Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2020

House of Commons

Tuesday 14 January 2020

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Aid Access

It is a pleasure to be in the Chamber, Mr Speaker, with you in the Chair.

Access to justice is a fundamental right and the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can get the timely support that they need to access the justice system. However, legal aid is only part of the picture. We are also enhancing the support and offer to litigants in person by providing a further £3 million of funding over the next two years to ensure that those representing themselves in court understand the process and are better supported through it. We are additionally investing up to £5 million in a legal support innovation fund alongside many other initiatives.

I should declare my interest as a former legal aid barrister. One of the first emails that I received following my successful election as Member of Parliament for Derbyshire Dales was from a constituent about legal aid issues. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we do not waste legal aid on those who do not need it or on poor administration and excessive charges, and focus legal aid on provision for truly vulnerable people who really need it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She brings a huge amount of experience in family law to this place. She has made an important point. The Government have always made it clear that it is important that legal aid should be targeted on those who need it most. Applicants for legal aid funding are subject to a stringent merits test. We have begun a review of the legal aid means test to ensure that those who need legal aid, particularly the vulnerable, can continue to access it in future.

Before asking my question I want to put on record the fact that my thoughts and, I am sure, those of the whole House are with the prison staff at HMP Whitemoor and their families after the horrific attack last week.

Over a year ago, the UN special rapporteur said that Conservative cuts to legal aid had

“effectively deprived”


of their human right to a remedy.”

Is it not the case that if the UN special rapporteur returned today they would make exactly the same finding because the Government have not done anything to address that? Is that failure to respond the result of incompetence or is it simply because they do not care?

I do not accept the accusations made by the hon. Gentleman. I have made it absolutely clear that access to high-quality, early legal aid can be important in supporting people in resolving their problems at an early stage. Last year, we spent £91 million on early legal advice through legal help, and our total spend was £1.7 billion. We are in the process of launching a series of pilots offering support to people with social welfare problems such as housing. I believe in access to justice, which is a fundamental right, and the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can have the timely support that they need.

What people who are denied their basic rights need from the Government is action, not words. The UN special rapporteur said that the cuts had “overwhelmingly affected the poor” and disabled people. Labour is calling for the return of all legal aid-funded early advice, which would be a lifeline for the single mother standing up to a lousy landlord, the worker standing up to a bullying boss, or the migrant fighting cruel Home Office policies. Does it not say everything about whose side the Government are on that they are deliberately preventing those people from defending their hard-won rights?

No, I do not accept that. I go back to my earlier point: we believe in access to justice, particularly early legal support for those people who absolutely need it. We have pilots, and the innovation fund is being introduced. The Government remain firmly committed to helping those people who need early legal support and legal advice.

What can be done to stop millions of pounds of public money being spent on legal aid to support the defence of terrorist suspects who are accused of the most heinous crimes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He makes a fair point, but this is about people having access to justice when they need it. As I said, the Government remain committed to ensuring that people have access to justice and support when they absolutely need it.

In March 2018, 22-year-old Luke Morris Jones of Blaenau Ffestiniog was the first man to die in HMP Berwyn following a heart attack caused by psychoactive substance abuse. His family, who in this instance did receive legal aid, remain concerned, following his inquest last month, that electrical equipment in cells such as kettles can be used to create the spark needed to take Spice. Will the Minister commit to work with others in reviewing whether electrical equipment such as kettles should be removed from cells holding prisoners with a history of Spice abuse as a matter of urgency?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question. Although prisons do not fall within my portfolio, I fully understand why she would be concerned about the issue and about the tragedy of the gentlemen who lost his life. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State would be more than happy to meet the right hon. Lady to discuss the matter further.

What assurances can my hon. Friend give me that legal aid is reaching those who need it most—not only in my constituency, but across the UK—in order that they can access justice?

I welcome another new Member to the Chamber today for MOJ oral questions.

We have made it very clear that we remain committed not only to providing legal aid to those who need it, but to developing further means of legal support including the expansion of early legal advice to help some of the most vulnerable people in society with social welfare problems such as housing. We are committed to finding effective solutions, because it is often early legal advice that makes the difference.

Will the Minister share with us any plans she has to reverse the hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to legal aid budgets under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 that have been so destructive of access to justice in this country?

I think it is fair to say that I have been setting out some of the action points that we are taking forward. We have had the post-implementation review of LASPO, and are looking at various means of legal support to help with social welfare issues. We could not be clearer that we support legal aid and legal support for those who need it, and we will continue to do so.

Criminal Appeals: Victims of Crime

2. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of criminal appeals procedures on victims of crime. (900151)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for his tireless campaigning for victims over the years. Partly as a consequence of his campaigning, the unduly lenient sentence scheme was expanded in November to cover 14 more offences, including child sexual offending, stalking and harassment, in order to ensure that the victims of those crimes have a right of appeal if they feel that the sentence handed down by the judge is unduly lenient. I would urge any victim who feels that that is the case for a qualifying sentence to avail themselves of the ULS scheme.

Nobody has done more to widen the scope of the unduly lenient sentence scheme than the Secretary of State. However, may I ask the Minister to continue expanding the scheme? There is currently no ability to appeal against ridiculously lenient sentences for offences such as burglary, possession of a knife, actual bodily harm, and even for rape when dealt with in a youth court. Surely we owe it to the victims of crime to give them a right to an appropriate sentence.

I wholly agree with the sentiment that my hon. Friend is expressing. Let me reassure him on the question of rape defendants in the youth court. If the judge feels that the crime is sufficiently grave and merits a sentence of more than two years, they can move the case to the Crown court, where it is then eligible for the unduly lenient sentence scheme. In the past few years, the number of referrals under the ULS scheme has increased significantly. In 2018, 1,066 cases were referred to the Attorney General, who passed 140 on to the Court of Appeal; the sentence was increased in 99 of those cases. We keep the ULS scheme under continual review and will certainly consider very carefully my hon. Friend’s representations about its scope.

19. I welcome you to your place in the Chair, Mr Speaker.As well as victims of crime, there are also miscarriages of justice. Can the Minister tell us how many appeals the Criminal Cases Review Commission has recommended should progress to appeal, and how many cases the Court of Appeal has granted in the last two years? Can he assure the House that, if those figures are as low as I fear, miscarriages of justice are not being brushed under the carpet by a legal establishment watching its own back, rather than being open to real scrutiny? (900170)

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise that issue. I do not have the figures she asks for immediately to hand, so perhaps I could undertake to write to her. Let me assure her that this Government are certainly committed to making sure that miscarriages of justice are properly investigated, and if there is anything more that needs to be done, she can rest assured that we will do it.

I very much welcome what the Minister says about procedures for unreasonably short sentencing, but my constituent Ellie Gould was brutally murdered by Thomas Griffiths this time last year and he was given only a nine-year sentence, much to the outrage of the family, and me, because he was only 17 at the time, although he was 18 when he was tried and convicted. Surely the hurdle is too high for referral to the Attorney General. It should be much lower to make it easier for the courts and for the families to seek the Attorney General’s referral to the Court of Appeal.

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is meeting my hon. Friend next week to discuss precisely that case. Not every case referred to the Attorney General will be referred onward to the Court of Appeal, because obviously the Attorney General has to assess the case in the light of statute. I know that the Lord Chancellor is looking forward to his meeting with my hon. Friend and will be discussing that particular, very distressing case in some detail.

Perinatal Women: Custodial Settings

3. What plans his Department has to improve training for people working with perinatal women in custodial settings. (900152)

I, too, welcome to your place, Mr Speaker.

I know that the hon. Lady is very interested in this very important area and chaired a roundtable that a former Justice Minister attended. It is absolutely right that pregnant women in custody should get the care that they deserve. I hope she will be reassured to know that there is a two-day programme that prison officers can attend to ensure that they get the appropriate training to deal with women in custody who are pregnant. However, we recognise that there are more things that we can do, and before the election was called we had already started a fundamental review of pregnant women in custody and the operation of our mother and baby units.

The current review of the operational guidance for the mother and baby units is welcome, but guidance is not enough. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the charity Birth Companions to discuss the recommendations in its new birth charter toolkit and the need for mandatory standards, so that prisons are scrutinised and indeed held to account for perinatal care?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady, who is very experienced in this issue. Last week I visited HMP Bronzefield where I spoke to people on the mother and baby unit. Birth Companions operates from that prison, but I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady and take advantage of her expertise.

The Liberal Democrats would scrap all sentences for women apart from the most serious offences. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that that creates double standards in the justice system?

We have to recognise that the treatment of women in prison, their sentences and the treatment once they are sentenced might be different from men and if they are victims of crime. In our female offenders strategy, we recognise different treatment; but of course people who commit crimes must be punished for them.

I listened carefully to the Minister when she said that prison officers can access training. Does she agree that it should be mandatory for prison officers who are working with pregnant women to have such training, and can she confirm what proportion of prison officers have already accessed that training?

At least one prison officer in each establishment has already undertaken the training, so there is specialist support, and more women than that have done it; I would be very happy to provide the figures in due course.

Victims of Domestic Abuse

We are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. It is an appalling crime that ruins far too many lives. It is vital that we better protect and support victims of abuse and their children and bring more perpetrators to justice. That is why we introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill in July last year and set out a comprehensive action plan of non-legislative measures directed to this end. We reaffirmed our commitment to this Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December.

County lines drug gangs are involved in the largest exploitation of our children that this country has ever witnessed. Children from all walks of life are being groomed by these gangs. Given that women and girls are particularly at risk of being abused and exploited, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the criminal justice system is doing more to protect our women and girls, particularly using the Modern Slavery Act 2015?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that she brings a huge amount of expertise in this area, which is to be welcomed. This Government recognise the risks to girls and young women who are exploited by these ruthless gangs. That is why the Home Office provided £400,000 this financial year for young people’s advocates in London, Manchester and the west midlands, to work directly with gang-affected women and girls, especially if they have been victims or are at risk of sexual abuse by gangs, including county lines gangs. I can assure her that colleagues in the Home Office are also working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take full advantage of powers in the Modern Slavery Act.

It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship. Living in fear of the next punch or being told that you are worthless, stupid or cannot cope alone destroys confidence. When people find the courage, they often turn to frontline workers and great charities such as the Stroud Women’s Refuge. Will my hon. Friend explain what the Department is doing to ensure that the people at the frontline of supporting domestic violence victims are prepared to adapt in order to assist victims as the new legislation comes in?

My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. She brings to the Chamber experience in legal matters, particularly divorce and family law. Our ambition is to build a society that has zero tolerance of domestic abuse and actively empowers victims, communities and professionals to confront it. We know that the legislation we are introducing will need to be supported by all those on the frontline, and we have started implementation planning for the Bill with all those who will be affected by the provisions.

The previous Government implemented an independent review of the family courts’ treatment of domestic abuse survivors. Domestic abuse survivors across the country will be watching with interest to see how that review is taken forward. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how that review can make the impact that is necessary?

I have a very simple answer: absolutely. I know that the hon. Lady takes an interest in that matter. We made a manifesto commitment in this area. We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable victims and witnesses, including victims of crime. It is worth noting that in May 2019, we announced a public call for evidence, led by a panel of experts, to gather evidence to help us better understand this. I look forward to meeting her.

There is significant evidence from domestic abuse charities and police forces across the United Kingdom that during major sporting events, the number of domestic abuse cases increases. With the Six Nations in a few weeks’ time, what work is the Minister doing with the rugby unions across the UK, from the stadiums to television programming and working with the rugby players themselves, to explain that domestic abuse is clearly wrong and that there is never an excuse for it? There needs to be more investment to tackle the causes of it, which includes these sporting events.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, highlighting the fact that domestic abuse is out there in so many different areas, and not always where we expect. With regard to rugby, I would need to go away and ask a few questions, but I thank him for raising that in the Chamber and for highlighting the importance of bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Bill, to see an end to these abhorrent crimes.

Sentencing Policy for Prolific Offenders

Mr Speaker, may I welcome you to the Chair? This is the first opportunity I have had formally to do so, other than in the ceremony of appointment.

We have already started work to overhaul our sentencing framework. We know that prolific offenders generally have multiple and complex needs linked to their offending behaviour, in particular relating to drugs, alcohol and mental health. We will be introducing new sentencing laws, including more robust and effective community penalties.

The Lord Chancellor speaks very well on many matters of sentencing, but one of the things that came up in the manifesto that I would be particularly interested in hearing him speak about is extending sentences for some of the worst offences. On page 18 of our manifesto, as he will remember—indeed, I am sure he wrote it—there is a call for extending child cruelty sentences as well. I would be very grateful if he tried to introduce Tony’s law, named after baby Tony Hudgell, who was so brutally assaulted by his birth parents before, thank God, he found love with his true parents, the Hudgell family.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his consistent campaigning on this issue. He will remember my own involvement in getting child cruelty law updated to cover psychiatric and psychological harm because, frankly, it was out of date. I would be happy to talk to him about it. It is important to remember that there is an interrelationship between this offence and very serious offences of violence that tragically are inflicted on children and for which, for example in section 18, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

The average rate of reoffending in Derbyshire is 27.1%, which is lower than the average for England and Wales, but my constituents in Derby North are still rightly concerned about career criminals. What plans does the Minister have to bring down reoffending further both in Derbyshire and in England and Wales?

I welcome my hon. Friend back. We have missed her for the last two and a half years; it is good to see her back in her place. I pay tribute to her for her community campaigning in Derby North. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of career criminals. Sadly, there is a cohort of people who are very hard to reach, which is why all options have to be open to sentencers, including custody. But it will be part of our plans, canvassed in a White Paper ahead of any sentencing legislation, to see what extra programmes and measures can be taken to deal with that particular cohort of persistent offender.

For far too many, prison is the worst place to tackle the issue of debt, substance abuse and mental health problems that led them to commit crimes in the first place. Figures that I uncovered show that nearly half of all women sent to prison were homeless—up 70% in just four years. Many thousands are stuck in a destructive cycle of short sentence after short sentence, which costs a fortune, does nothing to reduce reoffending and fails to keep the public safe. Is it not about time that the Government face the facts and, finally, properly invest in alternatives to prison for less serious offenders?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is precisely my policy. It is not just about being tough on crime, though public protection is important; it is about being smart on crime as well. Having had experience as a sentencer, the last thing we need to do, with respect to him, is to reduce sentencing options and prevent sentencers from imposing short sentences where appropriate. That has to be one of the tools in the box. Frankly, at the last election, he and his party advanced a mistaken policy.

Unlike the Conservative party, we care about what works. The Conservatives like to claim that they are not ideologues, but the Government’s own evidence shows that 30,000 fewer crimes would be committed each year if the Government properly invested in alternatives to prison. Does the Justice Secretary accept that his Government’s decision to chase headlines in the right-wing press, rather than acting on the evidence, will leave people right across our country facing higher levels of crime? Is it not time that he acted on his own Department’s evidence and put an end to ineffective super-short prison sentences?

It is a bit rich to be lectured about ideology and an ideological approach by the hon. Gentleman. After nearly 20 years in practice and now over 30 years’ experience of the criminal justice system, the approach that I and my team will be taking will be a multi-layered approach that will emphasise the importance of protecting the public and making our streets safer, while at the same time increasing the sentencing options on community orders to deal with the drivers of less serious crimes such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, family relationships and accommodation. We understand it, we absolutely get the point and that is what we are going to be getting on with.

One of the areas of sentencing policy that has already been reviewed and consulted on is the whole question of death by dangerous driving, particularly when drugs are involved, such as in the tragic case of my constituent, Bryony Hollands. The previous Government committed to legislate on this issue to lengthen sentences in certain circumstances. This is not in the Queen’s Speech. Are this Government committed to legislate and, if so, when?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point. I have met in this place families of victims of this appalling crime and worked with hon. Members across the House on the issue. I want to get on with it. The commitment remains absolutely crystal clear. I very much hope that we can have a vehicle to do that. I am going to be doing a sentencing Bill this year; that could be one vehicle. I want to get on with this as soon as possible. We will have the time and the support of the Government to change the law in the right direction.

At the moment, there exists a loophole in the law that allows prolific sexual offenders to groom 16 and 17-year-olds with impunity. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Church of England, the Offside Trust and the all-party group on safeguarding in faith settings are all calling on the Government to close that loophole to protect children. Will the Minister please meet me to explain why the Government have not acted thus far?

Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her consistent campaigning on these issues; we have worked together on them over many years. I am interested in the overall issue of grooming because it affects not only children but adults with learning disabilities. The Law Commission is looking at this issue now, but we cannot wait. We need to get on with change. I certainly will meet her and talk through the issues with her at the earliest opportunity.

My Broxtowe constituents have raised the TV licence fee with me and asked whether my right hon. and learned Friend has plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and whether he has made any assessment of how that might impact the volume of cases brought before the magistrates.

May I welcome my hon. Friend to this House? He and I have known each other for a number of years and have campaigned together, and he will make an outstanding advocate for the people of Broxtowe. With regard to the issue of television licences, we believe that there is a case to examine decriminalisation. About one in 12 cases in the magistrates courts are taken up with television licence default. We want to consult on the matter, take evidence and see whether there is a better way forward.

Staffing at Courts: Access to Justice

7. What assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the level of staffing at courts on access to justice. (900157)

The hon. Member will be aware that the court system is in the middle of a reform programme, whose objectives are to make it more efficient, of course, but also to improve the user experience and access to justice. Despite the intended and planned reduction in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service headcount, I believe that access to justice has been maintained, not least through the very widespread use now of online platforms to access justice, such as issuing and replying to civil money claims online, entering and replying to minor pleas online, and online probate applications and uncontested divorce cases. So I am satisfied that access to justice is being maintained throughout the court reform process.

That reform programme, which I read as court closures, is creating delays, but there are further delays in respect of the administrative staff who are supporting the courts: for example, I am told that in Chester and other courts CPS court caseworkers are now having to manage maybe three cases at once, with all the resultant delays that that brings about. So will the Minister look at the levels of administrative and support staff working behind the scenes to keep these things moving, because at the moment we are having delays of up to two years in Chester?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up question. Questions concerning CPS staff levels are a matter for the Attorney General, but I can tell him that substantially larger amounts of money are going into the CPS—£85 million is going in over two years—to hire more staff. Also, innovations such as the common platform—the online system for handling criminal cases—will start to be rolled out very shortly, by which I mean in the next few weeks. So besides putting more money into the CPS, we are using the online system to make the staff working there more effective and efficient.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Speaker, not just as a neighbouring constituency MP, but as a man who is making Chorley very famous? Normally, it is famous for the Frederick’s ice cream parlour, but with you becoming the Speaker Chorley is now even more well known.

The fire sale of our courts and deep cuts to our justice system have created a perfect storm as courts are left sitting empty even while sitting days are cut. The Government’s own statistics show that on average serious cases in the Crown court are taking 133 days longer to move from the offence to completion than in 2010, leaving victims waiting months and months more for their day in court. That is not good enough. Will the Minister commit to providing proper investment in courts and court staff and promise to end the reckless closure programme?

I had not heard of the fame of the Chorley ice cream parlour, but perhaps I should add it to my list of recess destinations. [Interruption.] The Lord Chancellor says he is going to come along as well.

On the question of Crown courts sitting, we need to bear in mind that, as reported by the crime survey, the most reliable measure of criminal offending, over the past nine years there has been a significant reduction in the total number of criminal offences, from about 9.5 million offences in 2010 to about 6.5 million offences today. That is a very welcome 30% reduction under this Conservative Government, so of course, bearing in mind the reduction in the number of criminal offences, one would expect to have fewer sitting days. However, we keep the question of Crown court sitting days under continual review. Just a few weeks ago, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor increased the number of Crown court sitting days in this current financial year by 700 to ensure that we keep working through the outstanding case load. The outstanding case load is at its lowest level since 2001. We will of course keep the question of Crown court sitting days under review for the next financial year—the one starting in a few weeks— and, if necessary, we will of course increase Crown court sitting days.

Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

8. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the criteria for determining the composition of the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900158)

18. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the appointment of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900169)

23. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the appointment of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900174)

Discussions with Cabinet colleagues are at an early stage, but I can say that we want a commission or similar body to examine the issues and make recommendations that restore people’s trust in our democracy and the institutions that underpin it. No decisions have been made yet on the appointment of such a body, its scope or composition. I will update the House in due course.

A key ongoing concern for public law practitioners remains the accountability of constitutional processes and safeguards. To what extent will the commission include consultation with relevant external professions, such as the legal profession, and will they be invited to have substantial input and proper scrutiny?

The hon. Lady asks a very proper question. Indeed, I would envisage the body taking evidence from third parties, outside organisations and civic society more generally to provide a thorough evidence base before any recommendations are made.

May I take this opportunity to welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker?

Following the Prorogation case, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have hinted that the judicial appointment process might change. Will the Justice Secretary confirm whether that will be considered by the commission?

The commission will look at a range of issues. I think I have made my position about the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the appointments process very clear. It is nobody’s wish, I think on either side of this House, to see political influence being brought to bear on the appointment of judges. It is important to remember that we do not have a constitutional court, or a US-style system in this country and it is not something I would wish to see replicated here.

It has been reported that the commission is expected to look at prerogative powers. Currently their use can be challenged in the courts, which led to the ruling against the Prime Minister’s Prorogation of Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is imperative that the courts still have jurisdiction to look at prerogative powers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important issue. After the stresses and strains we have all seen the constitution being put under as a result of the tumultuous events of the past few years, it would be wrong of the Government not to pause, take stock and look at the general constitutional position through the lens of the public because it is all about public confidence and the confidence the public have in this place being the ultimate arbiter of our democracy, which is key. But we will take time and do it in a measured way. I very much hope and expect that the commission will come up with some evidence-based solutions.

Members have every right to be concerned about what the Government are up to with the commission, given their previous noises about human rights, judicial appointments, prerogative powers, judicial review and much, much more. Those concerns are shared not just among Members, but across civil society and beyond. Does the Secretary of State agree that in any such commission Scotland’s perspective and experiences must be properly and independently represented, and that any changes proposed to the competences of the Scottish Government and Parliament must have the consent of those institutions?

I am very much aware of the important devolution aspect of this issue. It is about more than devolution, of course—the Scottish legal and judicial system was never devolved because it was always separate, and even when we did not have a Scottish Parliament, it had a separate legislative framework that was legislated for in this House. I fully understand the balance that needs to be kept and I take on board the hon. Member’s comments.

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair in this Parliament, Mr Speaker. I very much welcome what the Lord Chancellor said about the independence of the judiciary. That is fundamental to this country’s international reputation and we should set at rest any suggestion that that should ever be compromised. Given the wide-ranging nature of the commission, will he also consider that it may be beneficial to have, serving as members of the commission, experienced former members of the judiciary who have the integrity and independence of thought that would increase public respect and regard for the outcome that we all wish to see?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent honour, which is thoroughly deserved after a lifetime in public service, both here and in other elected assemblies. His suggestions are well made. I am already having a number of discussions with ministerial colleagues and thinking very deeply about the range of expertise and individuals that we need, and the diversity of that panel, so that we make sure that the commission, or the committee, is in the best possible place to gather evidence and come up with measured, sensible reforms.

Rapes Reported to the Police: Number of Suspects Charged

9. What plans his Department has to reduce the disparity between the number of rapes reported to the police and the number of suspects charged with that offence. (900159)

The hon. Member is right to raise this issue. It is extremely serious and, frankly, far too few reported cases are being progressed into the criminal justice system, so I entirely agree with and accept the premise of her question. The Government are taking action in this area. The extra 20,000 police officers will greatly help to get rape victims through the system and to get their cases into court. I referenced earlier the extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service. A great deal of that will be targeted towards helping to progress those often very complicated rape cases. As recently as last September, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), provided an extra £5 million of funding for rape centres and ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers—because one of the issues is rape victims dropping out of the process before the case reaches court. I hope that in the upcoming Budget and spending review, there is more we can do.

In West Yorkshire, the number of rapes reported increased by 25% last year, but just 4.4% of those cases resulted in someone being charged. The same is true across the country, so what are the Government doing to ensure that the criminal justice system is properly resourced and that it does not let down victims and add to the trauma that they have already experienced?

As I said, we are putting 20,000 extra officers into the system and £85 million into the CPS, and we are increasing expenditure on rape centres and ISVAs, although I am sure that in those areas, there is more we can do. There is also a review urgently under way to see what further steps we can take, but I believe that the actions that I have outlined, which are taking place as we speak, will move us back in a happier direction.

Court Proceedings: Proportion Covered by Court Reporters

10. What recent estimate he has made of the proportion of court proceedings covered by court reporters. (900160)

We at the Ministry of Justice do not track or hold data on the number of reporters who report on court proceedings, but I am sad to say that anecdotal evidence suggests that in line with the general decline in local reporting, the reporting of local courts will have declined as well. When my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, he was instrumental in making sure, at the BBC’s charter renewal, that the local democracy reporting scheme provided £8 million a year to get local reporters into the courts. I congratulate him on that step and hope that there is more we can do along those lines in future.

I thank my hon. Friend, and I thank the Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), for the work that she has done in this area. Does he share my view of how important it is that court proceedings are properly reported by trained journalists so that justice can be seen to be done? Will he continue to work with the Society of Editors, the News Media Association and others to see what further measures can be taken to achieve that?

I strongly concur and can certainly give my right hon. Friend the commitment he asks for. Certainly from the perspective of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, staff are given training to facilitate access by journalists, and the Ministry is currently giving very active and relatively imminent consideration to ways of making sure that court decisions and proceedings are brought more directly to the public.

Human Rights Framework: Reform

I have been discussing this issue with my Cabinet colleagues and will continue to do so. The United Kingdom is committed to protecting and respecting human rights and will continue to champion them both here and abroad. As set out in our manifesto, after Brexit we need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution, including the balance between the rights of individuals and effective government.

I welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker.

Before the general election, the Conservative manifesto promised to update the Human Rights Act 1998. Since its introduction, the Act has successfully protected countless citizens across the UK from human rights abuses, so can the Secretary of State tell me which specific aspects of the Act need updating?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave in the context of the constitutional commission. Updating Acts is something we do regularly in this place. The Human Rights Act is now just over 20 years old. Aspects of its operation have worked very well; others deserve a further look—for example, the operation of the margin of appreciation and how Strasbourg case law is adhered to. All those issues are relevant and material to the work of the commission.

Christine Bell, professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh Law School, has said that

“any unilateral repeal of the HRA by Westminster would…violate the Sewel Convention”.

Does the Secretary of State agree? If not, why not?

The hon. Lady will remember that our manifesto talked about updating the Act, not repealing it, so her question is literally academic.

The Human Rights Act is also part of the constitutional backbone of devolution, so again will the Secretary of State agree that there should be no change to that Act, given all its implications for devolved competences, without the express agreement of the Scottish Parliament and Government? Otherwise, what sort of democracy are we living in if one Parliament can change the competences of another with such ease and little respect?

As I said to the hon. Gentleman in a previous answer, I am in the spirit of working constructively with a fellow Parliament and fellow parliamentarians. I want to ensure a situation where the whole of the United Kingdom can benefit from improvements and rebalancing, and that applies equally to the people of Scotland. I hold out an olive branch to him today. I want us to work together on these issues. We can achieve far more working together than by pursuing pointless independence referendums.

Topical Questions

Prison officers are some of our finest public servants, and I have had the honour and pleasure of meeting many of them, not just as a Minister, but as a practising member of the Bar. The incident at HMP Whitemoor was quickly resolved thanks to the bravery and professionalism of the staff who intervened. Their courage in protecting others cannot be overstated. HMP Liverpool is driving prison officer safety through an increased focus on key work as part of our offender management in custody investment, through a new drugs strategy and through the improved use of data to understand the reasons for violence, but we recognise that more needs to be done, which is why were are introducing PAVA, a synthetic pepper spray, to protect staff from incidents of serious violence or where they are in imminent or perceived risk of serious violence.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend kindly update the House on the ambitious reform programme by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work when he was courts Minister. As he knows, the programme that he helped to spearhead is already improving both access to justice and efficiency. More than 300,000 people have now used new online services established to enhance access, such as to make civil money claims, to apply for divorce or to make a plea to low-level criminal offences. Last year alone, more than 65,000 civil money claims were made online, with nine out of 10 users saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

I, too, welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker. Let me also align myself with the comments of both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State about staff at HMP Whitemoor.

Our probation service should keep us all safe, but this morning another damning report said that understaffing in a national probation service that is dealing with the most serious offenders is putting public safety at risk. Those shortages leave staff overworked and unable to conduct due diligence, force them to take on too many cases, and are a direct consequence of the Government’s decision to break up the probation service, so will the Minister commit herself to returning staffing across the service to safe levels in order to undo the serious damage they have caused?

I welcome this morning’s report from the inspectorate of probation. Its publication is timely, given the changes that we are making to create a more unified probation service. That transition has already taken place in Wales.

Having read the report, I am pleased to note that it says that leadership is good throughout the service. Of course we need to recruit more probation officers, and we are doing that—800 officers who are currently being trained will come on board imminently—but we also recognise that as we recruit more police officers, we need to recruit more prison and probation officers as well, and we are taking steps to do so.

T4. I am delighted that Finn’s law has received Royal Assent, but can the Minister update us on when the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, also known as Finn’s law part 2, will return to the House? (900178)

I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on animal welfare. I am, of course, delighted that Finn’s law reached the statute book last year, and increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years is a manifesto commitment which we intend to deliver as quickly as possible. It builds on the fact that—I am proud to say—this country has among the world’s best animal welfare provisions, including a tough ivory ban, CCTV in slaughterhouses, and a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens.

T2. According to the most recent figures, tens of thousands of people still have not had their employment tribunal fees refunded, although the Supreme Court declared them unlawful two and a half years ago. I really do not understand why it is taking so long. Names, addresses and contact details must be submitted in the case of all tribunal claims. Will the Minister please explain what the problem is? (900176)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Following the 2017 Unison case, employment tribunal fees are due to be refunded. The programme is under way, and many tens of thousands of fees have already been refunded. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Ministry of Justice is looking carefully at the position to ensure that everyone who is eligible for a refund does indeed receive one.

T5. Does the Minister agree that the successful unification of offender supervision services in Wales under the national probation service is a positive change that will benefit victims and the wider public? (900179)

My hon. Friend—whom I welcome to his place—is absolutely right. We have looked at the system and recognised that it could be improved, and we have made those changes in Wales, where the national probation service has taken responsibility for supervising all offenders. I look forward very much to visiting Wales on Thursday to see how those changes have been implemented. I understand that the transition has proceeded very smoothly, and I look forward to speaking to staff there in order to ensure that when the same transition takes place in England, it too will proceed smoothly.

T3. For some weird, inexplicable reason, the Government have a dangerous and flawed obsession with handing huge contracts to private firms to run our prisons. I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not heed my call for prisons to be returned to public ownership, but will he at the very least implement a moratorium on private prisons until an independent review has ascertained whether they are indeed more violent? (900177)

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I have to say, with respect to him, that the characterisation of “public good, private bad”—or, indeed, vice versa—is wrong. There are plenty of examples of privately run prisons that are more than passing muster with the inspectorate, and are doing an excellent job. I have always believed in a mixed approach, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that will continue. I will base my decision on hard evidence rather than on blind ideology in which, I am afraid, his Front Benchers have indulged far too much in recent years.

T6. One of the ways of preventing people leaving prison from reoffending is to ensure that they have a secure roof over their head when they leave. Under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, prison governors have a statutory duty to ensure that those leaving prison do indeed have that secure home. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress being made on ensuring that prison governors carry out their statutory duty? (900180)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he did on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which has been very effective. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the latest statistics show that more than a quarter of the referrals to local authorities under the duty to refer were made by either prison or probation services. However, we need to work more broadly as well to ensure that when offenders come out of prison they have somewhere to go. We have a pilot with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that involves a two-year wraparound service. When an ex-offender comes out, they are helped to find a home and to understand the duties of their tenancy so that they can stay in their home and manage it over the two-year period.

T7. Vauxhall Law Centre in Liverpool is one of only 42 law centres still in existence. It enables working-class people to defend their fundamental right of access to justice, a right that is currently under attack from Government cuts. What urgent action are the Government taking to guarantee the future of law centres in Liverpool and across the country? (900182)

I welcome the new Member to his place on the Opposition Benches. We recognise the valuable work that law centres do in our local communities around the country, and we support them through grant funding and legal aid contracts. In two of the early visits that I made when I went into the Ministry of Justice, I visited the law centre in Southwark and another in south-west London to gain a deeper understanding of the tremendous work they do. He can rest assured that we support our law centres and the work they do, to ensure that the people who need support can receive it.

T9. I am sure that the Government believe in leading by example and would want to emulate, and indeed go further than, companies such as Halfords, Greggs and Timpson in employing ex-offenders. Since the Government banned the box, what increase in the employment of ex-offenders has there been across Government and the wider public sector? (900184)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work both as a Minister in this Department and as a campaigner on this issue. I share his approach to these issues. Since we launched the going forward into employment scheme in January 2018, we have recruited 29 ex-offenders who are currently in post in civil service roles, with a further 20 due to start in post shortly. I commend the work being done on Ban the Box, the private sector community initiative, which I actively support.

When the Prime Minister was Mayor of London, the number of stop and searches steadily declined, but they became more effective and intelligence-led. As a result, the arrest rate significantly increased. Now that the Prime Minister has decided to increase stop and search, the reverse has happened. They are less intelligence-led, and arrest rates are declining. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and with the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime that stop and search is an important tool, but it is not the only answer, and that a long-term public health approach that puts prevention at the heart of policing is the way to tackle knife crime?

I agree that stop and search is a vital part of our fight against knife crime. When the use of stop and search was dramatically reduced between about 2014 and 2018, we saw a reduction in the number of convictions and, shortly afterwards, an increase in the number of offences. Leading police and crime commissioners, including Jane Kennedy, the former Labour MP and Minister who is now the police and crime commissioner in Merseyside, have said that the fair and effective use of stop and search remains one of the most powerful tools that the police have at their disposal. With body-worn cameras now in use, some of the issues to do with communities feeling disrespected have been largely addressed. However, this is only part of the battle against knife crime, as the hon. Lady says, and I pay tribute to her work as chair of the knife crime APPG. Preventive work and work in schools are important as well.

Do Ministers agree that the crime of burglary has devastating effects on those who have been burgled? Will they increase the sentences available for people who have committed that offence?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that burglary is a crime not just against property, but against the wellbeing of people whose homes are violated. He will be glad to know that average sentences for burglary have increased over the years from an average of 21 months to 28 months. I will have a further conversation with him about this, but I assure him that sentences are going in the right direction when it comes to dwelling house burglaries.

Reading jail is a hugely important historical site. It is the burial place of King Henry I of England and also where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated. The building is currently up for sale by the Ministry of Justice. Will the Secretary of State or the prisons Minister agree to meet me before any decision is made on the sale and also to meet local campaigners and representatives?

I am pleased to have already spoken to the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) about this matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, bids are already in, and they are commercially sensitive. If it is appropriate for me to meet him, I will be happy to do so, together with his neighbour.

Before we move on, I advise the House that we will have 45 minutes for the urgent question and 45 minutes for the statement, so please let us help each other out.


(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what support has been made available to Flybe, its passengers, and the regional airports that facilitate many of its routes, and whether he will make a statement.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. She is a strong advocate for her local airport.

Let me stress that Flybe remains a going concern. Flights continue as scheduled, and passengers should continue to go to the airport as usual. I must also emphasise that regional air carriers and airports are vital to the Government, playing a key role in providing connectivity between communities, regions and nations across the United Kingdom.

The speculation surrounding Flybe relates to commercial matters. The Government do not comment on the financial affairs of or speculation surrounding private companies. We are working hard, but there are commercial limits on what a Government can do to rescue any firm.

Be in no doubt, however, that we understand Flybe’s important role in delivering connectivity across the entire United Kingdom. This Government are committed to ensuring that the country has the regional connectivity that it needs. That is part of our agenda of uniting and levelling up the whole country. We do not have good enough infrastructure in many areas, and people do not feel they have a chance to get to the opportunity areas with high-skilled and high-paid jobs. That is what this Government are addressing now.

I hope the House will appreciate that I regret that I am not able to go into further detail at this stage, but I will update the House further when it is appropriate to do so.

Flybe is, as the Minister said, an important regional airline, serving the UK market for business and leisure travel. I must confess from the outset that Southampton airport sits on the boundary between my constituency of Romsey and Southampton North and the Eastleigh constituency, but it employs many of my constituents and, of course, serves the much wider region. It is a crucial part of Hampshire’s connectivity, located adjacent to the mainline to London Waterloo and the M27 motorway, and it serves the cruise terminal at Southampton. It is in every sense a transport hub for the south-east, and about 90% of flights out of Southampton are run by Flybe.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is working hard on this issue, for which I sincerely thank him. He has been diligent in keeping me updated and has been in close contact with colleagues across the country who believe that the Government need to find a practical and pragmatic solution to the current reported difficulties, as indeed I do. It is a sensitive time for the company, but my questions today are not criticisms. We are seeking reassurance from the Government that solutions can be found.

I welcomed the comments from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning about regional connectivity. He specifically referenced Northern Ireland, and Southampton airport has a thriving route in and out of Belfast, not to mention Glasgow and Edinburgh, with onward routes to Aberdeen. It is a hub that serves the whole United Kingdom.

I do not wish to put the Minister in a corner, but I hope that he may be able to expand a little on what might be achieved with regard to air passenger duty, which has long been a concern to airlines and airport operators. We leave the European Union at the end of this month, which might give us some opportunity to consider the freedoms that there could be from state aid rules. I do not expect the Minister to make any sweeping announcements from the Dispatch Box, but I hope he and his officials are closely considering it.

What powers does the Minister have to protect the key strategic routes operated by Flybe and, of course, to protect its staff? Flybe employs 200 people at Southampton, and the airport employs some 900 people. A far wider supply chain relies on a thriving regional airport with a functioning operator.

We have an opportunity to use every lever of government to make sure that regional connectivity is maintained to ensure that businesses can operate smoothly and that people can move around the country seamlessly. I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend that he is pulling all those levers.

I thank my right hon. Friend once again for working hard on behalf of Southampton airport. I am acutely conscious of the fact that some 94% of Southampton’s passengers are Flybe passengers, and she makes an important series of points about the airport’s importance to her region. Indeed, I gather the airport is also important to inbound tourism.

My right hon. Friend tries to tempt me on to the topic of APD. It may help the House if I make it clear that Transport Ministers never comment on air passenger duty, which is a matter for the Treasury, and I do not intend to change that now. I will not be making any comments on air passenger duty.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing this important urgent question. It is agreed on both sides of the House that Flybe, a great British brand, is a hugely important regional airline that provides a vital lifeline and connectivity for many of our communities. News of its difficulties will worry workers and passengers alike.

There is clearly a case for Government intervention, and I trust the Government will learn the lessons from their inept response to the Thomas Cook collapse, which saw other nation states being prepared to step in while this Government sat on their hands and contacted the company only after it was too late. We cannot have a repeat of that debacle. Flybe’s workers and passengers deserve better.

What restructuring plan has been agreed as part of the Government’s support, and what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the trade unions Unite and the British Airline Pilots Association? Will the Minister and the Secretary of State commit to ensuring those unions are fully engaged in the process?

The Government must avoid simply feathering the nests of the new consortium, including Virgin Atlantic and the Stobart group. Surely they knew the scale of the financial challenges facing them when they acquired the business. What was known to the new owners at the time of their acquisition? Prior to the acquisition, did they seek assurances on Government assistance and an indication of the Government’s intentions for APD? What discussions is the Minister having with the industry about transitioning to greater sustainability, including electric flights, and about whether current plans are compatible with reducing emissions?

Slashing air passenger duty across the board would make a mockery of the Government’s supposed commitment to climate emissions. It would also benefit a wealthy minority. Some 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with the great majority of people not flying at all. Aviation is set to be the biggest source of emissions by 2050, with Ministers planning for demand to double.

The Government’s own advisory body on climate change has said that the UK is “way off track” to meet its climate change targets. Rather than proposing to slash aviation tax, will the Minister not listen to the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change for a frequent flyer levy that would remove people who fly just once a year from taxation while making wealthy frequent flyers pay more?

I encourage the Minister to do all he can to support Flybe and its workforce, and to protect passengers, but can he assure the House that his Government will simultaneously and fully accept their responsibility to protect the planet?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, particularly as we agree on the importance of Flybe to the country. The Government are working hard to find what they can do to support the company. I cannot and will not provide a running commentary on those discussions. He will note that the Secretary of State is not here to answer the urgent question, as he is having discussions in Whitehall and is working hard on behalf of the airline.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the environmental aspects. Domestic aviation constitutes 4% of UK aviation’s overall emissions. He mentioned the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which it gave to us just before the election, and we are looking forward to consulting on it imminently. In addition, the transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon.

We are acutely conscious of the fact that aviation has an important role to play in meeting our net zero target by 2050, and I am working very hard on finding the answers to those questions.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, which I know is important to many of us. I thank the Minister for his constructive engagement with me and many other colleagues on this matter.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Flybe to Cornwall Airport Newquay and the wider Cornish economy. Contrary to the characterisation from the Opposition Front Bencher, it is many ordinary working people and small businesses in Cornwall that rely on the connection that Flybe provides, both across the whole country and, through Heathrow, internationally. May I therefore urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that Flybe is able to continue operating? If he is able to use his influence to cut APD, he will have my full support in doing so. Will he confirm that the public service obligation route to Heathrow is not dependent on a particular airline and could be easily transferred should the worst happen to Flybe?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. As he will know, some 74% of Newquay’s passengers use Flybe, so Newquay is also highly dependent on this airline, not least for a lot of its inbound tourism. He commented on the PSO flights. We will continue to work with the county council in Cornwall, the joint funder of those flights, to make sure that that service continues into the future.

First, may I ask what impact assessment has been undertaken on the effect of losing connectivity between Scotland and various UK regions if Flybe does go down? How many of these routes have been assessed as lifeline routes? What assessment have his Government made of the Flybe Heathrow slots if Flybe does not operate and of what that would mean for future connectivity? We know that Flybe operates outwith ATOL—the air travel organiser’s licence scheme—so what consumer protections are available for customers booking with these types of carriers? What changes do the Government propose to bring in to protect consumers? Where are we on the proposed legislation changes promised after the collapse of Monarch and then Thomas Cook? Given that there was no Government intervention previously, why are they now looking at doing something—we do support Flybe continuing to operate? Is that not firm proof that the Government need a comprehensive plan, rather than reacting with short-term fixes? What additional supports will the UK Government bring forward across the entire sector that they have ignored to date?

Will the Minister confirm that the Government do not ring-fence APD moneys for tackling climate change? What message does talk of delaying revenues or reducing APD send out about the Government’s willingness to tackle climate change?

What is the deadline for Government action, because this is going to create further market uncertainty and will hit future bookings for Flybe?

Let me start by reinforcing the fact that Flybe remains a going concern; flights continue to take off and land, and passengers should go to the airport.

I very much take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the importance of Flybe, not just to the regions of England but to the nation of Scotland and, not least, the oil and gas sector out of Aberdeen—I genuinely understand that. He makes an observation about PSO flights, both within Scotland and to London. We are looking at PSO flights policy more widely and whether we need to consider further options.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned slots at Heathrow, and he will be aware that slots are a matter for the independent ACL—Airport Coordination Limited—body. No decisions have been taken on the use of further slots at Heathrow in this regard.

The hon. Gentleman mentions protection for consumers. Those who are on a package are covered by ATOL, but, as he will know, there is separate travel insurance and those who pay by credit card will have consumer protections. We continue to review consumer protection more widely within the travel sector. He will also know that in the Queen’s Speech we announced the airline insolvency Bill, which will come forward shortly.

Once again, I reiterate that I cannot offer the running commentary the hon. Gentleman looks for on what is occurring within Government.

First, let me thank the Minister for keeping me informed of developments as they have gone on and reassure him that, despite the shadow Secretary of State’s characterisation, it is not the richest 15% of people in my constituency who use this vital service. Some 94% of flights out of Southampton are operated by Flybe, meaning that any loss of service will have a detrimental impact on the local economy and jobs in my constituency. Given this Government’s pledge to back prosperity across the whole United Kingdom, will he reassure me that he will do anything and everything necessary to keep this airline afloat for my constituents and local jobs in Eastleigh?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we are working hard on behalf of Flybe and Southampton airport to find solutions wherever we can. He is right to point out the importance of improving regional connectivity across all modes, as the Prime Minister said today.

There is something of a pattern developing. We have had the collapse of Monarch and of Thomas Cook, and now the potential collapse of Flybe. When, in the last Parliament, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee took evidence on the collapse of Thomas Cook, the evidence we heard from the business and the trade unions was the same; they said that the Government were asleep at the wheel. What lessons have the Government learned from that collapse? What are they doing to ensure that passengers are protected, that critical routes that connect regional towns and cities are supported and that the taxpayer does not end up footing the bill for another corporate failure?

I hear what the hon. Lady says. I am sure she knows that across Europe as a whole the airline sector is a highly volatile market. I do not accept her comparison at all. We continue to work hard and I have made comments already about public service obligation flights.

The Flybe crisis—and it is a crisis—could soon become a major disruption for many of my constituents, with half term looming. There is clearly a short-term issue here that I know Ministers are grappling with; I wish them well and they have my support. There is an uneven playing field around APD and regulations on regional airlines and airports, and that has without doubt contributed to Flybe’s current predicament. Longer term, is there any appetite within Government to address that and the crippling impact it is having on the regional connectivity that the Minister and the Prime Minister have rightly referred to?

I recognise what my hon. Friend says. Our network of regional airfields is crucial to our regional connectivity. I am acutely conscious of that and I am looking at all policy options.

Over the coming months it will become ever more apparent that tackling the climate emergency means rapid changes to high-carbon sectors and that aviation must decrease, not increase. Instead of bailing out polluting companies every time there is a crisis, and, in this instance, doing so in a way that is going to increase emissions, does the Minister agree that the Government should instead be developing just transition plans for high-carbon industries, including retraining workers in new sustainable jobs, involving unions and local communities, and, in this case, enhancing rail connectivity?

I think the hon. Lady overlooks what we seek to do to ensure that aviation plays its role in reaching net zero by 2050. As I have said, we will consult on our response to the Committee on Climate Change. The Minister with responsibility for future transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), is working hard looking at how to diversify the plane market, and we are bringing forward a transport decarbonisation plan. In the Department, we are informed with good ideas about how we can decarbonise transport.

As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) ably said, the links between London and Cornwall are vital to many of our constituents, not just in his constituency but across Cornwall. Those links are important for the many small businesses that access contracts and come to London for business meetings, but also for net inbound tourism when people fly in from other countries to visit London and come down to Cornwall for a few days’ break. I ask the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the link remains.

My hon. Friend is quite right to point out the importance of the links between Newquay and London, not least for tourism. That is why we set out the public service obligation, and it is why we will carry on working with the county council to ensure its continuation.

The new owners of Flybe got the airline for a song, destroying shareholder value. They must not be allowed to profit from the public sector through subsidy for their failure. The Minister has made clear his position on APD—he will not comment—but does he recognise that that tax is damaging to the economy and costs jobs? Does he recognise that reports given to the Department for Transport and the Treasury show that abolishing air passenger duty would lead to an increase in tax income and have a beneficial impact on the economy and jobs? Will he look at those reports?

Many airlines that face these types of difficulties would get more certainty and would be more able to get through them if they were allowed to continue to operate while in administration. Airlines in the States have done just that, and have returned and are now succeeding. Will the Government look into that type of reform when they press on with the insolvency review, which I hope will happen in the early part of this Parliament?

I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the airline insolvency Bill and the work going on, in the light of the Green Paper, to improve consumer protection across the airline sector as a whole.

Many of my constituents work at or travel from Cardiff airport in the Vale of Glamorgan. They have already been hit by the collapse of Thomas Cook and, indeed, by Flybe’s reductions, the removal of its base—with the loss of 60 jobs last year—and its cutback of routes. Will the Minister explain whether he or the Secretary of State have had conversations directly with the Welsh Government, who are obviously crucial in terms of Cardiff airport’s viability going forward?

I am more than aware that some 30% of Cardiff’s passengers stem from Flybe. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Department and the Civil Aviation Authority are in regular touch with all the devolved Administrations to discuss the ramifications.

I apologise for my raspy tones because of a recent cold. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the question.

Flybe is based in my beautiful constituency of East Devon and employs around 2,000 people nationwide, contributing a great deal to our local economy and providing essential transport links. Does the Minister agree that it is wrong to politicise the situation with Flybe, as Opposition Members have managed to do so far, and that work should be done to ensure that this vital airline continues to serve the south-west and beyond?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to observe the importance of Flybe in his constituency. I am very much aware that, wherever possible, we should work on a cross-party basis when faced with immediate challenges.

The Minister referred to the airline insolvency Bill; will he confirm when that legislation will be brought forward? Many Members have spelled out the importance of their regional airports and domestic airlines for local economies, but what assessment has the Minister made of the future role of domestic aviation in our transport networks? How will that fit with the Department’s decarbonisation plan?

On both those questions, I am afraid the answer is “Wait and see.” We are looking to bring forward the airline insolvency Bill as soon as we can. We recognise its importance, but it is a complex policy area and there is no silver bullet, so when we bring it forward it has to be right. On the wider issue of how decarbonisation fits in and how aviation can play a role, that will be covered in the transport decarbonisation plan. I recognise that there are trade-offs to be made; we have to have a balanced approach.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the urgent question and thank the Minister for his response.

The routes that Flybe operates out of Aberdeen International airport are vital to jobs and the local economy in West Aberdeenshire, connecting the energy capital of Europe, which is Aberdeen, to other energy hubs such as Teesside and Humberside. What work is being done in the Department to make sure that these economically vital routes are protected in future?

My hon. Friend is right to observe, as I did earlier, the importance of these services to the oil and gas sector in particular. The Department and the CAA as a whole are examining the economic impact of any changes that may occur across all our regional airports, but our focus is on working hard to ensure that we get the right result.

I entirely accept the importance of regional airports to jobs—Bristol airport is on my doorstep and I was a director of London Luton airport in my days as a councillor in Luton—but the fact that the Minister can come to the House to answer an urgent question about domestic flights without mentioning decarbonisation and climate change once just shows—[Interruption.] He has mentioned them in response to questions but did not mention them in his initial response. He has been prompted to do that. It is not enough to kick it into the long grass and say, “This is something we’re going to deal with in the future.” Decarbonisation and climate change need to be factored into the Minister’s response to the Flybe emergency and APD now.

I have mentioned decarbonisation at least three times. I tried to obey Mr Speaker’s instruction to keep my opening statement brief. I entirely recognise the importance of decarbonisation, and a significant amount of work is occurring in the Department, between two Ministers. I ask the hon. Lady to wait to see the documents when they are produced.

Last year, 30% of all flights from Birmingham airport were operated by Flybe, and a lot of employees of the airline and the airport will be very worried about the current situation. Can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that he and the Government are doing everything practically possible that they can do in talks with Flybe to protect jobs?

I recognise the importance of Flybe to Birmingham airport, one of our key national airports. The Government are working hard, as I keep reiterating. We are certainly doing our best.

If we are serious about tackling our carbon emissions, we must ensure that rail is an attractive and viable alternative to air travel, certainly domestically. In places where this is not possible—such as the Isle of Man, for obvious reasons—we must ensure that domestic flights in the UK are green and sustainable. For example, we should use sustainable alternatives to kerosene and look at electric low-carbon planes, as have been trialled in Orkney and Shetland. What has the Minister done specifically to ensure that UK domestic flights are as friendly as possible to the environment?

As I said earlier, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), is working on looking at alternative sources of fuel and power. The hon. Lady pointed out the example in Orkney; that is what we are working on for the transport decarbonisation plan, which will come forth shortly.

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the impact on smaller regional airports such as Humberside airport, which is based in my Cleethorpes constituency. The impact on the offshore industries and the links to Aberdeen have already been drawn to his attention, but will he also take into account the fact that Flybe works in partnership with other airlines, such as Eastern Airways, which is based in Humberside, and the possible impact of the knock-on effect?

My hon. Friend temps me to go into a great, lengthy answer about franchising arrangements with Flybe, which I am trying not to do, but I very much hear his point and I regularly wade into the detail of that.

The Minister went to school a stone’s throw from Manchester airport in my constituency, but is the voice of northern England being heard? After the Thomas Cook debacle, 2.8 million passengers were taken out of capacity. If this Flybe collapse happens, that will affect 1.8 million passengers out of Manchester airport. I know that people are worried about climate change, but APD was a tax devised by London civil servants in Whitehall cooling towers that crippled the growth of regional airports throughout our country, and we are paying the price for that.

The hon. Gentleman is always a good defender of Manchester airport—I will grant him that. As he will know, ACL determines slot allocation at Manchester. The Thomas Cook slots have already been reallocated among easyJet and Jet2. ACL has the matter in hand. I recognise Manchester’s interest in the process.

Regional connectivity is at the heart of the Government’s agenda, and the impact of Flybe collapsing on its partnerships with other airlines would be quite severe. Can the Minister provide reassurance that the Government will support Flybe until the airline insolvency legislation has come into force?

We are continuing to work hard in Government to give all the support that we can at this stage. I cannot comment further on exactly what is occurring, but I very much hear my hon. Friend’s plea.

Teesside International airport tripled its losses to nearly £6 million under the stewardship of the Tees Valley Mayor last year—after he had paid tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for it. Flybe is one of the few airlines to provide flights from the airport—44% of them—and is critical to the airport’s future and the Mayor’s plans. The Government failed to intervene when SSI went bust, they refused to provide Sirius Minerals with a loan guarantee to unlock international investment, and they are doing nothing to support Hitachi, which is making 250 people redundant. Are the Government really prepared to continue to fail the Tees valley and to see Flybe collapse, taking regional airports such as Teesside with it?

The hon. Member will not be surprised to hear that I have great confidence in Mayor Houchen’s stewardship of both—

I am not going to get stuck into that. The hon. Member knows that elections are coming and I know that elections are coming—I know what he is up to.

Flybe flies from Leeds Bradford airport in West Yorkshire to the likes of Newquay, Southampton and Belfast. Passengers have very little alternative until we see major investment in regional and cross-country rail. Does the Minister agree that until that happens, we need to keep investing in our regional infrastructure, and we also need to crack on with trans-Pennine rail?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. When we consider aviation, it is not just about aviation; it is also about links across other modes of transport. He will know that I am the Minister responsible for Northern Powerhouse Rail so I take a very close interest in it, and I am always happy to discuss it with him.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), have the British Government received any direct representations from the Welsh Government following the news this morning?

Following the Monarch and Thomas Cook debacles, what lessons has the Minister learned and which of them will he apply to the situation with Flybe?

I would caution that the cases are not as similar as some might think. I am not going to offer a running commentary, but the Department works hard in collaboration with the CAA to monitor all airlines that operate from this country.

Of course the Government should intervene to safeguard people’s livelihoods and the economy around the country, but on a day on which we have heard about yet another increase in global ocean temperatures, when we know that parts of Australia are burning to a crisp, and when the Government are on target to hit net zero in 2099, not 2050, is it right that a subsidy that supports profitable and successful airlines should encourage and increase air travel, not result in the reductions that are essential if we are to address our commitments to reducing the effects of climate change?

The hon. Gentleman may have heard my answers, but I will try again. I am working hard with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk, to make the UK a global leader in reducing aviation emissions. The hon. Gentleman may want to wait and see our proposals when they are introduced.

Absolutely—thank you so much. I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that the success of George Best Belfast City airport is down to the Government policy of connectivity and how important that is. It is also down to the success of Flybe. The Minister is probably aware that it flies from Belfast to 14 destinations in the UK—the largest number of any airline company. Some 3,400 jobs depend on Flybe across the United Kingdom, but 100% of those jobs are important to Northern Ireland. In the light of the new dawn in Northern Ireland—the Assembly is up and running, so responsibility falls on its shoulders—has he had an opportunity to speak to anyone in the Assembly such as the First Minister to ensure that Flybe retains its critical position for Northern Ireland?

Naturally I welcome the resumption of Stormont. I note the fact that 68% of passengers at Belfast City are Flybe passengers, so the company is clearly important there. I am in close contact both with the Northern Ireland Office and with the devolved Administration.

Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Iran nuclear agreement known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.

I addressed the House yesterday on wider concerns in relation to Iran’s conduct in the region. The strategic aim for the UK and our international partners remains as it has always been: to de-escalate tensions; to hold Iran to account for its nefarious activities; and to keep the diplomatic door open for the regime to negotiate a peaceful way forward. Iran’s destabilising activity should serve as a reminder to us all of the danger to the region and to the world if it were ever to acquire a nuclear weapon. We cannot let that happen.

With that in mind, today, the E3, consisting of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, has jointly taken action to hold Iran to account for its systematic non-compliance with the JCPOA. As the European parties to the deal, we have written to the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, in his capacity as co-ordinator of the JCPOA. We have formally triggered the dispute resolution mechanism, thereby referring Iran to the Joint Commission.

Let me set out the pattern of non-compliance by the regime that left us with no credible alternative. Since last May, Iran has step by step reduced its compliance with critical elements of the JCPOA, leaving it a shell of an agreement. On 1 July 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had exceeded key limits on low enriched uranium stockpile limits. On 8 July, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its 3.67% enriched uranium production limit. On 5 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had crossed its advanced centrifuge research and development limits. On 7 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had restarted enrichment activities at the Fordow facility—a clear violation of JCPOA restrictions. On 18 November, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its heavy water limits. On 5 January this year, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to JCPOA limits on centrifuge numbers.

Each of those actions was serious. Together, they now raise acute concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s breakout time—the time that it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon—is now falling, which is an international concern. Time and time again, we have expressed our serious concerns to Iran, and urged it to come back into compliance. Time and time again, in its statements and more importantly through its actions, it has refused, undermining the very integrity of the deal and flouting its international commitments.

Iran’s announcement on 5 January made it clear that it was now effectively refusing to comply with any of the outstanding substantive restrictions that the JCPOA placed on its nuclear programme. On that date, the Iranian Government stated that its

“nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.”

With regret, the E3 was left with no choice but to refer Iran to the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism. The DRM is the procedure set out in the deal to resolve disputes between the parties to the agreement. Alongside our partners, we will use this to press Iran to come back into full compliance with its commitments and honour an agreement that is in all our interests.

The European External Action Service will now co-ordinate and convene the DRM process. As a first step, it will call a meeting of the Joint Commission, bringing together all parties to the JCPOA within 15 days. This process has been designed explicitly to allow participants flexibility and full control at each and every stage. Let me make it clear to the House that we are triggering the DRM because Iran has undermined the objective and purpose of the JCPOA, but we do so with a view to bringing Iran back into full compliance. We are triggering the DRM to reinforce the diplomatic track, not to abandon it. For our part, as the United Kingdom we were disappointed that the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, and we have worked tirelessly with our international partners to preserve the agreement. We have upheld our commitments, lifting economic and financial sanctions on sectors such as banking, oil, shipping and metals. We lifted an asset freeze and travel bans on listed entities and individuals. We have sought to support a legitimate trade relationship with Iran. The UK, France and Germany will remain committed to the deal, and we will approach the DRM in good faith, striving to resolve the dispute and bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPOA obligations.

As I made clear to the House yesterday, the Government in Iran have a choice. The regime can take steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law or sink deeper and deeper into political and economic isolation. So too, Iran’s response to the DRM will be a crucial test of its intentions and good will. We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal. We urge Iran to see this as an opportunity to reassure the world that its nuclear intentions are exclusively peaceful. We urge the Iranian Government to choose an alternative path and engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve the full range of its activities that flout international law and destabilise the region. I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. For all of us who regard the Iran nuclear deal as one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of this century and a path towards progress with Iran on other issues of concern, it is deeply distressing to see Iran join the United States in openly flouting the terms of the deal, as the Foreign Secretary has described.

I firmly agree with the action that has been taken today alongside our European partners. I welcome every word of the joint statement issued at the weekend by Britain, France and Germany in relation to the JCPOA. I agree with their commitment to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation regime. I agree with their determination to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. I agree with their conclusion that the JCPOA plays a key role in those objectives. I would have been stronger in my wording. Although I agree with their “regret” and “concern”, I would have said “revulsion” and “condemnation” over the Trump Administration’s attempted sabotage of the JCPOA and their re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.

I agree with the E3’s attempts to preserve the agreement despite the actions of Donald Trump and the reciprocal actions of the Iranian regime, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in his statement. I also agree that Iran must be obliged to return to full compliance with its side of the agreement. That was a sensible and balanced statement on the JCPOA, stressing the international unity around the importance of retaining and restoring it, and accepting that both sides have breached it in terms and that neither has any justification for doing so.

That is what makes it all the more remarkable that this morning we heard from one of the signatories to that statement—our very own Prime Minister—telling “BBC Breakfast” the following:

“the problem with the JCPOA is basically—this is the crucial thing, this is why there is tension—from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama…from their point of view it has many many faults. Well, if we’re going to get rid of it let’s replace it—and let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see…that would be a great way forward. President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account, and by many others…Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”

In the space of two or three days, the Prime Minister has gone from signing a joint statement with France and Germany calling for the retention and restoration of the JCPOA, to calling for it to be scrapped and replaced by some mythical Trump deal. The Foreign Secretary did not refer to any of that in his statement, and we could be forgiven for thinking that he and the Prime Minister are not exactly on the same page, but perhaps in his response he could answer some questions about the Prime Minister’s remarks.

First, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that in his discussions with his American counterparts, they have said that one of the problems with the JCPOA is that, to quote the Prime Minister,

“it was negotiated by President Obama”?

We all suspect that that is Trump the toddler’s main issue with it, but can the Secretary of State confirm that the Prime Minister was correct?

Secondly, can the Foreign Secretary tell us how this supposed alternative Trump deal, which the Prime Minister is so enthusiastic about, differs from the current JCPOA—or, like his mythical middle eastern peace plan and his mythical deal with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons, is it simply another Trump fantasy?

Thirdly, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why on earth Iran would accept a new deal negotiated with Donald Trump, with new conditions attached, when he has shown his readiness to tear up the existing deal and move the goalposts in terms of what it should cover?

Finally, based on what the Prime Minister said this morning, are we now to understand that—despite everything the Foreign Secretary said in his statement just now and everything contained in the joint statement at the weekend—it is now the official policy of the UK Government to replace the JCPOA and get a Trump deal instead, and that that would represent a “great way forward”? If that is not official Government policy, why did the Prime Minister say it, and why is he walking all over the Foreign Secretary’s patch?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her support for the action we have taken today and the action that we are taking as part of the E3. She made a number of valid points at the outset of her remarks about holding Iran to account for the technical failures, and also about the importance that we certainly attach to leaving a diplomatic door ajar for Iran to come back from its non-compliance into compliance and to live up to its responsibilities.

The right hon. Lady made a whole range of comments about the Prime Minister, which I will address. First, it is Iran that is threatening the JCPOA, with its systematic non-compliance. The Prime Minister fully supports the JCPOA and bringing Iran back into full compliance; that is the clear position and he has said so on many occasions. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady should draw breath and allow me to respond to her remarks. As usual, she made a whole series of attacks on the US Administration, which seemed rather to cloud her judgment in this area. In fact, not just President Trump but also President Macron has argued for a broader deal with Iran—a deal that would address some of the defects in the JCPOA, which is not a perfect deal but is the best deal we have on the table at the moment, and that would address the wider concerns that the US and many other states, including the United Kingdom, have about Iran’s broader destabilising activities in the region. The US and our European partners want us to be ambitious in our diplomatic approach with Iran, and I fully subscribe to that. I fear that the right hon. Lady is rather confusing her attacks on the US Administration with sober and sensible policy making in this area.

As of now, we—the Prime Minister and the whole Government—believe that the JCPOA is the best available deal for restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and we want Iran to come back into full compliance. Equally, as was discussed in Biarritz last year, the Prime Minister, the United States and our European partners are fully open to a broader initiative that would address not just the nuclear concerns, but the broader concerns about the destabilising activity that we have seen recently, in particular in relation to the Quds Force.

The choice of the regime in Iran as of today is very simple. It can take the diplomatic path. It can come back into full compliance with the JCPOA and thereby give this country, our European partners and our American partners—and, crucially, many partners in the region—reassurance about its nuclear ambitions. If it wants to, it can also take the diplomatic path to resolve all the outstanding concerns that the international community has about its conduct. That is the choice for the regime in Iran. If it is willing to take that path in good faith, we will be ready to meet it with British diplomacy.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his support for the Iran nuclear deal, because the simple truth is that if Philip Hammond had not negotiated it, Iran would have nuclear weapons today and the middle east would be immensely more dangerous. However, it has caused a lot of stresses in the western alliance, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State’s view as to the best way to strengthen that alliance, because however tattered and strained it is, it is a vital foundation of our peace and prosperity, and has been for the past 70 years.

My right hon. Friend, of course, knows a lot of the recent history of this situation as well as—if not better than—I do. As always, the answer is for Britain to exercise its judgment and the full energy of its diplomacy to ensure that we forge common purpose with our European and American friends. I have been in the US and Brussels over the last two weeks, and will continue that endeavour. The worst thing that we could do right now would be to allow or foment divisions in that partnership, because that would only encourage the hardliners in Tehran.

I commend the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and I have to say that I agreed with every word of it. The Scottish National party very much supports actions against nuclear proliferation in the middle east. There was ample scope to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism, so I am glad that the External Action Service is going through the gears on that. I very much liked the phrase in his statement that these efforts are to “reinforce the diplomatic track”. We all agree on that. So let us go back to this morning’s interview with the Prime Minister on breakfast TV, because I think it bears repetition. He said of the JCPOA:

“let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see…President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account, and by many others…Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”

I am very happy to support the Foreign Secretary from the SNP Benches, but it seems that he is getting more support from the SNP than his own Prime Minister. How seriously does he think Tehran takes us all right now?

We engage with the regime on the basis that I have set out, which is that it has a choice. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. This is not about the UK position or any nuance regarding the Prime Minister. This is the position of the E3 at leader level. The E3 made clear in the joint statement recently that we would like to preserve the JCPOA, but that we are also ambitious for a broader rapprochement with Iran, which of course would have to take into account all the other areas of international concern. It is not just the nuclear issue that is a concern to us; it is also the destabilising activity, the downing of the Ukrainian airline flight and the treatment of our dual nationals. Even if we got Iran back to the JCPOA in full compliance, those issues would remain, and of course we should—with our American partners, as we are doing with our European partners—look to deal with all those issues for the long term.

I wonder whether I am the only one who believes that the current regime is ever going to adhere to the JCPOA. What is the biggest threat now? Could it be that Israel, which has been threatened by Iran, is likely to strike if this goes on unless some sort of agreement is reached, which could of course inflame an already very difficult situation?

It is not clear to me that there is any credible alternative to a diplomatic route to solving this issue long term, even with airstrikes. I will not get into all the operational matters. The only way of dealing with the concerns that we have is a mixture—a combination—of holding Iran to account when it behaves badly, as it has done systematically in relation to its nuclear ambitions, and leaving open the door to diplomatic opportunity and diplomacy. That is the position of the UK—and, I believe, it is also the position of not just our European partners but our American partners too.

I certainly do not want to defend the actions of the Iranian regime on any count. The Foreign Secretary was instrumental, when he was on the Back Benches, in making sure that the Government introduced legislation known as the Magnitsky amendments, which were to enable the Government to have another tool in the box in relation to sanctions. They were primarily considered as relating to Russia, but would it not be a good idea to have them on the statute book in the UK now, as fast as possible, and would we not be considering using those sanctions in relation to Iranians as well?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, first, about the importance of having that sanctions capacity. As we leave the EU we will have more autonomy to do that. We are looking forward to bringing that forward. It was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. He also made the point—I think we have always agreed about this since the campaign for a Magnitsky regime in this country—that such capacity certainly should not just apply to Russia, or to one country, but should be universal in geographic scope, and the approach that we are taking will be.

Last year an archive of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear programme was unearthed in a Tehran warehouse by Israel’s intelligence agencies. The documents revealed the extent of Iran’s deception to the IAEA and the world powers about its historical work to develop nuclear weapons and its ongoing efforts to circumvent the JCPOA. Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm whether the UK has seen these documents and whether he shares Israel’s concerns about their contents?

My hon. Friend makes some interesting points. I am not going to comment on intelligence matters or operational matters, but I can say that of course we share Israel’s concern not just about Iran’s nuclear ambitions but about the wider activities in the region. The point that I think we and all our partners agree on is that ultimately Tehran should give up those ambitions and negotiate a way out of economic and political isolation, which will only deepen, and live up to the responsibilities that it has to its own people. There is a better path for the people of Iran, but it has to be a choice that is taken by the regime in Iran.

This is a very troubling time not only for Mr Ashuri and his family but for other relations of British nationals being held in Iranian prisons. Will the Foreign Secretary clearly outline what steps he intends to take to support these individuals and their families and prevent them from being exploited even further in this dreadful situation?

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. The plight of the nationals and dual nationals in detention from our country and other countries around the world is at the forefront of our minds. Of course, we have seen the systematic and callous behaviour by Iran in relation to them increase over time, not decrease, so it is all part of a wider pattern of behaviour. We will do everything we can to secure their release and, while they are in detention, the best conceivable treatment that we can imagine. Again, as with the other issues, Iran has to realise that it cannot pursue its appalling behaviour, whether on the nuclear front, by destabilising countries in the region or in the treatment of dual nationals without being held to account, and that is the policy of the UK.

I welcome the decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism. However, given that over the past few weeks we have seen Iran use ballistic missiles to attack coalition forces and that, in the wake of the killing of General Soleimani, we have had another reminder of all the activities he used to carry out, it is sensible for the Prime Minister to have an ambition to bring the US back on board as part of this deal but to widen it to encompass all the other activities of Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary set out what Britain might do to try to kick-start that process as well as bringing the JCPOA back into full action?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to preserve the JCPOA—it is the only current deal in town—but of course we are ambitious to see a broader rapprochement. That is not just the Prime Minister’s view. He has been actively supporting President Trump and President Macron, and there is a huge amount of diplomatic work being undertaken by me, by the Prime Minister and others and by our international partners to achieve that. But we come back to the basic equation and the basic choice: this is ultimately a decision that must be made in Tehran, because leaving the diplomatic door ajar is one thing but Iran has to be willing to walk through it. We will make sure that that diplomatic route—that diplomatic path—to a better alternative Iran is there, but it must be something that the regime in Tehran, bearing in mind all the recent events, the growing economic isolation and the disaffection of many, many people in Iran with the state of affairs, chooses and pursues of its own volition.

It is precisely because we support this deal that the E3 was left with no option but to take the action that it has, and I support the Government in doing so. But can I bring the Foreign Secretary back to the Prime Minister’s remarks this morning? Either the Prime Minister wants to maintain this deal or he is now advocating for its replacement: he cannot credibly hold both positions. Which one is the policy of the Government?

The right hon. Gentleman is just wrong. Of course one can want to preserve this deal but be ambitious and, if it is possible, bring the United States and Tehran into a broader rapprochement, dealing not just with the nuclear issue but with the wider destabilising activities. That is the policy that we are pursuing and we are doing so with the US and also, crucially, with our EU partners. There seems to be a bit of amnesia on the Opposition Benches. It was President Macron who last year proposed a very similar approach. Just as we are willing to support that in relation to proposals initiated in Washington, we supported it in relation to Macron. We want to keep the transatlantic alliance together and we want to bring a broader rapprochement between the US and Iran that can lead to a better path for the Iranian people.

It seems that the JCPOA in its current form is dying, although it is not dead yet, and I compliment the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers for the work that they are doing. Is there any common ground between the United States and Iran on a potential JCPOA 2?

It is not clear that there is, as of now. However, there is scope, if Iran is willing—the E3 statement backed this up, but we come back to that basic dynamic and that basic choice—to see some sort of broader deal that would address not just the nuclear front but the wider destabilising activities. If we want a longer-term resolution to the challenge that Iran faces which brings in the United States and all the relevant partners in the region, it is absolutely right that we hold to that ambition and pursue it where we can.

I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement. Given his earlier remarks about dual nationals in Iran and the increasingly desperate situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, will he clarify when the Prime Minister is going to meet Richard Ratcliffe? At the moment, all we have is “soon”. Will this be taken up as a matter of urgency and a meeting arranged this week if possible?

The meetings that the Prime Minister has will be publicised in the usual way through the usual channels, but I have met Richard Ratcliffe. We of course understand the concern of Nazanin’s family and also all the other dual nationals who are detained. We have seen Iran’s behaviour deteriorate not just on the nuclear front and not just in the Revolutionary Guard’s activities in the region, but in relation to dual nationals. It is at the forefront of our mind to get a deal, long term, with the Iranians that can bring in all those aspects, which is why the nuclear deal is critically important. We also want to address the wider issues; that is why the Prime Minister has taken the approach that he has.

Will the Foreign Secretary outline the steps that are being taken to safeguard British citizens, personnel and interests in the region?