House of Commons
Tuesday 8 October 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—
Female Offenders: Rehabilitation
I start by saying how deeply upsetting it was to hear of the recent tragic incident at HMP Bronzefield. It was a terrible incident, and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected. As would be expected, there are a number of ongoing investigations, including an investigation by the police.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important role of women’s centres in providing holistic support to vulnerable women. This approach forms part of our female offender strategy, which announced a £5 million investment in community provision for women from 2018 to 2020. As we take forward the strategy, we are committed to ensuring sufficient funding for female offenders.
Almost half of all women sent to prison are homeless, up significantly in the past few years. Does the Minister really believe that this Government’s approach of failing to properly fund women’s centres is working?
Of course it is important that we look after all our offenders, and we have a particular strategy in relation to female offenders. We not only want to ensure they get adequate care in prison, but we are also intervening early to try to prevent women from entering the justice system at all.
Our local women’s centre, which supports many women in my constituency, helped 850 individual women in 2017-18. Currently, though, there is no core Government funding to help these women. Does the Minister agree that funding early intervention to support vulnerable women would prevent future crises and future pressure on the justice system?
I pay tribute to the centre’s work, which I am sure is important to the hon. Lady’s local community. There is funding from a variety of sources for women’s centres and, as I mentioned, it is something we will be looking at very carefully as we develop the female strategy. We have funded a number of very valuable women’s centres over the past year, including the Sunflower Centre in Plymouth and a new women’s centre in York.
Two thirds of women sent to prison get sentences of less than six months. Such sentences are proven to lead to more reoffending, and so create more victims of crime than tried and tested alternatives such as women’s centres. The Justice Secretary and his team know this, but they have chosen to ignore the evidence. Will the Minister tell the House today how many crimes her Department’s own research shows will be prevented by investing in such alternatives to ineffective short prison sentences?
We are very interested in looking at alternatives to prison sentences. Although we want the most serious offenders who commit serious violence and sexual crimes to spend the appropriate time in prison, we want to ensure there are sentences on offer in which the judiciary have confidence and that will turn people’s lives around. We are already working to improve the quality of information that sentencers receive about community sentencing options, including, for example, whether an offender is a primary caregiver and is pregnant or has given birth in the previous six months, so they can take that into account and give the appropriate sentence.
To help with that answer: the Government’s own research says that investment in alternatives would see more than 30,000 fewer crimes every year, an answer the Minister omitted, yet the Tories are deliberately choosing to ignore the evidence and are failing to invest properly in women’s centres and other proven alternatives. Instead, they are chasing “hang ’em and flog ’em” headlines, thinking that will help them win the coming general election. Luckily, the British people are not the mugs they are trying to take them for.
Does the Minister agree with her own Department’s report from July, which notes a
“statistically significant increase in proven reoffending”
for those on short sentences rather than effective community alternatives? If so, will she act on it?
I think the hon. Gentleman failed to listen to my previous answer on the importance the Government place on appropriate sentences and on our particular strategy for female offenders. I was at HMP Send a few weeks ago, and I saw how we are turning people’s lives around in prison. I met a woman who was due for a parole hearing—she is a lifer who has served 10 years—and she told me that she is not actually ready to be released because of the amazing support she is getting through the therapeutic community in her prison. For the first time, she is realising the consequences of her actions. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that women get the right sentences and the right provision in the community and in the prisons.
Knife Crime Prosecutions
I work closely with the Attorney General and Home Office Ministers to ensure that the criminal justice system commands public confidence and tackles crime effectively. To address this and other serious crimes, we are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, investing £85 million in the Crown Prosecution Service and building an additional 10,000 prison places, and this is together with the work of police and crime commissioners in setting up violence reduction units.
The best way to prevent knife crime is to take knives out of circulation and off the streets. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking in conjunction with the Attorney General to ensure that people who carry knives are prosecuted?
Of course, the prosecuting authorities take knife crime incredibly seriously. In 2015, minimum custodial sentences of six months for repeat knife crime possession were introduced, and in the year ending March of this year 83% of offenders received a custodial sentence for that type of repeat offence.
Does the Justice Secretary agree that the sentence should reflect the serious nature of knife crime and the serious damage it does to our communities? Does he support the work of organisations such as Only Cowards Carry, which help to highlight the devastating damage knife crime does to the individuals involved, on both sides?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the hard work of that local organisation and many others, such as the Ben Kinsella Trust, which do so much to educate young people about the folly of carrying knives. The new knife crime prevention orders, introduced by this Government as part of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, will be a key tool in preventing knife crime, and we are working with the Home Office to develop operational guidance, because we want to get on with introducing that programme.
Yesterday, it was reported that knife crime in my relatively safe constituency has risen by 50%, which is extremely worrying, particularly for parents with teenage children in Darlington. Will the Justice Secretary look at the fact that since 2010 funding for youth offending teams has been halved?
The hon. Lady, like all of us in this House, whether we are parents or not, shares the worry about young people either carrying knives or coming into contact with people who do. The truth about the trends in knife crime offending are these: there was an alarming rise 10 years ago and there was then a decline, but we are seeing a rise again. We are taking a twin-pronged approach, which is about not just sentencing, but intervention. That is why announcements about youth funding at last week’s Conservative party conference are welcome and indeed this is part of the work our youth offending teams are doing all across the country.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the recent murder of high-flying teenager Yousef Makki from Manchester. His killers were found not guilty of either manslaughter or murder, coming as they were from affluent Hale. The case stands in stark contrast with many I have raised here recently involving groups of young black men from Moss Side, who are all serving mandatory life sentences under joint enterprise. Given that the Secretary of State’s Government’s own race audit and Lammy review found that there were burning injustices in our criminal justice system when it comes to race, background, class and wealth, what are the Government doing to address these very different outcomes in the same cases?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I think she would agree that it is difficult to extrapolate trends from an individual case, however concerning and deeply distressing that case was. I think the lesson is that knife crime respects and knows no class or race boundaries. We should not stigmatise this, particularly outside London, as a crime that is exclusively based upon any racial profile—that is wrong. However, I take the point that she makes and clearly we need to look carefully across the piece as to whether we are sometimes being a bit shy—institutionally shy—about addressing knife crime in some of the less typical places.
The latest CPS figures from the “Violence Against Women and Girls Report 2018-19” show that the conviction rate for those cases taken to court has increased from 58% in the previous year to 63% in the year ending March 2019. However, the number of cases reaching court, which peaked in 2015, has declined significantly, which is a substantial cause for concern. A number of steps are being taken to address that, including recruiting 20,000 extra police officers and giving the CPS £85 million a year in additional funding.
Many women, including many survivors of rape and sexual violence, have lost confidence in our justice system, due partly to the appallingly low rate of prosecution for rape. Women’s organisations are calling on the Government to launch a fully independent review of how the justice system handles rape cases. Will the Minister take this opportunity to join Labour in committing to deliver on that?
A review by a sub-committee of the Criminal Justice Board is already under way and is due to report in spring next year—in just a few months’ time. That will be accompanied by an action plan, which is clearly needed, as the hon. Lady’s question pointed out. Just a few weeks ago, the Government announced additional funding for the victims of sexual violence; that extra £5 million a year is a 50% increase, bringing annual spending to £13 million a year to support victims of these crimes in exactly the way that the hon. Lady rightly describes.
It was remiss of me not to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his becoming a Minister. I hope he enjoys it; I feel sure that he is uncontrollably excited about the prospects that lie ahead.
The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Guildford, of which I am a patron, is overwhelmed by women and men requesting help. The abuse often happened years ago, and a fear of coming forward means that the perpetrators do not face prosecution. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s Close the Loophole campaign aims to ensure that young men and women are better protected. I do not know what progress has been made in reviewing the Sexual Offences Act 2003; perhaps the Minister can update us.
My right hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance of giving victims the confidence to come forward and not only report these offences but take them through the system—there is quite a high drop-out rate between the reporting of an offence and the case being prosecuted in court. She mentions a particular centre in her constituency that is doing excellent work; I hope that some of the additional money announced last week may find its way into that centre’s hands to help with its work. The 2003 Act is among the matters being considered as part of the review that will report back in spring next year.
Via the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was debated last week, a number of steps are being taken in the direction that the hon. Lady points towards. I repeat the point I made a moment ago about the additional funding for the victims of rape: there has been a 50% increase, which I hope will increase provision of the kind that the hon. Lady rightly calls for.
Financial Capability: Prisoners and Prison Leavers
As my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Education knows, education is often the route out of a challenging background. I pay tribute to all the work that he did in his previous role. We know that we can sustain employment and manage our own budget only if we have financial capability, so we have ensured through the new prison education contracts that personal budgeting skills can be taught. Under the new prison framework, 103 out of 104 prisons currently commission functional mathematics qualifications.
Building up savings can be truly transformational. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed for prisoners’ earnings to be paid into an account. I encourage my hon. and learned Friend to look at that provision again and enact the regulations, as part of her wider work on meaningful paid work.
My right hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that leaving prison with savings can be hugely beneficial to an offender’s rehabilitation. Although he is right to point out that the relevant clauses of LASPO have not been commenced, we do enable prisoners to save money under the terms of the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. In addition, all prisoners have access to a prison savings account during their time in custody. We hope that our recent changes in respect of release on temporary licence will enable an even greater number of prisoners to benefit from saving. Since I have been in post, I have been looking actively at how we can ensure that all prisoners have a bank account.
Leaving prison with just £48 is not a great start for someone to manage their own finances. Can the Minister say, first of all, whether the Government plan to review that amount and, secondly, what steps are being taken to streamline the application process for universal credit so that it can start from inside the prison ahead of release?
As I mentioned, we are increasing the opportunity for people to do work on release on temporary licence, which will increase their ability to earn money while they are in prison, so we are looking at the point that the hon. Lady raises. In relation to universal credit, my predecessor, now the Lord Chancellor, had a number of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions and offenders are now able to access a DWP work coach prior to release, so they can make an appointment early and then, even on the day of release, complete their claim, because universal credit is critical.
Whatever advice and guidance prisoners get while in prison, it is of little use if they are released at the weekend when support they need is often not available. How many prisoners as a proportion are released at the weekend and what are we doing to reduce that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about releases on Fridays. It is something that I have been looking at, but whether a prisoner is released on Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday or Monday, it is important that they have accommodation and support.
Today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation is one of the most shocking independent inspection reports that I have ever read. Nearly two thirds of children are going on to reoffend. Accommodation, health services and support on leaving custody are all highlighted as failing. How much longer are Ministers going to throw good money after bad in providing more prison places, rather than the targeted investment on education and support that we know helps turn children’s lives around?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about rehabilitating people in prison. We have reduced the youth estate over the years, so only the most serious offenders are in prison and we do want to ensure that appropriate sentences are handed down. None the less, education in prison, accommodation on release and universal credit are priorities for this Government.
I hope the Minister will be interested in learning more about the Street & Arrow initiative run by Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which helps ex-offenders make a livelihood through its street food vans, which in turn are supported by public projects such as the Glasgow Hospital and Dental School and the University of Glasgow’s construction project. This helps them learn new skills and take initiatives to reduce offending and improve their livelihoods. I hope the Minister will be willing to look at projects such as that.
I would be willing to meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss this matter. I must say that, as I have visited a number of prisons since I have been appointed, I have seen some fabulous schemes around the country, and I am very happy to hear about this one.
Prisons: Staffing Levels
In my first orals in this role, I am very pleased to pay tribute to the hard work of all our prison staff. I have had the opportunity, since I was appointed, to visit a number of prisons and I have seen at first hand the dedication of their staff. It is critical that we recruit and retain staff to keep our prisons secure. We have invested significantly in increasing staff numbers, recruiting a net total of an additional 4,366 prison officers between October 2016 and June 2019, surpassing our original target of 2,500, and we will continue to recruit officers to ensure that our prisons are decent and safe.
Since 2010, the number of prison officers has dropped by 80,000. Violence and insecurity in our jails have soared. What estimate has the Minister made of the impact in jails of her party conference’s proposals to increase jail sentences on violent and sexual offenders and the cost of delivering it?
We have recruited more than 4,000 staff since 2016. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify that if the police catch more criminals and we prosecute them, there will be more people going into our prisons. That is why we have committed to investing £2.5 billion in prison places. He is also right to identify that we will need not only prison places but more prison officers. We are actually ahead of our recruitment targets in this regard. The Prison Service has been lauded as a good employer: for example, it is in the top 100 graduate employers.
I congratulate the Government on their efforts to recruit more prison officers. However, does my hon. and learned Friend accept that cuts earlier this decade contributed to a vicious cycle of prison violence because fewer officers on landings led to more assaults, which caused more staff to leave, leading to more violence and so on? With morale and retention of prison officers at rock bottom, does she accept that more must be done to reward these brave public servants—for instance, by improving and reducing their retirement age to 60 because 68 is far too late?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the profile of the work of prison officers in his Westminster Hall debate last year, as well as this morning in questions, and for participating and promoting the excellent Prison Service parliamentary scheme. He is right to refer to prison officers as “brave public servants”, and the Secretary of State referred to them in his conference speech as “unsung heroes”. We made offers to staff to reduce the pension age in 2013 and 2017, but both offers were rejected by the Prison Officers Association.
I welcome the Minister back to the Ministry of Justice in her new role. Like her predecessors, she comes to this House triumphant about the Government’s recruitment campaign. However, the reality is that we just have to look at the breakdown in the number of prison officers to see that it is far from the truth. Some 80,000 years of cumulative prison officer experience have been lost, a third of officers have less than two years’ experience and the number of officers is now falling again—still lagging 2,500 behind 2010 levels. Will the Minister in her new role simply commit to bringing prison officer numbers back to 2010 levels?
We have made a significant breakthrough in the number of prison officers. We have introduced the key worker scheme, which allows prison officers to build relationships with the prisoners, and during my visits to prisons I have heard that the scheme is extremely popular among prisoners and prison officers. We are professionalising our workforce in the youth estate, providing all frontline officers with a foundation degree—
Order. Resume your seat, Minister. I am sorry, but these exchanges are very protracted. I know lawyers like to expatiate, but the answers are just too long, with people reading out great screeds. That is not what the House wants.
But in looking at the way in which the Prison Service operates, will my hon. and learned Friend also review the kind of prisoners who are sent to open prisons? Bearing in mind the announcements made last week, there is concern that open prisons will contain more people who have been convicted of very serious offences and are therefore not suitable for open prisons. Will she review this?
I can, very briefly, assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking at the recategorisation of offenders to ensure that they are in the right prisons for them.
An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our constitution and our democracy, and we are rightly proud of our world-class judiciary. As Lord Chancellor, I have sworn an oath to defend its independence. I take that extremely seriously and will continue to defend its independence vigorously.
I am encouraged to hear that answer. That is why—thank God—we are not a totalitarian state. I have a rather scary bit of advice for the Lord Chancellor: could he share his thoughts with No. 10 and perhaps Mr Dominic Cummings?
I think that everybody—whichever part of Government or our country they might come from—will probably be aware of my public pronouncements about this matter. I will keep saying it again and again and again, as long as it is necessary to do so.
Consistent with the Lord Chancellor’s speech at the opening of legal year, will he confirm that there is no place for political involvement in the appointment of judges and no question but that the rulings of the courts must be observed by all?
I am more than happy to confirm all those points, made so ably by the Chair of the Justice Committee.
Will the Secretary of State today put it on record not only that he believes in the independence of a robust judiciary, but that his Government will obey the law, and not crash us out of the European Union against the law?
I can confirm that this Government, like their predecessors and, I hope, successors, will continue to respect and obey the law, and respect the rule of law.
Might my right hon. and learned Friend honour his oath by restoring the proper role of his office in the other place?
My right hon. Friend tempts me along the path of debate about the constitution, and in particular the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. While I am always keen to engage in academic constitutional debate, we have many other fish to fry at the moment.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for speaking out in favour of the independence of the judiciary.
Lord Hope of Craighead, a former Deputy President of the Supreme Court and Lord President of the Court of Session, has pointed out that
“The Supreme Court justices were careful to explain in their judgment”
on the Prorogation case
“that they were not pronouncing on political questions. The issues with which they were dealing…were issues of law.”
Will the Lord Chancellor explain that to those in his party demanding a politicised appointment process for the judiciary?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I treat the remarks of the noble Lord Hope with extreme gravity, bearing in mind his experience and knowledge. It always bears repeating that the judiciary do not have political motivations, and that case was no exception. Frankly, I think the matter needs no further debate. If we ended up with an American-style approval system, we would all be the poorer for it.
Yesterday a Scottish court recorded the Prime Minister’s unequivocal promise to comply with his statutory duties under the Benn Act. The judge, Lord Pentland, said:
“it would be destructive of one of the core principles of constitutional propriety and of the mutual trust that is the bedrock of the relationship between the court and the crown for the prime minister or the government to renege on what they have assured the court that the prime minister intends to do”.
Can the Lord Chancellor assure us that he will be impressing on the Prime Minister the grave consequences of ignoring that warning from a senior member of the Scottish judiciary?
I read the transcript of what Lord Pentland said with great interest. Of course, that matter is subject to appeal, and it would be wrong of me to speak about it in detail, but those comments are noted.
We have seen the Justice Secretary forced to take to Twitter to defend the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law after recent briefings from No. 10 Downing Street. He may well have to do that again later today, after this morning’s headlines. The Attorney General has briefed the press that he will resign if the Government refuse to adhere to the law demanding an extension to rule out no deal. Will the Justice Secretary do the same?
I hope that Members in this House and elsewhere feel that I have discharged my duties under my oath, and I will continue to do that. I will take whatever step I deem necessary to make sure that I am true to that oath, and to the rule of law.
We have already announced that we will strengthen probation by bringing back into the National Probation Service the supervision of offenders. In July, we published a draft operating blueprint.
The former Justice Secretary’s decision in 2013 to privatise probation was set up to fail from the start. Now that a partial U-turn has been announced, can the Minister set out for the House the full cost, from start to finish, of the failed privatisation of probation services?
We recognise that there is more we can do in relation to probation, which is why we are changing the system, but “Transforming Rehabilitation” brought 40,000 people back into supervision, and we are ensuring that the new procedure will work well.
Good probation can be the means to transform young people’s lives and help to rehabilitate them in communities. We do not have a prison in Cornwall, but we have many people who are involved in this process. What can the Minister do to help those organisations to get the funds they need to support those young lives, so that they can play a full part in life?
The new system will ensure that, while offender management is brought in-house, private sector innovation will be involved in providing unpaid work, and there will be a dynamic framework to enable new schemes and charities to bid to provide bespoke local services. I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about what might be provided in Cornwall.
I rise as the co-chair of the justice unions cross-party group. Following disastrous mismanagement by the former probation provider, Working Links, it is to be welcomed that probation in Wales is due to come back under public control by 2 December. The terms on which staff are employed by HMPPS in Wales will set a benchmark for England. How confident is the Minister that terms will be agreed with the unions over the next seven weeks, and what will be the consequences if that does not happen?
We are working hard to ensure that we succeed in Wales. As the right hon. Lady mentioned, it is the first of our operations. I met representatives of Napo, GMB and Unison at the end of last month to discuss that very issue, and we are working hard to ensure that matters are in place by the end of the year.
Prison Leavers: Accommodation
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that finding accommodation for prisoners at the end of their sentence is vital. That is why we have already started pilots to help offenders released from three prisons—Bristol, Pentonville and Leeds—to secure and maintain accommodation, with £6.4 million from the Government’s rough sleeping strategy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) mentioned today’s report which says that young offenders are being set up to fail when they are released. One concern raised in the report is about the quality of unregulated supported living, which is a real concern in Bristol. May I urge the Minister to talk to her counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how we can regulate supported housing?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I would like to assure her that we do liaise with MHCLG. In fact, on Thursday I am going with my counterpart from MHCLG to visit one of the pilots in Leeds, and I will raise that point with him.
A Buckinghamshire knight—Sir David Lidington.
I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has said about the pilot projects now under way and wish them success. Since up to 30%, by some estimates, of people sleeping rough on the streets have a prison record, does she agree that one of the best ways to secure a reduction in reoffending is to step up these schemes and ensure that when someone has served their time, they have a roof over their heads on release?
I agree very much with my experienced right hon. Friend, from whom I learned so much as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. He is absolutely right about accommodation. We are looking at the pilots. We are also trying to expand the approved premises estate by an extra 200 beds. Accommodation is a critical matter, and we are looking hard into it.
Access to Justice: Court Digitisation Programme
Digitisation is designed to improve access to justice and, of course, efficiency in the court system. Last year, 150,000 people accessed court services online. To date, no fewer than 63,491 people have entered uncontested divorce proceedings online. The take-up rate is now 62% and growing. Some 94,975 people have issued or responded to civil money claims to date, and they report an 88% satisfaction rating. No fewer than 317,206 minor pleas have been entered since 2014, and if the House is wondering, 85% of those pleas were guilty and 15% were not guilty.
From next April, the vast majority of personal injury claims will have to be dealt with online, without the benefit of legal advice. Even the Association of British Insurers—the major advocate and beneficiary of that policy—does not think the Government will be ready. It is urging the Government to drop the proposed increase in the small claims limit for employers and public liability and concentrate on road traffic claims. As the Government often follow the ABI’s advice, will they on this occasion?
The House has been in the process of legislating in this area for some time. The Prisons and Courts Bill fell at the 2017 election. We finally legislated in the Civil Liability Act 2018, which is due to be implemented along with the £5,000 limit for the small claims track in April next year, and that remains the Government’s intention.
In Suffolk, nearly half of all victims of domestic abuse or sexual offences are unwilling to proceed with prosecutions. Clause 75 of the Domestic Abuse Bill will help to improve the situation, but will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to root-and-branch reform to remove the culture of confrontation, fear and intimidation in the courts and tribunals system?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which was touched on by Members under Question 3. It is vital that we help victims of these terrible crimes to pursue the case right through the court system, rather than dropping it after reporting the crime, and there is a lot more to do there. The provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill, introduced for its Second Reading last week, will help that, as will the increased funding to support victims of these terrible crimes, to which I referred earlier.
The Government have undertaken an unprecedented sale of courts, which has made giving evidence in court far more difficult for the many victims of crime who now have to travel much further to have their day in court. As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said, the fact is that victims of sexual and other physical abuse are already reluctant to come to court, and this plays into that even more. Will the Minister agree to an independent assessment of the impact of these court closures and commit to no further closures unless it can be proved that they are not having a detrimental impact on access to justice?
Of course, access-to-justice considerations are extremely important. Before any court is earmarked for closure, there is an extremely thorough consultation process, and if any courts are due to close in the future, a similarly thorough consultation process will be gone through. I would point out that in the cohort of courts consulted on in 2015 that were subsequently closed, on average their utilisation rates were about one third. We need to balance a reasonable approach to the court estate with the access-to-justice considerations that the hon. Lady quite rightly raises.
The Government have not conducted a public consultation on the law in relation to assisted suicide. We remain of the view that any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter of conscience and a matter for Parliament, rather than one of Government policy.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, under the current law, people can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison for assisting the suicide of a terminally ill loved one in great pain, and that the Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing prosecutions, with traumatic effects in some cases, so why have the Government decided to abandon even the call for evidence that his predecessor initiated only a few weeks ago?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There was no initiation of a call for evidence. However, I hear his point about prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines, which were actually pioneered by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), in my view strike a very sensitive and sensible balance between the need to protect the vulnerable and the need to understand the sensitive and emotive circumstances of many of these tragic cases.
Last week, the police and crime commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, said there needed to be changes in the law on assisted dying, and this reflects the view of many in the police. I know that the Secretary of State for Justice is a very compassionate man, so will he meet police officers to discuss their concerns?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a very close interest and been actively involved in this issue. Of course I would be happy to meet police officers—indeed, I have committed to meet others on this issue—but I do harbour the gravest of doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential, sadly, for abuse.
It is a great pleasure to ask a question of my old friend the Lord Chancellor. I fear that he may not have received complete information from his officials, because his immediate predecessor did ask for a call for evidence and for No. 10 approval of a call for evidence. It is true that the previous Prime Minister resigned before that request could be approved, but the previous Lord Chancellor did make it clear that he thought a call for evidence was justified. To be clear about the reasons why: it is not that Government are going to take a position on a possible change of law, but only the Government can gather the information about the effect of the current law so that Parliament can decide whether that law needs to be changed.
I am grateful to my old friend for the way in which he asked that question. I accept the comments that he made. It was not agreed that there should be a call for evidence, and it is not my plan to initiate one. However, discussions and conversations will continue, and the wealth of information out there on both sides of the argument is something that will prompt right hon. and hon. Members to continue this debate, either on the Floor of the House or by other means.
Parliament is out of step with the people on this issue—90% of the UK population believe that assisted dying should be legalised. Shropshire man Noel Conway recently had his case turned down in the Supreme Court, which believed that it was a matter for Parliament to decide. Does the Minister agree that Parliament must look at this issue once again, because it is not right for us to decide that terminally ill people, who are enduring great suffering, have no right over how they choose to die?
My hon. Friend raises the Noel Conway case, in which the Court found that Parliament’s decision not to change the law did indeed strike a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people who were in that tragic position. That was upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is a matter for right hon. and hon. Members to raise that issue, either in a private Member’s Bill or in a general debate.
Well, as usual, we are running late, but my judgment is that the House would be impoverished without the sound of Shipley, and it must not be. Mr Philip Davies.
Automatic Release from Prison on Licence
I do not have any immediate plans to extend the proposals that I made last week. I reassure my hon. Friend that public protection weighs very much in my mind when it comes to automatic early release—something about which I have long held strong views, from my days in the criminal justice system.
The automatic early release of prisoners halfway through their sentences, introduced by the last Labour Government, is dishonest. It undermines public confidence in the justice system, and it lets people out halfway through their sentence even if they still a pose a risk to the public and there is a risk of their reoffending. A Conservative Government should scrap that for all offenders.
I hear my hon. Friend’s strictures. He will be greatly encouraged by the announcement that I made last week to move that threshold to two thirds for serious, violent and sexual offenders. As I have said, this is about public protection and confidence in the system, and I am sure that he will fully support the Government’s measures.
The Secretary of State is aware of my constituent Jackie Wileman, who was hit and killed by four men driving a stolen heavy goods vehicle. They had nearly 100 convictions between them. One man was in the probation system; another two had just completed probation. As part of the Government’s renationalisation of the probation service, will the Minister commit to review the way in which offenders are classed and monitored. Those men were not classed as high risk and were not monitored as such. That was a clear failure, which, as he knows, had devastating consequences.
The hon. Lady and I have spoken about this case in this past. She is an assiduous campaigner on this and other issues, and I am grateful to her. The reforms to probation give us an opportunity to get that sort of risk assessment absolutely right. Ending the division between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies will allow us to focus on the offender, rather than worrying about which part of the system they should be in. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue.
My constituent Valerie Matcham’s grandson was killed by a single punch to the side of his head. Bradley’s killer was sentenced to just two years in prison, and the family is distraught at the thought that he could be out on licence after just one year. I am encouraged by my right hon. and learned Friend’s words and urge him to keep the views of families at the forefront of his mind when considering these difficult decisions.
My right hon. Friend raises a distressing case. It is perhaps not appropriate for me to comment on it individually, but I extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of that victim. It is precisely why we have decided to take action to try to create a higher degree of confidence for victims and their families when it comes to the administration of sentences.
I was out with Gwent police on Friday. A large amount of their casework relates to serious high-risk offenders being released halfway through their sentences, which is a massive drain on resources both locally and nationally. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to review automatic release?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in actively supporting my proposals to change the automatic release to two thirds for serious violence and sexual offenders. That will indeed help local police forces, such as Gwent, with their management of offenders in the community. I pay tribute to the work the police do in that respect.
When violent criminals are released, it is a time of fear and sometimes terror for their erstwhile victims. Release under licence allows the restriction of both movement and access, but not beyond licence. When the Lord Chancellor reconsiders the issue of licence, will he consider whether restrictions can be put on such criminals after their licence periods are over, to protect the victims?
My right hon. Friend asks a very important question. I have to accept the limitations on the period of sentencing. Supervision is an important part of the licence period, but what happens beyond that is difficult in terms of court order. However, work can and should be done by the probation service to ensure we are protected as fully as possible.
Almost two years ago to the day, the Government made a pledge to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life. In the light of the Secretary of State’s recent announcement, will he be revising that pledge? To date, no action has been taken.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know has written to me. I repeat my pledge to get on with legislating on that issue as soon as possible. We have, we hope, a new Session coming. I am not going to pre-judge what might be said then, but I think there will be an opportunity for us to right this wrong.
Support for Victims of Crime in Court
The Government are prioritising support for victims through the criminal justice system and beyond, and we are committed to tackling poor criminal justice outcomes for them. Just last month, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I took part in a roundtable at Downing Street to discuss support for victims of rape. Victims and stakeholders highlighted the importance of support in their engagement with the criminal justice system.
The Minister will be aware that the recent consultation on the code of practice for victims of crime has recently closed, and she will be considering representations. Will she look closely at the greater use of criminal compensation orders for the victims of child sexual abuse? They are used in a woefully small number of cases, so vulnerable people have to re-live the trauma either through a private prosecution or through the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
Compensation orders are an important power. The purpose of the order is to pay the victim compensation for any personal injury, loss or damage caused by an offence, and they allow courts to ensure that offenders make financial reparations to victims where possible. As part of our review of the victims code, we will be considering the recommendation on raising awareness of criminal compensation orders made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) is leaving the House voluntarily at the next election to the very considerable detriment to Ashfield and to the House, so it would be discourteous of me not to hear her.
Support for victims is not good enough, so can I appeal to the Government to change the law to remove the automatic entitlement of joint assets from those who have attempted to murder their partners? The case I am working on sees the perpetrator demand £90,000 from the woman he attempted to kill, or, as she puts it, a £3,000 reward for every stab wound.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I suggest that we perhaps meet after this session, when she can outline a little more about her case.
I know what my hon. Friend means. I laid a written ministerial statement before the House last week, and at the Conservative party conference, I announced reforms that will end automatic halfway release for the most serious violent and sexual offenders. These criminals will be required to serve two thirds of their sentence behind bars. I also announced that we will allow courts across England and Wales to sentence offenders guilty of alcohol-related offences for up to 120 days of electronically monitored abstinence. That follows two successful pilots, including one in London launched by the then London Mayor, now the Prime Minister.
During the last Prorogation of Parliament, I was looking forward to serving on a jury. When the Supreme Court decided that we should be here, I had to be released from that jury service by a distinguished judge in Hereford. It cannot be right that judges decide when we sit and who attends, but the Secretary of State’s Department has been pathetic in its written responses to me about how it proposes to make sure that we can fulfil both sorts of public service.
I am distressed to hear that from my hon. Friend—I have sat as a judge in Hereford and it is a most pleasant court. Matters of jury service and jury duty are, of course, for the court system, and it would be inappropriate for my Department or Ministers to—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry; it is not appropriate for us to intervene in these matters. This Parliament changed the rules about jury service some years ago not to exempt Members of Parliament, or indeed judges or barristers. That was the right thing to do. While the system is there to accommodate my hon. Friend and his needs, like all other members of the public, we just have to work with respect to the system.
The coming Labour Government are committed to restoring all legal aid-funded early legal help. That will restore legal aid help in nearly half a million cases, but the Government refuse to do it, so which of these groups of people does the Secretary of State think would be undeserving of such legal help: the 50,000 or so people who get help fighting dodgy landlords and other housing issues; the 90,000 or so people who get help fighting cruel decisions denying them the social security that they are entitled to; or the thousands of people who get help taking on bullying bosses? Which is it, or will the Government change their mind and agree to back this policy?
I am afraid that I will take no lectures from a Labour party that took a knife to civil legal aid back in the 1990s. I have a very long memory about legal aid, and I challenge anybody else to better it. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about early intervention. That is why we are working with a £5 million pilot—[Interruption.] I will not be heckled by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)—[Interruption.] I will not. I think it is extremely discourteous, Mr Speaker, and I am trying to—[Interruption.] And now she wants to insult me even further. [Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State for Justice is entitled to be heard. There is quite a lot of noisy chuntering from a sedentary position, but I wish to hear the mellifluous tones of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is now looking discontented, to put it mildly. Blurt it out, man, with your usual elegance.
What I will say is that we are working on a housing repossession pilot. We are investing £5 million in early intervention services. I take a great interest in the work of law centres, and I want to do more to help them.
What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend’s Department have to help to facilitate careers for people who want to join the Ministry of Justice who have served in the military or the armed forces, so that it can help to communicate and facilitate their transition back into civilian life?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the role of the armed forces. They have a huge offer to make, and I will talk to him further about those points.
I fully understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. It is fundamental to our legal and justice system that everyone has the right to a fair trial. None the less, it is important that we give our utmost support for bereaved families. I am determined to do all that I can to ensure that bereaved families are at the heart of the coronial process, and we are working across the Government to achieve this.
To reduce reoffending we need to improve ex-offenders’ employment prospects. What incentives can the Minister offer employers to take on people who have recently left prison?
My hon. Friend has done some work in this area as a former trustee of a charity that seeks to rehabilitate ex-offenders. He raises a very important point. The new futures network, which we recently set up, and to which 500 employers have now signed up, seeks to ensure that ex-offenders are rehabilitated into jobs in the community.
As the hon. Lady will know, criminal defence lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law, and the Government greatly value their work. We have the legal aid support action plan, which we are working through, and I am keen to do all I can as legal aid Minister in this regard.
Might I reasonably hope that the Chair of the Justice Select Committee can ask a single-sentence question?
Will the Lord Chancellor confirm that the Government have no plans to change the right to trial by jury in serious criminal cases?
I am happy to confirm that.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. The level of appeals and the number of successful appeals remain stubbornly high, which has been of concern to all of us who have taken an interest in this for many years. I want to see the mandatory reassessment process be as meaningful as possible so that the courts are not having in effect to overturn these decisions. I take her point onboard and am looking at it anxiously.
I am aware of two cases in the last year where the most senior Appeal Court judges have come to a unanimous agreement only for that to be followed by unanimous disagreement in the Supreme Court. The Justice Secretary might know of more. Would it be a good idea to have an independent body to write an explanation so that those of us who are not lawyers can understand what is actually going on?
A novel point, Mr Speaker. I think the judgments of their lordships and the lords justices in the Court of Appeal speak for themselves and are increasingly written in clearer language, and the recent Supreme Court judgment was an eloquent example, whatever one’s view of it might have been.
We are very concerned about the level of violence in prisons and very pleased that the 10 prisons project showed that we can reduce violence in prisons by reducing drugs in prison. I am very pleased that the Government recently announced the £100 million investment in prison security to make our prisons safer for those who work in them.
I thank the Minister for recently discussing the important Camp Hill site on the Island with me. Will the Ministry of Justice now develop, with me and Isle of Wight Council, a considered position in a timely way so that we can get a public interest outcome?
I was very pleased to speak to my hon. Friend about this matter. As he knows, I have offered to meet him and others, and I will be very pleased to do that.
Access to legal aid is an important part of our justice system. In the past year, £1.6 billion was paid in legal advice. The Government remain committed to giving people access to legal aid when they need it.
May we have very brief questions now, as we are short of time?
Very briefly, Mr Speaker. The Lord Chancellor will remember that there used to be a convention involving judges not speaking publicly other than in their written declarations. Does he agree that speaking publicly can sometimes make people confused about what is the judgment of the court and what is personal opinion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The judgments speak for themselves, and the judges cannot really answer back when it comes to criticism. That is why I am here to defend them.
The £1,000 limit has not been changed for many years, and it is of course a great deal lower than the general small claims limit of £10,000. In my view, a small claims track limit of £5,000 balances access-to-justice considerations with reasonably administering the courts system.
The hon. Lady raises a hugely important point. I assure her that the mental health of offenders and prisoners is my priority. I think that we can do far more, and far more sensibly, working with other Departments such as the Department of Health and Social Care, to get the commissioned services right and to stop those delays. I will talk with the hon. Lady further about this important issue.
The hon. Lady will welcome the £170 million that we are investing in new scanners, up to now and in the next year. We are prioritising category B local prisons, which are particularly problematic in terms of security, but I will take away the point about New Hall and consider it carefully.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has been jumping up and down like Zebedee, so I think he will be inconsolable if he is not heard. Let us hear the fella.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Local families and police in the south lakes have been badly affected by the closure of Kendal court. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to ensure that we restore access to justice in the south lakes?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the enthusiasm with which he called for your attention, Mr Speaker. I should of course be delighted to meet him to discuss any concerns that he may have about access to justice in his constituency.
Given the tragic case of the baby who died in prison and the mother who laboured on her own in a prison cell, will the Minister please, in her review, look at two issues? First, were enough prison officers on duty that night, and secondly, will every single pregnant prisoner be given a healthcare plan suitable to her needs for every day of her pregnancy on which she is in prison?
The hon. Lady has made a very important point. I assure her that a number of investigations are under way. Ten separate investigations of the incident are currently taking place, and I am pleased to announce that the Secretary of State and I have formally asked the prisons and probation ombudsman to conduct an overarching investigation. I spoke to the governor of the prison yesterday. She has introduced hourly checks throughout the night for all pregnant women, and fortnightly pregnancy review boards are being held for them, involving a multidisciplinary team. That is happening throughout the female prisoner estate.
A sentence from Strangford.
It will definitely be one sentence. Will the Minister further outline what recent work has been done in co-operation with the Department for Education to target young people and knife crime?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is cross-governmental work on this. We have a strategy on that issue, and the teachable moment and the importance of education are things that we absolutely understand.
What assessment has the prisons Minister made of the discrepancy between the starting salaries and pay scales for prison officers employed by Parc Prison in Bridgend, which is run by G4S, and those for officers employed by the Government-run HMPs in Swansea and Cardiff?
We have increased prison officers’ salaries in the public sector by over 2% across the board. The public and private systems are separate, and both produce excellent outcomes in some circumstances for prisoners.
In June, a 15-year-old and an older accomplice broke into my house to steal my car. Thankfully, Humberside police force was excellent. It found those two and made sure they were imprisoned and put on remand. However, that 15-year-old was released on tag but apparently has removed the tag and stolen two further vehicles, which have been crashed into community buildings and people’s homes. Can the Minister please explain to my community how the current system is working to protect them?
I listened to hon. Lady’s case with care and concern. I think it merits a further conversation, and I will have that with her.
US Troop Withdrawal from Northern Syria
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa if he will make a statement on the US troop withdrawal from northern Syria.
We are consulting the US on its response to the proposed Turkish military action in north-east Syria. The Foreign and Defence Secretaries both spoke to their US counterparts yesterday. The US position, including any movement of US troops, is of course a matter for the US Government. However, the US Department of Defence said in a statement yesterday that the US does not endorse a Turkish operation in north-east Syria. We have been consistently clear with Turkey that unilateral military action must be avoided, as it would destabilise the region and threaten efforts to secure the lasting defeat of Daesh. As members of the global coalition, our focus remains on securing the enduring defeat of Daesh. We will continue to work with the US and other international partners to that end.
I first declare an interest: I am a dual-US national.
The US is our most trusted and valued ally. We share the same vision in wanting to shape the world around us to defend international standards and values. It is why we stepped forward in the first place to form the international coalition to defeat Daesh, to which the Minister referred. That bond—that friendship, that trust—means that we have a privileged relationship with the US that enables us to be honest and speak out if there are differences of opinion. Today is one such case.
The President’s decision to remove US troops from northern Syria goes against official and congressional advice and will leave the Syrian Democratic Forces exposed to the expected Turkish offensive to establish a 30-km safe zone in northern Syria. These are the same Kurdish forces who worked with us to defeat Daesh. Essentially, they were our boots on the ground. Now it seems we are turning our backs on them. If this goes ahead, it will be no orderly handover. The Kurds will fight to defend their land. If the zone is secured, Turkey intends then to move over 3 million refugees who are currently in Turkey into the zone, fundamentally altering the ethnic makeup of the region.
If anything must be learned from previous interventions, it is that we do not abandon the very people who stepped forward to help before the job is done. General Petraeus has said that it is no longer good enough to defeat the enemy; we have to enable the local. We need to learn from Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan—Charlie Wilson’s war and after 9/11—and Libya. If we create a vacuum, it is quickly filled by stakeholders who pursue a very different agenda.
Further to the Minister’s or the Secretary of State’s conversations, will the Prime Minister be speaking to the President on this matter? Has the Minister or the Foreign Secretary spoken to our coalition allies about this fundamental change in US foreign policy? The Minister says that the placement of US troops is a matter for that country, but the US is part of an international coalition. We will only defeat the challenges around the world if we work and stick together. What impact will this decision have, therefore, on our efforts—Department for International Development efforts—to help provide aid to this war-torn country?
The Minister talks about discouraging Turkey from crossing the border in some form of invasion and creating that safe zone. What actions will the international community, or indeed Britain, take if such an action does, in fact, take place?
More generally, does the Minister acknowledge that the character of conflict has changed? These are not soldiers in uniform, but radicalised extremists committed to pursuing their jihadist agenda. Many of these fighters come from across Europe, including from the UK. Simply denying dual nationals the ability to return to the UK is not enough to keep our nation safe. Does the Minister therefore agree that the international community must design a better long-term legal solution to this challenge, which will not go away?
Neither the SDF nor Turkey has the desire to properly process the number of detainees and foreign fighters. If Turkey invades, the SDF will fight back, and these camps, such as that at al-Hawl, will get caught in the middle, with thousands deliberately released or able to escape. We will then see the emergence of Daesh 2.0.
We must have the strength and resolve to ask our closest ally to reconsider. Let us also exhibit our own international leadership by energising the same international community that so swiftly came together to defeat Daesh militarily and that now needs to stay the course to stabilise the region we helped to liberate. Otherwise, why did we step forward in the first place? Our world is getting more dangerous, and the threats more complex. The international community must stick together.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with very considerable authority on these matters, and that was part of the rationale for granting him his urgent question. He rather gently pointed out to me that it was his first urgent question, so I granted him some latitude, because I think the House wanted to hear from him, but other colleagues cannot expect comparable latitude. Two minutes does not mean four minutes.
Nevertheless, Mr Speaker, I think the eloquence of my right hon. Friend probably justified the time he took.
I will try to address some of the points my right hon. Friend made. I absolutely agree with him about this being primarily an issue about Daesh. To answer his question about foreign fighters and others, my worry would be that this will divert the SDF from its activities against Daesh in the Euphrates valley—absolutely, 100%.
My right hon. Friend will understand that we are talking to all our interlocutors at the moment. This situation is very kinetic and very fast-changing, and we of course need to ensure that, so far as we can, we influence our partners in the way that he has just described.
As I understand it, the US withdrawal, if it happens, will be fairly small-scale. It will involve a small number of troops in the immediate vicinity of the border. That is our understanding. We do not support any incursion by Turkey into north-west Syria.
My right hon. Friend will know from previous outings at the Dispatch Box of the extent, breadth and depth of support for the crisis in Syria. We are among the top few in terms of our financial contributions to that awful humanitarian disaster. I hope that that begins to address some of the points he raised.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), along with all those other Members who sought to pursue this issue today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle).
The number of UQ applications you had on this issue today reflects the range of concern and, indeed, anger across the House about the Trump Administration’s decision to open the door to a Turkish invasion of northern Syria and to the subjugation of the Kurdish people in Rojava— the very people who led the fight against Daesh and who lost 11,000 brave fighters in the process. Donald Trump is not just abandoning those Kurdish allies; he is betraying their sacrifice. Of all the great and unmatched ways in which he has shamed his office over the last three years, this is one of the very worst.
However, simple expressions of anger will not help the Kurdish people now, so I have four specific questions for the Minister. First, in answer to critics of the decision, Donald Trump said yesterday:
“The UK was very thrilled at this decision … many people agree with it very strongly.”
Will the Minister make it clear today that that is a lie? Can he explain what, if anything, the Foreign Secretary said yesterday to Mike Pompeo that might have given Donald Trump that impression?
Secondly, will the Minister agree to table emergency resolutions at this afternoon’s UN Security Council meeting and tomorrow’s North Atlantic Council meeting prohibiting Turkey from taking any action on the ground or by air to increase its military incursions into northern Syria? Will he redouble our efforts through those bodies to reach a genuine peace settlement, a political solution and the negotiated withdrawal of all foreign forces?
Thirdly, will the Minister also work through the UN Security Council and the High Commissioner for Refugees to make it clear to Turkey that it must not use the American withdrawal as a green light to forcibly resettle non-Kurdish Syrian refugees in the Rojava region in an effort to change its ethnic composition?
Finally, will the Minister insist, as a matter of urgency, that Kurdish representatives are finally invited to join the Syrian committee on constitutional reform so that they are able to stand up for their own rights?
An old rule of middle east conflict is that, one way or another, the Kurds will always get sold out. Donald Trump may be following that rule in the most brutal of fashions, but we must unite today, both here and at the United Nations, and say that this time we will not let it happen.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions. As for the tweet, I have no idea where that came from. It certainly is not based on the conversation that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had with Secretary Pompeo last night. Let me be quite clear that we would be opposed to any incursion by Turkey into Syria. The right hon. Lady refers to what is technically called refoulement, which is proscribed under international law, and we would most certainly be against any attempt by any state to engage in social engineering, ethnic cleansing or demographic change.
The right hon. Lady referred to the constitutional committee, and she will be aware that Geir Pedersen led on that at the UN General Assembly and that it will be stood up on 30 October in Geneva. It will be three pillared, with the pillars being the opposition, the regime and independence. Our position would be that all citizens in Syria should be fully represented. There is only one way of making progress in Syria, and that is through an inclusive political process.
I rise to support the urgent question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). This is surely an issue on which we should be, in many senses, bolder and more public about our disagreement. In America, as the Minister will know, General Petraeus has made it absolutely clear that this is the wrong move and the Republicans themselves in Congress are absolutely opposed to it, so this is not an issue about Trump versus just the usual political sources. It is a real problem that we could abandon a key ally in the destruction of the caliphate and then release them to the mercies of Turkey. Can we make it clear, publicly, that we disapprove of this—not just to the Americans but, more importantly, to the Turks? Will we also make it clear that if the Turks do carry out their threat, we would consider it to be an aggressive act against ourselves as much as we would one against the Kurds?
I have said in plain terms that we would resist any incursion into Syria, and the reason for that—well, there are many reasons for it—is that it will divert attention away from the principal threat to this country in relation to this conflict, which is Daesh. It would potentially divert efforts by the SDF from its operations along the Euphrates valley to the north-west of the country. That would not be helpful and would destabilise the situation, and I think that that is probably behind a lot of concern that has been expressed in Washington. We will continue to work with our allies to push that agenda, because it is right, and if we are going to restore any sort of equanimity in Syria, we need to be united in this particular fight.
I thank the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for securing this question and for his comments, and I thank other colleagues for theirs. The SDF has been critical in the defeat of the murderous death cult Daesh. One of my concerns relates to what this move says about our future commitment to allies and about UK foreign policy when we are seeking those boots on the ground. President Trump’s policy is ill-thought-out, with one Pentagon official describing it as a blatant betrayal. What does this mean for UK forces still on the ground? Will he comment on reports that the SDF was compelled to demolish defensive fortifications? Finally, what discussions is he having with his Turkish counterparts, particularly on the humanitarian impact? We know from Save the Children that thousands of children and other refugees need access to food and medicine, so what is he doing to secure that? Is now the time to repatriate the innocent British children who have been stuck in Syria?
The US has to answer for itself. I cannot answer for the US or for President Trump—
Give it a go.
The right hon. Lady tempts me, but I am going to resist.
The US, I believe, is talking about seeking to redeploy 50 servicemen at the moment. I have no information on forts, so I cannot answer that question. As for boots on the ground, we need to be careful. The UK does not have regular boots on the ground in Syria; we do not do that. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise international development and Turkey, and he will be aware that we have been a major donor to this particular crisis through the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey. We are also considering at the moment what our response to FRiT 2 will mean, particularly in the context of our imminent departure from the European Union.
My right hon. Friends and the right hon. Lady spoke for the entire House on the important issue raised in this urgent question. Does the Minister understand that Britain must take responsibility for its own nationals and not use some device to evade that responsibility, nor must we leave them swilling around in ungoverned space where they can do ill in countries less well governed than this, but where they are also a danger to the people in this country? Does he understand that we may well be talking about approximately 40 people, of whom maybe as many as 30 are children? Will he raise this matter immediately with the Foreign Secretary and with his colleagues in Government to see whether we can get a change of policy and an urgent resolution of that particular issue?
My right hon. Friend is obviously an expert in such matters. There are two categories of individual: those in detention camps and those in al-Hawl, who are, in the main, the families of detainees. It is important that justice is served as close as possible to any alleged crime, and we are taking that forward with those in the region. As for the minors, it is the Government’s intent that innocents should be protected at all times. He will appreciate the difficulties that that poses in the context of Syria, but we are quite clear that minors need to be handled properly and humanely, and that will be our intent.
I am afraid that the Kurds are being stabbed in the back once again, as they have been so many times in the past. We have a responsibility, and we should stand up. We need to know what is going on day by day. We cannot wait for the Queen’s Speech and all that; we need to know what is happening today and what the Minister will be doing today. Otherwise, the Kurds are going to be left to die, as they have been so often in the past.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s frustration. We must be clear that we cannot act alone and that we have to act with our partners. That is the reality. The Kurds are not being stabbed in the back by the United Kingdom, but US actions are obviously a matter for the US. I hope that my remarks have provided my understanding of the extent and scope of what is in the President’s head, so far as I can, and it seems that some of the more exaggerated claims have probably been overdone. However, the right hon. Lady is right that the situation is highly kinetic and that things change from moment to moment. If things do change further, I rather suspect that I will be back in his place before too long.
The Minister will be aware that one principle of military action is the need for surprise, but we normally try to surprise the enemy, not our friends. Here we find ourselves surprised by the actions of our most important ally, and our allies on the ground have been surprised by the possibility that they may find their homes under serious threat from another of our important military allies—Turkey. Will the Minister please assure me that our other allies in the region are being assured that the UK will not make a pattern of being a fair-weather friend but will commit to our allies seriously and properly?
The only point I would make about surprise is that President Erdoğan has, of course, threatened this on a number of occasions, and he has previous in relation to Afrin. This has not come out of the blue, but I agree that we need to ensure that we do everything we can to understand our colleagues’ thinking on these matters so that we can act in a relatively joined up way, if possible.
As ever, it is innocent civilians who will suffer the consequences of the humanitarian disaster that will follow this decision. May I press the Minister to respond to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)? It really is time for us to table this at the United Nations Security Council.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that commitment at the Dispatch Box, but the point has been well made and will be considered. I am sure what he suggests has merit, but we will have to examine it fully.
There have been ongoing concerns about the safety and welfare of Syrian refugees on or near the Turkish border. There is the prospect of a safe zone being set up, but how can the Minister guarantee that these people will be safe? There are fears about forcible repatriation or relocation from Turkey into Syria, which will be challenged. What representations are being made on their behalf?
My hon. Friend refers to the forcible repatriation of refugees, and clearly we would strongly oppose such a thing. I made it very clear to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) that we would oppose anything that looks like ethnic cleansing or demographic change. All those things are absolutely not appropriate, and we will resist them.
My hon. Friend will be aware of our effort in support of Turkey through the FRiT process, which will endure on our departure from the European Union. Turkey has done a good job in supporting refugees on its territory, and we will continue to support it in doing that. Turkey has a strong tradition of humanitarian assistance and, so far, it has acted well for refugees, and we want to encourage it in that process.
I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on north-eastern Syria, and we were in al-Hawl a month ago. I do not want to disagree with the Minister, but this is not primarily an issue of defeating ISIS; it is also about defending an area that has promoted democracy and gender equality, and that has been an ally, too. Will we now suspend the sharing of security and intelligence information with Turkey so that it cannot use that information against one of our allies? Will we bolster support for the SDF to ensure it has the resources it needs? And will we go to NATO to ensure that Turkey cannot invoke article 5 if there is a backlash?
I do not think we are into article 5 territory. We continue to support the SDF and the coalition. The principal intent here is the fight against Daesh, which is a clear and present danger that threatens us all. We will do everything in our power to ensure that fight continues and is unaffected by this latest news. It is important that we keep our eye on the ball in that respect. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, there is a lot of ongoing work against Daesh along the Euphrates valley, and it is important that that work continues. This latest news risks destabilising that work.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for raising this question.
Security depends on stability and consistency, and the decision taken by President Trump does not help that. It is a reminder, if any is needed, of the dangers of the United Kingdom pivoting too close to United States foreign policy at a time of inconsistency, rather than staying close to our European allies.
May I ask for further reassurance on the global coalition against Daesh? The communications cell, which does the vital work of dealing with the ideology, is based in the United Kingdom. Anything that might give Daesh supporters a sense that the United States is weakening in its commitment against Daesh could be used against the coalition and will materially affect those who are carrying on the vital communications work here. Can the Minister assure me that the United States realises that that coalition work is essential and that it will remain committed to it, no matter what its decision in this case may be?
My right hon. Friend’s point is well made. I cannot give him that assurance because I am not the US, but I am sure his point will have been heard by our interlocutors. He refers to our allies in the coalition and elsewhere, and he will be aware that we are working very closely with our E3 partners—probably more closely than we have for some considerable time. Some might think that is something of a paradox, given our imminent departure from the European Union, but it remains true nevertheless. Particularly in the region for which I have geographic responsibility, I have been struck by our close working relationship with France and Germany.
Syrian civilians have suffered again and again in this conflict. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), may I ask the Minister what we will do? Will we review all the Government’s policies at this crucial point to see whether we can do a little more to accept more refugees from the region?
I have alluded to our support for the humanitarian situation. I suspect I will be quizzed on this further when I appear before the Select Committee on International Development in a few minutes’ time. I am proud of the contribution made by the British people. We are in the top few countries in our support for the humanitarian situation in Syria.
I am also proud that, by 2020, we will have resettled 20,000 Syrians, including in my constituency. That is a sign of the generosity and big heart of the British people. It is a fair contribution, and it is an indication of the UK punching above its weight on international development.
I was in north-east Syria just three weeks ago with the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) and, at least then, it would have come as news to the leaders in the region that there was any engagement on the justice measures apparently being taken forward on the ground.
I am sure the Minister understands the scale of Kurdish resentment following the operation against Afrin, and therefore the scale of Kurdish resistance that there would be if there were a Turkish incursion. He has just said that we would resist any incursion into Syria and that we support the SDF and the coalition. What will we actually do to deter Turkey from making the profound mistake of this planned intervention in north-east Syria?
Turkey is a major NATO ally, and it is a good friend of this country. We have some leverage with Turkey, as a friend and as a partner, and my hon. Friend will understand that this is currently in the diplomatic space. He is tempting me to make all sorts of contingency preparations, which I certainly will not do at the Dispatch Box. This is clearly a dynamic situation, and we will have to respond to whatever happens, but our message to Turkey is, “Please don’t do this. It will deflect attention from what really matters here: first, defeating Daesh, and secondly, restoring this poor, benighted country to some sort of equanimity.”
The Kurdish diaspora has a sizeable presence in Scotland, with a community centre at Dumbryden in my constituency. I know they would wish me to remind the UK Government of the debt we all owe the Kurds in relation to defeating Daesh, so can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom Government recognise that they have a moral obligation to help the Kurds, rather than just leaving them to their fate?
Of course, the SDF is part of the coalition against Daesh. I admire our Kurdish friends and partners enormously, and our posture has not changed at all. We are talking here about the possibility of Turkey moving into north-west Syria—we do not know how far that incursion is going to be—and the fact that the US has said that in those circumstances it would withdraw 50 of its people from the immediate area. So we need a sense of proportion on this, but of course we have to react to circumstances.
I am sorry to disagree with my friend the Minister, but saying, “Oh well, it is only a withdrawal of 50 people” is like saying, “Oh, well, it is only the withdrawal of HMS Endurance before the invasion of the Falkland Islands.” Is it not a fact that if the green light is given to Turkey, under its Islamist regime, to attack our allies, it will be an act of treachery and betrayal not dissimilar to what happened in 1944 when Stalin basically gave the green light to Hitler to crush the Warsaw uprising?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. I disagree with his analogies, although we will be able to discuss that in some depth, perhaps when we have more time. The Government have been clear where we are on this: we would oppose any incursion by our good friend and NATO ally Turkey into Syria. He is tempting me to speculate on what we might do in the event that this happens. A lot of his remarks are probably better addressed to the US, and no doubt the US, which I am sure listens carefully to him, will have heard his remarks.
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and others have rightly spoken about getting international co-operation on persuading President Trump of the error of his ways. We have friends in the US; we know that General Petraeus and elements of the Republican party disapprove of Trump’s activities. Could we not use a back-door approach, via our friends and parking our tanks in his back yard, to get the President to change his mind? With an eye on the next election, that might work.
I am not sure which election the hon. Gentleman is referring to, but it certainly would not be the UK Government’s job to interfere in US elections, presidential or otherwise. He has rightly referred to opposition to this particular thing in Washington, and I am sure that, as his voice is no doubt influential on the Hill, he will be listened to carefully.
When the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and I were on the ground in Syria three weeks ago, the SDF was clear in its appreciation for the help of coalition countries, including the UK and US. Given the resurgence of ISIS, particularly around Deir ez-Zor, and the fact that after nightfall great swathes of north-east Syria are no-go areas for the SDF, will the Minister confirm that we will redouble our efforts in supporting the Syrian Kurds?
We do support the SDF, which is an important part of the coalition—it is clearly central to it. As I said in my earlier remarks, the worry is that this recent news, if it is carried forward, will detract attention from Daesh along the Euphrates river. That would be extremely bad for the stability of Syria and for the rest of us.
The Minister rightly says he is proud of DFID’s support in the region and he rightly speaks of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, but that is 20,000 people from Syria over the course of five years, and we have only one year’s commitment from the Government so far about what is going to happen after the end of that scheme next year. With 12 million displaced people from the Syrian war so far, and the possibility of refoulement and new refugees from this action ahead of us, will he not now consider asking his Government to redouble efforts and increase the number of people coming to this country for resettlement? Why should we not want to be the best country in the world for welcoming refugees, and allow them to come through safe and legal routes?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She talks about being the best, but I think we probably are that. If we look at the sum total of our contribution to this, we see that it is extraordinary, and I am really proud of it. I am proud of it on behalf of my constituents and hers, because they are the ones who ultimately provide this contribution—she and I do not. If she looks at the humanitarian package in Syria objectively—I am more than happy to sit down to discuss it with her—she will share my view that we are doing extremely well, and we will continue to do so.
I wish to declare an interest: I have worked alongside the peshmerga—men and women—in northern Iraq, and I consider them to be impressive soldiers and incredibly generous hosts. My question to the Minister is: if this is just about a redeployment of 50 servicemen, is he saying that this crisis is overblown? It seems to me—I am not trying to trap him into a trick question—that if the Turkish army and the Syrian Kurds are at each other’s throats at any point along their extensive border, it is a potentially extraordinary state of affairs both in respect of ISIS soldiers, and the stability and humanitarian aspects of this problem.
Yes, we are obviously responding to events and what we are being told, but the information available to us is that this is envisaged as being relatively modest. I have to say to my hon. Friend, whose experience in these matters is broad and deep, that he will know that the matter is extremely kinetic and may very well change. However, we have to be consistent; we oppose any move into Syrian territory by Turkey—that is the wrong thing to do. I would probably leave it at that, but obviously this matter is evolving and we are going to have to respond as we find the situation at the time.
The Turkish President has recently improved his relations with Putin, and the Russians and the Iranians who are fighting on the side of Assad will also have views and interests in respect of what is happening. Is not the danger of what President Trump has done that it reduces the influence of other forces in the region and means that the autocrats and demagogues are dominant in this conflict?
We want to make sure that autocrats and demagogues are not dominant in this conflict. The hon. Gentleman talks as though action has been taken, but my understanding is that that is not the case yet, so we are talking about what might happen. What we have done is say that we do not believe that what has been discussed is the right way forward. We believe we have to ensure that Turkey does not go ahead with this, as it would be unhelpful. If it does not go ahead with it, presumably the US will not carry out the action that has been talked about and which the President has been tweeting about.
The only way to stand firm against this recent scourge that is Daesh, ISIS, call it what you will is by doing just that—standing firm. As a former soldier, I must say that to withdraw now seems like an act of betrayal to the Kurds, who are brave allies and whom I do not want to see on our TV screens fighting for their lives in the days to come. Will the Minister assure me that if there are any British soldiers on the ground, they will not get caught up in the fighting—if there is some—between the Kurds and the Turks?
I think I can give that reassurance. As I said in response to an earlier question, we do not have boots on the ground. Let me be clear: that means we do not have combat soldiers on the ground. I am grateful for the opportunity that my hon. Friend has given me to clarify that point. We have others, as part of the coalition, who engage, for example, in training, and across the middle east we have UK servicemen engaged in the fight against Daesh. That will continue. Our No.1 imperative is the defeat of Daesh, and we have to celebrate the fact that the coalition has been very successful against Daesh in achieving a substantial degradation in that malign organisation. That will continue.
For the benefit of those observing our proceedings, let me explain that I now call the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, otherwise known as President Moon.
I thank the Minister for his statement, which has been very clear. He said that the issue has now moved into diplomatic discussions; this weekend, and over the next few days, it will also be moving into parliamentary discussions, as the NATO Parliament will be meeting here in London. I assure the House that parliamentarians from across NATO—the alliance is not involved in Syria but allies within it are—will be discussing this issue and talking to the Turkish representatives and the American representatives who will be at the conference. Across Parliaments throughout the alliance, discussions such as this one are taking place, and they are so important to the sending of clear, concise messages to the Governments who will be making decisions that will impact on all our countries and on the Turkish and Kurdish communities within them.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. She serves with great distinction as chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. No doubt conversations will be had over the next few days and will particularly note Turkey’s status in NATO.
I, too, have had the privilege of seeing the work of the peshmerga combating Daesh on the frontline—for me, it was in northern Iraq—and also the work of the Kurds supporting internally displaced persons in the region. Will the Minister assure me that, in addition to speaking to officials at the top of the US Administration, our interlocutors will engage with officials in Ankara to say that any Turkish incursion into northern Syria is unacceptable?
Yes, of course. My hon. Friend will be aware, because he knows how these things work, that those conversations happen all the time. There can be no room for confusion in the minds of our Turkish interlocutors as to where we stand on this matter. We clearly have something of a privileged position with our good friends the Turks, given their status as a firm ally of this country and as a member of NATO.
Many of the 50,000 Kurds who live in this country live in my constituency, and they are in a state of absolute anguish about what is about to happen to their families in Rojava. Will the Minister of State agree to meet Kurdish representatives from my constituency in the next 24 hours, so that he can hear what they are going through?
The hon. Lady needs to help us to reassure Kurds in this country about the extent of what, as we understand it, is being proposed. This has been threatened before, so I suspect that Kurds will live their lives in a state of constant anxiety, given the very difficult part of the world in which they and their loved ones live. So far as I know, nothing has happened yet, so I do not think we should do anything that would heighten their anxieties. The information we have is that if it happens, Turkey’s incursion into Syria is going to be modest in scope and that the US response to that is going to be similarly modest. Obviously, we have to watch and await events, but I do not think we should do anything that is going to cause Kurds resident in the UK too much anxiety. That would be the wrong thing to do, and I hope the hon. Lady will assist us in making sure that people are given an accurate view of what is going on.
How many British-born Daesh supporters does the Minister believe remain in Syria?
I do not know and I am not going to speculate.
There are thousands of Kurds in Plymouth who are equally as concerned as those we have heard about from other Members. They are also concerned about the UK’s role. As well as making it clear that a Turkish invasion is unacceptable, will the Minister specifically look into the military hardware that Turkey will be using, to ensure that no British-built weapons are potentially used in any invasion?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this particular matter is the subject of a great deal of work in the Departments of State that have responsibility for this policy area. A great deal of heart searching—if I can put it like that—is going on right now to make sure that what we have done in the past is correct and that what we do is correct going forward. He will also be aware that the basis for what we do in this space is governed very strictly by the EU consolidated criteria. That has to be the fundamental way in which we deal with these matters. Notwithstanding the recent past in this respect—the hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has established a committee of inquiry—we are confident that, fundamentally, our processes are correct and that they comply with the eight or so articles of the EU consolidated criteria.
The clear impression is that our closest ally, the United States, is abandoning an ally, the Kurdish forces, to be attacked by another ally, the Turkish forces. Not only is this a strategic and humanitarian error, but it will send a signal around the world that if people trust the United States or the UK, they might be abandoned. Will the Minister undertake to speak to his opposite number in the United States and impress upon them that this is not only a bad move now but a bad strategic move?
It really is not for me to be an apologist for the US, but my hon. Friend needs to be a little bit careful about conflating the US and the UK in the way he has. That would be unfair. Let us be clear: the focus of what we understand to be happening at the moment is the 110 km stretch of border covered by the previous US-Turkey security mechanism agreement. It is a fairly narrow strip of land. That is not to justify anything that has been said in recent times, but nevertheless I hope that puts it into some sort of perspective. It would be wrong if we gave any message about the UK—I can speak only for the UK—abandoning our partners in the coalition. That is clearly not the case—it is definitely not the case—and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the battle against Daesh, which is undiminished.
The Minister is assiduous and sincere, but does he understand that hearts sink in all parts of the House when he uses phrases such as any incursion might only be “modest in scope”? Essentially, we will be complicit in the US President’s decision to stab our Kurdish allies in the back. It is not just a moral betrayal but a strategic error to do what the United States is proposing. Do we not need to speak out more strongly at this stage? Otherwise, it will look as if we are complicit.
No. The hon. Gentleman, whom I respect very much, needs to be careful. We are not complicit in any action that the US may or may not take. This is a matter for the US. We have made our position absolutely clear—I do not think I could have been clearer from the Dispatch Box than I have been: we are shoulder to shoulder with the SDF and our coalition partners in the battle against Daesh, which is undiminished.
It seems to me that the British Government have two points of leverage against Turkey: first, the licensing of arms exports to Turkey, and secondly, a review of Turkey’s NATO membership. If there is a ground offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria, will the British Government explore both avenues?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think I would put it in the terms in which he put it. That is not where we are at the moment. He invites me to speculate; he would expect me to resist speculation. Clearly, we keep matters under review, but what he has suggested is a very severe penalty, either to threaten or to carry out in respect of Turkey. Let us be clear: Turkey is a long-standing and very close ally of this country. With that comes diplomatic leverage that we can exert, and we will continue to do that with our friends and allies the Turks. We have made clear that we think that any incursion into Syria would be wrong. It would be wrong in principle, and in practice I think it would be disastrous in relation to the fight against Daesh.
Even a small incursion into the region by Turkey could have a detrimental effect on the Kurdish fighters there and for the communities there. What specific recommendations or representations can the Minister make in relation to women? Kurdish women in that area have suffered terribly through the war, including because of sexual violence.
There is some sunshine in this is terrible situation, and that is the establishment of the constitutional committee and the work of the special envoy, Geir Pedersen. It is important that when that committee is set up at the end of this month in Geneva, it includes comprehensive representation. That is clearly an issue in relation to what is currently happening in the Idlib governorate and the north-west of the country. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. Lady on the importance of the involvement of women; my experience is that when that happens, better outcomes are procured. I hope very much that the committee will include proper representation.
It is now just under four years since this House agreed to UK airstrikes in Syria, and it is worth reminding ourselves that, first of all, we were assured that that was part of a strategy that was expected to restore civilian transitional Government to Syria in about six months. The Foreign Secretary who gave that assurance is now Prime Minister, so he is in a position to do something about it, but the success of the airstrikes against an organisation that was accepted to be a grave threat to our lives and to our security could only be achieved because of the involvement of Kurdish soldiers on the ground. Those Kurds have paid a terrible price: around 11,000 of them lost their lives and several times that number were seriously injured. They died not only to protect their territory, but so that British troops did not have to die protecting our way of life. Will the Minister accept that the very least we can do in recognition of the debt we owe to the Kurdish soldiers is to give an assurance that we will not stand back and let things happen to them if we could have prevented it?
I think I can give an assurance that the Government will do everything they can to resolve the situation. The hon. Gentleman would expect me to say that, as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I put my faith principally in diplomacy, which is what we are trying to roll out in relation to this situation. It is not pretty—it is messy, it is dirty, it is complicated, and it is sometimes very difficult to plot a sensible way forward, particularly as we are buffeted by events, but we will be quite clear that this is principally a fight against Daesh; it is a fight that we share with our Kurdish friends and allies, and we are shoulder to shoulder with them. We do not let people down, but we are also, I have to say, the victim of perhaps being rather less powerful than once we were in traditional terms, and we must be realistic about what we individually can achieve. What is undiminished is our ability, very often, to exert diplomacy for maximum effect. I like to think that we are extremely good at that, and we will deploy it, so far as we possibly can, in relation to this situation.
On Saturday, I met representatives of the Welsh Kurdish community in Newport, who, like other hon. Members’ constituents, are obviously extremely worried and concerned about this news. I simply ask the Minister again to give reassurances directly to my constituents that we will do absolutely all that we can to influence partners and to protect the Kurdish people against any action by Turkish forces.
Yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. We are doing everything we realistically can to try to bring some equanimity to this situation. That has been our position from the start, but we also have to be realistic about what we can individually achieve. We are influential, but we are one of several, and we will continue to work with our friends and partners within the coalition to try to ensure that this goes in an appropriate direction. As I have said on repeated occasions during my remarks, that does not involve an incursion by Turkey into Syria.
I refer the Minister to early-day motion 2772, which reflects the strong feelings that have been expressed in this House today and by the Kurdish community, many of whom are in Glasgow South West. May I say to the Minister that, obviously, pleas have been made to Turkey, but pleas in the past have been ignored—and I am thinking particularly of the situation in Afrin last year—and ask him to reflect on that? Is it not time that the Government now immediately suggest to the Trump Administration that they must reverse this policy to protect one of the stable regions in Syria?
I think it is important to say—this is what we understand to be the case—that the US is not agreeing with Turkey by potentially withdrawing from this piece of territory, so it is not endorsing Turkey’s action at all. I hope that it will be joining the UK and the rest of the coalition to impress upon Turkey that this is not the best way forward in our principal aim for Turkey and others, which is to defeat Daesh, which poses a threat to Turkey, a big threat to Syria and a threat to the UK and the US, too. As Turkey’s reputation is on the line in this matter, I hope very much that it listens to its friends and allies and desists from this particular course of action. That is the line that we have taken, and I am hopeful that we will have some success in getting it to revise its position in this particular matter.
Along with others, I also express great concern over the decision of the President of the United States of America to remove US troops. No one should ever betray our allies—the Kurds—who helped to cleanse Syria of Isis fighters. Turkey’s history of response towards the Kurds in the past has been all-out war, so what discussions has the Minister had with Turkey to prevent its aggression and the threat to democracy and freedom in that area, which will mean potential casualties among women, children and the innocents?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He tempts me to talk about wider issues relating to the Kurds, and he will know that we have in the past discussed these matters, and will continue to do so, with our Turkish interlocutors at every level in support of our Kurdish friends and allies. It is important that the rights of Kurds, of all groups, of all minorities and of all ethnicities are respected. That is contained within international humanitarian law, and all the conventions to which Turkey is a code signatory. We will use every opportunity to stand up for the rights of Kurds where we see them being abused.
HMRC Impact Analysis: Customs
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement on HMRC’s published impact analysis of introducing new customs legislation and amendments.
I am delighted to respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government are devoting huge energies, as the House will know, to Brexit preparations. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government’s preference is to leave with a deal, but, if necessary, they will leave without a deal as it is so vital that we get Brexit done and move the country forward. The last thing that businesses need is more uncertainty and delay. A key part of those preparations is to ensure that there is a functioning Customs, VAT and Excise regime on exit to put the legal underpinnings in place. HMRC has laid 56 regulations to date following last year’s Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 .
To support the latest bunch of statutory instruments, which were debated by this House yesterday, the Government published a third edition of the overarching impact assessment of the movement of goods if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. This updates and builds on previous versions of the impact assessment, which were published in December 2018 and February 2018. The new version provides updates to cover the September 2019 regulations, including transitional and other arrangements for safety and security declaration requirements for the period after exit; further temporary Customs and Excise easements to extend the transitional arrangements after exit; further VAT data-gathering powers to specify the type of information that was collected from postal operators; and, finally, various technical amendments and transitional provisions.
As I have said, our preference is very much for a deal, but the Government continue to ensure that this country is ready for no deal and that the impact on business is minimised as far as possible, which is why we have introduced a series of easements for traders moving goods in the UK to take effect in a no-deal scenario. Those easements, for example, are planned to simplify radically import processes for EU goods, which means that the costs identified in this impact assessment will be mitigated for UK importers. Crucially, the Government are also working to boost the long-term potential of the economy so that the United Kingdom can seize the opportunities that exist for us outside the EU.
Perhaps I can help the Minister fill in some of the gaps in the statement. The Government’s own assessment shows that their no-deal Brexit policy will introduce
“significant ongoing administrative costs impacting on UK and EU businesses of all sectors.”
It is an avalanche of paperwork descending on British businesses in the form of import, export, safety and security declarations. The burden will cost our business sector an annual £15 billion in administrative costs, and that does not even include the costs of complying with the new VAT procedures, which will hit our vital service companies—all this to pursue the hardest possible Tory no-deal Brexit.
We have heard the Prime Minister’s previous crude dismissal of British business. Now we are seeing his words become Government policy. Does the Minister not understand that this only compounds the uncertainty brought about by this Government’s failure to secure a deal that protects the UK economy? A senior No. 10 source, who I most believe to be the Prime Minister’s adviser—well, I say “adviser”—Dominic Cummings, said:
“We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal”,
and that everything do with the duty of sincere co-operation that we have with the EU partners
“will be in the toilet”.
Does the Minister agree with the priorities set out by No. 10 as a result of that statement? Does he also challenge the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said today that this would push UK debt to its highest level since the 1960s, soaring to 90% of national income?
The reckless incompetence of this Government just knows no bounds, does it? At a moment of national crisis, this Government pose a threat to their own people and the economy they rely upon. Has the Minister any idea of the scale of the destruction of confidence in the British economy that this Government’s stated policy is bringing about?
This is a long document at some 45 pages or so, but I would have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman could have made it to page 9. He claims that the cost to British business will be £15 billion, but it says perfectly clearly at the bottom of page 9:
“The latest…estimate for the annual administrative burden…is £7.5 billion (updated to reflect 2017 data)”.
I am in no sense happy about that—[Interruption.] I am just correcting the record. The right hon. Gentleman said £15 billion, when in fact the figure is £7.5 billion. That figure is, of course, prior to any mitigations that might be put in place by the Government.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s other concerns. He criticised the Government for, as he puts it, failing to secure a deal. All his party had to do was support the perfectly sensible series of deals that have been put before this Parliament, and it would have a deal.
I am not going to comment on unsourced speculation of the kind mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. Let me just remind the House that when this Government’s predecessor came into office in 2010, debt was at a peacetime high thanks to the previous Labour Government. The deficit was at almost 10% and, interestingly, inequality under the Labour Government was significantly higher than it is today.
The number of customs declarations is likely to increase from 50 million now to 250 million when we have to start to export to the EU. This will be governed by a customs declaration service system. Will the system cope, and will there be enough agents to handle that volume of transactions?
We believe the system will cope. Of course, there are a lot of easements in place, and there is already a functioning CHIEF—customs handling of import and export freight—system to handle the current level of declarations.
I think the Minister is in denial. The cost is £15 billion—£7.5 billion from UK to EU trade, and a comparable amount from EU to UK trade, which will no doubt be paid by consumers and businesses here. This denial runs to the heart of this whole problem. The Prime Minister said that leaving the EU would save £1 billion a month. That clearly only adds up if we ignore and deny any costs such as the £15 billion that we are talking about today. But it is worse than that. This figure is an annual recurring cost, so how will it be mitigated?
The figures exclude additional one-off costs. How will they be mitigated and have they even been assessed? They ignore the new VAT rules on parcels that are damaging to small businesses. How will that be mitigated and has it actually been assessed? The £15 billion also excludes the serious damage done to exports of low-margin items where this cost burden may be significant. Has that been assessed? Finally, the figures ignore the multiple damages done to businesses that ship part-finished goods back and forward across borders many times, which multiplies the administrative burden. Has that been assessed? How many business will be damaged and what mitigation is being put in place?
As the House will know, a lot of mitigations have already been passed through statutory instruments, including instruments in relation to stream- lining customs import processes and procedures, special procedures for other areas, and deferment of import duty and VAT. Only yesterday, we passed a statutory instrument on safety and security declarations on our imports.
Mitigation very much depends on the shape of any deal. As the House will appreciate, the figures we are discussing today pertain to a worst-case scenario of a no-deal impact. There are many other areas in which the EU has already indicated that it is happy to give mitigations—for example, in relation to some of our haulage processes and people travelling by air into the European Union.
In the debate around the UK-Ireland border, my hon. Friend will be aware of the confusion among commentators between customs checks and customs declarations. Of course, most customs transactions are not done at borders by a uniformed officer sitting in a customs office, but are essentially financial transactions akin to tax or VAT that are done at the point of production, shipment, transit or arrival. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a role for HMRC in educating commentators about how modern customs practices work?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have done on alternative arrangements. He raises a very important issue. As he says, Customs operates a risk-based assessment system of checks that is quite different from declarations. As for educating commentators, I absolutely agree with him and wish those commentators also included some Members of this House.
Given that HMRC has now shown that Brexit means red tape, and that this would harm trade, destroy jobs and cut growth, what estimate has the Treasury made of the impact of lower growth on Britain’s public finances? Does the Minister accept that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said—and now the IFS analysis has shown—that borrowing will rocket under a no deal? Is it not now clear that under the blues, we will be going into the red?
I cannot match the right hon. Gentleman on verbal wit. What I can say is that the Government have published estimates of the impact of a no-deal Brexit in different forms, and we continue to believe that it is vastly in the interests of this country, this House and all our constituents to leave with a deal. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is critical for the UK to have an attractive regulatory regime as part of delivering the overall international competitiveness of the economy, and that he will do all he can to minimise the administrative burdens on business?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that in due course it will come to be seen that Brexit was a moment of change in which we moved ourselves to a global position in which we were able to change many of the rules and regulations governing our international and domestic trade for the better—to make them more streamlined, to lighten the burden and to increase our economic efficiency and productivity.
Given that these are HMRC’s own assessments—the Government’s own assessments—of a multi-billion pound cost, the Minister could have given HMRC any credible assessment of mitigation if he had any. Can he instead confirm that these costs do not even include tariffs, and that they are in fact the costs not simply of no deal but of refusing to have a customs union at all? Given that a proposal for a deal including a customs union only lost by three votes back in April and that such a deal would, according to his own figures, have saved British businesses billions, why have the Government continually refused even to explore a deal that includes a customs union?
I could wish that the right hon. Lady, who is widely respected across the House, had used her influence to bring Labour Members into the Lobby to support the deal that was offered—[Interruption]—and, still more, the deal that we are currently exploring, when that is placed before the Chamber. [Interruption.] The impact analysis is a careful piece of work that reflects dozens of statutory instruments that have been placed before the House. It is a composite of all the impact assessments in place, and should be seen as such. Before Members become too enervated, they should reflect that although the number has gone up somewhat, the unit cost of a declaration has not gone up. The increased number reflects the increase in trade in the last couple of years, and in the period to 2017, which is interesting, because it does not look as though trade has been headed off by the threat of Brexit.
I welcome the Government’s extensive work to get businesses and us ready to leave at the end of October, and particularly the facilitations and easements, which can substantially reduce the amount of money lost in these sorts of transactions; that has to be the way forward. The cost is much lower than those in the Treasury’s forecasts thus far.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that although there is a cost, we do some £275 billion-worth of trade with the EU; we should see this in that context. As I say, the figures are before we take into account any behavioural change, either by UK exporters and hauliers or importers, or by the EU, and should be seen in the wider context of the liberalisation that we expect to occur after Brexit.
The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has already spoken directly to the Prime Minister, and has made it abundantly clear to him that his police officers will not carry out customs functions at or near the border after the UK leaves the EU. That being the case, the Minister has a duty to explain to HMRC officials what plans the Government have to keep those officials safe when they are carrying out their functions at or near the border after the UK leaves the EU.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. That is a very serious issue. I have discussed it with senior officials at HMRC, and I can tell her that they are taking the issue extremely seriously.
Is not the problem with reports of this sort the assumptions on which they are made—not least the assumption that though circumstances change dramatically, behaviour will not change at all?
My right hon. Friend, having of course taught economics in his previous life, is acutely aware of the dynamic effects of change when people are confronted with different circumstances. As he correctly points out, this is a static assessment; it does not reflect the dynamics once a change is made.
In effect, the Minister is telling the House that a £7.5 billion tax on trade is being introduced by the Government. How many jobs will be lost as a result of the reduction in trade? Given that we control the administration of imports, why are the Government allowing this £3.8 billion figure?
I think the hon. Lady misunderstands. Only in the event of a no-deal Brexit would we incur any of the additional declaration costs described here. This is not a tax; these are the administrative costs associated with a change in the country’s trading position.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there will be extremely serious impacts on exports? We have been trying to promote exports for many years, given that we have such a large trade deficit, but the fact that 60% of our exports to the EU will now incur tariffs will be a real problem for our exporters—particularly of ceramics in my area, but also for exporters in many other areas. What does he say to that?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that concern on behalf of his constituents. Of course, we run a very substantial services surplus with the rest of the world, and that will be unaffected by these customs declarations. What he says of his concerns is true; that is why I hope very much that the House will come together to support the Government in procuring a deal before we leave the EU.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Speaker. The Tories’ claim to be the party of business and law and order has been blown apart by its Brexit policies. What is the point of the Conservative party today?
I do not need to tell the hon. Gentleman that conservatism, as a body of thought, has many virtues, and business has traditionally benefited from the Conservative party’s commitment to low taxation and a supportive business economy. If he casts an eye over the spending round, he will see an enormous array of investments designed to complement growth in business with growth in public services. It is that balance that makes for good government.
If the appetite of the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) remains unsatisfied by that ministerial reply, my counsel is that he should read the biography of Edmund Burke that the Minister penned, which is, at any rate, a stimulating read.
How many businesses would be affected if we left the EU without a deal—a deal that some Opposition Members seem to be opposing?
As my hon. Friend will know, there are over 150,000 VAT-registered businesses that trade with the EU, and another 100,000, we believe, that are not VAT-registered. If they wish to continue to trade with the EU—that trade may be just part of their business—they will experience some effect. It would be impossible for me to improve on the Speaker’s last comment, but if I might direct my hon. Friend to my book on Adam Smith, he will see that economies are dynamic, as has been recognised since the 18th century. We would expect the dynamic effects of the change in our status to offset many of the concerns raised in the impact assessment.
Anyone outside this place watching the response to this urgent question will be appalled by what they have heard so far, because the party that is supposed to be against red tape is piling it on for so many businesses. I can give the Minister the figures needed to respond to the question from the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson): 245,000 businesses will be affected, according to the impact assessment laid out yesterday. It will cost each company £28 at a minimum, and take an employee on average 1 hour and 45 minutes, to fill out each form for each load. How on earth will that ensure growth and jobs in our country?
The hon. Lady has managed to pull off the trick of saying almost exactly what I said, but in slightly fewer words. As I pointed out, 150,000 businesses registered for VAT, and a further 100,000 that are not registered for VAT, may be affected. That makes 250,000, which is not a million miles away from the 245,000 that she described. If she looks at the impact assessment, she will see that the declaration cost will vary from between £15 for an export declaration for fast parcel operators, to £56 for traders operating below the VAT threshold and outsourcing their declarations, so there is a range of impacts. This was scouted, as she will know, in previous discussions with HMRC officials and in past impact assessments.
What has become of the Tory party? If the Minister really believes that a £15 billion additional burden on business is acceptable, can he tell us how large a burden would be unacceptable?
I would have expected the right hon. Gentleman, as a man of great assiduity who is widely respected across the House, to differentiate between the £7.5 billion that we are talking about and the overall impact on the EU as well as the UK of £15 billion, which is one of the things that will bring both sides together into what we hope would be, in these extreme circumstances, a deal. Of course, no impact on business is something that we want. That is why we are pressing the House for a deal, and I hope he will support us in doing that.
I think we are all confused about the nature of conservatism this afternoon. When the Minister and I joined the House in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron was embarking on a red tape challenge. I did not understand that the ambition was to increase red tape in the manner that we see today. When did the Minister last speak to the car industry? We know that every 60-second delay takes away from that industry £50,000 of gross value added—every 60 seconds. If, as it seems, there is no deal to be had and we are heading towards that catastrophe, has he asked the car industry how many jobs we are going to lose?
The way to respond to that is to remind the hon. Lady that when I was at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I had extensive engagement with different industrial sectors, including the car industry. The same was true when I was at the Department for Transport. There is no doubt, as she will know, that the importers and exporters that are repeatedly crossing the borders will be affected by this. Of course, there are mitigations in place, and I hope she will help us to avoid those by supporting the deal.
To put this £15 billion figure in context, it is the equivalent of a 7% increase in corporation tax for those businesses and firms—or, to put it another way, the exact plan of the Labour leadership, were they to get into power and increase corporation tax. If the Minister shifts to the ideological fringes, he should not be surprised if he sacrifices any claim to be in the party of business.
I think most people would be surprised to hear me considered a member of the ideological fringes of any side of the political debate. We do not wish this country to have to incur this £7.5 billion cost, and we do not think it would be a good idea for the country to have a Labour Government who imposed twice that amount in corporation tax.
The Minister keeps claiming that his preference is for a deal, but is it not clear from the fictional briefing given by Dominic Cummings of the conversation between Chancellor Merkel and the Prime Minister today that the Prime Minister and Mr Cummings have absolutely no interest in a deal whatsoever? The tariffs proposed by the Government have been described by the normally mild-mannered and loyal hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) as extremely disappointing. He says that no tariffs on imports but tariffs on exports will ruin the United Kingdom’s farming industry. In the past hour, the head of the National Farmers Union has called it a “betrayal of British farmers”. How does he respond?
I am not going to comment on the detail of tariffs, which were discussed in detail during an urgent question yesterday. I do not think there is any proper suggestion that the Government are in any sense comfortable about incurring these costs or any other costs. We would like to leave the EU with a deal, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I have been working with colleagues around the clock for the past three months and longer to deliver it.
With regard to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) just said, it is absolutely right that the Government—particularly the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—listen to what the NFU is saying about no deal. With that in mind, is it not about time the Government updated their own website, which does not seem to have been changed since earlier this year, so that farmers at least know what will happen in the event of no deal?
In general, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the gov.uk website is updated daily, but I take the point. As a man with many farmers in his constituency, I will ensure that the website is checked to see that the data is up to date.
I also recommend the Minister’s book on Burke as great bedtime reading; it is very good. Does he ever discuss the nature of modern conservatism with Dominic Cummings? Is it right that a Minister could have been on the radio at primetime this morning with Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but Cummings refused to let a Minister appear?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words about my book, but I cannot comment on remarks that may or may not have been made or rebutted on a media programme of which I know nothing.
Ford finally came up with its frustration in relation to a lack of customs union and single market and decided to close the engine factory in Bridgend, with 1,700 jobs lost directly at the plant and 12,000 across the south Wales economy. When I look at today’s report, I look with horror at what will happen to the small and medium-sized enterprises across my constituency. What assessment has the Treasury made of the impact of today’s report on SMEs in individual constituencies? Ordinary lives will be devastated, even more so in my constituency than they already have been.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that any job losses are deeply regrettable, and I am sure she will be delighted that, in aggregate, this country has proven to be astonishingly adept at creating good new jobs over the past 10 years. With this impact assessment, I think I am right in saying that the detail is not available that allows for a constituency-by-constituency or even regional assessment, which is why it has been done in aggregate, based on the number of declarations that are expected and the cost per declaration. Of course, it may be possible for other entities to take the number of businesses that were expected to fill out declarations and produce impact assessments for the specific areas that they are concerned about.
It is quite clear from the Minister’s answers that the Government are willing to place enormous additional burdens on business. Given everything that he has written and said in the past, how can he possibly justify that approach?
I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the burdens that he claims will be placed by this can not only be mitigated by voting for a deal but will be as nothing compared with the burdens that will be imposed on the UK economy by a Labour Government dedicated to nationalising, without full compensation, a swathe of industries and expropriating a large number of people by transferring property into the hands of employees. I think those things will impose much greater costs on the economy than anything that has been contemplated today.
The Minister is on a sticky wicket, and deep down, he knows it. After the Prime Minister’s announcement today, it will get even stickier. I am still not clear whether he expects businesses to absorb the £7.5 billion of costs or pass it on to consumers.
In the event that we had no deal and this £7.5 billion of estimated costs were incurred, that it was not mitigated and that there were no behavioural reactions by businesses, there would be some costs—we do not know what they would be—and it would be up to businesses to decide how those costs should be allocated between consumers, employees and other stakeholders.
People watching this will be amazed. The Minister appears not to be aware of what is being said out there. He is still speaking as though there is a deal to be done, when the Prime Minister and his advisers are making it absolutely clear that the deal is dead. The impacts that we are discussing will fall on businesses, and they are looking at a Government who appear utterly clueless about what to do. All we are getting now is a blame game. Will the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and say something that might help manufacturing businesses in my constituency?
I would be delighted to do that. With the good grace of the people of Great Britain, they will have a Conservative Government for many good years to come, supporting their interests, their welfare and the growth and productivity of the British economy. No finer outcome could be hoped for by British business.
Does the Minister have no shame at all in being a member of a Government who are meant to be on the side of business, having done a job in which, when I used to do it, we were so proud that for every one new piece of regulation we got rid of two? We see now a Government embarking quite clearly on no deal—this sham of trying to get a deal is exactly that—and imposing on our already struggling businesses an additional £15 billion. Has he no shame to be associated with this appalling Government?
I am unable to match the right hon. Lady’s capacity for bombastic intervention, but let me just tell her that if she looks at the statutory instruments that have been placed in front of this House, she will see that their purpose is not to regulate, but to create mitigations to protect people in the event of a no-deal Brexit. If we have a no-deal Brexit, these will be useful mitigations and supports for businesses and people. If she doubts that, she can avoid the issue altogether by supporting the Government on the deal that I have no doubt is being promoted vigorously.
The extra administrative costs for filling in customs forms alone for businesses will be £15 billion per year. This contrasts markedly with the Prime Minister’s claim that if we left the EU with no deal, we would save £1 billion per month. Does the Minister agree with me that there is a growing chasm between the rhetoric of a Prime Minister and the reality of a no-deal Brexit?
No, I do not accept that at all. I think that it is perfectly clear that the Government remain very fixed on securing a deal. That is what these negotiations and discussions are about. At the same time, it is important to prepare for the possibility of no deal—no responsible negotiator would fail to have a walk-away position—and this quantifies those. As I have indicated, there are mitigations and dynamic effects that may well reduce their actual effect. In that context, this is wise planning and provisioning—plans that I hope we will never have to invoke.
Preparations for Leaving the EU
Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to make a statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on 31 October and the steps we are taking to get ready.
It is the strong desire of this Government to leave the EU with a deal, and our proposals to replace the backstop were published last week. I commend the Prime Minister and the Exit Secretary for their continued efforts to ensure that we can leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place. We have put forward a fair and reasonable compromise for all sides that respects the historic referendum result, and we hope that the EU will engage with us seriously. In setting out these proposals, we have moved. It is now time for the EU to move, too. If it does, there is still every chance that we can leave with a new deal. However, if the EU does not move, this Government are prepared to leave without a deal on the 31st. We must get Brexit done, so that the country can move on and focus on improving the NHS, cutting crime, helping families with the cost of living and further improving school standards.
In preparing for every eventuality, we are today publishing our “No-Deal Readiness Report”. This document is a comprehensive summary of the UK’s preparedness for leaving the EU without a deal. It sets out the preparations that the Government have made and how these have been intensified under the determined leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and it also outlines the steps that third-party organisations need to take to get ready.
The actions in this report reflect our top priority: ensuring that we maintain the smooth and efficient flow of goods and people from the UK into the EU, and vice versa. The actions are also aimed at ensuring that we continue to support citizens, upholding their rights and helping them to prepare for the changes ahead. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, to prepare for Brexit, has doubled funding from £4 billion to £8 billion. We have published a significant volume of material relating to no-deal planning, including 750 pieces of guidance setting out the steps that businesses, traders and citizens should take to prepare. We have also published 31 country guides for all EU and European Free Trade Association states, setting out what UK nationals living there need to do to get ready for Brexit.
This morning, my right hon. Friend the Trade Secretary has published the temporary tariff regime, which will apply from 1 November. In all, it liberalises tariffs on 88% of goods entering the UK by value. It maintains a mixture of tariffs and quotas on 12% of goods, such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy products, to support farms and producers that have historically been protected through high EU tariffs in the past. I should say that, as a result of cutting these tariffs, we should see a 15% reduction in the cost of honey from New Zealand, a 9% cut in the cost of grapes from South America and of course a 7% reduction in the cost of wine from Argentina.[Official Report, 16 October 2019, Vol. 666, c. 3MC.]
Businesses raised a number of points in response to the publication of the tariff schedule in March. The Government listened carefully to these representations