Mr Speaker, I start by warmly welcoming the announcement you have just made and offering our congratulations on behalf, I am sure, of the whole House.
This could be the most important week in Parliament for decades: a first Saturday sitting since 1982, only the fifth since the second world war, and obviously huge decisions to be made. What a shame it is that we start the week with a Queen’s Speech that is so manifestly not fit for purpose—a political stunt, not a credible programme for government. It is the first time that I can remember a Queen’s Speech being introduced by a Government who have no means to implement it, and frankly little intention of doing so.
The Queen’s Speech includes seven Brexit Bills. The Prime Minister made a great deal of that yesterday, pretending that they are the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech, but close examination tells a very different story. The 2017 Queen’s Speech said that
“my Government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2017; Vol. 783, c. 5.]
This year’s Queen’s Speech says that the Government’s priority is
“to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 2.]
Abject failure of Government for two and a half years.
What are those seven Brexit Bills? On analysis, five of them are identical to those introduced in the last Session. Five of the seven are exactly the same Bills: the agriculture Bill, the fisheries Bill, the trade Bill, the immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) Bill and the financial services Bill. All five started life in the last parliamentary Session. All five were then dropped when it became clear that there was no chance that they would get a majority. This Queen’s Speech indicates that they will all start again on the same track. We cannot dress up a step back as a step forward.
Then we have the WAB—the European Union (withdrawal agreement) Bill—the implementation Bill, which was floated in the last Parliament but never introduced. Again, it was not introduced, because the numbers were never there for it, and that was before the Government had a minority of minus 45.
I will in just one moment. The reality is that, of the seven Bills paraded as the centrepiece, five were exactly the same as the ones that have just been dropped and one is the same as the one that the Government would not introduce because they did not think it would win. That only leaves the lonely old private international law (implementation of agreements) Bill.
I will in just one minute. The private international law Bill is undoubtedly important; it deals with commercial law, family law and private law. But if that is the summit of the Government’s new proposals and approach to Brexit, it just underlines how absurd and unnecessary it was to have this Queen’s Speech.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his typically eloquent way, has merely rehearsed why this Government and this Parliament are in a state of paralysis: because we are reintroducing these Bills time and time again, and it is groundhog day every day now. The public are looking on in blank amazement as we continue to procrastinate. Where does he stand on the subject of a general election? It seems to me that the only way that we can act properly as a Parliament is to try to get a majority, of whichever party, in order that we can enact this legislation.
I am grateful for that intervention, mainly because it double-underlines the point I am trying to make. This is the second day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and I am challenged on whether we should have a general election. This is supposed to be the opening of a new parliamentary Session. The point I am making is that this Queen’s Speech is a pretence. Those Bills got stuck because there was not a majority for them, so we are now reintroducing them.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but what he knows, and the country knows, is that he had the opportunity many weeks ago, with all his colleagues, to vote for a general election today, on 15 October. They did not take that opportunity, so I am afraid that none of this presentation that he is making stacks up.
I am not going to vote for a general election until we have an extension. I am not going to allow our country to crash out of the EU without a deal. That is perfectly straightforward. That is my position. The hon. Gentleman may disagree, but that is my position. I am not going to vote for a general election until I know that an extension of article 50 has been secured and we are not leaving without a deal.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. We can see the desperation on the Conservative Benches for a cut-and-run general election. They know very well that the antidote to Brexit is the reality and the real lived experience of Brexit. I will tell you, gentlemen, that the experience of empty shelves and lack of medicines do not election winners make; when that occurs and you have your election, you are going to go down in flames.
To take this down a tone, so that we do not just get into trading insults on general elections, I listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State said. I am genuinely troubled about leaving without a deal, as I know many people on both sides of this House are, and I will genuinely do anything to prevent that, but the “do or die” pledge is just absurd. The talks are going on. They may not resolve this week. If the talks are still continuing on 30 October, and if the read-out is that they are possibly making progress, is it really the Government’s position that, do or die, we will leave on 31 October? It is absurd to have ever adopted that position.
To follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s logic, there are only two outcomes beyond 31 October: either we leave the EU, with or without a deal, or there will be an extension. After that point, will he now commit to voting for a general election if a motion were tabled on 1 November?
I will not vote for a general election until the extension is secured, and we are not currently in that position. We can trade these discussions all afternoon, but the absurdity is threatening no deal, which would cause huge harm to this country and fundamentally undermine the Good Friday agreement, and throwing away any progress that has been made in the negotiations because the Government think the “do or die” pledge is more important.
My question to the Secretary of State, if he wants to answer it, is this: if it comes to 30 October and the negotiations are still continuing and making progress, is it the Government’s position that they will extend article 50 to allow that progress to continue, or will we leave on 31 October? Which is the priority? I would like an answer to that question, and it is up to him whether he wants to give one. Our country needs to know, because it is absurd to say, “We’re on the verge of an agreement, but we are still going to leave without a deal because we said we would.” That is a ridiculous situation.
The ongoing Brexit negotiations are the backdrop to today’s debate. We may or may not know in the next 48 hours whether the Prime Minister will be able to put a deal to the House under the section 13 procedure. Let us wait and see. I have learned to be extremely cautious about the sorts of reports that are coming out on the progress that is being made, and I have learned to wait to scrutinise the final text.
I remember standing at this Dispatch Box at 10 o’clock at night on 11 March, when news of the last deal came through. The then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster received the news as I was trying to respond—that is no criticism of him. The deal dramatically came through at 10 o’clock at night, and 24 hours later it had fallen apart because the Attorney General had given his advice on what the deal meant. So I have learned to wait to see what happens, and then to look at the detail.
There have been press reports today that Mr Barnier has said the Government and the Prime Minister have to provide a legal framework by 12 o’clock tonight. There is a bit of confusion. There is no clarity from the Government on this situation.
That is one report, and there are so many reports coming through—they change all the time—but that underlines my point. I do not know, but it is quite possible that a conclusion will be reached later today that it is not possible to do a deal by this summit. It may be that that report is accompanied by news of progress. The suggestion may be that the talks go into next week, and up towards 31 October.
The question that the Secretary of State will not answer—he does not want to intervene on me—is: if that happens and we get right up to the deadline, is it the Government’s position that, do or die, we leave? Will the Government say, “Notwithstanding this, we are walking away without a deal because we said we would,” or will they allow time for the talks to continue? We need an answer to that serious question about the future of our country. This “do or die” nonsense is not helping anyone.
With the European Union, we all know that deadlines sometimes lead to agreement. People have to work to deadlines. If there is never a deadline, all that happens is that the can is kicked down the road and decisions are not taken. The uncertainty caused by a further extension would be very bad for the economy. Can we not just stick to a deadline and get a deal? That would be the best thing for Britain.
I take the point about deadlines, but the serious question underpinning it is, what will be the position if it gets up to that deadline and, for whatever reason, the negotiations are continuing but the deal is not ready? Is it really the Government’s position that, because deadlines are so important, we will walk away from that progress and crash the country out without a deal? That is obviously uncomfortable for the Government, because Ministers do not want to intervene and tell me about their position.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman see the absurdity of his position? He said he would do anything to avoid a no deal, yet every single time he has had a chance to vote for an agreement he has refused to do so. Does he recognise the absurdity of his position in that regard?
I said from the very start that we should have a meaningful vote on the deal so we can judge whether it is good enough. We had to fight for that, because the previous Prime Minister was not inclined to give us a vote. We would have had a statement from the Dispatch Box saying, “This is the deal.” We had to fight for a vote and the right to judge the deal.
That means we should have voted for any deal. We might as well not have had the vote. We set out the sort of deal we would support, but the previous Prime Minister did not reach out to seek consensus across the House. [Interruption.] No, she did not. She did it after 29 March, and everybody knows it. I was in those talks, and both sides said they were held in good faith, but everybody recognised that those talks should have happened two years before they did. If they had, there might just have been a deal that could have been supported by this House. It was the policy of the last Prime Minister not to vote for it.
Let me complete my answer, which is important as it goes to the nonsense that the Act we passed to secure an extension in certain circumstances somehow undermines the negotiations. No measure was taken by this House to prevent a no deal until after 29 March. The negotiations therefore continued for two years without any safeguard against a no deal, and those negotiations did not produce a deal that could go through the House. It is nonsense to suggest that the Act undermines the talks.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if the Government genuinely mean “do or die” and are committed to crashing us out of the European Union after 31 October with no deal, the Secretary of State, who earlier refused to answer the question put to him by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) about the impact on Northern Ireland farmers, which would be catastrophic, should come to the House to answer that question?
I hope the Secretary of State would come to the House to answer that question and the many other questions that go with it. My judgment call is that a no deal fundamentally affects not only that aspect of our economy but many others, and fundamentally undermines the Good Friday agreement. There are many Members on both sides of the House who would not want to put this country in that position under any circumstances. Even dangling the threat that we would still leave without a deal on 31 October if the negotiations were ongoing is therefore absurd.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Is he as amazed as I am with the quasi-religious, mystic veneration that the Brexiteers have developed for 31 October? The date was given to them not from on high but by Donald Tusk in Brussels, yet they venerate it and think it is cast in tablets of stone. Their position goes from absurdity to absurdity.
My principal position is this: we did the right thing several weeks ago in passing a simple piece of legislation that says, “If by 19 October there is neither a deal nor agreement to no deal, we should take the safeguard of applying for an extension.” That is the law; it is not a debating point in this Chamber any more—it was, we debated it and we passed it. That is the law and it is what needs to happen on Saturday. In my experience, everybody says they want a deal—I do not doubt the sincerity of that, although I accept that people want different deals—until they see the detail. That is what happened to the previous Prime Minister. She was supported on the proposition of a deal, until she brought the deal back and people looked at it—then they did not like it. So there is a danger at the moment in overreaching where we have got to. We need to wait to see what comes back in the text, but what happened last time was that the principle of a deal was agreed but the detail was not agreed when it got back here. That is why the Act we passed several weeks ago is so important.
I understand the point the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes about the Front Bench and I understand the potential absurdity he points out. However, will he elucidate for the House exactly what Labour’s settled party policy is on a deal that it would accept? Given the position he occupies, I very much hope that he would be able to give us a clear answer that would be backed by all Labour Members sitting behind him
I do not know how many times I have stood at this Dispatch Box pressing amendments for a permanent customs union and single market alignment, and for a level playing field on workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer rights. Every time I have done so, all but a handful of Conservative Members have promptly gone into the opposite Lobby to me to vote against. We have now reached a point—[Interruption.] I was asked a question, so I am just going to complete the answer. The five propositions around which we could see a deal emerging were set out in the detailed letter from the Leader of the Opposition to the then Prime Minister just before the cross-party talks started, so it may well be that people disagree with what that deal should look like but the idea that we have not set it out is not a fair one. Having got this far, having had two and a half years of failed deals and division, the only way now to break the impasse is to put whatever the deal is back to the public so that they can make a simple decision: do we want to leave on the terms on offer or would we not rather remain and break the impasse? I do not think this House is going to be capable of breaking the impasse without it.
In the spirit of positivity, I wish to probe the right hon. and learned Gentleman slightly further on the point he has just made. Is his position now that he would accept some of the level playing field points that were made in the cross-party talks if they were in the political declaration or is that no longer the Labour party position? Is he committed to a second referendum in all circumstances?
At this stage, any deal that comes back from this Government ought to be put back to the public for them to decide whether those are the terms they want to leave on or not. I came to that position slowly, because I thought that if consensus was built over the two to three years since the referendum, there might have been a deal we could agree, along the lines I have suggested. But that consensus was not built, time has gone by, the deal has not gone through and now we are in a position where we cannot break the impasse without going back to ask that question. I hope that question is asked on the basis of the “best deal” that could be negotiated, by which I mean the one that does least harm to the economy and best protects the Good Friday agreement. Those are two extremely important red lines as far as I am concerned.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made an incisive point. Does he agree that this Government’s mismanagement over the past few years has been tragic in how they have tried to monopolise the negotiation on such a critical national issue? Their own partisanship has visited this grief on the country in this way, which is why the only way now to break this deadlock, this impasse, and the acrimony that has built up in our country is by discharging this through a public vote.
I do agree. I cannot help feeling that in 2015 we had a Prime Minister who promised a referendum we did not need in order to try to hold his party together, then we had a Prime Minister who would not reach for consensus because she was calculating the numbers on her own side instead of the numbers across the House and now we have a Prime Minister with an absurd do-or-die pledge, which is counter-intuitive and not putting the interests of our country first.
Let me just make this broader point: our central concern in all of this has been about the extent to which any deal will protect the economy, jobs, rights and security, not about the backstop and not the border situation in Northern Ireland, which is obviously the intense focus of the discussions going on at the moment. That is why I rejected the last Prime Minister’s deal, and it looks as though any deal the current Prime Minister manages to secure—if he does—will be worse on both the backstop and on the wider question.
On the question of the border in Northern Ireland, a summary of proposals was presented to the House on 2 October, but they were not promising, because from that summary it looks as though the Government are going back on the commitments that they made in the 2017 joint report, and their proposals would unavoidably mean physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland. The proposals lack any credible mechanism to ensure the consent of all communities in Northern Ireland, which is a central tenet of the Good Friday agreement. Frankly, it was wrong to go down the route of a veto in Northern Ireland in relation to the Good Friday agreement, which absolutely depends on the consent of both communities for anything that happens under that agreement. If the proposals have changed significantly, I would ask the Secretary of State to update the House, but we remain cautious and will not support proposals that lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland or undermine the Good Friday agreement.
On the wider issue of the protection of the economy, jobs, rights and security, the Prime Minister’s current proposals on changes to the level playing field arrangements tell their own story. The seven-page explanatory memorandum that the Prime Minister put before the House says:
“There is…no need for the extensive level playing field arrangements envisaged in the previous Protocol.”
He has made no secret of the fact that he wants to step off the level playing field arrangements. I remind the House why those arrangements were previously included and are so important: they ensure that the UK cannot deregulate or undercut EU rights and standards. They were always minimum protections. We would have liked them to have been written into the withdrawal agreement. It is extraordinary and deeply significant that the Government have now decided to strip away even these basic protections.
The bigger point—this is not a technical point about what is in or out of this particular deal—is that it sets us on a course for a distant relationship with the EU and gives the green light to deregulation and to diverge. That is what the Prime Minister has said is his intention: to diverge is the point of Brexit. It is really important that we make it clear that that kind of deal—one that rips up the level playing field for those at work, for the environment and for consumers—could never be supported by Labour and could never be supported by the trade union movement. If the Prime Minister brings back a deal along those lines, he should have the confidence to put it back to the people in a confirmatory referendum, because such a deal would have profound consequences.
The concern is about not just the technicalities of the level playing field—although it is a technical question—but the political ramifications. Once we have decided to diverge from EU rules and regulations, we start down a road to deregulation, and it is obvious where that leads. The focus on trade and on our rights and regulations will move away from the EU—
I will just finish this point, then I will.
Once we say, “I don’t want to be part of those rules or regulations; I want to diverge”, we are moving our gaze away from the EU as our most important trading partner and our gaze goes elsewhere, across the Atlantic, to a trade deal with the United States, with obvious consequences—
I will give way in just a minute.
There would be obvious consequences for our public services, for businesses, for food and environmental standards and for workers’ rights. I know that for some Members that has always been the key purpose of Brexit, but it would be profound, because we would move away from a European-style economy with a level playing field underpinned by strong rights and protections, to a different economic model based on deregulation, low tax and low standards. In short, we would end up with an arm’s length relationship with the EU and would be hand in hand with the United States. That is not something that the Opposition will ever countenance.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I raise this question with him specifically because he is a former Director of Public Prosecutions. He talks about rights and international attitudes; this House passed a Magnitsky Act to allow sanctions against those who abuse human rights. We are talking about Britain’s place in the world. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if the Government look to put through Parliament those rules on sanctions against those who violate human rights, we should put our values clearly in that legislation? We should put religious freedom, modern slavery and freedom of media in there so that we are clear on where we stand on sanctions on individuals who violate human rights.
Let me draw on my experience and answer that. It is perfectly true that we want to collaborate and co-operate around the world on issues that are important to us, including modern slavery. I have paid tribute in the past, and do so again, to the previous Prime Minister for what she did on modern slavery. She took it forward and put serious legislation before the House that made a real difference, not only in this country but around the world. But the most intense work that we do, with the best arrangements, is with the EU. On counter-terrorism, we have arrangements in place across the world—of course we do—but the best and the most intense are with the EU by a country mile.
Let me just finish this point.
Those arrangements are far more effective in so many respects. The ability to share intelligence with our EU partners is on a different footing from that which we share with other countries across the world. Enforcement mechanisms provide a simple example. Every terrorist cell that I have ever ended up prosecuting operated across borders, and one of the vital questions in those circumstances is: do you have the necessary arrangements to carry out the arrest of that cell and assess its intelligence together as a group? Those are available through Eurojust. Then there is: do you have a strategy for making sure that your arrests are all carried out at the same time; do you have a protocol for deciding where the prosecution will take place so that it is likely to be successful; and, equally, do you have rules about whether evidence captured in one country can be used in the other? All of that is available to us as a member of the EU, and all of that falls away, particularly on a no-deal Brexit. Technical it may be, but save lives it did—in huge numbers.
On the subject of intelligence, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that our many intelligence allies under Five Eyes are not actually within the EU, but he makes an important point. Of course, it is important that we continue to share intelligence on everyday matters with the EU, and I, for one, do not believe that the EU will not want to do that, otherwise the United Kingdom will be the weak link in its chain. He makes, if I may say so, a fundamental mistake when he presents his argument as a binary choice in terms of trade between the EU and the US, thereby neglecting about two thirds of the world, including some of the fastest emerging markets in the world, which are not in the EU and are not the US. They are the Commonwealth countries and other countries further afield. Those countries are where our future markets lie.
I well understand the Five Eyes arrangements in terms of intelligence sharing, but even with the Five Eyes countries, we have problems with extradition. I did many extraditions to the US; they take years. They are hugely complicated. The evidence has to be tested in a different way here before someone can be extradited to the US, and vice versa. Sometimes one cannot extradite, because there are conditions around the process. Let us compare that with EU extradition, which takes just days. As we all know, we had bombings in London—the 7/7 bombings. We forget that two weeks after that bombing, there was another attempted bombing, which did not succeed only because the explosive devices were damp—all five of them. One of the individuals who tried to detonate a bomb in Shepherd’s Bush ran off to Italy, and we had him back here within 60 days under EU extradition arrangements. He was then tried in Woolwich and is now serving 40 years. That is what happens under a European arrest warrant and extradition. We simply do not have those arrangements with Five Eyes countries. I am not doubting the intelligence side of it; I am talking about the practical enforcement of counter-terrorism measures. That is the reality. That is why this suggestion of “do or die, we will leave without deal” is so wrong for our country.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a great speech, but is there not a huge question mark over the Schengen information system, the largest database in the world? If we do not have access to that, our citizens will be under threat.
I do agree with that and it chimes with what I was saying.
I think there was a second part of the challenge that was put to me that I have not yet addressed, which is: surely our future lies elsewhere other than trading with the EU. I do not accept that. What is this argument? Is it that, somehow, not trading with the countries that we trade most with—[Interruption.] Perhaps if I can finish, the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) can come straight back in. Through EU trade arrangements, we have access to another 67 countries, so the best part of 100 countries are available to us through EU membership, because of the trade deals that the EU has done. So we have the original 27—[Interruption.] Just let me finish the point, and then Members can shout at me—[Interruption.] I am asked, “why wait?” It might be worth waiting. We deal directly with 27 countries as a result of the customs union and the single market in a most effective way, and every business in the country that trades with Europe says that relations are excellent. Through our EU membership, we have another 67 countries that we deal with on EU trade agreements. That is nearly half the world. So this argument that somehow there is a brilliant tomorrow out there that has nothing to do with the brilliant arrangements that we already have in place is something that I have never seen evidenced. In fact, I looked through the Government’s impact assessments—when we were finally allowed to see them—for evidence that these new trade agreements would make up for all the loss, but it was not there. The Government’s own assessments said that we will be worse off as a result of leaving the customs union.
I am sorry for missing the very beginning of the debate, but I had a meeting with the aviation Minister.
I want to go back to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about the proposed deal being very bad for workers’ rights and so on. I completely accept that that is Labour’s point of view and that the Labour party thinks there should be a referendum on the deal. If it were put to a referendum and the public voted for the deal—even though Labour Members feel that it is not the deal they would like—and then there were to be a Labour Government, would they implement that deal? There will be a huge amount of legislation with any deal, and it is important to know that a Labour Government would deliver the deal even if they disagreed with it.
Let me be clear about my position. If we go down the road of having a referendum, I think that it must be between a negotiated deal and remain. When I say “negotiated deal”, I mean one that the EU would actually sign off, because I do not think it is fair to people to offer an option to leave that is not a proper option. I would go further. I would advocate that this House actually passed the implementation legislation, subject to a coming-into-force date or something like that, to show that it could be done straightaway. We would have to show that the deal had been secured with the EU and could therefore be delivered, and also that we had already put in place the means to deliver it in this place so that we could actually resolve this situation—one way or the other—within a short period of time. I now think that that is the only way to break the impasse.
I am now going to make some progress because I have taken a lot of interventions. I have outlined Labour’s approach, and it is our approach because we believe in international co-operation, upholding international law, and that we need to work alongside our closest and most important allies. Let me take just one example of that: climate change. I listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State said. This Queen’s Speech has 22 Bills—yet what was there on climate change? One mention, in the final paragraph. The climate emergency should be the issue around which our politics evolves and revolves. It is the foreign policy challenge of our time and the defining issue of global security. It should be the focus of the UK’s diplomatic and development efforts, and it, no Brexit, should have been the centrepiece of this Queen’s Speech. The fact that it got just one mention is a measure of the Government’s lack of leadership on this central issue.
This Queen’s Speech was entirely unnecessary. It is packed with Bills that the Government know are never going to get passed. It fails to recognise—let alone tackle—any of the huge challenges we face, and shows that the Government are oblivious to the need for radical change. Frankly, it is the weakest defence imaginable for the decision to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, which was unlawful and obviously unnecessary.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and the range of Bills the Government have put forward. I would prefer that were not having a Queen’s Speech. I would rather be knocking on doors in Poole at the start of a general election campaign, because it is true that there is an impasse in this Parliament, caused largely by people who said one thing in the general election but changed their position. I have not done so because I think that honouring the result of the referendum is a matter of honour. It is what we said in our manifesto and what I said in my election address. In fact, all the parties said that they would honour the result of the referendum.
People voted to leave—for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health; it was not actually conditional on anything in particular. But I happen to believe that a deal is probably better because a managed exit will probably be less difficult. The important thing is to have a transition, which will give us some time to get a trade agreement. The trick with all this is to maintain the best possible trade arrangements with the EU while opening up opportunities with other countries in the world. In the short term, the EU is more important, but in the long term other countries may be more important.
The hon. Gentleman mentions referendums. May I give him the good news—the breaking news, in fact—that the First Minister of Scotland has announced from Aberdeen that there will be a referendum in 2020 and that it is going to be on Scottish independence? We welcome that on the SNP Benches.
The simple truth of the matter, though, is that we always knew that a deal produced by the Government would be a compromise. I think it unfortunate that the previous deal, although it had major faults, was not passed. I hope that the Government make some progress with the talks this week and that perhaps a little later in the week we have some good news. Certainly, engaging with the European Union, which the current Prime Minister is doing, is a good thing. I think the EU has proved a little bit more amenable to further discussions than one might have thought earlier in the year, and I hope that we make some progress. However, as I said in my intervention on the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), deadlines are what make progress. What gets the attention of the European Union is a deadline creeping up. The EU must be thoroughly fed up with us, with extensions and further negotiations and endless Brexit, but we have to come to an end point.
Where I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman—although I understand his point and where he stands at the moment—is on a confirmatory referendum, which would probably take us up to the spring at the earliest. That is another six months. We have a lot of discussion in this Chamber about money and resources. That would mean our continuing to pay into the EU budget for another six months. It would mean that there would be less money within the UK budget for paying for some very important things. I hope that we get a solution that is an agreement, and I hope it is put to this House. I do not think another referendum is the right way, because there is a fundamental democratic point, which is to carry out the result of a referendum that was given to the British people. Having a second referendum before we implement the first referendum would, I think, cause my constituents great anger. However, everybody takes their position, and I have admired the way in which he has manoeuvred and gone forward and backwards. He made a long speech today and did not take many interventions. That is what happens when one does not have very much to say and does not really have a position, and the position may change. From an Opposition point of view, that is brilliant, but from the point of view of our country, it is not the best position. The Opposition have to come down on a definite position at some point.
I welcome the immigration Bill and the end of freedom of movement. However, that does not mean reducing immigration: it means setting and controlling immigration at what is appropriate for the British economy. I hope that we remain an open and confident country taking our part in the world. Our history, our tradition and our language mean all of that.
The Secretary of State made some very important points. If our aid budget teaches girls to read, they can read a medicine bottle and teach their children to read. It is a major game changer in terms of the world, and Britain is at the forefront of doing it. It is because the focus of Britain is worldwide and the focus of some European countries is rather narrower that we have a larger aid budget and people appreciate it around the world.
I welcome the fisheries Bill, which gives us a great opportunity to revitalise our fishing industry. It is very important to bring that forward. The financial services Bill will have a major impact.
On the medicines and medical devices Bill, it is true that, despite the great success of our NHS, we are sometimes quite slow to innovate in drugs and medical devices. Whenever I have known anybody come up with a new idea, it tends to get trialled, re-trialled and re-trialled again rather than implemented. There is a lot of progress that we can make.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to mental health and social care reforms, which are remarkably good. The further consultation on the victims’ law is very important. I think we are all very concerned about what we are doing for victims.
Of course, many of us have pensions and many people have lots of little different bits of pensions. More information through the pensions dashboard is quite important in enabling people to make long-term choices.
I also support what the Government are doing on voter ID. When I collect a package from Royal Mail or from various bodies, I have to produce ID. In terms of the very important prospect of voting, it is not unreasonable for people to have to produce ID. Whether or not the focus on a passport or driving licence is too narrow and ought to be a little wider—maybe a council tax bill or something—I do not know. However, it is a debate to be had, because there is a lack of confidence in some of the ways in which elections are conducted in our country.
As a nation, we have so much to be proud of. Sometimes we do not stand up for our own interests and blow our own trumpet, but the Government have a good record. We have provided a very good base—a successful economy—and because of that we are able to spend a little more money in key areas. I hope that we can resolve Brexit sooner rather than later and therefore get back to a proper domestic debate on all the important issues such as health, education and transport. I fully support the Government’s Queen’s Speech, and I hope it gets the support that this House ought to give it.
It is sometimes easy to forget the sunlit uplands of days gone by when those of us in Westminster were not entirely immersed in the omnishambolic boorach that is Brexit. In old money, I would still be a first-term MP, rather than one facing a third general election in just over four years. In days gone by, if a new Government came in with a fresh set of ideas—say, to take us out of the European Union, upending decades of peace, stability and progress—we might expect them to have some idea of how to deliver their promises and what impact it might have on us all.
Well, 2015 seems like a long time ago—not so long ago, to be fair, because the same old faces who proposed leaving the EU without any sort of plan for how to deliver on their commitments once again find themselves in senior positions in Government where they can act on their commitments. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they might say in the francophone parts of Brussels. Here we are, years on from the EU referendum, and those who failed to deliver on their Brexit commitments the first time around look like they are going to fail a second time around. What an almighty mess! We are now hearing reports that election leaflets from the Conservatives accept that we will not leave on 31 October—quite right too; it is the law. Let us hope that those in Conservative headquarters are a little bit better at sticking to the law than the Prime Minister appears to be.
The UK Government’s own analysis tells us that every type of Brexit will leave us worse off and poorer as a result of leaving the EU—every type. We are healthier with the co-operation in medicine supplies and groundbreaking research from our membership. We are wealthier with access to the world’s biggest single market. We are fairer in terms of workers’, parental and other rights, which I would not trust this or any other Tory Government with. And we are greener in tackling the climate emergency and developing technologies, where Scotland is leading the way, even if this Government do not always give us the powers that we need. Of course we can do better. Deepening co-operation between 28 independent and sovereign states—let us not forget that members of the EU are independent and sovereign—will never be easy.
We heard the news from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) about the proposed referendum on independence. If that referendum took place and was carried in the affirmative, would he then say that Scotland will not leave the Union of the United Kingdom unless it could secure a deal with the rest of the United Kingdom?
This is the most extraordinary thing. They sit here with no plan for Brexit, demanding all sorts that they cannot deliver, and telling the people of Scotland—who, time and again, provide a majority to the party that believes in independence—what is best, but forgetting that there are 27 models throughout the European Union for member status, which was also set out before the referendum in a White Paper. I like the hon. Gentleman—he might not thank me for saying that—but he fails to remember that it is traditional in a democracy to set out the plans before the vote, rather than four years later, scrabbling about days before we are due to leave, seeking a plan. The reason for that is that independence is normal. Member status of the European Union is normal. Brexit—isolationism—is not normal.
Leaving the EU will make us poorer, more decentralised, less fair and isolated from our closest partners, but let us just for one moment focus on one of the proposals—just one—contained in the Queen’s Speech. Rarely has there been a more damaging and regressive bit of legislation than that proposed to scrap freedom of movement. It is a freedom that generations of citizens have benefited from—from the pensioner who seeks retirement in Spain after years of hard work to the young person starting out on their career in education and getting valuable training or work opportunities in the Netherlands. That was me once upon a time—benefiting from freedom of movement. I did not benefit from the expensive education that many of the Brexiteers had, but I was able to use freedom of movement to my advantage to advance my education and career. The UK will now be unique among our neighbours in our citizens not having those opportunities. Why on earth would I vote to take away opportunities that I myself have had?
On the issue of freedom of movement, did the hon. Gentleman notice that the Government talked in the Queen’s Speech about introducing a new immigration system—what they call a points system —under which people coming to this country could be directed to a certain location? What does the hon. Gentleman think about that? That does not give them much freedom of movement, does it?
All of this takes away our rights, and the hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point.
If we need any further advice, what do we say about the hundreds of thousands of UK citizens who are now desperately looking up long-lost family connections to see whether they can get a much sought after EU passport? I cannot blame them for doing so—I will not blame them—and I can understand why they would do it, but I do blame this Government for devaluing UK citizenship, and for nothing: they have given up any pretence that any of this is a good idea or that any of this benefits us, and freedom of movement sits at the heart of the benefits that UK citizens have had for generations. The UK will now be unique among its neighbours in not having freedom of movement for our citizens. It is tragic, and it is regressive.
Today’s debate is about Britain’s place in the world, but Britain’s place in the world has rarely been more diminished than it has been by this Government. I think that has been done not by the people of the UK or even those who voted leave, but by the continuing failure of those who sold a Brexit myth and have absolutely no idea how to deliver it. It has even been diminished in the view of those who the Brexiteers think will save us from our nearest neighbours. I note that former Prime Minister Gillard of Australia has said:
“I do worry that people are starting to imagine that a trade deal with Australia is somehow a substitute for being on the doorstep of a market with 500 million people—it’s not.”
She is right. I also notice that Canada’s Globe and Mail has had to express an apology recently because, six months ago, it described the Government’s Brexit policy as a complete “omnishambles”, saying that things could not get any worse, but of course things did get worse. At least, it had the decency to apologise for the mistake it made.
The broader mess of Brexit is seen more globally where the UK has become more and more isolated at a time when it needs to work with its international partners. The Secretary of State talked about a leading role in global affairs. Why does he not talk about a leading role in global affairs to the Yemenis, given that we have held the pen at the UN, but cannot deliver on the agreement and continue to sell arms to one of the perpetrators of that conflict? This is a Government who model themselves and their policy on Trump’s White House. That is not the international positioning I think the UK Government should be looking at, and it is not the leadership that anybody should be looking at.
Colleagues of the hon. Gentleman in the SNP were at the Holy See with parliamentarians from across the House at the canonisation of Cardinal Newman, one of our great British saints. Will he assure me of his support as we take forward the work on freedom of religion and belief so that we can work together around the world in promoting that basic fundamental value?
Yes, I absolutely do. I pay tribute the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on that. We see the devastating consequences when we do not respect one another’s freedom of religion or belief, not least in Syria at the moment. I was fortunate enough to go with Aid to the Church in Need to the Syrian border to see the good work that is being done there and the work done by my own constituents with Sam’s House on the humanitarian crisis.
The hon. Gentleman has done excellent work on that. I hope that he will not mind me saying that the humanitarian crisis has been made worse by Turkey’s recent actions. I pay tribute to the reporters who are reporting back and to the humanitarian organisations. SNP Members believe—I know that there is not always unanimity on the Government Benches—that meeting the 0.7% target for international aid is not only necessary and humanitarian but a good investment. Peace is a good investment.
The UK needs to take a bit of responsibility. As I mentioned, it should do so over the British orphans who have been left in Syria. It needs to do so, and I hope that there will be some movement from the Foreign Secretary. The fall in the UK’s international standing is not something in which any of us should take any pleasure. I most certainly do not. As someone who worked in the European institutions, I was able to see at first hand the positives—I say this as a member of the SNP—that the UK delivered in partnership with other EU member states. Leaving is a loss for everyone, but particularly for everyone who lives in the United Kingdom. That is why it is little wonder that increasingly Scotland sees its future not as part of this Union but as a member of the European Union. At least that Union respects the rights, sovereignty and votes of its members.
The UK is a Union that likes to say no—no to devolution of immigration and business regulation so that we can stay in the single market, as called for by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and others; no to freedom of movement; no to more powers so that we can tackle climate change; no to giving people a choice over their own future. It does like to say yes to expensive new nuclear bombs that we don’t need; yes to austerity, yes to a power grab and yes to hitting the most vulnerable in our society and pursuing the most extreme form of Brexit that no one voted for.
No political organisation has an automatic right to existence. The UK Union has no automatic right to existence. It is increasingly clear that the best thing for everyone in the UK is that we build a real partnership of equals. That is achievable only with independence, as Brexit has underlined. Brexit helps no one. It has been particularly harmful to our relationships with our closest neighbours. For some time—and today the First Minister is doing the same thing in Aberdeen—we have argued that Scotland can help. As a member state of the EU in our own right, Scotland will act as a bridge between Brussels and London helping to rebuild the shattered relationship between our most important multilateral relationship and our most important bilateral relationship. That will be good for Scotland, as we attract business, research and opportunities while helping our neighbours to get out of this mess.
Finally, for what it’s worth, I do not think that this Government’s extreme right-wing Brexit plan reflects England, our closest neighbours. I do not think that this Prime Minister saying that he will break the law reflects England. The way in which England’s footballers and manager last night stood up to racism with dignity is reflective of England, not the way in which this Government have carried out their business. In some ways, this is the same speech that we on these Benches have been delivering for four years, but the Government are still making the same mistakes on the same proposals three and a half years on. It is time to change.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins). I agreed with what he said about 0.7% of GDP for UK aid. He is dead right. That is one of the great achievements of this Government since 2010. I was interested in his point about working out the detail before a referendum has happened instead of in its last weeks. I wonder whether we will hear from the SNP before the next independence referendum the detail on whether it wants to keep the pound and what its plan is to keep the pound. I would be happy to take an intervention on that from its leader in the House.
I am most grateful and I commend the hon. Gentleman for the tone of the start of his speech. Let me give an absolute cast-iron commitment that when the SNP brings forward its plans for independence, as it will very shortly, we will set out in exact detail the kind of country we want and have an open discussion with friends and opponents on what kind of society we want to live in.
I take that as no answer on the pound.
I warmly welcome yesterday’s Queen’s Speech and the fact that we have at least opened a new Session of Parliament. We have 26 Bills to be getting on with and all the more immediate Brexit endgame stuff to play out. I will not labour them all, but I want to touch on a few, not least as a former Health Minister. I welcome plans for an independent NHS investigations body—the health service safety investigations body, or HSSIB, which was talked about when I was in the Department—to look into serious healthcare incidents. There are other measures relating to adult social care and medicines policy. As a former Minister with responsibility for medicines, I look forward to scrutinising that policy.
I very much welcome the ambitious new policies on criminal justice. It was good to hear the Prime Minister yesterday talk about the rehabilitation of offenders during his remarks in the House. Far from the environment being an afterthought in the Queen’s Speech—I did not see it that way at all—I am delighted to see a new Environment Bill that promises to set legally binding targets to reduce plastics, cut air pollution, restore biodiversity and improve water quality. As promised, the animal welfare Bill to outlaw the proceeds of trophy hunting will be very welcome. I only wish we could outlaw the actual act as it happens in other countries, which shows a darkness in the heart of man that we should leave firmly in the past. These are good measures on the environment. My “Green Winchester” campaign, which I have run since before I was elected, will look forward to getting stuck in to all that. I know there will be a lot of interest from my constituents.
I want to touch on three points. First, I have spoken about Brexit and citizens’ rights in this Chamber many times since the referendum. In my opinion, Britain cannot have any secure place in the world if it is not a secure place that welcomes citizens from anywhere in the world. It is, of course, good news that the Queen’s Speech contains the immigration Bill. It will make clear that resident European citizens in this country and in my Winchester constituency, who have built their lives in and contributed so much to the UK, have the right to remain.
Indeed, I note that the Gracious Speech said that the Bill will include measures that “reinforce this commitment”, which is excellent. When the Minister responds to today’s debate, I would like to hear a little bit more about that. I am quite clear—many of my constituents will share this wish—that this is not something that we should be getting around to in late 2019 or early 2020. The previous Government—the Prime Minister said this at the time—should have legislated right away to end the uncertainty that our EU friends and neighbours living here have felt since June 2016. Many of my constituents have contacted me to express that view.
Secondly, Britain is known for many things around the world and it is rightly looked up to. As a Health Minister, I was fortunate to represent our country at G7 and G20 meetings. The experience of travelling wearing that NHS badge was that so many countries are envious, and rightly so, of our NHS. We are probably its harshest critics here domestically. Perhaps that is how it should be, but when we talk around the world about our primary care, GP and cancer services, our screening programmes —we are the first country in the world to implement the faecal immunochemical test, or FIT, bowel cancer screening programme—and the immunisation programme we have in our country, we should remember that there are many things for which Britain is rightly looked up to.
Sure, the 2016 referendum was unusual for us as a country. We do not need to rehearse all the arguments about how a parliamentary democracy such as ours has struggled to reconcile an exercise in direct democracy, but I really do believe that we should not overthink how others view us and how this episode has had an impact on our place in the world. It has been said many times and it is worth repeating: this House actually represents our country very well right now, divided as it is. We will see again on Saturday how divided our society is outside this building.
Ours is a working democracy and centuries of precedent and tradition, in my view, do not go bad in the space of three—although very long—years. I do not share the view, therefore, that we need to tear this House down, find our founding fathers and write a constitution—not yet anyway. Surely, the challenge of our current impasse has far more straightforward origins. As any student of politics learns in their first module about the House of Commons, this place works, and the Prime Minister’s power derives from, having a majority in this place. Whether I or we like it, there will have to be a general election sooner or later. Whether that produces a result of any clarity is another matter.
Finally, turning back to Brexit, we have to be honest and say that Brexit presents challenges and opportunities for Britain’s place in the world, but I suspect that how depends entirely on how this ends. I voted remain in 2016. I came to that conclusion because of the way I see our country: as part of something greater than even Great Britain. I am young and generally internationalist in my outlook. I have no issue with freedom of movement. As a Health Minister, I saw every day how our NHS needs the supply of labour.
I am not hung up on ceding an element of sovereignty to be a member state of the European Union. We do that as a member of other multinational organisations, including NATO, which, after all, has article 5 as the cornerstone of its foundation, stating that an attack on one is an attack on all. While I realise that this is anathema to some in our country and perhaps even in this House, when I see the British Prime Minister sitting around an EU summit table flanked by the big nations of Europe—being a big nation of Europe ourselves— I feel pride, not regret.
However, our country made a choice that we asked it to make. I may regret the result of the 2016 EU referendum, but I respect it and we must carry it through, and we will make it work. I realise that opponents of moderates have the luxury of taking a position from either of the spectrum. We have the Brexit party with its “Get Brexit Done”, saying that a clean break would just allow us to move on and put Brexit behind us. That is plain wrong. It would resolve nothing and is a recipe only for much further uncertainty. Equally, the Liberal party’s view—sadly, its Members are not in the Chamber; what a surprise—is that we can just revoke article 50 and pretend, like Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower in “Dallas”, that it never happened, but as one constituent put it to me last weekend, that is just not cricket. We have to move forward from where we are in life and not from where we wish to be.
My view is that Britain’s place in the world is strong, and I think that it will remain so. It is changing, that is for sure, but I suspect that when my children are my age—perhaps standing in this House one day—this current time will just be one part of the story that is this ongoing, successful United Kingdom.
If anybody thinks that Brexit has taken too long to get to this point, it is worth remembering that even if the Prime Minister does get a deal and it is approved by the House, it will take a very long time for us to try to negotiate a new relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partners. When one thinks of the list of things to be discussed—trade, services, data transfer, security, scientific co-operation, foreign policy, standards bodies and lots and lots of other things—it is very long. That is why—I say this to Government Front Benchers—the phrase “Get Brexit Done” is incredibly misleading, because we have not even begun to get Brexit done, as the years ahead will prove.
Things could get worse, which brings me to the question of a no-deal Brexit, which the Prime Minister has said he is prepared to inflict on the country if the current talks do not reach agreement. The House does not support that. We have heard what it could mean for the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. Vauxhall has said that it will not build the new model of its car in Britain if there is no deal. We read about Operation Yellowhammer. It is just as well that the House voted to require the Prime Minister in those circumstances to apply for an extension. Given the legal assurances that were finally produced by the Government in the Court of Session in Scotland, I am sure that he will abide by the law.
For the moment, however, the talks continue. Whether they are discussions or negotiations in “a” tunnel or “the” tunnel, we can establish some things. Having previously said, “Here’s our final offer. Take it or leave it”—to which the EU replied, “Thanks very much, but that’s not the basis for an agreement”—the Government now seem to have moved again, and then again. The more we hear about what is being discussed at the moment, the more it reminds every single one of us in the House of the former Prime Minister’s customs partnership proposal—because that is what they are talking about now—only applied just to Northern Ireland, which is interesting because the current Prime Minister resigned from his job as Foreign Secretary saying of that last proposal that it “sticks in the throat” and that he could not support it. That merely proves how times change.
I think that we all understand why it is proving difficult: because a dual customs arrangement is untested; there are risks of fraud and smuggling; there are threats to the single market; it is not clear what consent mechanism Stormont would have; and it is all very complicated. We have to face up to the possibility that all we will get from the summit this week will be the EU leaders noting that some progress has been made and looking forward to further talks, in which case we are probably heading for a further extension anyway.
We know that the backstop is essential because we have to maintain that open border. The Prime Minister got himself into trouble when he announced that he wanted customs checks in Northern Ireland, which was never going to be acceptable to the EU and breached the solemn commitment that the previous Government gave to the EU in the joint declaration: that under all circumstances, there would be no checks, no infrastructure, no controls. That commitment is embedded in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The issue of tariffs is very much on the minds of the farmers in my constituency who I met last week. The Government seem to be dodging the answer to the question what it will actually mean for farmers. I am told it will mean huge tariffs and the devastation of our farming industry. Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on that?
I would. I put the point to the Secretary of State earlier about the evidence we received this morning from the Ulster Farmers Union, whose one-word answer was simple: catastrophic. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any Government would wish to impose on that industry, never mind all the other industries, an outcome they know would be catastrophic. What is the possible justification? There is none, which is why the House was right to safeguard against it.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way because it is important to clarify the “catastrophic” issue. I also met that representative of the Ulster Farmers Union today, and he did not imply it in the way the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. He said it would clearly be catastrophic if tariffs were only in one direction, and he encouraged the Government to let the Republic of Ireland know that if it put tariffs on Northern Ireland products moving south, the Government here would reciprocate. That, in his words, would soon “sober up” the Republic of Ireland.
I am merely reporting to the House what the witness said to us today. It is the Government’s policy that there would be no tariffs coming this way across the border in Northern Ireland, but of course, as we know, the EU would impose tariffs on goods, including agricultural products, going the other way. That is the Government’s policy in a few days if there is no agreement—thank goodness the House has prevented that from happening.
There has been very little discussion so far of what really matters, which is the future economic relationship. Whatever the details of the backstop, we will have to have a backstop, and the Prime Minister has said he is in favour of a Canada-style free trade agreement. What does that mean? It means that in our relationship with our biggest and most important trading partners, there would have to be customs checks, checks on standards and checks on rules of origin. At the moment, there are none, because we are in the single market and the customs union, and we know how many businesses have built their success on the absence of those checks. That is why last week we heard five really important sectors saying how bad for them, their businesses and their employees a Canada-style free trade agreement would be.
Let us remember that the comprehensive economic and trade agreement does not eliminate all tariffs, has inferior access to the single market and no mutual recognition. We learned last week, or the week before, from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that having to fill in customs declarations would cost British businesses about £15 billion a year. We would not be in things such as the European Aviation Safety Agency or the European Chemicals Agency, which are so important to common standards, and unless we had a backstop, it would of course lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland. The Government also said they were moving away from the commitment to a level playing field. That came as a great shock. How exactly do Ministers expect to secure good quota and tariff-free access to the European Union when the United Kingdom is saying to the EU, “Well, as your nearest and most important trading partners, we might seek to undercut you as our neighbours because we will have different standards and different regulations, even though we want to carry on trading with you.”? I do not think that that is going to work. I hope that the Government are listening, because let us be frank: a Canada-style Brexit would be a hard Brexit; it would be a backward step for the economy; and the Government’s own assessment shows that it would have almost the worst impact on the economy, second only to a no-deal Brexit.
My final point is this. Here we are, meeting on Tuesday, with no idea what will be presented to us on Saturday. We have seen no papers—no draft texts, no political declaration—yet I think that a growing number of Members have come to the view that the only way in the end to resolve this question and to gain consent on the way in which leaving happens, if it is to take place, is to go back to the British people. I know that the Government have said that in no circumstances will they agree to a confirmatory referendum, but let us be honest: there are lots of other things that the Government have said during this Brexit mess that they would never do which they are now doing. Who knows what they are doing in the negotiations as we speak?
I would argue that going back to the British people does represent the compromise position in British politics. Over there are the Government arguing that they are prepared to inflict the damage of a no-deal Brexit on the nation, and over here, sitting near me, are those who argue that the referendum result should just be cancelled—scrapped—because that is what permanent revocation would mean. The moment of truth is approaching for the House. I believe that we will need to enlist the help of the British people, not to get Brexit done but to decide whether to remain or to go ahead, and if so, how.
I have never wavered from my view that Brexit is profoundly wrong for the future of our country and its place in the world—and I say that as an optimist, because the Prime Minister has no monopoly on optimism about our country—but the question is whether the British people have changed their minds. I do not know whether they have, the Prime Minister does not know and the House does not know, so let us ask the people, because they will know.
It is, as always, a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and it is a pleasure to be called so early in the debate. Indeed, in some of our debates on the European Union it has been a pleasure to be called at all.
Reflecting on the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Parliament—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my successor as Chairman, is present—I feel that I know only too well the cost of being a Brexiteer in this remainer Parliament. However, I am very proud of some of the work that the Committee did then, not only in analysing our future relationship with the European Union but in bringing home three unanimous reports on the vexed issue of Europe, although the Committee was split down the middle on the issue. Perhaps one of the most important reports was produced in advance of the referendum, and was entitled “Implications of the referendum on EU membership for the UK’s role in the world”. Given that the subject of today’s debate is “Britain’s place in the world”, I think that it should focus more on what our role in the world will be when we have left the European Union. Of course, I understand that a rearguard action of huge ferocity and determination is in progress with the aim of reversing the decision—the decision!—that the people made in the referendum in 2016.
I must pick the hon. Gentleman up on just one point. As someone who never voted for article 50 and as someone who wants to remain in the European Union, I have to say that this does not feel like a “remainer Parliament” to me. If it were, we would not be in this situation, because we would revoke article 50, which the Court said that we could do tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman makes it clear that there is an awful lot of smoke on this issue, with people not being totally clear and honest about the precise position they are taking. I exempt the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists from that. The hon. Gentleman’s amity for me is fully reciprocated, although I rather suspect mine might do him more damage to him than his will do me, but on the question of no deal, the idea that Scotland, if it was allowed another referendum by this Parliament—[Interruption.] This Parliament would have to pass that, and I might point out to the hon. Gentleman that, as he well knows, we said we were dealing with this issue for a generation. If there was a future referendum, however, and Scotland voted to be independent, there would then need to be a negotiation about the terms of Scotland leaving the Union of the United Kingdom. The idea that he would come here and say that if the rest of the United Kingdom would not come to an agreement it would all be off is utterly preposterous. That is exactly the same kind of relationship that he has voted to impose on the United Kingdom in its negotiation with the European Community, however.
Finally, because we actually have a stated date of 31 October in mind, we are now getting the necessary concentration from our partners to at last get serious about the terms of the withdrawal agreement. I might just reflect that we have heard a great deal from the Taoiseach and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland in the years that have led into this negotiation, but finally, into the debate audibly came the Finance Minister a couple of weeks ago. I take that sense of financial reality—the financial implications of there being no withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union—and the entry into the discussion of the Finance Minister of the Republic of Ireland as a thoroughly good sign that we are now going to get serious as we run into the final stages.
The hon. Gentleman’s observations about what has happened in the Republic of Ireland—the sobering up of some people’s views—are very telling. He will recall, as I do, that since the withdrawal agreement came into existence this House has been told that it is unalterable—it is sacrosanct; it cannot be changed—but what has been happening since the smiling meeting in the countryside of England last week? It is being changed—an amazing turn of events.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is an amazing turn of events given the language used about the withdrawal agreement, but of course the reality is that it is not that amazing, because interests are finally entering properly into this discussion, and the interests of twice as many people in the European Union than in the United Kingdom are engaged in the economics of the outcome of there being no agreement. As the Foreign Affairs Committee said in our inquiry on the implications of no deal, it would affect a greater proportion of the UK’s economy, but more people on the other side of the channel and on the other side of the Irish sea will catch the consequences if we fail in bringing home a withdrawal agreement in the rest of this week.
I have to say to those on the Labour Front Bench, in the absence of the shadow Secretary of State, that the presumption that the noble purpose of defending the Good Friday agreement is why no deal must be taken off the table is false. Our fellow members of the European Union are of course not going to work to undermine the Good Friday agreement and the relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic once we have left the European Union. That is why we need to turn to the future and what Britain’s place in the world will be after this.
In the withdrawal agreement we have of course dealt only with the terms of the withdrawal, and what has to be settled is the future arrangements and relationship with the European Union. I trust that that negotiation will be rather better dominated from the beginning by the common interests that both the EU and ourselves have in a constructive trading relationship that gives us the opportunity to forge a new relationship with the EU, based on a new role in the world for the UK. The country made its choice between being part of a big bloc or being a nation of 65 million people on its own, and I think the choice it made in the long-term interests of the UK was the right one, given the direction that the European Union was going. We must convince our children of the merits of that role in the world.
The Secretary of State for International Development, in opening the debate, reflected on his visits around the world and on how the United Kingdom is seen. He focused on the values the UK is seen to uphold: our democracy, our rules-based system and the economic empowerment of people. One that he did not mention, which I think is one of the golden threads, is our respect for the law. That is why London is the place where so many international companies have their agreements judged under English corporate law—because our judges are trusted and our system is seen as fair. That is an English set of values that is seen as a global asset. Those values, including a sense of proper fair play, have been associated with England and the United Kingdom down the centuries.
We must explain Britain’s new role in the world to the generation of younger people who voted to remain in the European Union, thinking that voting to leave was somehow turning our back on internationalism. It is quite the reverse. The United Kingdom now has the opportunity to play a role in the world as a member of the United Nations Security Council, contributing properly to our security and defence through NATO, and as a development superpower making the commitment as a serious economy to spending 0.7% of our GDP on development and to putting our values into action across the world and being a global leader in every sense, for the best values of humanity.
These are truly uncertain times. We do not know what the outcome of the talks with the European Union will be. We do not know whether the measures contained in Her Majesty’s Speech will receive the approval of this House. We do not know when we will be facing a general election contest, whereby the content of this speech, and others granting a legislative programme for a sitting Parliament to discuss, amend or scrutinise, will transform into the basis of a future Conservative manifesto. I welcome the fact that the Government have outlined their planned programme, and that, over the coming days, the House will have the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the Government’s intentions.
“Britain’s place in the world” is the title of this debate. I welcome what the Minister said about the commitment to education across the world for every young girl and woman. As others have said, the issue of FGM has to be addressed, as does the issue of access to the best medication to prevent TB, typhoid, HIV and all the other things that come with that. The Government have given that commitment, and I welcome that.
I am concerned about one thing has been omitted from the Queen’s Speech, which is the provision on armed forces veterans. I wish to take this opportunity to express my disappointment that that has not been included. A great many people up and down the length of the United Kingdom are deeply uncomfortable with the pursuit of elderly armed forces veterans for actions undertaken when serving in Northern Ireland. The Government should have taken this opportunity to protect those people, because I believe that that is the will of this House and that it has cross-party support. In relation to the Belfast agreement, people from all quarters have had to swallow hard and accept the release from prison of people who were guilty of the most horrendous crimes after serving a mere fraction of their jail sentence. In that context, it is wrong to see soldiers who were only ever in Northern Ireland to prevent the place from descending into anarchy being hounded in their old age, so it is my sincere hope that the Government will deliver very soon on protecting those who served the community and help to deliver the peace. For me, this is really important. The Government have omitted to do that, even though they have given a commitment to myself and others on both sides of the House that that will happen.
In relation to Brexit, I welcome the commitment outlined by the Government to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly co-operation. As the representative of a constituency whose fisheries have been at the sharp end of policy decisions taken in the halls of Europe, it is my sincere hope that we will soon have control over our fisheries policy back in British hands. Over many years under the common fisheries policy, the industry has contracted sharply. In my Strangford constituency, in the fishing village of Portavogie, we now only have 40 boats in the harbours, whereas some 15 or 20 years ago we had almost 100 and, going back further, even more than that.
The Government have put forward legislation that will bring back the licensing power after the UK leaves the EU. Foreign boats will no longer have automatic access to UK waters. That is what I want to see and what the Government want to see; the quicker that happens, the more all those who represent fishing villages across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will welcome that policy.
Does the hon. Gentleman not also realise that his fishermen, and the majority of fishermen in the UK, rely on access to the single market? Any no-deal Brexit would be devastating for them. It is also wrong to think that, if we had a no-deal Brexit, our waters would be closed off overnight. Because of international treaties through the UN, we would have to negotiate deals with individual nations.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I have a contrary opinion to his—he probably expects me to say that. The reason is that I have confidence in the fishing sector and what it can do. I use the example of Portavogie: the products that we sell, Portavogie prawns, Kilkeel prawns and Ardglass prawns, are sold all over the world. They are sold because they are the best quality product and because they are wanted. Will those markets close just because the fisheries will not have access? No, they will not; they still want the product, so they will pay for the product and they will ensure they have access to it.
The Government have also committed themselves to subsidies that reward farmers for biodiversity, which I welcomed yesterday. I declare an interest, as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred to the Ulster Farmers Union, which he spoke to today, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I can tell them, as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union, that my neighbours, who are all involved in the dairy sector, all wish to leave the EU and look forward to the future.
The Government have given a commitment to ensuring that some of the tariffs, subsidies and grants will be in place as long as they have the wherewithal to do that. Lakeland Dairies, in my constituency, has two factories in Northern Ireland and two in southern Ireland, and that milk product will cross the border on a number of occasions, so, again, the future for us is very bright.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to the national health service and to health. Stating that minor ailments can be referred to pharmacies will take some of the pressure off general practitioners, doctors and nurses. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to law and order, but also to their obligation to ensure the safety and security of the people they serve.
I particularly welcome the measures on prisoners’ disclosure of victims. Just last week in Northern Ireland we had a man who was convicted of murdering a lady who disappeared some six or seven years ago. I believe it is imperative that we have in place a law that says, “If you have murdered someone and you don’t disclose that, you get more years in prison.” The Government have given a commitment to bringing in that legislation; I know the families want to see that happen, I want to see it happen and it is good news.
It is also good news that the Government are bringing forward laws to implement new building safety standards. In Northern Ireland we have some 33 tower blocks; I understand that it is a devolved matter, but the fact is that we had a fire in Dunmurry, shortly after the Grenfell disaster, which brought home to us, and made us aware of, the need to have legislation in place.
I welcome the compensation that will come off the back of the historical institutional abuse inquiry for victims who have been abused over the years. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that broadband connections are in place. The Democratic Unionist party has a confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative party, through which broadband was delivered, and we want to see that continue.
Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that, next week, Northern Ireland will benefit from a visit by the Australian high commissioner? There will be talks with Invest Northern Ireland and other important groups about the future relationships and trading opportunities that will now be open to Northern Ireland as a result of being free post Brexit. The Singapore high commissioner will be in Belfast the following week for similar talks with Invest Northern Ireland and political leaders. Does my hon. Friend recognise this will open up Northern Ireland to having an even greater place in the world?
Yes, I do welcome that. It is no surprise that we have good times coming and that the sun will shine again. We will not be in total darkness, as some people seem to say all the time. The Government have committed to doing deals with Australia, Singapore and others, and the Minister of State, Department for International Trade, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), helped to secure a £250 million deal over five years for milk products from Lakeland Dairies in Newtownards, so things can happen. Life will not stop because we leave the EU.
Tips are a form of performance-related pay, and if staff serving in a public house or restaurant have performed so well that a person gives them additional payment for doing so, it is only natural justice that they should enjoy the full benefit of that payment. I hope we will be able to consider the Government’s measure.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) spoke yesterday about voter identification, which we have had in Northern Ireland for a number of years. Voter ID was introduced to stop corruption and illegal voting, and it has gone a long way in doing that.
We have had a voter ID pilot in Woking for the last couple of years. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the scaremongering about these successful pilots, and about what I am sure will be a successful roll-out, is just so much piffle and nonsense?
I agree that we should be looking forward to voter ID, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to it. People should not be scared of it, because people have to show their driving licence or some other form of ID to open a bank account. Voter ID has functioned well in Northern Ireland. We have not entirely eliminated electoral fraud in the Province, but we have gone a long way in doing so.
We are committed to the democratic process, we are committed to voter ID and we are committed to supporting the Government on the majority of their far-reaching proposals. We look forward to engaging with Ministers—
It is a pleasure to speak on the Gracious Speech for the first time in my parliamentary career. I will focus narrowly on the trade Bill, which made its way through certain stages in the last Session.
The outline of the Bill looks moderately familiar—one might even say it is groundhog day—and we need measures to adopt the provisions of a transition agreement, to set up the trade remedies authority, to accede to membership of the agreement on government procurement and to collect data about importing and exporting. Well, that is pretty much what the last Bill did. This time round, if we need the Bill to proceed, I hope those core parts will be passed by both Houses reasonably quickly.
Plainly, we have achieved rather more than Opposition parties thought we would in renegotiating the terms of EU trade agreements into a UK form, with some 70% of those agreements now on the books. Most of those agreements, because they have been passed and adopted by the EU, are on the UK books anyway, so I do not believe these measures should be particularly contentious.
The trade remedies authority currently operates in a shadow form, which cannot be the right way of handling things. The trade remedies authority is incredibly important to all of us in this House in the context of a long-term trade policy. Labour Members who represent industrial constituencies and who see unfair competition from abroad on ceramics, steel and building materials should be keen to see this provision on the books. World Trade Organisation rules on this are extremely complex. They demand enormous amounts of evidence on the breach of the terms of trade and, quite rightly, they impose high barriers in the way of restrictions to trade. Part of that is about having a stand-alone body that can do this to show independence from Government and that there are no political issues that the proposed measures are to satisfy. I urge all Members to make sure that, as and when this Bill comes to the House, they take due regard of the industries they would want to protect if this Bill does not pass with that measure included in it.
After that, I would hope that the measures to adopt the general procurement agreement and our accession to it will be easy for everyone to understand: access to $1.3 trillion of international procurement opportunities seems to me to be very worth while. The information sharing across Government about what people might or might not be exporting is also extremely important. I stress now that at least in the last Bill that was a voluntary issue and was included so that exporters and importers knew as much about themselves and their sectors as did government. That is all in the context of what derailed the Bill last time around, and we need to be plain about that.
It is clear to me that the rights and responsibilities of the devolved nations are recognised when we start to negotiate free trade agreements. Devolved nations have clear responsibilities. Certain parts of trade—of the economy, at least—that are devolved to those nations will have an impact on how we frame FTAs. It is clear to me that the devolved Governments must have their say as we put together our mandate and the negotiations with third party countries. I met the Ministers in the devolved Governments several times and worked extensively in the Department to try to ensure that we came up with a decent offer. I believe that offer was the right one, and I hope very much that the Department will note that we cannot lose sight of this issue. We work much more strongly and produce much better FTAs if we can be sure that the devolved Governments will come with us on that journey. I am convinced that they will, as long as they are treated fairly and properly.
Secondly, we have to address the way in which we scrutinise FTAs in this place. Once again, it is time for the House to look carefully at itself and its rules, and understand that these are important issues that will bind this country for the long term into arrangements with third party countries. These things have effects in the British economy that are not even necessarily directly related to what is in the agreements themselves. Furthermore, lots of them have 20-year run-off periods, so these arrangements cannot easily be undone, even by this House, even if it wants to do so. The Command Paper put to the House of Lords when we brought this Bill into the Lords last year detailed clear scrutiny mechanisms and a dedicated Committee for treaties. This was backed up again by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords, which was recommending that the way forward that the Command Paper had outlined was the right one, and it is the one the Government should be pursuing. I add one rider: it seems to me that in this circumstance there is still debate to be had about whether the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and the way in which we ratify treaties in this country is sufficient for FTAs, which are a very different sort of international agreement from many others. One has only to look at the complexity and the amount of paper involved in any one of these agreements to understand that further scrutiny might well be required.
I have a few more notes for the Department and for the House. We must continue to understand that market access negotiations with third party Governments, outwith FTAs, about difficulties in trading in their countries are every bit as important, not just to individual companies, but to the economy as a whole, for our trading internationally as FTAs. We must not lose sight of the fact that most trade Departments dedicate two thirds of their resource to market access and one third to FTAs. We must also take account of the environment and our 2050 targets when we strike new FTAs. How we can possibly reach our 2050 target if we pursue endless new FTAs that endlessly increase GDP—after all, that is what they are there to do—is a conundrum that the Department and this House will have to crack.
Should we get to a point where we are trying to pursue another trade deal with the EU, please let the Government not forget that we have very experienced trade negotiators in the Department for International Trade who could well assist—believe me, that has not been the case so far. Finally, for the whole of Africa our representation through the DIT there is paid for by £3 million-worth of spending. Do we really think that is right? I do not and the DIT should have more funding.
I wish to address the commitment in the Queen’s Speech that
“Government will ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 3.]
and to make the case that the guiding principles of our foreign policy should be justice, security and human rights, through a renewed focus on active diplomacy, multilateral engagement and sustainable development. Our diplomats are among the best in the world and our status as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council gives us real clout. We need to exercise that clout—and let us start with Syria.
The disastrous decision by President Trump to withdraw US troops from northern Syria has opened a horrifying Pandora’s box, out of which the only winners can be Daesh and Assad. As ever, the losers are innocent civilians, including children. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s response to the urgent question earlier, but I invite the Minister to be clearer, when he responds to the debate, about the Government’s approach to a new UN Security Council resolution on Syria, on which the UK could show leadership. Syria represents a collective failure from which we must learn.
Last week, some of us attended the parliamentary screening of “For Sama”, the story of Waad al-Khateab and her family’s life through five years of the siege of Aleppo. The film is a harrowing account of war in the age of impunity, when war crimes go unpunished and the laws of war become optional. Chemical weapons, cluster bombs, the bombing of civilian infrastructure and the blocking of humanitarian supplies have seemed to become the norm. I welcome the Government’s announcement earlier this year that they are reviewing the protection of civilians strategy. This is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the rules-based order. With other Members, on a cross-party basis, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary earlier this year to impress on him that that strategy must address the key challenges that arise from conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen.
In Yemen, the Group of Eminent Experts has found violations of international humanitarian law by all sides. The bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure surely warrants consistent and clear condemnation and independent investigation. As the penholder on Yemen, surely the United Kingdom should be a neutral broker. The previous Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), showed real leadership on Yemen; I urge the Government to maintain that UK leadership.
The idea of leadership applies more widely, because we are in an era in which tragically the United States is retreating from its role as a defender of the rules-based system. Human rights should surely be the foundation of a fair, open and transparent society. I say strongly to the Government that, with an increasing void created by that American retreat, the defence of human rights and the rule of law must be at the heart of our policy—even more so than before.
Let me cite the particular example of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. President Obama made LGBT rights a pillar of his foreign policy, but that work is being undone by President Trump. Let me take just one example of the challenges that we still face: last week, a member of the Ugandan Government again suggested the introduction of the death penalty for gay sex. I urge the Minister to set out what the Government are doing to press Uganda to withdraw this appalling proposal.
The Ugandan announcement is not an isolated incident: we see growing authoritarianism around the world and a shrinking of civic space. In Hong Kong, we have seen protest leaders jailed, savage beatings and the firing of live rounds against demonstrators. Under the Sino-British joint declaration, Hong Kong residents were promised a range of civil rights; it is extremely difficult to argue that the treaty has not been breached. Surely it is now time to declare that China is in breach of its international obligations and to press the Chinese to change their position.
As we face great crises—on displacement, the climate emergency and widening inequality—the case for multi- lateralism is stronger, not weaker. I praise the commitments that the Department for International Development showed last week to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It is estimated that that fund has saved 27 million lives, making a real difference around the world. None the less, we need coherence in our policy. In Yemen, we have seen the real difference that aid has made, but our role there is a paradox of aid and arms in that we support Yemen on humanitarian relief and yet we are one of the main suppliers of arms to one side of the conflict. We need to address that. I now struggle with the Government’s suggestion that we have a system of arms control that is one of the most rigorous and robust in the world. I no longer believe that we can genuinely say that. We need to address this issue as a matter of urgency, and one of the ways that we can do that is to improve parliamentary oversight by making the Committees on Arms Export Controls a stand-alone Select Committee focused solely on that issue.
Finally, let me say something about DFID and our aid commitment of 0.7%. As colleagues from all parts of the House have said, that commitment is widely applauded internationally. We are a development superpower and, arguably, that is our greatest asset when it comes to exercising soft power. We should be proud of it and we should reaffirm it. I welcome the Queen’s Speech commitment to ensure that all girls have access to 12 years of quality education. The UK’s commitment at the General Assembly to investment in education is hugely welcome and positive, but we must address the particular needs of those who are displaced—those who are living as refugees or who are internally displaced. In particular, let us not forget the Rohingya people. It is now more than two years since 1 million people fled from Rakhine State to Bangladesh. We need to address their humanitarian needs, but we also need to hold the Burmese military to account. I urge the Government to be more proactive on this in the United Nations. Let us use this debate today to reject isolationism, reject any movement away from multilateralism and demonstrate our commitment to those shared values.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). He focused his speech on values. By and large, foreign policy around the world is viewed through three prisms: prosperity, security and values. I, Madam Deputy Speaker, want to touch on the issue of values.
Our Queen’s Speech made it very clear that the United Kingdom will stand up for its values. Those values could be the rule of law, justice, liberty or freedom. I was surprised to see that the freedom of religion or belief was not in the Queen’s Speech. This Government—our Government—asked the Bishop of Truro to commission a report into the persecution of Christians around the world to see, first, whether the Foreign Office understood the scale of the issue at hand and then how we can address it. That was our report. The Government accepted the 22 different recommendations that were in that review.
There can be no compromise on article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
It says “his”. It should also say “hers”, but we should remember that this was in 1948. Why is this important to me? I came to this country from Pakistan in 1984. My father was an imam, my grandfather was an imam, and my uncles were imams. When I arrived, I could not speak a word of English. I moved to my constituency of Gillingham and Rainham. My father, my sisters and I were able freely and openly to practise our faith in our great country. There is now a moral obligation on me and others who are part of minority religious faiths in this great country to stand up for individuals who are being persecuted for their faith in their countries of origin or elsewhere where they are a part of minority religious communities. That is why, for me, there can be no compromise on freedom of religion or belief. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for appointing me, on 12 September, his special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. This is what the Prime Minister said:
“People across the world deserve the chance to practise their beliefs freely. I’m delighted to appoint Rehman as my new Special Envoy and look forward to him building on the important work we have already done on this issue. The UK will always be a passionate advocate for greater tolerance, respect and understanding internationally.”
I am grateful to him for that appointment. Let me make it clear that I will carry out my duties without fear or favour. Yes, I am the Prime Minister’s special envoy and I also report to the Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Office, where I am based, but as somebody who is committed to freedom of religion or belief I look to colleagues across the House.
There were parliamentarians from across this House, led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, at the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman at the Holy See. I am a Muslim, but I stood there and listened to what that great man stood for; and I consider him to be my saint too, because of those values. There can be no compromise on freedom of religion or belief.
My hon. Friend is speaking powerfully about freedom of religion or belief. As he knows, my Committee is looking to take evidence in an inquiry on this subject in the coming weeks. Will he speak for a moment about the importance of the Foreign Office in supporting freedom of religion or belief? For example, his own work defending Asia Bibi in Pakistan and speaking up for Coptic Christians in Egypt has been extremely important to many of us.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee. I look to his work for guidance because across the House Members of Parliament are respected for their expertise, understanding and credibility, and he demonstrated that on the Asia Bibi case, when he held the Government to account for not doing the right thing. I thank him for standing up for our British values. I resigned from the Government over that case because I did not agree with the way in which it was handled, and the current Prime Minister supported me. If the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee wants me to give evidence as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, I would be more than happy to do so—subject to the rules and criteria of the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s office.
I have tendered my terms of reference—eight objectives and 27 terms—to the Prime Minister in order to carry out my work. I have met and listened to brilliant British and international non-governmental organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Aid to the Church in Need and Open Doors. I have also met diplomats from across a number of different countries and parliamentarians from Nigeria, and I now look forward to meeting the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to take this work forward.
CSW’s website states that 83% of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is threatened or banned. How can that possibly be right? We are talking about countries in east Asia, Latin America, the middle east, north Africa, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; there is persecution across the world. The Bishop of Truro’s report makes it very clear that Christians are the most persecuted faith in the world, and that freedom of religion for everyone should be a priority for countries around the world.
I should make a declaration of interest. Before going to the Vatican for three days, I was in Bahrain for over 36 hours, where I met His Majesty King Hamad and looked at the Bahrain declaration. For the two days that I stayed there, the Government of Bahrain provided my accommodation before I went on transit to the Vatican. That happened last week and will be on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests within the timescale. On my visit, I made it clear that we need to work with countries such as Bahrain—which has had churches since 1823 and a Hindu temple for 200 years—along with other international partners.
Before I delivered my terms, I met communities that are persecuted around the world. Here in the UK, I met the British Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Baha’i community, and listened to them talk about the persecution they face. Working with individuals across the board, I will ensure that freedom of religion is pushed at every possible level.
Let me finally pay tribute to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who has done immense work over the past 40 years on inter-faith dialogue—theological debate and discussion is how we are going to deal with intolerance. I say to colleagues from across the House that I look towards them so that we can have these frank discussions and take this vital work forward, because every citizen has a right to practise their faith openly and freely.
It is a pleasure to follow the fine words of the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who I am sure will do great things in the role he has been given by the Prime Minister. He marked himself out early on with his campaign to use the term “Daesh” as opposed to “ISIL” or “ISIS” at the time when we were both elected, so all the best from me to him for that. However, I do fear that the Government have become somewhat complacent, in different theatres around the world, in trying to uphold many of the values that he spoke of.
I want to focus on defence and security, primarily security. I start with what is happening right now in Syria with regard to Turkey. This morning, we had one of the most pressing urgent questions answered by the Foreign Secretary in the most languid and complacent fashion. I think I am being charitable in saying that when met with such criminal behaviour on the part of Turkey, the Government can only go so far as to say that they will ban new arms exports where that infrastructure may be used by Turkey in northern Syria and that they will keep a rolling eye on the matter. They will not even go so far as to argue muscularly for any sanctions on Turkey. Worse, the Defence Secretary appeared to lend support to the Turkish claim of legitimacy in moving into northern Syria. What a disgrace that is.
Then we look at Hong Kong, from where we can all take some inspiration. Thirty years on from the Baltic Way, that amazing signature of human triumph for freedom and liberty and the rule of law over the iron fist of the then Soviet Union has been emulated beautifully, in the most grotesque circumstances, by the people of Hong Kong standing up to one of the world’s most authoritarian and brutal regimes. If we ask ourselves what on earth the UK Government are doing in that regard, it sounds like a lot of warm and feisty words on their part but very little when it comes to any meaningful action. Another example is Saudi Arabia—a country that saw the chopping up of a journalist in one of its own embassies earlier this year. The Crown Prince said only last week that it was down to him that that happened, and we have had barely a finger raised by the British Government.
Of course, as the Minister and other Members might expect me to, I come on to the issue of Russia and Ukraine. December this year marks 25 years since the signing of the Budapest memorandum on security assurances, to which the Government are a signatory. That memorandum, frankly, lies in complete and utter tatters. I do not say that to diminish what the UK Government do to support Ukraine, of which they do a lot and of which they can be proud, but let us think about what is going on in that country—an illegal annexation in Crimea and the overtaking of its eastern border, in the Donbass region, by its neighbour, Russia.
Given all the things I have mentioned so far, whether it is what is happening in Hong Kong, in Syria, in Ukraine or in Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin must be licking its lips and be unable to believe its luck in the way the international order that so many Members speak about here week in, week out is falling apart—and it is falling apart. I say to Members of this House, particularly to Members whom I often disagree with but respect none the less, that what we have seen happen in this country and elsewhere with the attacks on the rule of law and on the norms that keep us safe and secure will continue to happen. If they think that the unravelling of the European Union was enough for these people, I can tell them that it was not. If they think that NATO is not a future target for unravelling by Russia and others who would buy into that agenda in this country, they should believe me that it is. I urge them to step out of the complacency that they find themselves slumbered in.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday at the Dispatch Box about how much he admires the capitalist free market and the rules-based system, which has delivered peace and prosperity across Europe, but the Queen’s Speech undoes the very instruments that underpin that prosperity, such as freedom of movement. Where once stood closed economies in closed societies under communism and Nazism now stands free markets, which this Government are walking away from. For shame, I say to that.
It is hardly a global Britain that anyone can be proud of. If it was a real global Britain, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would not be perishing in an Iranian dungeon. If it was a real global Britain, the wives of US military personnel would not be hiding under the terms of diplomatic immunity, having run over a British citizen here on UK soil. It is not global Britain in my name.
I am proud that this Government are ending the postcode lottery and ensuring fairer funding for our schools, which I have led on in this place. I know that many Members across the House were looking for a fairer funding formula, and we have got it in this Queen’s Speech. The schools in my constituency will hugely welcome this injection of funds. St Albans schools will now see an increase in funding above the new minimum levels of per-pupil funding. The average amount in St Albans will be £5,161 per secondary school pupil and £4,123 per primary school pupil. I welcome that.
I was also pleased to hear the Prime Minister say yesterday in response to my intervention that this Government are committed to protecting parental choice and respecting diversity within our education system. That includes private schools. It is worth noting that our country welcomes 55,280 overseas students as of January 2019. I welcome the announcement that those students can now stay for two years after graduation, because it means that they can contribute to our economy. Many foreign young people also attend our excellent private schools. Private schools generate billions of pounds for the UK economy, support thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to tax revenues. Trashing that, as the Labour party wants to do, is wrong. I have in my constituency what is believed to be the oldest private school—St Albans School—and I am meeting parents and the headteacher of St Albans High School for Girls this Friday. They are extremely worried about this act of vandalism, and many people have asked me, “Which charity will be next on the hit-list?” We need to think about that.
I am pleased that, by March 2021, the local growth fund will have invested £12 billion in projects to boost jobs and growth across England. The fund has made projects such as the Hertfordshire enterprise zone possible, creating 8,000 new jobs. However, I will still be pressing for a review of business rates, because the current model based on property values is not fit for the modern business economy. It also allows too many online retailers to escape paying their way, which is wrong.
The Environment Bill is a flagship policy for this Government, and I welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. In St Albans, like in many areas across the country, we have air quality management areas, including one at the Peahen junction. These polluted areas have been subject to this designation for years, and it is time we had an audit of where these areas are and how long they have had this designation. Simply recording the pollution with no obligation on local authorities to deal with the problem and eradicate the pollution is not good enough. We need to know the extent of the problem.
I will be pressing for the inclusion of noise pollution in the Environment Bill, as it seems to be overlooked by many of those campaigning for our environment. I missed the first part of the debate because I was meeting the Aviation Minister. My constituency has big problems with noise pollution from Luton airport, and I was pleased to hear that the Aviation Minister will be looking into that matter. Noise pollution, whether from roads or flights, blights lives.
Today’s debate is about our place in the world. As the only major country that is simultaneously meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development, we hold our heads high in the world. Bangladesh, in which I take a particular interest, received £190 million in development funds from the UK in 2018. I was pleased that the Secretary of State announced in September an extra £87 million for the Rohingya, which is truly welcomed by the people languishing in those camps as a result of persecution.
A lot of funding from DFID goes to democracy-strengthening, including in Bangladesh, which is a young country; it is nearly its 50th anniversary. Emerging countries must learn that if faith is lost in the democratic process, through dodgy elections or broken promises, the whole future of electoral participation will be lost.
It is worth noting that many people have said, “Well, the last referendum has not been delivered”, which prompts the question why anyone would want to participate fully in another referendum. I am pleased that the Prime Minister is willing to try to deliver on the loud voice of this country: the country voted to leave. No one can argue that the 2016 referendum was poorly interacted with; it was a huge exercise in democracy, with 33.5 million people voting, and many have told me that they voted for the first time. It was a democratic instruction to the Government of the day. This was not about political allegiances; it crossed political divides. Since then, this House has failed them. We have retreated to our political corners, and that is not good. Political posturing means that this House is putting party before country now and refusing to back a deal, with some in this House doing so without even seeing it.
Even worse than this is that we now have a party trashing the concept of democracy by threating to ignore the democratic mandate, and actually overturn and revoke it. That position has been described by the leader of the Greens, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), as
“arrogant, self-indulgent, cynical and very dangerous”.
Hear, hear. If we cannot deliver on what the British people have said, why will anyone ever trust any of us again? The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who leads the Liberal Democrats, said in 2008 that they were being gagged when they wanted an in/out referendum. Now she likes to hold the title of “Democrats” in her party name, but any party that refuses to acknowledge and try to carry out the direct democratic mandate of the people should lose the right to call themselves democrats. If the PM comes back with a deal, we all owe it to the 33 million voters to think very long and hard about how we will vote. Narrow party politics does not have a place in this decision.
May I say to the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) that, when she reflects on the referendum, she may want to reflect on why the 3.5 million people who will be most affected by that referendum were not actually allowed to take part in it and whether the will of the people therefore reflected the full will of the people in the country?
A debate on the place of Britain in the world cannot happen without considering the impact that Brexit will have on the UK economy. As a country, our place in the world will be greatly affected by whether we are weaker, poorer and more isolated following Brexit than we would otherwise have been. The Secretary of State for International Development would I am sure, had he been here now, have accused me of being negative. I suggest that his positivity often merges into delusion about all the benefits he claims he can see from Brexit. I want to focus on that.
It is certainly worth considering the forecasts that were made three years ago about where we would now be in relation to Brexit. I accept that some statements were made immediately before the vote by George Osborne and the Treasury that, frankly, I was not willing to go on TV and repeat because I thought they were outrageous. However, if we look at what has happened in the last three years and at the predictions made by the Bank of England, the Office for Budget Responsibility, private sector consensus and Economists for Brexit, asking which assessments or analyses hold up three years on, the one that is way out is of course the one made by Economists for Brexit. They predicted that the UK economy would have grown much more significantly than was the case. That is why the predictions made by those different organisations are worth bearing in mind and worth considering when we are trying to work out where we might be should we end up with Brexit, particularly with the Brexit proposals that our Prime Minister has been touting.
In the joint statement in 2016, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Centre for Economic Performance and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research predicted that the impact of leaving the EU might leave the UK economy 8% smaller by 2030 than if we had voted to remain. They predicted that the economy would be between 1% and 3% smaller by 2020. It is a fact that the UK’s economy is 1.5% smaller now than was forecast by the Bank of England back in May 2016. So their predictions seem to be pretty much spot on. If they are correct, the UK economy will be 8% smaller by 2030 than had we stayed in the European Union.
So when we have a Secretary of State who promotes the so-called economic benefits of Brexit, it is rather disappointing that they do not actually fit with what the analyses suggest will happen. I agree with the point made by Chris Giles, an economist who writes in The Financial Times, who summarises the impact of Brexit, even with a deal, as follows:
“It is not empty shelves and huge job losses, but a slow drip of lost opportunities, activity moved elsewhere and income disappointments. The correct analogy is Britain’s slow, 30-year, relative decline from victor in the second world war to the sick man of Europe, not the immediate pain of a recession or a financial crisis.”
Christian Schulz, the chief economist at Citi has worked out that
“The UK economy is already around £60 billion smaller than it would have been without a vote to leave the European Union”.
When people talk about figures on the side of a bus, perhaps the figure that they should bear in mind is a £60 billion loss to the value of the UK economy.
Other indicators are not exactly hunky-dory in the way that the Secretary of State indicated. So, yes, it is true that the number of jobs has increased, but it is also true that business investment is 20% lower, foreign direct investment is at a six-year low and there has been a 35% drop in manufacturing FDI. I tried to make that point to the Prime Minister, who was in receipt of a letter from five manufacturing sectors saying that his deal would cause them huge damage. When I explained that that was what they had written to him, for some reason he seemed to take that as an indication that I should support his deal. The key manufacturing sectors of aerospace, aviation, food and drink and chemicals have written to the Prime Minister saying that his deal will badly damage them, and he says that that is a reason to vote for his deal. Perhaps we was not listening or he did not understand what I said; I am not sure which of the two it is. All the other assessments, including the Government’s own, point to the Prime Minister’s deal leaving us between £2,000 and £2,500 worse off per capita every year.
The most optimistic scenario, even with no net contributions to the EU budget, is that we will be £16 billion worse off. That is why the only way out of this mess is for the decision to be put back to the people. Let us have a people’s vote, and then we can decide whether to proceed with what the Government want us to do or to stay in the European Union.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who by the end of this process must surely deserve some kind of award for finding so many different ways to say exactly the same thing in every speech that he gives. I am sure that he will be saying it again on Saturday when we are back here.
Yesterday the Government set out a well overdue Queen’s Speech putting forward a positive agenda to move our country forward, and it is absolutely right that we move on from the last Session of Parliament, one of the longest in our history and one that was dominated by Brexit, to start looking at governing on the issues that matter to our constituents in their day-to-day lives—health, policing, education, strengthening the Union, improving our environment and increasing opportunities for everyone in our country. I hope that this week we will at last be able to move on even slightly, look beyond Brexit and start putting this much-needed and positive agenda into action.
My constituents are tired of the divisive and endless going around in circles on Brexit, and that is even in a seat that voted 75% to remain in the European Union back in 2016. They are tired, they are fed up and they want Brexit to be sorted. But I do not want to focus on Brexit today. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) spoke eloquently earlier on that subject. I want instead to focus on some of the specific measures in the Queen’s Speech that speak to some of the priorities that I have been pursuing down here in Westminster.
I want to start by thanking the Government for including my ten-minute rule Bill on collective defined-contribution schemes in the pension schemes Bill. The consultation had already closed, but to have that commitment in proposed legislation is very welcome. It is a good measure, backed by industry and trade unions, that will make a positive difference to help workplace pensions evolve in a way that will be sustainable for business and provide better outcomes for employees. Crucially, the pension schemes Bill will also include the pensions dashboard. One of the biggest enemies for pension savers is the lack of data. Being able to pull together all an individual’s pension savings in one place will make a huge difference, as will greater teeth for the regulator, with more powers to tackle irresponsible management by companies of private pension schemes.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but the first question I asked in Prime Minister’s questions was about a horrible event that happened in Barrhead, where a Romanian national attacked and raped a schoolgirl. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister both committed to that individual being removed from the United Kingdom as soon as possible, either after serving all his sentence or to finish serving his sentence in Romania. One thing that struck the community was that the guy who committed the attack was fairly young and there was concern that he might be able to come back in future. I was therefore really pleased to see the foreign national offenders Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Among other things, it will make it far harder for people who are deported from the United Kingdom as a result of a criminal offence to come back. Those who do breach deportation orders will face much harsher penalties for doing so.
Another issue I raised in Prime Minister’s question time related to another tragic case in which a 13-year-old boy in my constituency took his own life after being severely cyber-bullied. Since then, I have done a huge amount of work with charities and stakeholders across the sector, as have other Members from across the House, on cyber-bullying, suicide and self-harm prevention, particularly among young people. The online harms White Paper was a really important piece of cross-Government work. It included something that I and others have campaigned for: a statutory duty of care on social media providers to help to protect users online. The commitment in the Queen’s Speech to introduce legislation on that as soon as possible is very welcome. Talking about Britain’s place in the world, I know it meant a great deal that the Prime Minister used his speech at the United Nations General Assembly to champion the UK’s work on online safety. If we can get on with that work, it will make a huge amount of difference.
I want to briefly mention the medical devices Bill in relation to the work I have been doing on the victims of transvaginal mesh, one of the greatest medical scandals of recent times. The whole process has shown that the licensing regime for medical devices and the work of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is completely not fit for purpose. The Bill will come too late to help women whose lives have been destroyed by mesh, but hopefully ensuring that we update legislation relating to medical devices in response to patient safety concerns will at least stop similar scandals coming forward in future.
I appreciate that probably very little of the Queen’s Speech will actually come into force. We will need an election for that to happen, but so be it. I am certainly ready for that. I know there are a number of measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech that do not apply in Scotland, but my constituents would like them to. The First Minister of Scotland gave her party conference speech today in Aberdeen without mentioning healthcare or education once. My constituents will want to know why their ambition for public services is not being met north of the border. There will be a £1.2 billion cash bonus as a result of the latest spending round, and my constituents expect the Scottish Government to spend every single penny exactly where it is needed.
I am really looking forward to taking forward this modern Conservative and Unionist agenda to the people of East Renfrewshire in the upcoming general election. They do not want a second independence referendum; they want Brexit sorted and they want this Government to get on with delivering their priorities. I look forward to supporting the Queen’s Speech next week.
This debate is titled “Britain’s place in the world”. I would argue that our armed forces in the UK are a cornerstone in defining our place in the world. I put on record my thanks, and I think the thanks of the House, to the men and women who serve in our armed forces to keep us safe 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It was quite surprising that there was very little about defence in the Gracious Speech. There was a single line —that the
“Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces”—
and yesterday, the Prime Minister re-announced the £2.2 billion that was announced a few weeks ago in the spending review. Our armed forces and our defence budget face a financial crisis. There is a morale crisis among members of our armed forces, and a strategic drift on the way forward for them. That should have been addressed in the Queen’s Speech, but it was not.
Since 2010, the coalition Government and the Conservative Government have cut the defence budget by between 16% and 22%. That has led to aircraft carriers without aircraft and no, or little, capability for anti-submarine warfare, for example. We have an Army of 72,000—the smallest since 1850—and a Navy that has been cut to 30,000 personnel. We have ships that can no longer take to sea because of a lack of personnel. We are told that that £2.2 billion will somehow fund our future needs, but if we look at that announcement, we see that £700 million of it goes straight away on under- funded pension contributions and that a large chunk of it is the drawdown that was already there for the nuclear deterrent, so it does not really address the financial crisis that we face.
We can add to that the National Audit Office report from November last year, which said that the equipment plan is unaffordable by £7 billion over the next 10 years, rising to £14.8 billion if the funding is not brought forward. More importantly, 84% of the identified challenge with the equipment plan falls within the next four years.
We were promised that but it has not happened, and that needs to be looked at. The real issue, which I will come to, is our ability not only to afford this, but to know where we are going.
Added to that is the crisis in our defence procurement. In reaction to limited budgets, we are now buying off the shelf from abroad—mainly from the United States—which is not only leading to a hollowing-out of technology and jobs that could be in the UK, but adding to costs. I did not want to mention Brexit in this debate but I have to, because it has a direct effect on the equipment budget. The MOD has contract liability of some $35 billion. Last year, exchange rate losses cost it £620 million, and that could rise to some £800 million or £900 million a year. Buying off the shelf might seem very cheap for the Treasury, but it has long-term implications for the hollowing out of our defence industries, and the foreign exchange risk means that we are spending a huge amount of money that could train, for example, some 9,000 soldiers a year or fund a main frontline frigate in our Royal Navy.
We then have the ludicrous situation, still ongoing, whereby the MOD is continuing this nonsense of putting the fleet solid support vessel out to international tender—it is currently under tender—and arguing that that will somehow be in the interests of not only the taxpayer but UK plc. That dangerous trend is having an effect not only on our sovereign capability to provide these pieces of equipment for our armed forces, but on jobs and technology. It makes common sense to invest in UK plc. The fleet solid support vessel contract could sustain jobs in the UK, if there was the commitment to do that. It is no good trying to hide behind EU procurement rules, as the Government try to do, because no other European nation seems to do it.
This crisis seems to have been completely ignored in the Gracious Speech. Without some fundamental thinking about the equipment plan and what we want to do in defence as a nation, the crisis will continue, and so too will the pressure on individual members of the armed forces. Instead of this smoke-and-mirrors approach to defence funding, it would have been nice to see a full commitment in the Gracious Speech to a fundamental defence and security review. That would mean making some hard choices, but it would not only be better for the industry and members of our armed forces to have some certainty about the future; it would help to define our role in the world—what we can do, what we want to do and what we should do.
It is a pleasure to follow the many speakers who have not followed the early trend of continuing the long-running saga of “Carry On Brexit” but have really contributed to this debate on Britain’s role in the world. I am grateful to them for having shone light on so many aspects of it.
I want to touch on our place in a wider and changing world, to which there are several ingredients we need to be aware of. The first is that America is different from what it was. Its unremitted focus on making America great has reduced its previous role as a liberalising influence in the world, spreading democracy. Instead we see it leaving difficult, long-term situations and often leaving a vacuum for wildly unsuccessful regimes— but it remains our essential partner for so much in the world.
Then there is China, using its size, muscle, foreign exchange reserves and buying clout to shape its growing power around the world, with ambitions to lead and dominate. We will need continued engagement and principled disagreement in equal measure in our relationship with China. While these two giants wrestle like York and Lancaster or Rome and Carthage in times past, the rest of the world does not want to take sides. As Apple has found, being neutral is not always easy, and our role is surely to be close to both, even when we wish to criticise.
Then there is the EU, still the world’s largest trading bloc. It will remain our single largest trading partner for a long time to come and a key partner for security and much more besides. As we divorce, we must never forget this. Then there is Asia, more secure, more democratic and with a much larger middle class than ever before: consumers for our goods, services, education, health, innovation and technology. We should surely be focusing more of our resource, students and thinking on how we can work with Asia.
The Commonwealth, often the underappreciated “C” in FCO, is a powerful network for good, interconnectivity and mobilising for great causes, whether tackling malaria, eye treatment or girls’ education. I worry, however, about Her Majesty’s Opposition’s attitude to the Commonwealth. This is not something modern. When William Hague took over as Foreign Secretary in 2010, he was the first Foreign Secretary to visit Australia for 13 years and the first to visit New Zealand for 30. We must never take either the Five Eyes intelligence arrangements or the Commonwealth relationships for granted.
Overall, we face a world that is richer, more aware and more fractious. There are more economic migrants than ever before, which is raising issues not even seen after the displacements of two world wars. For the first time since 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, the world has seen the democracy index go to negative. We must work to change that.
On the democracy index, does my hon. Gentleman share my concern about how negative it is to pledge a referendum and then just ask for another referendum, not having delivered on the first? Why should people participate in democratic processes when they are ignored?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the case of a direct act of democracy like a referendum, it is incredibly important to accept the result.
That brings me to a handful of suggestions for the Government. We need, first, an umbrella or co-ordinating role for the Foreign Office, with independent International Trade and International Development Departments, but with a Foreign Secretary who is above them all, with £14 billion-worth of development in one pocket and free trade agreements and market access relations in the other. We need a new democracy fund—no doubt financed largely by the International Development Department—to help us to work with partners across the world. Those with our democratic values are much less likely to be in conflict with each other.
We need, as the Prime Minister said, to step up our environmental leadership. The 2020 UN climate change conference in Glasgow—I do not like using the term “COP26”, which sounds like a futuristic police state drama—will give us an opportunity to demonstrate how we can work with the rest of the world on those incredibly important issues.
We need to ensure that our prosperity fund is not just about making partner nations prosperous, but about using our innovation to find creative solutions to problems such as plastic on beaches across Asia, which is not only bad for the environment but bad for the tourism industries and economies of those countries.
We must recognise the value of our armed forces. Whether they are peacekeeping or fighting disease, they are always ready for conflict and always available to help to train personnel. That is one of the things that make us stand out in the world. We also have 25 trade envoys, an innovation brought in by the former Prime Minister David Cameron. I think I am the longest-serving trade envoy in the House of Commons: next month it will be eight years since I was appointed. What this shows more than anything else is that in the business of business, relationships do matter. Ministers come and Ministers go, but trade envoys can be there for a long time, and that can be valuable.
Then there is the issue of our relationship with Europe. It seems to me, quite simply, that we must resolve what that is going to be, and then focus on how we can do more across the world. I should particularly like the Government to think more about the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and what more we can do with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The same applies to other continents with which I am less involved, such as Latin America and Africa.
The Prime Minister’s Queen’s Speech called for the UK to play a major role in global affairs, with multilateral diplomacy, trade engagement, and sustainable policies that are right for our planet in this age. We must recognise that the world needs and wants our experience and skills, and our reputation for quality. That is why, for example, Cambridge Assessments examines more than 1 million people every year in China. It is why Prudential has more than 270,000 agents offering health insurance to people in Indonesia. It is why there is British design in nearly every major airport in the world, and it is why half the businesses that accompanied the previous Prime Minister on a trip to China—I was with her—had not existed five years earlier. They were innovative, they were about tech, and the world wants them. The opportunity is there, and we must seize it.
Let me start with some good news. Last Thursday, I used Parliament’s brief prorogation to visit the remarkable Perseid School in my constituency, a school for children with severe learning difficulties that has just been judged “outstanding” by Ofsted for the fourth consecutive time. As part of its consistent excellence, Perseid has been a key player in a groundbreaking project delivered by the fantastic charity SeeAbility, which calls for full sight tests and glasses to be dispensed to children at their schools rather than in the high street or in a hospital.
Why is that important? Because children with a learning disability are 28 times more likely than other children to have a serious sight problem. In the UK, one of the highest populations at risk of poor vision is that of people with learning disabilities, and the majority of children with severe or profound learning disabilities attend special schools. In fact, nearly half of the children in such schools have a vision problem, and nearly one third need glasses. Those clear health inequalities have led the NHS to commit itself to a new programme of eye care for all special needs schools, which will bring eye care and glasses to more than 120,000 children once it is up and running. It is hoped that the scheme will be launched in spring 2020, and the commitment to improve healthcare for all people with learning disabilities and autism in the NHS 10-year long-term plan should help drive this change forward. I congratulate wholeheartedly both SeeAbility and Perseid for driving the changes, and may I take a moment also to credit the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who used his power and position while Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care to help make this difference? Will the Minister today signal support for the scheme progressing as planned by NHS England and for it being a continued priority for secondary legislation among all that has been announced in the Queen’s Speech?
Moving from the good news to the bad, there are now 1.2 million families across our country on the ever-expanding housing waiting list, but just 6,464 new social homes were built in 2017-18. That is the lowest figure on record and at this rate it would take 172 years to give everyone on the current waiting list a social rented home. Meanwhile, there are 83,700 households trapped in temporary accommodation, costing the taxpayer an eye-watering £1 billion per year—every single penny badly spent. All corners of this Chamber accept that we are in the heart of a housing crisis, yet other than
“laws to implement new building safety standards”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 2.]—
there was not a single word to combat the housing crisis in the Queen’s Speech, not one.
Of course a building safety regulator is welcome, but it is only part of the housing regulation that is required. Anyone who has visited the B&Bs, hostels and warehouses that are “temporarily” housing homeless families will know of their often appalling standard and squalor. We have Ofsted for schools and the Care Quality Commission for healthcare; is it not time that we had a regulator to oversee the temporary accommodation for the 124,000 children who are homeless in our country?
Finally, the topic of today’s debate is “Britain’s Place in the World” and in the Queen’s Speech we were told that the Government will
“ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2019; Vol. 800, c. 3.]
What could possibly be more reflective of Britain’s place in the world and our leading role in global affairs than our response to a humanitarian disaster unfolding upon one of our allies because of one of our allies? I refer, of course, to the Kurds, deserted by the United States despite their immense sacrifice as our allies in the battle against ISIS.
One week into the Turkish assaults on the Kurds and we have seen executions, assassinations of female politicians, the escape of ISIS detainees and, this weekend, a targeted attack on a civilian convoy which included international journalists. Reports yesterday even indicated that a Kurdish politician was raped and stoned to death by advancing Turkish forces. Meanwhile, the fate of thousands of IS prisoners being guarded by Kurdish-led forces becomes of paramount concern, and a refugee crisis develops before our very eyes.
Surely the foundation of a supposed special relationship is having the clarity, courage and conviction to speak out when something is wrong. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said at the Dispatch Box last week that the placement of US troops is a matter for the US, but what message does that send to our allies around the world—that this is how the UK will abandon you?
In 2014, the Prime Minister wrote an article in the Telegraph headlined “It would be an utter tragedy if we did not defend the Kurds”. Five years on and, on his watch, the Kurds now feel safer turning to Putin and Assad, having lost faith in our international coalition. The abandonment of the Kurds betrays their sacrifice, bringing shame on America and all of us who are their friends, speaking volumes about Britain’s place in the world.
Many speakers in the debate have made the point that this whole Queen’s Speech is unusual because this is a minority Government who do not have an automatic majority for their proposals—indeed that is arithmetically correct. However, when I was pondering the absurdity I just had to look at the Opposition Benches. First, we have Labour Members, who say that they want an election, that Parliament is not working and that we do not have a majority and yet they refuse to vote for an election. They say that they want to deliver Brexit, yet they will not vote for any agreement. They also say they are opposed to no deal, but they will not vote for a deal that would prevent that from happening.
Then we have the Liberal Democrats. They have bet the house, the car, the pension and everything on Brexit chaos, saying that they want to revoke the result of the referendum, which most fair-minded people inside or outside this place regard as illiberal and undemocratic.
No, I will not.
Then we have the Scottish National party Members, who argue for a referendum on Scottish independence—that has been their long-standing position and it is a perfectly legitimate thing to argue for—but I do not know why they bother, because they refuse to accept the referendum that happened in 2014 and the referendum on the European Union in 2016. Why they think another referendum in Scotland would get them what they want, I do not really know, unless it were to be delivered, which they do not seem to like doing.
This is an unusual Queen’s Speech, and that brings me to Britain’s place in the world. I occasionally like to read, and I have been reading the recent book by Lord Waldegrave, from the other place, entitled “Three Circles into One”. I do not agree with everything that he says in the book, but he clearly outlines the narrative of this country’s post-war settlement. That settlement is that we have three circles of influence: the Commonwealth; our special relationship with the United States; and our relationship with Europe and membership of the European Union. That is a unique place for Britain; no other country has those three circles.
Lord Waldegrave, despite the fact that he is open about the fact he voted remain, as I did, at the referendum, says that one of the reasons that Brexit occurred is that the third circle—the European circle—was based around an untruth. That untruth, which was told to the British people for generations, was that they should not worry about the European Union—or the EEC, or whatever it was—because it was only a trading relationship, an economic relationship, and that it did not have a political narrative. People were told that we were not trying for a federal system, and that there was no such thing as ever closer union. Eventually, over time, the British public saw that narrative to be untrue. That is not to say that the narrative is illegitimate. There will be many people on both sides of the House who happen to think that Britain being part of a greater Europe is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with that view. However, that was not what was told to the British people over the generations. In my judgment, Lord Waldegrave is right when he says that that third circle of Britain’s influence and place in the world has fallen away because of the Brexit vote.
If we accept the terms of the Brexit vote, as I believe it is incumbent on all Members to do, we need to have an alternative narrative—an alternative way of describing Britain’s place in the world. We need to use our unique strengths, including our legal system, the City of London, our language, our time zone and our welcoming and open culture. Those unique strengths could make us the world’s marketplace, the world’s souk, the world’s Speakers’ Corner.
We have spoken a lot about trade, but I do not believe that trade is the most fundamental aspect of this. Our political weight in the world is still strong, our soft power is still strong, and we are an aid superpower. We are not a superpower in all respects, but we are an aid superpower. Our relationships across the world are strong: our diplomats and our companies are respected all over the world. If we can be the place where the three circles—the Commonwealth, the United States and Europe—can interact to place themselves in the centre of the world in the welcoming, open, dynamic, forward-thinking, free-trading country that is Britain, that is a future.
I would like to finish by referring to the Secretary of State for International Development’s remarks around aid. Recently, I was in Uganda with a charity called Harpenden Spotlight on Africa, working to improve health and education in a particularly poor rural part of Uganda. I cannot express how positively they viewed this country or how much they respected the work that we do and the partnership that we have. We had the Ugandan Minister of Health coming to that small village to see the work we were doing. If only more people in this House and in this country could see that, they would realise that our aid relationship in particular can help to strengthen our three circles and Britain’s place in the world for many years to come.
I suppose, like many other hon. Members, I approach this debate by asking: “What are the implications and consequences of these proposals for the people who elected me and sent me to this place to speak for them?”
This Queen’s Speech is a mixed bag of 26 Bills; some of them will not apply to the people I represent or to Scotland, and for that I am eternally grateful. The Government in England may want to go on trying to break records in terms of the proportion of its population that they can put behind bars, and locking up more people for longer, but in Scotland we will be free to pursue policies that tackle the reasons behind crime and build social cohesion, and to have the policy aspiration, at least, of reducing our prison population.
Other proposals are probably well-meaning. No doubt laudable action is proposed on the environment, but I expect that by the time we get to see those actions—if we do—we will find that they are woefully inadequate to confront the challenge they are trying to meet. Then there are other proposals in this Queen’s Speech that are downright bad for the people I represent. The immigration Bill will remove freedom of movement; the trade Bill will take Scottish consumers and businesses out of the single market. Both those things represent an existential threat to the future of my country.
But then I consider: “What does it really matter?”, because this is entirely a charade. We know that this is a Government 40 MPs short of a majority. We know that none of this is going to pass, or come to pass, certainly in this Session of Parliament. It makes me wonder why we are engaged in this charade for six days, sitting here discussing proposals that will never happen. Of course, the truth is that the Government want to keep us occupied here, because the last thing they want to discuss is what they are talking to Brussels about at this point in time.
We also know that there is an attempt to abuse the parliamentary process and, indeed, to abuse the monarch of the country in trying to engage in what the Government hope will be a six-day party political broadcast. Well, good luck with that.
Today’s debate is about the role of Britain in the world, and many people have considered Britain’s standing in the world as part of that debate, so let me start with Brexit. I have heard a number of colleagues now say that there will be a problem if we do not, in the puerile language that we have now descended to, “get Brexit done” by 31 October; somehow, that will be a democratic outrage and it will compromise our ability to argue for democracy in other parts of the world.
Let us test that proposition. For it to be accurate, it would have to presume that there is an intention of this Parliament to overturn, negate or otherwise throw out the referendum of the British people in June 2016. I repeat for the umpteenth time that those who say that completely misunderstand the argument in this House. Nobody on the Scottish National party Benches and, as far as I have seen and witnessed in this House, nobody who is arguing about the dangers of Brexit has ever suggested that the referendum should be set aside and ignored by this Parliament. What has been argued is that the people who took that decision should be given the opportunity to reconsider and asked whether that is really what they want, knowing now what they did not know then—the terrible consequences of what that means.
We can look at this from the other end of the telescope, can we not? Imagine this: what does it do for our standing in the world to have a Government without a majority in Parliament or in the country pursuing a set of policies that, by their own admission, they know will impoverish the people they have sworn to protect and reduce the standing of the country in a global context? What does that do for our reputation, if a Government are prepared to do that without even consulting the very people in whose name they speak? Then we can look at the wider debate about Britain’s standing in the world.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Does he agree that those who have the courage of their convictions would be happy to put their views to a referendum? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman talks about an election, and I look forward to there being about as many Scottish Conservatives left as there are in the Chamber at the moment.
I very much agree, but I will move on to the wider global context. What has not been discussed so far in this debate is the fact that Britain is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. I wonder how much longer that can continue, because I would think that being a permanent member of the UN Security Council brings with it an obligation to provide some sort of global political leadership, yet that has been frighteningly absent from this country’s foreign policy for a very long time.
In fact, for far too long this country has played second fiddle to the United States of America. That might have been good in the past, but US foreign policy is in a hopeless state of collapse and incoherence that leaves the United Kingdom looking like a hapless bystander on world events, unable to command any moral purpose or argument. There are so many examples, but let us look at the one happening this week.
The Turkish Government are engaging in ethnic cleansing in the northern part of another country, and we are simply observing the situation. In fact, this country was one of the last to cut and suspend its arms sales to the Turkish Government—arms that are currently being used to kill people in Kurdistan. That is a shameful situation.
I was one of the Members who visited the Rohingya refugee camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border last month. As I stood on those hillsides, I felt a sense of dread that the camps will still be there in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time because, in order for them not to be there, we need international political action to stand up to the Government of Myanmar and to make them act. That is sadly absent, but it is the sort of political leadership this country ought to be giving to the world, rather than standing back and simply being an observer.
Indeed so, particularly when the whole middle east is about to descend into an even more frightening situation. It is an area of the world that this country was governing in living memory. If we do not have responsibility for doing something about it, who does?
I finish by thinking about what is happening 535 miles away in the city of Aberdeen, where the SNP conference is taking place. There have been a number of goads and jibes about our concern for independence, but the House should understand that when this party argues for Scotland to become a self-governing independent country, we do it not just because we believe we can make things better for the people who live there, nor just because we believe in the democratic argument that people living in Scotland, and no one else, should set their own priorities, but because we want to be able to determine our own relationships with other countries, particularly within Britain and Europe but also across the world. I assure colleagues in this House that when we get to vote on our independence, when we have an affirmative vote and when we begin to build a new country, it will be a country with open borders that wants to play its full role in the world and that wants to punch above its weight, as people from that country have done for generations.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), I welcome one aspect of the Queen’s Speech: the commitment that we will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, defending our interests and promoting our values, and that we will position ourselves at the forefront of the most complex international security issues.
That is why the sins and omissions of this Queen’s Speech are quite intriguing, because there is one point on Earth where we have a particular legacy, where promises were made and broken by the world community and where the world community has now left the most terrible state of injustice: Kashmir. So I was surprised that there has been no mention in today’s debate of our historical obligations to make good on the promises made in the 1940s. Much of this debate has rightly centred on Brexit issues, but our obligations, duties, moral responsibilities, history and commitments stretch much, much wider. We should therefore step up and do far more to raise our voice to try to bring a resolution to what is going on right now in Kashmir.
Some people say that this is a conflict between two nuclear powers—if only it was as simple as that. This is a conflict between not two nuclear powers, but three. China is the world’s biggest consumer of Gulf oil and it is building an pipeline from China through Pakistan so that it can soon access oil through that overland route. The idea that China is going to permit someone to put its thumb on what is a new jugular vein is fanciful analysis.
So I would like to know from the Minister why the British Government are insisting that this remains a bilateral conflict. That is a fantasy, one enshrined in the treaty of Simla. In recent days, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said that that treaty is dead. This is no longer a bilateral issue, and by his unilateral action to suspend article 370 of the constitution—unilateral action prohibited by the treaty of Simla—President Modi has said in clear terms that this now requires a multilateral solution.
President Modi’s decision to suspend article 370 has set the stage for an incredibly dangerous slide into violence, whereby risk is now multiplied by the decision to deploy thousands more troops into what is already one of the most militarised areas on earth. That danger, in turn, has been multiplied yet again by the decision to suspend all communications and put the people under curfew in what surely must be one of the largest open prisons on the planet.
The UK signed a treaty, the instrument of accession, on 26 October 1947, so we are a party to this, in a way. That treaty has now been breached, but we have heard nothing from the British Government about how they plan to remedy that. Crucially, Ministers have accepted that human rights are always a multilateral issue, so we must hear something from a Government who have set out before this Parliament a clear determination to put themselves “at the forefront” of solving
“the most complex international security issues”—[Official Report, 14 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 5.]
We must hear a plan from them to stand up for the interests of British citizens. I am not the only one on the Opposition Benches, or in this House, who is getting cases from people who have friends and family in the area and yet have no idea what is going on with them, because there has been a communications blackout. Crucially, we now need clear and urgent action from this Government in the United Nations to ensure that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is given free and unfettered access to the area, on both Pakistan’s side and the Indian side. I want to know from the Minister what he has done to pursue this agenda in the UN.
Surely, if we are to put ourselves at the forefront of solving international difficulties, the time has come for us to push for a multilateral solution to this decades-long injustice. There have been 295 international disputes between the second world war and the 1990s that involved a use of force by one state against another, with 171 of them entailing some kind of negotiation. Where the difficulties were the most intractable and where the breakthroughs most significant were when we accepted that there was only a multilateral path to peace. That is why we turned to Senator Mitchell to help broker the Good Friday agreement. It is why the world turned to President Carter to help broker the Camp David agreement. It is why we turned to Richard Holbrooke to help bring about the Ohio accords. The injustice in Kashmir has gone on for too long and if the Government are serious about what they say—we never know, perhaps they are—they will step up to their responsibility to bring this injustice to an end.
It was a pleasure to sit next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) as he spoke so compellingly on an issue that will be of great concern to many of his constituents and, I suspect, to many Labour party members in the wider Birmingham area.
This has been a debate of depressing ironies, probably not for the first time in history of the House of Commons. We are having a debate on Britain’s place in the world as part of the debate on the Humble Address, when all the measures in the Queen’s Speech and their potential impact on Britain’s place in the world are dwarfed by the decision that we are about to take on the manner of Britain’s exit from the European Union. Let me spend a moment on that, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to implore my Opposition colleagues as we reach potentially the final hours of the process.
I reluctantly find myself in the position of seeking a confirmatory vote—a second referendum—despite there being, so far, I think, not a great change in the overall opinions of my constituents, who wanted to leave the European Union. I suspect a majority still do. I find myself in that position because every potential deal that came back, and certainly the deal that was agreed, represents a strategic downgrade of Britain’s place in the world. In effect, the deal sought to anchor the UK to European institutions over which it would no longer have any sovereignty. My view has changed from the one I held in 2016, when I wanted the softest Brexit possible. Having seen the potential long-term damage of the halfway house that was presented to the British people and to Members of Parliament, I feel that the best way out of this situation is through a confirmatory vote.
I say to my colleagues on the Opposition Benches that although there are few things that could do to greater long-term damage to Britain’s strategic importance on the global stage than a failing halfway-house Brexit, I am afraid that one of them would be to make the Leader of the Opposition the Prime Minister. At a stroke, within a few short weeks, he could unravel the alliances with our key allies that have been literally decades—sometimes centuries—in the making.
We have a range of views on the Opposition Benches. The Liberal Democrats come closest to saying, “This idea is not a goer,” but even they will not say, “Actually, this man is fundamentally unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister.” The Scottish National party says, “Bring it on,” because the worse the governance of the United Kingdom, the better for the SNP. Its Members think that would make the case for Scottish independence better, so they want to trash the United Kingdom.
In my former party we have a range of views—from the few, some of whom are on the Front Bench, who enthusiastically embrace the idea of the Leader of the Opposition becoming Prime Minister, to others who say sotto voce, “It’s okay, it will be all right. It will not happen; we will find a way to stop it.” Frankly, that is not good enough, given the scale of the damage it would do. I ask this of my friends who remain in the party: if they want people like me to continue to support a confirmatory vote on any deal, they have to do far more to show that the path to that vote does not run through making the Leader of the Opposition the Prime Minister and giving that regime the keys to Downing Street.
In the limited time I have left, I want to pick up on the really important theme that the SNP’s defence spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), mentioned on the need for the UK to stand up and enhance its own security. I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, but he made the claim that, actually, many of the actions that the UK is seeking to take, and the positions that it is taking, would give succour to Putin and that despotic regime, which is determined to undermine the west. I have to say that, yes, that is true in Ukraine, but there is nothing, I think, that would give Putin more cheer than seeing us walk away from many of the alliances that are incredibly difficult for us to maintain if our friends act in ways that are inimical to our interests, but that would be catastrophic—
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). I have a great deal of time for him, as I do for the many contributions that have been made by Members from all parts of the House. In some ways, this highlights my frustration with the way we have to work in this place, with so many people making so many excellent points, but with such a short time in which to debate them. I do not know what we do about that, but I find myself holding back from intervening because I know that we are short of time, and yet wanting to discuss things.
I want to talk today about our sense of values, which I heard admirably expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). I want to add to what he said and to develop that theme by suggesting that we have human rights explicitly named as a British value. I agree with the five values on the curriculum: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for different faiths. Of course, I support them, but greater emphasis should be placed on human rights, environmentalism and equality. In fact, it looks as though the Government almost agree with me, because right at the end of the Queen’s Speech, it says that the Government will prioritise
“tackling climate change and ensuring that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.”
I suggest that that points towards the values of environmentalism and of equality. I ask the Ministers on the Treasury Bench to discuss this with their colleagues in the Department for Education to find out whether those priorities can be put on the school curriculum posters to go with the other five.
As a Labour MP, I know that our party is founded on the principle of equality. In government, we pioneered the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008 and the world’s first legally binding carbon emissions reduction target, so, of course, I support prioritising climate change and I support prioritising gender equality.
I want to discuss a couple of points. I had hoped to hear something more explicit in the Queen’s Speech, and in subsequent speeches, about how we can honour the value of human rights in relation to two global crises—one of forced migration, which is amounting to a record 70 million people this year, and the other of antimicrobial resistance, which is currently killing 700,000 people each year, and rising rapidly.
As has been said by others today, the war in Syria alone has resulted in 13 million Syrians being forced to flee, but, unfortunately, only 28 nations accept refugees on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement scheme—that is 28 nations out of the entire world. I ask the Ministers on the Treasury Bench to consider what further things they can do to encourage other states to take refugees into the resettlement scheme. I agree that, yes, we are one of the best in the world, and we should be proud of that, but I would like us to be the very best. One way in which we can do that is to expand our commitment to resettlement and put more emphasis on the prevention of refoulement—forced return—and on the prevention of conflict in the first place. I would like to see more resettlement, not less, and I would like to see more of it globally, because too many of the world’s refugees are concentrated in countries that can least afford to look after them. In Lebanon, for example, one in four of the population is a refugee from Syria and most of them live in poverty, and in Turkey there are 3.6 million refugees. That is not good enough. We are not doing enough to share that responsibility.
Domestically, the immigration Bill must also include an end to indefinite detention of refugees. That should be part of our commitment to human rights and our sense of values and who we want to be seen as in the world. That was in an amendment that was tabled on the Immigration Bill and then the Immigration Bill fell and now we have to start all over again. Please, let us put it back on the agenda.
I would also like to see the end to any use of immigration detention for victims of torture, the return of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill and an increase in resettlement generally.
The consequences of antimicrobial resistance are costly in financial and human terms. I have mentioned the number of deaths, but there will also be cumulative financial costs of up to $100 trillion by 2050 if we do not take action successfully. I cannot even begin to think how much that money could achieve if we were not going to lose it on the costs of antimicrobial resistance. I must pay tribute to my niece Aliyah Debbonaire, who is currently in the closing stages of her PhD, identifying novel antimicrobial drug candidates from microbes in extreme environments. I am very proud of her, but she is not the only one. Other experts on antimicrobial resistance are available, such as Lord O’Neill, who committed his wise words on antimicrobial resistance to the report published in 2016. I urge the Government to redouble their efforts. They published their vision earlier this year and it is a good one, but it could be so much better.
If we are truly to reflect our values in our place in the world, what better way than by following Lord O’Neill’s recommendations to improve sanitation and global surveillance of drug resistance, and to promote the development of vaccines—a matter about which I feel particularly strongly?
I salute the work of DFID, which is a globally respected Government Department. It has a great deal to be proud of in our role in the world, but I would like us to be so proud of it that it is part of how we describe ourselves and part of how we encourage children to think of this country when they are talking about our values.
For most of us, our values are what get us up in the morning. They motivate us, we pass them on to our children and they are the reason that most of us are here. We often fall short, and that makes us human. But being part of humanity, we need to get up again, examine our consciences and try to do better. Last week in my local progressive synagogue I had the great honour of being part of the Yom Kippur service, and words about getting up, trying again and doing better were very much a part of it.
Our love for one another should take us beyond our differences and past our fears. It should help us get over our failures, and renew and redouble our determination to do better, to live up to our values, to celebrate those values and to show the world that that is who we really are.
It is almost two years and four months since the previous Queen’s Speech so I ask: did my constituency of Stockton North finally get the new hospital, plans for which were scrapped in 2010 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition? No. Did we see some real commitment from the Government to invest in carbon capture and storage on Teesside and help us lead the world? No. But maybe we saw some investment and reassurance for our international chemical industries, which are nervous about what Brexit means for them and their employees. No, we did not. In the previous Session, Parliament was a failure—a failure to get a Brexit deal worthy of receiving Parliament’s stamp of approval, a failure to provide the stability and assurance that our economy and our workers need and a failure to improve the lives of the most vulnerable right here in the 21st century United Kingdom. If we cannot get it right for our own people, what right have we got to tell—for that matter, what experience do we have to offer—the rest of the world?
We did get a continuation of the housing crisis. We also got more disabled people treated disgracefully by Government policy, at their wits’ ends because they have been found fit for work despite it being clear that they are not. We got more people turning to food banks because the money they receive simply is not enough to buy the basic food items they need to feed themselves and their children. This is about Government policy not recognising how people’s lives work, which means that people suffer—children suffer—but we must look to the future and consider how we can change lives for the better. This House and the watching public saw a lot of nice things come out of the Queen’s Speech, with plenty of positive words and an indication that austerity is over, but if there is one thing I will never do, it is believe in a Conservative Prime Minister when they claim to have the best interests of all parts of society in mind.
There is a significant life expectancy gap in my constituency. People living in the most affluent areas of Stockton North can live up to 18 years longer than those in poorer areas. If the Prime Minister was serious about investing in healthcare, he would announce the award of a new hospital for North Tees and Hartlepool. Instead, what we have heard is a blustered pledge of 40 new hospitals that turned out to be just six. Of the 21 trusts set to receive funding, not one is in the north-east.
Average male life expectancy in Stockton is 64. Owing to the health inequalities that face my constituents, their lives will be cut short. The average male in Stockton will not even reach state pension age. By contrast, the average life expectancy in the Prime Minister’s area is 80—16 years more than in Stockton. People can draw their own conclusions why that is the case. It is the Government’s responsibility to do something about it, but they are failing. Why on earth is the hospital in the Prime Minister’s constituency getting countless millions of pounds invested in it when Stockton, where the need is much greater, is not getting anything at all? But my constituents will not be fooled. They know that it is the Tory cuts that have caused waiting lists to shoot up. They know it is Tory cuts that have plummeted the national health service into chaos.
Just as successive Conservative Governments have failed on health, they have failed on jobs, too. They have failed to back SSI at Redcar; they failed to back the Sirius Minerals mining project, which has the potential to create thousands of jobs for people across Teesside; and they fail daily to support our chemical and other energy-intensive industries, which have suffered higher carbon and energy costs than anywhere else in Europe. We have seen the plethora of news releases and plenty of ministerial visits, but nothing of consequence has actually resulted from them—nothing to protect industry or jobs in areas like mine. The north-east has the highest unemployment rate in the UK at 5%. It has gone up by 19,000 in the past year. On Teesside, it is 7.2%, and in my own constituency just above 7%—up again today. Of those unemployed—in one constituency—630 are 18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training.
The Government can do better by ending this crisis in investment to ensure that our country’s place in the world is not put deeper in jeopardy. Successive Conservative Governments have created a climate of uncertainty, a clear lack of direction and a meaningless strategy that is just leaving investors nervous. The additional carbon costs that I mentioned are adding to those nerves. The Government can act now by giving carbon capture and storage in the north-east the verbal and financial support it needs but is simply not forthcoming. INEOS, which I raised in this House prior to Prorogation, is an essential part of the supply chain in the Teesside chemical industry. I will be meeting the Secretary of State about that. There is still no chance of that company investing locally, yet it can invest billions in the middle east. All industry can see is the doom and uncertainty of what Brexit will bring and a tariff regime that will cripple their businesses. Perhaps the Prime Minister will prove me wrong and will now take investment in Teesside seriously, not as a means of its being politically beneficial but because it is the right and imperative thing to do. If we are serious about reaching net zero emissions by 2050, carbon capture is not a choice—it is a necessity.
But I have no confidence that this Government will act in the best interests of my constituents, nor of business in Stockton North, Teesside, or the north-east in general. I will not stop fighting for the Teesside area. We do need our new hospital, but we really need a serious industrial strategy for the north-east and a Government programme to benefit everyone. Sadly, this Queen’s Speech does not offer it.
It is a real pleasure to be the final Back-Bench speaker in this debate and to follow the wonderful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), who has probably made the most powerful case for remaining in the European Union with the best deal—the one that we currently have. Certainly, if we do get to the point of having a second referendum, I will be banging the drum to remain in the European Union, not just for the residents of Hornsey and Wood Green but for every region in the UK, where he is quite right to say that there is no proper industrial strategy. In a sense, if we stick within the European Union, that is an industrial strategy. It needs improvement, but at least it is the bare bones of one that we can build on.
I would like briefly to bring out a few themes of the debate. Many Members have raised the right to go out on the streets and to have freedom of assembly. Some have mentioned the protests in Hong Kong, which we would all like to be much more peaceful, but even on our own streets, we see the protests of Extinction Rebellion because we know that climate change should be much higher up the foreign policy agenda.
Other themes include the global challenge of poverty and access to healthcare and education for all, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) talked about so clearly, and the UK’s role in energetically working towards a solution to the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. That does not seem to be breaking through at the moment, due to Brexit inertia; we cannot hear that voice.
My constituent Aras Amiri is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Evin prison outside Tehran. Where is the strong voice on these crucial issues and the cases of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Aras Amiri and others who are tragically in prison on trumped-up false charges?
Another theme is the protection of freedom of speech. Mr Speaker, I am not sure whether you have had a chance to read the wonderful book “In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin”, but I am sure that every Member of this House would like to put on record their thanks to the journalists who go out to the most dangerous parts of the globe and report back on our behalf.
In the dying moments of the debate, I want to underline what, for me, is the most tragic situation currently in the globe: what is happening to the Kurdish people in Rojava in the north of Syria. The Kurdish people have been our friends for a very long time. As an MP representing a constituency in the north of London, I know that the Kurdish community could not be more welcoming. I have enjoyed beautiful breakfasts when door-knocking, with wonderful hospitality—“Come in! Come and have a boiled egg, some lovely salad, a sausage and some tea.” I feel that we have let them down. We have not done enough; whether that is due to the Brexit inertia, I am not sure.
I had a slight hope last week during the urgent question on that issue, when I felt we were in that diplomatic space, which is what we were promised by the Foreign Office, but that night I switched on the television at 10 o’clock and saw the bombs falling. It is an absolute tragedy and a dereliction of duty on the part of the US to land us in it in this way. To not even tell us, but rather announce foreign policy on Twitter, is appalling. I therefore welcome the Government’s announcement today that they will suspend arms sales to Turkey. I would be grateful to have a bit more detail on the sequencing, but I am pleased to be able to say positive things about the Government’s policy, while decrying some of the absences. We need to have a much louder voice on this. We need to speak endlessly about it and try to get Mr Trump to understand that he simply cannot pull the rug from under the Kurdish community in Rojava.
In particular, we must talk about the experiences that so many women in that region have had. The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) talked about the Rohingya women. We, as women MPs, must speak up about the rape and sexual assault that women in conflict zones experience. I want to hear our Government say that it is not on for soldiers to come over from Turkey and exploit women in that way. It is appalling.
We know that tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians have fled the region, and if Turkey is successful in its operation, more than 3 million Arab refugees will be resettled in the area. Although those refugees completely deserve the ability to return to Syria safely, it must not be at the cost of fundamentally changing the demographic make-up of the region and effectively cleansing the area of Kurdish communities who already call the region home. The excellent writer Philippe Sands talks in his compelling book “East West Street” about the difference between genocide and acts of violence against humanity. It is a very interesting intellectual debate. I fear that what will happen in Rojava is genocide, and I want our Government to redouble their efforts to do something about that, because they must not allow the US to get away with just walking away. I hope that the Minister will outline his vision on that.
Sadly, the Brexit debate has led to our voice being softer on the international stage, but I hope that we will be sensible on Brexit, so that we can get back to that central part of our narrative about being compassionate and caring about human rights and peace and being at the forefront of those important debates.
It has been a pleasure to listen to this debate, even though it has felt at times like bald men in a dark room fighting over a comb that is not even there. As we know, this is a Queen’s Speech devoid of any meaningful content, not least in the areas of Brexit and foreign affairs that we have been debating today. That is presumably why the Foreign Secretary has not even bothered to wind up tonight’s debate. All in all, frankly, it has been the biggest waste of Her Majesty’s time and the biggest indignity that she has been put through since the fallout over “It’s a Royal Knockout”.
Nevertheless, this evening does give me two opportunities: first, to summarise some of the excellent points that have been made by my colleagues during this debate; and secondly, to ask the Minister of State, who has been asked to stand in tonight, whether he can answer some questions on the Foreign Secretary’s behalf. More than 80 days have passed since the new Foreign Secretary was put in place, and he may like Phileas Fogg have been around the world in that time, but neither his conference speech in Manchester nor this Queen’s Speech give any indication that he is across his brief or even that he has his focus on the right priorities. Indeed, as the lawyer for the Harry Dunn family observed on television this week after a meeting with the Foreign Secretary—excuse yet another profanity, Mr Speaker, but I am quoting—they got the impression that
“he didn’t know his arse from his elbow”.
Let me see whether the Minister of State can do rather better this evening, and my first question to him relates to the Harry Dunn case. Can he tell us the exact date when diplomatic immunity was withdrawn from Anne Sacoolas, if it was ever granted at all, and if it was never granted, why she was not held in the UK for questioning?
I will go on to further questions for the Minister later, but for now may I mention some of the excellent contributions made in this debate by some of our colleagues in the House? We heard the shadow Brexit Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), and the former shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), demolishing with forensic skill the Prime Minister’s proposed new deal and explaining why it would be even worse for our country in its impact on jobs and the economy than the one already and repeatedly rejected by this House.
We heard the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), speak with his usual eloquence and authority about the rules-based international order and how it applies to conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Those sentiments were passionately echoed by the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). They called for clarity and courage from this Government, and they are absolutely right.
We heard an impressive speech from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on our relationships with America and China, and with the EU and the Commonwealth. However, I would say to him—perhaps he can read it in Hansard—that, given his unfounded concerns about the Opposition’s attitude to the Commonwealth, I was very glad to spend two weeks of the summer recess visiting my counterparts in Australia and New Zealand, just as he mentioned William Hague did in 2011.
I thank my hon. Friend very much.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) talked with great force about the crisis between two of our Commonwealth cousins, India and Pakistan, with the constitutional and human rights of the Kashmiri people being trampled in the middle of that. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) about how we have let down the Kurds, and I believe she is absolutely right.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). It was not a speech about foreign policy, but it was one of the most passionate speeches that I have heard for a very long time, with his pure, naked anger at the fact that men in his constituency have a life expectancy of 64, whereas men in the Prime Minister’s constituency have a life expectancy of 80. No wonder he is so angry, and his eloquence said it all.
We heard so many excellent contributions—there were many more that I have not had time to mention—but it is left to the Minister of State to close this debate, and I have a number of specific questions for him. They are based on the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech in Manchester, which at least attempted to address some foreign policy issues, as this Queen’s Speech has so brazenly failed to do.
First, may I ask the Minister why, in the course of a speech of 1,300 words, the Foreign Secretary did not once mention these countries or their leaders? He did not mention Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Cameroon, Brazil or Brunei, and he did not even mention Kashmir. These are not peripheral issues, but ones that should be at the top of the Foreign Secretary’s brief, yet he found time to make jokes about Luxembourg and to tell us how much Donald Trump loves Britain. This is of course the kind of love that expresses itself by ignoring everything that our Government say to him—from climate change, trade wars and the Iranian nuclear deal to the unforgivable betrayal of the Kurds in northern Syria. But even though the Foreign Secretary did not discuss any of those countries, I am delighted to hear that he said in Manchester that he would “relish, not shrink” from our global duty to bring the perpetrators of injustice and war crimes to account. So let us put that commitment to the test.
I hoped that in this Queen’s Speech we would hear a commitment to work through the United Nations to end the airstrikes and the atrocities being committed by Turkey and their jihadist death squads in the Kurdish regimes in northern Syria. I was hoping that we would hear a commitment to table a new resolution before the Security Council of the United Nations demanding an immediate ceasefire by all parties in Yemen, in every part of the country. I was hoping that we would hear a commitment to recognise the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise. I was hoping that we would hear a commitment to hold a judicial inquiry into the historical allegations of the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition, and the operation of our country’s secret courts. I was hoping that we would hear a commitment to table a resolution for agreement at the United Nations referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for investigation of its crimes against the Rohingya, because of course we hold the pen on that issue as well.
I was hoping that we would hear commitments to correct the historic injustices over the two Amritsar massacres, the discriminatory demob payments from world war two given to non-white soldiers in the colonial regiments, the Chagos islanders’ right of return, and our nuclear test veterans. Those issues would all feature in a Labour Queen’s Speech—the Kurds, Yemen and Palestine, torture, rendition, the Rohingya, Amritsar, demob pay, the Chagos islanders and the debt owed to our nuclear test veterans—but under this Government, those issues go utterly ignored.
We announced at party conference what we would do. The challenge for the current Government is to meet that commitment. We challenge the Government to do the right thing on the test veterans. It is all very well for the Conservatives after 10 years to say, “Oh you didn’t do it during 13 years.” They are in government now. This injustice exists now. Do something about it right now.
I am not taking any more interventions. I do not have enough time.
So can I ask the Minister of State: does that really sound like relishing our global duty to tackle injustice, or does it sound more like shrinking away?
On Sunday it will be a full year since the previous Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box talking about accountability for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. He said:
“There remains an urgent need to establish…who authorised the dispatch of 15 officials from Saudi Arabia to Turkey…if the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true...there will be consequences and of course it will have an impact on the relationship with Saudi Arabia.”‘—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 79-82.]
A full 12 months ago, despite the fact that the CIA and the UN have reached their own conclusions on who ordered the murder, and despite the fact that the previous Foreign Secretary talked about the urgency of the investigation, we have not seen a single conclusion from this Tory Government, let alone any of the consequences that they promised us would follow. So again, can I ask the Minister of State: if the last Foreign Secretary’s words at the Despatch Box meant anything, and if the current Foreign Secretary’s words in Manchester meant anything, will the Government finally do their duty, indeed relish doing their duty, to give justice to the family and friends of Jamal Khashoggi, or will they keep shrinking away?
Mr Speaker, when basic crimes against humanity have been committed in Yemen, or in the embassy in Istanbul, and when crimes against humanity are being committed in northern Syria today, we need a Government who will lead the world in tackling that injustice, and we need Foreign Office Ministers who will walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
It is a great pleasure to stand at the Dispatch Box after three years in which I laboured in the monastery of the Whips Office—a place that I know is close to your heart, Mr Speaker—where my Trappist vows meant I could not speak and could not act. Having been released back into the Chamber to open my mouth, it is a very great pleasure to address the House and to wind up this debate on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has been at the National Security Council today.
We have had a very good and wide-ranging debate, with excellent contributions from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Sir George Hollingbery), who knows a thing or two about trade, spoke knowledgeably about trade deals. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) spoke movingly about the importance of freedom of religion. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) had some rather good ideas about the Foreign Office, which I think involve umbrellas. I shall be happy to talk to him more about that. And, of course, there was an excellent contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), a former colleague in the Whips Office.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, had to say. We found out a great deal about what she would do in any Queen’s Speech that she might be party to. We found out that, apparently, she is not going to do very much about Brexit, because there was not a single mention of it in her speech. She asked about a number of countries that the Foreign Secretary had not addressed in the House. There are a lot of opportunities for her to table urgent questions; Mr Speaker is always very keen to hear them. It is interesting that she took such a great interest in what the Foreign Secretary had to say in Manchester. It is a city that perhaps she might want to visit once or twice. It would be nice if perhaps she came to our conference, given that she spent so much time talking about it. We would be very pleased to see her there—on the fringe of course, but not in the main hall.
May I begin, Mr Speaker, by thanking you and saying that it is a great honour to close this debate and reaffirm the Government’s vision for a self-confident, ambitious, outward-looking global Britain beyond Brexit? Under this Government, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 October. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary, who was in Luxembourg today and who has been working incredibly hard to negotiate the good deal we want to achieve. It is the responsibility of every Member of this House who is serious about keeping their promise to the voters to respect the 2016 referendum to get behind this effort for the good of the whole country.
The leader of the Labour party will not keep his promise to respect the referendum. He wants to take the country back to another divisive referendum. It was unfortunate to hear what the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) had to say. They said that they do not want no deal. They also said that they do not want this deal. What they really want is no deal at all: they want to take us back and cancel Brexit. They want to overturn the result of the referendum. They want to overturn the instruction given to us by the British people. Why do they think that that will inspire confidence in our democracy? Why do they think that if the previous referendum was divisive, the next referendum is somehow going to bind us all together?
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Let us talk about his own record in Government. This afternoon, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the UK Government had stopped going to justice and home affairs committee meetings in the EU, which have been discussing migration and refugee flows from Syria and Turkey. Can he tell me what possible foreign policy or security benefits there are from not turning up?
We went to the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday; we were party to the discussions there and the outcome of those deliberations.
The Gracious Speech sets out the legislation that we need both to give effect to Brexit and to grasp the opportunities of it. That legislation will ensure a smooth and orderly departure and a better deal for our farmers and fishing industry, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) expressed. It will take back control of our immigration policy, with a points-based migration system, and allow us to become an energetic champion of global free trade for United Kingdom businesses and consumers. Our vision for a global Britain is about more than Brexit, because if only the Opposition will let this country go, we will get beyond Brexit.
The Government will maintain and strengthen our historical trade ties, boosting our competitiveness by expanding trade with growth markets of the future. We want a strong trading relationship with our existing partners in Europe and North America. Thanks to the tireless work of my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary, we have made good progress in preparing the ground for future free trade agreements after Brexit. In the words of the US Secretary of State, the US is poised
“on the doorstep, pen in hand, ready to sign”
a deal. We are not at the back of the queue; we are at the front of the line. That is good news for our businesses that want to export, and it is good news for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic who want cheaper food and services with wider choice. That is where the opportunities of the future will be found. As a global champion of liberal free trade, this Government are ready to grasp those opportunities. We are the internationalists; we are not the little Europeans who sit opposite.
No, I will not, because I have only three and a half more minutes.
The leader of the Labour party may run to defend President Putin, like some north London primped and plucked poodle, but Government Members will work with our allies to stand up for and protect the people of this country. We will work with all our international partners to shine the spotlight on Iran’s violation of international law, from the attack on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia to its cruel and unlawful detention of United Kingdom nationals. We will work with our European and American friends to secure Iran’s compliance with its obligations not to develop nuclear weapons, and we will engage with all our partners to prevent the bloodshed in north-eastern Syria.
One of the strongest speeches I heard today was made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). I do not have time to answer all his points, but if his speech tonight was the last that he makes in this Chamber, he will be a sad loss at the general election when he retires. I am afraid that it was not possible at the United Nations to come to an agreement to produce a resolution, but we have released a statement with our European partners, and we will ask for further work to be done at the UN tomorrow.
We will also be a constructive voice on Hong Kong, supporting its people’s right to peaceful protest and encouraging political dialogue on all sides to give effect to the one country, two systems model that China has consistently advocated since 1984. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has made clear our robust stance on Venezuela, in contrast to the leader of the Labour party, who celebrates the achievements of that despotic regime and does so as people starve.
We will be a force for good and a champion of causes that know no borders. On the international stage, we will show the leadership of the next generation, as it expects us to, by hosting the United Nations climate summit—COP 26—in Glasgow next year, in partnership with Italy. We will bring to bear both our world-class innovation and our determination to leave our environment in a better state for our children and theirs, in the United Kingdom and across the world. We will continue to lead global action to help to provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030 and leave no girl behind. We are proud of the new media freedom coalition we have set up with Canada. Some 26 countries are already signed up, having committed to protecting media freedoms, speaking out against abuses and standing up for journalists who are detained, bullied and brutalised around the world.
That is the mission of this Government: to deliver Brexit, faithful to the promises made to the British people; to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead for a truly global Britain; and to reinforce the United Kingdom’s role as a force for good in the world. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Mike Freer.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.