House of Commons
Monday 3 February 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Armed Forces Personnel: Vexatious Claims
My thoughts are with the injured victims of the Streatham attack and their families, and I express my sympathy and support on the Government’s behalf. I also pay tribute to the brave police officers who so speedily confronted and dealt with the attacker and to the other emergency services who assisted the victims and others.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our armed forces, who perform exceptional feats to protect this country in incredibly difficult circumstances. While our servicemen and women are rightly held to the highest standards of behaviour, we must ensure that the law is applied consistently, promptly and fairly.
With Combermere barracks and Victoria barracks in the Windsor constituency, we are proud to be home to the Irish Guards, the Welsh Guards and the Household Cavalry. Following their many years of service to our nation, I want them to feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they will not be hounded and harassed by vexatious litigation for decades to come. How soon will our veterans be able to stand at ease?
As Her Majesty said in the Gracious Speech, the Government will shortly introduce a legislative package to ensure that our service personnel and veterans have access to the legal protections they deserve. That will build on the consultation held last summer on proposed legal protections and measures for armed forces personnel and veterans who have served in operations outside the UK. We expect those measures to be brought forward soon.
We owe an immense debt of gratitude to our armed forces, who should never face malicious or unfair treatment after their service when there is no reason to do so. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on all Members to back our troops and get behind our plans to tackle vexatious claims?
My hon. Friend will know that it is obviously not for the Executive or the Government to interfere once a prosecution is under way. Prosecutions are a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, either here or in Northern Ireland. However, no one must be above the law where there is genuine evidence of wrongdoing, but when the process is abused for vexatious purposes, it is right that the Government step forward with measures to stop that happening.
Protecting veterans is a priority for this Government, but their families are just as important. Changes to the war widows’ pension scheme mean that, while the majority of war widows receive a pension for life, a small group, some of whom live in my constituency, whose husbands died after 1973 and who themselves remarried before 2005, fall outside the scheme. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to address that injustice?
The Government recognise the unique commitment that service families make to our country and remain sympathetic to the circumstances of those widows who remarried and cohabited before 1 April 2015. However, the Government currently have no plans to reinstate war widows’ pensions for war widows who remarried between 1973 and 2005—before the 2015 changes took effect. However, I hear my hon. Friend’s call, and my colleague the Minister for Defence People and Veterans has already met representatives from the War Widows’ Association, and we are examining alternative methods to see whether we can mitigate the impact.
The Opposition’s thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by yesterday’s attack in Streatham, and I pay tribute to the police and emergency services for all their heroic work.
The Government have repeatedly promised to take action on vexatious claims against personnel and veterans, but we are yet to see any concrete plans. I heard what the Secretary of State said today, but will he give us the exact date on which the Government will introduce legislation?
The Government made a commitment in our manifesto and in other statements to bring forward measures within 100 days to deal with vexatious claims against our veterans. That 100-day period ends towards the end of March, which is when the timetable will be in place.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment regarding our armed services personnel and look forward to that working out in the fullness of time. Will he ensure that other Cabinet colleagues are aware of the implications of vexatious claims for police officers who served in Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. I served alongside RUC Special Branch in my time, and I have the highest regard for the RUC officers, many of whom lost their lives in fighting during the troubles. Obviously, we will look at what we can do around other Crown servants to make sure that they are protected from that same vexatious industry that is going on at the moment in Northern Ireland.
Frigates and Destroyers
The Prime Minister has announced that the Government will undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy since the end of the cold war. We remain committed to ensuring that the Royal Navy will have the ships required to fulfil its defence commitments.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. While I welcome that commitment, may I raise concerns that many are bringing to me—that at the minute we simply do not have enough ships to protect our two new aircraft carriers should they ever have to go to sea at the same time? Is it still the commitment of the Government to have two wholly UK sovereign deployable carrier groups to deploy at the same time, should we ever have to, while maintaining our other commitments overseas?
Although that has never been the policy of the Government, both aircraft carriers have been brought into service to ensure that one is always available 100% of the time. Although the precise number and mix of vessels deployed within a maritime task group would depend on operational circumstances, we will be able to draw from a range of highly capable vessels, such as Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, and the Astute class submarines—and, in the near future, Type 26 frigates as well.
I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State about what happened yesterday; our thoughts and prayers are with the emergency services and those involved. I also congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on an excellent question.
The Secretary of State will not know that I am the son of a coppersmith in what was the greatest yard in the Clyde, John Brown’s—my own constituency office now occupies that land. I am very much aware of the vagaries of shipbuilding and the skills involved in it across the UK. I am heartened to hear what the Minister said to his hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, but I want to ask about Fleet Solid Support Ships—
How long is this going to go on?
Unless the Minister starts baying at me.
The Fleet Solid Support Ships have the ability to use skills and create work across yards not currently involved in the Type 26 or 31. Will the Under-Secretary assure me that he will maximise that public delivery by taking it across and then keeping it within the UK?
Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), does the Minister agree that it would be an unwise inefficiency for there to be too little protection for our aircraft carriers? Given that we have taken this important decision to project airpower, we must have adequate surface ships to keep those aircraft carriers safe.
The issue is not just about the number of ships that the Royal Navy possesses, but whether they are operationally effective or not. From July 2018 to July 2019, two of the six Type 45 destroyers did not put to sea, and a third spent fewer than 100 days at sea. What will the Minister be doing to ensure that the existing ships are operationally ready?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and very much share the sentiment in it. Since being appointed in December, I have been more concerned by the number of ships tied up against walls in Plymouth and Portsmouth than by those at sea. The Secretary of State has made the delivery of more ships for the fleet his priority for the Navy.
In the financial year 2018-19, expenditure across the UK was £19.2 billion, supporting around 119,000 jobs. In my hon. Friend’s region of the north- west, we spent just under £2 billion supporting around 12,500 jobs, many of which were in Barrow.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, almost one in five of my constituents works either in the delivery of the national endeavour of the nuclear deterrent or in the supply chain businesses in Barrow; the economic impact is therefore huge. The proposed marina village development in Barrow would help to ensure that money spent there serves our local economy. Will he agree to meet me and back this endeavour, and to meet my local council to support that initiative?
My hon. Friend has certainly hit the ground running. I have been in post for less than two months, and he has been here for the same time, yet this is the second time he has lobbied me on this important development. He will be pleased to know that as a consequence of his formidable advocacy for Barrow, I have already raised this matter directly with the chief executive of BAE Systems. My Department will do all it can to support his campaign, and I know my hon. Friend has also secured towns fund money from my colleagues at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
I welcome the new defence procurement Minister to his place. Several of his predecessors promised to factor in wider socioeconomic value when awarding contracts for defence manufacturing. When will the MOD actually start doing that for every contract? Given that the Department can no longer hide behind EU procurement rules, will he now award the contract for the Fleet Solid Support Ships to a UK firm?
On the Fleet Solid Support Ships, the competition has not yet been restarted. May I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Type 31, where there is a requirement that it should be built in the United Kingdom? That is a model we should be looking to emulate as much as possible.
Support for Veterans
The strategy for our veterans outlines a 10-year vision. The MOD has launched a new holistic transition policy, broadening the support offered to our people. Resettlement policy and the career transition partnership provide this employment support.
Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking businesses in my constituency, such as Iggesund, James Walker & Co and TSP Engineering, among others, that have actively recruited veterans? Will he pledge his support for companies like them to help veterans after their valued service?
I certainly pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the company he mentions. Veterans in this country are a significant untapped resource, and one primary objective of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is to re-evaluate what the perception of veterans is in this country. They bring so much to so many companies across the land, including the one he mentions.
An area where we can do more to tackle disadvantage that families face is in helping bereaved services children in the education system. Will my hon. Friend therefore look favourably at proposals from Scotty’s Little Soldiers, an excellent charity based in King’s Lynn, in my constituency, to track and support 1,000 bereaved services children in our schools?
Absolutely. I pay tribute to those at Scotty’s Little Soldiers, who have done a remarkable job over the years, and I am seeing them tomorrow. Data is an area where the Government are determined to do their work to make sure that all of our policies are evidence-based and that they reach the people who need them tracking service families, particularly bereaved families, through schools is an important part of that work.
Since 2013, four men have been lost to their families following their deaths during Army training in the Brecon area. The parents of one of these men, Craig Roberts, are in the Gallery today. At the latest inquest, the coroner criticised the Minister’s Department, saying that lessons were not being learnt from these tragedies. She has already granted one extension to respond—when will the Minister respond?
I pay tribute to those who have lost their lives on these exercises. Indeed, on the Select Committee, I worked on a report that was determined to make sure that every question the parents will have about these tragic accidents is investigated. The report is being gone over at the moment, and I want to make sure it is right and that it applies the lessons that have been learned. No child should die in training in our UK armed forces, although we must remain cognisant of the fact that it needs to remain as aggressive and warlike as we can make it. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents to find out what more we can do to narrow that delta in training.
Too many times in the past five years, I have met veterans in my constituency office who have been unable to access the mental health support they need. The Minister has mentioned a holistic approach to transition. Will he give mental healthcare a top priority in that?
One of my primary duties in this role is to ensure that no veteran does not know where to turn in this country for help, and that is particularly pertinent to mental health. We have some brilliant services across the country. A reconfiguration is going on at the moment, from third sectors into the NHS, but I am looking to launch a veterans’ mental health strategy later on this year. I am determined that within six to 12 months there will be no veteran in this country who will not know where to turn to for help.
Veterans who served in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner will, along with many of their families, I am sure, welcome the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive—but not at the price of selling our veterans down the river to appease Sinn Féin. When the Prime Minister stood for the leadership of the Conservative party, he said clearly in writing in The Sun that he would legislate to protect veterans, including Northern Ireland veterans, from vexatious prosecution. Will the Minister absolutely reiterate that promise today and assure us all that we will defend those who defended us?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s question. Let me be absolutely clear: no Government in history have done more to talk about or to try to deliver protection for our servicemen and women from vexatious claims and inquests. This Government are committed to resolving the issue, the Prime Minister has promised to do so, and my right hon. Friend has heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon that it will be done within 100 days.
First, I echo the comments of others in the Chamber about yesterday’s tragic events in Streatham.
In North East Fife, there is a fantastic military co-working scheme at Leuchars that helps veterans, spouses of serving personnel and other non-serving members of the armed forces community. It helps people to find work, to access support and to make friends. May I invite the Minister to visit the co-working hub in Leuchars and, as a former career transition partnership employee, ask what plans he has to promote similar schemes throughout the country?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and the team at Leuchars, who do a fantastic job. I am currently carrying out a programme of visits to a lot of bases. CTP is a huge part of what we offer for people transitioning from the military into civilian life, and more money is going into it than ever before, but I am determined to learn from best practice, which is what it sounds like the hon. Lady has in Leuchars, so I would be delighted to visit her in due course.
Defence Relationships: South East Asia
The UK continues to have a strong defence relationship with south-east Asia. We maintain a garrison in Brunei and have kept a persistent naval presence in the region since 2018. We work with many countries in the region to help to improve regional security and build capacity. This is done both bilaterally and multilaterally, including through the five power defence arrangements, the only formal defence agreement in the whole region.
Given the importance of the South China sea, not only as a major navigation route but as a source of a growing number of intra-nation disputes, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK has a vital role to play in ensuring freedom of navigation, providing defence and cyber solutions to south-east Asia, and boosting that five-nation power arrangement, as part of our deepening relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?
I agree with my hon. Friend. If any part of the world is a place where the international rules-based system is being threatened, it is in Asia and across the Pacific and the South China sea. That is why we want to strengthen and continue to work with the five power defence arrangements, to work with many of the countries in the region, and to deepen our bilateral relationship with ASEAN member states.
On the one hand, the Government have rightly been challenging China’s aggressive military actions in the seas around south-east Asia, yet on the other hand, despite the Secretary of State himself having reportedly branded China a “friend of no one”, the Government have granted Huawei significant access to the superhighways of our cyber and telecoms systems. Will the Secretary of State clarify exactly what his Government’s strategy in relation to China is?
The Government’s strategy towards China is that we treat it in a way that befits its actions but measure our response when China does things that we do not like. For example, we test freedom of navigation in the Pacific but also seek to listen to the experts when it comes to issues such as Huawei. That is why the Government made the choice last week to allow Huawei to have a limited amount of the 5G market. Our policy towards Huawei is to cap it, to ban it in other parts of the network, and to reduce over time our dependency on that company and others like it.
The Ministry of Defence regularly scrutinises the quality of service provided by all contractors. It is good commercial practice to routinely monitor performance against contract targets and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action when quality standards are not met.
I am not sure that that is happening. Latest figures show that the Army is currently more than 10% under strength and that the full-time trade-trained strength is well below the Government’s stated target. It beggars belief that Capita still holds the recruitment contract. Despite what the Minister says, have the Government just given up trying to hold them to account, or will they actually sack them?
Since resetting their relationship in 2018, the Army and Capita have worked on improving all aspects of the recruiting pipeline. Halfway through the recruiting year, two thirds of the Army’s regular soldier requirement have either started training or are due to do so.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, I chair the defence, security and exports working group, which is attended by the International Trade Secretary. Ministers from Defence and International Trade support regular overseas trade missions and attend a wide range of international exhibitions, most notably last year’s Defence and Security Equipment International, where we jointly hosted 58 international delegations, demonstrating the best of British defence exports.
The Secretary of State will know how much of our defence equipment pipeline is coming from the US. He will also know how much our excellent UK defence industry sells into the US. Will he make sure that, as we start the US-UK free trade agreement discussions, the defence sector is one of the sectors that is prioritised?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The US defence market is incredibly important for both the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of my honourable colleagues in this House and I lobbied for the original UK-US defence tech trade treaty in 2006. I can see the right hon. Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Warley (John Spellar) sitting on the back row of the Labour Benches—we went together. We believe that it is so important. The reality is that, yes, we have more work to do. These trade deals will be incredibly important to make sure that we secure British jobs in order to sell aerospace and partner in aerospace across both countries.
A number of those recommendations have already been implemented. I will meet, and regularly do meet, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) to discuss the matter. It is incredibly important that we make sure not only that we link prosperity to our defence industry through the products that we commission for our services, but that, overseas, we secure prosperity for our jobs.
The Secretary of State and his team are doing valuable work looking at defence manufacturing for the UK and externally. Will he reassure me that radar is part of that? As I am sure that he remembers, radar was built in the Isle of Wight for the Royal Navy ships.
It will not surprise you to know, Mr Speaker, that Britain builds pretty much the best of everything in the world when it comes to aerospace. As a former aerospace worker, and a Member of Parliament who represents a good few thousand aerospace workers, I know at first hand how much the international community needs and wants our products. The trick is to make sure that we sell them, and the best way to sell them is for us to buy British and show that the best armed forces in the world use British kit.
If the Minister really wants to see the best of what Britain can do in manufacturing, a long-term partner in defence procurement and in making the turbines and gears for the armed services is David Brown Gears in Huddersfield. Will he visit that company? It is a brilliant company. It manufactures for our armed services and it exports. May I invite him to visit to see how excellent it is?
Armed Forces: Capabilities
As announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister has committed to undertake the deepest review of Britain’s foreign policy, defence, security and development since the cold war. It will consider all aspects of our defence and security capabilities, including our approach to procurement and maintaining our technological edge against current and future threats.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and for this Government’s ongoing commitment to our security. Now that we have left the EU, our ongoing relationship on security with the EU will inevitably change, so what steps is he taking to strengthen our role within NATO for the future?
The United Kingdom is a full member of NATO and completely committed to ensuring that that alliance has a long-term future. The announcements that we made at the NATO summit in December set NATO on the right path of expanding into areas of hybrid threat and cyber. I am confident that, with Britain and our partners working to ensure NATO’s success, NATO will have a long and fruitful future.
But military capability also depends on industrial defence capability, which depends on a steady workstream. As a number of Members have said, now that we have come out of the EU, why will the Secretary of State not back our shipbuilding industry, start the new contract and specify that support ships should be built in British yards by British firms? Here is the opportunity—why will he not do it?
The right hon. Member will have heard that we stopped the competition for the future solid support vessels. We will look at why that competition could not proceed but, like shipbuilders, I have a lot of faith in the British shipbuilding industry, which is why we have the Type 31 and the Type 26 and excellent aircraft carriers that were delivered on time and on budget, and we will continue to invest in the yards. It is also important to make sure that this SDSR and everything else are budgeted for. No SDSR that I can remember, going back to the early ’90s, has been properly funded to back up the ambitions.
Can I welcome the defence, security and foreign policy review—or the integrated review, as I understand it is to be called? It is a fantastic opportunity to upgrade our defence posture, given the threats that we face. Previous reviews have been hampered by limitations imposed by spending reviews, which, coincidentally, happened at the very same time. So could the Secretary of State spell out the context, the timeframe and the parliamentary engagement for the forthcoming review?
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. Perhaps, given his time in the Department, he will enjoy being able to scrutinise some of his own decisions, and I look forward to his questioning me.
We will publish the details of the review in very quick time as we go forward. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that, if these reviews are to be worth anything, they have to be properly funded. That requires honesty from the Department, wider Government, and the Treasury, and for the ambitions for what we want our country to do and be around the world. If we match our appetites with stomachs, it will have a long-lasting legacy.
We have had as many defence reviews as you have had hot dinners, Mr Speaker, and I am beginning to think that I have got to the point where I have heard so many Defence Ministers tell us that it is going to be different this time. There have been repeated reviews, and as the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), said, too often there is a mismatch between the money and the plans. What, realistically, will the Secretary of State do that is different, because every delay in this costs money and every tough decision ducked does no service to our armed services or the security of our country?
The hon. Lady makes very genuine and good observations about these defence reviews. I was a soldier serving under defence reviews that never translated into either money or the funding. The first thing that we can do is be honest with the men and women of our armed forces about what we can afford and what we will give them, and at the same time be honest with the public about what our ambitions are globally, and make that honesty not hunkered in sentimentality but based on financial reality, making sure that the whole Government buy into that, and that we explain that fully across the House and to all Members, including the hon. Lady’s Committee.
The MOD is committed to supporting the UK defence manufacturing industry. Since 2015, we have published a national shipbuilding strategy, launched the combat air strategy and refreshed our defence industrial policy. Through the defence prosperity programme, we are working to sustain and develop an internationally competitive and productive UK defence sector.
The help that the Government give to our indigenous exporting firms is of huge value. I thank the Minister for the Department’s help with exports of the Leonardo AW159 Wildcat helicopter, and I note that the Republic of Korea has an opportunity to increase its world-leading Wildcat capability, built in Yeovil, to give its people maximum protection and forge an increasingly significant and dynamic relationship with the United Kingdom.
The Wildcat, designed and built in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and with the sweat of my own constituents, has been tried and tested on operations with the Royal Navy. The Government will continue to do all that we can to support the export of Wildcat to South Korea, including making a Royal Navy Wildcat available for it to test and evaluate in the coming months.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The combat air strategy has led to Team Tempest, a world-leading programme providing not only fast jet capability to replace the Typhoon for the Royal Air Force, but real STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—inspiration by employing 1,000 people directly. Can the Minister assure me that its position will be secure in the upcoming defence review?
The Government will undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy since the cold war. The terms of reference will be announced in due course, but the UK combat air strategy that was published in July 2018 will be used to inform the review.
It is mostly French and Swedish steel that has been used to build our ships recently. Does the Minister agree that it is time to factor in the economic value of awarding defence contracts to UK steel suppliers when making procurement decisions in the future?
Safety of Personnel Overseas
The Ministry of Defence constantly reviews the security of its personnel, sites and capabilities to ensure that they remain safe and secure, and that the measures in place remain proportionate, including in response to any changes in threat or risk.
I think we would all agree on the importance of protecting our servicemen and women from threats abroad. However, harmful drinking is more common than post-traumatic stress disorder in the armed forces, and double that of the general population. What is the Minister doing to support the health and wellbeing of our armed forces, to whom we all owe so much?
My hon. Friend will know that there are specific areas where the armed forces have challenges when it comes to drinking, including alcohol abuse and so on. There are a number of programmes running throughout the military. We have a good record on this matter, but there is more to do. I am aware that this issue is baked into some of the culture of previous years. We are doing much better now, but there is work to do on that front.
Last week, three rockets struck the US embassy compound in Baghdad, leaving one person injured. In the light of increased tensions following the US action against Qasem Soleimani, will the Minister tell us what measures are being taken to reduce the risk to our troops in the region, and will he update us on progress in relation to our counter-Daesh programme?
I am clearly not going to go into operational security from the Dispatch Box, but the hon. Member can rest assured that all the correct measures have been taken to ensure that our service personnel are protected abroad, whether it be in Baghdad or the other places where our troops are deployed. The Secretary of State will be providing a formal update on our counter-Daesh programme in due course.
MOD expenditure with UK industry and commerce supported 119,000 jobs in the UK in the financial year 2018-19, including more than 10,000 jobs in the midlands engine.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this issue. Since taking on this brief, I have been interested to discover how the MOD might broaden access for small and medium-sized enterprises, and he represents exactly the sort of constituency where such opportunities are greatest. There will be businesses in his area that can contribute directly to the MOD supply chain, but with Rolls-Royce in Derby immediately to the south of his constituency, we can work with our prime contractors to ensure that they can also access those supply chains.
Armed Forces: Social Mobility
The armed forces aim to attract talent from the widest possible base across the United Kingdom, regardless of socioeconomic background, educational status or ethnicity. The skills, education and training provided enable recruits to progress and benefit from promotion based on merit.
The Minister will be aware that the armed forces recruit heavily in areas such as mine in Hull. However, a recent Sutton Trust report showed that people from private schools are seven times more likely to reach the top of the armed forces. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that there is equality of opportunity for all and that our talented people starting on the lowest rungs get the same chance to reach the top?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. For me, the military remains the single fastest accelerant of life chances in this country for those from slightly more challenging backgrounds. The figure she refers to regarding public school and reaching the top is a challenge that has been there for a while, but our figures for Sandhurst are now very different from what they were 10 years ago. Certainly, in my experience and the experience of many of my colleagues, socioeconomic background has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s ability to prevail in the military.
With the cost of university going up, many would-be graduates will look at the armed forces as an alternative career path. However, it is still extremely difficult for someone to gain a commission if they do not have a university degree, particularly an Oxbridge degree, with 18% of commissioned officers having an Oxbridge degree. How will the Minister change things to ensure that people who go into the forces without a degree can gain a commission in future?
I and many of my colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Defence, did not have a degree. The military has been more accessible than ever before for people without a degree. This is something we consistently work on. However, I come back to my point: every applicant is judged on what they can bring and add to the organisation of the UK armed forces, irrespective of their background and conscious of the fact that we must always do more to make sure that it is equal.
A constituent of mine was serving in a UK base in Cyprus and his children have special educational needs. The school is operated by the Ministry of Defence, which was unable to offer them adequate support. They therefore had to relocate back to the UK. Will my hon. Friend work with his Department to make sure that children of our brave armed forces have the support they need and that those serving have all the instruments needed to progress their careers?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I have a specific team within the MOD dedicated to SEND children. I am more than happy to look at her case. We are bringing in legislation for the armed forces covenant. The Prime Minister is absolutely clear that no one should suffer any disadvantage as a result of their military service. That will become law during this Parliament and we will see fewer of these cases going forward.
Work on previously announced potential basing options is ongoing. No final decisions have yet been made.
I am most grateful to the Minister for those comments. We in North West Cambridgeshire firmly believe that RAF Wittering would be the ideal new home for the Red Arrows. With that in mind, will he kindly agree to stay in close contact with me throughout this process in case he or his officials require any further information? Of course, I would be happy to have another ministerial meeting if it would help to press our case further.
Our approach to procurement recognises the need to assure the UK’s operational advantage and freedom of action in relation to certain capabilities.
In addition to measures to protect national security, the Government have secured legally binding commitments that there will be significant protection of jobs in the UK, that Cobham’s headquarters will remain in the UK, and that there will be guaranteed spend on research and development. Of course, this is not just a one-way street. I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the acquisition by BAE Systems of two very high-tech and interesting companies in America last week.
Armed Forces: Recruitment and Retention
We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces. There is a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention, and these are kept under constant review.
I can confirm that we have no plans to reduce the size of the Royal Marines. They are an extremely important part of this country’s defence. They contribute 47% of individuals who go off to our UK special forces group. They are evolving and developing; the future commando force concept is very exciting. There are no plans to reduce the number of Royal Marines at this stage.
Strait of Hormuz: UK Shipping
The UK is part of the International Maritime Security Construct, which is safeguarding freedom of navigation in the Gulf. It is now under the command of a Royal Navy officer. The Ministry of Defence, with the Department for Transport, is monitoring the situation closely and stands ready to counter threats, should the need arise.
Since the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles, finance terror groups, harass shipping in the strait of Hormuz and generally act as a bad influence in the region. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the strategic threat to both the UK and our allies in the region, including Israel and the Gulf states?
Iran’s interference in the region is a strategic threat to its near neighbours and, indeed, to UK interests and her allies. The use of proxy forces, terrorists and the constant incursion against our ships in the strait pose a real problem, which was why we joined the International Maritime Security Construct and will continue to be part of it.
Armed Forces Personnel
I am not very well, Mr Speaker. It is not coronavirus; it is worse—it is man flu. It would have seen the Secretary of State in bed for a week.
We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, and a range of measures to improve recruitment and retention is under way. Those measures are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.
Independent analysis by the House of Commons Library has found that Army numbers could fall to just 65,000 by the end of this Parliament if the current rate of decline continues. Instead of giving us more warm words, can the Minister tell us what specific steps his Department is taking to avoid that?
On recruitment, we are at just under 100% of our year-long target, which comes round in April. More people are looking to join the Army than we have seen since 2010. There is a massively positive story to tell. There are no plans to reduce the number of armed forces personnel. It is a fantastic time to join up.
The MOD has provided extensive support to the cross-government response to the outbreak of coronavirus to ensure the safety of British nationals abroad. That has included medical support on the repatriation flight from Wuhan, the use of RAF Brize Norton and contingencies for handling evacuees in the UK. The Department continues to support planning across Whitehall.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Does he agree that, after facing implacable foes armed with guns and RPGs, it is entirely wrong that our service personnel come home only to face foes armed with subpoenas and LLBs? Will he reiterate the Government’s reassurance that they will not be pursued for historical convictions when no new evidence is found?
I assure my hon. Friend of the importance that we attach to this area, given the stress under which it puts members of the armed forces. This is the first time in my living memory that all the Front-Bench team served on operations and were members of the regular armed forces. That is why we feel it personally, as do the Government. We are determined to deal with this vexatious issue for our armed forces, which is why we will introduce measures in the next 100 days.
Our armed forces were due to have access to Galileo’s encrypted system when it becomes fully operational in 2026, but now we have left the EU, that will not be the case. Can the Secretary of State tell the House when the UK’s own global navigation satellite system will be fully up and running? Given that the first satellites may only be launched by 2025, and the system will not be operational until 2030, what will fill the gap in capabilities that this presents?
The hon. Lady will be aware that all our systems currently run under GPS—the global positioning system—and it is not necessary for us to operate under any other system. This is about resilience and whether we need an alternative system. What happens in our negotiations with Europe between now and the end of the year will obviously be a matter for the negotiators, but I am confident that we will continue to work alongside the United States on GPS or, indeed, that we will provide further details to the House on what we plan to increase resilience.
The Government have actually said that the cost of any system could be up to £5 billion. If the plan is to have this UK option, what assurance has the Secretary of State received that the money will not have to come out of the existing defence budget, which is already under strain, leading to more cuts in other areas?
As I said in my first answer, we are currently dependent on using GPS with the United States. We will keep any alternatives that we need under review. I will of course make representations to the Treasury, as will the wider parts of Government that also rely on satellite navigation—it is not just Defence—to make sure that, if any funding is required, that is taken from across Government or indeed from the Treasury.
Ynys Môn is an incredibly important island and, indeed, RAF Valley is incredibly important for our RAF and our pilot training. I know that at first hand, in that I have spent a large part of my year at the end of a runway at RAF Valley—literally, although not as an air spotter, I have to say. I go on my holidays to Anglesey, and I know how important RAF Valley is to both the economy and the community. The Government continue to invest in RAF Valley. I greatly look forward to working with my hon. Friend to make sure that voices about the needs of that airport are heard. I am delighted that only recently a new runway was completed to make sure that it has a long-term future in providing our fighter pilot training.
Will the Secretary of State comment on what he makes of the European Commission’s vision of structural consultation on defence and security, and will he be advising the Prime Minister to establish a framework to allow us to continue the excellent work we do with our fellow Europeans?
On a number of deployments with the European Union, we do excellent work, such as in Kosovo and so on. We will make sure that, where there is a requirement for us to work together and there is a mutual need for our security, we will of course enter into such working relationships. However, one of the conditions will be that we can unilaterally enter and unilaterally leave—we will not be tied in. Of course, the security of Europe is always important to the United Kingdom, and we will continue to uphold that policy.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. These aircraft carriers are bought and paid for: they have been committed to. One is only on sea trials, and I would urge him to give it a chance—we will finish the sea trials. The aircraft carriers are really important to our strategic reach. We will design them so that we always have one available in a carrier strike group around the world, to be delivered should we need to do so. There are absolutely no plans whatsoever to get rid of them.
I have had meetings with the Minister for School Standards to make sure that the process is a lot smoother and that people who can access the service pupil premium can do so further in advance of their posting. Again, this issue comes under the armed forces covenant. I am confident that, when this Government do legislate to make sure that no individual is disadvantaged because of their service, such incidents will be no more.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and to the men and women of Blyth Valley who have contributed so much to this nation’s defence. We are acutely aware that although we are now doing pretty well in recruitment, we have a challenge with retention, and for the first time a Secretary of State has come into role and started talking about how we can better look after our people. I am confident that with wraparound childcare, and all the other things we are doing, we will improve the offer and tackle retention, and that the men and women of Blyth Valley will continue to serve well in our armed forces.
My hon. Friend is right to be proud of the Army and RAF units in her constituency. We attach the very highest priority to ensuring that all three services have what they need to protect our country and its interests around the world. Our manifesto was perfectly clear: we are proud of our armed forces and will fund them properly.
There should be no waiting time whatsoever for medical records that are going from regular regiments to a local GP. We are looking at ways of improving the system, and incentivising, to ensure that the gap is much smaller. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about his constituent, I will find out what is going on in that case and ensure it is sorted out.
Absolutely. The first winner of that competition was Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, which was in my former constituency—it is now in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). It is brilliant that so many girls are entering that sphere. Cyber-security is a real future career, as are other cyber measures, such as cyber-espionage—very good—and I want more and more women to do it. I think it is fantastic. The competition has my full support, and I hope it is won again in Lancashire.
Sergeant Michael Rowley served his country for 25 years. As a result of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, he started drinking heavily and gambling—not an uncommon story. The charity Help a Squaddie helped Michael to get his life back together, but many are not so fortunate. What are the Government doing specifically to help victims who are at risk of or struggling with those issues?
The Government are funding the NHS to bring in the veterans mental health transition, intervention and liaison service, and the veterans’ mental health complex treatment service. We are bringing in a high-intensity service, and those measures will be brought together to bring forward a coherent veterans strategy for mental health. We are determined that by the end of this year, no veteran will not know where to turn when they need such support.
The Ministry of Defence continues to work closely with colleagues in DFID and across the Government to ensure that activity is co-ordinated and mutually reinforced in support of our national security objectives. The Government have announced that they will undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy since the end of the cold war, and that will cover all aspects from defence to diplomacy and development.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the announcement he made on Armistice Day last year, at the start of the election campaign, about service personnel not being repeatedly reinvestigated without compelling new evidence broadly corresponds to the recommendations of the 17th report of the last Parliament’s Select Committee on Defence, and does he have a reply to that report ready to give to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), my successor as Chair of the Defence Committee, as soon as the new Committee is formed?
I stand by the statements I made. I apologise for the time taken to respond to the Committee. The reason is that the original draft reply did not reflect the policy commitment and does not reflect the result of the general election. I am determined that all my Department’s replies to Committees are correct, accurate and answer the questions put to them. I hope that when my right hon. Friend reads the reply, he will be happy that it responds to some of the very good recommendations in his Committee’s report.
The Veterans Minister and I finally get to meet next week, at a meeting originally promised with his predecessor about my constituent Tony Pitt, who was worried about funding life-saving treatment for a rare condition he contracted in the Army and feared he had only six months to live. It will just be me and his widow at the meeting. Does the Minister accept that the armed forces covenant promise to fund advanced medical care is just not working, given that my constituent died while waiting to meet him?
A key factor in retaining members of our armed forces is the state of their accommodation. As a former Guards officer based at Wellington barracks, I hear rumours that they are not good. Is the Minister happy that accommodation generally throughout the armed forces meets the required standard?
This Government are putting more money than ever before into armed forces accommodation. I am clear that some of the accommodation we ask our personnel to live in is nowhere near good enough. We have a new programme of inspections and we are determined to get a grip on the issue. I am confident that in the next 12 to 24 months, servicemen and women in this country will see a significant uplift in the standard of their accommodation.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on global Britain, following the Prime Minister’s written ministerial statement today.
Last Friday, 31 January, the United Kingdom left the European Union. Before then, for three long years, we had debated the European question. Members on both sides of the Chamber were weary and people out in the country were tired of the wrangling, so I think there is relief on all sides that the question is now settled. I know that the point of departure is difficult for many people—decent people who love their country and who did not want us to leave—so it is incumbent on this Government to show that leaving marks not an ending, but a bold new beginning. We take that responsibility very seriously.
When we ratified the withdrawal agreement, this Government and this Parliament finally delivered on the promise made to the British people over three years ago. We did that as a matter of democratic principle. We did it to keep faith with and to retain the confidence of the British people. In doing so, we sent a strong signal to the EU and to the world about our ambition and our resolve as we chart the course ahead. As one United Kingdom, we are now free to determine our own future as masters of our own destiny. We are free to reinvigorate our ties with old allies. We are free to forge new friendships around the world. As we seek those new relationships with friends and partners, the interests of the British people and the integrity of our Union will be the foundation stone of everything we do.
The Prime Minister’s speech this morning and the written statement to the House start us on that journey by setting out the Government’s proposed approach to our relations with the EU in 2020. The most important thing about 2020 is that having left the EU at the start of it, at the end of it we will fully and with absolute certainty regain complete economic and political independence. That is when the transition period ends, and it will not be extended.
We will have a new relationship with the EU, as sovereign equals, based on free trade. Between now and the end of the year, we will work with the EU to try to negotiate a free trade agreement, drawing on other recent agreements, such as the one between the EU and Canada. That should be the core of our future relationship. We will look to reach agreements on other priorities, including fisheries, internal security and aviation. These will be backed up by governance and dispute settlement arrangements appropriate to a free trade agreement, with no alignment and no role for the European Court of Justice, respectful of our democratic prerogatives. We hope we can agree. If we cannot, we will of course carry on trading with the EU in the same way as Australia and many other countries around the world—as a free country, collaborating where we can, and setting our own rules that work for us.
Of course, the EU is not our only trading partner, and at the same time we will be seeking to get agreements with other great trading countries around the world. We are delighted—in the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was here last week—that the UK is now front of the queue for a free trade deal with the United States. We expect to open negotiations with the US and other countries very soon—in that way we can broaden our horizons to embrace the huge opportunities in the rising economies of the future, where 90% of the world’s growth comes from. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade will set out more detail in a written statement later this week, and I will visit Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia over the next two weeks.
At such a crossroads moment, it is fitting and timely that this Government will engage in a thorough and careful review of the United Kingdom’s place in the world, including through the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review. This review is an opportunity for us to reassess the ways we engage on the global stage—including in defence, diplomacy and our approach to development—to ensure we have a fully integrated approach, because now is the moment to look ahead with confidence and ambition, to signal to our future partners the outward-facing, trailblazing country that we intend to be.
We have a vision of a truly global Britain. The first pillar of our global Britain strategy will be to continue to prove that we are the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours. We are working closely with our European partners to find a political solution in Libya. We will continue to stand together to hold Iran to account for its systemic non-compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action, the nuclear deal. We will work together to tackle shared threats and global challenges, whether it is Russia’s aggression, terrorism, rising authoritarianism, climate change or, indeed, health crises such as the coronavirus. It was our honour on Friday to bring home 29 other Europeans on the UK-commissioned charter flight from Wuhan, along with the 97 Britons, because we will always look out for our European friends, with whom we share so many interests. I am grateful to the Spanish Foreign Minister for Spain’s help in co-ordinating that effort and to the French Foreign Minister in relation to the flight that came home on Sunday.[Official Report, 5 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 6MC.]
The next pillar of our global Britain strategy will be the UK’s role as an energetic champion of free and open trade—to boost small businesses, cut the cost of living, create the well-paid jobs of the future for the next generation, provide more consumer choice and to raise UK productivity, which is so important for our “levelling up” agenda right across the country. The pursuit of shared prosperity has an essential role to play in our approach to development policy, too. As we maintain our 0.7% commitment on development spending, we need to find better ways of making sure it contributes to long-term and sustainable economic growth. As we demonstrated at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, we believe the UK has a unique and competitive offer to tackle poverty and help poorer nations benefit in a way that benefits us all over the longer term.
Finally, the third pillar of our global Britain will be the UK as an even stronger force for good in the world. Our guiding lights will remain the values of democracy, human rights and the international rule of law, and we will lead on global issues that really matter, such as climate change. That is why this year we will host the UN climate change summit, COP26, in Glasgow. We will lead by example and rise to the challenge by harnessing all the British talents in tech, innovation and entrepreneurialism to find creative solutions to global problems. We will champion the great causes of our day, as through our campaign to give every girl access to 12 years of quality education. We will defend journalists from attack, stand up for freedom of religion and conscience, and develop our own independent sanctions regime to tackle human rights abusers head on. Together, united, we can show that this country is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.
I know the hon. Gentleman does not like that commitment, but it is what the Scottish people voted for.
The 31st of January was a day that will be etched in our history. It has been hard going, and I know that many good people on both sides of the House and all sides of this totemic debate still bear the scars of the last three years, but now is the time to put our differences aside and come together, so together let us embrace a new chapter for our country, let us move forward united and unleash the enormous potential of the British people, and let us show the world that our finest achievements and our greatest contributions lie ahead. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement.
The Foreign Secretary is right that the last three years have been difficult and divisive for our country. He is also right that leaving the EU does not mark an ending. We have left the EU, but Brexit is far from done. As he knows, the next stage is more difficult—agreeing our future relationship in all the areas he set out, and in more besides—and we will continue to be dogged by the central dilemma that was at the heart of much of the wrangling over the last three years: will the new relationship be determined by the economic interests of our country or by the ideological commitment to break with the European social model that drove so many of the Brexit enthusiasts? I am sorry to see that today’s statement and the Prime Minister’s comments over the weekend suggest that ideology has trumped common sense.
Difficult decisions lie ahead for our country, and if the Government are serious about bringing people together we need reassurance that they will conduct the next stage of negotiations in an open and accountable way—and not by banning journalists from their political briefings, as they apparently did earlier this afternoon. The Government stripped Parliament’s role in providing accountability from the withdrawal agreement Act, so will the Foreign Secretary at least commit to publishing all negotiating texts and proposals and reporting to Parliament on each round of negotiations? [Interruption.] I want to see this Parliament in no less a place than the European Parliament, as the EU negotiators will. Will he also set out exactly how the three devolved nations will be consulted at every stage of the process?
The country is faced with two options—two opposite destinations: we can either form a new and close relationship with our biggest trading partners, or open the door and lower our standards by pursuing the damaging trade deal with Donald Trump that the Foreign Secretary welcomed in his comments. [Interruption.] I see the faces of some Government Members. They may change when the farmers whom many of them represent respond to Trump’s ambitions for that trade deal, which would damage not only farming but manufacturing, lower standards and expose our public services to real risks. As Government Members might have noticed, this weekend the UK’s former ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, made it clear that Trump would aim to force the NHS to pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals. The NHS itself has expressed concern about that.
The reckless pursuit of a Trump trade deal is limiting the Government’s aims in their negotiations with the EU. We started with a commitment to the “exact same benefits” as we currently enjoy with the EU. That was scaled back to “frictionless trade”. Now it is either a damaging Canada-style deal or leaving without a deal—rebranded as an Australia-style deal. Do the Government still recognise their own analysis from 2018—the Foreign Secretary will note that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), is sitting behind him—which shows that a Canada-style deal would lead to a 6.7% reduction in our GDP, while a WTO-style deal would lead to a 9.3% hit, hurting every region and nation of our country?
Business will be alarmed by the casual way in which the Foreign Secretary talks about leaving without an agreement, and other sectors—such as universities, which are critical to our future—will be concerned about the fact that they were not mentioned at all in his statement, or in the written statement from the Prime Minister. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government will press for association with Horizon Europe and continued participation in Erasmus?
Labour will continue to press for a relationship with our European partners based on common regulation and a level playing field, for a new place in the world based on internationalist values, and for a future with equality and social justice at its heart.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks about the importance of moving beyond the divisions of the referendum. However, I think I am right in saying that not one member of the shadow Cabinet is here to address these issues. [Interruption.] I apologise. There is one. However, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Brexit Secretary are busy debating the Labour leadership, although this is an important moment for Members in all parts of the House to look at the future direction of this country.
The hon. Gentleman talked about parliamentary scrutiny. We have made it absolutely clear—the Prime Minister made this point on Second Reading of the Bill that became the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—that Parliament will be kept fully informed about the progress of the negotiations. Both Houses will have access to all their usual arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Executive, and the Government are confident that Parliament will take full advantage of those opportunities. We will also ensure that there is full engagement with the devolved Administrations.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of other points, and I have been listening to his more recent remarks, including those made since the election. He has said that the Labour party should have organised an out-and-out campaign for Remain during the election campaign. That suggests to me that the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Labour party, have still not quite “got it” that there is a referendum result, a democratic will, that must be respected. We will not move on from this debate, let alone grasp the opportunities of Brexit, if the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party stay stuck in that rut.
It was not clear to me whether his attack on our proposals and ambition for free trade agreements was just the tired, old anti-Americanism that is harboured in the Labour party, or whether he is actually against free trade in itself, but he does not seem to believe in democracy and he does not seem to believe in free trade, and at points during his remarks he did not seem to believe in the potential of this country.
Let me now turn to the hon. Gentleman’s specific points about a free trade agreement with the United States. Let us be absolutely clear, as we have already been: the national health service is not on the table during those negotiations. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is pointing and asking about pharmaceutical companies. The pricing of UK medicine is not up for negotiation. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that that is not what the ambassador says. It is what this Government and this Prime Minister say.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the free trade agreement with the United States, but he made no mention of the prospects for an ambitious FTA with Japan, Australia or New Zealand, or of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Is he against those as well? It seems to me that he is pitting himself against a huge opportunity for this country to grow its trade, boost its small businesses and ease the cost of living for consumers, and that is a step back, not forward, for the United Kingdom. He also mentioned forecasts. I think that there is a degree of healthy scepticism about some of those forecasts.
The United Kingdom and the Government are not passive observers. It is incumbent on us—through our approach to the economy, through an ambitious approach to free trade and through getting the right immigration policy—to ensure that we grasp the opportunities, and we on this side of the House are absolutely committed to grasping those opportunities and making a full success of Britain in every quarter of the Union.
The hon. Gentleman referred to business sentiment. We have seen purchasing managers index data on manufacturing today, which was positive at 50 points. The EY ITEM Club has identified an increase in business confidence, and the International Monetary Fund has increased its forecast for the UK. We are confident that we can make a success of Brexit. I am only sorry that the Labour party is still looking over its shoulder.
My right hon. Friend’s statement made only a passing reference to the agreement on internal security for the future. Unlike the Labour party, I do not expect the Government to publish their full negotiating mandate, but will they publicly make much clearer their intentions for that treaty in regard to key instruments that keep us safe, such as PNR—passenger name records—the Prüm convention and Schengen information system II? What is the final date on which that treaty can be agreed, such that it will become operational on 1 January 2021?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this area. For more detail, I can point her in the direction of the Prime Minister’s written ministerial statement. She will know from her own experience of negotiating with the EU that there are difficulties because it claims that access to some of the instruments will be conditional on accepting free movement. I know that she will agree that we must bring an end to free movement. However, I accept that data sharing, extradition and our relationship with Europol and Eurojust are important elements of our law enforcement co-operation, and we will be looking forward to securing appropriate relations with the EU.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. He said that the UK would “look ahead with confidence” and “signal to future partners” that we were “outward-facing”. May I disagree? I think that all these plans risk making the UK a smaller, more insular and more isolated place. He also spoke about a “truly global Britain” and about being the “best possible allies” with the EU, but I fear that that was rather contradicted when the Prime Minister said in his written statement today that there would not be “any regulatory alignment” at all, even on the efficacy of medicines.
The Prime Minister also said that there would be no
“supranational control in any area”
of UK policy. The World Trade Organisation has an appellate body—a dispute resolution body—the European Free Trade Association has a court to deal with disputes, and even the much-vaunted CPTPP has an investor-state dispute resolution mechanism. Unless the English language has changed, every single one of those bodies and mechanisms has supernatural effect—[Laughter.] It may well be supernatural as well! Every one of those bodies has supranational effect. Does the Secretary of State not understand that if our putative trading partners insist on formal dispute resolution mechanisms or institutions, our saying no might risk the UK being seen as abandoning the international rules-based system? Does he not understand that rejecting formal dispute resolution mechanisms or institutions when our partners insist on them will make it harder, not easier, to strike deals? Does he not understand that if the UK reverts to WTO rules—the UK’s favoured option outside any real agreements—the WTO has an appellate body, a dispute resolution body, that is supranational in its effect, thus rendering the red lines laid out by the Prime Minister this morning utterly useless before the ink is even dry on them?
The hon. Gentleman referred at the outset of his question to an approach that was smaller, insular and isolated, but I am afraid that that sounds like the Scottish National party’s recipe for the people of Scotland. The Conservatives want one United Kingdom proceeding forward and ready to grasp any opportunities, including for the Scottish people, and including ensuring that we have full control over our fisheries as an independent coastal state—one thing that he would clearly be willing to sacrifice at the drop of a hat. Although it is understandable that the SNP, given the views of its leadership, calls for more and more powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it is astonishing that it wants to give up power to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels through what he calls dynamic legislative alignment. There is a total contradiction in his position.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the dispute resolution mechanism. The UK Government will approach the negotiations in the same way we did for the withdrawal agreement—although this will be tailored to free trade and areas of security co-operation—and will ensure that there is a track for negotiated diplomacy to resolve problems through political resolution. As for arbitration, where it is necessary, the common practice is that both sides appoint arbitrators and appoint a chair. What we will never do—the EU calls for this and the SNP seems to endorse it—is allow one side’s judicial institutions to have control over the dispute resolution mechanism for both sides. That would be entirely lopsided and a fundamental abdication of responsibility by any responsible Government, and we will not go down that path.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make in his own way the blinkered arguments for a second referendum in Scotland. In the meantime, we will continue to work in the full interests of the whole United Kingdom and take this country forward together and united.
My right hon. Friend will have welcomed how our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister handled the recent Iran emergency and will agree that his work in bringing together two other European powers into the E3 was extremely impressive. Does my right hon. Friend have any views on a few more of the institutional tie-ups that Lord Hague recommended to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament? Although global Britain works beautifully in reaching out, perhaps we could look at and grow some of our more immediate bilateral partnerships.
My hon. Friend makes some good points. Of course, the E3 co-operation lies outside the formal structures of the EU, but it worked effectively in the recent Berlin conference on Libya, and we also worked closely on triggering the DRM under the joint comprehensive plan of action. By working in co-operation with our French and Spanish partners on the coronavirus evacuations and chartered flights, we have shown that bilateral relations provide ample opportunity to prove that we will be even stronger neighbours, partners and allies in the years ahead.
In the Prime Minister’s other written ministerial statement this morning on the closure of the Department for Exiting the European Union, he said:
“Those of its functions which are still required have been transferred to relevant government departments.”
Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House to which Department and which Minister responsibility for the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU has been transferred? The Exiting the European Union Committee will be keen to hear from him or her as soon as they are identified.
Of course, people from a range of Departments were siphoned into DExEU when it was created. We have taken back a significant number of DExEU officials into the Foreign Office, and the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), talked to them earlier today. They will be integrated into the wider functions of Government in the usual way.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and the Prime Minister on his.
Looking at the service sector, given that the EU has made next to no effort in most of the trade deal arrangements that they have negotiated to put any special pressure for a regulatory position for the UK in financial services, does my right hon. Friend now think that the EU will reference enhanced equivalence, as in the paper written by the lawyer Barnabas Reynolds, which the Treasury accepted? Will my right hon. Friend be proposing that to the EU as the way forward when it comes to regulation?
Who is going to be leading it?
The Prime Minister’s adviser, David Frost, is leading the negotiations. If the hon. Gentleman was paying attention, he would know that already. As for financial services, we are willing to look at regulatory and supervisory co-operation arrangements as long as they can be done on the basis of equivalence. I am aware of the paper to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) refers, but the matter is already in the political declaration. Obviously, as we proceed with the second phase of the negotiations on the future relationship, we will want to ensure that the EU lives up to its side of the bargain in that area.
As the Foreign Secretary embarks on his review of the world, will he remember individual cases affected by our foreign policy—including that of my constituent Luke Symons, who, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is being held captive by the Houthis in Sana’a? The family have been in touch with the Foreign Office about concerns for his welfare and mental health. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that maximum efforts are being made to secure Luke’s release?
I can, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his tireless efforts on behalf of his constituent. It is a difficult case, but we will continue to do as much as we can to support the family and to secure release. The consular teams in the Foreign Office, as well as the missions and the geographic departments, work very hard on this. A lot of the consular work takes place beneath the surface, privately; the exercise of diplomacy has to be done out of the public limelight, almost by definition. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that we work tirelessly to secure release in cases such as this.
Will the Foreign Secretary give a cast-iron guarantee that under no circumstances will the territorial sovereignty of Gibraltar be part of any type of negotiation as part of the trade agreement? Will he also confirm that any free trade agreement with the EU—and, indeed, the rest of the world—in future will include benefits for all our overseas territories and the Crown dependencies?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a tireless champion of not just Gibraltar but all the overseas territories. We are absolutely clear: the UK will not exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations with the EU. We will negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom family, and that includes Gibraltar.
If the concept of a global Britain is to have any meaning and value, surely it must have respect for human rights and an international rules-based order at its heart. With that in mind, will the Foreign Secretary reconsider the unqualified support he gave to President Trump last week in respect of the so-called peace plan for Palestine? Will the right hon. Gentleman repudiate the proposed annexation of the west bank and at long last support the recognition of a Palestinian state?
I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think he has read the detail of this. Whatever else he may disagree with, the one thing that the plan put forward by the US included was a recognition of and commitment to a two-state solution. We have been absolutely clear that that is the only way in which the conflict can be resolved.
We support a plan and a mechanism to get the parties out of the destabilising vacuum and void that there has been of late, and around the table. The plan is only the point of departure. I share some of the concerns expressed around settlements; I think there is also a question around the status of Jerusalem. But above all, rather than just rejecting the plan, it is important that we try to bring the parties together around the negotiating table. That is the only path to peace and to a two-state solution.
The Prime Minister’s speech was really clear in giving examples of how far above the level playing field the UK already is. In seeking a Canada-style free trade agreement, along the lines of what I think is chapter 15 on financial services equivalence, will the Foreign Secretary tell us a little more about what is mentioned in the written ministerial statement—the structured withdrawal of equivalence for financial services and who would arbitrate on that?
We have said not only in the written statement but in the political declaration that we want financial services to proceed on the basis of the kind of co-operation that involves recognition of the equivalence of regulation. We think that is the best approach for the UK but also for the relationship with the EU.
The dispute resolution mechanism will be tailored to the different fields and sectors covered by the FTA and the broader areas of co-operation. However, in the case of binding resolution, we have been clear that that would involve arbitration with both parties contributing. Typically, a chair is selected by the arbitrators who have been nominated, and that does not involve the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
If the 15-year damage to our economy is not to be the 6.7% or 9.3% respectively for the so-called Canada deal or no deal, which the Government are now trying to rebadge as an “Australian deal”, what is it? And why have the Government changed their mind?
Around the world protectionism is growing, and the UK has a duty to be a vocal advocate for free trade across the globe. So what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give businesses and manufacturers in my constituency that we will do just that and that free trade will become the backbone of British foreign policy?
My hon. Friend will have heard the Prime Minister’s speech this morning, and I am sure it will repay reading. He is clear that at a time when there is protectionism around the world, there is a real case and place—and this would be a real unique selling point for us—for the United Kingdom being a champion of liberal, global free trade. That will have advantages not only for the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency but for the low-income and middle-income families who appreciate and feel the cost of living pressures, because of the way this increases choice and reduces prices at home.
Hosting the global climate conference COP26 is a huge opportunity for Britain to tackle the climate emergency and play an international leadership role. So why is this mired in chaos and confusion? The Prime Minister has failed to chair a single meeting of the climate Cabinet Committee and now he has sacked the conference president. Why is that? What are the Government going to do to play that leadership role that we all need to see?
The leadership role is seen, first, in the actions we are taking in decarbonising the UK economy; secondly, in being the first major economy to commit to net zero by 2030; and thirdly, in showing the international leadership. We do not just want the country together; we want to bring other countries together, and that is why we are hosting COP26. I pay tribute to the work Claire Perry did. As we move forward to this more intense lead-up to COP26, it is right that there is full ministerial responsibility over the negotiations and over the leadership of the COP.
Trade is important, but so are our values. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to ensuring that our values of freedom of speech, a free press, an independent judiciary, and paying great attention to tackling modern slavery and other such international crimes, are front and centre in all that this country does in the coming months and years?
I can reassure my hon. Friend, and not just with the campaign for media freedom, which we are leading along with our Canadian friends; we have that emphasis on protecting journalists and whistleblowers, who shine a light on the worst injustices in the bleakest corners of the world. I do not know whether he is in the Chamber, but I pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), and we will be taking that work forward. We are also introducing a separate new autonomous sanctions regime to make sure that the worst human rights abusers in the world can be held to account, through visa bans and asset freezes.
Tackling the climate emergency must be core to trade policy, yet the lack of specific Government proposals looks miserably weak compared with the European Commission work on carbon border tariffs and the European Parliament ruling out trade deals with countries not signed up to the Paris agreement. The Foreign Secretary keeps going on about how Britain is going to be leading the world in tackling climate change, so let us prove it: can he say whether or not the Government will commit to going at least as far as those two EU proposals? No more waffle, no more rhetoric—will he or will he not?
We have set out our proposals, and we are committed to that ambition: reducing to net zero by 2050; continuing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; and bringing together innovation, technology and entrepreneurs to provide British answers to the climate change challenge. Of course, with our Italian co-hosts, we are also leading the COP26 conference in November.
We automatically take back control of our waters and others’ right to fish in them at the end of 2020. We will be leaving the common fisheries policy, so we will be an independent coastal state. In line with the practice of other such states, the agreement we do with the EU will provide a framework for annual negotiations on access and quotas. I hope that gives my hon. Friend and her constituents the reassurance they need.
In aerospace, aviation, engineering, food, farming and ceramics, the organisations that represent those who employ millions of workers have expressed serious concern over what happens if the Government get it wrong. Will the Secretary of State undertake that the Government will, in the next stages, fully engage those industrial organisations and the unions that represent the workers concerned, not least because if the Government get it wrong—there is a real risk of that—tens of thousands of workers will pay the price with their jobs?
I do not share the hon Gentleman’s pessimistic outlook, but it is important that all areas of civil society, including the unions, are engaged and can feed in their views on all the different sectoral aspects he mentioned. The hon. Gentleman talked in particular about aviation; we believe that there is mutual benefit in an air-transport agreement that covers market access to air services, aviation safety and security. That is just one of the wider areas of co-operation that we will look to take forward with our EU partners.
Will the Government confirm that the European Union has misjudged the mettle of this Government and country in thinking that we are going to give away our fish again and accept all the EU’s laws in return for a free trade agreement that it needs more than us? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, and say no more concessions.