House of Commons
Wednesday 21 November 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
It has been brought to my attention that some football skills were displayed in the Chamber yesterday evening after the House rose. I am informed that the Doorkeepers on duty told the Members concerned that the Chamber was not the place for that activity. However, those Doorkeepers were advised that permission had been given. Let me assure the House that that permission certainly did not come from me.
I have received gracious—indeed, fulsome—letters of apology from the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) in relation to this incident. I think I can speak for us all when I say that our historic Chamber should not be used for this type of activity, and I gently remind colleagues that if they are seeking to use the Chamber outside of sitting hours, other than for the purpose of simply showing it to guests, frankly they should write to me asking for their request to be considered. I have said what I have said. There are no hard feelings, and I consider the matter to be closed.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We have provided £129 million towards alleviating the crisis in Bangladesh since August last year and helped to reach nearly 1 million people with life-saving support. We will continue to be a leader in the international response, supporting the Government of Bangladesh to meet the ongoing needs of the Rohingya refugees and host communities.
The first official day of repatriating thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar ended in failure last week, after no one agreed to voluntarily return. In that context, is the Department constructing its aid programme to reflect the fact that the vast majority of Rohingya refugees will be in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future?
I am pleased to say that the Government of Bangladesh have respected the principle of voluntary return and have stated, quite rightly, that they will continue to do so. Our planning approach remains that refugees and host communities will require support in Bangladesh for some time, even when credible voluntary returns processes begin.
The plight of the Rohingya people is the worst regional crisis since the Bangladesh famine of 1974, which led to 1.5 million deaths. The UK’s response has been outstanding. Can the Secretary of State say something about the pressure we are putting on other countries to meet their commitments? What is her view of the supine conduct of Aung San Suu Kyi?
My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that in addition to our own funding, we continue to ask other international partners to lean in. Generous international support has ensured that the current international appeal, which continues to the end of this year, is now funded to 72%. However, this is likely to be a protracted crisis, and sustained funding will be needed. What every refugee wants is to return home, and clearly the Burmese Government have a key role in providing assurances to people who want to go back home.
Many of the babies conceived last summer as a result of rape have now been born, and conditions in the camps are still abysmal. What post-natal support is being given for the babies and mothers who have been left with nothing?
This is one of the things that the UK in particular has been able to do. We have provided the lion’s share of the pre-birth maternity services, which ranges from the midwives who were there providing support and caring for those infants, to healthcare, vaccinations and ensuring that they are prioritised and in better facilities. Most of those births were during peak cyclone season.
The chair of the UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar has told the Security Council that the situation today is “an ongoing genocide”. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that the conditions in the country are
“not yet conducive for returns”.
Non-governmental organisations on the ground echo these grave concerns about the pending repatriations of refugees back to Myanmar. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that no refugee is forcibly returned to Myanmar?
On the point that the hon. Lady makes about accountability and justice, it is right that we must look at all options, including the International Criminal Court. Obviously, it is vital that we work with the Bangladeshi Government to ensure that more appropriate facilities are put in place for people, and that the main camp is broken down. A huge amount of work has gone into ensuring that the refugees there know what their rights are, and although earlier it was described as a “failure”, actually the success of that failed repatriation was that nobody got on that bus, or felt obliged to or was coerced into getting on that bus.
We understand that the Government are concerned and we all share the concern deeply, so does the Secretary of State agree that the UNHCR is the best-placed agency to co-ordinate support to refugees on the ground? If so, is the Secretary of State concerned that the agency has reportedly not been consulted or informed about the decision to start repatriations, and what is the Department doing to address this?
This is incredibly important. We have long made the case—not just in Bangladesh, but in Burma—for the UN agencies to be given access and, obviously, the information that they need to co-ordinate things properly. We will continue to make the case for that. We all need to work together to make sure that these refugees are taken care of, and that eventually they will be able to go back home.
The United Kingdom has prioritised protecting and safeguarding women and girls in the speed and scale of our response to the Rohingya crisis. Our latest funding to the crisis will reach over 250,000 people affected by sexual and gender-based violence with targeted training, psychosocial support, and sexual and reproductive health treatment.
Hundreds of incidents of gender-based violence are being reported each week in Rohingya refugee camps. In line with the recommendations in the 2015 global report on Security Council resolution 1325, will the Minister guarantee that all future funding for the Rohingya response allocates at least 15% to gender in the emergency programming?
We have given ring-fenced funding to protect women and girls—indeed, over and above the recommendation that the hon. Gentleman has raised—which forms part of our latest £70 million of support. We have provided 30 children-friendly spaces, 19 women’s centres and case management for over 2,000 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. We share his concern, and we are—practically—doing something about it.
What practical action is being taken to ensure that the infrastructure at Cox’s Bazar improves the safety of Rohingya women and girls?
My hon. Friend will know that if someone goes there and sees the nature of the camp, they will realise that over a period of time improvements have been made to ensure better safety. Practical issues such as lighting, making sure that people are safe at night, is an important part of that. However, there are always concerns that there is more to be done. We have directed our efforts not just to supporting infrastructure, but to practical work with clinics and safe spaces for women and girls. Above all, this is about making sure that people have somewhere to go if they fear there is any risk, but sadly, too many people in the camps report that, as time goes on, this will still be something they need help to counter.
Last month, I attended a fundraising event held by the North East Rohingya Solidarity Campaign, which raised over £7,000 to help establish a centre for women and girls to protect those refugees from trafficking, abuse and forced prostitution. Will the Minister outline what more the Government could do to support our local communities across the UK who are standing so much in solidarity with the people described as the “most persecuted on Earth”?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and comments, and I very much support what she has been doing in her local community. With our small charities fund, Aid Match, this all goes to work to support local communities who are doing what they are doing, and to support the charities that are engaged with the work, where the United Kingdom is also providing the funding. All these things make a contribution to safe spaces, and to giving those who are running the camp the support they need to counter what they fear will be continuing issues of domestic violence and attempted trafficking in the camps the longer they are there.
UK aid is allocated based on need, to help to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to achieve the UN’s global goals.
UK aid rightly makes a huge difference in crisis or disaster situations, but what steps are taken to ensure that it is deployed most effectively in those circumstances?
Of course, that is something we have to be constantly vigilant about in all our spending, but I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that we were successful in changing the OECD’s rules, so if a hurricane hits a relatively prosperous country and brings its income down, we can spend aid there as well.
Last week, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired as many as 460 rockets towards Israeli civilian communities. Does the Minister share my concern that Hamas’s continued misuse of international aid worsens the suffering of the people of Gaza? How can she be sure that UK taxpayers’ money is reaching those who need it most?
Of course the UK Government strongly condemn Hamas’s rocket firing and are deeply concerned about the civilian casualties. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has zero tolerance and needs to be constantly vigilant. We do not fund Hamas, of course, but we need to be extremely careful to ensure that UK aid reaches the intended beneficiaries.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s consistent campaigning on the issue. She is right to draw attention to the important role that UK aid has played in the humanitarian response in Syria. I am sure that she and other hon. Members will continue to make sure that the voices of Syrian refugees in the region, and of those Syrians who have found a home here, will continue to be heard in this place.
A Save the Children report, published today, estimates that 85,000 children have died in Yemen in the last three years, which is equivalent to the entire population of under-fives in the City of Birmingham. Nobody doubts the Government’s commitment to give aid to Yemen, but the aid is not getting through. What can be done to make sure that the people of Yemen get that money?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s work on the issue. We have seen the important report today that drew that conclusion. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on Yemen later today. The right hon. Gentleman can be assured that the UK Government are doing everything we can, not only to fund the humanitarian response, but to resolve the logistical challenges that face those who want to deliver humanitarian aid.
Yes; I reassure my right hon. Friend that children in conflict zones—there are so many of them—will continue to be a priority. I reassure hon. Members, who may have read reports that the figure was as low as 2.5%, that we do not recognise that figure. Our response to protecting children in conflict zones goes way beyond that and forms a core part of what we do.
Order. I gently point out to colleagues that we have very little time on an occasion such as this.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) is travelling with the International Development Committee. Will the Minister confirm the Government’s policy on the UK’s continued membership of UNESCO? Does she accept that the educational and cultural work of UNESCO, both here and around the world, is of immense value and is a perfectly legitimate use of her Department’s budget? How would withdrawal from UNESCO enhance the Government’s vision of a post-Brexit global Britain?
May I reassure the hon. Gentleman—and perhaps encourage him not to believe everything he reads in the newspapers—that the UK continues to be a member of UNESCO? We continue to look to UNESCO to follow through on the reforms it promised to undertake. We continue to work with it on that.
In May, an International Development Committee report on official development assistance found that increasing amounts spent by other Departments had
“negligible targeting towards helping the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Just last week, the energy watchdog Platform reported UK aid being used to help oil, gas and fracking industries with their overseas market expansion. Does the Minister understand the growing concerns about the creeping, changing nature of the UK aid budget under this Government?
The hon. Gentleman is part of a Front-Bench team that does not seem to believe in the role of the private sector at all. The Government believe that to reach the sustainable development goals—some $2.5 trillion is needed to achieve them—we need to be able to crowd in investors into other sectors. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to put significant funding—some £5.8 billion—towards ensuring that more people around the world have access to clean energy.
The UK has made official-level representations to the EU and World Bank over the past three months on the position of UNRWA. We will continue to work with UNRWA and our international partners to help ensure essential services are maintained, despite the United States’ withdrawal of funding.
Given that President Trump can now in no way be considered an honest broker in this matter, is it not time that Britain stepped up to the plate and led? Will the Government consider hosting a donor conference to make up the shortfall in funding? Further, will they support my Palestinian statehood Bill, which I will be introducing to the House later today?
On the hon. Lady’s second point, she will be aware that the recognition of Palestine remains a matter for the United Kingdom’s judgment in the best interests of peace and the peace process, and we hold to that. On support for UNRWA, we continue to work with other donors and urge them to step in to assist in filling the gap in funding. We have done that with other states and we are doing that with the EU and the World Bank. We will continue to do so. We have increased our contribution this year to £57.5 million to help vulnerable Palestinians in relation to health and education. We will continue to support UNRWA.
In June last year, UNRWA discovered a major terrorist tunnel under two of its schools in Gaza. What support can the UK give to UNRWA to ensure that its neutrality is not violated, and that its resources do not get misappropriated?
Bearing in mind UNRWA’s particular position, particularly in Gaza, we know—I have discussed this with senior directors at UNRWA—it is absolutely essential that it maintains the integrity of its operation. When others have abused that in trying to disguise schools as places where terrorist activity could be hidden, it is essential that it deals with that. We will continue to give it every support in finding that out.
The Government have no plans to devolve functions of the Department for International Development to the devolved Administrations, but we are giving people in all parts of the UK more control over how aid money is spent.
Given the reported comments about the Secretary of State’s attitude to UNESCO, the UK Government’s confused position shows their real attitude to aid spending. Given that Scotland wants to remain part of UNESCO, should she not devolve aid spending to Scotland so that we can make our own decisions?
In line with the answer that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), gave some moments ago, the Government’s position on UNESCO has not changed, nor has mine. We continue to monitor the quality of the multilaterals that we work with. I have funded new projects with UNESCO, looking particularly at data on education, and we will continue to do that.
Scotland has a long tradition of international solidarity, particularly in responding to crisis situations, such as the recent earthquake in Indonesia. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK Government support the current arrangement for devolved Administrations to run international aid development programmes, and that her Department has no plans to curtail or undermine these?
I can confirm that, and indeed, we are developing small grant programmes and UK aid match to enable more community groups, as well as Administrations, to contribute to such humanitarian disasters.
I urge the Secretary of State to reject the representations from the party opposite, which will result in duplication, waste and less help to those who need it. Will she also take back control of our budget from the European Union?
This coming Monday will be the last development meeting of the EU that the UK will attend. It is my sincere wish that we will be able to continue working with our EU partners on humanitarian issues and others, but I have said that we will not do this for as long as the EU discriminates against British NGOs and suppliers.
Is it not the case that in developing countries, the brand “UK aid” is well known and helps to promote soft power? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not do anything to mitigate that?
My hon. Friend is right, and the Prime Minister described UK aid as a “badge of hope”. We should be tremendously proud of all that the British public enable us to do.
How important is it that the Minister maintains diligence in ensuring that fraud and corruption are avoided in delivering our aid to those who need it most?
That is absolutely correct. It is not just fraud and corruption and making sure that our programmes are delivering for the people who need them; we also need to help developing nations to crack down on other fraud and corruption going on. There is no point in us putting aid money into or lending money to countries when more of that money is leaving those countries every year.
Next year, the UK will present a voluntary national review to the United Nations, setting out our progress on meeting the sustainable development goals. The Government welcome this opportunity to present all that we are doing to deliver this ambitious agenda in the UK and around the world. It is a team effort and I am incredibly proud of how so many British businesses, civil society and other groups are helping to achieve those goals. I hope that all hon. Members will encourage their constituents to share their stories during the start of this review process by going to the gov.uk portal.
Last year, Members across the House welcomed DFID’s £3 million of funding aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the allocation of the funding for those projects to help to bring these groups together?
This invaluable programme is now up and running. It is working in Israel and the Palestinian territories to bring together young leaders and connect them, to work together on reducing tensions on inter-religious sacred sites, and to help to tackle a neglected tropical disease, leishmaniasis, by working co-operatively together.
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that £5.8 billion from our aid budget is to be spent in this area over the years to come and that so far it has helped 47 million people adapt to climate change around the world.
I am so pleased my hon. Friend had the chance to visit Kenya and see that remarkable work. We are working throughout east Africa to ensure a comprehensive approach to defence and security as well as to humanitarian issues across the region.
The situation in Libya remains extremely difficult. These abuses that come to light remind us all that Libya cannot be forgotten and that the efforts to reduce conflict and create peace must continue, as happened in Palermo last week. We are spending £75 million on safer migration routes to help tackle some of these crises, and we continue to do all we can to get people out of the difficult areas, but it requires international co-operation.
We should praise the work of British Rotarians and Rotarians around the world for the progress they are making on eradicating this disease. When it is achieved—and it will be—it will be only the second time in humanitarian history that it has been done.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the long-term campaign work he has done on this. He will know that we have just announced some new programming to mitigate the enormous number of road traffic accidents around the world. It is not just our money but our technical support that is allowing that to happen.
I will certainly do that. I praise World Vision for the campaign and all the work it does. Children in conflict zones are a priority for my Department, and I would also like to put on the record our thanks to the Evening Standard for its War Child fundraising appeal.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I said earlier, we continue to consider all means of holding people to account for these appalling atrocities. As well as other measures, including the recognition of citizens’ rights, justice is a major part of giving people the confidence to return.
Colleagues, Fazila Aswat, who was with our dear and departed colleague Jo Cox when she died, is in the Gallery today. Fazila, we welcome you. [Applause.]
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today is the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, under which women were first allowed to stand for public office, and I am delighted that the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons was a Conservative. Women are coming from all over the United Kingdom to the #AskHerToStand day event, with MPs from every party extending invitations to their constituents. This will be an inspirational day, which the Government are delighted to support, and we hope that it will encourage many more women to consider standing for political office both locally and nationally. It is appropriate that we are reminded of the significant contribution made to the House by female MPs, including the fine example set by the late Jo Cox.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Prime Minister will know that what drives me in politics has always been a love of country and a passionate belief in our United Kingdom, so I have to tell the Prime Minister that I agree with the people of Romford. They are deeply unhappy about the proposed EU deal, which they believe does not represent the Brexit for which they voted. Will the Prime Minister now please think again, even at this late stage, and instead lead our country in a new direction, completely cutting away the tentacles of the EU from our cherished island nation once and for all?
I think that people across the country who voted to leave the European Union voted to bring an end to free movement. Our deal delivers an end to free movement. They voted to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. Our deal delivers an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. They voted for us to stop sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year so that we could spend that money on our priorities, and we will be able to spend it on priorities such as the national health service. However, the European Union remains a close trading partner of the United Kingdom. As we leave the EU, we want to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with it, and we will be able to have an independent trade policy that will enable us to make decisions to trade around the rest of the world.
My hon. Friend is indeed a passionate champion of the United Kingdom, but he is also a passionate champion of the links that the United Kingdom has with many parts of the world—including the Commonwealth—and those can be enhanced when we leave the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for welcoming Fazila Aswat to Parliament today. She is a most welcome guest.
On the hundredth anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming all women to Parliament today as part of the #AskHerToStand campaign. We need a Parliament that truly does represent the diversity of the whole country.
Now that a number of Ministers have confirmed this morning that leaving the EU with no deal is not an option, does the Prime Minister agree that there are no circumstances in which Britain would leave with no deal?
No. I have consistently been clear on this point. The point that has been made by a number of my colleagues in relation to the vote that will come before the House—a meaningful vote on a deal from the European Union—is very simple. If we look at the alternative to that deal with the European Union, we see that it will either be more uncertainty and more division, or it could risk no Brexit at all.
The Prime Minister did not answer the question. Is this the final deal or not? The Work and Pensions Secretary says, “This is the deal. It’s been baked”—well, it is half-baked—but other members of the Cabinet want amendments to the withdrawal agreement. The Leader of the House said last week that there was
“still the potential to improve on…some of the measures…that’s what I’m hoping…to help with.”
Can the Prime Minister clarify whether last week’s withdrawal agreement is the final text, or is there another text that is on its way to us?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he will not get any different answers on this than he has had from me previously. There are two parts to the deal package we are negotiating with the European Union: the leaving part, which is the withdrawal agreement; and the future relationship, which is what is continuing to be negotiated with the European Union. They go together as a package. Yes, the withdrawal agreement has been agreed in principle. The whole package will be what is brought before this House and will be what is considered at the European Union Council on Sunday, and we continue to negotiate on that future relationship to get the good deal that we believe is right for the United Kingdom: a good deal that protects jobs, protects our Union and protects our security.
The Prime Minister is apparently heading off to Brussels today, but the new Brexit Secretary is another non-travelling Brexit Secretary—he is apparently not going with her. I wonder if the post is now an entirely ceremonial one. The Prime Minister’s agreement does not specify how much we would have to pay to extend the transition period. Can she confirm that the choice facing the country would be either the backstop or paying whatever the EU asked us to pay to prolong that transition period?
No, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on that. Let us just remind ourselves what we are talking about: we are talking about the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. First of all, that is best ensured by getting the future relationship in place by the end of December 2020. In the event that that was not the case for a temporary period and an interim arrangement was in place, the choice the right hon. Gentleman set out is not the choice that would be before us. Yes, there will be the backstop in the protocol and, yes, there will be the extension of the implementation period, but what we have also negotiated in the withdrawal agreement is that alternative arrangements could be in place; the key is that they guarantee no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The truth is that the Prime Minister’s idea of taking back control of our money is to hand the EU a blank cheque, and after 2020 no rebate for the UK.
The EU’s trade deal with Canada took seven years to agree, and the deal with Singapore took eight years. The Business Secretary said this week that the transition will have to be extended until the end of 2022. Outside the EU and with no leverage, does the Prime Minister think she is fooling anyone by suggesting a free trade agreement will be finalised by December 2020?
The future relationship that we are negotiating will set out the structure and scope of that deal, which we will be ensuring we can negotiate in legal text once we leave the European Union, but I think people will have seen from the right hon. Gentleman’s question to me previously the problem he has with this deal: he has not even read it; he does not know what is in it. He says there is a problem with the deal and he would do it differently, he wants to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement but has not read it, and he wants to oppose any deal no matter how good it is for the UK but he will accept any European Union deal no matter how bad it is for the UK. And then he wants to use the implementation period that he would vote against to renegotiate the treaty that delivers the implementation period. And he has said that another referendum is not an issue for today, but it could be an issue for tomorrow. He does not know how he would vote, he does not know when it would be, he does not even know what the question would be. That is not leadership; that is playing party politics. I am working in the national interest.
It is the right hon. Lady’s Government who have got us into this shambles. [Interruption.] And she knows full well that the new European Parliament—[Interruption.]
Order. Nobody in this Chamber will be shouted down. We have often heard it said with high authority from the respective Front Benches that that would be bad behaviour. It is happening now. Stop it, because it will not work.
The Prime Minister knows full well that with a new European Parliament in place next summer and a new European Commission at the same time, there will be less than a year for the negotiations on a future trade agreement and for her to achieve what she claims she can.
In February, the Prime Minister said that creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea is something that
“no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to”.—[Official Report, 28 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 823.]
Can the Prime Minister explain why the backstop agreement would create exactly that border?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would not create exactly that. From February until the last few weeks, the European Union said that the only answer was a Northern Ireland-only customs territory in relation to the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. We argued and we resisted. We made it clear that we would not accept the position of the European Union, and a few weeks ago they agreed with our position. They conceded to the United Kingdom, so that there will not be a customs border down the Irish sea. It is becoming even clearer that the right hon. Gentleman does not actually know what is in the withdrawal agreement, the protocol or the outline political declaration. Never mind a second referendum; he has not got a first clue.
Given the shambles that this Government have got into, it is a good idea that other people are not ruling out all options. There is an entire protocol in the withdrawal agreement setting out regulations that apply only to Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister clearly did not discuss the draft agreement with the DUP, because its Brexit spokesperson said:
“We are clear—we will not be voting for this humiliation”.
This deal is a failure. It fails the Prime Minister’s red lines; it fails Labour’s six tests—[Interruption.] And it failed to impress the new Northern Ireland Minister, who said just hours before he was appointed that “the deal is dead”. Instead of giving confidence to the millions of people who voted both leave and remain, this half-baked deal fails to give any hope that can bring the country together again. Is it not the case that Parliament will rightly reject this bad deal? If the Government cannot negotiate an alternative, they should make way for those who can, and will.
The public gave us an instruction to leave the European Union, and we should all be acting to deliver that. All the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is play party politics—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Kinnock, you are a cerebral denizen of the House. Gesticulation and shouting are way beneath your pay grade, man. Calm yourself and develop some sense of repose. I said that the Leader of the Opposition should not be shouted at. The Prime Minister should also not be shouted at. Let us hear her reply.
The right hon. Gentleman is playing party politics. He is opposing a deal that he has not read. He is promising a deal that he cannot negotiate. He is telling leave voters one thing and remain voters another. Whatever he might do, I will act in the national interest.
My hon. Friend mentions the issue of paying over money to the European Union. As I have consistently said—and as I hope I indicated in my first answer to the Leader of the Opposition—nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and we remain in negotiations on the future framework. In relation to the £39 billion—which I remind my hon. Friend is significantly less than the £100 billion the European Union was first talking about us needing to pay—this is about the United Kingdom’s legal obligations. I hope that every Member of this House will recognise that the United Kingdom is a country that meets its legal obligations.
I also welcome the anniversary of the Act that gave women the right to be represented in this Parliament—of course, it was a nationalist who was first elected—but we can celebrate success only when women are properly represented in this Parliament.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met the First Minister of Scotland, who made it clear that there are alternatives to this Government’s Brexit plan. Was the Prime Minister listening?
Of course I heard what the First Minster said. The First Minister’s alternative is for the United Kingdom to stay in the single market and the customs union, and that is what we will not do.
This is exasperating. At least staying in the single market and the customs union has some support in this place. [Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] When we look at the report from the UN rapporteur this week, we see that up to a quarter—[Interruption.]
Order. The leader of the Scottish National party will be heard. I do not think that Members will want to hear the question again and again and again, but let us be absolutely clear that if they shout their heads off, they will have to hear it not once, not twice, but possibly three times.
In the week when we heard from the UN rapporteur that up to a quarter of the people of the United Kingdom are living in poverty—something the Department for Work and Pensions also recognises—why does the Prime Minister not recognise the scale of the challenge, which Brexit is only going to make worse? Why does she not realise that she has a responsibility to protect jobs and communities in this country? For once, start to listen, go back to Brussels, and recognise that we all have an interest in this. Let us all work together to make sure that we protect the interests of people in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom: make sure that you go back and negotiate. Let us stay in the single market and the customs union.
The right hon. Gentleman says, “Let us all work together”, but the position that he and his party have would frustrate the vote of the British people in relation to leaving the European Union. He talks about protecting jobs, and that is exactly what the deal we are proposing does. He also talks about listening. Perhaps the SNP should listen to the people of Scotland, who gave a very clear view that Scotland should remain in its most important economic market: the internal market of the United Kingdom.
I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in offering our deepest condolences to the families of Georgia Jones and Tommy Cowan after their tragic deaths. As my hon. Friend knows, drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. Our comprehensive drugs strategy sets out a balanced approach that brings together the police, the health community and global partners to tackle the illicit drugs trade and protect the most vulnerable in our society, and tough enforcement is a fundamental part of that. We are taking a smarter approach to restricting supply, adapting our approach to reflect changes in criminal activity, using innovative data and technology, and taking co-ordinated partnership action to tackle drugs alongside other criminal activity. The National Crime Agency has a key role in dealing with the terrible aspect of drugs that can cause so much harm to people, but of course there is more that we need to do to prevent harm and tragic deaths, such as those of Georgia and Tommy.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are putting extra money into school funding; he will know that we have changed the national funding formula to make it fairer across the country; and I would hope he welcomes the fact that in the north-west we now see over 895,000 children in good or outstanding schools—an increase of over 175,000 children since 2010. He focuses on the money going into schools; he also needs to look at school outcomes, at the excellent work being done by our teachers and at the children who are now in good or outstanding schools who were not in good or outstanding schools under the last Labour Government.
I am very happy to welcome my right hon. Friend’s constituent Debbie Pritchard, and I hope she will consider standing for Parliament. We talk about diversity in relation to getting more women into Parliament, but my right hon. Friend is right that we also need to ensure that we have people in this Chamber from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of experience, because that is the way to get better decisions made in this Chamber. I am pleased that the Conservative party has been taking action through the bursary scheme and through its work to support disabled people into politics and to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of experience to stand for Parliament and represent constituents in this Chamber.
The hon. Lady’s claim in relation to democracy is absolutely ridiculous. This Parliament gave people the right to choose whether to remain in the European Union or to leave the European Union. People exercised that vote, and we saw numbers of people voting that we had not seen before. It was a great exercise in democracy in this country, and I believe it gave this Parliament an instruction. We should ensure that we leave the European Union, as the people voted.
We are absolutely steadfast, as is my hon. Friend, in our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy. We have always been clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations. We have been committed to fully involving Gibraltar as we exit the European Union. We are seeking a deal that works for the whole UK family, and that deal must work for Gibraltar, too.
I am pleased that we have agreed a protocol, as my hon. Friend knows, on Gibraltar. That will form part of a wider package of agreements between the UK, Spain and the Government of Gibraltar setting out the parties’ commitment to co-operation. I have been clear that we will not exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations on the future relationship. We want a deal that works for the whole UK family, and that includes Gibraltar.
The hon. Gentleman says that these pension changes were “snuck out”, but that is not the case. This pension issue has been known of for, I believe, two years—it has been under consideration for two years—so it is not the case that this has been snuck out.
My hon. Friend is right to say that we want to negotiate a trading deal with the European Union that is on better terms than WTO terms, and many people across this House want to see the United Kingdom, as we will do when we have left the EU, negotiating trade deals around the rest of world that are on better than WTO terms. That is because we believe that that is best for the UK economy, and if we are negotiating on better than WTO terms with the rest of the world, it makes sense to be negotiating on better than WTO terms with the European Union.
I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said before in this Chamber, that overall per pupil funding is being protected in real terms by this Government. The core schools budget this year, at £42 billion, will be at its highest ever level. We are protecting through the pupil premium this year; we are giving £2.4 billion to support those who need it most. The core schools budget is rising by nearly £2.6 billion across this year and the next. But what we have also done, alongside putting extra money into schools, is introduce a fairer national funding formula, which ensures that we see a fairer distribution of that money across the country.
Will my right hon. Friend affirm to this House today and to the President of the Commission tonight that as we move to honour the result of the referendum, it will remain our firmest intention to retain the closest possible relationships with our European friends and allies, in the very best interests of both?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I am happy to give that commitment. I think it is important for us to recognise that although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe; we do want to continue to have not just a good trading relationship and close trading partnership with the EU, but that close security and defence partnership that we have had with the European Union and other countries across Europe as well. As he says, this is what makes sense, not just for the UK, but for all those European Union member states as well.
The hon. Gentleman raises what is obviously an important issue. Having introduced the Modern Slavery Act, I am pleased to say that between 2015 and 2017 we saw a 52% increase in the number of modern slavery offences prosecuted. There is more for us to do, but we should welcome the change that has already taken place.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about a sex-buyer law. Separate to the review of the Modern Slavery Act, the Home Office has provided funds for research into the nature and prevalence of sex work in England and Wales, and that follows a Home Affairs Committee report on prostitution. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, we believe it is vital to have an evidence base before we consider any changes in this policy area. The research that is taking place will be completed next spring.
Can the Prime Minister assure the House today, as she has done on many other occasions, that the UK will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019—come what may?
May I first of all thank my right hon. Friend for the work that she did as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, indeed, for the work that she had done as a Minister previously? In particular, the Disability Confident scheme, which she championed and continues to champion, has had an impact on the lives of people who are disabled. I can give her the assurance that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We want young people to feel secure if they are walking through the streets or gathering in a park with their friends. In looking at the concern that has been expressed about crime—in particular, I recognise the concern that has been expressed about knife crime and levels of knife crime—we need to tackle the issue in a number of different ways across the board. It is about ensuring that we have the right powers for the police and that we have the right system in the criminal justice system, but it is also about providing education for young people about the risks of carrying knives and about providing alternatives to those young people who are tempted to join gangs, because a lot of the crime that we see is related to gang activity. This is something that has to be addressed across the board, and I recognise the importance of doing that to ensure that young people have the security, safety and confidence that they need.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I and other colleagues have read the draft withdrawal agreement and the many briefings. It is clear to me that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have laudably tried to reconcile the demand for continuity of market access today with freedom to diverge tomorrow. Is not the truth of the backstop as drafted that if—and as—we were to exercise our regulatory freedom, whether in agri-food or data protection, we would allow the EU to harden the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Can the Prime Minister reassure me, and seek reassurance in Brussels today, that the draft does not contain a trap, whereby if we dare to diverge, we will undermine our Union?
As my hon. Friend will know, and as I set out earlier, if it is necessary to have an interim arrangement to provide the guarantee in relation to the border of Northern Ireland, there are a number of ways in which that can be achieved—the backstop, as identified in the protocol, the extension of the implementation period, or alternative arrangements—and work is being done on them.
The backstop is intended to be a temporary arrangement, and for that limited period of time. If my hon. Friend just casts his mind to a practical thought about what could happen, if we were in the situation where the backstop had to be in place for a matter of months, for example, it would be right for the United Kingdom to give the commitment that we would not be looking to diverge from regulations during that period and that we would ensure that we kept that free access for the goods from Northern Ireland coming into Great Britain, as we have committed in the withdrawal agreement—in the text that is set out—and as we had committed previously. That will of course be a decision for us, here. What is important is that we have a means of ensuring that the backstop remains temporary. The best means of doing that is what we are doing at the moment: negotiating the future relationship, which will ensure that the backstop, if it is ever used, remains temporary, and preferably is never used at all.
The hon. Lady will know that we made changes to universal credit to ensure that people are able to access 100% of their payments at the earliest possible stage if that is what is necessary. She raises the issue of poverty. Let me just give her a few figures. There are 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty today—a record low; 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty—a record low; and 637,000 fewer children living in workless households—a record low. That is due to the action of this Government and the impact of universal credit.
Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges was arrested when he was leaving the UAE, having completed his research into the impact of the Arab spring on the UAE’s foreign policy. He has now been sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for the United Kingdom. A number of us will note the irony of a former MI6 officer who works in the outer office of the de facto ruler of the UAE who has organised many of the excellent visits from this House to the UAE. The action is wholly inconsistent with the behaviour of a nation with which we have a mutual defence accord. Will the Prime Minister please give this her urgent attention? If he is not released, I do not see why we should be committed to its defence.
We are, of course, as is my hon. Friend, deeply disappointed and concerned at today’s verdict, and I realise how difficult and distressing this is both for Matthew Hedges and for his family. We are raising the matter with the Emirates authorities at the highest level. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is urgently seeking a call with the Foreign Minister, Abdullah bin Zayed. During his visit to the UAE on 12 November, he raised the issue with both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Foreign Minister. I can assure my hon. Friend and other Members that the Foreign Office will remain in close contact with Matthew, his family and his lawyer. We will continue to do all we can to support them as they consider the next steps and we will continue to press this matter at the highest level with the Emirates.
I first send my deepest condolences to Claire Throssell, the hon. Lady’s constituent, and pay tribute to the fantastic work that she does as an ambassador for Women’s Aid. We are committed to transforming the response to domestic violence. The consultation that took place in the spring received more than 3,200 responses, which shows the degree of concern that people have over this issue of domestic violence and the recognition of the need to look carefully at the legislation on this. I understand that the Home Office will be publishing a response to the consultation together with the draft Domestic Abuse Bill later this Session.
All the evidence shows that diversity delivers better decision making, yet, over the past 100 years in this place, 4,503 men have been elected and just 491 women. I am proud that two of those Conservative women became Prime Minister, but can my right hon. Friend share with me what she feels that Parliament, as well as the political parties, can do to help encourage more of the women who are with us here today as part of the Ask Her To Stand campaign actually to go forward and stand for election and join us on these Green Benches?
I thank my right hon. Friend for championing this important cause. She is absolutely right that greater diversity in this place means that we get better decisions; that is the same for Parliament as it is for a business or any organisation. We should send a very clear message from everybody across this House about the significance of the work of an individual Member of Parliament and the change they can make for their community. Being a Member of Parliament is one of the best jobs in the world. It is an opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, to be a real voice for those whose voice otherwise would not be heard, and to take decisions that will lead our country forward and provide a better future for people’s children and grandchildren. It is a great job and I encourage all the women who are here today and thinking of standing to stand for Parliament, get elected and make a difference.
In the December joint report agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would have the final say on whether it diverged from the UK single market and was subjected to single market European rules with no say. Why has the Prime Minister deleted all reference to that in the withdrawal agreement? Did she push the delete button?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the December joint report. The issue of what the processes in the United Kingdom would be when it comes to looking at the regulations is a matter for the United Kingdom to determine; it is for us to determine both our parliamentary decisions on that and the Stormont lock that was expressed in the December joint report. As the right hon. Gentleman will also know, the lock in the December joint report referred to a decision being taken by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, which sadly are not in place today.
On Monday, at an event for cystic fibrosis sufferers organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), I heard something that I never want to hear again: a young woman in her 30s actively researching funeral plans because she has cystic fibrosis and knows there is no cure. My question is about the conversation between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, NHS England and Vertex, which has been at an impasse for almost three years now, about access to Orkambi for patients who need it. Pharmaceutical companies are of course entitled to make profit, and research and development is expensive and lengthy, but now that we have reached the point at which the Health and Social Care Committee is having to ask for transparency on the finances to try to break the impasse, we know we have to do something differently. Looking at the huge global forward profits for Vertex, will the Prime Minister personally work with the Health Secretary to break this impasse and get Orkambi to those patients who are desperate to relieve their cystic fibrosis symptoms?
My hon. Friend’s question is an important one, which has been raised in the House before. I recognise the concern about the length of time it has taken to work on this issue. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NICE and the NHS. I believe that they have made the single biggest drug offer in the history of the NHS to Vertex, the pharma company; and Vertex needs to work with NICE to get this approved. I will ensure that the concern expressed by my hon. Friend and which I know exists in relation to this matter is fully made clear to the Department of Health and Social Care in the work that it is doing with NICE, the NHS and the pharma company in order to ensure that the result is of benefit to the patients who are looking desperately for this drug.
Article 171 of the withdrawal agreement says that in the event of deadlock in the arbitration panel on a dispute on any aspect of the treaty, the chair, who has the decisive vote, will be chosen “by lot”. Now, I know the Government are close to the gambling industry, but is it not rather reckless to leave crucial decisions of national importance under the withdrawal agreement to the toss of a coin?
We have put in place arbitration arrangements that mirror arbitration arrangements that exist in other international treaties. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the withdrawal agreement also says that five individuals—I think that is the number given—will be identified as suitable to be chairman of the panel.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Yes, I will hear the hon. Gentleman when the House has composed itself. In the frankly extraordinary circumstance that there are hon. and right hon. Members who do not wish to hear his point of order, I think it is seemly to wait until their speedy and quiet exit has taken place and the rest of us can listen to his mellifluous tones.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on a recent report from the Procedure Committee regarding speaking limits on speeches in the Chamber and an older report on a review of the Standing Orders of the House. I was concerned when I saw various Standing Orders that make reference to the influence of the Chair in controlling proceedings and, of course, the conduct of Members. Oddly and archaically, in my view, these Standing Orders make reference only to members of the House being male. For example, page 43 of Standing Orders, on Nos. 42 and 42A on irrelevance or repetition—something that I know Members of the House never take part in, Mr Speaker—states:
“The Speaker, or the chair, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech.”
It further states:
“The Speaker, or the chair, may direct any Member who breaches the terms of the sub judice resolution of the House to resume his seat.”
On further inquiry, I found that there are numerous Standing Orders that make reference to “him” or “his” in relation to Members of the House, and no Standing Order I have read makes reference to women holding seats in the House. In the Procedure Committee’s report of three years ago, “Revision of Standing Orders”, a recommendation was made for
“amendments for gender-neutral language, such as “he or she” for “he”, when the pronoun does not refer to a holder of a specific office, or drafting to avoid the need to use a gendered pronoun.”
My understanding is that this recommendation has never been implemented, despite being several years old.
In all sincerity, Mr Speaker, I am sure you would agree that if we are to be a truly progressive Parliament, especially on the day on which 100 years ago—as referenced earlier by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—women were rightly allowed to stand for Parliament, and in the year of universal suffrage, something as basic as our Standing Orders should reflect the fact that women are allowed to serve and sit in this House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter as a point of order. Moreover, I think it fair to say, and I doubt anybody will demur as I do so, that no one could accuse him of excluding from his point of order any matter that he thought might in any way, at any time and to any degree be judged to be material. I have no comment to make on his observations about the Procedure Committee’s deliberations on time limits. Moreover, what he said on other matters—for example, tedious repetition—was unexceptionable, and there is no need for me to add to it.
However, on the main point that I think the hon. Gentleman wished to register with the House, let me say that I fully share his concern about this matter. Many hon. and right hon. Members, and observers outside the House, will agree with him that it is frankly archaic that our Standing Orders use gendered pronouns. It is deeply unsatisfactory that the revisions to the Standing Orders proposed by the Clerk and recommended by the Procedure Committee in March 2015 have still not been brought to the House for decision. I would very much like to expedite these changes, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, this does not lie in my hands. I would encourage him to pursue the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions, and perhaps also to urge his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench to press, through the usual channels, for action. Meanwhile, I hope that his concern, which I have reiterated I share, has been noted by those on the Treasury Bench.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Oh, does the hon. Gentleman really feel that the House needs to hear him at this time?
Well, hopefully so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. One hundred and twenty-five Members of Parliament from across the House, including Lords Spiritual, have written to the Prime Minister asking the Government to do the right thing in the Asia Bibi case, where somebody’s life is in grave danger and they are being persecuted for their faith. My question to you, Mr Speaker, is this: how long should those Members of Parliament have to wait to hear from the Prime Minister in a case of such importance where we, the United Kingdom, should offer asylum and act quickly, because somebody’s life is in grave danger?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. What he did not say was when he wrote the letter. In my experience, the Prime Minister is as courteous as anybody in this House. She receives a very large volume of correspondence, as other very senior Members do, and it is her usual practice to respond timeously, but I do not know when the letter was written. All I would say is that the matter is clearly of the highest importance, and I hope that by the ruse of a point of order the hon. Gentleman has effectively expedited the matter. If he has not succeeded in doing so, I have a feeling that we will be hearing from him again ere long. I thank him: it was indeed an important matter, and I appreciate him raising it. If there are no further points of order—if the appetite has now been satisfied—we come to the urgent question.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the UK’s effort to secure a new UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this vital issue. The conflict in Yemen has escalated to become one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. Today, 8 million people—nearly a third of the population—depend on United Nations food aid. Starvation and disease have taken hold across the country. More than 420,000 children have been treated for malnutrition and 1.2 million people have suffered from a cholera epidemic. In total, about 22 million people across Yemen—nearly 80% of the population—are in need of help. Yet the bare statistics cannot convey the enormity of this tragedy. What we are witnessing is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, inflicted by a conflict that has raged for too long.
Britain is one of the biggest donors of emergency aid, providing £170 million of help to Yemen this year, which brings our total support to £570 million since 2015. But the only solution is for all the parties to set aside their arms, cease missile and air attacks on populated areas, and pursue a peaceful political settlement. Last week, I conveyed this message to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which lead the coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s legitimate Government, when I visited both countries. On Monday, I said the same in Tehran to the Foreign Minister of Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels.
On the same day, I instructed our mission at the United Nations to circulate a draft resolution to the Security Council urging a “durable cessation of hostilities” throughout Hodeidah province, and calling on the parties to
“cease all attacks on densely populated civilian areas across Yemen”.
This draft resolution also requires the unhindered flow of food and medicine, and all other forms of aid, “across the country”. The aim of this UK-sponsored resolution is to relieve the immediate humanitarian crisis and maximise the chances of achieving a political settlement. Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy, is planning to gather all the parties for peace talks in Sweden in the next few weeks.
Amid this tragedy, the House will have noticed some encouraging signs. Last week, Saudi Arabia and the UAE paused their operation in Hodeidah, although there was a further outbreak of fighting yesterday. The Houthi rebels have publicly promised to cease their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. Martin Griffiths is meeting all parties as he prepares the ground for the talks in Sweden.
Britain holds a unique position as the pen holder for Yemen in the Security Council, a leading humanitarian donor and a country with significant influence in the region, so we will make every effort, and use all the diplomatic assets at our command, to support the UN envoy as he seeks to resolve a crisis that has inflicted such terrible suffering.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. It is only right that all of us from across the House who have been urging the Government for more than two years to table a ceasefire resolution on Yemen have a chance to discuss the draft that will finally go before the UN tomorrow.
I applaud the Foreign Secretary for the fresh impetus that he has brought to the process, just as he has in recent days to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. There have been other factors at play: the appalling bus bombings in August; the famine faced by 14 million Yemeni citizens; the murder of Jamal Khashoggi; the rising tide of public anger at the war; and the news today that at least 85,000 children have died of hunger and disease since the war began. Unlike his predecessor, this Foreign Secretary has not buried his head in the sand. He has listened to the House, and he deserves credit for that.
Even if we have had to wait for a long time—and we have—there is a great deal to welcome in this draft resolution. We all support its key demands: an immediate cessation of hostilities around Hodeidah; urgent and unhindered access for humanitarian relief; all targeting of civilians to stop; compliance by all sides with international humanitarian law; and full co-operation with the UN’s peace envoy. I will write to the Foreign Secretary later with a number of detailed questions about the resolution and ensure that that letter is available to colleagues, but in the brief time I have, I want to ask him three questions.
First, the five key demands that I mentioned were all included in the Government’s draft resolution circulated in October 2016, which frankly gives the lie to every excuse that the House was ever offered about why that draft was dropped. Can the Foreign Secretary explain why we have had two years of inaction, and tell us what has changed and why it has taken so long?
Secondly—this was also a failing of the 2016 draft—can the Foreign Secretary tell us why the latest resolution fails to spell out what compliance with the resolution will be monitored and by whom, and what sanctions will apply to any party that breaches its terms, whether in terms of the ceasefire or the restriction of humanitarian aid?
Finally, and this is my most important point, there is one major change between the new draft resolution and the draft in 2016. While the new resolution refers to violations of international law in Yemen, it proposes no investigation of those crimes, let alone the independent and transparent investigations that we need if all those who are responsible are to be held to account. Can the Foreign Secretary explain that omission? I want to ask him a simple yes-or-no question: was a demand for an independent, transparent investigation into all alleged war crimes in Yemen and full accountability for those responsible, which is not included in the current draft, in the draft that he showed to Crown Prince bin Salman when they met last week in Riyadh?
First, I thank the right hon. Lady for the tone of her comments. She is right that this is a humanitarian catastrophe, and what matters in this situation is finding a way forward. I will try hard to answer her questions.
The important thing about the resolution we are proposing is not that this is the end of the story in terms of international efforts to broker a ceasefire, but that it is a step on the road. We want a ceasefire, and we want a ceasefire that will hold. We know that the risk if we go for too much too early with such resolutions is that they end up getting ignored. This is a carefully brokered form of words that is designed to get a consensus from both sides that will allow talks to start before the end of this month in Stockholm—that is the objective of the resolution—and if those talks are successful, we will be able to have a much stronger resolution following them.
Will it look at compliance?
Absolutely, and I will come on to the investigation issue as well, but it is very important at this stage that we have a resolution first that passes, and secondly that puts in place things that build confidence on both sides.
The right hon. Lady asks why the original draft was not pursued. She has been following this issue closely for longer than I have, but my assessment when I arrived in this post was that, tragically, both sides have believed over that period that a military solution is possible, and that is why there has been an unwillingness, at huge cost to the people of Yemen.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Save the Children report published today, which I agree is horrific. I found out last week that in the last week for which we have data, 14,000 people caught cholera in Yemen. This situation is escalating out of control. The immediate priority in the resolution is to allow the flow of humanitarian aid. Secondly, we need a cessation of hostilities, which will allow trust to be built up, and, thirdly, we need confidence-building measures, which involves allowing, for example, the payment of salaries of civil servants in Yemen and getting foreign currency into the economy.
In terms of compliance, when this resolution goes through, as I hope it will, the UN will monitor compliance—
Will it monitor compliance with the resolution?
I am just answering the right hon. Lady’s question. She has asked what will happen about compliance. I have said that the UN will monitor compliance, and if there is not compliance, it is up to the UN to decide what further measures are taken. I point out to her that we are talking about a very short period. We are trying to get the participants to Stockholm on around 28 November. That is the purpose of doing this—to get people talking so that we can build trust. The one piece of optimism in this incredibly tragic story is the fact that the outline political settlement is actually fairly clear and there is broad agreement on all sides. It is really about building the trust to get there.
I absolutely agree that there has to be a full investigation of war crimes and full accountability.
All these things will happen in the context of a political settlement that stops the fighting, stops people starving, and allows people to get the vital medicines they need.
In that context, I went to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, and in all cases, I had tough messages for the people I was speaking to about the fact that this situation has to change. That is what I am doing. That means getting compromises on all sides to reach agreement. That is what we are doing, and that is the role of this country. We have to be careful not to overestimate our influence, but we should not underestimate it either. We have a vital role, which is to pursue peace, and that is what we are going to do.
First, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts in the region, most notably in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, recently, Iran. We are watching the degradation and destruction of a wonderful country and a huge humanitarian tragedy is occurring. I want to praise the work of our UN staff, and particularly the permanent representative, Karen Pierce, for what she has done to bring this resolution forward. May I urge my right hon. Friend to redouble his efforts, although it seems hard to imagine that he could, to get to the talks to Stockholm, to end this tragedy and to persuade our friends that they are making a very serious mistake?
My hon. Friend speaks wisely. Karen Pierce has done a fantastic job at the United Nations, as have our ambassadors on the ground. He is right; the immediate priority is to get these talks to start. We had a false start with the talks that we hoped would happen in Geneva in August. I think there are signs now that both sides are more willing to talk and to engage in discussions.
The message could not be clearer to the participants on all sides. My hon. Friend is right: our allies, the Saudis and Emiratis, have had to receive hard messages from us in the last few days, but the Houthis have also had to receive tough messages. That was why I went to Iran this week, because we must not miss this opportunity.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his recognition of the humanitarian cost and for the tone that he brings to this. The Save the Children report said that 85,000 children under five have starved to death as a direct result of the war in Yemen, with half of the population at risk of famine. I associate myself with the remarks of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), about the work of UK officials, not least the ambassador, at the UN.
The Foreign Secretary talked about UK aid, and he is right—we recognise the importance of that—but UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia far outstrip our aid. In fact, last year—2017—there was an increase on 2016 in the level of arms sold to Saudi Arabia. There is recognition across the House that this conflict is having an appalling humanitarian cost, and there has been agreement for quite some time that there is no military solution to this conflict. As such, is it not time to turn off the taps of arms sales to Saudi Arabia right now?
I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman asks that question, but may I gently say to him that if we did as he is proposing, he needs to ask how that would help people who are starving in Yemen today? Their situation is absolutely desperate, but far from helping them, there would have been no visit by the UK Foreign Secretary to Saudi Arabia last week, no opportunity to have a frank and sometimes difficult conversation with the Crown Prince, no trip to Tehran—because Iran’s reason for talking to us is that we have a relationship with the Saudis—and no support across the table for a Security Council resolution. British influence, far from being able to bring both sides together, would reduce to zero. That is why the right thing for us to do on arms sales is to follow the incredibly strict arms control regime introduced by a Labour Government in 2000—one of the strictest in the world—which has objective measures to make sure that we do not export arms to places where there is a high risk of violations of international humanitarian law.
The urgently needed change of policy, which people across this House have been calling for for more than two years now, on Yemen is greatly to be welcomed, and coincides with the arrival of the new Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Office. Does he understand that the condemnation of violence and of the horrendous suffering in Yemen must be even-handed if Martin Griffiths and his colleagues are to succeed in negotiating a cessation of warfare and meaningful talks? I say to the Foreign Secretary, with the deepest possible sadness, that it comes to something when Britain lags behind the moral curve set by the Trump White House.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments and his expertise, but I do not agree with his last comment at all. The UK has actually been in the forefront of trying to broker a solution. He is absolutely right that there will be a solution to this only if there is an even-handed approach to the problems. That is exactly the approach that Martin Griffiths is taking, and that is why we are supporting his work. At every stage of what we do, we are listening very carefully to what he says because he has dialogue not only with the Saudis and the Emiratis, but also with the Houthis.
The difficulty, in terms of the historical situation, is that we all have to remember that this really started on 21 September 2014, when the Houthis, who represent less than 25% of the population of Yemen, ejected the legitimate Government of Yemen. That was the start of this conflict. We now need to get all sides together and of course listen to all legitimate concerns, but we do have to remember the historical context.
The House appreciates the efforts that the Foreign Secretary is making in this matter, but may I put this question to him? He referred to the Houthis’ announcement that they would cease missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but it is not entirely clear that Saudi Arabia has yet given up the idea that it might achieve a military victory, and it is reported that the Saudis reacted very badly to the draft resolution that the Government have put forward.
I want to come to the question of the two-week deadline for the lifting of all barriers to aid coming through Hodeidah. The truth about the Yemen conflict is that, in the past, deadlines have come and deadlines have gone, and people have died. The question I want to ask the Foreign Secretary, who said this would be a matter for the UN Security Council, is: what kind of consequence does he think it would be right for us, as a world, to make it clear to the Saudis and the Houthis will follow if they fail now to accept what we hope will be a United Nations resolution telling them, “In two weeks, it’s got to stop”?
The right hon. Gentleman has enormous experience, and I think he speaks with enormous wisdom. The first point I would make about what he says is that it is because of those deadlines that have come and gone, and the pledges that have been broken during the tragic three years of this conflict, that we are being very careful in the wording that we put forward now, to try to get a wording that could stick and that could have the support of all sides.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there will be very serious consequences if we do not see progress. He will understand if I do not spell out to the House what those consequences are. All I can say is that I do not believe that our allies are in any doubt of the extremely high priority that both we and the Americans attach to this, and I think that is very significant.
I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for coming here today and providing such clarity not just about the situation, but about the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to a fair focus in coming to the right outcomes through building trust and confidence. Can he say more, though? We are a great humanitarian leader when it comes to the Yemen crisis. People are dying every day and have been for many years now. How are we mobilising other allies to provide support in the wider context, but also absolutely to break the gridlock on humanitarian aid and assistance?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her contribution, and I would of course expect her to speak with great knowledge about the humanitarian side of this, given her former role in government. She is absolutely right: what she has said is a priority for us. That is why one of the things that is in the draft resolution is that we should raise the funding necessary to meet the challenge.
My right hon. Friend championed our budget. We are on some measures the third-largest donor to Yemen. Outside the region we are certainly the second-largest donor to Yemen after the United States—£170 million in the past year—but we cannot do this alone. So one of the things that we are absolutely seeking to unlock is the support from other countries that we desperately need.
I am certain that the Foreign Secretary will do his utmost to bring this awful situation to a conclusion—it cannot go on. May I ask him in particular about his visit to Iran and his efforts to get Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed? How hopeful is he that some progress will be made in this situation, where a woman who is innocent is still kept in jail?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I did talk a lot about what was happening in Yemen when I was in Iran, but she is absolutely right to say that I spent a long time on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I have to answer truthfully: I did not detect any signs of an immediate change in Iran’s position. I want to say very plainly that this is an innocent woman, and she has been separated from her daughter for more than half her daughter’s life. It is an appalling situation, and Iran cannot but expect, if it continues to detain people in order to create diplomatic leverage—sadly, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not the only person in this situation, and Britain is not the only country affected—that there will be very serious consequences if Iran continues to behave this way. We will stop at nothing to make sure that justice is done, and that this brave lady is released.
Effective UN action is so often prevented by the deployment of a protected veto on behalf of one or other of the combatants. That will not happen in the case of Yemen, will it?
We have to be very clear that that must not happen and should not happen. That is another reason to be very careful with the wording that we are putting forward. What we actually want is a ceasefire, backed up by a UN Security Council resolution that does pass and is respected on the ground. I do not think we can get to that point in the next couple of weeks, but we want to make a step in that direction.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for asking the urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it; otherwise, we would not be having this discussion. I also thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Paris recently with nine other hon. Members for the first conference of parliamentarians. It is not just our House that is outraged; people in the French Assembly and elsewhere are concerned. My right hon. Friend is right that there has been a change of tone at the top of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although not in the middle ranks. The Minister for the Middle East has always been a friend of Yemen and we should not forget his contribution.
I say to the Foreign Secretary that fine words are not enough, although he has given them today. If he holds the pens, he has to use them—not just look at them. That means, first, convening a meeting of the Quint—getting together the Foreign Ministers of the countries involved. He can do that; his predecessor was reluctant to do so. Secondly, he must guarantee the Houthis’ safe passage to Sweden. One reason they did not come to Geneva was that they thought they would not get to Sweden. Thirdly, he must remember that every single day more Yemenis die, so we cannot wait even two weeks; we have to do this now. With every single hour of delay, another Yemeni dies. Five Yemeni children die every single day. So, we cannot wait to be nice to people; we need to get on and table the resolution.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and welcome the urgency with which he is encouraging the Government to act, because he is absolutely right. He is also right that this is not about words. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has done an extraordinary job in terms of the patient diplomacy that he has shown over many years. At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, I had a meeting with the Foreign Ministers who are directly involved. I have been pressing them continually, since even before that meeting. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the safe passage of humanitarian aid is essential, but what has been missing up till now is a willingness on all sides to properly engage in talks. I think we have a change now. There is still a long journey ahead, but this is the moment and we have to grasp it.
I warmly welcome the draft resolution and the terrific diplomatic energy that the Foreign Secretary is putting into the issue. It is indeed good news that the Houthi militia have announced that they will end ballistic missile strikes, but what other reasons does he have for believing that the Iran-backed Houthi militia will come to the negotiating table in good faith?
The real issue is a total lack of trust on both sides. The Houthis said that their principal condition for attending the talks was the safe passage of 50 wounded Houthis to Oman for medical treatment. On my visit to Saudi Arabia, it was publicly confirmed that that will happen. I hope they understand that their principal condition has been met; it is important now that they do not add new conditions. Likewise, the Saudis need to recognise that the missiles have stopped coming into Saudi Arabia, and they must not add new conditions at this stage. Then people need to sit down and talk.
I first welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments about the situation faced by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as I am sure all hon. Members do. I also recognise his commitment to a ceasefire that will hold, but can he assure us that the language used will place some accountability on all parties, that there will be independent arbitration and investigation, and that there will be meaningful involvement for women, youth and civil society in the peace process?
I reassure the hon. Lady that what she is talking about is exactly what Martin Griffiths, the special envoy, envisages. In the end, if we are to have a durable political solution, there must be trust, accountability for what has happened and fair processes in place to make that happen.
The Foreign Secretary knows that Her Majesty’s armed forces always act with the highest professionalism and integrity, but how confident is he that when alleged war crimes—breaches of the laws of war, of international humanitarian law and of international law—are investigated in the future, the technical assistance given to the Saudi regime by Her Majesty’s armed forces will not drag them into accusations of complicity in such actions?
In this specific case, I reassure my hon. Friend that our armed forces are not involved at an operational level in the activities of the Saudi coalition to the extent that he suggests. Because of our commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia, however, we are very actively monitoring its compliance with international humanitarian law. We have a lot of contact with the Saudis about that and we raise regular concerns when we think things are going wrong.
The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State are well aware of my long-standing concerns about our policy on Yemen, particularly arms sales, but I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for the personal effort he has put in—in contrast to his predecessor—and to thank the Minister of State for his regular and ongoing conversations. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) for the conference he organised in Paris, which I also attended. He gave a clear message to the Houthis and others that they must attend the talks and take part in the process.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the best things that the coalition could do is to end the bombardment of Hodeidah—there have been indiscriminate attacks in the last few days—as that would provide a good precondition for the talks in Stockholm? Does he also agree that we need to address the issue of safe transport for the Houthi delegation? They made their concerns clear to us: can he assure me that we will do all that we can to ensure that they do not have any excuses not to attend those talks in Sweden?
I will always listen to the hon. Gentleman, who is a former humanitarian worker. He is right that safe transport to the talks in Sweden, and the ability to get back to Yemen afterwards, is a big concern of the Houthis. I am confident that we are pretty much there in terms of resolving the issue. He is right to say that the situation is urgent, and we need to listen carefully to Houthi concerns if we are to build up trust on their side to allow them to engage in a way they did not feel able to do in August.
How confident is the Foreign Secretary that the tough messages he has taken to the region are being listened to, especially in Tehran, given the strongly destabilising effect Iran has in this conflict? While the resolution is incredibly welcome, if it is not complied with, it will not amount to much more than words on a piece of paper that will not save any lives.
I hope that it is a little bit more than that. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but the resolution talks about a cessation of hostilities. It is a step short of a ceasefire, but it is something that we hope might happen. To fully answer the previous question and my hon. Friend’s question together, the cessation of the bombing of the civilian areas of Hodeidah is an important part of the equation to build up trust. That can lead to some progress, but we have been disappointed before.
Coming from the city of Birmingham, I can tell the Foreign Secretary that it was particularly chilling to read the report from Save the Children that said that 85,000 children under five have died in the past three years—the equivalent of the entire under-five population of Birmingham. While it is obviously critical to lift the siege on Hodeidah to make sure that much needed humanitarian supplies, including food, get in, is he also aware of the warning from the director of the World Food Programme that even those supplies that get in are often not able to reach those who need them, because food prices have doubled at the same time as incomes have fallen? What can be done to ensure that food gets to the people who need it rather than being stopped by profiteers?
The hon. Gentleman is right. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke to David Beasley at the weekend about these issues. In terms of the supply of food, we have been playing our part. On World Food Day, we announced an extra £96.5 million which will help to feed 2.2 million children and to treat 70,000 children in need of medical help. Corruption and similar issues are a big concern, but are made far worse if bombing is actually going on at the time. The first thing that we need to do is to stop the military action and allow some of the normal civilian methods of stopping corruption to be put in place.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s efforts to resolve this humanitarian disaster. What further efforts could he make to undermine Iran’s malign influence in Yemen and right across the middle east?
This is something I discussed at length with my Iranian counterpart on Monday. This is of course a big issue in terms of the wider issues of the huge proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I pointed out that as a large regional power, everyone understands Iran is going to expect to have influence in its region. It is the military influence that is concerning people, whether in Yemen, with Hezbollah, in Syria or in Iraq. Until we can find a resolution to that, I do not think we are going to solve the bigger problem.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s direction of travel on Yemen, but the Yemen Data Project recorded 106 air raids in October. Some 60% of them hit civilian infrastructure, including a hospital, a food storage facility, water and electricity sites and civilian transports. How does he expect the Saudis to use the weapons he sold them this month?
We expect all arms sales to comply with international humanitarian law. We have processes in place to make sure there are thorough investigations if we think they have not.
I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary on this issue. An early coalition exit from the conflict in Yemen would not end the civil war. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the coalition has prevented an attack on Hodeidah, and that if it withdrew, the many resistance forces would advance and the conflict would become even more bloody? Does he agree that now is the time for British courage?
This is absolutely the time for Britain to use its strength and weight insofar as we have it, but I think my hon. Friend is correctly pointing to the complexity of the situation. The whole conflict started with an appalling injustice: the rebel Government, who represent less than 25% of the population, took over the capital Sana’a and ejected a legitimate Government and a president who had been through an election. That is the heart of this conflict. The concern on the coalition side, which is completely legitimate, is that nothing in the peace process ends up legitimising a wholly illegitimate takeover of power.
I join with others in commending the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team for the fresh impetus with regard to this tragedy, but every single death in Yemen should be shameful for the entire international community. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what reaction he has had to the draft resolution; which countries are not supporting it; why they are not supporting it; and what they require to enable them to support it?
What we are trying to build is a consensus. That means we have people on all sides who dislike elements of what we are proposing, but we are saying that everyone needs to compromise at this moment. What we do not want to do is move away from the core of our resolution, which is to build confidence at this stage that will allow the talks to go ahead at the end of this month. That is the priority.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s initiative. I agree with most, but not all, of the draft resolution. I think what is really important is paragraph 4, section (b), where he has recognised that falling household incomes in Yemen since 2009 have been at the core of this problem in the past and will be at the core of this problem in the future. The fighting is a consequence of falling incomes. We have had seven peace talks and they have all collapsed. This morning, the Houthis said that they will not abide by any UN resolution. If the peace talks collapse in Sweden, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said what happens next?
The fighting is both the cause and the consequence of falling household incomes. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to that. All I would say is that one of the suggestions in the resolution is to get foreign currency back into Yemen, particularly through the payment of civil servants of the Government of Yemen, so we can start to get some money back into the Yemeni economy. Getting some liquidity into people’s pockets is an absolutely key priority.
I commend, as many others have, the work the Foreign Secretary has put in place. I agree entirely with what he says about not wanting to legitimise the original actions of the Houthis that started the conflict. His draft resolution rightly criticises the Houthis by name, but by the same token the Saudi Arabians and UAE are only mentioned in terms of the positive steps they have taken. Across the House, we have been critical of many of the ways the Saudis have conducted this conflict. Can he say why there is not more in the draft resolution about the areas on which the Saudis should rightly be criticised for?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there are plenty of things in the draft resolution that are uncomfortable for the Saudis. In fact, it is not clear at this stage whether they will actually support it. What we have to do is bring both sides to the table. We have to recognise that there was an injustice committed by the Houthis that was the start of this conflict, but we also have to recognise that part of the tragedy has been caused by the repeated failure of the Saudi military to conclude military operations in a short timescale, which is what they have always said they would be able to do.
Given that so many civilians have been killed by bombing from the air by the Saudis, why are we still training Saudi military pilots at RAF Valley?
We have a strategic relationship with the Saudis, but we are very, very clear that we are only able to supply them arms and do all the other things that we do with them if we are confident that Saudi Arabia is and will be in compliance with international humanitarian law. We monitor that constantly.
The Minister of State is aware of two of my constituency cases: one involving a constituent who is being held in Sana’a; and another involving the daughters of Jackie Morgan, who were kidnapped from Cardiff in 1986 by their father and have been in Yemen ever since. Jackie Morgan’s daughter Safia is a British citizen, as are the grandchildren. Both families feel that the Government have not been doing enough up until now to help them with their cases. I commend the Minister of State for the efforts he has made, but will the Foreign Secretary personally look at these cases, now that there may be a window to do more, to see if he can do more, with his Minister of State, to help these families?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for championing his constituents’ cases. I want to reassure him that the lack of progress we have been able to make is not through a lack of effort or desire on the part of the FCO; it is simply a function of the fact that we cannot get consular staff into Yemen. Our ambassador is based in Riyadh. I met him when I was there last week. As soon as we are able to offer more assistance, we will.
The Foreign Secretary talks about the need for robust oversight of humanitarian obligations in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A report by The Sunday Post revealed that 366 war crimes allegations in Yemen have been tabled, but only 79 investigations have been undertaken by the Saudi-led joint incident assessment team. That is a 21% rate. Does the Secretary of State view that as an acceptable rate, particularly as British munitions may have been involved in those incidents?
The entire humanitarian situation in Yemen is totally unacceptable. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Foreign Secretary that there needs to be full investigation of all crimes that have happened. To do that, however, we need a climate that makes that possible. That is why the peace process is so important.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for all his endeavours and for the leadership he has shown so far in his new position. We are very grateful for that. The absence of a peace process in Yemen is worrying. In Northern Ireland, we all know that until peace talks started only then did the fighting stop. There are reports that some 85,000 children in Yemen are dead from malnutrition. Reports in the media this morning—I watched the news before I left my hotel—said that some people were not able to get to where the food was. Will he therefore outline what protocols are in place to ensure that aid is getting to the right places on the ground and to distribution points that people can actually access?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern. I always listen carefully to him, considering the history of Northern Ireland. The sad truth is that I cannot give him those assurances, because aid is not getting to where it needs to. There are 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and only a third of them are getting it at the moment. That is why, as he rightly says, the first step is for the fighting to stop. We need the confidence-building measures to enable that to happen.
Gosport Independent Panel
In June this year, the Gosport Independent Panel published its report into what happened at Gosport War Memorial Hospital between 1987 and 2001. It found that 456 patients died sooner than they would have done after being given powerful opioid painkillers. As many as 200 other people may have had their lives shortened, but this could not be proved because medical records were missing.
The findings in the Gosport report are truly shocking, and we must not forget that every one of those people was a son or daughter, a mother or father, a sister or brother. I reiterate the profound and unambiguous apology on behalf of the Government and the NHS for the hurt and anguish that the families who lost loved ones have endured. These were not just preventable deaths, but deaths directly caused by the actions of others. The report is a deeply troubling account of people dying at the hands of those who were trusted to care for them. I pay tribute to the courage of the victims’ families and their local MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), in their work for and commitment to the truth. Without their persistence, the catalogue of failures may never have come to light.
Along with the Prime Minister, I have met Bishop James Jones, who chaired the panel. He made it absolutely clear that what happened at Gosport continues to have an impact and places a terrible burden on relatives to this day. The failures were made worse because whistleblowers were not listened to, investigations fell short and lessons failed to be learnt. We must all learn the right lessons from the panel’s report and apply them across the entire system.
As Bishop Jones writes in the report, relatives felt betrayed by those in authority and were made to feel like “troublemakers” for asking legitimate questions. The report states that
“when relatives complained about the safety of patients…they were consistently let down by those in authority—both individuals and institutions. These included the senior management of the hospital, healthcare organisations, Hampshire Constabulary, local politicians, the coronial system, the Crown Prosecution Service, the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”
The panel heard how nurses raised concerns as far back as 1988, but were ignored and sidelined. More than 100 families raised concerns over more than two decades, but they were ignored and patronised. Frail, elderly people were seen as problems to be managed, rather than patients to be helped. Perhaps the most harrowing part of the report is when it makes clear that if action had been taken when problems were first raised, hundreds fewer would have died at Gosport. People want to see that justice is done, policies are changed and that we learn the right lessons across the NHS. I will take each of those in turn.
First, on justice, between 1998 and 2010, Hampshire Constabulary conducted three separate investigations. None of the investigations led to a prosecution. The panel criticised the police for their failings in the investigations and their failure to get to the truth. Families said that they felt police had not taken their concerns seriously enough or investigated fully. Because of Hampshire police’s failures, a different police force has been brought in. A new, external police team is now independently assessing the evidence and will decide whether to launch a full investigation. They must be allowed to complete that process and follow the evidence, so that justice is done. Much has improved in the NHS since the period covered by the panel’s report, but we cannot afford to be complacent. What happened at Gosport is both a warning and a challenge.
Let me turn to the reforms that have been made and the reforms that we plan to make. The Care Quality Commission has been established as an independent body that inspects all hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes to detect failings and identify what needs to be improved. We have set up the National Guardian’s Office to ensure that staff concerns are heard and addressed. Every NHS trust in England now has someone in place whom whistleblowers can speak to in confidence and without fear of being penalised. We have established NHS Improvement—a separate, dedicated organisation—to respond to failings and put things right, and the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch now investigates safety breaches and uses them to learn lessons and spread best practice throughout the NHS.
Those are the reforms that the Government have already made, but we must go further, so motivated by this report we will bring forward new legislation that will compel NHS trusts to report annually on how concerns raised by staff have been addressed; and, we are working with our colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to see how we can strengthen protections for NHS whistleblowers, including changing the law and other options.
Next is the question of drug prescription. Central to the deaths at Gosport was the prescribing, dispensing and monitoring of controlled drugs. Since the period covered by the report, there have been significant changes in the way that controlled drugs are used and managed and these syringe drivers are no longer in use in the NHS. However, in the light of the panel’s findings, we are further reviewing how we can improve safety.
Further, from April next year, medical examiners will be introduced across England to ensure that every death is scrutinised by either a coroner or a medical examiner. Medical examiners are someone bereaved families can talk to about their concerns to ensure that investigations take place when necessary, to help to detect and deter criminal activity, and to promote good practice. The new system will be overseen by a new independent national medical examiner and training will take place to ensure a consistency of approach and a record of scrutiny.
The reforms that we have made since Gosport mean that staff can speak up with more confidence and that failings are identified earlier and responded to quicker. The reforms that we are making will mean greater transparency, stricter control of drugs and a full and thorough investigation of every hospital death. Taken together, they mean that warning signs about untypical patterns of death are more likely to be examined at the time, not 25 years later.
However, as well as these policy changes, there is a bigger change, too, which I turn to now. Just as with the reports into Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay, the Gosport report will echo for years to come, and the culture change that these reports call for is as deep-rooted as it is vital. There has been a culture change within the NHS since Gosport, but the culture must change further still. One of the most important things that we learnt from the report is that we must create a culture where complaints are listened to and errors are learnt from, and that this must be embedded at every level in the NHS.
What happened at Gosport was not one individual error; it was a systemic failure to respond appropriately to terrible behaviour. To prevent that from happening again, we need to ensure that we respond appropriately to error—openly, honestly, taking concerns and complaints seriously and seeing them as an opportunity to learn and improve, not a need for cover-up and denial. I want to see a culture that starts by listening to patients and their relatives and by empowering staff to speak up. That starts with leaders creating a culture that is focused on learning not blaming—a culture that is less top-down and less hierarchical, with more autonomy for staff and which is more open to challenge and change. We need to see better leadership at every level in the NHS to create that culture across the NHS.
Today marks an important moment. Lessons have been learned, will be learned and must be applied. The voices of the vulnerable will be heard. Those with the courage to speak up will be celebrated. Leaders must change the culture to learn from errors, and we must redouble our resolve to create a health service that will be a fitting testament to the Gosport patients and their families. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. I welcome the statement and the tone of his remarks, and I thank him for repeating the unambiguous and clear apology that the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), offered at the Dispatch Box before the summer—it is good to see the previous Secretary of State sitting on the Treasury Bench today.
We welcome the Secretary of State’s apology today. The whole House was shocked when the previous Secretary of State reported the findings of the Gosport inquiry to the House. This Secretary of State is right to remind us that everyone who lost a life was “a son or daughter, a mother or father, a sister or brother”. As he said, our thoughts are with the families of the 456 patients whose lives were shortened because of what happened at Gosport, and the families of the 200 others who may have suffered—whose lives may have been shortened; because of missing medical records, we will never know for sure. That lingering doubt—never knowing whether they were victims of what happened at Gosport—must be a particularly intolerable burden for those families affected.
Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to the victims’ families, who, as he says, have in the face of grief shown immense courage, fortitude and commitment to demand the truth. I think the whole House will pay tribute to them today. I also reiterate our gratitude to the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, for his extraordinary dedication, persistence, compassion and leadership in uncovering this injustice. Finally, I applaud those hon. Members who played a central role in establishing this inquiry, not just the previous Secretary of State, but the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the Minister for Care, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who in recent years has played an important role in her capacity as a constituency MP.
The Secretary of State is correct to say that lessons must be learned and applied across the whole system. We all understand that in the delivery of healthcare and the practice of medicine, sadly, tragically, things can and do sometimes go wrong, but we also understand, as Bishop Jones said in his report, that
“the handing over of a loved one to a hospital, to doctors and nurses is an act of trust”,
but that that trust was
I still believe that that betrayal was unforgivable. Patient safety must always be the priority, so when there are systemic failures, it is our duty to act, learn lessons and change policies.
I wish to respond to the Secretary of State’s announcements today. We welcome his commitment to legislation placing more transparency duties on trusts, and we will engage constructively with that legislation. Is it his intention to bring forward amendments to the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, and if so when, or should we expect a new bill altogether? We look forward to his proposals on strengthening protection for whistleblowers, but he will know that the NHS has just spent £700,000 contesting the case of whistleblower Dr Chris Day, a junior doctor who raised safety concerns. He will also be aware of the British Medical Association survey showing that not even half of doctors feel they would have the confidence to raise concerns about safety. Moreover, he will be aware of how Dr Bawa-Garba’s case played out, with her personal reflections effectively used in evidence against her. Can he offer more details on how he will change the climate in the NHS so that clinicians feel they can speak out without being penalised?
I welcome the thrust of the Secretary of State’s remarks on medical examiners, and I agree they are a crucial reform, but can he offer us some more details? Is it still the Government’s intention that they will be employed directly by acute trusts? He will be aware that this has provoked questions about their independence. We would urge him to go further and base them in local authorities and extend their remit to primary care, nursing homes and mental health and community health trusts. If legislation is needed, we would work constructively with him.
We welcome the review into improving safety when prescribing and dispensing medicine. Clearly one of the first questions that comes to mind when reading the Gosport report is: how were these prescriptions monitored? The Government’s own research indicates that more than 230 million medication errors take place a year, and it has been estimated that these errors and mix-ups could contribute to as many as 22,000 deaths a year, so this review is clearly urgent. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether it will be an independent review, who will lead it and when we can expect it to report?
Finally, patient safety is compromised when staff are overworked and overburdened with pressures. He will know that we have over 100,000 staff vacancies across the NHS. Some trusts are proposing closing A&E departments overnight because they do not have the staff and some are even proposing closing chemotherapy wards because they believe that the lack of staffing means services are unsafe. How does the Secretary of State plan to recruit the staff our NHS desperately needs to provide the level of safe care patients deserve?
In conclusion, I offer to work constructively with the Secretary of State to improve patient safety across the NHS, and we support his statement today.
I appreciate the tone of the hon. Gentleman, who rightly focuses on the need to ensure that this never happens again, and I join him in thanking Bishop James Jones for his work on this and other inquiries. It was quite brilliant empathetic work. I also thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), for whom I have an awful lot of respect.
The core of the questions the hon. Gentleman raised, about the need to ensure that whistleblowers are listened to and that people are heard in the NHS, comes down to culture change. A whole series of policies underpins that culture change, and I will come to them, but ultimately it comes down to this: errors happen in medicine—it is a high-risk business—but what matters is behaviour, that everything is done to minimise errors and, when they are made, to learn from them, rather than try to cover them up. The culture change needs to be driven across the NHS. It has changed and improved in many areas, but there is still much more to do.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether amendments would be tabled to the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill or in separate legislation on whistleblowers. We are looking at both options. Partly it comes down to the technicalities of scope and the exact distinction and definition of the amendments, but I look forward to working with him on that legislation.
The hon. Gentleman asked why gagging clauses are still in use. I may well ask the very same question. They were deemed unacceptable by my predecessor—I join in the tributes to him—who did so much on this agenda. Gagging clauses have been unacceptable in the NHS since 2013. Trusts, which are independent, can legally use them, but I find them unacceptable, and I will do what it takes to stamp them out.
The hon. Gentleman said that too many people in the NHS feel unable to speak up. To ensure a route for this, we now have, in every single NHS trust, an individual separate from line management to whom staff can go to raise concerns. This is part of the culture change, but it is not the whole. Line management itself in every hospital should welcome challenge and concerns, because that is the way to improve practice. Challenges and concerns that are raised with managers should be deemed an opportunity to improve the service offered to patients, rather than a problem to be managed.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned medication errors. Of course, this was not a case of medication error—it would have been far less bad had it been; it was a case of active mis-medication that led to deaths. Medication errors are an important issue, however, and we are bringing in e-prescribing across the board to allow for much more accurate measurement, audit and analysis of medication.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman said that pressures often come from staff shortages. Again, that was emphatically not the concern here, and we absolutely must not muddle up the behaviour here with the issue of staff shortages. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the need for more staff in the NHS. Indeed, we are putting £20 billion into it over the next five years to make sure we have the people we need to deliver the NHS that everyone wants.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and commitment to introduce legislation to compel trusts to report on how they handle staff complaints and concerns, but will he assure the House that trusts will not be penalised if they have more staff concerns raised, because it might be an indicator that they have introduced the culture change necessary for staff to feel able to come forward? Will he also clarify how rapidly we will be rolling out the very welcome introduction of medical examiners?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the number of complaints and concerns raised is not the material factor. A complaint that is actively welcomed and then acted on by management is merely part of the improvement process of any organisation. We should be open to them, welcome them and see them as an important part of the continuous improvement of NHS trusts, which is how many successful organisations see them. As I set out in the statement, medical examiners will be introduced from next April, but I am happy to give her more details of that whole policy.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the proposals in it. As he says, these 450—possibly even 650— deaths were not accidental, but deliberate.
I welcomed the Secretary of State’s attendance at our event yesterday, when we discussed the need for a just and learning culture in the NHS. Obviously, he heard the stories that were related during the event: stories of patients who had lost their lives, and families who have ended up spending their entire lives fighting for justice or change, so they have suffered over and above their bereavement. Staff were obviously not listened to. One witness compared a whistleblower with someone reporting to the police, or a state witness, and pointed out how shocked we would be if the police tried to shut that case up. Whistleblowers should be welcomed as people giving evidence against wrongdoing or failure.
I particularly welcomed the Secretary of State’s comment about reform of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which I think needs to be replaced. I think we need legislation that gives definite protection to people who come forward. As one who has been a clinician for more than 30 years, I can tell the Secretary of State that the long trail of clinicians who have reported concerns and then had their careers ended lies there like a threat to every whistleblower who thinks of speaking up.
If patient safety and the ability of people to speak up in safety are not enshrined in the NHS, we are all under threat. I am sure that not just the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) but Members in all parts of the House would work with the Secretary of State to reform the legislation here, and inspire the culture change that is needed in the NHS itself. I certainly would.
I agree with an awful lot of what the hon. Lady has said, and I appreciate the wisdom that she brings to this issue with her clinical experience.
The need for a just culture in the NHS is very clear, and the Gosport report makes it clearer still. A just culture means that, yes, there is accountability, but the accountability is established with the intent that the system will improve and people will learn; that people can come forward with concerns rather than covering them up; and that when concerns are expressed, they are welcomed.
I am also pleased about the hon. Lady’s attitude to potential legislation. I look forward to working with her, and, indeed, learning from some of the improvements that have been made in Scotland, to try to ensure that we can get this right.
The events at Gosport are of substantial interest to my constituents in Havant and across the Solent region. I agree with the Secretary of State that lessons must be not only learned but applied. Will he confirm that ensuring patients’ safety will remain at the heart of all that the NHS does, including the development of its new 10-year plan, and will he confirm in particular that better medical records can be produced through, for instance, the use of new technologies?
Absolutely, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work. People from across the country, and certainly from across the region, were affected by this. The need for better medical records is underlined in the report. In the case of several hundred people, we do not know whether their lives were shortened or not. Of course technology has a huge part to play in this. From about 15 years ago onwards it is highly unlikely that medical records would have been lost or misplaced in this way, and therefore new technology has a role to play, but it needs to be improved so that access to those records can be made available to the right people at the right time.
I welcome the ambition in the statement for the culture change that is clearly still needed in the NHS. This is the most extraordinary scandal. The Secretary of State is right to highlight the extent to which loved ones were patronised and ignored and staff were often crushed, and how that facilitated the ongoing scandal at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Clearly the pursuit of justice is the most pressing priority for the relatives, given how long delayed that is, but may I specifically highlight the Secretary of State’s reference to working with the Business Secretary to establish whether reforms to the legislation are necessary? Does he agree that reformed legislation that allows staff to feel able to speak out—not just in the NHS, but in any occupation—can facilitate the very culture change that he needs so much?
Yes. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s work, especially as a Minister in the Department, to make sure that people got to the bottom of this and that the truth was published and brought out in the way that it has been. He is right about the question of justice, but it is currently—rightly—a matter for the police, so I will go no further than that.
I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the legislative framework that we set here in Parliament leads to and underpins the culture that is critical. That is, of course, a matter for the whistleblowing legislation. There are also questions of legal liability. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, often what patients who have been wronged—or the families of patients who have been wronged—want most of all is an apology, an explanation, and a commitment that others will not be affected because the lessons will be learnt. Too often what has been offered instead is the phone number of a no-win, no-fee lawyer, and that is not the way to solve this problem.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, and his plain and self-evident commitment to learning from this episode and righting the wrongs. The findings of the report are shocking and heartbreaking, and they affect some of my constituents whose families have suffered so much grief because of the life-shortening policy employed at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Many of them still have questions many years on, about such matters as criminal investigations. I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that an external police team will be carrying out an investigation on whether to press charges, but can he provide some guidance on the timeline and whether the police can realistically expect justice to be done, and seen to be done, through the criminal courts?
My hon. Friend is right. The grief over the loss of a loved one whose life has been foreshortened is compounded if that is not acknowledged by the authorities, and we therefore acknowledge it once again today. As for the police investigation, the timings are of course a matter for the police themselves, who are rightly independent. The process currently under way is the reviewing of all the evidence to establish what and whether prosecutions should be brought forward. That will continue into the new year, and the police will then make a statement on the next stages of their investigation.
On 10 October, my constituent Bridget Reeves submitted a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to the Government in order to trigger a parliamentary debate. Today is the anniversary of her grandmother Elsie Devine’s death at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. She died after concerns had emerged from staff at the hospital.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for his commitment to addressing many of the problems that have already been identified and are emerging from the various inquiries. The families want justice, among other things, but they will not get it until the outcome of the fourth police investigation—and I welcome the fact that it is being carried out by a different police authority.
I have two questions. First, will the Secretary of State meet the families face to face? Secondly, while I acknowledge his points about concerns of culture in the NHS, I am concerned about the culture in the coroner service, in relation to not just this case but others, including one that I met constituents to discuss this morning. There is a governance issue relating to when the coroner service needs investigating in the case of some inquests. Will the Secretary of State work with the Attorney General, and pick up the concerns that Members expressed about a number of inquests?
The point about coroners is a matter for the Ministry of Justice, but I am pleased to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) is present. He would delighted to meet the hon. Lady to take up that point—
I will, of course, be happy to meet the families, but the advice of Bishop James Jones is that that will be appropriate after this stage of the police investigation. I wrote to the families to explain the position before making my statement. It is important that we go through the process properly during the police investigation to ensure that justice can be done, but I shall be more than happy to meet the families at the appropriate moment.
Order. I always listen to all of my colleagues with equal doses of respect and affection, but I am moved to observe as we approach the festive season that it would probably be a good idea for the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) to send copies of his textbook on succinct questions as Christmas presents to all colleagues.
I join the cross-party support for my right hon. Friend’s statement and add my voice in commending the dedication and commitment of Bishop James Jones, who, I am pleased to say, is I think in the Chamber listening to the Government response to his report.
I am a great supporter of the National Guardian’s Office and the “freedom to speak up” guardians; in fact I am such a strong supporter that I wear its lanyard around my neck and have done ever since I was in the Health Department. But it is the case that a number of people who make complaints either do not yet have sufficient confidence in these guardians or feel that their complaints are not properly addressed. There are however good examples of best practice, where some chief executives of trusts have a regular, routine meeting with guardians to make sure that complaints are brought directly to their attention. Will my right hon. Friend work with the senior leaders across the NHS and the National Guardian’s Office to ensure that best practice is used so we can give the most possible confidence to people with concerns about safety?
Yes, absolutely I am happy to do that, and I am happy to commend my hon. Friend’s lanyard, too. Ultimately culture change and having a good culture comes down to the leadership within the NHS and individual trusts. It has struck me in the four months that I have been doing this job that the trusts that have the best results in terms of outcomes for patients, waiting times and waiting lists, and finances are also those that are hot on this subject; they listen to complaints and act on them, because they know that that is the way to improve their organisation. I want to see that sort of best practice right across the board.
Like colleagues, I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. It was my constituent Gillian Mackenzie 21 years ago who was the first relative to raise concerns, and she has been battling ever since. She came to me 11 years ago and it was with pleasure that I introduced her and the other families to my colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). I am grateful for the changes in the health service that will hopefully prevent any such dreadful and shocking episode from happening again.
I must bring the Secretary of State back to the justice issue, however, as it is very important. I appreciate that it concerns a different Department, but the Secretary of State said in his statement that the police
“must be allowed to complete that process and follow the evidence, so that justice is done.”
A few weeks ago I had a constructive meeting with Assistant Chief Constable Downing, who is in charge of that. I would like a commitment from the Government that there will be sufficient funding for the full assessment, and, if it goes to investigation, sufficient funding in the budget for a proper investigation to be done so that relatives can get the justice they have been denied for so long.
Yes, of course that is the Government’s position, and I am very happy to reiterate it today. The police need to be able to follow the evidence without fear or favour.
I declare an interest as a registered nurse and someone who has worked in areas using syringe drivers and controlled drugs. I welcome the measures announced today, but may I make two further suggestions? First, there are very strict guidelines for nurses on controlling the stock of controlled drugs, and wrongdoing is picked up very quickly. There is not, however, enough training in the use, the dosage, the method and the route of controlled drugs that would give nurses confidence to speak up. Secondly, this situation could have been picked up much sooner if we had a proper IT system that shares medical notes between hospitals and doctors.
My hon. Friend is right on both points, and I am very happy to work with her on them. On the latter point, there is still much more work to do to have a system that is fully interoperable between secondary and primary care. As she says, many patients’ GPs might have picked up on the unusual patterns if they had had access to hospital notes. That now does happen in a small number of hospitals, but it is central to improving the technological capability of the NHS.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and his overall approach on patient safety. We have talked a lot about the need to change the culture from one of blame to one of accountability and transparency. That is easy to say, but difficult to implement so, as well as the changes to the annual report and procedures and process changes, will there be additional training and practical support that can help embed this new culture?
Training has improved over the last couple of decades. The training programmes are independently devised for doctors by the royal colleges and are developed and implemented with the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. There is still much to do to drive through the modern culture of inclusivity and bringing in ideas from all places and to remove some of the unnecessary hierarchies in the world of medicine, both within the NHS and without. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on that.
Finally, may I end by saying that there is still work to do, not least on the judicial element, and all of us should thank Bishop James Jones for how he has handled this process and made sure that people feel that justice can be done and that the learnings can be taken?
Palestinian Statehood (Recognition) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Layla Moran, supported by Richard Burden, Sir Vince Cable, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Tim Farron, Wera Hobhouse, Ben Lake, Norman Lamb, Stephen Lloyd, Caroline Lucas, Jess Phillips and Dr Philippa Whitford, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the recognition of the State of Palestine.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 February 2019, and to be printed (Bill 295).
Marriage and Civil Partnership (Consent)
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 person registering a marriage or civil partnership to attest the valid consent of both parties to the marriage or civil partnership before it is solemnized; and for connected purposes.
Last year, a constituent of mine, Daphne Franks, came to my advice surgery on a Saturday morning to tell me the horrifying story of her mother, Joan Blass. It was a story that I could hardly believe was possible in modern Britain, and it showed clearly that our marriage laws are sadly deficient in one important aspect, which has provided the reason for my Bill.
Born in April 1924 and widowed in 2008, Joan Blass lived next door to her daughter in the Gledhow district of my Leeds North East constituency. Towards the end of 2011, Joan was working in her garden one afternoon when she met Colman Folan, who struck up a conversation with her while she was standing at the gate from her garden to the street. She invited Mr Folan into her home for a cup of tea, and within one month of their first meeting, Colman Folan had moved into Joan’s house, taking up residence in her spare bedroom.
Joan had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in early 2011. At first it appeared that Colman was looking after her very well, although he seemed to be rather controlling and secretive. He also became increasingly hostile towards her family. He began to take Joan to visit her friends, as well as some relatives, all over the country, and in 2015, he and Joan flew to Budapest, even though by this time she was getting very frail and travelling made her stressed and exhausted. For the 10 days that they were away, Daphne, her daughter, had no idea where she was.
Sadly, on 26 March 2016, Joan Blass died of cancer, not long before her 92nd birthday. When her daughter saw her shortly after her death, she was still wearing her first husband’s wedding ring, but three days after her mother’s death, Daphne discovered that Colman and Joan had been married in a civil ceremony at Leeds town hall on 26 October 2015.
Hon. Members may imagine what a shock that discovery was to Daphne, her brother and the rest of Joan’s family. At the time of the marriage, Joan was 91 and Colman was 67. No family member or friend had been told about the secret marriage ceremony.
Daphne asked her solicitor and the police for help. She recalled that Colman had stopped even communicating with her or any other family member in 2014, for no obvious reason. Although Daphne continued to see her mother every day in her home, she always felt a little frightened of Colman.
Joan had made a will some years before meeting Colman, but Daphne discovered, to her surprise and shock, that a marriage automatically revokes a previous will. Colman now had complete control over Joan’s estate, in spite of the fact that Daphne had previously had power of attorney on behalf of her mother during her lifetime. The solicitor advised the family that it was almost impossible to annul a marriage after death, and that the only ground on which the marriage could be annulled would be if it could be proved that either partner had a lack of capacity to make a free and rational decision to marry. Unfortunately, no such evidence existed.
Further pain was caused to Joan’s family after her funeral wishes were denied by Colman. Joan had always made it clear that she did not wish to be buried, yet Colman insisted on it. The family’s solicitor advised that a single day’s hearing at the Leeds division of the High Court would settle the matter in Joan’s and the family’s favour, upholding the wishes of the deceased. However, after a four-day hearing that cost the family all their savings and assets—more than £200,000—the judge ruled in Colman’s favour because Joan had never written down her wishes. Furthermore, even if it had been possible to annul the marriage, an annulled marriage cannot overturn the revocation of a will through marriage. Parties in a marriage must understand the financial consequences of entering into that marriage, as we see in the Court of Protection judgment in E.J. v. S.D. in 2017.
I am presenting my Bill in an attempt to close some of the loopholes in the statutes governing marriage in this country. It is not good enough for a registrar to say that simply because one of the participants in a marriage ceremony was smiling at the time, consent was happily given. Much of the anecdotal evidence suggests that Joan had no idea she had ever been married to Folan, and there was clear evidence that her mental capacity was severely reduced in the last years of her life. However, there is no requirement for registrars to ensure that both parties in a marriage are aware of what they are doing when they enter into a contract to be married. There are protections under the law to prevent marriage under duress, but believing that duress is not present simply because one of the parties looks content does not mean that there is the mental capacity for consent.
My Bill would establish a number of improvements and protections against what I would call predatory marriage—a term already in circulation in Canada and now used by Joan’s family. First, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Consent) Bill would establish that marriage should no longer revoke a previous will in every case—or, indeed, in any case. The majority of those affected are entering into second marriages and are from the older generation. Secondly, the Bill would establish that there should be better training for registrars to ensure that robust procedures for safeguarding vulnerable individuals are put in place. Mark Thomson, the Registrar General for England and Wales, has said that he wants to “modernise” registration procedures.
Thirdly, the Bill proposes that capacity to marry should be established via a simple questionnaire to alert registrars that an assessment of capacity may be needed before the ceremony is carried out, and that a medical capacity assessment may also be required. Simply smiling during a marriage ceremony should not be assumed to mean consent if there is no mental capacity to make such a decision in the first place. Fourthly, the Bill proposes that notices of intention of a marriage should be published on the internet so that families such as Daphne’s can discover much sooner that a marriage has taken place, or is to take place, even if their presence is not requested or wanted.
I would like to thank Daphne and Stephen Franks for bringing their very distressing case to my attention as their local Member of Parliament. I believe that the case has profound implications for many hundreds of other families across the country who may find themselves in a similar situation, and of course it goes without saying that this could affect many other Members. I would also like to thank Sarah Young, a solicitor and partner in the firm of Ridley & Hall in Leeds, who has specialised in marriage law, for her help and advice in bringing this to the attention of hon. Members, including, I hope, members of the Government and my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench.
Question put and agreed to.
That Fabian Hamilton, Rachel Reeves, Alex Sobel, Tracey Crouch, Alec Shelbrooke, Preet Kaur Gill, Caroline Lucas, Sir Edward Davey, Karen Lee and Richard Burden present the Bill.
Fabian Hamilton accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 296).
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to introduce the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I may, I should like to begin my introduction of this legislation on a personal note. My father was a fish merchant, and my family have made their living from the sea for generations. That has given me a deep personal appreciation of the risks and sacrifices undertaken by those who go to sea to ensure that we have healthy and nutritious food. There are Members of this House who know those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide us with the food that we enjoy, and I would like to say that those who work so hard and take such risks to bring us the bounty of the sea will be first and foremost in my mind in our deliberations today. We are in all their debt.
I also want to underline the fact that I am deeply grateful to the team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the work they have done on the preparation of the White Paper that preceded this Bill, as well as on the Bill, the explanatory memorandum and everything that goes with them. DEFRA has some of the finest civil servants in the Government, but the fisheries team stand out. They are men and women of dedication, deep knowledge and commitment, and I am grateful to them, as I am also to my predecessors in this role as Secretary of State. Every single one of my predecessors has sought to do their best for the fishing industry, and it would be invidious to single any of them out. However, I want to pay a special tribute to three ministerial or ex-ministerial colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) has done an enormous amount to champion the interests of the fishing communities across the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has done an enormous amount to improve the operation of the common fisheries policy while we have been in it. And the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has been an outstanding negotiator on Britain’s behalf, and in his time in office—which I hope will continue for many years to come—he has done an enormous amount for coastal communities across the country.
One of the pleasures in bringing forward the Bill is to be able to acknowledge that, whatever position individuals may have taken in the referendum on our membership of the European Union, there is a widespread recognition across the House that the common fisheries policy did damage. It did environmental damage to fish stocks and to our marine environment. It also did economic damage to the fishing industry, which has been such a critical part of this country’s heritage and which can again become a vital part of our economic future. The common fisheries policy did social damage as well, because coastal communities suffered. Their economies were hollowed out and businesses collapsed as a result of its operation. Whatever position we may have taken in that referendum, taking back control of our waters, leaving the common fisheries policy and once again becoming an independent coastal state will give us an opportunity to lead environmentally, to revive the fishing industry economically and to ensure that our coastal communities once more have the opportunity for a renaissance.
I agree with the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Scottish National party, about the damage the CFP did. However, the political text on the withdrawal agreement states that there will be:
“Cooperation…internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation… the development of measures for the conservation, rational management and regulation of fisheries… a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares”
and so on. That is the current form, in black and white. Although that might mean something new and better, is it not the case that, given the UK’s negotiating failures so far, what we will end up with will look very similar to the terms of the CFP?
No, not at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect, for acknowledging many of the defects and flaws in the common fisheries policy, but we have been clear—this is reflected in both the draft withdrawal agreement and the accompanying draft political declaration on our future economic partnership—that we will be negotiating at the December 2020 Fisheries Council as an independent coastal state, ready to ensure that we decide on access to our waters, that we decide on total allowable catches, and that we decide on quotas, and it is on that basis that we can ensure that the interests of our coastal communities are respected.
Of course, as an independent coastal state, we will be governed by the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. That landmark piece of international law makes it clear that all independent coastal states will negotiate with their neighbours to ensure that the environmental health of fish stocks are preserved and that an equitable share of each nation’s bounty can be agreed, because we as a nation depend for the fish we eat not just on the fish in our waters—of course, we have the healthiest stocks of any country in the existing European Union—but on negotiating with other independent coastal states, including Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and others, to ensure that we get the mix of fish that consumers demand and that society has a right to expect.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any party represented in this Chamber that promotes continued membership of the European Union is letting our fishermen down, because it is already promoting continued membership of the common fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend knows what she is talking about, and she is absolutely right. It is the case that the Scottish National party wants us to stay in the European Union, and therefore in the common fisheries policy. It is also the case that the Scottish National party’s MEPs, when given the chance to vote in the European Parliament, voted to stay in the common fisheries policy. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are independent members of the SNP who do not toe the line of their leadership. There are individual voters who have lent the SNP their votes in the past but who do not agree with that view. Also, to be fair, the Scottish Government and the Minister responsible, Fergus Ewing, in helping to ensure that this legislation can work for Scotland, have operated in a constructive manner, as indeed have officials in the devolved Administrations—sadly, we do not have the Executive in Northern Ireland, but the officials there have negotiated in good faith, as have the Labour Administration in Cardiff. I want to underline that the legislation we bring forward will see powers moving to the devolved Administrations. It will be a diffusion of power and a strengthening of devolution.
Many individuals and organisations campaigned very hard to get the firmest rules on sustainability as part of reform of the common fisheries policy. Will my right hon. Friend give them an assurance that any vessel fishing in British waters after we leave the European Union will be required to maintain the highest levels of sustainability for those fish stocks, and to work with the Government to do so?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill makes it clear that there are principles, to which the Government will be held, that ensure that fishing will be sustainable and that our marine environment will be restored to full health. The Bill also gives the Government powers to ensure that no vessel can fish in our waters unless it adheres to those high environmental standards.
Can the Secretary of State just be absolutely clear about this? At the end of March we will leave the common fisheries policy, but then we will immediately be back in it, by giving the EU the right to make all decisions for however long the transition goes on. It worries me very much when I hear more and more Ministers talking on the “Today” programme about the transition being extended again and again. Why did he allow the Prime Minister to accept in the withdrawal agreement that fisheries would stay as part of the transition?
I will give the hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect and affection, one piece of perhaps unsolicited advice: I find that in the morning it is better not to listen to the “Today” programme; Radio 3, or even Radio 2, ensures that I have a more equable morning. However, she makes a very important point about the transition period. A number of Members of this House hoped that in the transition period, when it was agreed earlier this year, the common fisheries policy would be outside, but there is one very significant departure from the overall transition period, which applies to the common fisheries policy, which is that the European Union acknowledged that from 2021 we will be an independent coastal state. Therefore, when we negotiate in the December 2020 Fisheries Council, although we will still legally be a member of the European Union, we will be negotiating then as an independent coastal state. That is why I said at the time that we need to keep our eyes on the prize of making sure that after that transition period we can have all the opportunities to do the right thing environmentally, economically and socially, as I mentioned earlier.
I would like to take as many interventions as possible, in fairness to all those Members who necessarily cannot stay for the duration of the debate.
A moment ago the Secretary of State offered the House some warm words about his commitment to sustainability. Could he therefore explain why the Bill contains only one vague mention of maximum sustainable yields? Can he give us a guarantee that, under his new vision for fisheries management, we will adhere to maximum sustainable yields and to scientific advice, as opposed to what we have done for years and years, which is to allow total catches to exceed those sustainable yields by up to 50%?
The short answer is yes.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on that point, because it is germane to the point about co-operation with our neighbouring states and the implications arising from the transitional arrangements. Can he tell the House how the EU-Norway-Faroes mackerel deal, which is currently up for renegotiation and renewal in 2020, will be handled in practical terms, and what his Government are doing to ensure that the voice of our fishermen is heard in that important negotiation?
We will be taking part in bilateral and multilateral negotiations in the run-up to December 2020, in anticipation of being, as I have said, a fully independent coastal state from January 2021. We will be negotiating with all our neighbours in order to ensure that we get the very best deal for our fishermen. On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, which was very fair, about collaboration with fishing organisations, in preparing the Bill we have worked with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and a variety of other producer organisations, and every single one of them has said that it wants to see the Bill on the statute book. Of course there will be debate in Committee, and there may well be amendments that can refine and improve what we want to do, but there is not a single representative organisation that speaks for the fisheries industry or for fish processors anywhere that does not want to see the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible.
The one fly in the ointment is, of course, the elephant in the room: the withdrawal deal that the Prime Minister has produced in recent weeks. Can the Secretary of State confirm that article 6(2) of the protocol relating to Northern Ireland could be interpreted to read that every EU fisheries regulation in existence will continue to be applied to Northern Ireland fishermen alone if the backstop is applied?
I do not believe that is the right interpretation. I do recognise that a number of colleagues across the House have concerns about the backstop arrangement, but let me underline one point. Under the backstop arrangement, were it ever to come into place, the United Kingdom would be an independent coastal state. Some people have read the withdrawal agreement and taken it to mean that somehow the common fisheries policy would be extended if the backstop were to come into operation, and that we would not have control over our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone. That is not the case. Even in the event of the backstop coming into operation, we will be an independent coastal state, and fishermen, whether they are in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, will be able to take advantage of the additional fishing opportunities that arise as a result.
Is the Secretary of State aware that article 6(2) of the Northern Ireland protocol enables vessels registered in Northern Ireland, but not vessels registered anywhere else in the United Kingdom, to sell their goods into the European Union tariff free? Does he therefore accept that vessels registered in Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the UK, will be at a competitive disadvantage when that part of the backstop comes into force, which, incidentally, under article 154 will be immediately?
The hon. and learned Lady draws attention to an important point. On the backstop, as the House will hear at other points, there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is placed at a competitive advantage compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, and there are some who argue that Northern Ireland is disadvantaged relative to other parts of the United Kingdom. One thing that is clear, however, is that Northern Ireland—an integral and valued part of the United Kingdom—when we leave the European Union, will leave alongside the rest of the United Kingdom and be part of one independent coastal state that is capable of taking advantage of all these fisheries opportunities.
Will the Secretary of State give us some idea of his ambition for after we leave the common fisheries policy? It seems to me that we could have a big expansion of our domestic fishing industry, with a lot more fish landed and a big increase in fish processing in the UK. Is that his ambition, and how big will it be?
A whopper, I am tempted to say. My right hon. Friend is right. Even the Scottish Government acknowledge that there could be a £1 billion bonanza for the United Kingdom if we manage fish stocks effectively. That makes it all the more surprising, when the analysis of the Scottish Government’s own statisticians has the bonanza at that level, that Scottish National party politicians in Europe and elsewhere are standing in the way of our leaving the common fisheries policy, in stark contrast to Scottish Conservatives.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I am very happy to give way to a distinguished English Conservative.
If the backstop is not implemented but the implementation period is extended, can the Secretary of State confirm that that would mean we have to remain in the CFP beyond the 21 months? Is he aware—perhaps he can reassure the House—that the French are circling, as we all expect them to do, with Sabine Weyand saying that the British
“would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”?
I note the reporting of what Ms Sabine Weyand said. One of the interesting things—again, I alluded to this earlier—is that different Members will have different assessments of the advantages and disadvantages that lie within the draft withdrawal agreement, but it is instructive that the negotiator on behalf of the European Commission, Ms Weyand, felt that she had to sweeten the pill, particularly on fisheries, to get EU nations to sign, because there is an acknowledgment on the part of EU nations that UK negotiators have safeguarded access to our waters and secured our status as an independent coastal state. The initial negotiating mandate of the European Union has not been satisfied in these negotiations with respect to fisheries, but the red lines laid down by our Prime Minister have been defended. It is absolutely critical, without prejudice to any other conversations, to acknowledge that.
On the powers of the devolved nations, the Secretary of State said during the Vote Leave campaign that one of the Brexit dividends is that immigration powers could be devolved to Scotland. Immigration is crucial to the seafood processing industry and to the fishing boats, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. Does he agree that Scotland should get control of immigration so we can manage our fishing industry?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am grateful to those who work in the fish processing industry, and indeed to those who work offshore, who come from across the world, and not just from European economic area nations, to help ensure that industry is strong. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that our post-Brexit immigration policy will be truly global in scope and focused on making sure this country is an economic success, emphasising that we have taken back control.
The Secretary of State mentioned the red lines. The Prime Minister has told the House on numerous occasions that we will leave the customs union, yet the withdrawal agreement clearly envisages that we would remain in the customs union under the backstop and that, having entered, we could not leave unless the EU consented—the so-called “Hotel California” arrangement. The Prime Minister has also assured the House in very strong terms that she would never contemplate a border down the Irish sea, yet in the agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, exactly that is envisaged. I regret to say that, given that, I find it difficult to take seriously the commitments that the Prime Minister has now given to the House. If I have trouble believing her, why should I believe the Secretary of State?
My right hon. Friend, like all hon. Members, must make his own judgment on what he chooses to believe, and on who and what he wishes to support.
I will answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) before giving way. We have been told at different times that we will have to bend or buckle when it comes to fisheries. The Prime Minister and the negotiating team have absolutely not bent or buckled, which is why the European Commission’s own negotiator has had to attempt to sweeten the pill.
It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford that other countries are expressing their dissatisfaction with the withdrawal agreement for precisely that reason. He spent a distinguished time as a Minister and as the Conservative party’s Europe spokesman, and he must know that if other countries are complaining that they have lost out, it is a sign that this country has secured an advantage.
Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier point about expanding fishing opportunities, I am happy to report that Brixham in my constituency has had another record year and in 2017 landed over £40 million-worth of fish, but it is now limited because it is at full stretch. Brixham is anxiously waiting to hear what my right hon. Friend will do to guarantee that it can have access to funds such as the European maritime and fisheries funds to allow it to expand. Brixham is really keen to get on with it.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate her on championing her constituency so successfully, and I thank the fishermen of Brixham for their work. In the EU we have the EMFF, which provides support for individual fishing communities, and this Bill makes provision for a replacement so that grants and loans can be provided for just such investment.
I want to believe everything the Secretary of State has said, but he will know that the industry has a long memory, and it can remember the last-minute sell-out in the original Common Market negotiations. The industry still fears that is going to happen again. Can he give a categorical answer that under no circumstances will any further concessions be granted?
I have been very clear about how determined we are to fight on fisheries. We have defended our red lines. My hon. Friend mentions what happened in the 1970s. I was a boy then, but the consequences had a profound impact on my family and on my father’s business. There is no way I can ever forget what happened then, and no way that I will be anything other than a resolute champion for the interests of coastal communities such as the one my hon. Friend serves and represents so admirably.
According to the withdrawal agreement, we will be in the common fisheries policy until December 2020. Who will represent the UK at the annual Fisheries Council meeting in 2019, after we have left the EU?
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice).
Order. The Secretary of State has been very generous in giving way, but it is important that he is allowed to answer one question before taking another.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are right to say that I want to make sure I can answer as many questions as possible, from Members in as many parts of the House as possible, but this is a well subscribed debate and I have been able to make only about two or three of the points I wanted to make while I have been answering questions.
But because this legislation is so important and because of the passions aroused, I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend.
I thank the Secretary of State for that. It would be nice if we could talk a little more about fish, and I want to talk briefly about bluefin tuna. For the first time in about 50 or 60 years these wonderful fish are appearing off the shore of Cornwall and up the west coast. When we have left the EU, will we look at having a recreational catch-and-release fishery for bluefin tuna? If we could discuss that, and if I could bring a delegation to see the Secretary of State to discuss it, I would be extremely grateful, because there is huge commercial and conservational opportunity attached to such a fishery.
I quite agree and we are actively exploring that. One of the points I was due to make is that recreational fishing is a crucial part of the life of the nation; it provides, through tourism and other expenditure, support for many important parts of our rural and coastal economy.
A bluefin tuna was washed up on Tolsta beach in Lewis last weekend. I would be happy to join any delegation with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), because we have the same interests and needs. On the wider point, the Secretary of State mentioned “bend or buckle” a while ago. In the debate on 27 February 2018 in Westminster Hall, an astonishing number of Tory MPs supported this claim:
“Ideally, at 11 pm on 29 March 2019, we need to have absolute and 100% control of our fisheries, without it being part of any implementation or transition deal.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 290WH.]
That was echoed by loads of Tory MPs. Was that bend or was it buckle?
Interestingly, an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs were in that debate because an extraordinary number of Conservative MPs want the very best for our fishing industry. Scottish Conservative MPs have stood up for coastal communities in a way that the Scottish National party has signally failed to do. I will tell the hon. Gentleman who bent and who buckled. It was the SNP MEPs who bent and buckled in Strasbourg and Brussels when they agreed to keep us imprisoned in the CFP.
There are at least 65 co-operatives in the fishing industry, which are worth more than £48 million at the moment. Would not one of the best ways to help boost the fishing co-operatives sector, which keeps profits in hard-pressed coastal communities, be to ensure a radical reform of the quota system, two thirds of which is held by just three opaque companies?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we leave the CFP, there is an opportunity to reallocate quota. We have already seen a reallocation, with a 13% uplift for the under-10 metre fleet under this Government. There is a crucial point to make: some of the quota that is necessarily allocated is allocated for the types of stocks—pelagic stocks—of which the under- 10 metre fleet, simply because of the nature of where those fish are found, would be poorly placed to take advantage. So he is absolutely right to say there is a case for reform, but a significant amount of quota could not, at this stage, be allocated in the way that he might suggest.
I am keen to allow my hon. Friend, who has shown remarkable patience, the chance to intervene.
I thank the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene and not avoiding me altogether. We have talked about a “bonanza” of fish and about recreational fishing, but will he give assurances that we will not bend from our standards on sustainability? After all, we are talking about a wild harvest; fishermen have to make money, but they cannot make it unless the stocks are sustainable. Does he also agree that the Bill has included references to the 25-year environment plan and the nature capital approach, and that this is the right way to go, demonstrating that our Government have the environment and sustainability at their heart?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we adhere to the principles behind the maximum sustainable yield. The early clauses in this Bill set out clear principles by which any Secretary of State must be bound in order to put the environment and sustainability first. More than that, as we all know, under the CFP we have not had policies that put the environment first. Now, as an independent coastal state, we can work with organisations ranging from Greenpeace to Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation to ensure that we have a policy that is right environmentally and right economically.
I am pleased that we are now starting to put the environment first, but almost 80% of the UK fishing fleet is small-scale and it lands only 11% of the fish by value. Given that this fleet is not only more profitable to local economies, but employs more local fishermen and uses more sustainable fishing practices, will the Bill allow larger quotas to independent vessels under 10 metres?
Absolutely, the Bill explicitly allows us to ensure that new quota can be allocated to the under- 10 metre fleet, which exhibits all the virtues that my hon. Friend outlined. As I mentioned in response to the question from the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), it would be inappropriate to transfer some aspects of quota, but it has been the case, not least under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), that we have already been transferring quota to the under-10 metre fleet, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentions.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is generous with his time. On the comments made by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Scottish Conservatives can safely say they will take no lessons on the CFP from the SNP, who would sell us straight back into it if they had their way of re-entering Europe.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I am tempted to say, because so far we have not had a pun in this debate, that the SNP wants to have its hake and eat it. The truth is that SNP Members pose as defenders of Scotland’s fishing communities, yet all the time we were in the EU scarcely a peep they emitted on behalf of the fishing industry. Now that we are leaving they still want to tie us to the CFP, because they put the abstract ideology of their separatist sentiment ahead of the real interests of Scotland’s communities, and that is why they were so decisively rejected by Scotland’s coastal communities at the last general election.
This point has been made, but I will make it again. I have the great honour of representing the fishing village of Mevagissey. The Secretary of State may remember that he promised to come to see the fishermen there—they are still very much looking forward to his visit. That thriving fishing community is made up of under-10 metre vessels. So will he confirm that this Bill will provide opportunities for our under-10 metre fleet to take advantage of the new quota that will be available, so that it can grow, thrive and rebuild the great industry that we have lost?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, one that was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord)—