House of Commons
Wednesday 3 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Northern Ireland Centenary
I hope, Mr Speaker, you will allow me a slight indulgence at the beginning of proceedings to wish the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) a very happy birthday. Today is, I believe, the feast day of St Thomas, but none of us is in any doubt about the joy he brings to this House.
My Department is exploring the options to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021. The centenary represents an excellent opportunity to reflect on the past, to celebrate the present, and to build a united Northern Ireland for the future. It needs to be undertaken in a spirit of historical accuracy, mutual respect, inclusiveness and reconciliation.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. Does she agree that people across Northern Ireland will want to enjoy, celebrate and commemorate the centenary at the events in the 18 months leading up to it but, more than that, they will want to do it in a spirit of generosity and inclusiveness, remarking upon our history, our culture and our heritage for the next 100 years of Northern Ireland within the UK?
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right in the way he describes how the 2021 anniversary should be marked. I reflect on the work by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) on the world war one commemorations, which had an inclusive nature that fostered reconciliation and brought great joy to the people of Northern Ireland.
Would it not be a good idea for the Secretary of State to declare, or to get the relevant organisation to declare, that a bank holiday be declared on 5 May, which will be the exact date, 100 years ago, that Northern Ireland was founded?
That is a matter for my colleagues in the Cabinet Office, who will have heard my hon. Friend’s question. He will know that we are changing the date of the early May bank holiday next year to mark VE-day. Perhaps they would want to consider using the subsequent bank holiday for a similar purpose.
The 100th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland is an opportunity to look at the history of Northern Ireland in its times of darkness and of light, and particularly to build on the tremendous progress of recent years. Last week, commemorating the sad passing of Ivan Cooper, the Archdeacon of Derry quoted Lord Carson, who said in 1921:
“From the start be tolerant to all religions, and, while maintaining to the last your own traditions and your own citizenship, take care that similar rights are preserved for those who differ from us.”
Will the Secretary of State be liaising with her Irish counterpart and other interested parties to make the most of this opportunity, as she said, to learn from the mistakes of the past and promote the Northern Ireland of the future?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. We should all reflect on the words that she quoted. She will be pleased to know that, at the last meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office raised exactly those points with his Irish counterpart. It is important that we do mark this in a spirit of reconciliation, mutual understanding and looking to the future.
Devolved Government: Restoration
There has been significant engagement over the past nine weeks with the political parties in Northern Ireland, considering a range of important and difficult issues. Progress has been made, but there are a number of areas of disagreement between the political parties.
The Secretary of State’s mapping exercise on the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland revealed 96 areas directly underpinned by or linked to EU law. After Brexit, obviously, these will need to be replaced and shaped by the institutions of Stormont. Given that, does she believe that it would be irresponsible to pursue a no-deal Brexit while the devolved Administration is not in place?
My focus is on getting the devolved Administration back together and getting all the institutions that were agreed in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement working—in particular, the north-south institutions, which are incredibly important. Having those, and also having representation of the Northern Ireland Executive on the Joint Ministerial Committee, are both very important points in making sure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard in the Brexit debate.
Both sides of the border are willing and praying for success in the talks in which my right hon. Friend is involved. The absence of devolution is now tangibly and negatively impacting upon the lives of too many people in Northern Ireland. Will she commit to ensure that the summer recess is not an excuse for pausing the talks and keep parties in the room—by force, if necessary—to ensure that, by the time we come back in September, we are on the cusp of seeing devolution return?
May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on his appointment to the role of Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? I have not had an opportunity to do so in the Chamber before now. I am sure he will make an excellent Chair, following his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who is now a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I want to reassure my hon. Friend that I am doing everything in my power to ensure that the parties continue to talk. They are all still in the room. I will be returning to Northern Ireland straight after questions, to continue talks over the rest of the week. I want the talks to succeed and will do whatever I can to ensure that they do.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, he was the last direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, and I very much hope that he continues to be. He will understand the constitutional implications of the independence of the civil service in Northern Ireland and the fact that it reports to the Executive Office, not to this House. I am determined to get the institutions restored because then the question that he asked will become irrelevant.
We have, of course, ensured that all parties are in the room. These have been talks with the five main parties in Northern Ireland—those that are eligible to form an Executive and the Alliance party—and they have all made a valuable contribution to the discussions. We have done so through working groups, chaired by five independent facilitators. Good progress has been made, but we have not had any institutions in place for two and a half years because of some very difficult issues, and those difficult issues remain.
I am trying to get the institutions restored. It is vital for the people of Northern Ireland that the politicians they elected make decisions on their behalf, so I am doing everything I can to ensure that those politicians are able to do what will be very difficult for all of them to find a compromise and an accommodation and go back into Stormont.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the measures she has taken thus far. There is clearly a need to compromise on all sides in order to bring the talks to fruition. What compromises is she prepared to make?
My role is to help the parties but, clearly, if they are able to reach an agreement, I am sure that they will want things from the UK Government, and I will consider those when we are at that stage. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, we are at a delicate stage in the negotiations and I would not want to compromise anybody’s position at this point.
One of the issues that has to be addressed in the talks is justice for victims. The Secretary of State will be aware that the late William Frazer, who was laid to rest this Monday, devoted his life to fighting for victims; I pay tribute to him and his work. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the biggest issues must be addressing the definition of a victim, so that innocent victims are entitled to the pension they need?
The right hon. Gentleman refers to a number of issues, and he is right to do so. He refers to dealing with the legacy of the past. He will know that we have consulted on the institutions agreed at Stormont House and will publish a response to the consultation in due course. He also mentioned pensions for severely injured victims, which have been promised to them for far too long. I am determined to make progress on that matter.
Another issue that is causing real problems across the community in Northern Ireland, in the absence of devolved government, is the atrocious waiting lists in the health service, with cancer victims being made to wait a horrendously long time and targets being missed. Surely in the last days of the Prime Minister’s tenure, she will address that point and ensure that something is done to bring waiting lists under control. It is not good enough that the Government sit on their hands while this is happening.
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s comment that the Government are sitting on their hands; the Government are absolutely determined to see these matters addressed and the best way to do that, as he knows, is through devolved government in Stormont. I pay tribute to him and his party for the willingness that has been shown and their determination to engage in the talks very constructively and to make progress. I very much welcome that, particularly from the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Arlene Foster, whose attitude has been exemplary throughout.
Istanbul Convention and Northern Ireland Law on Domestic Abuse
I am sorry to report that, while the UK has signed the Istanbul convention, we are one of only a handful of signatories that have not yet ratified it. So, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working closely with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to establish how this can be progressed for Northern Ireland, perhaps in the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.
The Minister is absolutely right. If it was the will of Government to include Northern Ireland in the jurisdiction covered by the Domestic Abuse Bill, that would allow the Istanbul convention to be ratified, so I ask the Government to do that, as did the prelegislative scrutiny Committee on the Domestic Abuse Bill in one of its recommendations.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the prelegislative scrutiny process by the Joint Committee made that recommendation. That has opened the door and it is certainly one of the things that is therefore being considered. Obviously, we need to work through the detail, but that door is certainly now open and we are considering it carefully.
Can the Minister confirm that the extraterritorial jurisdiction required under the convention will be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill and therefore enable us to ratify that?
I cannot yet categorically confirm any of those measures to be in or out, but it is certainly one of the points that was addressed by the prelegislative scrutiny Committee. It was one of the things it recommended, so it is one of the things that is being considered very carefully.
Does the Minister of State acknowledge that the fact that every two minutes there is a phone call to abuse charities regarding domestic abuse means that it must top the agenda when the Assembly reconvenes? Further, will he pledge to raise the matter with local parties and be assured of the DUP’s support to make that happen?
I am delighted to hear that there is broad support for the measures that we have just been discussing. I am sure that, when the Stormont Assembly reconvenes, it will be one of the most important issues. There are others, of course, but I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman’s support.
Leaving the EU: Talks on Restoring Devolution
The Northern Ireland parties have made it clear that they want to use the limited window ahead of us to make a success of the current talks process. I agree with them that restoring devolved government cannot wait. I remain determined to do what is necessary to make this talks process a success.
The future PM held a private meeting with the leadership of the DUP yesterday. For over two years now, the Conservative party has been beholden to one political party in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State seriously believe that there is no connection between this narrow and self-interested relationship between these two political parties and the continued absence of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland?
I reject that entirely. The institutions collapsed well before the confidence and supply arrangements between the Democratic Unionist party and my party and, as the Northern Ireland Office, we are rigorously impartial. I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party and the attitude that it has brought to the talks. I pay tribute to all other parties in that respect.
All of us in this House would want to see the restoration of a functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland. Clearly, one of the things that is most important about that is transparency. In the interests of transparency, will the Secretary of State’s party in the months ahead be offering another Brexit bung to that lot behind us?
The matter of transparency is very important. It has been a matter for one of our working groups, which has been working and making good progress on how we improve transparency within the institutions established under the Belfast agreement. I look forward to seeing the parties going back into government and seeing those transparency measures being enacted.
Would it not quite simply be a constitutional outrage for the UK to leave the EU in October with Northern Ireland having been without an accountable and elected devolved Parliament for the entirety of the article 50 process? Is that not all the more reason why we cannot and must not leave in October?
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to see restored devolved government in Northern Ireland and that is what I am working to achieve.
Did the Prime Minister consult the Secretary of State before appointing Lord Dunlop to conduct a review of devolution? Brexit is already driving a coach and horses through the devolution settlement on these islands, and it will not be helped if the two arms of Government do not know what the other is doing, so will the Dunlop review extend to Northern Ireland and the effects of Brexit on devolution?
I do not comment on leaked briefings.
While we listen to all the rhetoric and the excuses about talks not proceeding—we have heard that Brexit is one of them—surely it is in our interest, I am sure the Secretary of State will agree, that we make an even better Northern Ireland, a perfect Brexit and a frictionless border for all the people of Northern Ireland.
I agree, and we will have a better chance of doing that if we have the devolved institutions restored. That is what we are working to do.
As the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is likely to have promised the Secretary of State’s position to about six or seven people, this may well be her last appearance at Northern Ireland questions. Having now spent considerable time in Northern Ireland knowing the damage that a no-deal Brexit would inflict, will she commit to voting against a no-deal Brexit if the House is given the opportunity to do so? Will she commit, as the Chancellor did yesterday, to doing everything she can to avoid no deal?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that this will not be my last appearance at Northern Ireland questions; I will absolutely be at Northern Ireland questions for many years to come. I believe that the right way for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union as one United Kingdom is with a deal, and that is what we are working to achieve.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I make the point to this House, which has known the murder of its own Members, that it must condemn threats to Arlene Foster? Democratic politicians are entitled to operate in security without such threats of violence.
The Secretary of State knows, because she has voted in a way to prevent it, that a hard Brexit would lead to a hard border across the island of Ireland, with the threats of terrorism that the former Chief Constable has invoked and with increased unemployment and all the difficulties that that would cause. The Secretary of State has taken a different view in the past. Will she make it clear that a no-deal Brexit would be massively damaging for the people of Northern Ireland and that she will continue to oppose that step?
I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning threats against any politician. Those of us who are democratically elected put ourselves into public service because we believe in public service. We are all entitled, no matter our political persuasion, to have protection and not to receive death threats. I join him in condemning those death threats.
With respect to Brexit, I have been clear throughout that I want to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. I believe that the best way to do that is through a deal that enables us to leave in an orderly fashion, protecting jobs and the economy. I have also been clear that a no-deal Brexit would be longer lasting and more acute in Northern Ireland, but I am doing everything I can to ensure that we leave with a deal.
City Deals: Scope
The hon. Gentleman will know that, in line with our 2017 manifesto commitment, we have already announced two city deals in Northern Ireland, with £350 million for Belfast and a combined package of £105 million for Derry/Londonderry and Strabane. Early-stage discussions have also begun with other councils in the mid, south and west, as well as Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
On a recent visit to the wonderful city of Derry, I spoke with those involved in shaping the education offer in the city. They told me that a central aspect of the city deal is the establishment of a riverfront university, medical centre and innovation hub. Will the Minister update the House on the timeline and progress of this much-needed facility?
The timeline for that is the same as the timeline for the rest of the city deal. Business cases have to be worked up and the business cases for all the projects have to work well. Incidentally, for any business cases that do not shape up, there are many other ideas that can also be brought through. They will then get approved and will proceed, particularly once the—
Order. I call Emma Little Pengelly.
The Belfast city deal has huge potential to bring investment and economic growth to Belfast and the wider region. Will the Minister outline in a little more detail what discussions he has had with the head of the civil service and with the city councils about getting those projects to implementation stage? When does he anticipate that the first project will be rolled out?
The difficulty is that city deals are by definition local initiatives. We can lay foundations, but they need to be taken forward by local partners and local councils. Also, ultimately, as soon as we get the Stormont Executive re-established, they will have to have an essential role in this. Although we are making progress as fast as we decently can—so are local councils—we are ultimately also dependent on the progress of the talks.
May I say to the Secretary of State how grateful I am for her kind wishes? If she would care to join me in Strangers for a small sweet sherry later on, she would be most welcome. She will be aware that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who aspires to be the father of the nation—to be fair, he does have some expertise in the field of paternity—has announced his intention of creating a Monaco-style tax-free zone in Belfast, with, presumably, a border around that fair city. Does the right hon. Lady consider that proposal to be risible and ridiculous, or the product of an unfocused mind with no knowledge of Northern Ireland?
I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in wishing the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) best wishes for his 21-and-a-few-months birthday. I am afraid I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); that is a skillset I do not have.
Being Part of the UK: Benefits
May I address the invitation I have just received, Mr Speaker? Of course I enjoy a sweet sherry, but I am afraid I will be on my way to Belfast by that point.
I’ll drink yours.
I’m sure he will.
As this Government have made clear on numerous occasions, Northern Ireland benefits hugely from being part of the Union. Our steadfast belief is that Northern Ireland’s future is best served within a strong United Kingdom. This Government will never be neutral in expressing our support for the Union.
Northern Ireland is home to beautiful scenery and stunning beaches. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should leave no opportunity unturned to promote tourism in Northern Ireland, especially great events such as the Open Championship, which will be held in Portrush next month for the first time in over 60 years?
I agree wholeheartedly. I had the honour of visiting Portrush and Royal Portrush last week, and saw the beaches at their best in the sunshine. Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to know that the Open starts after Wimbledon finishes, so I hope that you will be able to enjoy it.
And city deals, surely?
One of the successes of the United Kingdom is in attracting foreign direct investment. Could the Secretary of State update the House on recent FDI to Northern Ireland, and the jobs that it has created?
My Staffordshire neighbour has announced that he will not be standing at the next election; I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done for the people of Stafford, and will, I know, continue to do until the next election. He is quite right to refer to foreign direct investment in Northern Ireland; it increases year on year. It increased by 25% last year, creating nearly 1,500 new jobs.
Surely one of the benefits of Northern Ireland being in the UK is that people who live in Northern Ireland enjoy the same rights as the rest of us. If the opportunity arises—say, through an amendment to legislation—to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State and her Government finally support it?
The hon. Gentleman knows that personally I would like to see equal marriage extended to Northern Ireland. It is a devolved matter, and it is right that politicians in Northern Ireland deal with it, but if there is a vote on that matter in this House, it will be a free vote for Members on the Conservative Benches, as has been made clear.
Would the Secretary of State, having attended Armed Forces Day events in Lisburn this year, agree with me about the importance of Northern Ireland’s contribution to the armed forces in the first and second world wars, and in subsequent conflicts? Will she lobby for us to hold the national Armed Forces Day events in Northern Ireland?
That sounds like a very good idea. I very much enjoyed my visit to Lisburn for Armed Forces Day. As the hon. Gentleman will know, because we had a discussion on the day, I then went with my family to visit the Somme Museum, and of course I was in Belfast on Monday for the commemoration of the Somme, as were many of his hon. and right hon. Friends. The contribution that the armed forces have made is very significant, and does need to be marked in Northern Ireland.
In assessing the benefit of Northern Ireland being in the United Kingdom, can the Secretary of State advise the House of the participative role it has played in the review ordered by the Prime Minister of the rights of those in Northern Ireland, based on their rights as European citizens who identify as Irish? If Northern Ireland has not participated, why not?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Northern Ireland Office has very much participated in this, and we are determined to find a way that we can resolve this, in a way that is sensitive to the rights of the people of Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s claim that this Government are no longer neutral on Northern Ireland, which sets aside what was previously said about “no selfish, strategic … interest” in Northern Ireland. Will she put together promotional literature, and a promotional programme, that expresses the economic, social and cultural benefits of the Union that can be promoted not only in Northern Ireland but around the world?
I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am a member of the Conservative and Unionist party; I have never been neutral in my support for the Union.
The Prime Minister was asked—
While offering our commiserations to the England Lionesses following last night’s semi-final, may I say that they have inspired millions and made us all very proud?
I am sure the whole House would want to join me in congratulating Rose Hudson-Wilkin on her appointment as Bishop of Dover. I know she will take on that new role with the same dedication and care that she has shown to all of us during her time as Speaker’s Chaplain.
We offer our best wishes to all those taking part in this Saturday’s Pride. Yesterday, 10 Downing Street hosted a reception to look back with pride on everything that generations of campaigners have achieved, to celebrate the contribution that LGBT people of all backgrounds make to our national life, and to look forward to a future where the bigotry and discrimination that LGBT people still face is a thing of the past.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I add my thanks, and those of everyone in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, to the England women’s football team, who have inspired the next generation of girls and boys to get involved in football.
In March, the Prime Minister told this House that we had to back her damaging Brexit plans so that she could focus on domestic issues like knife crime. On Sunday, an 18-year-old was stabbed and killed in Walworth in my constituency. Can the Prime Minister explain to that teenager’s family why she has overseen a Government of paralysis who have failed to tackle violent crime?
We are all concerned by the incidents of knife crime that we have seen. We are all concerned with the incidents that we saw over the weekend, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims. Too many lives of potential are being cut short, and those individuals and their families are being cruelly robbed of those futures.
We have not been failing to act on this; we have been acting on this. We have ensured that we are working across the board, because it takes all of society to work on this issue. It is not just an issue of policing. We have made more powers available to police—[Interruption.] Some Labour Members say it is just an issue of policing. No, we need to ensure that young people do not carry knives. We need to ensure that young people are taken away from a route into crime. That means dealing with drugs; it means dealing with gangs. We have provided more funding to police. We have provided extra powers to police. Sadly, the Labour party voted against that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I have been shocked, as I am sure Members across the House have been, to see the scenes from Hong Kong on Monday and the use of violence at the Legislative Council. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who marched did so peacefully and lawfully. This week’s anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong is a reminder of the importance of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration, and it is vital that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms set down in the Sino-British joint declaration are respected. I have raised my concerns directly with Chinese leaders, as have my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers, and we will continue to do so.
I am sure the whole House will want to express its condolences to the families of the rail workers who were hit and killed by a train this morning in Port Talbot. There will obviously have to be a full investigation into this, but our thoughts must be with the families and friends of those that were killed and injured.
I join the Prime Minister and others in congratulating Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin on becoming Bishop of Dover. She has been absolutely brilliant as Chaplain to the House, but she was also brilliant when she was a parish priest in Hackney. She shows such empathy for people, and we wish her well on her way. I am sure she will do really well.
I also congratulate the England women’s football team on their successful journey as far as the semi-finals and wish the men’s cricket team well in their current match against New Zealand, which I understand is 134-1 at the moment. Pride this weekend will be a source of great enjoyment. I think of all those who suffered in the past to try to defeat homophobia in our society and will be enjoying the joy of the streets of London this weekend.
The Chancellor says that a no-deal Brexit would cause a £90 billion hit to the public finances. The former Foreign Secretary says concerns about no deal are “confected hysteria”. Who does the Prime Minister think is right?
First, I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the incident in Port Talbot. Secondly, the figure that was quoted was actually publicly available at the time. It appeared in the Government’s economic analysis in relation to these matters. If he is worried about no deal, let me say this: I have done everything I can to ensure we leave the EU with a deal. I can look workers in the eye and tell them I voted to leave with a deal that protected jobs. He cannot do that because he voted three times for no deal.
The Prime Minister should be aware that her deal was rejected three times by the House, and when something has been rejected three times, one might think about an alternative method of doing things. A confidential Cabinet note apparently says that the Government are not properly prepared for no deal, and NHS trusts have warned that it will pose a major risk to NHS services. Furthermore, Make UK, which represents UK manufacturers, recently said:
“There is a direct link between politicians talking up the prospect of no-deal and British firms losing customers overseas and British people losing jobs.”
Is Make UK guilty of confected hysteria or is it speaking up for its members and its very legitimate concerns right across the manufacturing sector?
Business organisation after business organisation showed earlier this year that they wanted people in the House of Commons to vote for the deal so that we could leave with a deal.
The Prime Minister could not get her own party to support it. The Opposition parties did not support it either. As the danger of no deal looms ever larger, JLR, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and BMW have all said that no deal would threaten their continued presence in the UK. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said:
“Leaving the EU without a deal would trigger the most seismic shift in trading conditions ever experienced”.
Furthermore, within the last week Vauxhall has said that its decision to produce the new Astra at Ellesmere Port will be conditional on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. What can the Prime Minister say to workers at Ellesmere Port and elsewhere—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman will not be shouted down under any circumstances. If you are shouting, stop it. You can do better, and if you cannot, it is about time you did.
Why does the Prime Minister not speak to both candidates to succeed her and remind them that as they trade insults over no deal, thousands of jobs are at risk the more they ratchet up their rhetoric?
The right hon. Gentleman asks what I would say to workers at Ellesmere Port. I would tell them that I and the vast majority of Conservative Members in this House voted to protect their jobs. The Labour party whipped three times against a deal. The Labour party whipped three times for no deal. The threat to those Ellesmere Port jobs is from the Labour party. [Interruption.]
Order. Ms Onn, you are very over-excitable. Calm yourself.
The Labour party is about protecting jobs and living standards in this country, not crashing out without a deal. With tariffs up to 40% on some basic foodstuffs, will the Prime Minister set out exactly what impact no deal would have on food prices and on the farming industry in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman claims that the Labour party stands up for protecting jobs and living standards It has not only voted three times for no deal, thereby putting jobs under threat; it has also consistently, on a number of occasions, voted against the very tax cuts that help people to maintain their living standards. We will take no lectures from the Labour party on protecting people’s jobs and living standards.
As I recall, it was this party that put down a motion to take no deal off the table. The managing director of Birds Eye says that no deal would add 20% to the price of some foodstuffs “instantaneously”, and the National Farmers Union says that it would be very damaging to British farming. Both the candidates to succeed the Prime Minister have claimed that they will renegotiate the backstop. Can she confirm that section (12) of the European Council decision to extend article 50 ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, and therefore the backstop?
I do not think I need to tell the right hon. Gentleman what was in the Council conclusions. They are clear, and I have made them clear in the House. The right hon. Gentleman says that it was the Labour party that put down a motion to abandon no deal and take it off the table. The trouble is that when it came to the votes that mattered—when it came to the votes that would actually have an impact on stopping no deal—the Labour party whipped against them. That is absolutely typical of the right hon. Gentleman: all mouth and trousers.
We made very clear what the danger of no deal is, and we will do everything to prevent a no-deal exit, because we know the damage it will do to jobs and living standards in this country.
This Government have comprehensively failed on Brexit. Jobs are at risk, inward investment has fallen off a cliff, and manufacturing is at a six-year low. No deal threatens to crash the economy. The Government themselves say that no deal would cut growth by 10%, yet we have two leadership candidates who are threatening no deal, and, indeed, are competing with each other on the rhetoric of no deal. This Government is now an irrelevance. The two candidates to succeed the Prime Minister have only fantasy plans. As she and her successors have no answers, does she not accept that the best thing to do would be to go back to the people and let them decide which way we go?
I have made the point in answer to five of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions that if you want to ensure that this country leaves the European Union with a deal, you have to vote for a deal, which is what he and his colleagues have consistently refused to do. But there is another question for the Labour party. With all this talk about no deal, the question really is “Where does the Labour party stand on Brexit?” The shadow Brexit Secretary does not support Brexit. The shadow Foreign Secretary does not support Brexit. The shadow Chancellor does not support Brexit. The Labour deputy leader does not support Brexit. Labour wants to block Brexit, and that would be a betrayal of the many by the few.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising what I know is an important issue that is of concern in his constituency and elsewhere in Northamptonshire. Subject to parliamentary approval, of course, the new authorities will be a significant step towards ensuring that residents and businesses can in future have the sustainable, high-quality local services they deserve. Officials are working hard with the eight Northamptonshire councils on the detail of the secondary legislation, because that will need to include detail. Our aim is to lay the statutory instrument as soon as practical for parliamentary debate and for approval.
May I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the Pride event in London this week and of course right throughout the world, and acknowledge that it is the Scottish National party that has proportionately the largest LGBT group here in Parliament?
This Prime Minister’s days are numbered. Her review of devolution is nothing more than an act of sheer desperation. This is a Prime Minister running scared of the people of Scotland. Does the Prime Minister think the future of Scotland should be decided by the people who live and work there or by her party?
The future of Scotland was decided by the people who live and work there: it was decided in 2014 and they wanted to stay as part of the United Kingdom.
If the Prime Minister looks at the opinion polls she will see there is a majority for independence.
Scotland’s First Minister was explicitly clear when she said:
“It’s for the Scottish people—not a Tory PM—to consider and decide what future we want for our Parliament and country.”
Will the review of devolution include the views of her would-be successors that a Scot would never be Prime Minister and that Westminster should actively choke off Foreign Office support for a First Minister doing her job—doing her job, Prime Minister? This review is a farce. The real legacy of this Prime Minister is shutting down Scotland and ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament. The Tories have never supported devolution, and it is clear that they never, never will.
There is no review of devolution. Only one party in this House wants to stop devolution in Scotland—the Scottish National party.
My hon. Friend is right to raise concerns about Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region. Our objective continues to be to work with our international partners to find diplomatic solutions and to de-escalate tensions.
My hon. Friend is also right to raise cyber-capability. We have a dedicated capability to act in cyber-space through our national offensive cyber programme, and last year we offered our offensive cyber-capabilities in support of NATO operations.
My hon. Friend talks about working with others: we were the first nation to do that, and we will continue to ensure that we have effective offensive cyber-capabilities that can be deployed at a time and place of our choosing across the full range of international threats.
The Committee on Climate Change was clear that 2050 is the right target date for net zero emissions. There is no ban on onshore wind. In 2015, local communities were given more say on onshore wind applications in their areas. Onshore wind has successfully exceeded its expected contribution to our 2020 renewable energy target, but at the same time we are backing offshore wind through a new sector deal, maintaining the UK as the largest market in Europe over the next decade.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work he has done on this important issue. He, like me—and I am sure everyone across the House—is absolutely clear that domestic abuse has no place in our country. That is why I have set out plans to end the postcode lottery of support for survivors of domestic abuse.
My right hon. and learned Friend refers to our draft domestic abuse Bill, which will introduce the first-ever statutory Government definition of domestic abuse, but this is not just about legislation. If we are going to transform our response, we need other action, so the draft Bill will be accompanied by a package of non-legislative action to tackle domestic abuse, and in November last year we awarded a further £22 million for various domestic abuse projects across the country. Wherever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, everyone must have access to the services they need to be safe.
I do not know about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, but I know that Lord Dubs came here on the Kindertransport organised by my late constituent, Sir Nicholas Winton. We as a country can be proud of everything we have done to help refugees and other vulnerable children who are affected by conflict, violence and instability. Since the start of 2010, we have provided asylum or an alternative form of protection to more than 34,600 children, and we have granted family reunion visas to an additional 26,000.
We are determined to continue these efforts. We have introduced a new form of leave exclusively for children brought to the UK from the Calais camps, so that they can continue to rebuild their lives with families in the UK. That Calais leave will grant those who qualify the right to study, to work, to access public funds and healthcare and to apply for settlement after 10 years. We have a proud record of helping refugees, and we will continue with that proud record.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity, as Leader of the House of Commons, to chair an inter-ministerial group looking at giving every baby the best start in life? Some excellent work was done by my ministerial colleagues, and a number of recommendations were made, including that the Government should establish a first 1,001 days vision for what best practice should look like. What progress has been made on addressing those recommendations?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that she did as Leader of the House and for her work on the inter-ministerial group looking at that issue. Beyond that, the issue of early years is a cause she has championed for some considerable time, both before and since she came into this House. I am proud that more than 850,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds have benefited from the free early education places that we introduced in 2013. Our social mobility action plan sets out a clear and ambitious plan for the early years, closing the word gap at age five, and we want to ensure that where a child gets to in life depends on their individual talents and not on the background. We will continue to work with my right hon. Friend and others who rightly put a high value on the importance of the early days in a child’s life.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been putting more funding into our schools and ensuring that the distribution of that funding is fairer—fairer—across the country. As I just said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), I want to ensure that every young person can get as far in life as their talents and hard work will take them,
As long ago as 1875, this country became the first in the world to require animals to be stunned prior to slaughter, yet the latest evidence from the Food Standards Agency is that 25% of all sheep slaughtered last year were unstunned following the use of a religious derogation. Religious slaughter is a contentious issue and a matter of personal conscience and religious conviction for many. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be a free vote on the Floor of the House on the issue?
I understand that my hon. Friend had a Westminster Hall debate yesterday on this issue, which raises a number of emotions and concerns across the House. We have upheld the right of religious slaughter, but this Government, as my hon. Friend will know full well, are taking steps to ensure that we monitor what happens in abattoirs through the introduction of CCTV.
VAT rules allow drugs and medications dispensed by registered pharmacists against a prescription issued by a qualified health professional to be zero rated for VAT. High-factor sunscreen can be on the NHS prescription list for certain conditions and is provided VAT-free in those circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, but we should ensure that people do not just think that skin safety is about sun protection products, because leading cancer charities are clear that people should be taking several steps for protection, including avoiding long periods of sun exposure. I take his point that some jobs involve people being outside for periods of time, but we should all be taking all precautions.
Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, we have a new funding formula for our schools. I warmly welcome it as a first step, but more still needs to be done. To make it fairer still, does the Prime Minister agree that areas that have been historically underfunded, such as Dorset and Poole, need to be protected, while also protecting all schools?
I recognise the concern around this issue. Our fair funding formula will ensure a much fairer distribution of school funding over a number of years. I recognise that some authorities have been at the lower end of funding in the past. Indeed, several schools in my own constituency come under Wokingham Borough Council, which is one of those very authorities. That is why we are taking steps to ensure that the impact is fair as we introduce this fair funding formula for schools across the country.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue, and I am sure the whole House will want to extend our sympathies to the families and friends of young people who suffer sudden cardiac death. He and the all-party parliamentary group on cardiac risk in the young have done very important work on this issue. I am assured by the Department of Health and Social Care that the independent UK National Screening Committee will carefully consider all the relevant evidence, and I know DHSC will study the committee’s findings when they are published in due course—it will look at the findings very carefully. This is an important issue, and we want to make sure we get it right.
My 27-year-old constituent Kirsty Garrity tragically took her own life in September last year. After her death, her father found among her possessions a book called “The Peaceful Pill Handbook,” which she had bought from Amazon. In a letter to me, Amazon said:
“We believe that legislators, rather than retailers, are best placed to make decisions on what should and should not be legally available for public purchase.”
Does that not sound rather like Facebook, which recently said that it needs to be regulated because it cannot decide for itself what to put, and what not to put, on its platforms? Does the Prime Minister agree that businesses have a duty to think very hard about what they offer for sale and what they put on their platforms, and that they have a duty to behave with a moral imperative?
I am sure we all want to send our deepest sympathies to Kirsty’s family and friends. We are determined to make sure that the UK is the safest place to be online, which involves tackling content that encourages suicide and self-harm. Working with the tech companies to get them to accept greater responsibility for the sort of material that is put out across their platforms has been a long-standing issue.
We have seen some tech companies take action to tackle the issue, and we want to ensure a more consistent response from companies to protect the safety and wellbeing of their users, especially those who are vulnerable. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who has responsibility for suicide prevention, is aware of this aspect of online content. She is deeply concerned, and she will be writing to Amazon about it.
First, may I send my very best wishes to the hon. Gentleman’s father for a happy birthday in a few weeks’ time?
The BBC received a good funding deal from the Government, and many people would ask why the BBC can raise the salary bill for its top performers and personalities while taking the action it has taken on TV licences. The BBC needs to think again.
The Government have ambitious targets for a low-carbon economy and country, and achieving that will undoubtedly require nuclear energy. Will the Prime Minister encourage the next Prime Minister properly to support and invest in the nuclear industry?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, as a Government, we believe that nuclear should play a role in our energy mix, and I would wish to see that continue. That is why I am pleased we were able to take the decision we took on Hinkley Point C. I recognise that other nuclear projects have not been able to progress in the way hon. Members had hoped, but I want to see the Government continue to work with the nuclear industry to find a way to ensure that nuclear can, indeed, play a role in our future energy mix.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has raised the particular case of William Cree, his constituent. I will ensure that the DWP looks properly into that case, and I will ask why the papers were not available in time for the court.
As I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows, Stoke-on-Trent is a unique city, being made up of six towns, and it is essential that all those towns proper. Does she agree that we need to see investment in our towns, particularly through our future high streets fund bid for Longton?
I am very pleased to see the renaissance in Stoke-on-Trent, particularly in its ceramics industry. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of high streets, and that is why we have put money into the high streets fund. Bids for that money are currently being considered.
I am very happy to congratulate Royal Portrush golf club on hosting the Open and to welcome the fact that the Open has returned to Northern Ireland. We look forward to seeing golfers, particularly from across the United Kingdom, performing well in that particular Open golf. As for being able to join the hon. Gentleman in two weeks’ time, I suspect that I, and the two contenders for the Conservative party leadership, may be rather busy in two weeks’ time, but I will certainly be watching what is happening in the Open with great interest.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the news of the fire and tragic loss of life aboard the Russian nuclear submarine Losharik while it was working on the sea bed in the high north should encourage her Government to accept that, to maintain operational military advantage and defend the west and critical subsea cable infrastructure from interference, we must, in this the 50th year of our extraordinary continuous at-sea deterrent—Operation Relentless—invest properly in our Royal Navy and her submarine capabilities?
I am sure that the whole House will want to extend condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. This was aboard a Russian nuclear submersible, but losing one’s life under the sea is something I am sure we can all express our condolences for.
This is an important point about our submarine capability and the Royal Navy. I would like to pay tribute to all our submariners, who work so hard to keep us safe. We are committed to our submarine build programmes. The Ministry of Defence has been given access to the £10 billion Dreadnought programme contingency, so that our submarines will continue to silently patrol the seas, giving us a nuclear deterrent every minute of every hour, as they have done for 50 years, and we thank them for it.
We are spending £250 million every year to keep fares down and maintain an extensive network, which benefits people up and down the country. I am pleased to say that since I became PM the overall number of bus routes is up by more than 2,000. Of course the hon. Gentleman asks me about subsidies for buses, but he might very well ask the Mayor about his responsibility in relation to this matter.
Many colleagues will visit the lobbying event on trophy hunting today, and this is in the same week as Japan has resumed commercial whaling. What more can we do to send the strongest message that this abhorrent practice should be stopped immediately?
First, we are very disappointed with Japan’s decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and restart commercial whaling. I have raised my concerns personally with Prime Minister Abe—I did that earlier this year. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary has written to his Japanese counterpart on this matter. We will continue to work with the Japanese Government to engage with them and raise our concerns at every level, and we urge them to rethink their decision.
Agreements have been reached on the sharing arrangements. Of course, we all have concerns about pensions and the continuing ability of pension funds to provide for pensioners, but one of the biggest challenges to pension funds—one of the biggest hits on pension funds—came when the previous Labour Government took £100 billion out of them.
We can be proud of the Prime Minister’s driving the global agenda on climate change, but what discussions has she had with her counterparts about how they can follow Britain’s lead as the first major economy to commit to net zero carbon and help to reverse global warming?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I encouraged not only leaders around the European Council table but other leaders when I spoke at the G20 summit at the end of last week to follow the UK’s lead. I am pleased to say that a number have already shown their willingness to do so. We will continue with the message that we can play our part, but it will be truly effective only if everybody around the world recognises the need to take action.
Reference has already been made to the Prime Minister’s moving speech on burning injustices in education. On a day when her former school, Wheatley Park School, near Oxford, is planning to move to part-time education because of what the headteacher calls “enormous” financial pressures, does she agree that before she leaves office she must secure additional funding outside the spending review?
We have already put extra money into schools. We recognise the pressures there have been on schools and are ensuring that they are funded. I read in the Maidenhead Advertiser that the right hon. Gentleman thinks I am about to step down from Parliament. I am not. He said that the Liberal Democrat party was looking forward to a by-election in the “Windsor and Maidenhead” constituency; that is not my seat. I believe he claimed that the Liberal Democrats were looking forward to taking the seat, but they could not even win it when they put 1,000 people on the streets of Maidenhead when it was a decapitation target. Wrong on prediction, wrong on facts—typical Liberal Democrats: wrong on everything.
Two of my constituents are relatives of Kirsty Boden, one of the victims of the London Bridge terrorist atrocity. Despite the fact that at least one of the terrorists’ families received legal aid for representation at the inquest, none of the victims’ families did. Does my right hon. Friend think that we need to look again at the entitlement to legal aid for inquests, so that those people who wish to ask questions about what happened to their loved ones are not left to fend for themselves?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and he will have seen from the reaction across the House the concern that people have about it. As I have said previously, we send our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. I can see why my hon. Friend has raised this as a matter of concern. I understand that the Ministry of Justice is making a number of changes to ensure that there is more support for bereaved families, and we are committed to simplifying the process for applying for exceptional case funding, but I will make sure that the Ministry of Justice meets my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further.
The whole country has been shocked by the brutal murder of the pregnant mum Kelly Mary Fauvrelle in my constituency at the weekend and the subsequent death of her baby Riley, which was announced this morning. The police now believe that it may have been a random attack by someone unknown to the family. If the Government have been acting on knife crime, it is not working, so what further action will the Prime Minister now take to stop the terrifying increase in the use of knives on our streets?
We were all shocked when we saw the terrible act that, sadly, led to the death of Kelly Mary Fauvrelle. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman said, the baby inside her sadly died this morning. The question of knife crime is one I did refer to earlier. We are taking action in a number of ways. We will continue to work, and work with the Mayor of London, on the action that can be taken across London on this issue, but this is something that requires a multifaceted approach; it is about the whole of society. Yes, we look at giving police the right powers—we have done that—but we also need to look at how we can ensure that young people particularly do not feel the need to carry knives and that we deal with the criminal gangs and the drugs that are often behind these terrible acts of violence that take place.
Yet again this year, we can expect to welcome between 35 million and 40 million overseas visitors to our shores. Overall, tourism employs about 3 million people in the UK, including thousands in my constituency. Does that not underline the importance of a tourism sector deal?
We have, of course, been working with the tourism sector to look at what support can be given and how we can work with it to enhance not just the offer that it is able to make but the way in which it is able to ensure that people can come here and enjoy the benefits of not just my hon. Friend’s constituency but all our constituencies across the country. Tourism is an important sector for us, and we will continue to work with the tourism industry to ensure that we can enhance that sector, and enhance the benefits to this country and our economy of that sector, but also enhance the benefits to the many tourists who come here and see what a wonderful place the United Kingdom is.
Following the Windrush scandal, in which black British citizens were deported, detained and stripped of their rights to access public services, the Prime Minister rightly announced an independent review led by Wendy Williams. She said that review would be published on 31 March 2019. It is now 3 July. Can the Prime Minister confirm that Wendy Williams will publish her review before she leaves office?
It was absolutely right that the Home Secretary commissioned that review from Wendy Williams. She will be putting that report together. I believe that the report has not yet been received by the Home Office, but, obviously, we will ensure that, when that report is received, that report is published.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming last week’s announcement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of this Government’s investment of £4.8 million in the Acorn carbon capture and storage project at the St Fergus gas plant in my constituency? Does she agree that, along with the development of renewable sources of energy, natural gas will remain an important transition fuel on the way towards a net zero emissions target?
I am very happy to welcome the investment that my hon. Friend has referred to. It is important, as we look to that net zero target, that we look across the board at the various ways in which we can ensure that we are providing for that net zero target. As he has said, the importance of natural gas within that energy mix in the future will remain. We also look at ensuring that we are providing support for technologies such as carbon capture, because that will play an important part in the future, too.
Prime Minister, a constituent of mine—a single mum who has worked for the Department for Work and Pensions full time over 30 years—has been forced to take part-time work to support her child, a severe sufferer of Down’s syndrome, from childhood to adulthood. Because of the confusing rules in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on working tax credits for such workers, she has been forced to extend her mortgage and go part time. Will the Prime Minister please help to resolve this issue? My constituent will not be the only person in the country in that situation.
I am sure that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has heard the particular case that the hon. Lady has raised in this House. We do want to ensure—we are working, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is working, on ensuring this—that women are able to take their place in the workforce. We do see women in the workforce at record levels. We want to ensure, and we are working on providing, greater economic empowerment for women so that they can take their place. I am sure that the Secretary of State or the relevant Minister will respond on the specific case.
No, no. It is becoming quite commonplace for there to be a flurry of attempted points of order immediately after Prime Minister’s questions. Colleagues will have to be patient. I will exercise discretion and allow one point of order from the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who I believe wishes to raise a matter with which the Prime Minister is well familiar, so this might be a convenient moment. Thereafter, we should proceed with the Prime Minister’s statement. Colleagues can of course raise points of order, more suitably and appositely, after statements.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you will indulge me, may I please take a brief moment to thank everyone involved with the introduction of the children’s funeral fund?
Since 2016, I have been asking the Government to introduce a fund to assist bereaved parents during their darkest hour and financially support them in funding a funeral. I have at times been impatient. I have at times been frustrated. But I have always known it was the right thing to do. The Prime Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) and civil servants have delivered on my request, and I understand that the children’s funeral fund will be operational from 23 July.
I thank everyone involved in making this happen: the organisations that have supported me; colleagues who have encouraged me; my family who, like me, have had to revisit our loss; my team, who have held my hand; and you, Mr Speaker, for your understanding. Martin’s fund is a legacy for my son and will be a comfort to every parent who will need to use it in the future; so, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. [Applause.]
I think it only right that if the Prime Minister wants to respond in a moment, she must certainly should do so. Let me just say to the hon. Member for Swansea East that the sheer passion, sincerity and integrity with which she has spoken and conducted herself are an example to us all, and that the determination that she has shown is an enormous credit to her. Her constituency, her party, the House, and people across politics and beyond are inspired by the way in which she has behaved, and we are unstinting in our admiration for her. Before the statement, let us hear from the Prime Minister on this subject because she has brought matters to fruition.
May I also commend the hon. Lady for the work that she has done? This was born out of personal sadness, but many families will benefit from the passion, commitment and determination that she has shown in championing this issue. She said that she has sometimes been impatient. Sometimes you have to be impatient, because it is that impatience that spurs others on. I am pleased that we have been able to introduce the fund, and I echo Mr Speaker’s comments in commending the hon. Lady for the way in which he has championed this cause. As I say, we share and are concerned about the personal sadness that she went through, but she has taken that and put it to good use for the benefit of families up and down the country.
G20 and Leadership of EU Institutions
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on my final G20 and final European Council as Prime Minister.
At this G20 summit in Japan we discussed some of the biggest global challenges facing our nations, including climate change, terrorist propaganda online, risks to the global economy and rising tensions in the Gulf. These discussions were at times difficult, but in the end productive. I profoundly believe that we are stronger when we work together. With threats to global stability and trade, that principle is now more important than ever, and throughout this summit my message was on the overriding need for international co-operation and compromise. Alongside discussions with international partners on economic and security matters, I made it clear that Britain would always stand by the global rules as the best means of securing peace and prosperity for all of us. I will take the main issues in turn.
On no other issue is the need for international collaboration greater than in the threat to our countries and our people from climate change. As I arrived in Osaka last week, I was immensely proud that Britain had become the world’s first major economy to commit in law to ending our contribution to global warming by 2050. I urged other G20 countries to follow Britain’s lead and set similarly ambitious net zero targets for their own countries. Those gathered at this year’s summit are the last generation of leaders with the power to limit global warming, and I believe we have a duty to heed the call from those asking us to act now for the sake of future generations.
Taken together, the G20 countries account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Discussions were not always easy, but 19 of the G20 members agreed to the irreversibility of the Paris climate change agreement and the importance of implementing our commitments in full. It remains a disappointment that the United States continue to opt out on such a critical global issue.
I outlined Britain’s continued determination to lead the way on climate change through our bid to host, along with Italy, COP 26 next year. And, recognising that more needs to be done to support developing countries in managing the impacts of climate change, I announced that the UK’s aid budget will be aligned with our climate change goals and used to support the transition to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Both as Prime Minister and previously as Home Secretary, I have repeatedly called for greater action to protect people from online harms and remove terrorist propaganda from the internet. In 2017, the attacks in Manchester and London showed how technology could be exploited by terrorists. Following those events, the UK took the lead and put this issue squarely on the global agenda. Through our efforts, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism was established—a body that has leveraged technology to automate the removal of propaganda online. But the horrendous attack in Christchurch reminded us that we must maintain momentum, and ensure a better co-ordinated and swifter response to make sure that terrorists are never able to broadcast their atrocities in real time. I therefore welcome the pledge by G20 leaders at this year’s summit to do more to build on existing efforts and stop terrorists exploiting the internet. The UK will continue to lead the way in this, including through our support of the major technology companies in developing a new crisis response mechanism.
At this summit, discussions on the global economy were held against the backdrop of current trade tensions between the United States and China. In this context, I reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to free and fair trade, open markets and the rules-based trading system as the best means to bolster prosperity and build economies that work for everyone. The UK has long argued that the rules governing global trade need urgent reform and updating to reflect the changing nature of that trade. We continue to press for action to build upon the agreement reached at last year’s summit for World Trade Organisation reform, and I believe the best way to resolve disputes is through a reformed and strengthened WTO, rather than by increasing tariffs.
This G20 was also an opportunity to discuss wider global issues with others, including Prime Minister Abe, President Erdoğan, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and United Nations Secretary-General Guterres. In my conversation with Prime Minster Abe, I paid tribute to him for hosting this G20 and thanked him for his role in strengthening the relationship between the UK and Japan—a relationship that I have every confidence will continue to grow over the coming years.
In a number of my meetings, I discussed Iran and rising tensions in the Gulf. Escalation is in no-one’s interest, and engagement is needed on all sides to find a diplomatic solution to the current situation and to counter Iran’s destabilising activity. At the same time, I was clear that the UK will continue to work intensively with our Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action partners to keep the Iran nuclear deal in place. The breach of that deal by Iran is extremely concerning, and together with France, Germany and the other signatories to the deal, we are urging Iran not to take further steps away from the agreement, and to return to compliance. The deal makes the world safer and I want to see Iran uphold its obligations.
I believe wholeheartedly in never shying away from difficult conversations when it is right to hold them. In my meeting with President Putin, I told him that there can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops the irresponsible activity that threatens the UK and its allies. The use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of our country was a despicable act, which led to the death of Dawn Sturgess. I was clear that the UK has irrefutable evidence that Russia was behind the attack, and that we want to see the two individuals responsible brought to justice. While the UK remains open to a different relationship, for that to happen the Russian Government must choose a different path.
In my discussion with UN Secretary-General Guterres, we spoke about the importance of the multilateral system and the UK’s strong support for it. I also raised concerns about the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the need to ensure a comprehensive response, as well as emphasising the critical nature of continued humanitarian assistance in Yemen.
I am proud that the UK continues to play its part in trying to provide relief in countries such as Yemen, and that we remain committed to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development assistance. That commitment puts us at the forefront of addressing global challenges, so I am pleased that at this summit we announced our pledge of £1.4 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to help save lives.
Turning to the European Council, the focus of these discussions was on what are known as the EU’s top jobs—the appointments at the head of the EU’s institutions and the EU’s High Representative. As I have said before, this is primarily a matter for the remaining 27 EU member states, but while we remain a member of the EU, I also said that we would engage constructively, which we did throughout. After long and difficult discussions over the last few days, the Council voted for a package of candidates with an important balance of gender, reflecting the diversity of the European Union. The Council formally elected Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as President of the European Council. The Council also nominated German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as candidate for President of the European Commission; Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles as candidate for High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy; and the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, as candidate for president of the European Central Bank.
The Commission President will now be voted on by the European Parliament in the coming weeks. After being approved by the Commission President, the High Representative will then be voted on as part of the College of Commissioners by the European Parliament before the college is appointed by the European Council. After consultations with the European Parliament and the ECB governing council, the European Council will appoint the president of the ECB. The European Parliament will also vote on its President today. Subject to the approval of the European Parliament, this will be the first time that a woman will be made President of the European Commission, and I would like to congratulate Ursula von der Leyen on her nomination.
This was a package supported by the UK, and it is in our national interest to have constructive relationships with those who are appointed. Once we leave the European Union, we will need to agree the details of our future relationship. We will continue to share many of the same challenges as our closest neighbours, and we will need to work with them on a variety of issues that are in our joint interests. But that will now be a matter for my successor to take forward. I commend this statement to the House.
I want to say thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for the fantastic campaign she has mounted and the comfort that she has brought to those who have been through the unimaginable strain of losing a child. Those who, sadly, will lose a child in future will at least know that, because of her work, one part of the commemoration of that child’s life will be made a little bit easier. On behalf of so many families, may we just say thank you very much for everything you have done?
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. While this year marks the 20th anniversary of the G20, there is little progress to commemorate in tackling the urgent challenges that we face. Where the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries fail, we look instead to civil society, trade unions and community groups, and to an inspirational generation of young people, for the transformative change that is required.
This summit’s communiqué did not make the necessary commitments on climate change. Does the Prime Minister agree that President Trump’s failure to accept the reality of man-made climate change, his refusal to back the Paris accords and his attempts to water down the communiqué’s commitments are a threat to the security of us all, all over this planet? Is the Prime Minister concerned that he could soon be joined by one of her possible successors, who has described global warming as a “primitive fear … without foundation”? It is the responsibility of the G20 to lead efforts to combat climate change, as the Prime Minister herself acknowledged. These nations account for four fifths of global greenhouse gas emissions. As I confirmed last week, we back the UK’s bid to host COP 26 next year. In 2017, the Government agreed to:
“Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions”
in developing countries. So can the Prime Minister explain why 97% of the UK’s export finance support for energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels, and less than 1% is for renewable energy? The Government’s pledge to cut carbon emissions by 2050 is an empty one. They have no serious plan to invest and continue to dismantle our renewable energy sector while supporting fracking.
The Prime Minister says that the international community must stand against Iran’s destabilising activity in the region. The Iran nuclear deal agreement was a multilateral agreement signed up to by President Obama, and a number of other Governments, but reneged on by President Obama’s successor. Beyond just saying that we need to protect the deal, what action has the Prime Minister taken to ensure this? What conversation did she have with President Trump on this issue?
Is it not about time that the Prime Minister’s Government stood up to our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia? She says that she met Crown Prince bin Salman but gives no details. So can I ask her: did she raise the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, did she raise the killing of thousands of Yemenis, and did she pledge to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia? Did she raise with him the Saudis’ financing and arming of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is fighting the UN-recognised Government of Libya, and who, only last night, has been held responsible for an airstrike on a migrant centre in Tripoli that killed 40 people and injured dozens more? The Prime Minister rightly points to the need to protect people from terrorist propaganda, so before she leaves office, will she finally release, in full, the report she suppressed on the Saudi Government’s funding of extremist groups?
The Prime Minister talks of confronting countries that interfere in the democracy of other nations, including Russia. I remind her that it was Labour that delivered amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which introduced the Magnitsky powers. The truth is that the Conservatives have questions to answer about the almost £1 million-worth of donations from wealthy Russians to their party under her watch. If we stand up to corruption and condemn human rights-abusing regimes, then politicians should not be trading cash for access.
The Prime Minister mentioned the worrying outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Could she outline what assistance the Department for International Development is providing in that terrible situation? I welcome the Government’s £1.4 billion for the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. However, the main conclusion from the G20 is that the world deserves better leadership for the urgent challenges facing humanity.
Moving on to the EU summit in Brussels, it has taken leaders three days to come up with a decision on who should take the EU’s top jobs. But a three-day summit pales into insignificance next to the three years of failure that this Government have inflicted on us all over Brexit. I would like to congratulate those who have been appointed or nominated to new roles within in the EU, especially Josep Borrell as High Representative for foreign affairs and security. For as long as we remain in the EU, we should seek reform. That includes increasing our efforts to tackle tax evasion and avoidance; stepping up our co-operation over the climate emergency that faces us all, all over this continent and this planet; and challenging migration policies that have left thousands to drown in the Mediterranean while sometimes subcontracting migration policies to Libyan militias.
Can the Prime Minister explain her decision for the Conservative party to join a political group that includes far-right, Islamophobic parties such as Vox of Spain? It claims that Muslims will impose Sharia law on Spain, turn cathedrals into mosques, and force all women to cover up. It is a party that campaigned to repeal gender violence laws and threatened to shut down feminist organisations. Does the Prime Minister understand the worry that this will cause many people in this country who will rightly be asking why her party has aligned itself with this far-right organisation whose policies are built on division, discrimination and hate?
Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that whoever succeeds her should have the courage to go back to the people with their preferred Brexit option to end the uncertainty and get Brexit resolved?
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, moving between them with sometimes no apparent link, but I will try to address them. On climate change, I have already expressed my disappointment that the United States has pulled out of the Paris agreement. I repeated to President Trump at the G20 my hope that the United States will come back into the Paris agreement in due course. I am pleased that the other members of the G20 held fast to the irreversibility of the Paris agreement and the commitments we had previously made. As I said in answer to Prime Minister’s questions, we are showing the lead on this. I am encouraging others to follow, and they are showing their willingness to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about international development money in relation to climate change. I am pleased to say that we have committed to provide at least £5.8 billion of international climate finance between 2016 and 2020. This is not only a question of energy mix. It is also about climate resilience, and we are leading on that for the UN climate action summit in September this year. We have already helped 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change, supported 17 million people to access clean energy and reduced or avoided 10.4 million tonnes of CO2, so we are putting our words into action.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about my meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. I did indeed raise the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. I was very clear that we expect a transparent and open judicial process and for those who are responsible to be brought to account. I also raised the importance of a political solution in Yemen and the fact that we are supporting the work of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths and want to ensure that all parties are committed to coming around the table and finding a political solution in Yemen.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I had a meeting with the director general of the WHO at the G20 summit, during which we discussed that. I also discussed it with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is a serious humanitarian challenge. The security situation in eastern DRC makes dealing with this outbreak more difficult in terms of operating through Government and other organisations. The United Nations and the WHO are committed to working through community groups on the ground. He asked about our response. We are the second largest bilateral donor to the response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the largest to preparedness efforts in neighbouring countries. We have been working not only where there has been an outbreak in the DRC but to ensure that neighbouring countries can respond effectively. I am pleased to say that, when there was a small number of cases in Uganda, Uganda responded extremely well and very professionally, and we have not seen further cases there.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Russia. I thought his comments were a bit rich—who was it, after the nerve agent attack on our streets in Salisbury, who believed the Russian Government rather than our own intelligence agencies? It was the right hon. Gentleman, so I will take no lessons from him on our relationship with Russia.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the European Council. I do not think I heard him welcome the gender balance in the appointment of the top jobs. It is important that we see the first woman nominated to be President of the European Commission and a woman nominated for the role at the European Central Bank.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about Brexit. It was always going to take two years to negotiate; that is the time set out in the treaty under the article 50 process. We brought the proposals to the House. He rejected those proposals. He has not brought forward proposals that command a majority—[Interruption.] I think the Foreign Secretary said that he has.
No, I said that the House rejected it.
I had noticed that the House had not supported the plans that I brought forward but, once again, it is a bit of a nerve for a party that consistently says it wants to leave with a deal to consistently vote against leaving with a deal.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about going back to the people on Brexit. He talked about the delay and uncertainty. We have been waiting for weeks for the Labour party’s policy on Brexit. We keep being told that the shadow Cabinet is taking a decision on a second referendum and, week after week, we still wait to hear it. It is little wonder that the shadow Home Secretary says she is beginning to worry about Labour’s Brexit policy.
As you know, Mr Speaker, since the 1980s I have consistently raised the question of Germany’s increasing dominance in the European Union and the European Commission. In his recent book “Berlin Rules”, our former ambassador to Germany states that the EU is and will remain “a German Europe”. Nine of the 28 European Commissioners have German leaders of their cabinets. There are six German directors general. He says:
“it is Germany’s view which is sought by the Commission before it acts, and by other governments before they decide”,
in the Council of Ministers by majority vote behind closed doors. Is that not a grave concern and a reason why we should leave the European Union by 31 October?
I am a little disappointed. Germany has not had presidency of the European Commission since something like the 1960s, so it is a bit churlish of my hon. Friend to suggest that we should not have voted for a German President. May I also point out that Ursula von der Leyen was born in Brussels? That might make it worse for my hon. Friend than the fact that she is from Germany. It is important that we see not only a gender balance but a geographical spread across the Commission in the appointments. He talks about us leaving the European Union. I want us to leave the European Union. I voted three times for us to leave the European Union. Had he voted with me, we would already be outside the European Union.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and advance sight of it. On a point of clarification, the Prime Minister suggested in Prime Minister’s questions that there was no review of devolution. That is of some surprise to those of us who were listening to Radio Scotland this morning and heard Lord Duncan talk about exactly that; indeed, he said that Lord Dunlop has been appointed to that role. Many Scottish journalists have tweeted that they have had briefings from No. 10, so perhaps the Prime Minister will take this opportunity to clarify whether she is going to Scotland tomorrow or whether she does not know what her diary involves.
I endorse the Prime Minister’s robust response to Russia, which must end its destabilising activity. Those responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal should be brought to justice, and the Russian state must take responsibility and allow justice to prevail. I also thank the Prime Minister for confirmation of the nominees for the Commission. We, of course, welcome the attempt to achieve a gender balance. It is important that the European Parliament is now able to take a role in this process.
The SNP welcomes that many of the world leaders reaffirmed their support for the full implementation of the Paris agreement but condemns President Trump’s ducking of the issue. The fact that President Trump refuses to wake up to the reality is irresponsible and delusional. This ticking time bomb needs a rapid and robust response. While the UK Government’s commitment is to reach targets by 2050, in Scotland we are trying to achieve net zero faster, by recently committing to a target of net zero emissions by 2045. Scotland has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 47% since 1990. But we all need to go further and faster. We have an obligation to the planet and to future generations to recognise that this is a climate emergency.
I welcome the fact that world leaders affirmed their commitment to the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable growth and that the summit agreed to work towards a free, fair, stable and open-market environment in trade and investment. However, the Osaka declaration following the G20 summit says that there is still concern about the state of the global economy, noting
“growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside.”
The Prime Minister must take responsibility for the Government’s failure to grow the UK economy and fight inequality. Without an appropriate economic response from the UK Government, inequality is set to get worse rather than better. The Institute for Fiscal Studies agreed when it stated:
“If the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts are correct, inequality is likely to increase in the next few years.”
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur, found that one fifth of the UK population—14 million people—live in poverty and that, by 2021, 40% of children will be living below the poverty line. Those are staggering figures. No Prime Minister can be proud of leaving this as her legacy.
There was a glaring omission in the Prime Minister’s statement. The Japanese Foreign Minister warned against a no-deal Brexit, and said that it could risk Japanese auto manufacturers going through customs and that operations may not be able to continue. Therefore, I want to ask the Prime Minister: does she agree with the Japanese Foreign Minister?
Will the Prime Minister vote against a no-deal Brexit and against anyone intent on delivering a no-deal Brexit as being her successor? Furthermore, will she now act to undo the punitive austerity measures put in place by her Government to unlock economic growth and to begin to turn the tide on income inequality across the United Kingdom? Will she admit that she has made a multitude of mistakes, and failed to use power to help the powerless and rebalance our economy in a way that lifts the poor out of poverty and the disadvantaged into advantage? Prime Minister, this is your legacy of failure. It is your choice in your final days to do the right thing.
First, I will be going to Scotland tomorrow and I will be making a speech about the benefits of the Union of the United Kingdom. May I suggest that, rather than, as SNP Members always do, jumping on the bandwagon of something they read in the newspapers, they should actually wait to hear what I have to say in my speech tomorrow before they opine upon it?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about Russia and the importance of our working to reduce and stop Russia’s destabilising activity, which takes many forms. We have seen it, most particularly, in the use of that chemical weapon on our streets, but of course we see it in cyber-attacks, in disinformation and in attempts to interfere in what is happening in other countries—often in democratic processes—and we will continue to work with others to bring about the aim that we all want.
The right hon. Gentleman references again the issue about no deal and a deal. I am afraid that the answer to his points has not changed. It has not changed from Prime Minister’s questions a little earlier this afternoon. I have consistently said that I think it is in the best interests of the UK to leave with a good deal. I believe we negotiated a good deal. Parliament was not willing to support that good deal, but I voted three times to ensure that we left the European Union with a deal. He chose to vote three times to leave with no deal, so I am not taking any lessons from him on that particular issue.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about failure to use powers. Actually, the best example of a failure to use the powers they have is the SNP Government in Scotland, who have been given extra powers, yet have consistently failed to use them. Whenever they are given extra powers, they do not use them. All they do is come back and say, “Please, sir, can we have some more?” Start doing the day job and stop focusing only on independence—that is what the SNP needs to do.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about economic growth. I am pleased to say that this country, under Conservative Governments, has seen I think 27 quarters of economic growth. That is the longest period of consistent growth of any of the G7 countries and that is a record the Conservatives are proud of.
I share the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for the appointment of so many women to the top jobs in Europe’s institutions, and I thank her for the role she played in that. I really commend her for the good will and determination she has brought consistently to the table at both the G20 and at the EU summit. Does she agree that if, when we leave the European Union, we are going to continue to enjoy a constructive relationship with our neighbours, it is very important that we leave in an orderly fashion, with an agreement?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind words. I agree that it is important that, once we have left the European Union, we continue to have a strong and deep partnership and relationship with the European Union and obviously with the individual member states within the European Union. I believe the best way of achieving that is to leave with a good deal and I am only sorry that Parliament was not able to find a majority for that good deal. It is obviously up to my successor to find a majority in Parliament that can enable us to leave in a way that is in this country’s national interest.
The Prime Minister’s statement says that
“the best way to resolve trade disputes is through a reformed and strengthened WTO”.
Is it not the case that the dispute settlement mechanism no longer works because the United States does not recognise it and there are insufficient judges, and that those who would have Britain dependent on so-called WTO rules are making Britain dependent on a very weak and damaged organisation?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to focus attention on the important dispute resolution mechanism at the WTO. That plays an important part in enforcing the rules the WTO has. Obviously, if appellate body member appointments continue to be blocked, that risks the effective operation of the dispute settlement system. That would not be in our interests and it would not be in the interests of any of the members of the WTO, so we are strongly supporting an informal process that has been launched by the general council at the WTO to seek a resolution to this issue of the appellate body. Proposals put forward so far by WTO members bring the right ingredients to many of the concerns raised and we are urging all members to engage constructively in those ongoing discussions.
Ah yes, a Lincolnshire knight in a cheerful suit—Sir Edward Leigh.
It sets off your black gown, Mr Speaker.
After having to negotiate with these people for so many dreary months, the Prime Minister must be mightily relieved that she will no longer have to go to Brussels, but what advice would she give her successor about dealing with these people? Would she recommend, for instance, the injunction that no deal is better than a bad deal?
I have always believed that no deal was better than a bad deal, but I believe we negotiated a good deal. The advice I would give my successor is to act at all times in the best interests of this country. I believe it is in our best interests to be able to leave the European Union with a good deal, but it is up to my successor to find a majority in this House to enable us to leave the European Union.
It is reported this morning that Canada is apparently unwilling to roll over the provisions of the CETA deal—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—for the United Kingdom in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Could the Prime Minister tell the House whether she discussed this matter at the G20 summit? May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Chancellor, sitting next to her, on the clear statements he has been making in recent days about the obvious danger to our economy from a no-deal Brexit?
First, we will continue to work with the Canadians on the roll-over of the Canadian trade deal. I am pleased to say that the Department for International Trade has been able to see agreements on the roll-over of a number of trade deals, including significant deals such as the one with South Korea. But we will continue to work with the Canadians on this issue and it is right that we do that in detail to make sure that what comes out as a result of those roll-overs are arrangements that are in the interests of this country. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has tempted me to say this: he has consistently stood up and argued for the case of not leaving the European Union without a deal, yet he has also consistently voted to leave the European Union without a deal.
I understand that, far from remaining silent at the EU summit, our Prime Minister made recommendations for not just one but for all four of the top jobs, and every single name she nominated or suggested was a highly qualified, highly competent woman. Can I thank the Prime Minister, as this might be her last statement as Prime Minister, for all she has done to champion women in politics in this country and across the world? Can we also send a message back to No. 10 to thank her husband for the highly dignified way in which he represented our country in the partners photo at the G20?
Yes, I am not sure if it is the rickshaw photograph of my husband that my hon. Friend is referring to, but I will happily take those compliments back to him.
I was happy to put forward the names of a number of women and to champion the need for gender balance in the appointments to the EU’s so-called top jobs. I believe it is important that we see that gender balance. I am pleased to have continued to be able to champion women, and I will continue to do that when I move to the Back Benches. May I also say to my hon. Friend that, apart from the appointments that have already been announced, it is expected that other women will take up senior posts within the Commission? Those are of course matters for the incoming President of the Commission, but I would expect to see more women taking senior roles in those roles in future.
In the role that the Prime Minister played in the appointments to the EU’s top jobs, what were the top three things that she supported in the policy programme of the Commission’s new President?
Those people, including the President of the Commission, will not take up their positions until 1 November. It is, of course, possible that we will have left the European Union at that point, but I want to see a President of the European Commission—as I said to members of the European Council—who wants to continue working to find an arrangement for the relationship between the UK and the European Union in the future that is a positive and constructive one and that enables us to live with our near neighbours in a way that is to the advantage and benefit of both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
As the Prime Minister knows, the UK decided not to give notice to quit the European economic area, as required under article 127. Although I absolutely understand that she would not want to bind the hands of her successor, will she instruct officials to consider rejoining the European Free Trade Association pillar of the EEA agreement, since —as she will understand—the EU is under an international obligation to make existing treaties operable?
I recognise that my hon. Friend has championed that aspect of our future relationship. I think that the future relationship that we had negotiated with the European Union was actually better than the proposals that he has put forward, because it gave us greater independence while maintaining economic advantages in our trade relationship with the European Union. That, of course, has been rejected by the House, and it will be up to my successor to find the right way through.
Did the Prime Minister see the embarrassing sight yesterday of the Brexit party MEPs turning their backs on the European Parliament? Does she agree that such acts are born of the absurd notion, which has done so much damage to the country, that we are some kind of subjugated colony of the EU, rather than the full, equal and highly successful member that we have been? Will she join me in rejecting this notion of Britain as a colony, lest it lead to more humiliating spectacles such as we saw yesterday?
The United Kingdom has played a full role as a member of the European Union. We have been highly regarded around that EU table, and I want us to continue to be able to have a relationship with the EU in the future that will see us not only having greater independence outside the European Union, but able to contribute and work with our partners in the European Union on the challenges that we all face. Issues such as climate change are not restricted to one country or to one grouping of countries; these are issues for us all. We want to continue to work constructively and to maintain that high regard in which the UK has always been held.
Did my right hon. Friend get the opportunity to thank our colleagues in the European Union for their immense contribution, together with us, towards the collective peace and security of Europe over all the years of our membership—not least the free peoples of eastern Europe and those in the Balkans who, at times of conflict, look towards the EU as a beacon of peace and democracy? Did she reassure them that with our membership of the Security Council and NATO we will continue to find ways to collaborate successfully on that continuing peace and security, and that they should ignore the sometimes childish and unfortunate anti-German rhetoric that occasionally comes from our Benches?
I have repeatedly given our commitment to maintaining the security of Europe. We do that, of course, through NATO, as the second-biggest contributor and biggest European contributor to it, and we will continue to do so. I was able to thank members around the European Union Council for the co-operation that we have seen between the United Kingdom and member states of the European Union, and to express my desire that that co-operation and working together will continue in the future for our mutual benefit.
I do not know whether it is because of the prospect of the new European institution heads, but the Prime Minister will know that the former Foreign Secretary and the current Foreign Secretary are absolutely adamant that during August and September they will be able to negotiate a superior withdrawal agreement—perhaps with extra “positive energy”, as the former Foreign Secretary says. Does the Prime Minister think that it will be that simple?
Obviously it is up to whoever succeeds me to take forward negotiations and look at the relationship for withdrawing from the European Union and our future relationship with the European Union in the way that they think fit. The EU Council has made statements about the negotiations so far and about its position on those negotiations, but obviously it will be up to my successor to take those forward.
Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to discuss with Secretary-General Guterres or other G20 leaders the troubling reports surrounding the alleged torture and death of the navy captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo in Venezuela? If there is evidence of torture and human rights abuses by Maduro and his henchmen, will she press for them to be held to account by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights or, if appropriate, referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague?
I recognise the concern that my right hon. Friend has expressed in relation to this case. I was able on a number of occasions to raise the overall issue of Venezuela; I was recently also able to discuss it with the President of Colombia when he visited the United Kingdom. We are all concerned about the state that we see in Venezuela, about actions that have been taken in that country, and about the appalling circumstances and conditions in which so many Venezuelans find themselves living, which is why so many Venezuelans have been fleeing their country to neighbouring countries, putting a significant burden on those neighbouring countries.
It is good to hear the Prime Minister making it clear that there is no question of normalising relations with Russia while it remains in flagrant violation of the international norms that, as a permanent member of the Security Council, it is supposed to be at the forefront of upholding. Does it not gall her to see the man who is supposed to be the leader of the free world—the President of the United States—laughing and joking with this rogue President, Putin? Should not the UK be leading the charge to increase the pressure on Russia, potentially even through expelling its ambassador, while it enables atrocity after atrocity in Syria, gravely damaging the multilateral rule of law and order that is vital to ongoing peace and security in the world?
I think what is important for the United Kingdom is that we continue to take this strong position in relation to the activities of Russia. I have referenced a number of those already; I have not yet referenced in response to questions the actions that Russia took in Ukraine, which are matters that I also raised with President Putin.
It is important to look at the actions that the United States has taken. After the attack that took place in Salisbury, it expelled about 60 Russian officials. We saw a significant and unprecedented international response, but in fact the largest number of expulsions took place from the United States. Its actions, I think, have been important in this.
The Prime Minister said that international development expenditure would be aligned with emissions reduction, but last week the Secretary of State told us in terms that his main effort was resilience, not emissions reduction. The Prime Minister’s priority is the right one, but does the Secretary of State know?
I assure my right hon. Friend that we are working on all these issues. As I indicated in response to an earlier question—I think it was in response to comments that the Leader of the Opposition made—it is important not only that we work on reduction, but that we ensure that while that reduction is taking place, we help those countries that need to build their resilience and their ability to deal with the climate change that we are already seeing. They are not mutually exclusive; I think we should be doing both.
Democracy, freedom and human rights, and the upholding of those principles through international law, must surely be the cornerstone of British foreign policy. Given that this year we have seen the largest number of mass executions on a single day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, given the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi by that regime, and given its abominable and inexcusable actions in Yemen, does the Prime Minister really believe that it is appropriate to allow the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman to host the G20?
I think what is important about the G20 is that what it enables us to do is actually sit down, have those conversations and make those points directly. I was able to make a number of points, as I indicated earlier, about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and about what is happening in Yemen direct to the Crown Prince in the bilateral that I held with him, and it is possible for those points to be made around the G20 table. It is about engagement; if we do not engage, it is much harder to ensure that we are making those points and seeing those points being responded to. We do take action, we consistently raise the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia, and we will continue to do so.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. Many across the country recognise the outstanding professionalism, integrity and respect with which she has always represented the United Kingdom on the international stage. When does she think a decision and announcement will be made about our Anglo-Italian proposal to host next year’s climate change conference here?
We had hoped that an announcement would be made towards the end of June; unfortunately, that was not possible. There is still a European bid from Turkey. I raised this with President Erdoğan when I met him. It may be some weeks before a final decision is taken, but we continue to make the necessary preparations for what I hope will be a successful bid.
The Prime Minister says that she is immensely proud that Britain became the world’s first major economy to commit in law to ending our contribution to global warming by 2050, and so am I. I am proud to have been part of that Parliament, and I am proud that my party supported that measure last week, in both the Commons and the Lords. Would the Prime Minister care to correct the record, and to confirm that she understands that contrary to the impression she gave last week—accidentally, I am sure —Labour peers did not attempt to block the measure? In fact, they intended to strengthen it through an amendment to make it clearer.
Labour peers tabled a regret motion against the Government’s proposal for a target of net zero emissions by 2050. I am pleased that, in the event, we were able to put that into law—that is important —and I had hoped that Labour peers would wholeheartedly embrace the measure, rather than tabling a regret motion.
As chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I thank the Prime Minister for the announcement on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; I also thank her on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who chair the other groups involved. Was there discussion of the real problem of the lack of jobs across the world—not just in the European Union but in its near neighbourhood, in Africa? That is so important. So much time was spent discussing the top jobs; we need to spend an awful lot more time discussing jobs for the hundreds of millions of people who need them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that ensuring that there are jobs available for people in Africa is a crucial challenge that we all face—one on which, again, the United Kingdom has taken a leading role. On my visit to Africa last year, I was able to talk about how we will use development aid, and other support that we can provide through such things as the great strength of the City of London, to ensure the investment that will lead to those jobs. I was impressed by the recognition of the issue among those I met, and by their enthusiasm to work with us to ensure that those jobs are available in future. I have discussed the subject with other EU leaders, and it is recognised around the G20 table.
In the light of comments that the US ambassador to the UK made this morning about President Trump’s desire for the NHS to be part of any post-Brexit trade deal, it appears that the special relationship is becoming more of a special interest for the President. What steps can the Prime Minister take in her final days in office, and what does she expect her successor to do, to resist those attempts to access our NHS as part of any future trade deal? What will she do, and what does she expect her successor to do, to ensure that the United States comes back to the table and is part of the Paris climate change agreement?
We continue to put pressure on the United States on the climate change agreement, and to raise with it the importance of the issue. As far as we are concerned, the NHS will never be privatised. We will continue to ensure that decisions about public services are taken by UK Governments, not by our trade partners, and future trade agreements will not alter that. Indeed, the President himself made it clear, following his visit to the United Kingdom, that the national health service was not part of that trade agreement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her leadership on environmental matters and on tackling climate change. Yesterday, the all-party environment group heard from Lord Adair Turner that although Britain makes only 1.5% of global emissions, our influence abroad is massive, not just because we are a world leader in tackling climate change here, but because of the possibility of green tech jobs and investment in the United Kingdom economy. Does my right hon. Friend understand that that is a real legacy of hers? I hope that future Governments will commit further to this.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that, and for the work he has done on environmental issues in his ministerial roles. He continues to champion these issues. I absolutely agree with him. There are those who say that we can either have economic growth or tackle climate change. That is a false dichotomy. Tackling climate change is about developing new types of job, new technology, and new areas of employment for our economy. Already, something like 400,000 people are employed in, effectively, the clean growth economy—in renewable energy and so forth—and we will see many more such jobs being created. The message that we need to take around the world is that this is about future economies, and future employment and jobs.
Did any of the countries represented at the G20 discuss with the Prime Minister the recent UN resolution regarding the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands? If she is seeking to leave a legacy, perhaps the best things she could do are respect the international rules-based order, respect the decision that sovereignty of the Chagos Islands should be returned to Mauritius, and restore the right to return to the Chagossian community, which would right a historical injustice.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Government’s position on this. That position has not changed, and no such discussions took place.
The readmission last week of the Russians to the Council of Europe is being described by the Russians as international approval of the Russian invasion of Crimea. Did the Prime Minister have the chance to tell Putin that we totally reject that view?
I was able to make clear to President Putin the view that the United Kingdom takes: this was an illegal annexation of Crimea. I was also able to make it clear that we expect Russia to return the sailors and ships that were taken from the Kerch strait.
The Prime Minister spoke of engaging constructively with the European Union, which I welcome, but went on to praise a slate of top-job nominations agreed in backroom deals. Does she not think that the people of the European Union should have had the opportunity to vote for the Commission President in the European parliamentary elections, and that a British Prime Minister should champion democratic values in the European Union, in the G20, and in the United Kingdom, which means a vote on any deal?
That was a very clever way round to the hon. Lady’s end point, which was that we should go back to the British people and ask them to think again. I do not think that we should; I think we should accept the decision that they took and deliver on it.
At the top of her statement, the Prime Minister rightly spoke about climate change and its importance to her, which she is proving, and of the importance of the summit. There were numerous horrifying media reports this weekend that in Brazil, an area of Amazon rain forest the size of a football pitch is being cleared every minute. At the summit, was any mention made of this act of planetary self-harm, which seems to have resumed with menace since President Bolsonaro took power? If not, please could the UK Government make urgent inquiries to establish the position? What is happening is surely not in the interests of any of us, and certainly not in the interests of members of the G20.
Obviously, the issue of climate change covered a broad range of topics, but I am certainly happy to take up my hon. Friend’s request that we try to establish the exact situation in relation to these reports of deforestation. It is an issue that we should all be concerned about.
I am very disappointed that the Prime Minister did not mention in her statement the 500,000 dead, the 11 million people displaced from their homes and the millions from Syria in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. In her discussions with President Erdoğan and Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and with the UN Secretary-General and with Putin, did she do anything to press on them the need for a political solution in Syria, an end to this conflict, and a stop to the Russian bombing of hospitals and the killings of civilians that are taking place at this very moment in Idlib and elsewhere?
Yes, I was able to raise with President Erdoğan and with President Putin my concerns about the need to come to a political settlement in Syria. I also raised very specific concerns about the situation in Idlib and the need to ensure that we de-escalate tensions in that area. So the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is, yes I did raise it in a number of the meetings that I held.
With more EU citizens than ever now critical of the EU project, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has considered how those hours of horse-trading look to those citizens. We have Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission President, who seems intent on creating a US-style new country and an EU army. We have Christine Lagarde for the European Central Bank; hers is perhaps the only name that we recognise, but we do so, I think, for all the wrong reasons. This new group of those in the top jobs seem to have federalism at the heart of their agenda, stripping more powers away from national Governments, and for any problem the answer is more Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that proves without any doubt that the Commission—and its institutions—has no regard or care whatever for the electorates it is there to serve?
The nature of the European Union for the future will be a matter for the 27 remaining member states, because of course we will be leaving the European Union. I think it is right that those who have been appointed, or nominated, for those appointments are those who have shown their competence to undertake the roles in the future, but, as I say, how they shape that—how the future of the European Union is taken forward—will be a matter for the 27.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the wonderful face that she adopted when she was holding President Putin’s hand. It had more ice in it than the polar ice cap, and it said it all. He, as she knows, gave an interview to the Financial Times, saying that western-style liberalism was “obsolete”. I hope she was able to point out to him that, having the rule of law, with independent judges, free speech, freedom of assembly and free elections, is pretty good.
May I perhaps reassure the hon. Gentleman that, unlike a polar ice cap, on this issue I am not melting? [Laughter.] I did make the point to President Putin that liberal democracies have ensured greater prosperity and security for their people than any other system.
We are used to statements from European institutions that their decisions are not reviewable, including the European Parliament insisting it would block any nominee for European President who was not one of the Spitzenkandidaten. Does the Prime Minister expect the European Parliament to veto the nominee—or might they just decide that compromise is possible where circumstances dictate?
I sincerely hope that, after considerable discussion and consultation with the European Parliament, the European Parliament will feel able to accept the package of nominees for top jobs. Of course, the Parliament will be voting on the president of the Parliament as well. But there was considerable discussion with the European Parliament as part of the process, so I hope that they would feel able to accept this set of nominees, notwithstanding, of course, that none of them was one of the Spitzenkandidaten who were put forward.
I commend the Prime Minister for her forthright stance with President Putin over the nerve gas that killed Dawn Sturgess in Salisbury. Will she confirm that she took an equally forthright stance with President Trump, whose views on the climate emergency will, if sustained, lead to the deaths of many millions of people around the world?
I have raised the United States’s approach to climate change, and particularly to the Paris agreement, with President Trump on many occasions, and I continue to raise it with him.
My son Alexander is nine today, and in so many ways I think he is incredibly lucky to be growing up in Scotland.
Was there any discussion at the G20 of the appalling scandal emerging at the US border, where women and their children have been separated from each other, are being held in overcrowded and insanitary conditions that have been likened to concentration camps and, according to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who visited this week, being forced to drink from toilets and abused by US border guards? Has she raised that with President Trump, and if not, will she do so?
I wish the hon. Lady’s son Alexander a very happy birthday today.
I am sure we are all concerned about the deeply shocking images that we have seen from the US-Mexico border. Obviously, countries are responsible for their own border policy, but we all, I think, have the responsibility of ensuring that we address migration issues humanely. Concerns about what has happened on that border will continue to be raised.
Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), the Prime Minister will be aware that during the G20 the Russian Federation returned to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. With respect, there are questions about the Government’s approach to its return, but they are perhaps for another time. Given Crimea, given Georgia, given Moldova, given Chechnya, given MH17, given, of course, the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, and given the opportunity that the Prime Minister had to meet President Putin, how does she feel the future of our relationship with the Russian Federation will go now?
The point was made, which I reiterated in my statement, that I have been consistently clear: we have no argument with the Russian people. It is possible for us to have a different relationship with Russia, but for that to take place Russia has to change its behaviour and to follow a different path. We will not be able to normalise our relations until it does.
While we may be concerned at the lack of complete openness and democracy in the appointment of top jobs in the European Union, we are about to get a Prime Minister foisted on us in an election in which 99.75% of the population have no say, so perhaps a wee bit of humility is called for.
When the Prime Minister met Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and asked for support in building a political solution to the crisis in Saudi and Yemen, did she remind him that the causes of that crisis are military; that one of the biggest players in that military crime is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and that according to a Committee of this Parliament it is highly likely that British weapons are being used in the commission of those crimes in Yemen? So did she tell him that it is time for the illegal bombing of civilians in Yemen to stop? Did she tell him there will be no more British arms sales to Saudi Arabia until those crimes have stopped? If she did not tell him that, why not?
We continue to make the case in Yemen for ensuring that there is a political solution. That is the only way in which we shall see a stable, secure Yemen into the future. We have been playing a leading role in those diplomatic efforts. We are supporting the United Nations in bringing key Yemeni and international actors together to deliver a peaceful solution. We support the efforts of the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, and we continue to do so, particularly to secure the implementation of the Stockholm agreement.
On the first point that the hon. Gentleman raised, I am not sure that the SNP is the best party to raise the question of how leaders are appointed to the leadership of their parties.
And the prize for patience and perseverance goes to Brendan O’Hara.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In terms of value, the United States is the world’s largest export market for Scotch whisky, worth more than £1 billion last year. Yesterday, we heard that Scotch is on a list of products that could face large import tariffs into America, which would be deeply damaging, particularly for whisky-producing communities such as those in my Argyll and Bute constituency. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with President Trump over the damaging America First, isolationist trade agenda and the effect it will have on markets around the world? Does she agree that in terms of trade, as in so much else, he is not a trustworthy ally?
We have been consistently clear with the United States about our concerns regarding the approach it is taking in relation to trade. As I said earlier, we continue to support the concept of a rules-based international order, working through the WTO. As I said in my statement, we want to see reform of the WTO rather than people resorting to the introduction of tariffs. We consistently champion the Scotch whisky industry around the world. I am pleased to say that there have been successes, not least by one or two of our trade envoys, in working with the Scotch whisky industry to ensure that tariffs have been reduced in other parts of the world; I can think of at least one example. We continue to try to ensure that we are opening up markets for Scotch whisky, which is an extremely good product and which we want everybody around the world to be able to enjoy.
I thank the Prime Minister for two solid, busy hours at the Dispatch Box.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on the campaign against Daesh, which recently controlled a third of Iraq and Syria—an area the size of the UK—but which has now lost its final piece of territory in Baghuz, Syria. Its sudden rise and fall—morally troubling, profoundly threatening and almost unprecedented—carries deep lessons and warnings for Britain and indeed the nations of the world.
As recently as 2003, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yazidi, Shabak, Kakai, Christian, Shi’a and Sunni— continued to live alongside one another as they had for more than a millennium. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems and infrastructure than most citizens of the developing world.
By 2014, all this had changed, partly because of the Iraq war, partly because of the Arab Spring in Syria, but in great part because of the astonishing rise of Daesh. Just three years after the withdrawal of the coalition in 2011, a movement initially founded by a tattooed, drug-taking video store assistant from Jordan had, following his death, captured Raqqa, Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and Palmyra, torn off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq and created an independent Islamic state of eight million people. It was a state with endemic poverty and struggling public services defined not just by suicide bombs but by a vicious campaign against religious minorities. Well-established borders between nations were obliterated. A few hundred men routed three divisions of the Iraqi army. Secular nationalism was swept aside by a bizarre religious ideology.
No one in 2005, and very few in 2010, would have predicted the success of that movement. There were, of course, many reasons to fear an insurgency in north-east Syria or Iraq. People felt little loyalty to the lamentable Governments in Damascus and Baghdad, with their anti-Sunni discrimination, corruption and poor provision of services, but there was initially very little reason to believe that people would support Daesh rather than other insurgency groups.
Indeed, Daesh’s imposition of early medieval social codes and horrifying videos of slaughter of fellow Arabs seemed to most Iraqis and Syrians profoundly irrational, culturally inappropriate and deeply unappealing. Its military tactics seemed almost insane. It deliberately picked fights not only with the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, but with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, Shi’a communities as a whole, the Iranian Quds Force and the Kurds, who initially tried to stay out of the fight. It finished 2014 by mounting a suicidal attack on Kobane in Syria in the face of over 600 US air strikes, losing many thousands of fighters and gaining almost no ground.
All of this, which should have been Daesh’s undoing, seemed at times simply to encourage tens of thousands of foreign fighters to join it, and they came not only from very poor countries but from some of the wealthiest countries in the world—from the social democracies of Scandinavia as much as from monarchies, military states, authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies. Part of its success was notoriously connected to social media. It was the first terrorist movement that really flourished on short, often home-made, video clips, on Twitter rants and on Facebook posts from the frontline. It grew far more quickly, and survived far longer, than any diplomat, politician or expert analyst predicted.
The options that seemed available to defeat this kind of movement in 2008 were no longer available in 2016. Eight years earlier—or, in our case, six years earlier—there had been a full-spectrum international counter-insurgency campaign that relied on overwhelming force, huge investments in economic development, 100,000 coalition troops, eight years of coalition training packages and almost $100 billion a year of US expenditure. But that approach ultimately failed to create stability in Iraq and there was no appetite to repeat it in 2016. The US and its allies did not want to deploy troops on the ground in Syria and very few near the frontlines in Iraq, and no one was advocating nation building in the middle of another war.
Instead, the counter-attack on Daesh in Mosul was led by the Iraqi Government. Initially, this did not seem very promising. The Government appeared to lack the capacity and will to restore even the most basic services to communities in Fallujah or Ramadi. They were backed by unreliable Sunni tribal leaders and by Iranian-supported Shi’a popular mobilisation forces, which alienated and terrified the local populations. Kurdish Iraqi forces also seemed unwilling to fight Daesh in Mosul. The coalition provided training to Iraqi forces but on a much smaller scale than during the surge. Daesh had laid mines throughout the urban areas and was fighting for every inch of ground.
It is remarkable, therefore, that Daesh was ultimately defeated. This was largely due, on the Syrian side of the border, to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and, on the Iraqi side, to the counter-terrorism force, which at times was enduring casualty rates of almost 40% of its combatants. Iraqi forces regrouped and retook Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul by early 2017, while the forces in Syria had retaken Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor by 2018.
Whereas during the surge the UK and its allies had been intimately involved in trying to reshape the Iraqi Government and security on the ground, our recent involvement has been less extensive. Rather than on nation building, since 2014 it has focused on £350 million of humanitarian aid in Iraq to provide healthcare, food and shelter. We have provided almost £1 billion to Syria over the last four years, including £40 million in aid to north-east Syria in 2018, which is going towards mine clearance, the immunisation of children, clean water, food and shelter.
This assistance continues. In Syria alone, there are 1.65 million people in need, while over half a million have been forced to flee their homes. Unexploded munitions and mines remain a major issue. In Iraq, 4 million people are returning home having been forced out. Nevertheless, this aid is on a much smaller scale than that which was provided by civilian officials from 2003 to 2011, our embassy and associated staff are much smaller, there are no longer coalition civilian outposts in every province, and the coalition and indeed the Iraqi Government are a long way from being able to take on the task of reconstructing the shattered remains of Mosul.
What lessons can we draw? First, the hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of troops committed by the coalition in Iraq from 2003, and more intensely from 2008, were not sufficient to create a stable civil service, a flourishing and sustainable economy, strong institutions, security, or any of the ingredients of a well- functioning state. This suggests that even the best-resourced foreign intervention may not be able to reconstruct a nation in the context of an insurgency. Secondly, local forces with a light foreign support may be able to achieve far more than people anticipate. Paradoxically, the Iraqi operations may have been effective not despite the lack of support from the west, but because of the lack of support. Operating with much less foreign assistance may have given the Iraqi and Syrian forces far more legitimacy, flexibility, control and sense of responsibility.
Thirdly, the sudden rise and sudden fall of Daesh illustrate the extreme fragility of many contemporary societies. The entire political-economic context was and remains so fluid and so open to exploitation, with so little deep institutional loyalty or resistance, that it was terrifyingly easy for an insurgency group to establish themselves on both sides of the border. They may have lost their territory for now, but the underlying conditions remain and could allow insurgents to establish themselves again. Even without holding territory, Daesh remains a significant terrorist threat.
Finally, in a context so inherently unpredictable and unexpected, Britain and its allies need to stand in a state of grace, preparing for the unexpected. We need to keep a close eye on countries that may seem temporarily at peace, continue to invest in the development of countries that may seem no longer to need development and continue to deepen our knowledge of countries that may not seem to be a priority today, while retaining our linguistic expertise and, above all, nurturing our relationships with people in those countries and with potential coalition partners such as the US and France and, in a different context, Germany.
Whether in north-east Nigeria, in Somalia or Libya, in Afghanistan or Mali, the key to our response will never be the amount of money that we invest or the number of troops that we deploy. It will be the depth of our understanding and the care and subtlety with which we respond: our ability to deploy development, defence, intelligence and economic levers, diplomacy and a dozen other tools, rapidly and precisely, not overruling other Governments, but supporting them in the right way at the right time with prudence and economy.
That is why I must close this Daesh statement with deep respect for the courage of our military forces, the skill of our diplomats and the generosity of our development programmes, but above all with deep respect for the people of Syria and Iraq who were in the heart of this fight, who gave their lives, who led this response and who provide us with an example of how we can act as partners with energy, but above all with humility. I commend my statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. However, while the update is welcome, may I point out that it is only the second statement to be made in the House in the 365 days since 4 July last year, although the Government promised quarterly reports to keep the House updated?
We welcome the destruction of Daesh’s final enclaves in Syria. We know that Daesh is a threat to us all and that it must be defeated wherever it emerges. Just today, news reports have revealed the uncovering of another mass grave in Raqqa; 200 corpses have been found, and it is feared that more will follow. The dead, thought to be victims of Daesh, include bodies found in orange jumpsuits, the kind typically worn by their hostages.
Let me pay tribute to the UK forces who have put their lives on the line and show gratitude—as the Secretary of State did—to the Kurdish forces who have taken such huge risks in leading the fight against Daesh. Will the Secretary of State now reassure the House that the Kurdish community will not be abandoned or left vulnerable to attacks by Syria or Turkey? He mentions Yazidis, Christians, Shi’as and Sunnis in his statement, so will he tell us what he is doing to support the protection of all communities in the region?
There is also the question of the ongoing role of our forces. The 2015 motion that set down the terms for our engagement in Syria to eradicate Daesh’s safe haven in Syria and Iraq was worded in such a way as to avoid an ongoing military conflict in the region. Will the Secretary of State now set out the purpose of our forces, given that their original purpose of defeating Daesh’s safe haven has been achieved? Does he believe that the original mandate has now expired and that therefore a renewed mandate for military action—and clarity on the role of special forces—is required for continued UK engagement in the region?
Let me say a few words about the ongoing conflict in Syria. There remain serious concerns for civilians in Idlib. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that there are safe corridors for civilians to leave, given that the United Nations has warned that up to 700,000 people could flee Idlib as refugees? Given that dozens of health facilities have been damaged and destroyed in recent months and more than half a million civilians have been unable to access vital medical care, what steps are the Government taking to encourage parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and protect civilians?
Last month, I was lucky enough to meet members of a delegation from the Syrian Women’s Political Movement. They spoke about their experiences of being denied their rights to employment, education and medical care and facing sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation. They called for increased women’s representation in peace negotiations and decision-making positions. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to respond to their calls?
As for Iraq, does the Secretary of State share the growing international concern about the arbitrary, draconian and legally unsound way in which the Iraqi authorities are conducting trials of alleged jihadist collaborators and the resentment caused among the Sunni community in the country?
What discussions are taking place about the huge number of detained suspected Daesh fighters? More than 55,000 suspected fighters and their families have been detained in Syria and Iraq. Most of them are citizens of those two countries, but overall they come from at least 50 countries. More than 11,000 relatives are being held at the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria. Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, has said that the relatives of suspected fighters should be taken back to their countries of origin. Does the Secretary of State agree with her call?
Let me finally raise the issue of Daesh’s ongoing influence beyond the physical battlefield. The Secretary of State has spoken today about Daesh’s physical territory, but its influence online is an ongoing threat and deeply worrying. What are the Government doing to work with our allies to ensure that action is taken by social media companies so that Daesh cannot find new safe havens online to spread its hatred?
The shadow Secretary of State has touched on a number of issues, stretching from the Kurdish community to Daesh online. I shall try to deal with them in turn.
What I think is at the heart of the answers to all these questions is that the only way in which we will be able to resolve the problems is through a proper political settlement. Many of the issues raised by the shadow Secretary of State—whether the issue is the minority rights of Yazidis and Christians, or the relationship between Kurds in Syria or Iraq with their national Governments—will have to be resolved in that way. It is very easy to stand at the Dispatch Box and try to talk about an inclusive political settlement, but that is unbelievably difficult to achieve, particularly after eight years of war, deep resentments and a massive militarisation of societies. We see the challenges all the way from Somalia to Yemen, and it will be just as difficult on the Syria-Iraq border, but ultimately that is the only way to resolve these issues, and the more support we can provide for mediators to try to come up with those political solutions, the better off we will all be.
The hon. Gentleman raised a technical and important question about the purpose of British forces. The reason for our forces on the ground was the Iraqi Government’s request for self-defence against Daesh and Syria, and the justification for their continuing presence is to do with the continuing threat posed by Daesh as a terrorist organisation, but not as a territory-holding organisation. I can, however, reassure the House that the nature of our presence is relatively limited. We are talking about airstrikes many of which are not conducted, the planes not being based in the middle east itself, and we are talking about British troops who are predominantly involved in training operations such as counter-IED and first-aid training. Some are based in the Kurdish regions, others in Iraqi bases. We are talking about a few hundred people. This is not the type of operation that we were talking about in relation to Iraq or Afghanistan, and I therefore do not think that a whole new mandate is necessary.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration that a debate on an issue as important as this should be so poorly attended in the House of Commons. I hope that our sense of seriousness as a nation means that the next time such a statement is made, people will engage more in the debate.
Idlib is a source of huge concern. DFID has put £80 million into humanitarian support in Idlib, but it remains true that the populations in Idlib are under a ferocious and brutal attack from the Syrian Government. It remains very difficult to access people within Idlib, and we continue through every mechanism to call on both the Syrian Government and their supporters, including their supporters from Russia, to exercise restraint, but our options have been very limited and we need to do so in a way that does not repeat the mistakes made in the past of laying down red lines that we cannot maintain or raising the hopes of communities in ways that we cannot vindicate or justify.
This brings me to the question of resettlement in Iraq and the 55,000 suspected Daesh fighters and their families and social media. All that is leading up to a much bigger issue: there are clearly some legal issues raised, and there are consular and human rights issues raised, but at the heart of all this has to be the question of Daesh mark 2, or in other words, how we prevent all the same conditions—all the same resentments, all the same abuses, all the same lack of public services and all the same corruption—that led to the emergence of Daesh in its first form back in 2004-5 and its new form of 2011-12 from re-emerging again. We have to work with the Iraqi Government and with those areas of Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces to ensure that people’s rights are respected, that reconstruction money is going in and above all that Sunni Arabs feel they have a stake in a political settlement, whereas at the moment they often feel deeply excluded by the regimes, by the ethnicity of the regimes and by the sectarian allegiances of the regimes.
On that last point, recognising the considerable caution my right hon. Friend has expressed about the future of Iraq, what more can be done to help promote political reconciliation in the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh and to encourage economic reforms that will enable all the provinces of Iraq to benefit from the stability that our forces have done so much to secure?
This is of course an issue that my right hon. Friend knows very well indeed. In essence, the only way that we can begin to bring some kind of life and some kind of hope back to areas such as Anbar and Nineveh is by making sure that we have the right combination of economic development, governance and security, which is a pompous way of saying we need to start fixing houses in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul. That means clearing mines out of the way, and that means actually physically getting buildings up. This has to be led by the Iraqi Government. There is more we can do in terms of tax incentives, training, support and infrastructure, but that all points to the next consideration, which is of course security. They still remain dangerous areas; there is still a continuing rural insurgency. The way in which that security is addressed—the identity of the Iraqi forces we bring in and their sectarian allegiances—will be very important in regaining the trust of the population. Finally, we must have the right kind of devolution down to the local level so that people feel that the leadership in Mosul, Ramadi or Fallujah genuinely reflects them—reflects them democratically, reflects their identities, reflects their sense of hope—so that those three elements of security, governance and economic development can begin to produce a sense of hope.
First, may I say as someone whose brother served in Iraq that I am conscious of the sacrifice made by members of the armed forces over the long period in which they have been there? I may not necessarily have agreed with the original direction of travel, but nevertheless the commitment of members of the armed forces is keenly felt by those of us who have family in the armed forces and by those of us on these Benches.
I do not disagree with much of what has been said by the Secretary of State and by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), who spoke for the official Opposition, but I do wish to raise some issues that have not yet been spoken about. Before doing so, however, let me say that the onus is on us not only in these islands but across western Europe to consider our own history in terms of ethnic and religious tension before we ever believe that we could give some kind of panacea to the peoples of Iraq, and I will also say Kurdistan. I think we should first learn from our own history.
The Secretary of State raised some serious issues about opportunities for moving forward into reconciliation, and even the official Opposition mentioned some of the issues highlighted in some of the camps, and I wish to specifically highlight what was mentioned by Ben Taub in The New Yorker back in December last year:
“Shortly after ten o’clock, three judges in long black robes shuffled into Courtroom 2 and sat at the bench. Suhail Abdullah Sahar, a bald, middle-aged man with a thin, jowly face, sat in the center. There were twenty-one cases on his docket that day, sixteen related to terrorism. He quietly read out a name; a security officer shouted it down the hall to one of his colleagues, who shouted it to the guard, who shouted it into the cell. Out came a young man named Ahmed. A security officer led him to a wooden cage…
‘Sir, I swear, I have never been to Qayyarah,’ Ahmed said.
Sahar was skeptical. ‘I have a written confession here, with your thumbprint on it,’ he said.
‘Sir, I swear, I gave my thumbprint on a blank paper,’ Ahmed replied. ‘And I was tortured by the security services.’…
‘Enough evidence,’ the prosecutor said. ‘I ask for a guilty verdict.’…
Ahmed wept as he was led out of the room. His trial had lasted four and a half minutes.”
I am sure that the Secretary of State recognises that some of the issues in relation to reconciliation are compounded by corruption within the existing infrastructure of the Iraqi Government, notably corruption in Mosul through the limitation of the impact of international aid because of the mayor of Mosul. I was at a meeting yesterday with my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) on Scottish medical professionals trying to get into Mosul as well.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is the issue of women and children, specifically those women whose husbands divorce them by telephone and children where husbands abdicated responsibility for them after they joined Daesh? Their ex-wives and children are now being treated not only as second-class citizens but lower than cattle.
Finally, does the Secretary of State recognise the dire need for truth and reconciliation not only in Iraq, but to enable breathing space between the Government of Iraq and the Government of Kurdistan specifically in relation to some of the border issues, which are allowing a possible Daesh resurgence?
That portrait of a courtroom is of course profoundly shocking, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that if court proceedings are conducted in that way—in other words, if people feel that their constitutional rights are not being upheld and that their evidence is being extracted by torture to gain a prosecution —that simply provides a really strong reason for there to be more insurgency, as well as that being a flagrant abuse and a flagrantly unjust act. The challenge for us is to think what Britain and other countries can actually do about it. The reality is that we have tended to approach rule of law programmes through focusing on training, so traditionally a judge like that would have been put through a training course; they might even have been flown to the University of Kansas for a couple of weeks to go on a seminar and there would have been a lot of investment in legal books and court procedure. The problem however in that specific case is unlikely to have been simply to do with capacity building; it is much more likely to be about the political context. The key thing is to try to communicate to a sovereign Government in the most respectful way we can through the Ministry of Justice that in the end this kind of approach is, as indeed many Iraqis would acknowledge, self-defeating. Working out how we as Britain or France or Germany or the United States or anyone else can actually get involved right down to the level of that courtroom and a decision made by a judge on the bench remains very tough there, or indeed in 100 other countries in the world.
The question of divorce and the treatment of women is again a subset of a much bigger issue: the ways in which this type of injustice and abuse will continue to fuel resentment going forward into the future, and I look forward perhaps to sitting down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issues of the borders on another occasion.
It is always a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend talking about this subject; although it is a grim subject, the depth of his knowledge is always enlightening, and I would hope that at some stage we might have a debate rather than just an update statement so that we can engage with him more fully. May I therefore raise a couple of points?
First, does my right hon. Friend accept that ultimately the reason Daesh was defeated was that, by seizing and holding territory, it gave up the terrorists’ best weapon: the cloak of invisibility? Secondly, the only thing I found missing from his statement was any reference to that part of Syria that was not fought upon and occupied by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Can he explain what percentage of the country is occupied by forces other than the Kurdish-led forces? Is not a large percentage of the country occupied by the forces of Assad? Does he now accept what the Government have denied all along: that if we wanted the insurgency in Syria to be defeated, the logical consequence—unacceptable though it seems—was going to be that Assad was at least in part going to win, given the support of his Russian backers?
These are two important challenges from the distinguished Chairman of the Defence Committee. I shall take the second one, then move on to the first. It is of course true that the vast majority of Syria is now in the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Looking back in time, we can see that the optimism of the United States and the United Kingdom that Bashar al-Assad would inevitably be defeated, and the red lines that were created by President Obama and others, have not been vindicated in any way at all. In fact, with Russian backing, the Syrian regime has not only retaken the land right the way up to the Euphrates—the edge of the area we are talking about with the SDF—but has pushed south to the Jordanian border and is now pushing up to Idlib, having taken Aleppo and the rural areas around Damascus. The Chairman of the Defence Committee is absolutely correct in his assessment of that. That does not answer the bigger question, which is what Governments such as those of the United Kingdom or the United States will choose to do with the Syrian regime in the future. This returns us to the kinds of challenges that we faced in dealing with, for example, the Shi’a community in southern Iraq under the brutality of Saddam Hussein. How on earth do we balance our humanitarian obligations towards people in horrifying conditions with our sense that we do not wish to operate in the territory of a man who, whatever the sequence of his military successes, remains an unbelievably brutal murderer who is clearly associated with the execution of unarmed prisoners and countless persons through the deployment of chemical weapons. That will remain the key issue for the House to consider over the next months and, indeed, years.
On the first issue, the Chairman of the Defence Committee is also absolutely right. One of the most bizarre, peculiar and ultimately self-defeating parts of Daesh’s campaign was its decision to try to hold territory and, in particular, to try to take on conventional forces. The entire idea of an insurgency or a terrorist organisation is supposed to be that it should drift around like mist or, to take Chairman Mao’s analogy, that it should work and feed off the consent of the local population. Daesh did neither of those things. It attempted to hold territory and, in Kobane, to take on 600 US airstrikes. It attempted to alienate the entire population that it was trying to depend on, through its brutal videos and its incredibly horrifying Islamic social codes. What is extraordinary is not that Daesh was ultimately defeated but that it remained so successful for so long and was able to hold this territory for such an extended period of time.
On Monday, I met the Iraqi ambassador, and it is clear that the Iraqi authorities are keen for the UK Government, EU countries, the US and Russia to take responsibility for Daesh fighters and their families who might—or might not—have been involved in terrorist activity. Will the UK Government take responsibility for those fighters?
The position of the UK Government remains that it is more appropriate to prosecute the vast majority of those people in the countries in which their crimes were committed. If those individuals were Daesh fighters, and if they were slaughtering Iraqi and Syrian civilians and committing crimes within that territory, it is perfectly acceptable for them to be prosecuted in that territory, just as it would be for a citizen of any country who committed a crime in somebody else’s country.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his thoughtful responses, but I would like to pick up on two brief things. He mentions unexploded munitions and mines in Syria, and I wonder if he could expand on that and tell us how much of that country is still dangerous to live in for the many people who have been forced to flee their homes. Also, possibly a longer piece of work is about rebuilding the peace and about how this House and Governments relate to countries post conflict. What does he think the role of parliamentarians across this House—across both Houses, in fact—should be in supporting parliamentarians and potential parliamentarians in not-quite-yet democracies in the middle east? What role does he think there might be for us in that peace-building?
First, the mines remain an unbelievably serious issue. They are ensuring that not just a lot of agricultural land but much of the urban centres of Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa are almost uninhabitable. This is not just a question of the ordnance buried in those buildings. The old city of Mosul is so profoundly damaged that it is almost impossible to understand what we can do to rebuild these places without ceilings falling in on people’s heads. We are talking about many billions of pounds-worth of damage. This brings us to the question of the role that parliamentarians can play, and actually there is one. There is a gloomy analysis of countries such as Iraq, which would have suggested 10 or 12 years ago that there was nothing much we could do, but it is striking that a new generation of leadership is now emerging. The recent visit of the President of Iraq, Barham Salih, shows the emergence of a new, more progressive type of politics in Iraq that wishes to engage with Members of Parliament. That does not mean that we in this House hold the panacea for what is happening in Iraq, in Myanmar or indeed anywhere else, but respectful relationships, partnerships, modelling ways of behaviour and exchanging thoughts with humility about the problems we have, even in this place, dealing with sectarian conflict in Britain or with some of the polarising and divisive effects of our recent referendum here may be useful in dealing with questions on the aftermath of the referendum in Kurdistan.
Order. I do apologise for having overlooked the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood). The problem is that he is sitting in the blind spot, so when the Secretary of State is standing at the Dispatch Box I cannot see the hon. Gentleman or anyone who is sitting in that seat—[Interruption.] No, this is no criticism of the stature of the Secretary of State. Far from it. I happen to be of considerably diminutive stature, and I cannot see over him. The hon. Gentleman sits in what might appear to be a prominent position if I were sitting somewhere else, but not when I am sitting in the Chair.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I quite understand that it must be my svelte figure that hides me from view.
Following large territorial losses in 2017 and 2018, Daesh declared a global battle of attrition in May this year. What steps is the international coalition taking to ensure that foreign terrorist fighters do not simply move their fighting elsewhere, beyond Syria and Iraq?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the problem. Isis affiliates are now emerging all the way from northern Nigeria to the Philippines, and they are feeding in every case on very similar problems: the lack of legitimacy of the local government; corruption; poor provision of public services; sectarian and tribal conflicts; economic problems, particularly unemployment among young men; fluid borders; and, in cases such as north-east Chad, even catastrophes of climate and the environment. Addressing the root causes that allow this type of insurgent group to flourish involves an enormous development effort, but we are currently about $2.3 trillion a year short of being able to provide the sort of support that could transform the economies all the way from northern Nigeria to the Philippines. What we can do is try to balance our investment with that of other partners in a modest and targeted way. We are now looking much more closely at the work we can do with the French and the United States on the border between Nigeria, Chad, Mali and Niger, but we may have to accept that we cannot control all of the world all of the time, which is why I believe that nimbleness, deep country knowledge, enormous flexibility and enormous energy are going to be required to deal with this over the next 30 to 40 years.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and thank him for his comprehensive update. The defeat of Daesh in Syria is good news, but there have been indications that Daesh is re-establishing in other countries, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya. The recent story in the media about stolen US missiles being in the hands of terrorists in Libya is particularly worrying. As he rightly said, contact and co-operation with other countries is now necessary, but will that be done in Libya, where it is uncertain who is in charge; in northern Nigeria, where Daesh is free to roam; or in Afghanistan, where Daesh is attempting to connect in an area in which it once had influence? It is important to prevent Daesh mark 2 from being established elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the problem, which is that coming up with a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy simultaneously in Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria is beyond us. At the height of the counter-insurgency surge in Afghanistan, there were not only over 100,000 troops on the ground, but over 100,000 international civilians and £100 billion a year of expenditure, largely from the US. Those days have now passed, so we are having to respond to such conflicts with a much lighter footprint.
The reality is that the areas where Islamic State has established itself in those three countries are almost entirely outside Government control. They are areas that are inaccessible not only to us, but to soldiers or police from the central capitals. Security must come first, but that security needs to be based on some kind of trust in the regime in the centre. That will be the real problem going forward.
In some ways, ironically, it may turn out to be an exception that Daesh tried to hold territory in Syria and Iraq, because it made them an easier target. Ultimately, their flaw was the attempt to try to hold Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Mosul and, in the end, huge courage from Kurdish-led Syrian forces and from the Iraqi army allowed them to retake those areas. However, when Daesh act as an insertion guerrilla group in remote areas of Afghanistan, Nigeria or Libya, that poses huge demands on Governments that are not actually able to provide intelligence, governance or public services in those areas. A different strategy is necessary, because we are not going to be able to prevent such things from emerging, and we will have to respond quickly with partner Governments when they do.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my trips to north-eastern Syria on the behalf of the Kurdish authorities. I want to ask about the designation of north-eastern Syria and Rojava as a zone under the Counter Terrorism Act 2019. I am informed that the Home Office wants to make it illegal for British citizens to enter the zone but, as someone who visited post-war Afghanistan, the Secretary of State will know the importance of allowing British people to visit such areas to help them rebuild. These people were our allies and helped us, as he described it, to defeat ISIS, and it would be totally self-defeating to make it illegal for British citizens to co-operate with them in the future. Will the Secretary of State hold urgent discussions with the Home Office to ensure that Rojava, north-eastern Syria or Kurdish-controlled Syria—whatever one wants to call it—is not in that designated list?
The reason why the Home Office has been considering introducing this legislation is that we are looking at ways to try to prevent people going out to such areas for terrorist activities. It is not primarily intended to prevent humanitarian assistance going out. One of the legal issues that the Home Office has faced is that, despite having clearly advised that British citizens should not be travelling to such areas in order to prevent them from joining Daesh, we did not have the legal framework in place to make that happen. The proposals that the Home Office has been considering have been designed to target foreign fighters and to exclude people who are going there for humanitarian reasons.
However, I have listened carefully to the concerns, which have also been expressed by a number of international aid agencies, NGOs and others about the possibility that people going there for good reasons could be caught up with people going there for bad reasons. I am sure the Home Office will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representations. Indeed, we at DFID have raised similar concerns ourselves.
The Secretary of State’s analysis of the situation was thorough and highlighted the fluid and unstable situation that continues to persist in the region. However, I cannot help but note the cognitive dissonance that seems to exist between his Department and the Home Office, particularly in relation to asylum applications. Some 250 of my constituents are liable to be evicted from their homes, many of whom are Syrians from the region. Will the Secretary of State undertake to write to his counterpart in the Home Office to emphasise the continuing and ongoing danger that the region presents and to stress that sufficient credence should be given to asylum applications, so that asylum seekers are not placed in situations where their lives are threatened?
The Home Office is trying to do a very difficult job, and it often does it very well. It is the responsibility of the Home Office to try to have a fair and transparent process for asylum seekers. When processing asylum seekers—even asylum seekers from difficult countries such as Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan—it is extremely important that we verify their stories and ensure that they have legitimate cause to seek asylum. I am sure that the Home Office has heard the hon. Gentleman’s point carefully and will be looking carefully at such cases. However, in my experience, the Home Office takes enormous care and thought, by using people who have deep knowledge of those areas and people who speak the local languages, to ensure that the support that the British Government provide for asylum seekers is genuinely targeted towards the people in most need.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, in referencing the conflict in Yemen, the Leader of the Opposition stated:
“UK weapons have been used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in which over 200,000 people have been killed”.—[Official Report, 26 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 653.]
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Saudi coalition and the action that it has taken in Yemen, the latest UN figure for casualties killed by military action is in the order of 10,000. There is academic research saying that the figure may be five times as high as that, but that relates to the numbers killed in the whole conflict by both sides. To say that the United Kingdom has been involved in killing 200,000 people is an absolute and total inaccuracy and not a proper reflection of the complexity of the conflict.
The Leader of the Opposition’s office has been approached by journalists about correcting the record, but they were told that he has no intention of doing so. They then came to me and asked me to try raise the issue. I have notified the Leader of the Opposition’s office and, by coincidence, the Leader of the Opposition himself in a meeting literally just before coming into the Chamber. Would you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that an inaccuracy of that scale involving the United Kingdom was something that would merit correcting on the record?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this point of order and, in particular, for confirming that he has correctly, and in accordance with procedure, informed the Leader of the Opposition of his intention to raise this matter on the Floor of the House. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the accuracy or otherwise of words spoken at the Dispatch Box, and more generally in the Chamber, by any right hon. or hon. Member is not a matter for the Chair. However, it is of course a matter of concern for the whole House that anything said in this Chamber should be accurate. The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to draw the attention of the entire House and, indeed, the Opposition Front Bench to the matter, and I am sure that his concerns will have been noted.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I suggest that Members read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” about the importance of the comma? The problem with the spoken word is that the comma is not always reflected in the written word. I would suggest that, in this situation, the Leader of the Opposition was referring to the deaths in the overall conflict, which some academics have put at almost 200,000. We should understand that in the wider context of a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have either been killed or are starving.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his elucidation, and I do not make light of this very serious matter. We are talking about the loss of a great many lives, and I am sure it will be appreciated that this is an extremely serious matter that has now been fully aired on the Floor of the House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advice on that excellent book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” I do not know how it will come out in Hansard, but there is a significant difference, as he says, between “eats shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots and leaves.” He makes a very good point, which I am sure the whole House will take on board.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 10 May, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise my grave concerns about her Department’s investigation and recording of claimant deaths and how those deaths might be associated with the DWP.
I raised concerns that, under the Secretary of State’s predecessors, coroners’ letters and peer reviews were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert who reviewed the work capability assessment in 2013. I also asked for information on deaths after claimants were found fit for work following a work capability assessment, and on deaths since 2015 after a personal independence payment award was reduced or refused.
I received a reply from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work today, nearly two months later. He said
“the Department does not hold any information”
on the 2010 to 2014 peer review due to
“the length of time since the reviews were carried out, factors such as document retention policies, organisational changes and staff turnover”.
We are talking about the circumstances of people’s deaths some five years ago. To tell me that these documents cannot be found smacks, at least, of incompetence and, at worst, of a cover-up.
I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how to ensure that the Government make sure that the Department for Work and Pensions, first, keeps proper records and reports back to the House on the outcome of an investigation into these missing documents and, secondly, heeds my call for an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the Government’s social security reforms.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice that she intended to raise such an important point of order. [Interruption.] I hope I can have some silence from the Government side of the House. The hon. Lady raises an extremely important matter and, again, one literally of life and death.
The hon. Lady knows this is not a matter on which I can give advice or any ruling from the Chair, but she has used the vehicle of a point of order to make sure that the Treasury Bench is aware of the issue, which I am sure will be drawn to the attention of the appropriate Minister. I would hope that any Minister with responsibility for these matters will wish to take steps to ensure that what she has asked for is properly fulfilled. If that does not occur, the proper advice I can give her is that she should seek the advice of the Table Office as to other ways in which she can bring this matter once again to the Floor of the House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My constituent Lizanne Zietsman is a wife, a businesswoman, an employer and a valued and respected community member on the Isle of Arran. She has been ordered by the Home Office to leave the UK by 12 July. I have taken up this most urgent matter with the immigration service and the Minister for Immigration. To further highlight this case, I have tabled an early-day motion and will present a petition to Parliament to show the strength of feeling on the matter.
Given the urgency of this case, Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise on what other avenues are open to me to do all I can to have this appalling decision reversed and to prevent Lizanne from having to leave her husband, her business and her community in nine days’ time?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. Once again, she is well aware that I cannot give her an answer on the substantive point she raises, as it is not a matter of responsibility for the Chair, but it is the responsibility of the Chair to make sure that the Floor of the House is properly used to draw any such serious matter to the attention of the appropriate Minister.
I am sure the hon. Lady, having taken the opportunity to raise this matter on the Floor of the House—[Interruption.] Forgive me, but my voice is not working very well today, and I would be really grateful if the Government Whips would not speak in a loud voice while I am trying to address the House. I appreciate that it is very unusual for the occupant of the Chair not to be properly heard, but perhaps just a little bit of courtesy would be appropriate.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) raises a very important point, and I am sure it will be conveyed to the appropriate Minister, and that the Minister will take appropriate action.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Home Office decision makers use the country policy and information note “Nigeria: Trafficking of women” when handling particular types of sensitive protection and human rights claims. This policy is used to form a base of information on the UK’s analysis of Nigeria. However, under the heading “Assessment” on page 1, I was horrified to read what I can only call offensive, belligerent and totally disrespectful guidance:
“trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”
This guidance has caused offence and dismay.
Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise me: first, on how the policy can be corrected; secondly, on how we can ensure Home Office decision makers use a more respectful policy in handling protection and human rights claims; and, finally, on how the House can receive an apology from the Home Secretary for overseeing a Department policy that has caused so much offence to those trafficked women?
The hon. Lady raises a matter that is, in the true sense of the word, shocking, if that is indeed the guidance, but it is not for the Chair to pronounce upon the veracity, or otherwise, of documents published by Government Departments.
As I said a few moments ago, it is the responsibility of the Chair to make sure that, when a Member wishes to draw a matter of such importance to the attention of a Minister, they should have the opportunity to do so. I hope the hon. Lady will benefit from having had the opportunity to raise her point of order this afternoon. I have every confidence that the appropriate Minister will pay attention to what she has said. Let us hope that steps will be taken to rectify the situation.
I apologise to the House for my inaudibility.
Plastic Pollution (No. 2)
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 set targets for the reduction of plastic pollution; to require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy and annual reports on plastic pollution reduction; to establish an advisory committee on plastic pollution; and for connected purposes.
You have 10 minutes to rest your voice, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Plastic pollution has attracted massive amounts of attention and coverage in recent years. For those of us fortunate enough to live in coastal and island communities, it is far from a novel problem. Walk along any of the magnificent, if occasionally breezy, beaches of Orkney and Shetland, and the evidence is there for everyone to see for themselves: plastic washing up along our coastlines, despoiling some of the most spectacular, and the last genuinely wild, environments to be found anywhere in Europe. In the northern isles, every spring, we have an impressive and well-drilled series of litter-picking operations—the “Bag the bruck” campaign and Da Voar Redd Up—but as much as we can pick up off the beaches, we know that when the tide comes in again the pollution will start again. We can pick up only what we can see and what we can see is only the tip of the iceberg—there are bigger concerns about what we cannot see. Plastic breaks down to become microplastics, and once they are in the ocean they are next to impossible to remove.
Much of the credit for the rise in interest in this issue can be given to the excellent work of the BBC’s “The Blue Planet” series and Sir David Attenborough. They have raised awareness and forced us to confront the impact of our throw-away culture. In particular, they told us how these microplastics have an impact on our food chain and they have challenged us to do better at protecting our valued marine life. May I also pay tribute to Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Institute, which have been staunch in their continued support for this campaign and given me invaluable support in the drafting of this Bill? Other organisations I have been privileged to work with include Surfers Against Sewage and City to Sea, among many others. But this now goes beyond the campaign groups; in our coastal and island communities, the challenge of plastic pollution is being taken up in every walk of life. From microplastics infecting the food chain to marine life swallowing plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, our throw-away culture has now become an existential threat to many of our indigenous industries, especially our fishing industry.
Therefore, it is perhaps no surprise that some of the leading voices calling for a reduction in plastic pollution in my constituency come from among the Shetland fishing industry. For years, these people have supported campaigns such as “Fishing for Litter”, and just this week the Shetland Fishermen’s Association has been highlighting the environmental damage caused by the practices of gillnetting and longlining. I would like to think that all right hon. and hon. Members are sufficiently acquainted with the different means of fishing that I would not need to explain what gillnetting is, but 18 years in this House makes me suspect that that may not be the case. So if the House will indulge me, I will just give a little explanation of what I am speaking about.
Gillnetting is a type of fine mesh twine, which works by being placed in the water and left there for prolonged periods. The fish swim into the holes in the mesh, which then tighten around them, trapping them. Gillnetting is brutally effective, but it results in vast nets being placed in the water and left there for a long time. These nets are sometimes several miles long and will be laid end to end. The practice is predominantly to be found among Spanish-owned and licensed vessels fishing within our waters, and it is pushing out many of the local boats, excluding them sometimes from several hundred miles of our territorial waters and doing so in a way that is drawing increasing attention. The aggression that is shown towards local fisherman by the Spanish boats that lay these gillnets is increasingly a problem and it will require to be addressed. More often than not it is the local Shetland boats, which then trawl the waters, that pick up the gillnets and longlines left behind by the Spanish trawlers and that are left having to bring them into port for safe disposal.
We are all acquainted with the phenomenon of finding one Department acting in a way that is contrary to the actions of another, but I must point out that the Department responsible for the fight against plastic pollution is the same Department responsible for fisheries management. It is remarkable that this situation has been allowed to continue in the way that it has and to come to a head in the way it now threatens to do. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), in her place this afternoon, but I hope she will take the message back to her Department that, from the point of view of sustainability as well as plastic pollution, this now requires urgent attention. We must have cross-government, joined-up thinking to ensure that from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regulating fishing practices, through to the Department for Education procuring sanitary products for school, some of which, regrettably, involve single-use plastic, the Government are testing every proposal and policy to ensure that it is plastic pollution-proof. On cross-Government work, colleagues across the House will, no doubt, be aware that about 90% of the world’s plastic pollution comes from 10 rivers in Africa and Asia. So while we in the UK must ensure that we do our fair share to end plastic pollution, the Department for International Development should be giving that leadership around the world, working with our partners and friends to cut plastic waste around the globe.
Before we can lead, however, we must get our own house in order. In the northern isles, as is often the case, we look to our nearest neighbours in Norway to see how that can be done. Norway has one of the best stories to tell on this. It was always fairly low in the amount of plastic waste it disposed of, but it has now reached a recycling rate on plastic bottles of about 97%, with 92% going on to be plastic bottles once more and 1% ending up as waste. Norway’s example shows what we can achieve, and it sets an example to the rest of the world. We, too, must have the ambition to eliminate plastic waste for good, which is why this Bill and the campaigns that inform it are so important.
The Government have already outlined policies for reducing plastic pollution and I welcome the high-level consideration that there has been on this issue. We can disagree and debate whether those policies are enough. I have concerns that the Government are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough, but it is good that the debate is about how much we should do, rather than whether we should begin to do it. So I do give some credit to the Environment Secretary for his engagement and recognition of this as an issue.
Behaviour changes are going to be key in winning the war against plastic pollution. Interestingly, the Conservative leadership candidates are today debating the efficacy of “sin taxes”, but this is an area where I hope the sin tax will not come under any challenge, because it is clear from what we have seen, for example, with the tax on plastic bags, that such a sin tax is effective and urgent, and we need to see more of this. Plastic is merely one part of our unhealthy approach to litter and waste, and we must build a more circular economy, where everything, or as close to everything as possible, is recycled or reused. This is a process and it is never going to be an event, and never has that been more clear than in this case.
I am realistic about the prospects of success for my Bill, which starts as a ten-minute rule motion today, but it deals with an issue that is not going to go away. That is why there is enthusiasm beyond the walls of this House today for meaningful change. The Government have to listen to people across the length and breadth of this country to deliver meaningful change in order to protect our natural environment for generations to come. This Bill would be a start to that process. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Alistair Carmichael, Tim Farron, Ben Lake, Scott Mann, Kerry McCarthy and Alex Sobel present the Bill.
Mr Alistair Carmichael accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 415).
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the time it took the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to pour himself a glass of water, the House authorised the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill, which, among other things, includes
“authorisation for the use of resources for the year ending with 31 March 2020”
“increased by £348,553,768,000.”
It goes on to authorise all the rest of the expenditure of similarly great magnitudes that the Government expect to use over the next couple of years, without any possibility of debate or amendment, which is not what Members from the Scottish National party were led to believe when the English votes for English laws process was introduced. We were told then that the estimates process would be how we would scrutinise the Barnett consequentials of estimates.
The Bill represents the supply element of the confidence and supply arrangement that one of the other parties in the House has with the Government—it is good to see that at least a couple of them are here, which is more than there were the last time the supply estimates went through the House. Will you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to whether any other mechanisms are available to groups of Members to secure £1.5 billion of funding for their constituencies without any of them really having to show up very often?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and understand the point that he has made. I will separate his party political points, which of course are not a matter for the Chair, from his procedural points, which are partially a matter for the Chair.
I advise the hon. Gentleman that although he and his colleagues might not have had the opportunity to examine every line of proposed expenditure, we had two days of debate—yesterday and the day before—on some aspects of the matters in the Bill that the House has just passed. The hon. Gentleman makes his point well, and I fully understand his criticism of the procedure. It is not for me to agree or disagree with him, but I am quite sure that the Procedure Committee and others will take seriously the points that he has made.
I beg to move,
That the draft Capital Allowances (Structures and Buildings Allowances) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 17 June, be approved.
The instrument before the House gives effect to the amendments to several tax Acts, principal among them the Capital Allowances Act 2001. The Government are determined to ensure that the UK tax system supports business investment and jobs. At 19%, the UK has already reduced its corporation tax rate to the lowest in the G20, and it is scheduled to fall still further to 17% in 2020. The Government recognise the importance of providing tax reliefs for genuine business costs, which is why we are taking steps to increase the overall competitiveness of the capital allowances regime.
At the autumn Budget, we announced an increase in the annual investment allowance for plant and machinery to £1 million per annum for two years, meaning that businesses will be able to deduct five times more qualifying plant and machinery expenditure in the year in which they make the investment. However, the UK is currently the only G7 economy that offers no capital allowances on investments in structures and buildings. That means there are no allowances on critical investments in bridges, roads or tunnels. It also means no allowances on investments in shops, offices or factories.
In the 2018 Budget, the Government set out to rectify the gap in the capital allowances regime by providing relief to businesses on qualifying expenditure on new non-residential structures and buildings. The Finance Act 2019 gave power to that effect, and I am now pleased to introduce the draft statutory instrument necessary to enact the change. It was important to follow the legislative process to provide taxpayers with certainty that the allowance will come into force as soon as possible, to minimise the risk of deferred investment and to allow the Government to consult extensively on this important measure, as we have done.
At the Budget, the Government published a detailed technical note for consultation that outlined the key features of the new allowance. Businesses that invest in new builds or renovations on or after 29 October 2018 will be able to claim tax relief at 2% a year on eligible costs, over a 50-year period. Following the first round of consultation, officials met scores of different companies, representative bodies and individuals from throughout the country. At the spring statement 2019, the Government published detailed draft legislation and invited further comments from stakeholders.
I am pleased to report that the vast majority of stakeholders welcomed the structures and buildings allowance. I extend my thanks to the many individuals and organisations that participated in both rounds of consultation, either in person or through written representations. Stakeholder responses have been a considerable help in the shaping of the new allowance, leading to amendments, including those relating to short-term leaseholds, eligible pre-trading costs and periods of disuse.
As I have said, the structures and buildings allowance has been designed to enable businesses to claim tax relief on the costs of new non-residential structures and buildings. This means that qualifying expenditure on new builds or renovations for which all the contracts for the physical construction works were entered into on or after 29 October 2018 will be eligible for relief. Relief will be available for any business that fulfils two conditions: first, that it owns a qualifying asset, either through direct building or by acquiring one from a developer; and secondly, that it uses the building for a qualifying activity for which the business is chargeable for UK tax.
Qualifying persons will be able to claim tax relief at 2% a year on eligible construction costs, including renovations. The allowance will apply across all sectors and sizes of UK trade, benefiting business owners, workers and the wider economy. The relief will be limited to the costs of the physical construction of the structure or building, and will not apply to the costs of acquiring the underlying land, rights over land, or planning permissions.
In summary, the regulations will enact important improvements to our capital allowances regime, in line with the power this House approved in the Finance Act 2019. Since 29 October 2018, business investments in new, and renovations of old, structures and buildings have been accompanied by an expectation of this allowance of 2% relief per annum against income or corporation tax bills. It is now important for the House to honour the commitment made in Finance Act 2019 by enacting the regulations, thereby bringing them into force in line with their commencement provisions. I therefore commend the regulations to the House.
The Minister said that he got support from businesses for tax relief. Well, that is not a surprise: when people are offered tax reliefs, they will accept them because it is cash in their pocket.
In a document published on 5 March last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that our current tax system
“does not consistently deduct the cost of investment meaning that some investments are discouraged, some are incentivised and some are unaffected by the tax system.”
It went on to say that there should be
“a clear policy justification”,
which should be focused, and that we should ensure
“that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
The document also said:
“Too many reliefs have weak or poorly articulated policy aims”,
“digging into the details and evaluating how each relief stacks up against a clearly stated tax design”
is important. It continued:
“The bar for introducing any new relief should be high.”
On the very same night, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies had a debate about business tax reliefs, which asked whether they were
“corporate welfare or essential elements of the tax system”.
The question is, do we think they are an essential element of the tax system? In the debate on the Finance Bill, we raised these matters, but we were not able in any way to amend the law, which is regrettable. However, we did raise, in a sense, the whole question of tax reliefs, and it is a desperate shame to find ourselves here again debating the introduction of what amounts to another corporate tax relief, when so little has been done to sort out the scope of the scores of tax reliefs already in operation.
At the last count, the Government were responsible for managing 115 principal tax reliefs totalling £430 billion, as well as 80 minor tax reliefs totalling an estimated £690 million. However, alongside those, there are up to 235 reliefs in operation for which we have no cost data at all. I repeat: we are forgoing revenue on 235 tax reliefs, but Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not count the cost. I find that quite remarkable. I cannot think of a single other policy area where the Treasury would be uninterested in Government expenditure.
Ministers tell us that the cost of these reliefs is negligible so there is no point making efforts to manage them more effectively. I do not believe that that holds water, especially when we consider that the Government regularly deprive citizens of small but essential sums of social security for the crime of being perhaps five minutes late to the jobcentre. Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Government can give away millions to large companies without counting the cost, while stripping the poorest in our society of the pounds and pence they need to survive. I ask that especially in the light of an interesting article by the Minister in The Sunday Times some weeks ago about our being one nation. It would be interesting to hear him comment on that. I agree with him that we have to bring the nation back toget