplomatic relations with Mongolia are flourishing, not least owing to the efforts of the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Mongolia, and his Mongolian counterpart, former Prime Minister Batbold, who I understand is in the Gallery today. I very much look forward to seeing him again on Thursday.
I visited Ulaanbaatar and the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi desert in July to promote our growing trade and investment relationship, as well as our bilateral co-operation on the environment, education, foreign policy and defence.
Does the Minister agree that the land of Genghis Khan is now a beacon of freedom and democracy in the region, and that its foreign policy of encouraging rapprochement between the two Koreas and developing diplomatic and economic third neighbours throughout the world beyond Russia and China is a good opportunity for the United Kingdom?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman recently visited Mongolia—his visit was probably more enjoyable than mine, with fewer diplomatic commitments than I have had recently. Yes, that is important. Mongolia has transformed over the past 30 years, and we want to play our part in continuing that transformation, not least because, as he knows, it is a small country by population between two giants in Russia and China, and very much sees its relationships with third countries, of which we are one of a number, as important.
British Nationals in Pakistan
I cannot even get back to my seat—it is a tough old day on the Asia brief. I appreciate that this is a serious issue for the hon. Lady. We encourage all British nationals visiting or residing in Pakistan to read our travel advice and ensure they have the appropriate insurance. While most visits are trouble free, of course we have a very dedicated consular team ready to provide support to those most in need.
My constituent Ali Soofi has serious concerns that his nephew, a British citizen, is being held against his will in Pakistan—he has been for more than a year now—and that his life is in danger. A court order issued by the high court in Lahore back on 15 August acknowledged Mr Soofi’s poor health and recommended the assistance of the British high commission in facilitating his return to the UK for medical treatment. To date, he has not been able to return. Consular assistance seems very soft touch, I am afraid to say. Can the Minister intervene in this case to ensure that all means possible are used to ensure that Mr Soofi gets home to Scotland as soon as possible?
Naturally I can. I thank the hon. Lady, who has done sterling work in relation to the case of her constituent Mr Soofi. As she knows, I wrote to her on 24 October with the latest on this case and, in view of its sensitivities, offered to meet her and discuss it privately in more detail. I very much look forward to doing so once our offices have agreed a mutually convenient date.
Many British nationals in Pakistan are involved in trade. A year ago I went to GlaxoSmithKline’s factory in Karachi, which is one of its largest and most profitable in the world. However, given the size of our Department for International Development presence in Pakistan, which is the equal largest in the world, and our consular presence there, what more can the FCO do with the Department for International Trade to boost our commercial activity in Pakistan?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. He will know that the UK shares a long-standing relationship with Pakistan. We have the strongest of cultural and historical ties and, of course, a very large diaspora. On the trade side, I have been working on trying to ensure that that diaspora plays its part in ensuring ever stronger trading connections between our two countries.
Kashmir: Human Rights Abuses
I very much recognise that there are human rights concerns in both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The FCO encourages both states to uphold their international human rights obligations. Any allegations of human rights violations or abuses are concerning and must of course be thoroughly investigated, promptly and transparently.
The all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir’s report on human rights abuses, which was published this summer, reflects the UN’s findings. What discussions have the Minister or the Foreign Secretary had with the Governments of Pakistan and India about those human rights abuses? Will the Minister meet me and other members of the all-party group to discuss taking forward our recommendations?
I am always happy to meet members of all-party parliamentary groups, so I would be glad to do so. We very much encourage the parties to keep the channels of dialogue open as a means of resolving differences. The hon. Lady will recognise that the UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking account of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The relationship between the two countries is very complex, as the hon. Lady will be aware. We encourage both sides to maintain good relations and make the most of all opportunities for dialogue.
The human rights abuses reported to me by my Urdu-speaking constituents are not a complex matter; they are often simple and horrifying. Does the Minister share my concern that a lack of English language news reporting is keeping these abuses out of the public consciousness in the United Kingdom and around the world, and will he join me in calling on journalists to bring forward English language coverage so that the world can be informed?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. We persistently raise the issue of Kashmir, including human rights, with the Governments of both India and Pakistan, but my hon. Friend makes a good point about ensuring that there is at least mutually trusted media coverage of this matter. I know that the BBC’s coverage in south Asia has become more extensive, and I believe that the BBC World Service is looking to extend matters further. I will make sure that that organisation is made well aware of this point.
I hear what the Minister says about the relationship with the two Governments, but, given that we are talking about two nuclear armed powers and that Delhi is increasingly belligerent with a relatively new Government, is there not something more that the Minister can do to bring the two powers together, given our historical relationship with Delhi and the Government in Pakistan?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these matters very seriously, as do other Members throughout the House who represent constituencies with large Pakistani and Indian populations; I speak for my rather silent Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who does a lot of work behind the scenes on this matter but is obviously not able to speak on it in Parliament. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) will be aware that it is not our place to mediate, intervene or interfere in this issue, but I hope he is also aware that I raise the issue of Kashmir at every opportunity when I see my counterparts—the Indian and Pakistani Ministers—as well as the high commissioners to London, because the matter is so close to the hearts of many hon. Members.
Last week we celebrated the Jammu and Kashmir festival, and the anniversary of the instrument of accession, whereby the whole of Jammu and Kashmir was ceded to India. Sadly, Pakistan refuses to accept this, so what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage the Pakistani Government to dismantle the terrorist bases in Kashmir that are causing human rights abuses in the whole of Kashmir?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong view on this matter. We do all that we can to raise the legitimate concerns brought up by all Members in this House with the Governments in both New Delhi and Islamabad. However, we believe that the pace of progress is for India and Pakistan to determine.
Gaza: Access to Healthcare
The Government remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. I regularly raise with the Israeli authorities the need to ease restrictions there. Our ambassador to Israel discussed Gaza with the Israeli authorities on 17 October. The UK supports healthcare in Gaza through the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is a strong supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which provides basic healthcare in Gaza.
As well as many breast cancer patients not being allowed out of Gaza for treatment, it is very difficult for doctors to get out to access training, so Medical Aid for Palestinians has recruited specialists to bring the training to them. But on our visit last month, I was formally denied permission to enter Gaza and two other doctors on our team never received theirs. This totally wrecked our teaching programme. Will the Minister make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow these medical projects in Gaza to continue unhindered?
First, I have already done so. Secondly, although it is of course a matter for Israeli authorities to make those decisions, the value of the visits of the hon. Lady and her team cannot be overestimated. Thirdly, we are all in her debt for the work that she does to support those suffering conditions in Gaza.
The Save a Child’s Heart programme at the cardiology department of the Wolfson Medical Centre in Israel has now seen or treated around 6,000 Palestinian children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these kind of projects—which bring together Palestinian and Jewish medics, and bring Israelis into contact with Palestinian families—are incredibly powerful and uplifting? Will he look at what more we can do to support such projects?
It is an often understated fact of the complex relationship between Israel and its neighbours that there is cross-border work, and that medical treatment takes place in Israel for those from both the west bank and Gaza—some of it is very high level and done in the most important circumstances. Save a Child’s Heart is not directly supported by the United Kingdom, but we certainly support all efforts to make sure there is even more contact between the Palestinians and the Israeli authorities, particularly in healthcare matters.
The United Nations says that international funding to tackle the humanitarian crisis across the Palestinian territories is at an all-time low, with the shortfall to meet this year’s needs now standing at $380 million. Although we warmly welcome the £7 million increase in September from the UK Government, the Minister of State must know that it is a drop in the ocean. Will he instead do what we have been calling for since January, convene an urgent global funding conference and treat this as the pressing emergency it is?
The support we give to UNRWA continues to be considerable, and we have brought forward support that would have come in the next couple of years, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, compared with the loss from the United States, it is only a small amount. We lobby other states directly on this, and there has been an increase in funding that will see us through a relatively short period of time. After that, it is essential that the issues surrounding UNRWA are dealt with and that funding is found for those who are in need. Ultimately, the issues that UNRWA deals with will only be resolved when we get the final agreement for which we are all searching. In the meantime, we do encourage, and we have seen a response from, other states following the United Kingdom’s generosity.
Following the 4 March Salisbury attack, the UK co-ordinated action among 28 countries and NATO that led to 153 Russian diplomats being expelled, which we think is the largest mass expulsion in history.
Because of recent events, Russia is not currently sitting in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. There are those who seek to change the rules governing the Council of Europe to make it easier to readmit Russia. Although we all want to see Russia welcomed back, does the Secretary of State agree that it is not the Council of Europe but Russia that needs to change its ways?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing agreement among our European allies for EU sanctions against senior Russians in charge of Russia’s spy networks following the Salisbury attack, but what further action can now be taken in respect of cyber-related attacks, given the growing menace of Russia’s targeting of other countries’ computer networks?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we looked at a map of Europe showing all the places where there have been Russian-inspired cyber-attacks, we would see it is a very busy map indeed. We need to create a new international red line that says these cyber-attacks are unacceptable, which is why it is very positive news that, on 15 October, the EU agreed to set up a sanctions regime for cyber-attacks, but that is just the first of a number of steps.
We need to keep up the pressure on Russia. There is no point in just referring to what we have already done. When will the Government bring forward their first list of people caught by the new Magnitsky legislation in this country? Would it not be a good idea for us now to include those who are gangsters, rather than just those who have abused human rights?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As he knows, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 only comes into effect after Brexit, because it depends on us taking trade measures, which is what has to happen. Ahead of that, however, we are talking to the EU about whether it should introduce a sanctions regime for human rights abuses, and that is relevant not just to Russia but to many countries.
I am happy to do that for the right hon. Gentleman. NATO Foreign Ministers recognise collectively that we are starting to see international norms being breached in an extremely dangerous way. One of those breaches is on chemical weapons; we should never forget that the Salisbury attack was the first use of chemical weapons on British soil, and it is extremely serious from that point of view. The other is on cyber, with the general undermining of confidence in democracy when people think that hostile state actors might be trying to interfere in our elections. We need to stop both those things.
I am very happy to have a word with my excellent successor, but of course this affects us in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well. With the unexplained wealth orders and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, we are starting to tighten the net on people from unfriendly regimes who are financing activities that are against our values.
In reaching the sanctions agreement he referred to, I am sure the Secretary of State was grateful for the support of the former eastern bloc countries, which he welcomed to Chevening before the summit. Did he take the opportunity to apologise to them for comparing their experience under Soviet domination to membership of the EU?
We had a very enjoyable time, including when getting a little lost in the maze. Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly: I stand by exactly what I said, which was that a club of free countries that was set up, in part, to stand against the Soviet Union and totalitarianism should not, in way that is inconsistent with its values, seek to punish someone who wishes to leave.
It was deeply impressive how many states stood by the UK in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack, not least those that know fine well what the Moscow regime is capable of. So I am going to give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity: what message does he have for those states that have thrived since independence in the EU but were deeply offended by his crass remarks comparing the EU with the former Soviet Union?
I will give the Foreign Secretary a second opportunity, but before I do, let me read out some quotes. The Latvian ambassador said:
“Soviets killed…and ruined the lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”
The Lithuanian European Commissioner was born in a gulag—I want the Foreign Secretary to reflect on that—and he said:
“I was born in a Soviet gulag and was imprisoned by KGB”.
He has offered the Foreign Secretary a history lesson. Will he take the Lithuanian Commissioner up on that?
Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan
I discussed the proposed United States peace plan with the US President’s middle east envoy, Jason Greenblatt, on 28 September in New York. The Foreign Secretary discussed this with the special adviser to the US President, Jared Kushner, on 22 August. The UK remains committed to a negotiated settlement leading to a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
I am glad the Minister has made that commitment, but does he agree that the time really has come for a re-energising and reinvigorating of a two-state solution? Will he personally take a lead in that? Surely what the world expects from both sides is restraint and statesmanship, with Hamas stopping the constant rocket attacks and Israel drawing a halt to the west bank settlement programme?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s questions. The need to keep the middle east peace process at the forefront of the world’s mind is perhaps greater than ever. Just because it has gone on for so long, that is no reason why it should slip away. I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that, everywhere I go and in every conversation I have in the region, they know that the middle east peace process will come up because the United Kingdom must not let it be as it is, because there will no peace or security for either the state of Israel or its neighbours unless the issue is finally resolved.
After a comprehensive two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch has concluded that
“Palestinian authorities routinely arrest people whose peaceful speech displeases them and torture those in their custody.”
Will my right hon. Friend condemn that deplorable abuse of power and make appropriate representations to the Palestinian Authority?
We read with great concern the report that my hon. Friend quoted. We do not provide any funding to the agencies mentioned in it, although we do support other areas of the security sector. We have raised our concerns about this issue with the Ministry of Interior and continue to encourage the Palestinian Authority to respect human rights and to ensure that complaints of mistreatment or arbitrary detention are properly investigated. We continue to work with the authority to improve the performance of the security sector.
Has the Minister considered the political implications of the recent tragic events at the Gaza border, where Palestinians are encouraged to believe that they have a right of return within Israel’s internationally recognised 1948 boundaries? That makes a two-state solution impossible.
What I can and should say to the House is that it has been clear in recent weeks that Hamas has much greater control over the demonstrations at the border than it had at the start of the summer. Hamas has in effect completely taken over the committee that was responsible for the protests and the march on the right to return, and it is now taking people, including children, to the border. That is a practice that must end. The situation at the Gaza border is very grim. It will take both sides to realise that there can be no future unless Gaza and the west bank are included in the overall settlement for which we work so hard.
Is not it incredible that earlier we had a discussion about the terrible situation in Gaza in which the word “Hamas” was not mentioned once? Is not it the case that the only way in which that terrible situation will be alleviated and improved is through progress being made on a peace process, and that the only way that that is going to happen is when Hamas lays down its weapons, stops using resources that should be used to build houses, hospitals and schools to dig tunnels and to make rockets to fire at civilians in Israel, and stops the incendiary attacks that have caused 1,000 fires on the border?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, although very often Members on one side of the House or the other tend to raise issues of greatest concern to themselves and ignore the other side, the United Kingdom Government have been clear about the responsibilities in Gaza. I just mentioned Hamas in my previous answer—but I understand the point—and it is very clear that Hamas has significant responsibility for the events in Gaza. None the less, Israel also has some responsibility for the restrictions and the issues in Gaza, which is why, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, none of this will be settled by one side or the other; it will be settled only by the comprehensive agreement that we are all working so hard to achieve.
The situation in Yemen is tragic and we are deeply concerned by the humanitarian impact. We play a leading role in efforts to find a peaceful solution by supporting the UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, calling a special session of the UN Security Council, and pressing all parties to join peace talks.
In the past three years, the UK has granted military export licences to Saudi Arabia worth a total of £5 billion. Given that the Saudi-led invasion has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with thousands of civilians killed in the process, does the Minister feel any guilt that those arms sales have helped to enable the Saudi regime to perpetrate war crimes? Or, as with the American President, does money trump ethics for this Tory Government?
I shall say two things. First, on arms sales, which have been discussed comprehensively in this Chamber and elsewhere, every licence is considered on an individual basis. A very comprehensive set of controls are gone through and the United Kingdom sticks to that process. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman referred to an invasion by the coalition. Let me be clear: an insurgent movement usurped a legitimate Government, who were then backed by the UN in order to relieve that Government, and the coalition responded to that call to take action to protect the Government and to protect the civilians in Yemen, who are being comprehensively abused by the Houthi insurgency. The hon. Gentleman should not refer to it as an invasion, as that is just not what it was.
Has our new Foreign Secretary had a chance to review the position of the British Government at the United Nations in respect of Yemen? Will he move from a position of supporting the Saudi coalition where Britain is complicit in creating a famine, to one of constructive neutrality to secure a ceasefire and meaningful constitutional negotiations, as the UN special representative, Martin Griffiths, is consistently urging and trying to secure?
On 15 March, the UK proposed and co-ordinated a United Nations Security Council presidential statement, which called on the parties to agree steps towards a ceasefire. That remains our position. Calling for a nationwide ceasefire will have an effect on the ground only if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties. Given the lack of agreement between those parties, passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council. As soon as the right opportunity arises, we will bring forward a resolution.
Since the last oral questions, I have attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, addressed a special Security Council session on North Korea, joined a meeting of Foreign Ministers on the tragedy in Yemen and convened a roundtable on Burma.
Last week, the UN special rapporteur, Michael Lynk, produced his report on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He concludes that the problem is not with the clarity of international law, but with the unwillingness of the international community to uphold it. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that assessment and, if so, what action will his Government take to ensure the rule of law in the middle east?
We are very concerned about a number of the things that have been happening in the occupied territories. We will study that report extremely carefully. Indeed, we are talking closely to the Americans about their middle east peace plan, which we hope will be launched soon.
We look at those reports with a lot of concern. We had our own diplomats visiting the Xinjiang province in August and they concur that those reports are broadly accurate. I raised it with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, when I went to China and we continue to be extremely concerned about what is happening.
The Burmese Reuters journalist Wa Lone has still not met his 11-week-old daughter. She may be seven years old before he finally sees her. He was jailed for seeking to report accurately the Rohingya crisis. Does not the fate of Wa Lone demonstrate that the Government’s position is too weak in expecting the Myanmar Government to investigate themselves? Will the Foreign Secretary adopt the UN recommendations and refer Myanmar’s military leaders to the International Criminal Court?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern about what is happening. With respect to Wa Lone and to the other Reuters journalist, Kyaw Soe O, I have raised concerns directly about due process in their case with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and she assured me that she would relook at whether due process had properly occurred, but we are very concerned about that and indeed about the situation in Rakhine, where there has to be accountability. However, we have made some progress. We had the strongest ever condemnation of what happened by the Human Rights Council on 27 September. I convened a meeting at the UN General Assembly about this. The fact-finding mission has now come before the Security Council and there are lots of things that are happening.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless championing of this agenda. I can confirm that the UK will be supporting it. I can also confirm that we are on course with the blue belt programme to deliver over 4 million sq km of maritime protection around the UK’s overseas territories by 2020.
It is important to remember that President-elect Bolsonaro received a clear mandate from the Brazilian people, and we will of course endeavour to work with his Administration. However, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, our view on racism, homophobia and misogyny is clear—it would never be acceptable. We will remain the strongest of champions on human rights on the international stage and will not shy away from expressing that view where we disagree with other Governments, including our closest allies.
I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Tunisia. Yesterday the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was the target of a suicide bombing—the first attack in the country since 2015. What support are my right hon. Friend and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office providing to Tunisia in the wake of yesterday’s attack to ensure that its tourist economy, strengthened by UK holidaymakers, does not falter as it is starting to gather speed?
We have already expressed our condolences to Tunisia for the attack yesterday. The security situation in Tunisia has been worked on quite intensively by the Tunisian authorities since the attack in Sousse some years ago. We remain in close contact with Tunisia. We constantly update our travel advice to keep people in touch with the situation. We will continue to work with the Tunisian authorities to improve the security situation still further.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important situation. I was in the Anglophone region of Cameroon earlier this year. We are following with great concern the reports we are hearing that the situation has not got any better since I visited. We are urging the President, who has recently been re-elected, to follow through on his assurance that he would engage in meaningful dialogue to address the concerns of the people living in that region.
When my right hon. Friend speaks to the President of Sri Lanka later on in the week, will he point out that his recent actions are in direct contravention of the 19th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, that the international community continues to recognise Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the legitimate Prime Minister, that this can only be changed by a vote in Parliament, and that Parliament must be recalled as a matter of urgency in order that such a vote can take place?
The independent international fact-finding mission has recently spoken of the “enduring catastrophe” in Myanmar. Has not the time come to put forward a UN resolution referring this to the ICC and bringing public pressure to bear, to try to prevent it from being vetoed?
I completely share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. As I said to the House at the last oral questions, the issue with the ICC referral is that it has to go through the Security Council, where we think it would be vetoed by Russia or China. We are looking at alternative solutions. We are absolutely clear that there has to be accountability, because without accountability, the Rohingyas will not feel safe to go home.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Britain’s position will be to back the rule of law as a guiding principle in Sri Lanka and elsewhere?
The most important thing in Yemen is to bring the conflict to a conclusion. Over the weekend, I spoke to representatives of the UN, the United States, the coalition and the Government of Yemen. Intensive work is going on to make every effort to bring the conflict to a conclusion, and the United Kingdom will play a full part in that.
Following the terrible Salisbury attack, the United Kingdom Government expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and about 20 other countries did the same. Given the evidence that has emerged since then—for example, the attempted hacking of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons—does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is a case for the UK to go further in degrading the Russian state’s ability to commit espionage on our territory, by expelling more Russian diplomats?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He may not have heard it, but I said earlier on that we are making it very clear that it is not our place to intervene or interfere in this matter, but clearly it is a concern. The UN report on human rights has rightly been referred to. We very much take note of former high commissioner Zeid’s presentation to the Human Rights Council in June this year and the clear recommendations for the Governments of India and Pakistan. We hope that those will be adhered to.
In the light of recent worrying developments in Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government there to make good on their promises to deliver justice for the Tamil people and accountability for war crimes committed against them?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. I was in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the month, and like the Foreign Secretary, I am deeply concerned by the fast-developing political situation there. As I say, not only do we want to stand up for the constitution, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that we need to continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement fully the commitments it has willingly made to the UN Human Rights Council.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan. This is a serious situation. We continue to advocate the freeing up of political space and the freeing of political prisoners, as some of the cost-free things that the Government of South Sudan could do to show willing in terms of the peace process declared on 12 September.
While the nation and the international community rightly focus on the situation in Rakhine state in Burma, I recently met people from Karen and Chin states, and they told me some horrendous continuing stories. I am also hosting a delegation from Kachin and Shan states—
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest, and he is absolutely right. The fact-finding mission said that there were mass exterminations and mass expulsions in the Kachin and Shan areas as well, and we raised all those issues with Aung San Suu Kyi when I saw her.
I know the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) very well. He has many commitments, he is a very busy man and he has a very full diary. There is no need to advertise it to the House; we are all aware of what an indispensable public servant he is.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For over 70 years, the sons and daughters of Kashmir have been subjected to persecution, oppression and human rights abuses, yet it seems that our position continues to be that this is a matter for India and Pakistan. How many more innocent men, women and children have to die before we at least facilitate peaceful talks between those countries to find a peaceful resolution?
I do understand the passion and the genuine sense of outrage that the hon. Gentleman feels. Ultimately, there can be a solution only if India and Pakistan work together. It cannot be our role to intervene, not least because, as I think the hon. Gentleman will understand, we will be seen by one or other side as intervening on that side rather than on the other. We will do our very best, as I have already mentioned, as far as the UN is concerned—given that a UN report is on the table—to try to bring the parties together. However, on the notion that it is in any way the place of the UK Government to intervene on this matter, I am afraid that we have quite rightly maintained such a position for over 70 years.
Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a British, Han Chinese and Uighur expedition that crossed the Taklamakan desert in western China for the first time. Today, Xinjiang is not a happy region, and there are worrying, wide-scale reports of abuses of the human rights of the Muslim Uighur population. Does the Minister believe that this is something we should be raising at the human rights talks in Geneva?
The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that the EU has already introduced targeted sanctions against seven Burmese generals. We are in discussions with the French, as the other EU permanent member of the Security Council, as to what further measures we can take.
Increased Russian military activity has been noticed in Libya, and we continue to monitor that. We would reiterate that there is a UN arms embargo in relation to Libya. It should be the role of all parties to work constructively with the efforts of UN special envoy Ghassan Salamé, and Russia should direct its efforts to encouraging parties to work with that process to bring the conflict to a conclusion.
The hon. Gentleman was there recently, I understand. He will be aware that, through the Department for International Development, we do have a programme of humanitarian assistance there, but Russian aggression continues to destabilise the area. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently spoke to Foreign Minister Klimkin to emphasise our commitment to and support for Ukraine, including through Operation Orbital.
Given the extraordinary declaration by the Argentinian Foreign Minister that Argentina will seek to enhance its claims to the Falklands if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, will my right hon. Friend confirm that—deal or no deal—there will be no question whatever of undermining the status of the Falkland Islands as a British territory?
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is meeting now in Hobart. What progress has the UK delegation made in securing a marine protected area for the Weddell sea, which is absolutely vital to stop run-away climate change?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the important talks that are taking place. The UK is very much a co-proponent and keen advocate of the proposal currently under discussion. We strongly support this marine protection work, not just in the Weddell sea.
I have recently returned from Abu Nuwar, a village close to Khan al-Ahmar. There, I asked some of the mothers about their hopes and expectations. They said their hope was to remain in their village; their expectation was that, if Khan al-Ahmar is demolished, they would be next. What hope can the Minister give the mothers of Abu Nuwar?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his visit and for his continuing interest in this issue. As he knows, and as the House knows, we have made significant representations in relation to Khan al-Ahmar and other Bedouin communities in recent times. There has still been no decision to demolish the Khan al-Ahmar village; that is currently paused—a decision by the Israeli authorities that we welcome. We continue to hope that a resolution will be found that does not involve demolition. The United Kingdom will remain closely involved.
If President Sirisena will not back down on the apparent return of Mahinda Rajapaksa—a man with a terrible human rights record in Sri Lanka—what further steps will the Foreign Secretary take with our European allies to demonstrate the seriousness of Britain’s concern about this matter?
We very much hope that President Sirisena will back down and will adhere to the constitution, which of course means bringing back Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, when he alludes at least to this, that we are actively co-ordinating our response within the international community. We believe that a concerted international response will have the most effect.
During the events that followed the Salisbury attack, the incompetence of the Russian operatives was there to be seen, but so too was their malevolence. Our EU friends were hugely helpful in thwarting their ambitions. Can I have an assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will continue in the future, whatever the future holds, to work closely with our European friends in thwarting this kind of threat?
Does the Foreign Secretary understand the complete terror and horror of my Tamil constituents at the idea that Mahinda Rajapaksa may be coming back? There can be no justice in Sri Lanka; these people will not find out where their disappeared relatives went nine years ago. What is the Foreign Secretary really going to do to support them?
I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that we do a lot already to support them. As I mentioned, I visited Colombo at the beginning of October and made these points to Foreign Minister Marapana. I also met the Tamil National Alliance leader and a number of human rights and other civil society activists. We will continue to do that work. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, and I am as alarmed as she is. It is absolutely essential that we get Sri Lanka back to the table to ensure that it adheres to its UN Human Rights Council obligations.
When will the Government formally recognise Palestine as a state in its own right and a full member of the UN?
We have no current presence in Sana’a, so we have no consular staff or anyone available. When people can get to a border, we can offer support, but we cannot physically offer support in Yemen. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a continuing case, and we have done our very best to support him and his constituents in very difficult circumstances. We will continue to do so, but the conflict makes our assistance extremely difficult.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to report on means of requiring tobacco companies to meet the costs of smoking cessation services; to make provision about the advertising and marketing of products that are alternatives to tobacco; to require tobacco companies to publish information about their activities in relation to such products; to create an offence of selling tobacco without a licence; and for connected purposes.
In 1990, almost one third of adults in Great Britain smoked. The most recent figures show that this has almost halved—the prevalence rate is now 15.8%. The Government’s ambition, set out in the tobacco control plan last year, is to reach 12% or less by 2022, with a longer-term aim of achieving a 5% prevalence rate. Despite that relative success, the UK still has 7.6 million smokers, which means that more than 200 people a day still die from smoking-related illnesses that could have been prevented, and that smoking is estimated to cost our economy in excess of £11 billion a year.
In 2017, local authorities cut their budgets for stop smoking services in half. Separately, the number of smokers using NHS stop smoking services has decreased from a peak of 100,000 in 2011 to 40,000 in 2016. The Bill aims to highlight what a package of measures could do to accelerate the decline in smoking prevalence. At the heart of this new approach is the creation of a new fund that would be used primarily to supplement local authorities’ cessation expenditure, while simultaneously encouraging cigarette companies to shift away from combustible products to less harmful alternatives.
I know many are very wary of those products and the fact that many are produced or funded by tobacco companies. We must recognise that the tobacco companies have been extremely dishonest in the past about the harm caused by smoking. Tobacco companies have made a fortune selling cigarettes and they have got the country into this mess. I believe it is only right that they get us out of it. We should and must follow the simple principle of the polluter pays. They have the resources and the customer base to help smoking cessation tools get straight to the people who need them most.
The proposed tobacco transition fund would work in a similar way to the carbonated drinks industry fund, providing incentives for both individual consumers and the tobacco industry to change their behaviour. Over the next decade or so, such a fund could raise up to £1 billion, which would be spent primarily on cessation services in the areas with the highest smoking prevalence. The fund would be paid for by the major tobacco companies according to their market share. The fund would remain at the same level, regardless of the number of smokers in the UK, thereby making it increasingly costly for any company that wished to continue selling cigarettes as the number of smokers declined. The vast majority of the fund would be passed directly to local authorities to fund cessation services, with a particular focus on those with the highest rates of prevalence.
The fund could also provide extra ring-fenced money to Public Health England to promote switching by funding independent research, with the aim of promoting popular understanding and awareness of non-combustible products. The final element of the fund would be to support trading standards in its ongoing efforts to combat illicit trade in combustible tobacco, with the investment based on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assessment of local need and impact. The fund would need a robust and independent governance structure to oversee spending by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and local authorities. It would also require accurate reporting by the manufacturers of their efforts to switch consumers. This could include publication of sales data, and research and development spend.
The Bill would also need to find a way to encourage more smokers to switch. It is apparent that the Public Health England endorsement, which states that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, has been insufficient in persuading smokers that the alternatives are safer. In a survey last year, 26% of adults thought e-cigarettes were as harmful or more harmful than smoking, up from 7% in 2013.
We also need a new approach to help people receive the required information and support to quit. That must include a new approach to the rules on advertisements. We must recognise that e-cigarettes and other non-combustible products are very different from products that tobacco companies are better known for. It seems ridiculous that it is possible to advertise these products on outdoor billboards, but the same information cannot be provided using the internet, even with restrictions to limit its audience to adults only. Manufacturers of reduced harm products would adhere to a marketing code similar to that which applies to other highly regulated products, such as alcohol. The Advertising Standards Authority would monitor and enforce the code.
We must also look at reducing access to harmful tobacco products that are still being sold. At the moment, there is no requirement in England to have a licence or to register with a local authority to sell tobacco. Scotland has a model that requires registration, which is relatively simple to complete and free for retailers so that it does not hit small businesses. Introducing a register in England would strengthen tobacco control, making it a criminal offence to sell tobacco without being registered. If retailers sell illicit tobacco or sell to minors, they could then be struck off the register altogether.
I truly believe that if the industry is willing to commit to a future based on e-cigarettes and other reduced-harm products, we should take it up on the offer and allow Government and local authorities to partner with it for the financial and technical help needed to help smokers to quit. I am sure we would all agree that we want a smoke-free society as soon as possible. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and even some tobacco companies are now saying this as well, so the Government could not ask for a better opportunity. The challenge now is to make sure that the reality lives up to those ambitions, and I believe that the measures I have set out give us the best opportunity to do this. I commend the Bill to the House.
To be clear, while I rise to oppose the Bill, I do not intend to divide the House. I do not intend to speak for long either, as I know that many hon. Members want to speak in the Budget debate, but it is important to put the Bill that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) proposes into some context. I commend his dogged determination to reduce the number of people who smoke, but my fear is that, with this Bill, the points that he raises are either unwelcome or largely not necessary.
Yesterday the Chancellor again increased the tax on tobacco products by a rate above inflation, which means that the tax on some products is now more than 90% of the retail price. Around £12 billion of excise revenue is raised from tobacco products in the UK each year, and that does not include VAT. Each year the Government increase the level further above inflation. It was supposedly Louis XIV’s Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who famously said that the art of levying taxes is to pluck the goose so as to get the maximum amount of feathers with the minimum amount of hissing. That is the balancing act that the Government have to perform every year with duties, including tobacco duty, except in this case the only hissing that we can hear is the sound of the criminal gangs who smuggle illegal tobacco into this country rubbing their hands with glee. If the Government thought that they could raise any more from the tobacco industry, I think that they would already be doing it.
The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the House should require the Secretary of State to report on how he is making the tobacco industry pay for smoking cessation services. One is tempted to ask how much more than £12 billion the right hon. Gentleman wants or expects, but of course what he is calling for is some kind of levy on tobacco, which he and a few others have repeatedly asked this and previous Governments about in the House. Indeed, such a question was asked only last month by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), so clearly Members are having no difficulty in holding the Government to account on this issue, and I certainly do not think that we need a new Bill to help us.
The hon. Lady received the same answer in September that the Government have given many times before: a levy would be passed on to consumers and so would have the same effect as a duty increase, which is happening anyway, except for the fact that a levy would complicate the tax system, increase the administrative burden on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and create uncertainty for consumers and businesses. It was a bad idea in 2016 when the right hon. Member for Rother Valley presented a petition to the House about it, it was a bad idea last month, and it is still a bad idea today. The right hon. Gentleman keeps banging this drum, but perhaps it is time to change the tune.
On the advertising and promotion of alternatives to smoking, such as e-cigarettes, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have already committed to examining how they can better support smokers with clear information after we leave the EU and once we are no longer held back by the outdated thinking of the EU’s tobacco products directive—yet another benefit of leaving. The best thing that a smoker can do, of course, is to quit smoking altogether, but it is obvious that those who cannot, or do not want to, deserve to be told the truth about e-cigarettes and other products that could offer them a less harmful alternative. At present, the law prevents manufacturers from giving them that information, but I hope that once we leave the EU, we will be able to change that.
Not all aspects of the tobacco products directive are bad, however; some offer real protections to consumers and deserve to be preserved after we leave the EU. For example, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the directive requires the manufacturers and importers of e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products to share with the Government any market research information that they hold on those products when they place them on the public register of legal products. That seems to be a very proper measure to allow the Government to monitor what is happening in this marketplace. As long as that measure remains in place after we leave the EU, it strikes me that we see another part of the right hon. Gentleman’s proposed Bill that is simply not needed.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asks for the introduction of a tobacco licensing scheme, with tough penalties, but again that simply is not needed. The Government are already at work on implementing a Europe-wide system to track and trace tobacco products. That system will require that manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers are all registered on a public database as “economic operators” in order to handle tobacco. That is a de facto licensing scheme anyway, and it does everything that is needed to support trading standards enforcement against unscrupulous criminals who sell smuggled tobacco or sell tobacco to children—with a bit of luck, we will see a few more of them behind bars as a result. I certainly hope that anyone who is caught committing such crimes would be automatically struck off the list and rendered unable to legally handle tobacco.
As I said, the right hon. Gentleman deserves our respect for his tireless and relentless work to reduce smoking. Although it is not my intention to divide the House, I thought that it was important to put on record the context of his proposed Bill and to point out that its measures are either unwelcome or, more often, not necessary.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Sir Kevin Barron, Norman Lamb, Mark Pawsey, Liz Kendall, Jess Phillips, Crispin Blunt, Mr Charles Walker, Mr Kevan Jones, Adam Afriyie and Tonia Antoniazzi present the Bill.
Sir Kevin Barron accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 280).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just agreed that the Bill is theoretically going to be read a Second time on 23 November. Unfortunately, on that day, 150 private Members’ Bills are going to be considered, 148 of which—now 149—I suspect will not be reached. Under our Standing Orders, the Government have to provide us with 13 days in a Session for private Members’ Bills. They guaranteed that they would provide additional days in this Session, because it is a two-year Session. They are considering having a two-year Session next time as well. Would it not be a good idea if they announced some additional days for private Members’ Bills—today, for instance?
Order. The Clerk has consulted his scholarly cranium, on the strength of which—and it is a very considerable strength—he was about to proffer me some advice, to which I will listen attentively if I can hear it. In any case, I have a view on what the hon. Gentleman has said, but let us first hear the point of order from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), if it is on the same matter.
It is on that very point, Mr Speaker. Am I not right in thinking that the Standing Orders state that there “shall be” 13 sitting days in a Session for private Members’ Bills, not that there will be a minimum of 13 days? Would it therefore not be quite proper for this Session to have just those 13 days, as that is what the Standing Orders clearly set out?
Conformity with Standing Orders is a very good starting point, but in reality it is possible for there to be differences of opinion about their interpretation. Recalling the sequence of events earlier in this Parliament, I believe that the Government nodded their recognition of the fact that a two-year Session had an implication for Opposition days and private Members’ Bills, and that therefore there would need to be an explicit commitment to guarantee the requisite number of days. I am not aware that that has yet happened, and that, I think, is at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. If he is asking if I think it would be a good idea for there to be an announcement, my answer is: it might very well be, and if there is to be such an announcement, it would probably be a good idea for it to be sooner rather than later, if for no other or better reason than that it would mean he did not have to exercise his knee muscles again by rising to his feet to raise this perfectly legitimate point. I think we will leave it there for now, but I am grateful to both hon. Members for their points of order.
Ways and Means
Income Tax (Charge)
Debate resumed (Order, 29 October).
Question again proposed,
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2019-20.
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.
Four weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised to end austerity. She raised people’s hopes—the hopes of teachers that they would no longer have to rely on begging letters to parents to fund the running of their schools; the hopes of police officers that the safer neighbourhood teams would return to tackle the rise in violent crime; and the hopes of local councillors of all political parties that they would have the resources to support local families in need at a time when a record number of children are being taken into care.
Those hopes were dashed yesterday. At best, those people got what the Chancellor described as “little extras”. No wonder so many teachers, police officers, local councillors and others feel bitterly disappointed at the Prime Minister’s broken promise, because yesterday’s Budget was not the end of austerity. Even with yesterday’s Budget, two thirds of the welfare benefit cuts planned by the Government will still roll out. Outside the NHS, departmental budgets are flat, and the Resolution Foundation this morning revealed that some Departments faced a further 3% cut in their budgets by 2023. Austerity is not ending.
For most people, ending austerity is about not just halting some of the cuts planned by the Government, but lifting the burden that austerity has imposed upon them and their communities over the last hard eight years.
I thank the shadow Chancellor for giving way so early in his speech. May I refer him to page 39 of the Red Book, which shows clearly that, by fiscal year 2023-24, there will be a £30 billion fiscal loosening? He referred to the Resolution Foundation, but it says that under universal credit, more money will be paid out to recipients than under the current system.
To be absolutely clear, the Chancellor gave the impression yesterday that there would be no departmental cuts, but the Resolution Foundation has said that, although some Departments will be protected, others will have a 3% cut as a result. I call that continuing austerity.
Ending austerity is about more than that; it is about ending and repairing some of the damage that has been inflicted on our society and, yes, has undermined some of the social fabric we rely upon. Yesterday, the Chancellor claimed that this was a “turning point”. It is, but not in the way he suggested. This is not the end of austerity, but it is the beginning of the end of the dominance of an economic theory and practice that has wreaked havoc on our communities. People no longer believe the myth that austerity was necessary. They are seeing this Government hand out £110 billion in tax cuts to the rich and corporations while their services are being cut and their children are forced into poverty.
We are currently seeing local councils—the first wave has been Conservative—virtually going into administration. That must say something about the impact of a 50% cut in local government funding over the last eight years.
People no longer accept the trickle-down economics that has gripped the Tory party for four decades.
I will in due course. The Parliamentary Private Secretary has done his job and handed out the briefings and questions to everyone. I respect the hon. Gentleman for his diligence and I will allow some interventions but, to be frank, people out there are fed up with parliamentary banter and want a debate that reflects the real world.
People no longer accept the trickle-down economics that has gripped the Tory party for four decades—the idea that somehow if we cut taxes for the rich and the corporations, this wealth will trickle down to everybody. They no longer accept “public sector bad, private sector good”. They no longer accept privatisation and deregulation; in fact, those are anathema to most people now. What was surprising yesterday was how lacking in self-awareness the Chancellor and his colleagues were and how out of touch they were with the reality of our people’s day-to-day lives. His speech reflected how ideologically crushed the Tories are. They are so bereft of ideas that the Chancellor yesterday, in a major parliamentary speech, was reduced to toilet gags. They are so bereft of ideas that they made a pathetic attempt to imitate Labour policies.
A former Local Government Minister gets to his feet in this House and does not express a word of apology for what the Government have done to local government.
For some time, I have had concerns about the nature of the whole debate on austerity. First, many—I accept not all—in the Conservative party seem to have no appreciation of what austerity has meant and continues to mean for our society. I thought at one point that that was because many Labour MPs such as me represented constituencies with a different demographic to many Conservative constituencies. I represent a working class, multicultural London constituency. Yes, it is faced with different challenges from those of leafy Surrey, for example, but most of all our constituents, wherever they are, rely on the NHS, local schools, the police and local council services, so all of us should have some idea of what the public services that support our constituents have been going through.
Not at the moment, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
What shocked me yesterday was that the Chancellor delivered a Budget that so clearly failed to address the desperate needs of our society after eight years of austerity. Let us look at just some elements of the human cost of austerity and what the Chancellor brought forward in the Budget.
As part of the number crunching that the right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly been doing, has he worked out how much more would have been available for the police, prisons, schools and local government if the UK had not voted to leave the European Union two and a half years ago? Does he not believe that that reinforces the case for a people’s vote now to restore the level of growth that we saw two and a half years ago?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views on Brexit because I campaigned for remain as well, but it behoves any Liberal Democrat to come to this House with a bit of humility after serving with a Tory Administration that savaged our public services.
Let me look at some of the elements of human suffering. Health workers are having to cope with the biggest financial squeeze in the NHS’s history.
That is an essential element of the reconstruction that Labour will have to do when we come to power.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that a rise in health spending of 3.3% was needed just to maintain the current stretched service, and that at least 4% was needed to improve it. Instead, according to the Nuffield Trust, what we got amounts to just a 2.7% increase in overall health spending in real terms next year.
Police officers have seen 21,000 of their colleagues’ jobs cut since 2010. As a result, violent crime is on the rise. The independent police watchdog is warning that
“the lives of vulnerable people could be at risk.”
What did the police get yesterday? Some £160 million for counter-terrorism—far less than is needed—and not a penny more for neighbourhood policing. And that despite the head of counter-terrorism warning that counter-terrorism work relies on regular policing being properly funded.
Teachers’ pay has fallen by 4% since 2011 and the schools budget has been cut by £3 billion in real terms. Some 36,000 teachers have left the profession in a year —the highest since records began.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cuts to education that have left 22 out of 26 Wallasey schools facing cuts and that have seen £3 million cut from their budgets, while teachers are earning £4,000 a year less and having to do more, are an absolute disgrace, and that that demonstrates that this Government give no priority whatsoever to the future of our children?
My hon. Friend has got it exactly.
It takes something, does it not, to have headteachers marching on Downing Street? That has never been seen before. Just what did yesterday’s Budget do to tempt teachers back? What the Chancellor offered was “little extras”. It was an insult, especially when 60% of teachers are not getting a pay rise this year.
There are now 4 million children living in poverty, 500 children’s centres have closed, 500 children’s playgrounds have closed and 128,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. When children’s social care faces a funding gap of £3 billion by 2025, what did the Chancellor offer? Just £84 million for just 20 councils. That will not even scratch the surface of the problem.
We have a record number of children coming into care. I know what coming into care means for a child: they are scarred for life. Why are they coming into care? Because there has been a 40% cut in funding to councils for early intervention to support families. Let the Government justify that.
On young people, the YMCA reports that spending on youth services has fallen by 62% since 2010. The average graduate comes out of university with a £50,000 debt. The IFS describes home ownership among young people as having collapsed completely. Tragically, with the mounting pressure, a decades-long decline in suicide among men has been reversed since 2010.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning suicide. I wonder whether there is anything in this Budget that he can welcome, even though I appreciate that we may differ. Does he not welcome the announcement on mental health or the announcement of a £21 million centre of excellence for public sector leaders?
Of course we welcome more money for mental health, but what was required was £4 billion, not £2 billion; and that £2 billion was contained within the £20 billion that had already been announced, so it is not additional money. There are some things that we can work on on a cross-party basis in this House, but we have to be honest about the needs and the requirements, and we have to be straightforward in saying how they can be funded.