House of Commons
Wednesday 17 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—
The distinction traditionally made between development, environment and climate is a false distinction. Unless we tackle climate change, there will be 100 million more people living in poverty in the next 15 years. I returned this morning from New York, where I have been discussing with the Secretary-General of the United Nations our commitment to greening our development spending to ensure that everything that we spend is Paris-compliant, to double the amount the Department for International Development will spend on environment and climate, and to double the effort we are putting into this subject.
I thank the International Development Secretary for his answer and appreciate his focus on the importance of tackling climate change, but does he accept that it needs to be in addition to traditional development support? To that end, will he examine the Scottish Government’s climate justice fund, which seeks to support those who have done the least to cause climate change but who are to be hit first and hardest by its effects?
It is clearly true that many of the people who are suffering most are from some of the poorest countries in the world that emit very little carbon, which is why a great deal of our emphasis is on the question of resilience. I have just returned from Kenya, for example, where we are working with pastoralists whose grassland is being eliminated and with people in Lamu who are losing mangrove swamps. Such countries are not emitting carbon but are suffering from its effects.
The question of water security is absolutely central. It poses the danger of conflict, for example in the Indus valley and along the headwaters of the rivers that flow into Egypt on the Nile. It is also an area where technology can help, however. We have become much better at preventing water waste. In many developing countries, 50% of the water is wasted; technology is part of the answer to this problem.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that some of the poorest countries in the world will be the most affected by climate change. I hope to visit Bangladesh in September as part of a delegation; what will his Department be doing to help countries such as Bangladesh mitigate the effects of severe weather, including the monsoon season?
The Department for International Development has partnered the Government of Bangladesh for many years, particularly because of the very severe impacts of flooding. We should pay tribute to the improvements in Bangladesh. In floods in the 1970s, more than 100,000 people could be killed in a single event; a similar event today would kill only a few hundreds. That is a huge tribute to Bangladesh’s improvement in resilience and also in emergency management.
I have worked with flood victims in refugee camps around the world; the despair is palpable and tragic, and it is simply inhumane that these same people will be hit the hardest by further extreme weather conditions. This House declared a climate change emergency; will the Government today outline how they will financially support the world’s most vulnerable and plan for dealing with future tragedies?
We will be doubling the overseas development fund, which will be spent particularly on climate resilience, and Britain will be co-hosting with Egypt the UN summit on climate resilience in September. That was the focus of my discussions with the UN Secretary-General yesterday, and indeed at the Abu Dhabi summit two weeks ago.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are truly to tackle climate change, we need to ensure that the money that we give—the vital money that we give—goes to the right place where it matters? Will he look at innovations such as digital currencies, especially blockchain, which enables the money to be tracked to make sure that it does not go into a dictator’s slush fund or to train Spice Girls in Nigeria?
Blockchain technology has very interesting potential. I recently saw in World Food Programme distribution in camps in Jordan how blockchain is dropping the price by tens of millions of dollars a year. However, there are still some risks attached to such technology.
The right hon. Gentleman is perhaps the most diligent and committed Secretary of State for International Development that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), who is still in New York with the Select Committee, have had the opportunity to question at the Dispatch Box. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to solidify and embed the new priority of climate change in his Department? Will he commission a Green Paper or a White Paper to keep the Department moving in that direction, irrespective of what happens under a new Prime Minister in the coming weeks?
There are three things that we hope will embed the priority. First, this is a whole of Government approach. The Prime Minister announced at Osaka that we would be the first major international development agency to be fully Paris-compliant. Secondly, we have now announced from this Dispatch Box and inserted into our planning that we will double our spend on climate and the environment. The third thing is to ensure that we have the experts on the ground. In Kenya, for example, the focus is on environmental experts, and in Ethiopia it is on forestry experts. It will be funding, Government strategy and staffing that will make the difference.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that agricultural practice and land use are key to mitigating the effects of climate change? Will he say something about the training programmes that DFID pays for and that are doing such good work in helping people to understand the way forward?
DFID is doing an increasing amount of work on that issue. For example, its agricultural extension work is helping farmers to work out how to produce crops without depleting the soil or using excessive water. Perhaps the biggest challenge in agriculture is the relationship between pastoralists, particularly people herding cattle and oxen, and sedentary communities right the way across Africa, where climate change and agricultural practices are leading to conflict from Nigeria to South Sudan.
The UK is the largest contributor to the World Bank’s climate investment funds, yet civil society groups say that, compared with UN funds, those funds are undemocratic, opaque and dominated by donor countries. The Secretary of State has committed to doubling DFID’s climate spending, but does he think that the World Bank’s climate investment funds are fit for purpose?
The shadow Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that there have been significant issues around some of the climate funds. We feel that a lot of progress is being made, and the most important thing is to find real investable projects on the ground. A lot of that relates to issues of governance.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but the truth is that the World Bank knows that it was supposed to phase out its climate investment funds once the United Nations green climate fund was up and running. Labour is clear: we believe in climate justice and we are committed to withdrawing the UK’s support for the World Bank’s climate investment funds and to redirecting climate finance to the UN green climate fund, in which developing countries get a real say. Will the Government now do the same?
The UK Government are working closely with the Government of Japan to ensure that next year’s summit secures meaningful and transformational commitments from Governments. We have invested £2.6 billion in this area since the last summit, and we are considering what offer the UK Government will make to next year’s summit.
Last year, I travelled with Results UK to Zambia, where 40% of under-fives are stunted. That has an astonishing lifelong impact on their social and economic development. Will the Minister go into a little more detail about next year’s summit and about how we will show our commitment to really tackling deficiencies in nutrition on a worldwide scale?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight this important issue. I am pleased to be able to tell him that, since his visit, the work we have been doing in Zambia specifically, which has reached more than 1 million people, has reduced the level of stunting to 35%, but clearly that still leaves a lot more to be done.
We will meet the malnutrition targets only through a strong partnership with the aid community—the voluntary community. Will the Minister update us on what progress she has made on reforms within that community, in the light of the exposés of the past 18 months?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the safeguarding issues. He will be aware of the leadership that the UK has shown in this area and the rigorous way in which we have scrutinised all our suppliers. With regard to the most recent story in the media, we have confirmed that no DFID funding was involved.
The new UN food security report says that global hunger has risen for the third year running, but when the UK should be setting an example by reporting on our own SDG process, the Government’s voluntary national review report to the UN was found by the International Development Committee yesterday to be “gravely flawed”—food banks ignored, inadequate stakeholder engagement, cherry-picked data. The Government were allowed to mark their own homework, but they could not even do that properly. What are Ministers doing to ensure that their colleagues in other Departments start taking the SDGs seriously?
The UK was very proud to present its voluntary national review at the UN yesterday—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is a strong document and was warmly received. It clearly outlines where we have made enormous amounts of progress and where there is more progress to be made, including further cross-governmental working.
Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the population requiring humanitarian assistance, which is not helped by the fact that the operating environment for humanitarian organisations is exceptionally difficult. We call on both parties to the conflict to comply with UN Security Council resolution 2451 by facilitating safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access.
Last month’s ruling by the Court of Appeal that the Government’s continued licensing of the exporting of military equipment to Saudi Arabia is unlawful offers real hope to the people of Yemen—despite the Government’s hypocrisy in calling for peace while selling arms to the Saudis to bomb and to kill, hampering the work of aid agencies on the ground. What representations will the Secretary of State make in Cabinet finally to end that shameful conduct?
The hon. Gentleman will know that our checks and balances on the export of arms are among the world’s finest—he must know that. He also knows that we apply the EU consolidated criteria rigorously. He will also, I hope, have noted the Divisional Court’s view that our process was “rigorous, robust, multi-layered” and that those advising Ministers were “keenly alive” to the possible violation of international humanitarian law. He will also know that the UK Government intend to appeal against the judgment.
Women and children have been disproportionately affected by the conflict, so what is the Minister doing to involve women in the process? Further, what work is he doing with organisations such as the Mothers of Abductees Association, which points out that 1,496 people in Yemen have been forcibly disappeared, which causes people huge concern about the whereabouts of their relatives?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to be concerned about those who have disappeared. Along with multilateral organisations, the United Kingdom is at the forefront of mechanisms geared towards ensuring that we know where crimes are potentially being committed and, in the fullness of time, that we are able to follow up on that. I hope that she will approve of the level of support that this country is giving as the penholder and as a major financial contributor to the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
My hon. Friend will probably be aware that we have had discussions on that with the World Food Programme, which is a major operator in the situation in Yemen. We support the intent of the World Food Programme, in particular its director David Beasley, to ensure that aid gets to where it is supposed to go, rather than into the pockets of Houthis and others. That process is in its early stages, but it looks like it is being successful and will restore the full effect of the World Food Programme to Sana’a and other areas as soon as possible.
Public Services: Developing Countries
The UK is committed to supporting countries to achieve the global goals, including through the development of strong public services. We are working with low-income countries to raise and manage public revenues and to invest in education and health systems to provide essential public services for all.
I am grateful for that answer. Building strong public services is crucial to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, but countries in the global south are losing out on billions of pounds of revenue each year due to tax avoidance—money that could be spent on building up those services, which are needed by their citizens. What practical steps is the Minister taking to ensure that countries in the global south are supported to ensure that multinational corporations and others who should be paying taxes actually do so?
I am very pleased to say that we have taken probably the most powerful practical step of all by setting up a specialist tax department—the hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the issue—within the Department for International Development. We are spending £47 million to help low-income countries increase their tax revenues, and every £1 we put in has raised revenues by £100.
Shockingly, 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year in developing regions. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death in this age group globally. Therefore, what urgent steps is the Minister taking to ensure that developing countries have better reproductive healthcare services for girls and young women to improve their rights, chances and opportunities internationally?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this important issue, and we continue to work in countries where we can help with some of the sexual and reproductive health interventions he describes. In addition, he will be aware that the Girls’ Education Challenge is helping 1.5 million adolescent girls, who have often had children at a very young age, to stay in education and get the education that will help to improve their lifetime earnings.
Children’s health is also a key issue, and I thank the Department for International Development for its work to fight polio across the world. Will the Minister rise to the challenge set by members of the Chelmsford rotary club, and by rotary clubs across the UK, and confirm that this Government remain committed to ending polio forever?
I always welcome the opportunity to thank rotary clubs not only here in the UK but around the world for their fundraising. We are nearly there. We have nearly eradicated polio from this planet, and we should thank every Rotarian for their contribution.
Good public services need an effective civil service to supervise them. What discussions has the Minister had with the Cabinet Office and my noble Friend Lord Maude about the provision of an effective civil service in developing countries?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK has long-standing partnerships with a range of developing countries. Indeed, it forms part of our work when we award Chevening scholarships, for example, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; scholars have to commit to going back and helping to deliver services in their country.
Does the Minister accept that one of the best ways to support public services, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is to support the non-governmental organisations that provide clean drinking water in many of the townships across that part of Africa?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman got to ask his question because, of course, clean drinking water is crucial. We take it so much for granted, and I am pleased that, working with NGOs, DFID has supported over 51 million poor people in Africa and Asia to have access to drinking water supplies or toilets for the first time.
Public services in all countries benefit from the quality of governance and, above all, from democracy, which is why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is keen for a democracy fund to be established. Following the very useful meeting with the Minister, does she agree it is important that it is taken forward in time for the autumn spending review?
The central challenge in international development going forward will be the quality, expertise and number of our permanent staff on the ground. As international development becomes more complex, with conflict and climate, as we have to work more closely with other Departments and, above all, in a world in which developing countries are looking not for money, but for expertise, over the next 15 years we will have to increase the expertise, the quality and, above all, the number of civil servants, moving away from short-term consultants to having British experts on the ground.
I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware that Birmingham this week joined Cardiff, Sheffield and Tower Hamlets in calling for the recognition of Somaliland. Does he agree that diaspora communities here in the UK play a crucial role, not only in Somaliland, but in many other contexts, in providing not only direct assistance, but the type of trading, business and expert links that can help development in so many countries?
We are immensely fortunate in the UK with our diaspora communities because they provide both powerful advocacy, for example, with Somaliland on female genital mutilation, and expertise—linguistic, deep country expertise—to ensure that our programmes on the ground are of the requisite quality.
What needs to be heard is not my cerebral power, but the issue of Ebola in the Congo. The House needs to be serious about that. There is an Ebola outbreak now in the Congo, which has already crossed the border into Uganda. On Sunday, we had an outbreak in Goma, a city of 2 million people. If we do not get this under control, this Ebola outbreak, which is already the second biggest in history, will cause devastating problems for the region. We must invest much more in the World Health Organisation, in developing the public health services in the neighbouring countries. Above all, we must step up to the challenge and be serious as a nation about this deadly disease.
The provision of water and sanitation is central. It is vital for health. It is also vital in schools, for ensuring that girls remain in school, and it is vital for tackling any kind of water-borne disease. So good investment in water, which DFID prioritises, needs to be one of the three fundamental pillars of development, along with education and health.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight this, and I am pleased to say that the conflict, stability and security fund has been used to help the Turks and Caicos repair its radar, so that it is able to detect boats that may be carrying people trying to access the islands. He may be aware that early in 2018 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Mounts Bay was also deployed in order to provide a deterrent to those who wish to make that perilous crossing. We will consider other ways of using the CSSF in this region in the future.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the issue of climate is now driving conflict. In the Lake Chad basin there simply is not enough ground for people to feed their oxen or plant crops. We need to invest in climate-resilience projects, which means looking not only at the crops but at the reasons why there are now conflicts, from the Chad Basin and Nigeria right the way across east Africa, between people with oxen and people who are planting. In particular, Sahel is central to DFID’s new initiative. We are opening embassies in Mauritania, Niger and Chad, and much more of our investment is now going to go into the Sahel region.
I am pleased to add my voice of welcome for the report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight some of the important points made in the report. She will be aware that, in addition to freedom of religion and belief, the UK is, as we heard from the Secretary of State, helping communities with their adaptation to some of the other drivers of conflict highlighted in the excellent report.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure Members will want to congratulate all those who took part in what was a great weekend of sport. In particular, we congratulate Lewis Hamilton on his record sixth win in the British grand prix. On Monday, I was able to welcome England’s cricket team to Downing Street, following their brilliant performance in winning the cricket world cup. As I said to them, they are a team that reflects the very best of modern Britain and a team that plays like no other in the world.
I am sure the House will want to join me in wishing all the best to the home nations taking part in the netball world cup in Liverpool.
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 join the Prime Minister in offering our congratulations, particularly to the England team that won the cricket world cup. We were proud to host some of the games at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. I also extend our best wishes to the netball team.
Notts County, the world’s oldest professional football club, is facing the very real threat of extinction. Under chairman Alan Hardy, the club has reached a financial crisis and could be liquidated before the start of the coming season. Players and staff have not been paid in weeks, and the club is set to make its fourth appearance in the High Court later this month to face a winding-up petition. Will the Prime Minister and the whole House join me in calling on the Football Association, the Football League and the National League to investigate the current situation and help to secure the future of this truly historic club?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Football clubs up and down the country are obviously of great importance to their local communities. Overall, the financial state of football clubs is better now than at any time, but the Government are certainly not complacent. The hon. Lady referred to various football authorities; we will continue to hold the football authorities to account for ensuring that there is transparency around the ownership of clubs, that sufficient inquiries into the suitability of owners are made, and that financially clubs continue to live within their means. I am sure the whole House will join the hon. Lady in hoping that, as the world’s oldest professional football club, Notts County resolves its situation soon.
I recognise the way in which my hon. Friend has championed a number of cases—he has referenced one of them—over the years in this House. Indeed, I had a number of meetings with him when I was Home Secretary in relation to that case. It is important that our police are able to operate to the highest professional standards. They have operational independence as to who they investigate and how they conduct those investigations, but I am sure the whole House would want to say that we expect our police to conduct those investigations properly and fairly, and to ensure that, when a crime is committed, they are investigating that crime.
I agree with the Prime Minister’s congratulations to Lewis Hamilton on winning on Sunday and to the fantastic cricket team, which ended up winning the world cup. I also thank New Zealand—what a brilliant final it was, and what a great advertisement for the wonderful game of cricket.
“Time is running out” on climate change—that is what the Environment Secretary said yesterday. Why did the all-party Environmental Audit Committee accuse the Government of “coasting” on climate change?
The Government have a fine record on climate change, including our recent legislation on net zero emissions, but there is an issue that needs to be addressed in this House. Before the right hon. Gentleman stands up and parades himself as the champion of climate change, the champion of the people or the defender of equality and fairness, he needs to apologise for his failure to deal with racism in the Labour party.
Just today, 60 distinguished members of the Labour party have written in the newspapers:
“The Labour party welcomes everyone*…(*except, it seems, Jews)…This is your legacy Mr Corbyn…You still haven’t opened your eyes…You still haven’t told the whole truth…You still haven’t accepted your responsibility…You have failed…the test of leadership.”
This party was the first to introduce anti-racist legislation into law in Britain. This party totally opposes racism in any form whatsoever. Antisemitism has no place in our society, no place in any of our parties and no place in any of our dialogues. Neither does any other form of racism.
Some 60% of Tory party members think Islam is a threat to western civilisation. The Prime Minister has said that she will act on Islamophobia within her own party. I hope she does. I look forward to seeing that being dealt with, as we will deal with any racism that occurs within our own party as well.
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change published its annual report, which described the Government’s efforts on climate change not a bit like what the Prime Minister just said; it described them as being run like “Dad’s Army”. The Government’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 57% by 2030. Can the Prime Minister tell us how much progress has been made on that?
On the climate change issue, the chairman of that committee said:
“The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition.”
The right hon. Gentleman, I note, did not apologise in response to my first questions. We deal with Islamophobia in the Conservative party. Any allegations of Islamophobia are dealt with, unlike his way in the Labour party where he is failing to deal with antisemitism. He can stand up and say all he likes about the Labour party introducing anti-racism legislation. Just last week, Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the following:
“Labour today presents like a textbook case of institutional racism.”
This party opposes racism in any form whatsoever in our society. And coming from a Prime Minister who encouraged the hostile environment, sent “go home” vans around London, and deported British citizens, which she has now had to compensate them for, I think that she might look to her own party and her own Government’s record as well.
The issue of climate change is obviously crucial, and we support the zero emissions target. The latest figures, however, released in April show that the Government are going to miss that target by 10%—the gap is widening. At the current rate, they will not meet their 2050 target until 2099, and, at that point, it will be too late for our planet and our children. Clean energy investment has fallen three years in a row. Why does the Prime Minister think that that is the case?
Still no apology, I note, from the right hon. Gentleman.
We have outperformed in our first and second carbon budgets, and we are on track to meet the third. We have taken the historic step of legislating for net zero emissions by 2050. We have yet to see all the policies and proposals in our clean growth strategy coming into play and having an effect on our target. This is a party that is acting on climate change; this is a party that is delivering for the people of this country; this is a party that is dealing with the issues that matter to people day to day. The right hon. Gentleman needs to start dealing with the issues that matter to the members of his Labour party, as shown in the newspapers this morning.
It was a Labour Government who introduced the Climate Change Act 2008. It is the Labour party that is committed to dealing with the issues of climate change. Let me give the Prime Minister a few suggestions on why renewable investment is falling: her Government scrapped the feed-in tariff; they failed to invest in the Swansea tidal lagoon; and they slashed investment in onshore wind. If we are serious about tackling this climate emergency, we need to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem. Labour is committed to measuring total UK emissions—not just what we make here, but what we buy from abroad also—so that we have an accurate figure of what the emissions really are by consumption in this country. Will the Prime Minister match that commitment?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we measure our targets according to the international definitions of those targets, and that is exactly the right thing for us to do. He talks about renewables. Let us just look at the record on renewables: last year, renewables generated a record amount of electricity in this country—33%; and over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy. He talks about what the Labour Government did, but 99% of solar power deployed in the UK has been deployed under Conservative Governments.
I think that we are actually hiding the scale of the problem by passing the buck to other countries as well. If all emissions are counted, the figures would actually be 69% higher in this country.
Every year, air pollution kills 40,000 in this country. In 2017, the Conservative manifesto promised to take action against poor air quality in urban areas. What actions have been taken?
Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010 under the Conservatives in government. Our clean air strategy is the most ambitious air quality strategy in a generation, described by the World Health Organisation as
“an example for the rest of the world to follow.”
Those are wonderful words, they truly are. The only problem is, air pollution levels breach legal limits in 37 of 43 areas of this country. Two thirds of our children are growing up in an area where pollution breaches legal limits. This crisis is literally suffocating our children and damaging their health. Once again, this Government are dodging their responsibility while Labour leads the way. For example, the Mayor of London is leading the way on better air quality in the capital city.
The Tories promised the greenest Government ever. They have failed on carbon emissions. They have failed on air pollution. They have failed on solar. The Prime Minister says that she wants action, but she supports fracking and has effectively banned onshore wind. The climate emergency simply cannot be left to the market. We all need to take responsibility to secure our common future. Labour led the call to declare a climate emergency and has pledged a green industrial revolution with new jobs. When will this Conservative Government face up to the situation, get a grip on this crisis and deal with it?
We have already seen over 400,000 new jobs in the area of renewables and clean growth, and we expect to see up to 2 million more. I am not going to take any lectures from the Labour party on this issue, when the last Labour Government ignored advice that diesel fumes would damage our environment and incentivised diesel cars through the tax system.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about dodging responsibility. The person who has been dodging his responsibility during this PMQs is the right hon. Gentleman. The real disgrace is his handling of racism in the Labour part. Activists protesting, MPs leaving and staff resigning—what would his great heroes Attlee, Bevan and Benn think? Look what he has done to their party. We will never let him do it to our country.
I know my right hon. and learned Friend has also been working on this issue for some time, and I thank him for highlighting the work that has been done. There is no place for animal cruelty in this country. When the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, to which he alludes, is passed, those who mistreat or abuse animals, or are involved in animal fighting, will rightly face one of the toughest penalties available anywhere in the world. That will cement our place as a world leader on animal welfare. The new maximum penalty will soon also apply to those who attack our brave service animals such as Finn the police dog, through Finn’s law. I pay tribute to supporters, and to organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the RSPCA, for championing these changes. I wish the sentencing Bill a speedy passage through this House and the other place.
This week the Prime Minister finally did the right thing. When Donald Trump told women that they should “go home”, she called it out as unacceptable. Let me be clear that Donald Trump’s actions are textbook racism; they are repugnant and diplomatic politeness should never stop us saying so. Will the Prime Minister now, on reflection, also take the opportunity to call out and condemn the racism of the “Go Home” vans that she created in the coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats?
I said at the time that that was too blunt an instrument. There is an important issue, which is that the public expect us to have a fair immigration system that deals with those who are here illegally. That is what we need to do. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the comments made by President Trump. As he alluded to, I have strongly condemned those comments.
When the Prime Minister implemented the hostile environment policy, her party stayed silent. When she delivered the racist “Go Home” vans, the Tories remained silent. When asylum seekers are deported to places where their lives are at risk, the Tories stay silent, and when faced with the racist columns written by the former Foreign Secretary, they stay silent. Is the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) not correct when he warns that the Tories are
“appealing to the type of nationalism that has seen UKIP grow”?
While the Tory party shares more with the extremes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, is it any wonder that Scotland looks on in horror?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising what is obviously a very important issue for him and his constituents. I recognise that there are concerns about the Future Fit programme and services in Shropshire. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has referred the programme to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, and the Department of Health and Social Care will study that advice carefully before making a decision. We have the simple view that clinicians should take these decisions, because it is clinicians who know best the services that should be available for his constituents and others.
It has been remarked upon that my right hon. Friend is one of only three Prime Ministers upon whose watch a world cup has been brought home. She and her husband were fortunate enough to be present to watch that wonderful team effort. In the final week of her premiership, will she allow herself the luxury of considering that history is likely to treat her captaincy rather more kindly than it will treat those who have campaigned against her?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments and for the support he has shown me and the Government in our work. I was very pleased to be there for the whole world cup final on Sunday. It was nerve-racking and nail-biting, but our team brought it home, and many congratulations once again to them.
We had a successful £2 million programme in the summer of 2018, and this year we are more than quadrupling this funding. About 50,000 disadvantaged children in 11 local authority areas will be offered free meals and activities over the summer holidays. That is going to be funded by £9 million from the Department for Education. We had a good programme last year, and we are expanding that programme this year because we want to help children, wherever they are, receive the right support in school and out.
In the week when we celebrate the anniversary of man first walking on the moon, may I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the amazing space cluster that exists at Harwell in my constituency, with amazing companies such as Open Cosmos and Oxford Space Systems? In the last week of her premiership, could she have a conversation with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? If we can accelerate the decommissioning of the land at Harwell, we can really accelerate the success of this cluster? I will personally invite her back to inaugurate Theresa May Way, when this is done.
I was going to say, Mr Speaker, such temptation has been dangled before me, and I thank my right hon. Friend for it.
First, we are very pleased with the cluster in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and the important role that that plays in our economy, in our research and our science development. The Business Secretary is in the Chamber and has heard the points my right hon. Friend has made about accelerating this process, and I am sure that the Business Department will look carefully at his request.
The hon. Lady talks about the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is there: we are operating, we are putting in development and we are putting in funding to the northern powerhouse, including record levels of funding for transport across the north of England. That is the commitment this Government have made. We are not just using words; we are actually putting the money in. We are seeing a difference, and we are making a difference.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Ian Jukes and our local community in Redditch for raising nearly £500,000 for the Rory the Robot appeal to fund the prostate surgery robot in Worcestershire? However, despite all the hard work by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the specialist commissioners have not approved the business case yet. Will she use her legacy, in her last week, to help us sort this problem out?
I thank my hon. Friend. I am very happy to congratulate Ian Jukes and all those who have been responsible for raising the money for—as I understand it—Rory the Robot. I am sitting two steps away from the International Development Secretary, but I gather the reference my hon. Friend has made is to medical equipment. Obviously, I will look carefully at the point she has raised about the business case.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I am indeed proud of the development aid the United Kingdom spends across the world and the role we play not just in helping some of the most vulnerable and poorest people around the world, but in dealing with issues as they arise, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 0.7% of gross national income target is now in legislation and there was a commitment in the Conservative election manifesto to maintain it, so I am sure it will continue and that it will continue to be an important sign of what the Conservative party believes we should be doing: helping some of the most vulnerable and poorest people around the world.
On Saturday, I met a group of residents in Harlow, many of them on Government Help to Buy schemes, who moved into homes built by Persimmon Homes that are shoddily built with severe damp and crumbling walls. In the eyes of my residents, Persimmon are crooks, cowboys and con artists. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hold the company to account, ensure that residents receive proper compensation, and urge the chief executive to come to Harlow to meet the families who have suffered so much? Persimmon Homes should not behave in this way.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. As we increase the housing supply, it is important that the quality of new build homes continues to improve. We set out in our housing White Paper an ambition and a target of a housing market that works for everyone. We expect developers to deliver good-quality housing. We have already announced our intention for a new homes ombudsman to protect the rights of homebuyers and to hold developers to account. We expect all developers to build their homes to a good quality standard. These are homes that people will be living in for many years. They deserve those standards.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this Government brought forward our shipbuilding strategy to ensure that we support and encourage shipbuilding around the United Kingdom. On the Royal Navy, I understand that the issue he raises relates to support ships. The MOD is looking at future provision and the building of those support ships. We maintain our position on building the ships of the Royal Navy.
This weekend our sporting heroes, winners and losers, inspired a new generation. Science can also inspire. Sixty years ago, JFK electrified the world and united a divided and fearful nation with the inspiring Apollo moonshot programme, which also helped to defeat the Soviet Union and laid the foundations for US technology leadership. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saluting our pioneering scientist astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake, and agree with me that Brexit can and must be a moonshot moment for British science innovation to tackle global challenges?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am very happy to congratulate and salute our pioneering UK astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake. One of the first receptions I held in No. 10 Downing Street when I became Prime Minister was for Tim Peake, and it was inspiring to see how what he had done in space had encouraged young people in particular to develop an interest in space and science. We are global leader in science and innovation, and that will continue once we leave the European Union. Leaving the EU will open up opportunities for UK science and innovation to tackle global challenges.
We are committed to providing asylum accommodation that is safe and secure. We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live very seriously. Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while their applications are considered. We cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs, but once a person’s asylum claim is fully determined, their entitlement to that support will end. What I understand has been happening is that Serco has been providing accommodation at its own expense to over 300 people who are no longer eligible for such accommodation, either because they have been refused asylum or because they have been granted leave to remain and should move on to mainstream benefits and housing.
Last week, I had the honour of visiting the world’s best transformer factory in Stafford, run by General Electric. It was constructing the first of 72 transformers to go to Iraq, and it is only able to do that through the support of UK Export Finance. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate me—[Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear!”] The last thing she should do is that, but will she congratulate UK Export Finance on backing British business?
I am very happy to congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he has done for his constituency and more widely. He is absolutely right: UK Export Finance is an essential part of the Government support that can be provided to exporters. I am very pleased that the Department for International Trade has changed the rules to enable UK Export Finance to provide support for some smaller exporters, which has encouraged them. UKEF provides a vital role in our economy and our exporting around the world, and I am happy to congratulate it on the work that it does.
I am always happy to congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), as others will, for one very good reason that the public should know: he invariably plays the ball rather than the man or the woman. He sticks to the arguments, and that is why he is respected not only by his constituents, but across the House.
Entry clearance officers consider applications for visitor visas with the utmost rigour, because our visas are an important way of securing our border and an effective tool for us in reducing illegal immigration, tackling organised crime and protecting national security. The hon. Gentleman references visas for people coming from the countries of Africa. The percentage of African nationals who saw their application granted is up by 4% on what it was 10 years ago and is only slightly below the average rate of the past 10 years. Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013.
Three weeks ago, I was in New York for WorldPride—a celebration of equality and love, with 150,000 people marching down Fifth Avenue, cheered on by millions of people. Then we had Pride in London, and we will have lots of other Prides in towns and cities throughout the UK and Europe, but it is such a different story in so many other countries, where millions of people live in fear of prosecution and persecution. Commonwealth countries blame British legacy legislation. What message does the Prime Minister have for them to say that they can change their laws progressively and that everybody in their countries can live in equality, harmony and love?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People will have seen a wonderful Pride parade here in London. I am only sorry that I was not able to be present at the Pride reception in No. 10 Downing Street, but I was pleased that people were hosted in No. 10 once again this year. He raises an important issue. It is one that I raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year, when I made it clear to countries in the Commonwealth that we want to see them introducing those progressive laws and changes in their legislation and, more than that, that we are willing to help them, provide support to them and show them the legislation that we have used, so that they can adopt it and people can indeed live in true equality.
We constantly look at how we can improve our response to modern slavery. I am very pleased that I had a meeting only a few days ago where I met many people involved in organisations that support victims of modern slavery; I met people involved in the prosecution of perpetrators of modern slavery; and I met parliamentarians who have been involved in the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We are going to take on board most of the recommendations from that review. I make no apology for introducing the Modern Slavery Act. It was a Conservative Government who dealt with this issue, and we continue to deal with it. We took it seriously when other parties were not willing to do so.
As a distinctly average cricketer who is fully aware of his limitations, I grew up dreaming of an England side lifting the cricket world cup in a Lord’s final in front of a home crowd. How does my right hon. Friend believe we can maximise the opportunity of Sunday’s incredible success to encourage the next generation to get involved and pick up a bat and ball?
So many people around the country have been engaged by and taken inspiration from the England cricket team’s success. Crucially, a very significant number of children have also been introduced to the basics of cricket through the work on cricket in the streets. I want to cite a figure that I heard yesterday, but I do so with care: I think something like 1 million children have now seen cricket and been introduced to cricket as a result of the world cup tournament here in the UK. We must build on that for the future.
The Secretary of State has heard the specific case that the hon. Gentleman raises. The support that we have given to disabled people and people with health conditions is at a record high, and spending on disability benefits will be higher in every year to 2023 than in 2010. We have also provided support for disabled people to get into the workplace, and we continue to do so. The number of disabled people in work has increased by almost 950,000 over the past five years.
This year, the school sports premium is worth about half a million pounds to primary schools across my constituency. It has been a key driver in helping more children to establish healthier lifestyles, which we hope they will continue into adulthood. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Government to look closely at extending this funding beyond 2020 to help even more children to become healthier for life and to inspire some of those young people to become our world cup winners of the future?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We all recognise the importance of sport in schools, and the sport action plan has an aspiration for every child to get 60 minutes of sport and activity a day. That is why on Monday we published a cross-government school sport action plan, which will be taken forward. This is an issue that Conservatives in government have taken very seriously. We have put in the PE and sport premium, which will continue in the 2019-20 academic year. Future questions about spending will be for the spending review, but I think she can take it that Conservatives in government will continue their commitment to ensuring that young people in this country have a healthy lifestyle.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we take industry throughout the United Kingdom very seriously. He has referred to the issue of Brexit and leaving the European Union. A deal was negotiated that would have protected jobs and industry across the UK, but, sadly, he and others in the House chose not to support it. I continue to believe that the best way forward for industries in his constituency and throughout the UK is for us to leave the European Union, and to do so with a good deal.
Figures published yesterday show that wages are rising faster than inflation, which means that there is more money in the pockets of hard-working people in Stoke-on-Trent. May I thank my right hon. Friend for the actions that her Government have been taking to help families with the cost of living—reducing taxes on income, increasing the national living wage and extending the fuel duty freeze?
That is indeed good news. Yesterday’s employment figures were also good news, showing that more people are in work than ever before. I am pleased that we have been able to help working people with their finances. We have done that through the national living wage; we have done it by cutting taxes; and we have done it by freezing fuel duty. For the lowest paid, the national living wage and the cuts in taxes mean that they take home £4,500 more than they did under the last Labour Government.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on 26 June, I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister express sympathy for my 18-year-old constituent Jake Ogborne, who has spinal muscular atrophy. In May, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence posted a press release saying that the drug Spinraza would be made available to SMA patients—the clear implication was that it would be made available to them all—only for Jake to have his hopes cruelly dashed when he was told that he was just outside the hitherto unmentioned eligibility criteria. This is a young man whose future is at stake. The Prime Minister said on that occasion that she would follow up the case. May I ask her if she has yet managed to do so?
Police Surveillance of Journalists
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the Home Office’s policy on police surveillance of journalists.
It cannot be said often enough that the Government are committed to protecting the free press and freedom of expression in this country. The Government agree—indeed, they forcefully advocate—that confidential journalistic material and journalists’ interaction with their sources must be protected. However, that does not mean that journalists should receive blanket protection from legitimate investigation simply because of their chosen profession. Our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies will, in very limited circumstances, have a legitimate need to investigate a journalist or that journalist’s source, but there need to be protections in that regard.
We believe that the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provides strong protections in relation to the use of investigatory powers for the purpose of identifying or confirming a journalistic source and for the obtaining of confidential journalistic information. This ensures that protections are applied where they are required and that those who commit a crime or pose a threat to national security can be investigated regardless of their chosen profession, and it does so in a way that is compatible with all our ECHR obligations.
For example, where a targeted communications data authorisation under part 3 of the Act is made with the purpose of identifying or confirming a source of journalistic information, section 77 of the Act requires that, other than in threat-to-life situations, the authorisation must be approved by a judicial commissioner before it can take effect. In deciding whether to approve such an authorisation the judicial commissioner must have regard to the public interest in protecting the sources of journalistic information and the need for there to be another overriding public interest before a relevant public authority seeks to identify a source.
The codes of practice under the Act provide detailed and extensive guidance to public authorities when applying the powers in the Act, including extensive guidance on when those safeguards should be applied.
One of the worst things a Government can do to damage democracy is to undermine the freedom of the press. In the past week, there have been numerous press reports of the police using
“the full force of the state”
to pin down the source of the recent leak of diplomatic telegrams. According to the reports this includes analysing mobile phone data in journalists’ phones, including location data showing everywhere they had been in the previous weeks. If true, this would be an astonishing intrusion on press freedom, because it puts at risk every confidential source they have, not just the one the police might be looking for.
Since the successful court case brought by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) and myself against the Government, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 has been tightened up. Journalists get particular protection under it, and there are only two ways such intrusive surveillance could be legally carried out. One is for the police to have obtained a warrant on national security grounds, in effect. Given the fact that the Government did not even use the DA, or defence advisory notice, procedure to stop publication of the telegram—they did not even use the procedure available to them—it is very unlikely that such a warrant would have been granted or such an agreement have been given by a commissioner. The other way is for one of the state agencies—the secret agencies—to have obtained the data. Given that the leak was embarrassing, but not a threat to national security, this also seems unlikely.
So can the Minister reassure the House that these intrusive surveillance techniques were not used against journalists in this case and that they would never be used unless there was either a serious crime or a real and serious threat to national security?
My right hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of civil liberties and press freedom; in fact, there is probably no greater one in this House, and I am grateful to him for the UQ and the opportunity to place on record again—because, as I said, this cannot be said often enough—the Government’s absolute commitment to protect the freedom of the press. That is a cornerstone of our democratic processes, and he has heard that from the Prime Minister, the two men who want to be the next Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and anyone else at a microphone; that is entirely sincere.
My right hon. Friend is also quite right to point out that the Investigatory Powers Act has been subject to a tightening-up process, in large part stimulated by the promptings of himself and colleagues. The point I was trying to stress in my remarks is that we do believe—although this is being challenged and will continue to be challenged by people who take a different view—that the safeguards and protections in place and what our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are required to go through in terms of, for example, seeking a targeted communications data authorisation are extremely stringent.
As my right hon. Friend said, authorisations in this case need to be approved by a judicial commissioner. A Government of any colour need to be subject to scrutiny and challenge on the robustness of these approaches. I am not going to comment on the specific case; I am here simply to set out the process in relation to the protections that my right hon. Friend and others quite rightly seek to be reassured by, and I hope that I have done so.
Press freedom is an integral part of democracy. We do not have too much freedom of the press in this country; we have too little. Can it be right that the press is threatened for publishing material that is in the public interest? The illegality in leaking the British ambassador to Washington’s thoughts may be tested in the courts, so I shall be cautious about any remarks on that, but surely it cannot be illegal to publish those remarks simply because they are the cause of embarrassment to the Government. Surely, it cannot be right that scanning technology is being used against journalists to investigate the leak. Is it open to the Home Secretary to issue guidance to police forces on this matter, to ensure that there is not now or in the future this trawling of journalists’ phones, laptops and other devices?
In another case earlier this month, the Belfast High Court declared that the warrants authorising the search and arrest of two documentary filmmakers were unlawful and that everything seized from the filmmakers must be returned. The filmmakers had previously released a documentary about a mass killing in Northern Ireland for which no one has ever been charged, “No Stone Unturned.” The Belfast High Court was surely right, but this case highlights the need for greater judicial oversight of the police and the security services, especially in their dealings with the press.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to make it clear on behalf of the Opposition that they entirely support the police having the ability to get on with their work and identify the leaker. The police certainly have our full support on that, because those leaks should not have happened and they have been damaging. I am sure everyone wants to see the leaker identified.
The hon. Gentleman will also I am sure, having done his homework, be aware of what the Official Secrets Act 1989 says, in particular section 5, and that is how the law stands at the moment, but what is critical—I am delighted to come to the House again to make this clear—is that in going about their business on our behalf, the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to jump through some very significant hoops and go through very robust processes, including, as I have stated, when they seek a targeted communications data authorisation approval by a judicial commissioner before it can take effect. We are satisfied—but this must always be open to challenge—that those processes, safeguards and checks and balances are robust.
We operate in a vibrant democracy, and we in this place always in my experience have vigorous debates about these balances and the need for safeguards. We have debates about pushing back the powers of our law enforcement agencies—whereas in other countries those debates do not take place—and that is a symbol and sign of the health of our democracy. I am sure that at the end of this UQ, we and the watching public will be in no doubt about this House’s commitment to the freedom of the press.
I commend the Government on the organisation of last week’s excellent global media freedom conference, but does the Minister agree that the UK needs to do a lot more to improve on our present ranking of 33 in the world press freedom index? Does he also recognise that the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) make that harder to achieve and that these concerns risk being exploited by other countries who do not protect media freedom and are only too keen to lock up journalists?
I accept all that, coming from the authority of a highly distinguished former Secretary of State. I am entirely sincere, as are my colleagues, in taking this opportunity to reassert the importance of the freedom of the press and the protection of media freedoms, but we cannot in that process allow any sense that there is a blanket protection for legitimate investigation simply because of someone’s chosen profession. The processes need to be robust and open to criticism and debate, but the primacy of the free press and freedom of expression in this country is absolutely central to our democratic processes.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) on securing this question. It is indeed ironic that we are discussing these matters the week after the British Government hosted the first global conference on media freedom. The Foreign Secretary has spoken about convening a panel of experts to advise countries on how to strengthen the legal protection of journalists. On the evidence of some of the statements made over the past few days, the convener of that panel might be best advised to start close to home.
The Scottish National party has made it clear that we deplore diplomatic leaks as unacceptable and that they should be investigated. However, in times of crisis we need to remember that we must uphold human rights, and particularly press freedom. I wonder whether there were any official secrets in the ambassador’s leaked comments. After all, it is hardly a secret that Donald Trump is inept, and the police really ought to understand that the Official Secrets Act 1989 is not there to protect the Government from embarrassment. I am sure that they do understand that, but if they do not, I am sure that they will be reminded by those who give them legal advice. Will the Minister tell the House who escalated these investigations to the police, and why? Was it Downing Street, as some newspapers have reported? If an offence has been committed and the police are to be involved, would they not be better employed catching the leaker rather than shooting the messenger?
The hon. and learned Lady is right to echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said earlier, and it is something to be proud of that a British Foreign Secretary has chosen the championing of media freedom as one of his core campaigns and chosen to take that message around the world. The Official Secrets Act is not there to protect the Government from embarrassment; it is there for all the reasons that we know. My desire is for the police to be able to get on with their job and identify the leaker. That is their primary objective.
May I add a little more to the point that has just been made? Why were the police brought in? As a former journalist of some 17 years, I know that journalists rely on sources to give the news to the public. Let us face it, there have been leaks before and there will be leaks in the future, and this leak was embarrassing but it was nothing to do with the defence of our country. If the police are to be called in every time there is a leak, every journalist in the country is going to fear that their newsroom will be full of officers in blue every time a story with the potential to hurt someone in power is published.
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, and I understand that the comments from the Met have generated ripples, but this was a serious leak and it is entirely appropriate that the police should look at it seriously. I hope he will support me in wishing them every success in doing their job, which is to find the leaker. I do not interpret what has been said as anything other than a clarification of the law as it stands, and I hope that he will join me in my determination to identify the source of this damaging leak.
There is a big difference between the targeted collection of evidence in the pursuit of serious criminal offences and a fishing expedition in which Government embarrassment is a factor. This seems rather too near to the second of those. Never mind journalists—the general public are concerned about the way in which the state and other agencies are now able to collect data on them. Should we not be on the public’s side? Should not the Government be publishing information, in readable and accessible form, on people’s rights to privacy and on the right of the state to intrude on them?
I am all for more transparency, and I hope we are all on the side of upholding the law. What I have been trying to set out, in what I hope is a reassuring way, is that there are robust safeguards in place for when our law enforcement agencies seek specific powers. The guidance and the codes around that are explicit and extensive in regard to protecting journalists.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the answers he has given thus far. The balance between the duties of the police and the freedom of the press is clearly vital, but can he reassure the House that the police are not interpreting their role in a widespread manner and therefore snooping on journalists who have nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation of this particular leak?
I was on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee, and one of the most contentious areas of debate in that period was public interest. When the Judicial Commissioner makes a judgment based on public interest, what do the Minister and his Department do to ensure that that interpretation is the correct one and that it is appropriate to the time and accountable to this House?
There is a great deal of guidance around this subject, but the hon. Gentleman is right and I thank him for his work on that scrutiny. I am happy to repeat the point that, in deciding whether to approve an authorisation—for example, a targeted communications data authorisation—the Judicial Commissioner must have regard to
“the public interest in protecting a source of journalistic information, and…the need for there to be another overriding public interest before a relevant public authority seeks to identify or confirm a source of journalistic information.”
That is explicit.
The Minister must surely agree that part of the problem is the application of technology, particularly automation, to police powers without appropriate protections or even public debate. We might understand the need for a particular warrant for specific documents in the case of criminal activity, but the automated blanket trawling of all emails, locations and conversations for all journalists is clearly inappropriate. It is not only journalists who could be targeted; the rest of us also deserve protection from digital surveillance, video and voice recognition. Does the Minister agree that we need a charter of digital rights for all of us, as Labour is advocating?
If the hon. Lady is talking specifically about the examination of data under a bulk acquisition warrant, I would again point to the whole set of codes, guidance, processes and safeguards that relate to that. If she is talking about the broader issue around the application of technology and artificial intelligence to the working of our law enforcement agencies, she is entirely right to suggest that, as we stand on the brink of a revolution in what technology can enable our law enforcement agencies to do, we as citizens need to feel comfortable and confident with that, and that we need to have the appropriate legal and regulatory environment for it, which is what we believe we have.
I would be delighted to take part, Mr Speaker.
I certainly was, Mr Speaker, but I was going to bob up again in a second. I am grateful for your observation.
I was also on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee. During the progress of that Bill, the then Solicitor General, the hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), said:
“We are absolutely committed to the preservation and protection of a free press and freedom of expression in our democratic society. That includes the ability of sources to provide anonymous information to journalists, which is absolutely vital if we are to have throughput of important information that needs to be in the public domain.”––[Official Report, Investigatory Powers Public Bill Committee, 12 April 2016; c. 193.]
Given the events of recent days, can the Minister tell me what has changed in Government policy?
I hope the hon. Gentleman’s knees are all right.
I honestly do not think that there has been a change in policy, and I have set out the processes around the Investigatory Powers Act, which he and other colleagues helped to shape and toughen. He will know better than me that those processes are now robust, and the police are complying with them.
I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for bringing this vital matter to the House’s attention. The Minister has said on more than one occasion that, while he values press freedom, an individual should not have protection from legitimate inquiry simply because of the profession they chose. However, the very purpose of the journalistic profession is to scrutinise Government and to ensure that human rights are adhered to and that Government procedures are followed. Does the Minister therefore accept that we need something from the Government to ensure that, given advances in scanning and tracking technology, journalists are protected when providing that valuable public service?
Journalists provide an incredibly important service in our democracy, and I have been entirely sincere in everything that I have said. I am sure that the hon. Lady is not suggesting that someone should be above the law or receive blanket protection from legitimate investigation in limited circumstances simply because they are a journalist. The right processes, safeguards and checks and balances need to be in place. Frankly, we need the right challenge on law enforcement agencies when they seek authorisations to pursue investigations. I have set out what is in the Investigatory Powers Act, which I believe is a robust process.
The problem is that the police and security services were given these powers to allow them to prevent and detect serious crime, but there is absolutely no suggestion that those now being put under random widespread surveillance committed a crime. If a crime has been committed, it was committed either by a civil servant or a Member of Parliament. We obviously cannot know for certain whether the reports referred to by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) have any accuracy to them, but if they do, they point to the police using their powers not to prevent serious crime, but to intimidate and harass journalists, whose job it is to hold the police and us to account. Will the Minister undertake to carry out a review, reporting in Privy Council terms if necessary, into the Met Police’s actions, so that this Parliament can be the final arbiter of whether the powers that we agreed to give to the police are being abused?
It is wrong for the House, and certainly for Ministers, to speculate on the outcome of this particular investigation. We need to let the police get on with their work, but they and others will have heard clearly the House’s messages of concern. I return to the fact that this Parliament has set up a robust process of checks and balances on the police.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have told us that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini public hospital on Monday. Her family have yet to be allowed to visit her or to make a phone call. We are lobbying the Iranian authorities to ensure that her family are able to visit as soon as possible, as well as continuing to lobby for consular access, so that we can check on her care as a matter of urgency. We remain in close contact with her family in Tehran and with Richard Ratcliffe in London.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister on Saturday 13 July and raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and those of other dual nationals detained in Iran. The Foreign Secretary made it clear, as he has in public, that innocent people in prison must not be used as diplomatic leverage and called for their release. I also raised the case on a recent visit to Iran. The Foreign Secretary exercised diplomatic protection in March 2019, and we will continue to do all we can to reunite Nazanin and her family. The Government lobby strongly on the behalf of all our dual national cases, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at the highest levels. The welfare of British nationals in detention is a high priority for us. We have made it clear that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be treated humanely and in line with international standards and norms.
If I can say something on a personal note as a parent, this case has rightly gripped the hearts of the British people. I hope that this development is the first step towards a brighter future for Nazanin and her family. I hope that Iran will be generous and humane in their approach to this family, who have been separated for far too long, that we can rely on elements within Iran that we know are decent and civilised, that they will apply international norms and behaviours in respect of this sad case, and that Nazanin and her family can be brought together as soon as possible.
Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question and for taking the time to visit Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, while he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy two weeks ago. Indeed, I thank the more than 100 Members of this House who visited Richard, sending a strong message to Iran that while it may continue to abuse Nazanin’s human rights, we will be listening and protecting her. I am pleased to say that Richard is in the Gallery today.
I sought this urgent question because my constituent’s plight is urgent and desperate. On Monday, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, Nazanin was taken from her cell in Evin prison to a psychiatric ward in the Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran. The reason for the move has not been made clear to her family or her lawyers. She has not been allowed to update her family by phone or by visit, and we have no idea how she is being treated. Her family have been shut out, her ward sealed off, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are not allowing any human contact. The family fear that she is being drugged or tortured and may be forced to sign a confession to unnamed crimes.
Nazanin is a young mother from West Hampstead. She was on holiday in Iran when she was abducted and illegally imprisoned, spending many months in solitary confinement before her family was allowed to visit. She has lost three years of her life to this hell, and with her sentence having been increased due to extra charges brought against her, her future seems bleak.
With all that in mind, what urgent steps are the Government taking to establish what treatment Nazanin is receiving? What protests have the Government made regarding the fact that Nazanin was shackled like a caged animal on her way to receiving urgent medical care? The Government have offered Nazanin diplomatic protection—the first such case in 100 years—and have escalated her case to a country-to-country dispute, for which we and her family are grateful. What further steps have the Government taken to secure Nazanin’s freedom?
Finally, a week ago, the Royal Marines impounded the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar. What is the Minister’s assessment of the Iranian Supreme Leader comments that Iran’s
“committed forces will not leave this evil without a response”?
Does he share my concern that that retribution may be targeted at Nazanin? I ask those questions not because I doubt the current Foreign Secretary’s sincerity when he says that he cares about my constituent’s freedom—I know that he has made time to meet Nazanin’s husband and family and has spoken to me as well—but because the time for sentiment is over. This situation has gone on for too long, and we need decisive action right now.
The hon. Lady’s question and the way in which she has put her remarks today do her great credit, and the work she does for her constituent is admirable.
We are, of course, seeking consular access. We have sought consular access from the beginning of this case. We believe that, as circumstances have changed, consular access now needs to be granted urgently. More importantly, we want to ensure that Nazanin gets access to her family. The hon. Lady will be in contact with the family, as are we, and it is the best way we have of determining Nazanin’s status right now. Indeed, it would be cruel to deny this lady, in a psychiatric ward of a public hospital, access to her family, which must happen immediately.
I deplore the maltreatment of prisoners, wherever it occurs. The hon. Lady’s description is completely unacceptable, and it is completely contrary to any international norms. She will understand that the Iranian system is multifarious, and we are concerned about exactly who is controlling the situation as far as Nazanin is concerned. I appeal to the better nature of people in Tehran to do what is right for Nazanin—that is vital.
The hon. Lady touches on Grace 1, and she will anticipate my answer, which is that this is primarily a matter for the Gibraltarian authorities, who are exercising a matter of law under EU sanctions. I do not believe the two cases are directly linked. However, we certainly need to ensure there is de-escalation in relation to our interaction with Iran, in Gibraltar and in the Gulf. When I visited Tehran recently, de-escalation was absolutely my message. Were we to approach something that looks like normality in relation to our access to this particular piece, all sorts of things would be possible.
I sincerely urge our interlocutors in Tehran to approach this on the basis of decency and humanity so that Nazanin can be given the treatment that she undoubtedly requires, but in a proper setting and using proper norms and practices.
Two weeks ago I was humbled to host a conference on human rights in Iran, and Richard Ratcliffe was one of the speakers. He said that all he wanted was for his wife to be returned so they can be a family again. We also heard from the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who talked about the widespread human rights abuses in Iran. This weekend I was at a conference where I heard at first hand the human rights abuses that many people have suffered in Iran.
Can my right hon. Friend therefore outline the action we can take, as a country, to restore Nazanin to her family? The reality is that the Iranians only understand one thing, which is firmness, and we are currently seen not to be taking a firm enough stance.
My hon. Friend will understand that the tools in our toolbox are somewhat limited. Iran is an independent and proud nation that has its own view of its place in the world, and it requires us to show some respect, but we need to deplore the things it is doing in respect of the victims of human rights abuses, which are particular acute in Iran.
The UK Government clearly use every opportunity to impress upon Iran how unsatisfactory we regard its approach to human rights to be. However, we also need to ensure that Nazanin comes home, which is our principal priority in this matter. I appeal to Iran, not least because its reputation in this country is being severely damaged, to do the decent thing.
Iran must look at this in a sympathetic light and do what is right, proper and humane in respect of Nazanin, particularly as she has now been moved to the Imam Khomeini Hospital, where she is being treated. We want to know how she is being treated, and whether she is being given the right treatment and in what context. Above all, she must have access to her family, but she must also have consular access, through which we will be able to make a better judgment on where we are.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I not only congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on securing it, but join the Minister in applauding and thanking her on behalf of the whole House for the outstanding passion and persistence she has brought to the fight for Nazanin’s freedom—she is an outstanding Back Bencher.
For all of us who have taken part in this fight, and for all of us who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his recent hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, the developments we have seen over the past 24 hours are deeply troubling. The fact that Nazanin is back under the control of the Revolutionary Guard, being held in isolation and denied access to consular staff and to her father, has rightly raised concern that she may be being pressed to sign a false confession.
We all know that the hard-line theocrats around Khamenei who have been responsible for Nazanin’s arrest and detention, and her appalling treatment in custody, do not care about the truth of Nazanin’s case, the reality of her innocence or the mental and physical cruelty that has been inflicted on her. They care only about exploiting her and lying about her to support their doctrine of embattlement and isolationism, and to undermine the Rouhani Government’s strategy of engagement. They are the same individuals who have revelled in the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal, and who are wilfully risking conflict with their actions in the Strait of Hormuz. On a practical level, can the Minister tell us today what is being done to engage with the figures around Khamenei, not just the Rouhani Government, on Nazanin’s case?
Finally, on a wider level, does the Minister agree with the veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson, a man with better insight than most of us put together on matters of diplomacy and foreign policy, that there are two villains in this terrible situation? As John tweeted this morning, Nazanin is both
“the victim of a campaign by political extremists in Iran, and of the carelessness of @BorisJohnson as foreign secretary.”
Does the Minister agree with that verdict, and will he condemn the former Foreign Secretary—our next Prime Minister—for handing Iran’s hard-liners their biggest excuse, their biggest piece of propaganda, to justify this horrific injustice to one of our own citizens?
The right hon. Lady has elegantly dissected the Iranian state in a very few minutes, and she probably puts her finger on it. Of course, anybody with any experience of Iran will know that there are many Irans, as I touched on in my opening remarks.
We are, of course, concerned by any access that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has to this particular case. I would say, though, that the IRGC does care about its reputation. It certainly cares about its country’s reputation, and so does the supreme leader. That reputation hangs in the balance.
The generosity and humanity with which Iran has historically been associated would be amply demonstrated if Iran were to do the right thing in respect of Nazanin. I urge it to do that, if not on Nazanin’s behalf, on behalf of Iran’s reputation, which is rightly important to it.
The right hon. Lady asks how close we are to the supreme leader and, again, she well knows, because she is a student of these things, that access to the supreme leader is exceptionally difficult. We have spoken to President Rouhani, and we routinely engage with our ministerial interlocutors, Minister Zarif and, in my case, Minister Araghchi, and we will continue to do so.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, of course, is somewhat separate from the IRGC, and it is important to reiterate that we are ensuring the IRGC gets the message that the eyes of the world are on Iran in respect of this case and, if it continues to behave in this way, it will trample all over the good opinion that international observers might have, even now, of Iran—it will do Iran and its people no good at all.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing the urgent question and you on granting it, Mr Speaker. She and the family will know that they have the full support and solidarity of Scottish National party Members. It was indeed a privilege when I met Richard when he was campaigning outside the Iranian embassy, as did many of my colleagues, including our leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford).
This move into hospital is a worrying turn of events, which raises serious questions about Nazanin’s wellbeing and a particular concern about the risk of her being forced into signing some kind of false confession. So, as other Members are asking, are the UK Government satisfied that they are exhausting every possible avenue to rectify this situation? What is the point of diplomatic protection if it cannot prevent this kind of development? Will the Minister state unequivocally that the UK Government’s commitment to freeing Nazanin goes beyond any particular set of personnel or Ministers, and that freeing Nazanin must be a top priority for the next Prime Minister, whoever that might be?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Nazanin has been transferred to a public hospital. Nazanin certainly does need medical treatment, and we have been calling for that for a very long time. If she does not get the treatment she requires, if she is abused in hospital or if the purpose of transferring her to hospital is to abuse her further than has been the case already, that would be a cause for utter condemnation, as would any forced confession. We have flagged that up pretty well today. In the event that a confession is obtained from Nazanin, the international community is perfectly entitled to question it, to put it mildly.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to establish the top priorities of the incoming Prime Minister. He can be sure that, one way or the other, Nazanin will be at the forefront of the mind of whoever is successful in this contest next week.
Order. Further exchanges will unfold, but at this point I would like to say that all Members who visited you, Richard, when you were outside the Iranian embassy on your hunger strike will have regarded it as a great personal privilege and honour to have done so. Although people tend courteously to say, “It is good of this Member or that Member to find the time in a busy schedule”, I do not think we view it in those terms. As I say, we saw it as an honour to visit you. I am going to say to you very publicly what I have said to others and what I said to you: I was struck by your extraordinary stoicism and forbearance, a standard to which, in such circumstances, any of us could aspire but, I suspect, none of us would attain. It really was a very humbling experience. In my case, of course, I had the pleasure of not only meeting and engaging with you for the first time, but meeting your sister and your mum to boot. I want you and all of your family, and your precious daughter, to know that you will never be forgotten. The Minister has treated of these matters already in the most sensitive terms, as have other colleagues. For as long as it is necessary for this matter to be raised, as it has been by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, with persistence and passion, it will be raised. This matter, the Iranians need to know, will not go away until mother and daughter, mother and wife and husband, are reconciled so that they can live as one.
I also want to mention what I have just been told by the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), which is that 13 of her constituents, 13 wonderful women, who, it is said, wholly implausibly to me, are of an average age of 80—I cannot see any such people in the Gallery–have made a special visit to the House today to observe our proceedings. They, together with everybody else, should be warmly welcomed. I hope you are witnessing the House at its best, treating of an extremely serious matter, on a cross-party basis, because it is not about party politics; it is about humanity and the requirement for the display of humanity in the conduct of public affairs.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn on securing this urgent question and on the powerful way in which she has been an advocate for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her constituent. I thank the Minister for his efforts and those of the current Foreign Secretary in trying to secure Nazanin’s release. We can only imagine the anguish caused by the way in which this mother is separated from her daughter, and we hope this can be swiftly resolved so that the family can be reunited. What can the Minister do to bring that about? I also want to ask him about the wider issue of the disturbing trend of Iran arresting people on trumped up charges, with them effectively becoming hostages to geopolitical disputes they have nothing to do with. That behaviour is entirely unacceptable as a tactic. As the Minister says, it risks huge reputational damage to the state, so what more can this Government, perhaps through the auspices of the United Nations, do to raise that wider issue, and to crystallise to the Iranian state and any others that wish to undertake this tactic that it is counterproductive and not acceptable?
We have made it very clear that this is not acceptable, to put it mildly. I do not think the international community can be left in any doubt as to the importance we place on this and the views of like-minded countries in respect of it. I appeal to Iran just to consider what this is doing to its reputation. Nazanin has been wrongly imprisoned. She has been maltreated in an extremely serious way, as have her family. The right thing to do now is to reunite her with her family, as a minimum, to ensure that they have immediate access to Nazanin and that they are able to make phone calls to her, so that we can try to get to the bottom of exactly what is happening and whether she is getting the treatment we have long been calling for. Of course, other issues prey on the minds of those in the UN right now in respect of Iran, and its behaviour and destabilising actions in the wider Gulf region, and I rather suspect that in further questioning this morning we might return to those.
I thank the Minister in advance of tomorrow’s meeting with me on behalf of a constituent who is in a similar position to Nazanin. On the wider implications question, is there any movement on the issue of the deal and the notion that the European Union could help with the INSTEX—Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges—approach in providing some kind of outlet for some of this frustration, so that there is a way for Iran to fix some of its economic problems and therefore have more of a dialogue with countries such as the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow. I hope that the JCPOA—Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—is capable of being advanced; I hope that we are not seeing the end of it. It is a credible mechanism for encouraging Iran to trade properly with the west, and a lot falls from that. She will know that the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, created by the E3, which was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with our interlocutors at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, is about to go live. I discussed it when I was in Tehran recently with my interlocutors. They have a sense of frustration in respect of this needing to be up and running, so that we can start doing business through it and they can get some of what they want, based around the necessities of daily life, which people in Iran at the moment are being deprived of because of sanctions. I am hopeful that this will work and that in the next few days and very few weeks INSTEX will be up and running. Iran will therefore see that good behaviour can be rewarded and in the fullness of time this can be used to perhaps reintroduce, in a small way, Iran to a proper international discourse and dialogue, which at the moment I am afraid is severely bruised.
I think you, Mr Speaker, spoke for many of us, if not all, who visited Richard Ratcliffe during his hunger strike and met possibly even more of his family than you did—I think his brother was there on the day I was there. I thank the Minister for the tone he has adopted in tackling this issue, and I obviously congratulate Nazanin’s Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), on raising the issue again.
Surely the difficulty is that this case is wrapped up in a complicated scenario that involves so many different things that have nothing to do with the particular issues that Mrs Ratcliffe’s case involves. My right hon. Friend the Minister will of course know that she is not the only British prisoner currently in Iran, nor are there only British prisoners in Iranian jails. Will he confirm that, in respect of the widest possible issue, the way in which some elements in Iran appear to be damaging that country’s reputation—not just with us but with other countries—by using hostages as a sort of political weapon is very sadly letting down Iran’s reputation around the world?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He refers to other dual nationals whom we are concerned about; we have to be a little careful, because not all the families of those dual nationals seek to advance cases publicly, and we must be led by them and their desires in how we approach this issue. It is a sensitive and individual matter, and we need to ensure that our approach to each of those cases is bespoke. That is what we will continue to do.
On Iran’s overall reputation not only in this country but in other countries, because this will involve other countries, too, I would say that now is the time to take a different approach to this particular case. It is very high-profile—much more so than the other cases we are currently dealing with—and if Iran can make progress with this case in the way I have described, its reputation, which is sadly not great among the international community at the moment, will improve significantly. It can do itself a whole lot of good by adopting a far more positive and humane approach to this particular case, and I urge it to do so.
Occasionally, people say, “What do MPs actually do for the money we spend on them?” May I say that this is exactly what MPs should be doing? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on continually raising this case. I, too, had the privilege of spending time with Richard and his mum and sister. After speaking to them, I can only understand that every hour that goes by when your child is separated from you, undergoing who knows what, must feel like a week.
The Minister has given a reasoned and determined reply to the urgent question. Will he reassure us that the changes at the very top—in respect of the Prime Minister—will not affect his Department’s determination? Will he reassure us that, with the long recess approaching, work will continue at the pace at which he wishes it to?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I do not anticipate moving—touch wood—and she can be absolutely sure that this issue is right at the top of my list of priorities. Like the Vicar of Bray, come what may I hope very much that I will be here ensuring that this remains absolutely top priority, along with other dual national cases. For the reasons I have described, this case has particular poignancy, and the hon. Lady can be sure that I will continue to do what I can with my Iranian interlocutors to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
I am not sure that the Vicar of Bray is the right person to cite, because he changed his religion whenever the regime changed, as I remember it, and the Minister has proved himself so far to be remarkably measured and sensible in everything he has said today.
Despite all the human rights abuses in Iran, the truth is that Islam at its best can be a religion of phenomenal humanity, generosity and magnanimity, and I think that is what we are hoping for at the moment, is it not? I just wonder whether there are not other envoys that we might send from this country—perhaps from the Church or on an interfaith basis—who might be able to speak of that humanity, compassion and magnanimity and be able to bring about the result that we all earnestly hope for.
Believe me, it is a compliment; I am paying the hon. Gentleman a compliment, noting his previous occupation. He makes a serious suggestion that is worth considering by all involved in this case. We have lost no opportunity to raise these dual national cases with those to whom we have been given access, at ministerial level and other levels, over the course of this sorry saga, and we will continue to do so. Of course, people need to articulate their concerns, and that is not confined to Ministers. National leaders of various sorts have commented on this case, and if they used any influence they can with their contacts in Tehran, that would be a very positive thing. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.
The Minister might not know that I am a man of faith—I have personal faith, and in days gone by I have been the parliamentary churchwarden, a lay canon at Wakefield cathedral and an active member of Christians in Parliament. I do not want to say anything that would give Nazanin any more problems than she has. I snuck into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) the other day, and I just stood, as a silent vigil, outside the Iranian embassy. I found that useful for me, but I would like other Members of Parliament to join me and go back to do that regularly, in a quiet, respectful way, just to keep it going after the hunger strike has finished.
We must appeal to the Iranians in terms of faith. Why do we not persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead an all-faith group to Iran, to appeal to the better natures of very religious people to see that this is a travesty of faith and a travesty of justice?
I hope very much that the Archbishop of Canterbury is listening to the hon. Gentleman, and that perhaps he might consider whether he or other faith leaders have a role to play in this matter. I am not sure whether the established Church is the best vehicle, but it is universally recognised as being positive and capable of talking to people of all faiths and none. My view on this matter is that dialogue is necessary, notwithstanding the nature of the individuals who we know are intimately connected with this case in Tehran and who have not in the past shown themselves to be the masters of dialogue.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this urgent question and for the way she champions her constituent’s case.
My hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) both made a really important point about looking at other ways of trying to put pressure on the Iranian authorities. The Minister is a very good Minister, but what more can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do to co-ordinate not just the diplomatic pressure that needs to be applied, but the wider pressure that can come from society, the Churches and other faiths? Why is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not doing that? From the answer that the Minister just gave, it sounded like that co-ordination was not under way.
I am always open to suggestion; however, having considered the matter in respect of the Church of England in the few minutes I have had to do so, I think we need to be a little bit careful, because Iran is inherently suspicious of this country. If the hon. Lady doubts that, perhaps she might like to refer to Jack Straw’s excellent book that has just been published; I commend it to all right hon. and hon. Members who take an interest in these matters. There is a long-standing suspicion of this country in Tehran, and there will be a suspicion of any initiative that is prompted or engineered by the UK Government. It would certainly be open to organisations that are held in some esteem in Tehran to speak to any interlocutors they are able to identify and have access to in Iran, in order to put pressure on where they can and to bring their good counsel to bear in respect of this case and other cases relating to dual nationals.
This case is clearly of deep concern to the whole country, particularly the developments we have heard about in the last 24 hours. It is particularly heartbreaking for Richard Ratcliffe and his family. I can describe Richard only as a very gracious individual after meeting him. I ask the Minister not just what his office is doing, but how the Prime Minister’s office is responding. She has just one week left in office. Will she mobilise all the forces of her office, including, if necessary and if possible, making a diplomatic visit to Iran in the time that she has left, and make it her priority to see the release of this mother and wife?
I am confident that the issue has been a high priority for the Prime Minister. She has spoken to President Rouhani about it. It is a high priority for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is frequently in touch with his interlocutors in the matter. It is also, and will continue to be, a high priority for me, as I have explained.
Often, the issue with Iran is getting access. It cannot be taken for granted that access will be automatically welcomed, or indeed provided. I very much hope, however, that we will continue to be able to press the case with those who are in a position to influence the outcome. I have described how it is sometimes difficult to identify those who are in a position to make a decision or determination on the matter. It is not as if one were approaching a western liberal democracy; I fear things operate very differently in Tehran.
I send my solidarity, and that of my constituents, who contact me regularly about the issue, to Nazanin and her family. I have a number of constituents who are Iranian nationals awaiting decisions from the Home Office on asylum and other issues. I ask whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given any updated advice to the Minister’s colleagues in the Home Office about how those cases should be treated, in the light of the serious situation emerging in Iran. I would not want any of my constituents to be returned to Iran by the Home Office to face a situation similar to the one that Nazanin and others have faced. If he has not, I ask him to speak to his colleagues in the Home Office to make sure that something is in place to protect everybody in those circumstances.
As the hon. Lady will know, each asylum case is treated on its own merits in the light of prevailing circumstances, so I obviously cannot comment, because I do not know the individual cases to which she refers. I do know, however, that each one is treated individually by the Home Office and that a determination is made according to the perceived risk that they face, which will clearly alter with time.
I, too, thank the Minister for his tone this afternoon, but may I press him to agree, no ifs or buts, that when the incoming Prime Minister joins us, he must make Nazanin’s release an absolute priority? I ask, gently and genuinely, should that Prime Minister be the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), how we can ensure that he is appropriately briefed on Nazanin’s situation. I hope the Minister agrees that it is imperative that we avoid any repeat of earlier blunders.