House of Commons
Tuesday 7 January 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On behalf of the whole House, I wish to express my deepest sympathies with the people of Australia as they continue to experience horrific wildfires, which are laying waste so much, and to send a message of solidarity to our Commonwealth colleagues in the Australian Parliament. We pay tribute to the firefighters and to all those who are putting their lives at risk.
The magnitude of the disaster unfolding in Australia should shock us all, with human and animal lives and precious species of fauna being destroyed. This is a wake-up call for the world. All Australians are in our thoughts and prayers. I rang the Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives five days ago to express our worries and concerns. There will be an oral statement on Thursday, so Members who wish to speak on the matter will be able to do so then.
I draw Members’ attention to the fact that the book for entering the private Member’s Bill ballot is now open. It will be open until the House rises today and while the House is sitting tomorrow. New Members should not forget that this is their great chance to make history—although the Whips may not wish them to do so. The book will be available for Members to sign in the No Lobby until 6 pm on both days, at which point it will be taken to the Public Bill Office and remain open for signatures until the rise of the House. The ballot itself will be drawn at 9 am this Thursday in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House. An announcement setting out these and other arrangements, including the dates on which ten-minute rule motions can be made and presentation Bills introduced, is published on the Order Paper.
I remind the House that the election of Deputy Speakers will take place tomorrow between 10 am and 1.30 pm in Committee Room 8. Nominations must be submitted to the Table Office by 6 pm today. Further details are in the announcements section of today’s Order Paper.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Per Pupil Funding
First, Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with the message you have just sent to our Australian friends? I also take this opportunity to wish you and all hon. Members a happy new year.
At last year’s spending round, I announced a £7.1 billion increase in schools funding for 2022-23 compared with this year. That will level up funding across the country and ensure at least £5,000 a year for every secondary school pupil next year and £4,000 a year for every primary school pupil in 2021-22.
During the election campaign, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor visited Bolton Lads and Girls Club, which is a real hub for inspiring our children. Does the Chancellor agree that the uplift in funding for schoolchildren right across Bolton North East will ensure that our young people fulfil their true potential?
I remember that visit, and I was incredibly impressed by the club.
May I say how delighted I am to see my hon. Friend take his place in this House? I agree with him wholeheartedly. Our plans will ensure that funding for every pupil in every school can rise at least in line with inflation. Schools in Bolton North East will attract £4,800 per pupil in 2020-21 on average and, based on the current number of pupils, that means a 7.7% total cash increase.
Having grown up in Bristol, the Chancellor will be familiar with the education system there, but we have a crisis in funding for special educational needs provision. More children are coming forward with special educational needs, but we do not have the funding to support them. I urge him to pay some attention to that and to donate the necessary funds to remedy the problem.
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of making sure that special educational needs are properly funded. That is precisely why in the last spending round I increased spending by £780 million, which I believe is the biggest increase in a decade.
My right hon. Friend, coming from the west midlands, will know that Staffordshire has historically been one of the most underpaid counties per pupil. How will his changes affect counties such as Staffordshire and others in the f40?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. He has been a champion of fairer funding for schools, especially in the west midlands, and I agree with him about the importance of this issue. That is precisely why, in the spending round, we made an exception for schools by having a three-year settlement, which means there will be a £7.1 billion increase for schools throughout England by 2022-23, helping to bring fairer funding.
The Government take our environmental responsibilities very seriously, and the Prime Minister established the new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change for that very reason. The UK is, of course, the G20 leader in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy. Later this year, the Government will set out further plans to reduce emissions in key sectors such as transport, energy and building while seizing the economic benefits of clean growth. We have launched a review into the transition to a net zero economy and how that will be funded, and the review will publish its findings this autumn.
I am pleased to see two ideas in the Queen’s Speech that were recycled from previous Labour manifestos: the waiving of NHS car parking charges, and renters’ rights. Will the Government go that bit further and adopt a third idea, our completely costed green new deal? Greenpeace rated the Labour party as best for the environment, whereas the Conservative party languished in fourth. This idea would help the Government to reach their carbon emission targets, which are woefully off track at the moment.
The electorate obviously gave their verdict on the relative credibility of our manifesto. This Chamber, on a cross-party basis, should welcome the real consensus that the UK has done the right thing by becoming the first major western economy to commit to a net zero policy. We have allocated £1 billion for the take-up of ultra low emission vehicles, £350 million for the industrial energy transition fund and £800 million in our manifesto for carbon capture and storage.
The hon. Lady says our ambitions in this area are inadequate, but the Committee on Climate Change report of May 2019 did not consider it credible to reach net zero emissions earlier than 2050. The report called it the “highest possible ambition” supported by the science for us to target 2050 rather than an earlier date.
The UK Government currently offer more financial support than any other European state for fossil fuel industries. The oil giant Shell paid no corporate income tax last year due to tax rebates, despite making a £557 million profit in the UK. This situation is unsustainable and unacceptable in the context of a climate emergency. Can the Minister explain how a Government who continue to subsidise fossil fuel extraction to such a degree can ever be trusted to deliver net zero?
The most important thing to recognise is that last year was the first year on record in which renewable energy constituted more of our energy mix than fossil fuels. We also need to recognise that oil and gas support many thousands of jobs in the United Kingdom, and we must be careful not to jeopardise economic growth during the transition.
The best way to reduce carbon emissions is not to produce carbon when building houses. Given that the Conservative manifesto proposes to extend Help to Buy to people who wish to build their own homes, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows all about, will he meet me and the Right to Build taskforce to see how it can implement this excellent policy as quickly as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is very persistent in this area. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss following up on this issue.
The Minister is right about the growing role that renewables are playing in our energy mix, as 2018 was the greenest year on record for our energy system. Does he agree that the UK’s track record on cutting emissions, while maintaining jobs growth and economic growth, is remarkable at a global level and should be applauded?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. It is worth noting that between 1990 and 2016 the UK reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 42% while growing its economy by more than two thirds. We should be proud of that record; it shows that we are on track to meet our targets.
First, let me associate myself with the comments welcoming you to your place and your Chair, Mr Speaker—long may you sit there.
For what have been described as a “post-truth” Government, here are two clear and simple facts: first, COP 26 is coming to the UK and, secondly, the eyes of the world will be on this Government’s climate crisis policies—or, rather, the appalling lack of them. As Australia burns, millions in African states face climate-driven famine and floods have swept the north of England, will this Government give a damn about this existential threat and act, not posture?
It must be said that that was a rather ungracious recognition of the Government’s work in this area. We are clear that COP 26 is the centrepiece of the Government’s work on climate this year; the Prime Minister gave a presentation to Cabinet on it today. There is no question but that, led by our former Friend on these Benches Claire Perry, we have an excellent head of the COP, and we will have maximum ambition. The UK is clear that we are committed to the Paris agreement and delivering on it in full, and by committing to net zero we have led the world in this area.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that this Government do everything they can to help energy-intensive industries to reduce their carbon footprint and do not merely regulate and tax, as some would do, because that risks exporting not only the carbon, but the jobs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we must avoid shedding jobs as we change our energy mix. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we got £350 million allocated to the industrial energy transformation fund. I am also a big supporter of new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which can address the challenges of decarbonising energy-intensive industries.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker. May I associate myself and my colleagues with your remarks of support for the people of Australia? In that regard, may I ask the Treasury Front-Bench team whether this March’s Budget will be a Budget for the climate emergency? If it is, will Ministers look at the ideas of the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England to decarbonise finance and green the City and come forward with the rules and regulations that will catalyse private investment to beat climate change?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We are clear that this is a central priority for the Budget in March. Obviously, I am not going to disclose details of that today, but the Government have a clean growth strategy. We are clear that green finance lies at the heart of the UK’s offer to the world, and obviously that goes for both the private and public sectors; we need to bring together the whole strength of the country to make a truly radical offer.
Increasing productivity is the best way to boost wages, improve living standards and enhance prosperity. We have worked hard to build a stronger, fairer economy, dealing with the deficit, helping to get people into work, and cutting taxes for families and businesses. We will continue to invest responsibly, including by investing billions more in infrastructure, creating a new national skills fund and boosting investment in research and development. We will invest to unleash the potential of the whole country, so that no place is left behind.
Productivity is damaged if SMEs feel that there is no fair system for resolving disputes with their bank, yet the eligibility rules for the new Business Banking Resolution Service exclude 85% of historical claims, including, incredibly, those that have been through the recently discredited Lloyds bank customer review. Will the Chancellor meet me to discuss how we make this fit for purpose and not simply a fig leaf to cover past banking malpractice?
My hon. Friend speaks with experience on this subject and is right about the importance of access to finance. I know that he has broadly welcomed the voluntary Business Banking Resolution Service but is not happy with the way it is exactly working at the moment. I know that he has a meeting coming up with the Economic Secretary on this important issue.
High-quality infrastructure is a key factor in improving productivity, so will my right hon. Friend consider establishing both a sovereign wealth fund and an infrastructure bond, which would enable part of the financing solution to allow that necessary infrastructure to be implemented?
The Government’s fiscal policy will allow for a step change in infrastructure investment, which is what we need to level up and unleash the potential of the whole country. That is why I am open to looking at ideas for new financing instruments, but I would need to be satisfied that they represent good value for money, that they can be sustained for the long term and that they are consistent with our wider fiscal objectives. I would be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend.
Only 15% of people who start their working lives in entry-level jobs progress beyond such jobs by the end of their working lives. To deal with that situation, will the Chancellor look again at the national retraining scheme to see what we can do to help people to progress further in work, to reduce poverty as well as increase productivity?
As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important issue. Some excellent work has been done on the issue, including work to which my hon. Friend has contributed. In our manifesto, we set out our intention to have a new national skills fund, which will help to transform the lives of people who are trying to get on to the work ladder, to get new qualifications or to return to work. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome that.
Transport infrastructure is a critical factor for improving productivity in my constituency. Can the Chancellor assure me that the Government will make the necessary investments in key arterial roads such as the A1 in Lincolnshire?
First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to his place? He raises the important issue of infrastructure investment and its importance to productivity. I understand the incredible importance of the A1 in Lincolnshire, and a number of colleagues have raised it with me. We will soon publish our second road investment strategy, which will set out our plans, but I can assure my hon. Friend that in this Government’s infrastructure revolution no part of our country will be left behind.
Having spoken to business leaders in West Bromwich and throughout the west midlands, I know that tackling productivity and imbalances across the region is vital and key to levelling up our economy. Will the Chancellor commit to working alongside me to tackle the imbalances in West Bromwich East and the wider west midlands?
Yes, I will. May I also welcome my hon. Friend to her place? I remember my visit to her constituency last month; we met some excellent local businesses. She is right to talk about the need for further investment in the midlands. As a west midlands MP, I understand that as well, and I know exactly how much more potential can be unleashed. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend throughout this Parliament to do just that.
Is that it? The Prime Minister’s special adviser now wants a civil service—perhaps modelled on the Cabinet—comprised of
“Weirdos and misfits with odd skills”.
As a member of that Cabinet, what weird explanation does the Chancellor have as to why, according to the Office for National Statistics, productivity is falling at its fastest annual pace for five years?
We have just had an unprecedented decade of growth: it is only the third time since 1700 that we have had an uninterrupted decade of growth, and that is thanks to the work of this Government. When it comes to weirdos and misfits, I know that there are many on the Opposition Benches, but they need not apply.
That speaks volumes, does it not? The worst recovery since the industrial revolution—is that what this Government can be proud of? It is absolutely pathetic. More bluster from the Chancellor, but the facts are absolutely clear: most people are worse off under Tory economic mismanagement, working longer hours on flatlining real pay. So, what targets has the Chancellor set for improved productivity? Will he make way for another weirdo or misfit when, inevitably, those targets are not met?
We should never forget that the Labour Government gave us the deepest recession in almost 100 hundred years, and the British people were clever enough not to allow them to do it again. Now, they throw stones at the firefighters who put out the fire that they set in our economy. That is what they do. We will not take any lessons from the Labour party.
May I first pay tribute to the economist Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, who passed away on Hogmanay?
The Bank of England has said that pessimism and uncertainty around Brexit have had an impact on investment and productivity. That uncertainty has been compounded in Scotland by the fact that our Government found out only today in the media that the UK Government will finally be setting their budget, yet they have absolutely no certainty over whether that budget will include the £1.2 billion in Barnett consequentials promised by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. When does the Chancellor intend to meet the Scottish Finance Secretary to apologise?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position as, I think, Treasury spokesperson for her party.
When it comes to productivity, it is important that the Scottish Government play their role. They should examine their own policies, especially those on tax and infrastructure and skills, and see how they have let down the Scottish people time and again.
It is a huge disappointment. The Chancellor does not even have the dignity to apologise to Derek Mackay for making this announcement only in the media. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware, but 11 March is the date by which councils in Scotland legally have to set local tax rates. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has described this delay as extremely worrying. Its resources spokesperson, the Conservative councillor Gail Macgregor, has said that this will significantly impede local authorities and disadvantage Scotland’s communities. Will the Chancellor tell me whether he thinks it is fair that Scottish local government must set its budgets blindfold without any notion of what its block grant will be? Is not the truth that he has given absolutely no thought to Scotland at all?
In the election that we have just had, we talked time and again about the need to unleash the potential of the entire United Kingdom, and of course that includes all of Scotland. Scotland has been let down time and again by the SNP Government, who are charging Scottish people the highest taxes in the United Kingdom and providing the worst public services.
I call Rachel Reeves.
Let us take somebody else then.
May I say how warm your words were, Mr Speaker, vis-à-vis the Australian Parliament and how well they will be received?
With regard to productivity, what plans does the Chancellor have in the upcoming Budget to tackle the lack of investment in further education? Investment has been cut by 50% since 2010, and productivity relies very much on colleges and high-quality education outside the university sector.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of FE and technical skills—I went to an FE college myself—and it is one reason why, in the spending round back in September, I allocated an increase of £400 million for the forthcoming year to FE budgets, which is the biggest increase in a decade. In our recent party manifesto, we set out plans for £2 billion of investment in the FE estate throughout England.
In September, the Chancellor announced a new £500 million youth investment fund to build and refurbish youth centres and deliver high-quality services to young people across the country. That will include £250 million of capital investment, which is expected to deliver 60 new youth centres, 360 refurbished facilities and more than 100 mobile units for harder-to-reach areas.
Over the past decade, spending on youth services has been cut by more than £1 billion. In constituencies such as mine and across London, the number of youth clubs has almost halved. Will the Chancellor finally own up to the devastating effect that austerity has had on young people in my constituency and commit to funding a proper statutory youth service in his upcoming Budget?
What I can promise the hon. Lady is that the Government are committed to funding local government with a settlement, which was announced before the election, of an additional 4.4% in real-terms increase that will give local authorities that additional spending power alongside the youth investment fund announcement that I mentioned earlier.
Will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that young people in Wycombe are not disadvantaged by excessively coarse aggregate measures of deprivation, which can obscure real need in constituencies such as mine?
I recognise the challenge of getting to the heart of the problems in different constituencies, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to better understand his specific concerns so that we can get to the heart of the problem in his constituency.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker. Given that it is my first time at the Dispatch Box since you became Speaker, let me just say that I recall running an operation in 2014 to prevent your predecessor from rigging the selection of the Clerk of the House of Commons; I think it speaks to the esteem in which you are held across this House that one could imagine no such thing under your speakership.
The Government published Sir Amyas Morse’s independent review of the loan charge on 20 December, alongside the Government’s response to his recommendations.
Clearly the loophole had to be closed, but not in the retrospective fashion that has hit so many of my constituents. If these arrangements were already illegal when my constituents were charged, why was it necessary to bring in the loan charge in 2017 at all?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware from reading the review, it is a very thorough and comprehensive piece of work and Sir Amyas goes into this question. He has accepted the case for a loan charge in principle—he recognises that it was important to address the issue of abusive tax avoidance—but he said that it should apply to loans taken out after a specific date. In his judgment, that represents a fair balance between the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises and the loan charge, and the Government have accepted that.
The Morse report and the Government’s response are very welcome, and will help many of my constituents in Hertford and Stortford who have been deeply affected by the loan charge. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that I can share with him some of my constituents’ experiences and residual concerns and discuss the Government’s response in more detail?
I hope I may join the Chancellor in congratulating my hon. Friend on taking her place in this Chamber. I have met many colleagues about this issue and would be delighted to meet her. She will understand that I cannot deal with individual cases, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss the issues of principle.
Infrastructure Investment Distribution
May I congratulate the hon. Lady on being recognised in the new year’s honours list? It is a fitting tribute to her years of service, especially her campaigning work on contaminated blood; she deserves praise for that work.
Infrastructure is a top priority for the Government. We will be publishing the national infrastructure strategy alongside the Budget, and I can say now that that strategy will contain our ambition to level up across the United Kingdom, ensuring that every part of our country—not just London—has the opportunity to spread and drive growth in their communities.
I thank the Minister for his kind words.
It is good that there is consensus across the House about the need to invest, particularly in transport in the north. I note that the Chancellor agreed with those comments in the story published in The Times on 27 December. I just wondered whether this House and my constituents will really have to wait until the beginning of March to get the actual detail of what this will mean. Is it not right that this House hears first, rather than the newspapers?
I think the hon. Lady is referring to the Government’s plans to review all our frameworks, processes and mechanisms to allocate investment spending. That work is under way, and the Chancellor and other Ministers will update the House, as required, as more details emerge.
A very happy new year to you and everyone in the House, Mr Speaker.
The regional investment gap of £63 billion in transport alone is compounded by deindustrialisation. Yesterday, a senior Minister—anonymously—dismissed concerns over customs and rules of origin barriers as
“lobbying from industries that are in secular decline”,
but they are felt by all advanced manufacturers. What will the Chancellor do about his colleagues who seem to blithely accept further regional job losses in manufacturing?
I was in the Tees valley earlier this week, and what I heard there from manufacturers was incredible support for this Government’s agenda of spreading opportunity, driving investment in regional infrastructure and sensible taxation of manufacturing companies, all of which will lead to higher growth, more jobs and better investment for their community.
Vehicle Excise Duty: Motorhomes
The Government introduced a graduated system of vehicle excise duty to encourage the uptake of vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions and to help to meet our legally binding climate change targets. I have held productive talks with representatives of the industry and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) to discuss this matter, and I am sensitive to their concerns. As with all taxes, we keep VED under review, and any announcements are for future fiscal events.
When we escape the clutches of EU regulation 2018/1832, will the Minister restore the status quo ante as at September last year?
My right hon. Friend stands up with a positively lengthy question. As he knows, I share his enthusiasm for escaping certain EU regulations when we leave the EU on 31 January. We are, however, convinced of the need to incentivise the reductions in our transport emissions that I have referred to, which represent a third of the UK’s total CO2 output.
Does the Minister think that this green tax, which has increased vehicle duty by 1,000% for many motorhomes—which are used, on average, for 31 days per year and do about 2,000 miles per year—is fair, and will he review it?
The figure of 1,000% is somewhat misleading. Only motorhomes with the very highest emissions would fall into that category, and the extra VED applies only in the first year. But of course we keep all taxes under review. I am sensitive to the concerns of the industry; clearly, a significant number of jobs are supported by it. As always, we keep these things under a watching brief.
May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his place, as a fellow Yorkshire MP? I am pleased to tell him that the Government are determined to keep our families and communities safe by backing the police with the resources that they need. That is why we have committed to finding 20,000 new police officers by the end of 2023 to help to keep our streets safe. To that end, we have additionally announced £750 million of investment so that the first 6,000 can be in place by the end of next year.
Will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Home Secretary to ensure that Don Valley gets its fair share of the 20,000 police officers so that my constituents not only feel safer but are safer on the streets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am pleased to tell him that South Yorkshire will be allocated 151 of the initial wave of new police officers. That comes on top of the 55 that are being recruited this year, and, in addition, £1.6 million of funding has been allocated to his local force for a violence reduction unit that will further help. I hope that provides him and his constituents with the reassurance they need. We are committed to keeping them safe.
My constituents in Fleetwood have been left reeling over an unprecedented spate of armed robberies in shops in the town over the festive period. Does the Minister think that the cuts to police numbers and the fact that they now have to be replaced was the wrong decision to make a decade ago? Does he not see that not just the cuts to police numbers but cuts to youth services that help to work with young people have been the wrong decisions?
The hon. Lady talks about things a decade ago. A decade ago, this country was borrowing £150 billion—the largest deficit in peacetime history. That is why this Government had to take action to restore our public finances to a place of sanity, and that is why now, because of the careful management of the economy, we are able to invest in 20,000 new police officers and additionally give them the powers they need to keep us all safe.
We welcome the 50 new police officers for Dorset that we fought so hard to get, and 120 more are planned over the next two years. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that we will definitely get these extra officers for Dorset?
I am pleased to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. That is why the Chancellor committed in the spending review to specific additional funding of £750 million for the first year, for the first 6,000, and additional funding will follow to ensure that we deliver on the commitment of 20,000 new officers across the country.
Does the Minister agree that we not only need more police officers but a new partnership forged locally between youth services, the police and the educational sector? Is it not time for some new cross-party thinking about how we tackle the crime and disorder on our streets at the moment?
I fully agree with the hon. Member’s comments. That is why we are funding violence reduction units, which start to build partnership working at a local level between social services, police and local authorities. The Queen’s Speech contained a Bill that will further strengthen that duty on local authorities, police and other partners to work together to deliver the benefits that he rightly observed.
Frontline Health Services
We are delivering on our five-year NHS settlement confirmed in January 2019, which is the largest cash injection in our public services since the second world war and will provide the NHS with an additional £33.9 billion more per year by 2023-24 compared with 2018-19. The settlement will shortly be enshrined in law.
Flint Community Hospital in my constituency of Delyn was closed by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board back in 2013, with the loss of a minor injuries unit and several important community beds where the elderly especially were able to recover from surgery close to their friends and family. Despite this being devolved to the Welsh Government, what hope can my right hon. Friend give to the people of Delyn and Flint that funds will be available so that such vital services in the community can be resurrected?
My hon. Friend will know that the NHS is this Government’s No. 1 spending priority. I just wish that it was the same for the Labour Government in Wales, who have let down Welsh people time and again, especially when it comes to healthcare. In the recent spending round in September, the Welsh Government received an additional £600 million, much of which can be put to good use in the NHS system in Wales. I hope that they are wise enough to help the Welsh people and, in particular, to look again at resurrecting Flint Community Hospital.
One of the major crises is the recruitment of GPs, so it is not just money that needs to be thrown at the issues. What steps is the Treasury taking to ensure that when money is provided, it is spent well and, crucially, that it is not stop-start funding, so that the NHS can properly plan for the long term, particularly in the recruitment of frontline staff?
It is worth reminding Members that one of the reasons the NHS has so many problems, including with the recruitment of GPs and in hospitals, is the PFI policies of the previous Labour Government, which have cash starved many NHS trusts for far too long. We are now putting that right with our historic settlement. The hon. Member is quite right about the importance of recruiting more GPs to have more appointments, and that is why we set out in our manifesto exactly how we are going to do that.
The extra billions for the NHS are to be welcomed, but the real challenge in Goole, Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals is a backlog in capital. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, come the Budget, there will be capital funding to ensure that our hospitals can be upgraded?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He makes an important point. As he will know, the Government will have a comprehensive spending review later this year, and there will be a multi-year capital settlement. Having the right amount of capital to ensure that we do all that is required for our NHS will be a priority.
Some 50% of people living with cancer require radiotherapy treatment, and yet only 5% of the cancer budget is spent on radiotherapy. What that means in real terms is that constituents of mine have to make two, three or four-hour roundtrips to get life-saving daily treatment. Will the Chancellor commit to spending money on radiotherapy provision, to provide satellite units at places such as Westmorland General Hospital?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. We are absolutely committed to providing the resources necessary for the NHS to provide even better cancer treatment for all our constituents. That is one of the reasons for this record financial settlement. Capital is also necessary, and further capital investment to have better cancer treatment will also be a priority.
Net Zero Emissions
It is a great pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend to her place. The clean growth strategy sets out our proposals to decarbonise our economy during the 2020s. This will build on existing Government spending, including £2.5 billion for low-carbon innovation between 2015 and 2021, £1 billion for ultra low emission vehicles and £4.5 billion for the renewable heat incentive.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I am sure he is aware of the immense appetite within London’s financial and professional services community to invest in green infrastructure and the rapid development of the green and sustainable bonds market. Is he therefore willing to meet me and representatives of the Corporation of London to discuss how Her Majesty’s Treasury can further advise and support further investment in green infrastructure and private finance, and its backing of that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK is already a global centre for green finance, but we need to do more. That is why the Government published a green finance strategy last July and why we have launched the Green Finance Institute, in close collaboration with the City of London—precisely to drive these outcomes. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be happy to meet her at the earliest opportunity to progress this.
As always, the Scottish Government are ahead of the UK Government when it comes to climate change and taking steps to tackle this. The Minister rightly acknowledged that the UK Government have to do a lot more. Does he agree that they need to take away the subsidies to nuclear and actually reinvest in onshore wind in Scotland, and allow greater offshore deployment as well?
The whole United Kingdom needs to work together to make sure that we deliver on our climate goals. We clearly need a diverse energy mix to help to deliver on that, and nuclear has a clear role to play within that settlement. We are very clear that we obviously monitor all projects to make sure they deliver maximum value for money, but we do need some baseload power.
The year 2020 marks the end of a decade of economic recovery—10 years of uninterrupted growth, which is only the third time this has been achieved since 1700. At the election, I warned of a double whammy of uncertainty that risked the economy: continued Brexit delay and an agenda from the Labour party that would bankrupt our economy. We have removed those uncertainties and the markets have welcomed that. Now, since the election, I have appointed an excellent new Governor of the Bank of England, I have confirmed the national living wage will rise by 6.2% in April and I can confirm that I will bring the Budget to this House on 11 March. This Government will lay the foundations for a decade of economic renewal for every corner of our great country.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s having further reduced business rates for small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas. However, for businesses that do not fall within the rate relief levels, such as South Brent village shop in my constituency, will he work with me to see those rates reduced and review all business rates?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. He is absolutely right about the importance of business rates, which are a real burden, particularly on smaller community and village shops. That is why we have made our exemption for the smallest businesses—some 675,000 businesses—permanent, and we have a rural and retail discount scheme. He will also know that in our manifesto we committed to a fundamental review of our business rates schemes. I look forward to working with him and hearing his ideas.
Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your words about the tragedy taking place in Australia?
Let me say to the Chancellor that I welcomed his statement yesterday that we are to have a Budget at last, as well as that the Green Book is to be rewritten—only two years after Labour proposed it; and that there is a new fiscal rule to accommodate new investment—only four years after Labour proposed it. But there was another statement, which he made reference to, which was the statement before Christmas about appointing Mr Andrew Bailey to be the Governor of the Bank of England. During Mr Bailey’s tenure as chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, we saw the scandals of London Capital & Finance and the Woodford Equity Fund, and the continuing saga of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Global Restructuring Group. In all those scandals, many people—many on low incomes—were hit extremely hard. May I ask the Chancellor: did he consult any of the victims of these scandals before he appointed Mr Bailey?
First, I welcome the shadow Chancellor to his seat. He fought a hard campaign and I commend him for his efforts. As he noted, just before the Christmas recess, I announced the new Governor of the Bank of England—I have just referred to that. Mr Bailey was an outstanding candidate—the stand-out candidate to be the next Governor of the Bank of England. That is one of the most important public sector jobs that our country has to offer, and it is hugely important that it goes to a rightly qualified person. Any reasonable person who looks at Mr Bailey’s track record of outstanding public service will see that he is eminently qualified.
You will note, Mr Speaker, that I asked whether the Chancellor had consulted any of the victims of these scandals, and no response was received. Clearly, he did not. I referred to the Woodford Group, and in the filings lodged today at Companies House, it is reported that £13.8 million of dividends were received by Mr Ian Woodford, and his chief executive, in the 12 months leading up to the crisis that engulfed Woodford Investment Management and affected so many investors deleteriously. That adds to concerns already expressed by others that Mr Bailey was asleep at the wheel during his period of office at the FCA. Labour has already called for a short, sharp inquiry into the recent scandals and into the regulation of the financial services sector. May I suggest to the Chancellor that it would be appropriate to postpone Mr Bailey’s installation in office until an independent inquiry into those failures of financial regulation had taken place?
I believe the right hon. Gentleman means Mr Neil Woodford, not Mr Ian Woodford. The ongoing inquiry is, rightly, being led independently. It is not a matter for Ministers, and neither should it be. We are, of course, interested to ensure that an inquiry takes place and that we learn all necessary lessons. I believe the Economic Secretary to the Treasury again has a meeting with the FCA on this issue tomorrow, but we will let the inquiry take its course independently. Once it is complete, we will ensure that all necessary lessons are learned.
May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend back to her rightful place? Last month, I visited with her some excellent businesses in her constituency, and I want to see more such businesses, not just in Derbyshire and the midlands, but throughout the country. There is so much more we can do with the midlands engine, and in this coming Parliament we are going to really fire it up and spread opportunities. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and colleagues in doing just that.
The Government are always willing to work with the City and interested parties to consider how we can advance investment across all those sectors, and I would be happy to discuss such matters with the hon. Gentleman.
I will work with my hon. Friend, and I welcome him to his place. I was incredibly impressed by Merxin, the company we visited together. It was a reminder of the difference the right infrastructure in west Norfolk can make and how it can attract even more local business success. I will work with him. We will have an infrastructure revolution. It will benefit Norfolk and it will transform the local economy.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Work has been done on absentee landlords, but there is always room for new ideas. I will make sure that the relevant Minister meets him.
I thank my hon. Friend for his characteristically robust Yorkshire question. As a fellow northern MP, I am obviously very keen to get cracking with higher transport infrastructure investment in the north, which the Government are absolutely committed to do. On HS2 specifically, as he knows, the Government have commissioned the Oakervee review to evaluate the scheme. It will report in due course and we will lay its findings before the House.
Can I first congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your first and second election as Speaker? You are looking very well on it.
May I ask the Chancellor about the problem facing many people who are worried about whether they have cancer? The best way to save the lives of people with cancer is early detection and ensuring that tests come back very quickly. Unfortunately, nine out of 10 pathology labs in England, Wales and Scotland are short of pathologists, which means that people are waiting six and seven weeks. Is it not now time we had a major financial incentive to persuade more people to become histopathologists and pathologists in the NHS?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is such an important issue for all our constituents. It is important that we ensure that at all times the NHS has enough funding to meet all demand, but especially for something as acute and as important as treating cancer. He is right about the need for more skills. Much more is work being done by the Secretary of State and we are looking to see what more can be done. If more funding is required, we will provide it.
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I know she has great experience as an SME leader. The Government recognise that SMEs are the backbone of the economy. We have international trade adviser networks giving peer-to-peer support to encourage more exports. The Government’s export strategy, launched in August 2018, lays the foundations of how to extend that. I hope she will be able to make use of it during her time in the House.
The “back of a cigarette packet” policy to increase road duty by more than 700% for motor homes and camper vans is reminiscent of the caravan tax of 2013, which I think was invented by the Chancellor’s predecessor George Osborne. That would have decimated manufacturing industry in Hull. Will the Chancellor meet me, colleagues and those in the industry, who are very concerned about this policy, so that they can explain directly to him how disastrous this policy will be for manufacturing industry in Hull?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. I met the National Caravan Council in October to discuss precisely these issues. We are clear that we need to incentivise the production of lower emission vehicles, but none the less we are sensitive to the concerns of the industry. I will happily meet him for further talks on this issue.
Middle East: Security
Happy new year, Mr Speaker, and it is good to see you in the Chair. With permission, I would like to make a statement on the security situation in the middle east.
I have deep regard for the nation of Iran; I chaired the all-party group on Iran in this House for eight years and have visited the country a number of times. Indeed, the last time I visited I was with the Leader of the Opposition—we went together to visit the Iranian Government and the people. It is a wonderful place with a dynamic population, and the world owes a great deal to its culture and its history, but in recent times, Iran has felt that its intentions are best served through the nefarious use of proxies and the use of subversion as a foreign policy tool. It has provided practical military support to the murderous Assad regime in Syria, stoked conflict in Yemen, armed militia groups in Iraq and repeatedly harassed international shipping, including UK shipping, in the strait of Hormuz. It has also shown a total disregard for human rights, holding dual nationals in prison and causing unimaginable suffering not just to those in jail, but to their families at home. Such behaviour does nothing to enhance Iran’s reputation with its neighbours and has had a seriously destabilising impact in the region.
One of the foremost architects of Iran’s malign activity was the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. One of its commanders and leading enablers was General Qasem Soleimani, who, on 2 January, was killed by a US drone strike. General Soleimani was no friend of the UK or our allies in the region. He was not an advocate of a more peaceful and prosperous middle east. His clandestine operations saw him supply weaponry to proxy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He encouraged proxies to develop weapons such as improvised explosive devices that killed and maimed UK soldiers and other western forces, and we should not forget how he fomented instability in places like Basra, where British forces were stationed.
The United States Government have asserted that General Soleimani organised the strike on 27 December by the militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah, which targeted a US military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, and killed a US civilian contractor, and the US is confident that General Soleimani came to Baghdad to co-ordinate imminent attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. The UK will always defend the right of countries to defend themselves. The House will want to know that since October 2019, coalition bases, which contain both United States and United Kingdom personnel, and the Baghdad international zone have been attacked 14 times. One attack on K-1 base involved 32 rockets. Our challenge now is to deal with the situation we find ourselves in. The US consistently showed restraint though all those previous attacks, even when its right to self-defence was well established.
Since the early hours of Friday morning, the Government have responded to these events. Further conflict is in no one’s interest. The only beneficiaries would be the terrorists and extremists, seeking to use the chaos as cover to advance their abhorrent objectives, so we are urging all people—all parties—to de-escalate as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the safety and security of British citizens and our interests in the region are of paramount concern. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has strengthened its travel advice to both Iran and Iraq and will keep it under constant review. We urge British nationals in the region, or those intending to travel, to regularly check gov.uk for further updates.
We have taken other urgent measures to protect British nationals and interests. The Department for Transport is reviewing the threat state and advice to red ensign shipping on a daily basis, and, supported by the Ministry of Defence, we will issue guidance imminently. At that same time, the MOD is changing the readiness of our forces in the region, with helicopters and ships on standby to assist if the need arises. To ensure the safety and security of our personnel we have also relocated non-essential personnel from Baghdad to Taji. Coalition forces in Iraq, including British forces, have suspended all training activities, and as part of prudent planning a small team has been sent to the region to provide additional situational awareness and contingency planning assistance.
On 5 January, Iraq’s Council of Representatives voted to end permission for coalition activities in Iraq. As the vote is only one part of the process, we are discussing its implications with our Iraqi interlocutors. Today, I simply remind the House that the coalition is in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi Government, to help protect Iraqis and others against the very real threat from Daesh. Our commitment to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty is unwavering and we urge the Iraqi Government to ensure the coalition can continue its vital work countering this shared threat.
The main focus of the UK Government is to de-escalate this issue. None of us wants conflict. None of us wants our citizens, our friends and our allies to be at risk. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, from the outset, has spoken to President Trump, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and President Erdoğan and will continue to engage with other world leaders. The Foreign Secretary and I have been talking to our counterparts. Only this morning, I met with His Royal Highness the Saudi Vice-Minister for Defence, and in tandem we are working with the E3 to reboot the joint comprehensive plan of action—the nuclear deal—which we believe is a vital step to achieving a more stable Iran.
In the coming days, we will be doing all we can to encourage Iran to take a different path. No one should be under any illusion: long before the death of General Soleimani, Iran had stepped up its destabilising activities in the region. Whether it was targeting dissidents in Europe or hijacking civilian ships, this aggressive behaviour was never going to go unchallenged. Her Majesty’s Government urge Iran to return to the normal behaviour of the country it aspires to be and to resist the urge to retaliate.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. Can he tell us where the Prime Minister is, and what he is doing that is so much more important than addressing Parliament on the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, an extremely dangerous and aggressive act that risks starting yet another deadly war in the middle east?
On Friday, I sent the Prime Minister a letter posing a series of questions. He has not answered any of them. Instead, today he is hiding behind his Defence Secretary. Is it not the truth that he is scared to stand up to President Trump because he has hitched his wagon to the prospect of a toxic Trump trade deal? At this highly dangerous moment, we find the Government giving cover and even expressing sympathy for what is widely regarded as an illegal act, because they are so determined to keep in with President Trump. This assassination puts British troops and civilians, as well as the people of the region, in danger.
As the Secretary of State will confirm, I have long spoken out against the Iranian Government’s human rights record, including when he and I visited Iran together in 2014. This is not a question of Soleimani’s actions or record in the region. Whatever the record of any state official, the principle and the law is that we do not go around assassinating foreign leaders. Without the clear demonstration of an immediate threat, it is illegal. So do the Government regard the assassination as legal under international law? If so, how? Do the lawyers in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence regard it as legal?
If the Secretary of State really believes that this was an act of self-defence, what evidence has he or the Prime Minister seen of an imminent attack on the US? The Secretary of State says that the United States is confident that attacks were imminent, but US officials have been quoted in the press as saying that the evidence was “razor thin”. How would the Secretary of State describe it?
In the past few days, the US President has threatened to target Iranian cultural sites and to attack Iran in a manner that is—I quote him directly—“disproportionate”. Both actions would be war crimes, yet the Government still seem unable to condemn such threats. On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said that the onus was entirely on Iran to de-escalate. I wonder whether, if Iran had assassinated an American general, the British Government would be telling Washington that the onus was entirely on the US to de-escalate.
We talk about this as a conflict between the US and Iran, but the worst consequences are likely to be felt by Iraq, a country on the brink of further terrible violence and instability. President Trump has threatened Iraq with
“sanctions like they’ve never seen before”
after its elected—yes, elected—Parliament voted to ask US and other foreign forces to leave their country. He has said he will not withdraw entirely unless the US is compensated for the “extraordinarily expensive air base” that was actually built by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. The Prime Minister—when he finally resurfaced from his trip—said that he was committed to the sovereignty of Iraq, so will the Secretary of State confirm that this Government will respect Iraqi sovereignty if the Iraqi Government ask all foreign forces, including British forces, to leave?
We know that the British Government were not consulted by the Trump Administration in advance, despite there being obvious British interests at stake. Let me also ask what the Government are doing to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals who are currently in detention in Iran. This must be an utterly terrifying time both for them individually and for their families.
It is not in anyone’s interests for this to escalate to an all-out war. All sides should exercise maximum restraint and allow for meaningful dialogue, led by the UN Secretary-General’s office. To prevent war, we need a strong plan for diplomacy, so are the Government in contact with the UN Secretary-General? And let us not forget that there was a diplomatic plan: the Iran nuclear deal. It was working, until President Trump came along and tried to rip it up.
Time and again over the last two decades, the political and military establishments have made the wrong call on military interventions in the middle east. Many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the failed invasion of Afghanistan, and I opposed the bombing of Libya in 2011. Have we learnt nothing from those events? This House must rule out plunging our country into yet another devastating war at the behest of another state.
I note that the Leader of the Opposition sent the Prime Minister a letter in which he posed three questions, none of which he has just posed from the Dispatch Box. I find that rather interesting. I am afraid that instead of a serious interrogation about we would de-escalate this situation in the middle east and how we would ensure that British citizens and British allies were secure, we heard the usual tripe—“This is about Trump, this is about America”—and all the other anti-American, anti-imperialist guff.
The Leader of the Opposition asked where the Prime Minister was. Well, funnily enough, the Prime Minister is running the country, something that the right hon. Gentleman will fail ever to do as a result of the general election. This Prime Minister actually believes in Cabinet government, and in letting the members of the Cabinet who are responsible for the policy come to the House to be able to answer questions about a matter relating to that policy. Indeed, the Prime Minister felt that it was appropriate for me, as a Secretary of State for Defence who currently has a significant number of assets in the region—in Iraq—and who is charged with the duty of defending this country, to attend and to answer the questions in his place.
Perhaps I can answer some of the few questions that were asked by the Leader of the Opposition. First, it is for the United States to answer in detail the question whether it views the intelligence on the basis of which it made its decision to be illegal or not. On the basis of the information and intelligence that I have seen, what I can say is that it is clear that there was a case for self-defence to be made in respect of an individual who had come to Iraq to co-ordinate murder and attacks on US citizens. That begs the question what the Leader of the Opposition would have done if that individual had come to Iraq or anywhere else to plot the murder of British soldiers and diplomats. Perhaps, as he recommended with al-Baghdadi of ISIS, he would seek to have him arrested at that time.
It is of course the case that this Government are engaged in a full diplomatic effort at all levels to de-escalate the tensions that have grown in the region, not only at the United Nations but in leader-to-leader, Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary discussions and using all other levers that we have. More broadly than just in the region, we are seeking efforts to ensure that Iran does not retaliate in any way that would escalate the situation and that our friends and allies do not escalate the situation either. The call that this Government are making is to ensure that we pause, that we focus on the safety of the peoples of that region and that we seek a way out for Iran and for its neighbours. The first way we can do that, which this Government are determined to try to do, is to ensure that the destabilising activity that has been going on in the region is ceased, so that we can all progress to find the solution that we desperately want to the conflict. In the meantime, the Government will get on and ensure that they keep people safe in the region, and we will do everything we can to protect them and their lives.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Thousands of Iraqi civilians, military personnel and cadets have lost their lives in Daesh-linked violence, with many brutally executed. In the light of these events and the recent statement from the combined joint taskforce for Operation Inherent Resolve, can he reassure the House that the fight against Daesh remains offensive, not defensive? Will he also update us on efforts to secure access to northern Syria for humanitarian actors and others, given that access via Iraq is now impossible?
My right hon. Friend makes the serious point that Daesh has not gone away. Indeed, it is posing a threat to us here in the United Kingdom and Europe and also within region. We are working incredibly hard with the Iraqi Government to try to see in what ways we can remain in theatre to deal with that, and I know that the Prime Minister spoke recently to the Iraqi Prime Minister, including on that subject. At the same time, in Syria, we are focused on the force protection of aid workers and everybody else in the region, ensuring that people are safe and that people who are travelling there do so with the right advice. It would not be right for me to comment any further on what we are doing operationally in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, as to do so may expose our forces, but we are alive to the fact that among the groups of people most likely to exploit destabilisation are terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Daesh.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We on these Benches of course hold no candle for General Soleimani or, indeed, for the actions of the Iranian Government, but I would simply say to the Secretary of State that it is not anti-American to question and press the Government on what they are doing in relation to their closest ally. He says that the US is confident that General Soleimani had co-ordinated the 27 December attacks and was planning further attacks, but how confident is he that that is correct? There is certainly no consensus on Capitol Hill among congressional leaders that that is the case. The Secretary of State mentioned that he had seen intelligence that had perhaps convinced him, but have the UK Government done their own legal analysis of whether the strike was lawful? I ask him simply: does he believe that the strike was lawful? And why has it taken four days for the Government to convene the National Security Council, given the gravity of the situation we now face?
On UK forces, the Secretary of State tells the House—this is the killer paragraph—that all training has been “suspended” and “contingency planning” is going on, which can be taken to mean planning to leave Iraq, so can it be taken as read that there is now no active fight against ISIS in Iraq because of the actions of the President of America?
On de-escalation, will the Secretary of State mount the most robust and unapologetic defence of international law and order? Does he agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross that the threat to target cultural sites, as made by the US President, would be unlawful? Will he work to ensure that the UN Security Council can finally step in and do its job? Will he condemn the fact that the Foreign Minister of Iran has been prevented, against international law, from taking part in UN proceedings? On the JCPOA, I welcome what the Secretary of State has to say, but we really need some detail as to how he will get the plan resurrected with Iran and the United States.
We hear a lot at the Dispatch Box about the international rules-based order, but our closest ally is ripping it up before our eyes, whether we like it or not. I ask the Secretary of State to be unapologetic in standing up for it and to mount the most robust defence of it—America is a close friend, and that is what a close friend should do. If the Secretary of State does that, he will have the support of those on the SNP Benches.
The hon. Gentleman asks some good questions. First, we would of course condemn any attacks on heritage sites, and we recognise that they would be against international law. My counterpart, Mark Esper, the US Defence Secretary, has already clearly said that the US will not target heritage sites. If anyone were to do that, no matter whether they were friend or foe, we would of course call them out.
We observe and support the international rule of law, of course, which is why we support UN article 51 on the inherent right of a nation to defend itself. How a nation takes those sometimes very difficult decisions is, first, a matter for that nation and the intelligence and evidence it has in front of it at the time. I cannot speak for what the United States had in front of it at the time it made that decision; that is a matter for the United States Law Officers and, indeed, the President of the United States. What I can say of the intelligence that I have seen is that there is definitely a case to answer on the cause of self-defence. That is not me speaking for the United States; that is a matter for the United States. Every single leader has a very difficult challenge. They are the ones responsible for the decisions they make at the time, based on the information that is available to them.
I cannot expand further on the basis on which the United States made that decision. However, I know that the hon. Gentleman supports the inherent right in article 51 for a nation to defend itself. It is part of international law, and the UK Government defend a nation’s right to take that action if it is in accordance with article 51.
It was disappointing that we were not informed about the attack in advance, but does the Defence Secretary agree that, while that may be partly because this US Administration have the habit of doing a lot of things unilaterally, it is also because of growing scepticism in Washington about European commitment to global security, given the vast disparity in defence spending between European countries and the United States? The right place to address this issue is the defence and security review that is happening this year, which can show that a newly confident post-Brexit Britain takes its defence obligations seriously.
My right hon. Friend is right that the defence, security and foreign policy review is the place for us to examine our place in the world and what funding goes behind that.
When it comes to being informed, every single country, including the United Kingdom and the United States, has a category of no foreign eyes—it is “NOFORN” in the United States and “UK eyes only” in the UK. None of us knows what it is like in other countries when they have short notice, potentially, in a case where life is at risk, or how much time they have to action that intelligence or threat and to inform their friends and neighbours. It is a real challenge. In my experience of having intelligence in front of me as a soldier, we did not always have the luxury of time to inform everybody, even within our own system. We should remember that the United States did not inform Congress, let alone its friends and allies, at that particular moment. We do not know the reason that was urgent enough for the United States Administration to do that. It may well have been that a threat to life, dealing with which is paramount, was more important at that particular moment to that particular decision maker than telling us. They did, however, tell us very quickly after the event, and we have engaged with them throughout the process.
When I met the Prime Minister when he was Foreign Secretary, he told me and my constituent Richard Ratcliffe that he would leave no stone unturned to ensure the release of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I was therefore alarmed to hear the present Foreign Secretary on “The Andrew Marr Show” agree with Andrew Marr that there was nothing that the Government could do to ensure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Will the Government leave no stone unturned to ensure that Nazanin comes home, or will British prisoners be left to rot in jail in Iran while the situation between the US and Iran escalates further? Which is it?
This Government will do everything we can to get released from Iranian prisons not just the hon. Lady’s constituent, but the many other dual nationals currently languishing in those jails. It has been a long-term foreign policy tool of the Iranian Government to incarcerate people that they do not like to intimidate nations. Hostage taking—some of these prisoners are hostages to some extent—has been in the Iranian handbook for many decades. We will do everything we can to try to get her constituent released, and I mean everything. However, everything we do will be within international law. That is our only parameter. We will try and try and try, and the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa continues to do that on an almost daily basis.
The issue at stake here is that Soleimani and his deputy were already responsible for vast attacks on our allies and on British citizens, leading to loss of life and to the recent oilfield explosions in Saudi Arabia. The point that we want to make here is not just that he may have posed a threat, but that he has already been a threat. As a result of his position, Iran’s policy has been to escalate all conflict across the middle east, so my right hon. Friend is right to want to de-escalate the situation, but part of that is about ensuring that Soleimani and co. no longer exist and can no longer escalate such terrible actions.
My right hon. Friend is correct to highlight that this is not just about the incident of 2 January. The long and consistent destabilising of the region by the Quds Force has done Iran no favours at all. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Rather than making Iran powerful and influential, it has made Iran a pariah in its own neighbourhood and has led the Iranians down a cul-de-sac to the potentially dangerous place we are now in. We all need, therefore, to do everything we can to de-escalate, including ensuring that Iran ceases the destabilising activity that prevents the building of trust by its neighbours. The neighbourhood may well help to find a solution, but it has to trust Iran.
The key question is about where all this is going. Iran has announced since this happened that it will not abide by limits on the use of centrifuges agreed under the JCPOA. What is the Government’s assessment of the JCPOA? Is it in intensive care, or is it dead? Is it the Government’s policy to resurrect the agreement? If it is, how do they intend to pursue that objective?
We believe that the JCPOA still has life in it. With the right amount of effort and focus, both from the E3 and from Iran and in the work that we communicate to the United States, it is a route that will prove successful. The JCPOA contains a dispute resolution mechanism. We have not yet gone to that, but it is one of the things that we can use to seek to remedy the situation if we are going to try to pull Iran back from a path that may eventually break the JCPOA. We do not think it is dead. We think there is still a chance, and we will make sure, despite what is going on now, that it is the best solution in the long term.
In the light of Soleimani’s alliances with Hezbollah and Hamas, and now the explicit threat of revenge, does my right hon. Friend agree that Israel is exposed and faces a real risk of attack from Iran? If he does, what steps are the UK Government taking to support Israel, a true friend of the UK and of democracy, in its right to self-defence?
Regretfully, I do not think the threat to Israel has changed because, even before the general’s death, Iran had been using its proxies to directly and indirectly target Israeli interests not just in the region but around the world. Israel, in its public statements, recognises the threat that General Soleimani posed but also recognises the importance of finding a solution to the growing tension in the region that helps absolutely no one. The tension does not help Iran find a way out, it does not help Israel’s security and it does not help Iraq’s security, which is why we are determined to see what we can do to try to de-escalate through the diplomatic route while also finding long-term solutions in the hope that the JCPOA continues to flourish or, if it does not, to ensure there is another path for Iran to follow.
Global security scholars have an incredible number of secondary questions about this act. Iraq has a close military and political relationship with Washington, as the Secretary of State knows, yet it was not consulted on the assassination of a prominent target in its sovereign territory. Has he sought assurances from his American counterparts that they will not extend doing what they must to defend themselves to carrying out targeted assassinations on other allies’ sovereign territory, including the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman mixes the inherent right, under article 51 of the UN charter, to defend ourselves from threats against our citizens or others, and an unchallengeable sovereignty that means a country cannot take action to defend itself from a threat in part of another country. We mostly do it by getting in touch with the other country to have someone arrested or dealt with, when there is a direct threat, but that is not always an option, depending on imminence.
As I said in my statement, the number of times that US and UK coalition forces have been attacked in Iraq in the last few months, with no action being taken—indeed, an American lost their life—has been growing. There have been 14 attacks, with 32 rockets fired in the last one. In the end, it is the responsibility of any nation to make the difficult choice to balance sovereignty, intelligence and the duty to defend its citizens. Nations have to make that choice sometimes.
My right hon. Friend makes a proper case for the British Government’s position, but will he go further and talk about what he is doing to make sure this does not become a cliff edge to war but is instead the low point of a tick that leads to progress? We should work with allies such as Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, perhaps, to reach out to Iran and assure it that we do not wish a conflict and that what we wish instead is change to a policy that has led to the deaths not only of far too many Brits but of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Syria and Iraq. It is for them that we are standing up, and it is for them that we want a change.
My hon. Friend is right to focus on how we can broaden both the network of diplomatic pressure on Iran and, in a sense, the support for Iraq, the United States and other countries engaged in this area. If I remember rightly, Iran used to have remarkable links with Japan, for example. We are exploring all the possible levers. With my colleagues in the Foreign Office and, indeed, at No. 10, including the Prime Minister, we are working as broadly and as fast as we can to find a way, using diplomacy through people with good access to the very heart of the Iranian Government, to reach a place where we can persuade the Iranians that retaliation is not in their best interest, while offering them a way out so that we can get back to a more stable middle east.
I agree with much of the Minister’s critique of Iran and of General Soleimani, and I of course support the US’s right to self-defence, but to assert that right through international, extra-judicial, pre-emptive assassination surely warrants some criticism also, if only to ensure that our diplomacy is effective. Is the Government’s unquestioning support of Trump not likely to enhance Iran’s influence and control in Iraq, a country where so many of our armed forces have given their lives?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments. Our support for the US is not unquestioning at all; we talk to our allies a lot. Indeed, I talked to my US counterpart about being told in advance and not being told in advance; I have those discussions. We are friends and allies, but we are critical friends and allies when it matters. We are also focused on Iraq, which is on the frontline of both Iranian meddling and Daesh attacks on a daily basis. That is why we have been invited into Iraq by the sovereign Government at the moment to try to help build their capacity to help them defend themselves. That is the most important thing for us at this moment in time; the Iraqi people are at great risk of both Iranian militia antagonism and Daesh. We will be speaking to them and we are continually trying to get them to say that it is in their best interest for us to remain, but we will respect Iraqi sovereignty. If they require us to leave, that is their right and we will respect it. Interestingly, no one has yet asked in the media why an Iranian general felt it was his job to parade around Iraq, given that Iran is not invited into Iraq’s affairs.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend; General Soleimani carried out Iran’s proxy wars, from the horrors in Yemen to the support for the bloody Assad regime. He was a key ally of Hezbollah and its terror networks. He did all of these things as a central figure in the Iranian regime, if not as its No. 2. I say to my right hon. Friend that we need to accept that the JCPOA has, in effect, been dead since the American withdrawal and we need to look for a more comprehensive agreement in the broader region if we are to maintain stability in that broader region, in the wider global interest.
My right hon. Friend is right about the behaviour of the Quds Force—the revolutionary guard—over the years. Plenty of voices and decent people in Iran seek a way out for the Government and the people of Iran, whereby they move back to a normal position of international respect. These people are trying and have tried—certainly, when we visited they tried—to get away from the principlists, the hardliners, who have been running the country into the ground and making it a pariah state. Soleimani was one of the people who enabled those hardliners to create the pariah state they are in now. The balance we need is to ensure that those people seeking the right path are either empowered or heard, and are not snuffed out by the revolutionary guard. I fear that in the past 12 months the revolutionary guard, under Soleimani and his gang, has had the upper hand, meaning that those moderate voices have been snuffed out to the extent that the supreme leader and others are not at the moment interested in finding an alternative. Our job is to persuade them that there is an alternative.
May we have short questions and speedy answers? I am going to have to cut this off, as the House will be sitting late into the morning and I have concerns. I do, however, want to get as many people as possible in.
Clearly, the issue of our British nationals living in the area is extremely important, and the Secretary of State has touched on it, but may I press him on it? Has he had discussions with suitable civil airline or shipping companies to get our citizens out if, perish the thought—I pray to God it never happens—the situation worsens in any way?
My hon. Friend the shipping Minister is having a meeting with the shipping industry tomorrow, predominantly about protecting the ships in the straits and the vulnerabilities there. With both military and civilian planners, we are in the process of thinking about a range of actions we could take for evacuation or getting people to a safe neighbouring country if the worst were to happen. We plan for the worst—we do not think it will ever get that way and we hope it will not—and we put all our assets at disposal to do that.
My right hon. Friend is clearly absolutely right to focus, laser-like, on defending British personnel and interests, but can he assure the House that Britain is working closely with all our allies in Europe and the region, as well as in the US, to finish the job of defeating ISIL and to de-escalate tensions rather than see them spiral out of control, using all the available opportunities through the much challenged but vital international rules-based system?
Yes. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the No. 1 threat to us in the United Kingdom and to Europe is the actions by Daesh. We must continue the assault on them, not only in their bases, where they are, but on their ideas, on the internet and in some of our own communities. We will continue to do that. I spoke with my French counterpart—France has often been at the forefront of ISIS attacks in Europe—and she and I are determined that that assault does not fall off the agenda and that we maintain not only our investment in fighting ISIS but our determination to recognise that they have not gone away and that it will be a long fight.
The Secretary of State rightly speaks of the need for de-escalation and diplomacy. May I press him on a point that was raised a moment ago? It has been reported that the US Administration have denied a visa to the Iranian Foreign Minister to attend the United Nations, which I would have thought was one of the places where we would like that diplomacy to take place. Does the Secretary of State think that that decision helps what he is calling for or hinders it?
We have heard the report, like the right hon. Member, and we are currently trying to establish the truth of it—it came out of Iranian media. Our position would be that we urge that that person be granted a visa. The United Nations is obviously one of the key locations where we will try to use diplomatic levers to resolve and de-escalate the situation.
President Trump has already thrown our Kurdish friends in the area under a metaphorical bus. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the dramatic action that President Trump has taken means that he is turning away from his policy of withdrawing from the region, increasing his policy of withdrawing from the region, or does not have the slightest idea which of the two he ought to do?
I cannot answer for the United States long-term policy on the middle east, but I can say that this action was heavily weighted in self-defence—an issue of the here and now and the threat that they faced. My right hon. Friend’s question feeds the point made quite rightly by the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), that we need to invest in our defence and security so that we are never over-dependent on one ally or another. It is the UK Government’s view that we need to have long-term support and investment in Iraq, which is important for the region. We do not want to be in a place where we are always dependent on others, such that should they change their policy, our policy has to go with it, whether we want it or not.
There are clearly differences between France and Germany on the one hand and the United States on the other. What action are the Government taking to make sure that our international allies and NATO once again speak and act with one voice and one action?
I spoke to my German counterpart yesterday—indeed, the German statement on Friday, which came out before ours, was very similar to ours. There is no difference between France and Germany. Germany has been clear about its view on self-defence and the United States. Like us, it is determined to maintain the fight against Daesh, is worried about instability and wants to work hard on de-escalation. France, Germany and Britain are united in thinking that the JCPOA is the way forward. I think Chancellor Merkel is due to visit soon and we will certainly continue to engage to use that front with the United States to try to get them to support or re-engage in the JCPOA. At the same time, it is absolutely clear—the Germans have forces in Iraq as well—that once this phase passes, we have to get together and really try to work for that stability.
Let me start by thanking our diplomatic service and the armed forces for working tirelessly over the past few days in our defence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the foremost priority of this Government is to de-escalate the crisis, but, beyond that, to protect our armed forces who have been described by senior commanders of the Quds Force as worthwhile collateral damage in attacks against the US?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her position in Parliament, and I look forward to working with her. It is absolutely true that, if we really want to protect our people, our friends and our allies, the first thing we must do is work hard to de-escalate the situation. We do not want the conflict to spread, and we do not want it to get worse. At the same time, we will use the assets of the Ministry of Defence and of wider government to protect our people—whether they are in theatre or even here at home—from any threats that may be posed by anyone who wants to take a reprisal.
The Secretary of State rightly mentioned the actions of the Assad regime in Syria. He will be aware of the situation in Idlib. What meetings has he had with the Secretary of State for International Development and the Home Secretary to make sure that there are sufficient legal routes for refugees from Syria to this country should they be required?
I have not had any significant meetings, but I support and facilitate any such access for people who wish to come out of the area. That has been the case when we have tried to evacuate people, including children, from any part of the middle east—certainly from places such as Syria. I am very happy to take up this matter with the Home Secretary. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that Idlib should not be forgotten. What is going on there right now is a horror show and we should do all we can to help the people of Idlib, but, very importantly, we must not forget that the regime that is doing these things is supported and aided by the Iranian revolutionary guard.
I welcome both the Defence Secretary’s statement and the tone he has adopted. For too long, Soleimani and the Quds Force have been allowed to operate a shadow war across the middle east, but it is clear from the frequent demonstrations across Iran that the Iranian people do not support their regime and its proxy interference. He focused on the media, on managing the heightened threat, on containing expected reprisals and on calling for de-escalation, but with the architect of so much instability removed is there not a rare opportunity to reset our middle east strategy? First, we could be more assertive in tackling proxy interference and weapons proliferation, and, secondly, we could be more proactive in offering conditional but genuine economic rehabilitation for Iran.
My right hon. Friend is right. What has been brought into sharp focus is the fact that time has run out. We must sort this out in the middle east on a collective basis and try to put in place a long-lasting solution. He is also right to make the point that, in one sense, Soleimani’s passing provides an opportunity for people to realise that his policy has done nothing but make Iran a pariah state. We should also not forget that the population of Iran, just like the population of Iraq, do not want America, do not want Britain and do not want the current regime; they want their own nation. Iraqis are nationalistic and Iranians are nationalistic. When dealing with those countries, we should never forget that, if we can give those people their country back, we can support their human rights. That is the best way for us in the west to proceed, rather than imposing a solution on them.
Now that the Iran nuclear deal, recklessly abandoned by President Trump, hangs by a thread, does the Minister acknowledge that, as well as doing everything that he can to help restore it, he should understand that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in May will be even more critical in rebuilding trust? Can he guarantee that the Government will play a very serious role at that conference in using it to demonstrate real commitment to multilateral disarmament?
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East says that, yes, we will and that that is incredibly important to us. I echo that. It is important and we will put all our effort into that conference to try to get a good result.
Since the nuclear agreement with Iran, Iran has stepped up its support for terrorism, with both finance and military equipment for Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. What is my right hon. Friend doing to contain the Hezbollah threat not just to Israel but to the wider region?
My right hon. Friend will know that this House proscribed the full element of Hezbollah a few months ago. It is key that we work with our allies to strengthen Lebanon so that it has some resistance to Hezbollah within its state. That is important because Hezbollah has a habit of assassinating people in Lebanon who disagree with it. At the same time, it is important that we work with our ally, Israel, ensuring that we share any knowledge that either we have or Israel has to protect it from terrorists.
The Secretary of State is right to call for de-escalation because the consequences of a wider conflict with Iran would be severe, and the situation diverts attention from the many other crises in the region, including in Idlib and Yemen. I want to ask him about the prisons in northern Syria that were housing many of the Daesh fighters who pose a risk—both to us and to civilians in northern Syria. The prisons have effectively been left abandoned because of the consequences of US actions with regard to our Kurdish allies and Turkey’s intervention. What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the security of the prisons and of the risk posed by the escape of prisoners from them?
At present, we, the French and even the United States consistently talk with the likes of the Syrian Democratic Forces to ensure that the prisons are still guarded and that we provide whatever support we can to help them with that. Like the hon. Gentleman, we recognise the importance of those prisons, which contain lots of foreign fighters as well as more localised fighters. We do not want Daesh to be reborn in those prisons, and it is incredibly important that we are able to stay in Iraq because we are partly going to deal with that situation in partnership with the Iraqis—there are Iraqi foreign fighters and others. We urge the Iraqi Government to reconsider their vote, because we think it would be useful to stay to secure that situation.
As the Secretary of State says, the British Army has played a crucial role in training Iraqi and Kurdish troops; I have seen it with my own eyes. Does he agree not only that it is essential that we safeguard our troops in Iraq for their own safety but that the whole future of our middle east policy is dependent on our continuing to contain Daesh in Iraq, in which the armed forces have an extremely important part to play?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nation building in Iraq is really important—not just for us, but for the people of Iraq. We have only suspended the training; we have not stopped it, because we still think it is really important to help with capacity building and security forces. We will seek to restart the training as soon as possible.
It will not be lost on the Defence Secretary that one of the first political organisations to mourn the passing of Soleimani was Republican Sinn Féin, some of whose members may be well known to Labour Front Benchers. The Government previously indicated that they were carrying out a review of whether to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood. I understand that the organisations we are discussing are Shi’a, but is there still going to be a review into proscribing the Muslim Brotherhood, and would that help to protect the citizens of this country?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about Republican Sinn Féin. I noticed the tweet: it is bizarre, but it shows the long tentacles that Hezbollah or the revolutionary guard of Iran may have had in the hon. Gentleman’s own communities. The proscription of any organisation is a matter for the Home Office, which will no doubt have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said; I can get him an answer from that Department if he wishes.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on de-escalation. As he knows, de-escalation could mean many things to many people. If one asked the Syrians, the Iraqis or the Lebanese, they would say that de-escalation means the Iranian militia not operating in their sovereign territory. What have the Iranians said their end game is? What do they want to de-escalate the situation, because in the end there has to be de-escalation, with people living side by side and conducting themselves in a neighbourly way?
All my experience with the Iranians indicates that they want Iran to be a nation of the world that is respected and remembered for its culture and position; that is their end state. The challenge is that some think that they should get there in a way that has delivered this type of pariah status for them. We need to point out the importance of the rule of law. It is bizarre, but the Iranians have a very good constitution that they seek to avoid half the time. The way for them to enter into the world of civilised nations again is to behave like one, and that is what we are there to help with and support, and there are many people in the country who know exactly that.
The Secretary of State recognises how the safer and more pluralistic Kurdistan region can play a positive role in the wider efforts to de-escalate the conflict, but it does need stronger assurances about its own security and continuing UK efforts so that it can remain respected and neutral as a player in this situation. Does he now think it is time to implement the promise made to invite the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government to the UK on an official visit?
What is important is that the Kurds—and, indeed, some of the sectarian groups, or ethnic groups, in the area—understand about security. It is often insecurity that has driven many of these conflicts for dozens of years. Iran feels desperately insecure, often, in its region. The Kurds have often felt insecure because of the history of many nations, including Iran, that have set about them. So the first thing we should all do is seek to find security guarantees for many of these people, and in that way we can set the next process of resolving the problems between the different parts of the middle east.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the personal authority and experience he brings to this issue. Will he work with all our coalition allies to sustain our commitment to all the people of Iraq, most of whom would not welcome our abandoning them to the forces both heretical and now corrupt, not least in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps behind the Iranian revolution?
My hon. Friend and I visited Iran as well, a long time ago, and he speaks a lot of sense. Britain’s focus has to be about how we can continue, over the long term, supporting Iraq and its people. It is a complex country with many different groups, and those differences have been exploited recently by Iranian-backed militia, which again, instead of helping those people, has actually led to misery. We must do what we can to capacity-build the Iraqi state so that they can make decisions for themselves.
Of course, many of us have great concerns about the repercussions of this event and the fact that, rather than de-escalating the situation, we see the opposite happening. In whatever discussions the Secretary of State has with his US counterparts, will he, if he manages to have any influence with them, state very clearly that we do not support this method of taking out our enemies and that winning the battle of hearts and minds has much more effect, in the long term, than this?
I certainly press on the United States, which has also said that it is not in its interests, or its wish, to increase tensions. It does not want this event to lead to war. It has been very, very clear about that, as have, indeed, the Iranian leadership. If we accept that both the Iranians and the United States have been adamant that they do want a war, we should then work on that as a way to get both sides to seek a resolution.
Very few countries’ hands are completely clean in the region. A key part of the problem is that there has been a lack of a co-ordinated, overarching peace process, particularly now that the Iranian nuclear deal is dead. Does my right hon. Friend agree that from our point of view the elephant in the room is that we need to spend more on our defence and diplomacy—raise that expenditure— not just to send a very clear signal to the world that we are going to better defend our interests, if we need to, but to hold greater sway with our key allies, particularly the US, in this particular region?
My hon. Friend makes the really important point that both diplomacy and defence do not come cheap and we need to invest in that. Sometimes we need to invest in helping others to defend themselves as well. I think it is one of the most noble things to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
I welcome the steps that the Secretary of State has outlined to de-escalate tensions, but if those were to fail and Iran were to retaliate with an attack that resulted in the deaths of British service personnel and civilians, what would be our response?
If British civilians or even military personnel were killed as a result of Iranian or terrorist action, we would look at the response. The response would no doubt be proportionate, and we will of course look at it at the time of it happening.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the 14 attacks that have happened since October in Baghdad, but is he aware that the US Department of Defence has estimated that more than 600 servicemen have been killed by Iran or its proxies? What estimate has he made of the number of British servicemen who have been killed, and does he agree that when there is an imbalance and people either defend the actions of Iran or attack the United States, it simply gives comfort to Tehran?
My hon. Friend makes a point about the deaths of United States personnel. We should not forget, and we should pay tribute to, the 179 UK defence personnel who died in operations in Iraq and the 454 who died in operations in Afghanistan. He will remember, like me, that many of the tragic deaths of UK personnel in Iraq happened in Basra, where the Shi’a militia were supported and instigated by members of the Iranian revolutionary guard.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, in particular his emphasis on de-escalating tension, and acknowledge his genuine expertise on Iran. Given how damaging the Iraq war was to security in the middle east and given the Government’s support for reducing tension, will he now rule out any British involvement in any attack on any site in Iran?
I am not going to rule out anything. The UK will do what it has to do to defend its persons—its citizens—wherever it needs to; that is our duty. We cannot say what is in the minds of Iran or anybody else in the future, and that is why we will always reserve our right to take that decision at the time.
Events like this have an immediate impact on all our constituents, and my constituents will be noticing the oil price rising, with concerns about their household budgets. That brings us back to the strait of Hormuz. For the last 70 years, NATO has had a policy of deterrence working as prevention. Will my right hon. Friend meet his counterparts in our NATO allies to discuss the possibility of using NATO maritime resources to put protection forces in place that would act as a deterrent, rather than having to react to any activity that takes place?
My right hon. Friend makes a really good suggestion, and I will take it up at the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting for him. He is right. We already have a number of international coalitions in the strait, such as on anti-piracy, which even involves China, and the International Maritime Security Construct, where we are working with the Americans on protecting our tankers. He is right; tanker wars, as they were called in the 1980s, have been around for a long time. The Iranians used to fire rocket-propelled grenades at tankers back then, deliberately to spike the oil price. He makes a good suggestion.
Since the assassination, as part of its military build-up, the US has deployed long-range bombers to Diego Garcia, a territory that the British state illegally occupies. The Secretary of State talks about de-escalation, but is not the reality that the British Government’s actions are actually helping to escalate the crisis?
No. The United States has said that it has deployed many of its troops in response to the rhetoric coming out of Iran, to ensure that it protects its forces, and of course that is the right thing to do. We have sent a small team to ensure that our military planners are properly enabled, and we have changed the posture of our forces in Iraq to ensure that they are currently focusing on their force protection. That does not mean that we are preparing to do anything else, nor does it mean that the United States is.
In the last six months alone, Iran has disregarded four tenets of the JCPOA. In addition, Iran has refused to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency about uranium particles found at a previously undisclosed location. We should not forget that the JCPOA allowed millions of pounds, in addition to manpower and resources, to pour into Syria to continue that war and kill thousands of people. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is simply incorrect for anyone to say that the JCPOA is alive and well?
I did not say the JCPOA was alive and well and all business as normal; I said it was not dead. The JCPOA is a deal that I believe was the right thing to do. I remember, even before it was formed, that I and even the Leader of the Opposition would urge the Bush Administration to talk to the Iranians to engage and seek a way through, and we came to an Iranian deal that we thought was correctly monitored and that the European powers thought was a good way through. However, my hon. Friend is right: it is not just that the United States withdrew; the Iranians have tested every single inch of the written agreement. That does not detract from the fact that we believe the JCPOA is the right way forward, and we will invest our time and effort in trying to make sure it has a future.
I welcome what the Secretary of State for Defence said about the de-escalation actions that his Ministers and officials will be taking in relation to Iran, but the response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) suggests that the Secretary of State was taken by surprise by the actions the US has just taken in declining to give a visa to the Iranian Foreign Minister. What actions are his Administration taking to ensure that the US but also the UN play a full role in helping to de-escalate these events?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is visiting the United States later this week, when our determination will be to try to seek a diplomatic way out. In that, he will no doubt have discussions with his counterparts, and we will see where we can get to. The United States does not share its visa decisions on a live wire with us. However, we saw earlier reports, as I think many Members here have done. We will find out and get to the bottom of it. Certainly, my urging from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government is that we think allowing Mr Zarif to go to the UN would of course be a sensible thing to do.
The Defence Secretary has mentioned on numerous occasions during his statement the importance of our diplomatic network in de-escalating this crisis. Does he agree with me that the position of the UK ambassador to Washington has now been vacant for far too long, and will he encourage the Foreign Secretary to make that appointment?
My hon. Friend had an excellent record as a Foreign Office Minister. I will ask the Prime Minister at the NSC next.
Are there any other members or officials of the Iranian Government whose assassination the United Kingdom would find acceptable?
I do not know how to start on that question. The United Kingdom would always seek to follow international law in dealing with threats against it. Within that international law range all the options such as arrest, detention and disruption, but there are some occasions—for example, when we saw the events in Syria take place—when, unfortunately, kinetic or lethal strike has been engaged by the RAF. The British Government have been very open about that, and it followed a vote in Parliament. We will always reserve in this country the right for us to defend ourselves against threats posed to our citizens, and I do not think the First Minister of Scotland would disagree with that at all.