House of Commons
Monday 13 July 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19: Domestic Violence
Domestic abuse devastates lives. During this time of covid that we have all experienced, victims are particularly vulnerable, and as we know, home has not been a safe place for everyone to access the usual support that they could receive. That is why, through our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, we are committed to protecting victims in a stronger way.
As things stand, the Government are discriminating against people who have “no recourse to public funds” restrictions imposed on them and their British-born children, who are denied access to support. Will the Home Secretary end that discrimination by amending the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure that help is provided to everyone affected by domestic violence and scrap this fundamentally racist policy?
The Domestic Abuse Bill has, I think it is fair to say, been discussed extensively in the House, and I want to thank everybody who has made outstanding contributions to it, including the many organisations that participated in advance of the Bill coming to the House. We are offering support to migrants who suffer domestic abuse through our destitution domestic violence concession scheme. I would like to emphasise—and the hon. Gentleman will know this from his work as a Member of Parliament and with local authorities—that support is provided by local authorities, and individuals can access safe accommodation and get support through various means, which is incredibly important.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that children, who are often the hidden victims of domestic violence—either as victims themselves or through witnessing it among parents and other members of the household—will gain additional protection from our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The protection of children is an important issue—children are victims when it comes to domestic abuse, and it is a sad fact that children often witness some of the most abhorrent abuse of their parent or others—and the Bill does exactly that. I am really pleased and proud that we have made sure that children are at the heart of the Bill. It is right that we safeguard and protect them.
Between 2015 and 2019, despite domestic violence cases rising by 77%, charging fell by 18% and conviction by 20%. In 2018-19, there were almost 60,000 reports of rape to the police, but less than 1,800 were charged and less than 1,000 convicted. The number of cases of rape referred by the police for charging decisions fell by 32% in 2019. How does the Secretary of State account for her Government’s performance in the falling rates of charge and conviction in sexual and domestic violence?
The hon. Lady will know that extensive work has been undertaken across Government, not just recently but in previous years as well. I am absolutely committed, as is my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary, to ensuring that we take an end-to-end approach to this through the royal commission that we are establishing on the criminal justice system, and that much more work is undertaken within policing to ensure that charges are undertaken and that the right kind of effective training is put in place for police forces and police officers. I have been very clear about that through all my work in policing, as has the Policing Minister. Ultimately, charging and getting those cases to court has to be the priority, which is why the Home Office is taking the right approach and working in the right way with the criminal justice system and the Lord Chancellor.
Points-based Immigration System
We are ending free movement and will introduce a new, firmer, fairer, skills-led global immigration system, with further details of it published today. Last month our Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill passed through the House unamended, despite the best efforts of the Labour party and those on the separatist Benches.
On behalf of the people of Ashfield, I fully support the Government in introducing a points-based immigration system. For far too long, freedom of movement has encouraged the exploitation of migrant labour, which has driven down wages, increased pressure on public services, and had a significant impact on housing in places like Ashfield. Could my hon. Friend please assure me that, moving forward, this Government will implement a firm but fair points-based system attracting high-skilled workers while also prioritising British jobs for British people?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The points-based system will support our wider economic strategy by encouraging investment in a domestic UK workforce while ensuring that businesses can still attract the brightest and the best from around the world to Ashfield. We want employers to focus on training and investing in our domestic workforce, driving productivity and improving opportunities for resident workers, with immigration policy being part of, not an alternative to, our strategy for the UK labour market.
The introduction of the points-based immigration system is a pledge that we gave to the British people and one that we are now delivering on. Does my hon. Friend agree that now is also the time for employers to create the working conditions for our home-grown population to be attracted to the work that those employers should be offering?
I absolutely agree. Under our new points-based immigration system, the UK, especially the Black Country, will continue to be open to the best talent from around the world. But my hon. Friend is right: employers should always be looking to recruit from the domestic workforce first and ensure that they offer terms and conditions, and career development opportunities, that make this possible, especially as we look to support those who have suffered the economic effects of covid-19 back into to work.
The Government are now spending over £15 billion on policing—an increase of £1 billion on last year, with £700 million being allocated to police and crime commissioners to recruit 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021. While there is no direct connection between police numbers and crime, this will give them the capacity to be much more agile in the face of changing crime.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently stated in its annual assessment of policing that policing and some other public services are closely linked, and that the level of investment in one public service will have an effect, good or bad, on another, referring to health, particularly mental health, drug and alcohol services, housing and social services as examples. What assessment has the Minister made of the huge detrimental impact that covid-19 has had on local authorities responsible for these services, and the fact that many local councils, including Luton Borough Council in my constituency, are being forced into making significant in-year budget cuts, thus having an impact on local policing?
The hon. Lady is quite right to draw the connections between policing and other services in the public sector. I cannot speak for the resilience or otherwise of the finances of her particular local authority. I can say, however, that the Prime Minister has tasked me and the Home Secretary with the job of driving cross-Government working to deal with some of the causal factors in crime, beyond enforcement, and we will be talking to local authorities across this country about the part that they can play.
Money for additional police officers is welcomed across the board, even though it does not take police numbers back to pre-2010 levels. Surely the Minister would acknowledge, though, that baseline budgets in police forces are being cut again this year, and capital funding is almost non-existent, so unless the Secretary of State is able to win more money for policing generally, forces will be unable to keep the officers they have got.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously a cup-half-empty person rather than a cup-nearly-three-quarters-full person. The biggest settlement for policing in a decade should be welcomed by everybody across this House, as it has been across the whole of the policing family. But that is not to say that policing is not without challenges and that it cannot be more efficient. While we do want to see more police officers and a better response to crime, there is always the challenge in public services to do things better for less.
Lancashire has been allocated funding of £4.3 million to deliver an additional 153 police officers by the end of this financial year, but that award reflects a part-year cost, as 153 officers cannot be employed for the whole year because the cost is £9.8 million. So will the Minister commit to providing the full funding for 2021-22, and for future years, to sustain these additional officers?
The hon. Lady is perhaps confusing her figures, shall we say? Lancashire police received a £22.6 million increase in funding this year, which will allow it to recruit another 153 police officers over the next 12 months—less than 12 months now—up to March next year. It is making good progress, and has recruited 66 already.
Recently, coastal communities such as West Kirby and Caldy in my constituency have seen huge numbers of visitors in search of relaxation and exercise. This has placed additional strain on Merseyside police, which has been working hard to respond to the concerns of local residents about crowds on beaches and in parks. Merseyside police estimates that the cost of the pandemic to date is £4.1 million, due to overtime, the cost of PPE, specialist cleaning and lost income. Will the Minister give an assurance that Merseyside police will be reimbursed for these costs?
I have had a number of telephone conversations with the chief constable of Merseyside police over the last few weeks and months, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am pleased to say that that force is in good heart, as far as we could tell. Happily, it is running well in advance of its recruitment allocation. I am told that, at the end of March, it had recruited 220 police officers, against an allocation of 200, which does give it extra capacity to deal with the problems that the hon. Member has outlined. Notwithstanding that fact, there are obviously extra costs for policing with covid-19, and we are in conversation with the Treasury about how we might address them.
Following the excellent announcement that my hon. Friend has given the House this afternoon, which goes a long way towards meeting our Conservative party pledge to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers, would he agree that the real importance of those police officers is that every criminal will know that it is much more likely their crime is going to be investigated and, if it is proved, will result in a prosecution?
With his usual perspicacity, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the button. We know that the greatest deterrent of crime is the perception of the likelihood of being caught, and the fact that Gloucestershire police has now more than recruited its annual allocation of police officers—he will be pleased to hear—at 48, over 46, already so far this year, means that that is much more likely to be the case in his county.
Suffolk constabulary, one of the lowest funded forces from central Government, has made significant efficiency savings and the council tax has increased by over 25% in three years. Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the review of the grant funding formula is still going ahead in the next few months, as this is vital to the future of policing in Suffolk?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency and his county, and I understand his impatience and his desire to battle for their financial interests, as I did as a Back Bencher for Hampshire. Both the Home Secretary and I have said in public in the past that the funding formula, while it is the only formula we have at the moment, is a bit old-fashioned and probably needs to be looked at, and as part of our vision for policing in the future, no doubt we will get to it in time.
Will the Minister join me in praising Nottinghamshire police, which has acted so quickly to recruit more officers that it is 12 months ahead of the Government’s recruitment target and was the first force to introduce police officer degree apprenticeships? Does he agree with me that forces such as Nottinghamshire, which are leading the way and which have also increased their diversity, should be first in line for any additional Government funding?
It is very heartening to see that one of my hon. Friend’s priorities as a new Member in this House is to stand with and defend her local police, and she is quite right to do so. I join her in offering our thanks and praise to them for the work they have done. In fact, I was able to do so in person because I was on the phone with her chief constable just this morning. She is quite right that Nottinghamshire is a forward-looking police force, and we will be supporting it in its endeavours to innovate and challenge crime in the months to come.
On the one hand, the Prime Minister has hailed an end to austerity and promised 20,000 new frontline police officers, and on the other, we had alarming reports at the weekend of forces facing up to 15% cuts. Covid, on top of 10 years of austerity, has created a perfect storm for police funding, with lower council tax coming in, the costs of PPE and lower income from some of their sources, such as airports and large events. I have heard from multiple sources that essential staff jobs will have to be cut, meaning that frontline police officers will end up covering non-frontline roles, which is completely the opposite of what the Prime Minister intends. One senior police officer said to me this morning, “This looks like austerity by the back door.” Can the Minister commit today to plugging the funding gap from council precepts to guarantee there will not be a need to cut police staff?
First, on a technical front, perhaps the hon. Lady misunderstands how the precept works. The primary liability, if you like, is covered by the precepting authority, which has by law to pass on the precept in full, notwithstanding any issues it might have with collection. And perhaps, alongside her many skills, she has acquired telepathy and foresight, because she seems to be pre-empting a spending review that has not even started.
Police Officer Numbers
As we have already discussed, we are in the process of recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers to put violent criminals behind bars, and already we have recruited more than 3,000. We will continue to back the police and deliver on higher police numbers.
Speeding complaints are well and truly up in Bolton North East. All this fast is making my constituents furious. On the day I took part in a community speed watch on Ainsworth Lane, 74 mph was recorded in a 20 mph zone. The problem is particularly severe on Blackburn, Halliwell and Turton Roads. Many of these 20 mph areas are located near schools, yet the speed limit is not enforced. Does the Home Secretary agree that regulations should be introduced to ensure speed limits are adhered to and close a very dangerous loophole to keep my residents safe and put an end to the “Fast & Furious” sequels?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the devastating impact that speeding can have on lives and communities, and he is right to highlight the irresponsible speeds being driven, particularly in residential areas and near schools. We do not plan to legislate, but he will know that police enforcement around speeding is a matter for the police authority itself. I would be happy to work with him if he has particular issues or concerns he would like me to pick up.
I bounced in here this afternoon ready to sing the praises of Thames Valley police force for its positive recruitment campaign, which is ahead of schedule to meet its officer target, but it seems that this is not new news, because every other Conservative Member is similarly pleased with their local force for meeting its police targets and getting those officer numbers up. Will the Home Secretary join me in praising Thames Valley police in Milton Keynes especially for keeping our rural and city centre communities safe?
I commend my hon. Friend for his enthusiasm, his gusto and his support for Thames Valley police. I will share something with the House. I have a soft spot for Thames Valley police. It was one of the first police forces I visited when I became Home Secretary. I visited because of a devastating event that took place—the tragic death of a police officer—and I commend the chief constable, John Campbell, and the officers. They really are an impressive police force. They police a very significant geography and quite frankly are the best of us all, and he is absolutely right to commend them for the work they do.
Getting more officers on to our streets is one of the people’s priorities, which I know is why my right hon. Friend is committed to recruiting 20,000 police officers over the next three years, but can she confirm how many have been recruited in Greater Manchester, and can she also reassure my constituents that they are fully equipped to tackle crime and keep our streets safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for his dedication and support both to policing locally and to his constituents in terms of wanting to keep them safe. It is absolutely right. On recruitment across Greater Manchester, I commend his chief constable, and I can confirm that, as of the end of March, Greater Manchester police had recruited an additional 94 officers towards the year’s allocation, and I can confirm, too, that that number is going up and up. Since our campaign started we have had over 70,00 applicants to become police officers, which is something we should be proud of, because policing is an incredible profession.
Covid-19: Public Order
The Home Office has been working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council every single day throughout the covid crisis, not only to back the police when it comes to law enforcement but, equally importantly, to ensure that they are resourced throughout covid to provide the support required for frontline police officers.
During this covid period, many coastal communities have found themselves under threat from mass gatherings—in my constituency, Ogmore-by-Sea is one example and Barry Island is another. Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending the strongest message that such behaviour will not be tolerated? Will she support the police and pay tribute to them for the strong action they are taking to ensure that coastal communities can be enjoyed by families and by tourists who want to visit and enjoy our fantastic resources?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have visited his constituency in the past and know how beautiful it is. I commend the officers and the police chief for all the work that they have been doing. My right hon. Friend is right to want that area to protected for local residents so that it can be enjoyed responsibly. There is of course no scope at all for antisocial behaviour. We have been continuing to support the police to make sure that they have been equipped throughout this covid crisis to police effectively and encourage the right and responsible kinds of behaviours.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the investment made just last week by the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, to provide an additional half a million pounds in emergency funding to 20 tourism hotspots in our two counties—including two in my North Devon constituency—to help to prevent alcohol-related antisocial behaviour following the lifting of lockdown? Will she commit to look at how such additional covid-related costs can be supported by the Government?
I commend everybody locally for the fantastic work that they have been doing across policing and, of course, I commend my hon. Friend and her police and crime commissioner as well. She is right to raise the additional costs of covid—in fact, my hon. Friend the Policing Minister has already touched on the fact that we are in discussions with the Treasury. It is inevitable that extra costs have arisen, whether for PPE or the additional hours that police officers have been given. That work is ongoing, but at this point I would like to commend everybody for the great work that they have been doing throughout this crisis.
I fully agree with the Home Secretary about supporting the work that the police do to maintain public order, but I cannot help but feel that although the Home Secretary talks a good game, we have not seen much evidence of action. We have seen a marked decline in the number of public-order trained officers and police support units on this Government’s watch, and the recruitment that she talks about simply will not replace that decline and will take a lot of time. What is the Home Secretary doing now—today—to support chief constables to deal with these pressures and to ensure that our frontline officers have the proper resources and the training they need?
It is absolutely right that, through the recruitment and investment that this Government are putting into policing—the largest ever policing funding settlement, certainly for the past decade, of more than a billion pounds—
You sacked them all—that is why you are having to recruit new ones.
No, I have not sacked them all, to be quite frank—
Your Government have.
Our investment in policing is the largest investment in over a decade, and that is something that every single police chief around the country is supporting. The hon. Gentleman should take stock of the fact that when he speaks to police chiefs—as I do every single day and as my hon. Friend the Policing Minister does every single day—he will hear that they welcome the investment in not only new officers but training. The money that has been put in to invest in new officers also covers a wide range of training. That is training that has gone into the national College of Policing. That is training and investment in the professional development—[Interruption.] It is taking place now. That is training and investment in the professional development of our police officers. That is something that we should all be proud of.
Immigration Health Surcharge Exemption
Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care officials are working to implement the surcharge exemption. The Home Office is currently identifying all those on a tier 2 visa who will benefit from a refund, and those payments have already started. Those eligible to apply for the new health and care visa will be exempt from the immigration health surcharge.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but the fact that migrant workers in the NHS and care sector have had to pay the surcharge in the first phase is an insult to their sacrifices, and the fact that the Government are taking so long to implement the Prime Minister’s promise is an added insult. May I ask the Minister how many people have now got the exemption and how many have yet to receive it?
The hon. Member asks how long, but I said in my answer that refund payments had already started, and we will imminently implement the new health and care visa, which will see those on it exempt. So work is continuing, and to be clear, the health surcharge is about creating resources for the NHS and has supported the NHS. We have announced this policy, and we are driving it forward.
Ilford South is a diverse constituency, with 60% of my local population coming from either heritage communities or directly from immigrant communities. An Oxford University study last year found that the net fiscal giving from immigration to our country’s economy between 2001 and 2011 was £25 billion. People in Ilford South are wondering whether the Minister agrees that it was wrong for the Government to act so slowly to move this policy forward and whether they should offer an apology to the people in Ilford South working in our NHS, who are fearful and risking their lives, and not getting the support they deserve from the Government?
I think the people of Ilford South working in the NHS will have been pleased to see the measures that we have taken, not least the fact that we will look to prioritise those coming to work for the NHS under our new visa system.
Key workers kept our country running through the crisis, from doctors and nurses to supermarket assistants and delivery drivers. That is why we clap for them. They all pay their taxes, and they all contribute to the NHS. That is why the NHS surcharge is a discriminatory double tax on migrants. The Government acknowledge that it is wrong to clap for nurses one day and charge them extra the next, so will the Minister extend that principle to all workers and scrap the immigration health surcharge for all?
I will contrast those comments with the comments on the immigration health surcharge from the Labour party during the Immigration Bill Committee. We are clear that our NHS offers fantastic free-at-point-of-need care and services, and it is not unreasonable to ask those who come to this country to make a contribution towards it until they achieve indefinite leave to remain or settlement, which means that they are making a long-term commitment to this country and are therefore exempt from the charge.
Further to the excellent questions already asked, Dr Sadara is just one of the hundreds of clinicians who have already had to pay the immigration health surcharge since the Prime Minister said that it would end, not just for himself and his wife, but twice in six months for his newborn baby daughter. We do not just want these medics to stay in the NHS; we need them to stay in the NHS. The new rules published this morning confirm that the charge will end, but they do not come into effect until January, so can the Minister update the House? When will the surcharge end for health and social care workers, and why do the details published this morning suggest that some will still have to pay it and then be reimbursed?
The details published this morning relate to the new system beyond 1 January. However, to be clear, we will refund those who have paid the charge since 31 March, not just since the time when the Prime Minister made the announcement. We expect to bring in the new health and care visa significantly before 1 January; we are planning to have it in place before 1 October, and people applying for it will not have to pay the surcharge.
Places of Worship: Hate Crimes
We are committed to protecting places of worship from hate crimes through the places of worship protected security scheme. The funding for next year, at £3.2 million, is an uplift of nearly double the amount awarded last year. A public consultation on providing greater protection from hate crime for places of worship closed on 28 June. We are reviewing the responses and will respond in due course.
There is a balance to be struck between worshipping openly and being provided with adequate security. Will the Minister say what success the Government’s places of worship protective security funding scheme has had in achieving that balance?
Very much so. I can assure my hon. Friend that the places of worship protective security funding scheme has been designed so that each place of worship can apply for practical security measures that suit their individual needs, ranging from CCTV to alarm systems. This allows each place of worship to remain open and accessible for worshippers, while providing greater security. We want to ensure that this scheme listens to worshippers and their communities when seeking to achieve the balance to which he rightly refers.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Organised Gangs
I thank the hon. Lady for her a question and pay tribute to her for the work that she has done specifically on the whole issue of child sexual exploitation.
I am grateful that the Home Secretary takes this topic seriously. We in Rotherham are very fortunate because we have National Crime Agency to deal with past cases, but will she also look at cases across the country, the resources that police forces have there and the local authorities that have to step in and put the child protection and victim support in place, as there is not enough nationally?
The hon. Lady is right. It is fair to say that she and I go back a long way on this issue. I recall that she first came to see me on this point when I was in the Treasury many years ago. She knows that I have recently announced that the Home Office will be publishing a paper to help us better understand the characteristics associated with groups. I would welcome it if she were to work with me and to join our external reference group that I have established on this important area. She specifically raises issues about third-party organisations, and she mentioned some in her own constituency. I have met many survivors and sufferers with her on this issue. They have had a terrible time. They have also been failed by many aspects of the state and society. We can never allow that to happen again, which is why I am committed, not just through resourcing, but through the work that I have commissioned in the Department, which I know she will join me in and support us on, to make sure that no other aspect of the state, organisation, third party, or Government institution turns a blind eye and ignores the needs of individuals in the way that happened in her constituency.
Online Harms: Social Media
We are firmly committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online. We will be publishing a full Government response to the online harms White Paper consultation in the autumn and our ambition is to bring forward legislation in this Session. In the meantime, the Home Office continues to engage with social media platforms on the safety of their users. We are clear that these companies need to take action now to tackle illegal harms.
It has been more than a year since the Government published their online harms White Paper and yet there is still no proper protection in place. Instead, all we have had are delays, ministerial briefings about potentially watering down the sanctions within the White Paper, and continued intensive lobbying by tech giants, which are still failing to remove harmful content and disinformation. That really is poor, so can the Minister update the House about what conversations she has had with social media companies about taking down harmful content and when exactly will the online harms Bill finally be published?
The online harms White Paper was world leading in its ambitions to sort out the online world. We are very clear that what is illegal offline is also illegal online and that has been the driving force behind our work on this White Paper and on the consultation. As I have said, we will be responding to the consultation in the autumn. We are very much working at pace on this, but we should not shirk the fact that we are leading the world potentially with this work, including our work on tackling online child sexual exploitation, and we all want this abuse to stop.
Covid-19: Support for Asylum Seekers
We remain committed to providing support and accommodation to those who need it, but, in addition to that free accommodation, we also pay for utility bills and council tax. Free NHS care is available to those who need it, and there is free education for those with children. In addition, for three months, starting on 27 March, we paused the process of asylum cessation, and a 5% increase in the cash allowance was made just a few weeks ago.
Is the Minister suggesting that he would not give these things to people who need them, no matter what their background or where they come from? He was good enough to meet Glasgow’s MPs, but the reality is that the forcing of more than 300 vulnerable asylum seekers into hotels by the contractor Mears has significantly damaged trust in the system. To rebuild that trust, there has to be an independent review and lessons learned, so what steps is he taking to ensure that that review happens?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that 341 people were moved at the end of March from temporary serviced apartments into hotel accommodation, because those apartments were considered unsuitable, bearing in mind coronavirus. He is also right to say that I have been meeting Glasgow MPs, and I will, of course, continue to do so. I have twice met Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and the leader of Glasgow City Council, and I have committed to continue such meetings—he and I have spoken about that. He and his colleagues have raised specific concerns about the hotel accommodation, and I have asked Home Office officials to look into those urgently and report back to me.
The requirements in the asylum accommodation contracts to safeguard vulnerable people are vital, yet the recent National Audit Office report discloses that the contract fails to provide for proper monitoring of them or sanctions for breaches. Will the Minister fix that? Will he explain why no safeguarding framework is in place yet, despite this contract being worth billions of pounds of public money?
We are, of course, studying the report very carefully. As the House would expect, we do monitor carefully the way the contractors operate. Where concerns are raised, as they have been in relation to Glasgow by Glasgow MPs and others, we look into them and investigate them seriously. That is what we are doing in the case of Glasgow.
The NAO report mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) is about not just value for money but people. Asylum seekers are, by their very nature, vulnerable people, with many of them being survivors of trafficking or ill treatment, including torture. Yet under the existing Home Office contracts with private companies, it is possible for those companies to shove hundreds of these asylum seekers into hotels without doing proper individual assessments of their vulnerabilities. The NAO report records that 10 months into these contracts there is no safeguarding framework. Can the Minister give us a date on which he will introduce a safeguarding framework for these private company contracts?
The hon. and learned Lady asked about vulnerability assessments. In the Glasgow case we are discussing, vulnerability assessments were undertaken before people were moved, and I understand that 109 people who might have been moved from the temporary serviced accommodation into the hotels were not moved as a consequence of exactly that vulnerability assessment. She made a more general point about taking care of people who are vulnerable. This country has an extremely proud record in this area: last year, we made 20,000 grants of asylum or protection, which is one of the highest levels in Europe; we welcomed more than 3,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which is the highest level for any European country; and we are the only G7 country to spend 0.7% of gross national income.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am sure he will recall that there was a degree of uncertainty about the nature of the assessments carried out in Glasgow, and I am sure he will agree that having a safeguarding framework would ensure that that sort of oversight would not happen again. He mentioned meeting the leader of the Glasgow City Council. He will be aware that many local authorities are concerned that, although the Home Office is happy to pay billions to private companies under these asylum contracts, no assessment has been made of the additional demands this places on local authority resources. Local authorities are concerned that the proper financial support they need is as far away as ever. How does he expect more local authorities to become asylum dispersal areas if the Government will not give existing local authorities the support they require?
National Government provide a huge amount of support and finance to help asylum-seeking populations. We pay for all the accommodation. We pay for the council tax, which of course goes to local authorities, and for utility bills. Those who need healthcare are treated by the NHS, and of course funding for that flows from central Government. Those requiring education are educated, and there is a per capita funding formula to cover that. National Government are spending a huge amount of money supporting those populations. As the hon. and learned Lady said, the figures run over multiple years into billions of pounds. I am always happy to talk to local authorities about the work that they do and how we can work better together. I am already doing that with Glasgow City Council, and via the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, I hope to expand those conversations to cover other towns and cities in Scotland.
Four years ago, the British public voted to leave the EU—they voted to take back control of our borders and end free movement. Last year, they voted to get Brexit done and introduce a points-based immigration system. We are doing exactly that: despite the best efforts of the Labour party, we are ending free movement and introducing a points-based system. Today, we have published more details of that system, which will enable us to attract the brightest and best—a firmer and fairer system that will take back control of our borders, crack down on foreign criminals and unleash our country’s true potential. We are building a brighter future for Britain and signalling to the world that we are open for business.
Last week was the 15th anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. It was a moment once more to commemorate those who lost their lives and repeat our appreciation for those who rushed to help those caught in those dreadful blasts—particularly those from the emergency services. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what plans her Government have to try to prevent future attacks and monitor people who have raised the suspicions of the police and security services?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to those people and commemorate the anniversary of those attacks. In short, we are constantly investing in our security and intelligence services. In particular, we are investing in counter-terrorism policing, which has had an increase this year of £90 million—one of the largest uplifts ever, taking CT policing funding to more than £900 million. Of course, we have to do more to strengthen it and ensure our system is fit, agile and responsive to all sorts of threats.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to those who died in the 7/7 attacks, and I commend the work of the emergency services that day.
When I read the details of the proposed new immigration system, I was disappointed, if unfortunately not shocked, to see evidence yet again that the Government do not consider carers to be skilled workers, as they have been excluded from the qualifying list for the health and care visa. After the Prime Minister accused care workers of not following the guidance on covid-19, and now this, will the Home Secretary please answer a simple question: what do the Government have against care workers?
We support our care workers. Senior care workers will qualify under the new points-based system. People will look at what has happened over the past few months and surely they will not think that our vision for the social care sector should be to carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minimum wage. We need to be prioritising jobs in this country.
We all want more people training and entering the care sector at a decent wage, but there are more than 100,000 vacancies in England alone today. Some of us in the House do not need reminding of how important and skilled care workers’ jobs are, but that does not always seem to be the case for the Government. I would like to extend an invitation to the Home Secretary. I will convene a meeting of a delegation of care workers, alongside their trade union representatives, to help to provide a better understanding of the incredible jobs they do. Would she care to join me? I am sure she would find meeting frontline care workers incredibly useful when sitting there deciding how skilled people’s jobs are.
Many people listening in Torfaen and Halifax will be wondering whether the hon. Gentleman has been following the sad news about the economic impact of covid-19 and the number of our own UK-based workers who we will need to get back into employment. It is hard to believe that many will believe that there is a labour shortage. We engage regularly with the care sector and we listen to what it says. Our priority is that in future these jobs will be valued, rewarded and trained for, and that immigration should not be an alternative.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s description of this modern-day scourge of exploitation. On hand car washes, local authorities need to do so much more in terms of stepping in and investigating with trading standards. He is right to press me and the Government on integrated working across all aspects of the state, at both national Government and local authority level. On Leicester, he, like all hon. Members, will be interested to know that we have established a cross-Government taskforce, which will be on the ground, asking the difficult questions of all institutions and organisations across Leicester about this scourge in the textile sector.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Yvette Cooper.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee has repeatedly called on the Government to include care workers alongside NHS medical staff with regard to this year’s free visa extension following covid-19. By refusing to do so, Ministers have cost those frontline workers thousands of pounds. Does the Home Secretary’s decision to exclude social care workers from the health and care visa mean that they will also have to pay the immigration surcharge up front? If so, why is it fair for them to have to find many more thousands of pounds up front as well?
To be clear, the health and care visa will, by definition, include various areas in the care sector. As I touched on in response to the shadow Home Secretary, our vision for the future of the care sector is about providing rewarding opportunities to UK-based workers, not basing it purely on immigration.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. On calls for more police officers in his constituency, he is equally as popular for his championing of more cops and for the excellent work he is doing. I can confirm that his county of Derbyshire will receive 85 officers as part of the uplift, but 60 new officers have already been recruited and they will be coming to his community very soon.
We have already taken a range of actions. We are working with local authorities, which, as the hon. Gentleman has touched on, have the duty to make the application for those eligible under the EUSS. We have also confirmed that we will accept late applications from those who should have had an application made on their behalf by their local council. We are also working with support groups, one of which I will visit virtually tomorrow.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is valuable investment. What we have seen in terms of targeted attacks on places of worship is appalling; it is thoroughly unacceptable. It is that combined approach, along with law enforcement, that absolutely matters. We want to see crimes of this nature absolutely decrease, and we want to stamp this out.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley and the emphasis that he has put, along with the police force, on violence reduction units and that multi-agency way of working, so that young people and people across all communities can be supported to ensure that crime prevention, and steering people away from crime and criminality, is the focus.
We have been very clear in our response to the Migration Advisory Committee report, and we will make sure that our new system serves the whole of our United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I commend him for his work locally and for raising this point. If I may, I will write to him with the specifics of what we can do in his local area to provide assistance and financial help.
If I may, I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the work of his chief constable. Cleveland, as he will know, has had a difficult few years, not just when it comes to policing, and he will know the outcomes of many of the inspectorate reports too. On the areas of violence that he mentions, of course we are constantly looking at this whole area, and if there is more that we can do to tackle serious violent crime we will absolutely do that.
First, let me commend my hon. Friend for championing the work of the Peace Foundation. He has been in extensive dialogue with us on this, but he is right to point to the work that it does when it comes to victims of terror. I would be very happy to meet him and to come to Warrington and have further discussions about this.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must end the dither and delay, as he outlined, and I commend him for championing CCTV to make sure that the local council steps up and does the right thing. I will give him every backing that he needs.
If the hon. Lady has specifics that she would like to raise with me, I can come back to her on the details for children. We passed the Domestic Abuse Bill last week in this House and we have been very clear about the protections around children—that is absolutely right. There are many other measures that we have in place, and I would be very happy to write to her about that.
We set out clearly, during the passage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill recently, our plan to look at negotiating a proper agreement with the European Union for family reunification based on the fantastic record that we have, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary outlined earlier.
Residents in Paston, Werrington and other parts of Peterborough have had to endure unauthorised encampments on public land and open spaces for many years. Rubbish, industrial waste and even human waste has been left behind, costing many thousands of pounds to clear up. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is unacceptable and will she bring forward legislation to deal with it as soon as possible?
I think my hon. Friend knows my views on this subject matter quite well, my having campaigned with him. I absolutely agree with him: it is thoroughly unacceptable. He will have to wait until the autumn session of Parliament, but we will be bringing forward legislation covering that very issue.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I briefly suspend the House.
Sale of Arms: War in Yemen
To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if she will make a statement on her decision to resume the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition for use in the war in Yemen.
The Secretary of State has retaken the licensing decisions, as required by the Court of Appeal. All existing and new applications for Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen will be assessed against the revised methodology, which considers whether there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
The revised methodology was developed to address the Court of Appeal’s judgment. It considers all allegations that are assessed as likely to have occurred and that have been caused by fixed-wing aircraft, reflecting the factual circumstances that the court proceedings concerned. It remains the case, however, that it can be extremely difficult to reach firm conclusions as to whether specific incidents violate the principles of international humanitarian law. Therefore, where an incident is assessed as a possible breach, it is regarded for the purposes of the relevant analysis as if there were breaches of IHL. I emphasise that that analysis is just one part of the assessment.
In retaking these decisions, the Secretary of State has considered the full range of information available to the Government. Some of that information is necessarily sensitive and confidential. I am therefore not able to go into detail about individual assessments. The crucial point is that we have assessed that there were a small number of incidents that have been treated, for the purposes of this analysis, as violations of international humanitarian law. However, these were isolated incidents and our analysis shows that Saudi Arabia has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with international humanitarian law and the specific commitments it has made.
It is on that basis that the Secretary of State has assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, although I am sorry the Secretary of State cannot be dragged here to explain her own decisions. There is certainly much explaining to do. In my limited time, I have five questions for the Minister and one specific request.
First, we welcome the Secretary of State’s assessment of possible violations of international law in Yemen, but can the Minister explain why his brother Ministers have been telling the House for the last five years that such an assessment was impossible for Britain to make, and that it could be made only by Saudi Arabia itself? Were those Ministers simply wrong?
Secondly, the Secretary of State has concluded that where international law was broken in Yemen these were “isolated incidents”. Can the Minister tell us how many such incidents were identified, so that we can understand how they define the word “isolated”?
Thirdly, the Government say they have found no patterns of civilian infrastructure being targeted. Can the Minister therefore explain why, for 17 months at the start of the war, Saudi planes systematically destroyed Yemen’s means of food production, bombing farmland, markets, milk plants and fishing boats? If that is not a pattern, what is?
Fourthly, as well as deliberate targeting, the Minister will know that the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas is in itself a war crime, but the Government say the Saudis could not have meant to break international law because their violations
“occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 339WS.]
Does the Minister not agree that that sounds like the very definition of the word “indiscriminate”?
Fifthly, the Government have concluded that Saudi Arabia has both the intent and capacity to comply with international law, but if that is the case, will the Minister explain the cause of the occasions on which it has failed to do that?
Finally, it would help all of us to understand the Government’s decision if they would agree to publish the full assessment that underpinned it, including the analysis of each so-called isolated incident. If the Minister believes this decision is not just moral and lawful but correct, then surely he has nothing to fear from publishing that assessment and letting us all decide for ourselves.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions, and start by saying that we absolutely share her concern about the humanitarian tragedy in Yemen, which is why the UK is actively engaged in seeking further diplomatic solutions. Let me try to deal with her questions, as far as I am able, as some of the matters are within the competence of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Ministers have of course not been wrong in their assessment; if they had been wrong, they would have come to the Dispatch Box. The consolidated criteria have been used in all the assessments of the licences. The number of incidents is an operational question; the role of the Department for International Trade is in assessing the consolidated criteria.
The right hon. Lady talked about a number of incidents over different times and in different ways. The assessment was that there is no pattern in the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, and that these were isolated incidents over some considerable time and also at different times.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the intention and capacity to comply and publish the full assessment of the various incidents and asked for a full analysis of each incident. It is worth saying—as you, Mr Speaker, will certainly understand—that assessments of the different incidents that took place in Yemen will often be informed by confidential information that comes to the Government not necessarily from Saudi Arabia; it would not be appropriate for us to publish those assessments. What we have published, however, are the consolidated criteria and the quarterly lists of each licence that has been granted.
The Minister knows that I am a longstanding critic of the policies towards Yemen of the Saudi coalition, which the British Government continue to support, but it is my purpose today not to call for an arms embargo, but rather to ensure that in granting these contentious licences UK arms export licensing regime members continue to benefit from DFID’s expertise once that Department is dismantled. DFID officials sit on the export licensing Committee, and I would like the Minister’s reassurance to the House that that DFID DNA, which is very important to making these decisions in the licensing Committee, will still be available.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his long time as Secretary of State for International Development and the exceptionally good work that he did over a considerable time, when we were in opposition and in government, and particularly the strong voice that he has had in relation to the conflict.
The part of my right hon. Friend’s question about the Committees on Arms Export Controls is properly a matter for the Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). However, he has said that the International Development Committee will continue to take part in its public sessions for as long as that Committee continues in existence.
On my right hon. Friend’s other point about DFID officials, the Government are obviously very keen that DFID and international development expertise in the region continues to be recognised and utilised.
This UK Government are increasingly chaotic and incoherent. Last week, the Foreign Secretary announced a new sanctions regime, claiming that the UK will be a stronger force for good, while the International Trade Secretary resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, demonstrating that profit comes before peace. The international community, our allies and the UN have been clear that the arms trade to Saudi Arabia should be stopped due to the mounting evidence of what UN experts have described as “potential war crimes” and widespread and systematic strikes on civilian targets. Yemen has also been described as “hanging by a thread”, with more than 1 million covid infections.
With the UN ascribing tens of thousands of civilian deaths to the Saudi military, how can the Secretary of State tell the UK with any certainty that there is not a clear risk of serious violations in exporting arms, describing previous violations as merely “isolated incidents”? Can the Minister tell us how many isolated incidents there are? Who collated this evidence? Will he explain why the UK is going against the international community? Surely these actions remove any legitimacy that the UK Government can be a stronger force for good in the world.
First, I strongly refute the allegation that the UK Government are not a strong voice for good in the world. That is absolutely our mission right the way across the Government. The hon. Gentleman asked about the announcement by the Foreign Secretary last week in relation to sanctions on individuals. I think that is a separate matter, but we have been absolutely clear to condemn the attack on Mr Khashoggi the year before last and to make sure we have a robust regime of human rights sanctions coming from the original Magnitsky law, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was one of the originators of, and with which I was involved at the time.
In terms of the number and type of incidents, I am not at liberty to publish that, given the confidential nature of a lot of the information involved. However, what I can say is that the UK has one of the strongest arms control regimes in the world, we use the consolidated EU and national criteria and we are now using the revised methodology to come to these decisions that we are happy with.
I, too, am disappointed that the Secretary of State is not here this afternoon to answer this urgent question herself. She based her decision on a detailed assessment of all the alleged incidents where international humanitarian law has been violated in Yemen, so let me ask the question again: will the Minister ask his boss to publish that assessment, so that the people of the UK can see the evidence and be able to judge whether the Secretary of State is right simply to dismiss those violations as isolated?
The incidents or the allegations are not being dismissed, but we are clear that we need to follow a sensible set of criteria and that is why we have the consolidated criteria in place to assess export licences going forward. But I return to what I said earlier: it would not be appropriate for the Government to publish their findings in relation to incidents in Yemen in the past.
Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government can still, if necessary, review, suspend or revoke licences?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right. Licences can be reviewed or revoked in line with the consolidated criteria. That is the basis on which arms control works in this country and always has done under successive Governments.
The Minister says that the Government have a very strong arms control system, but back in September last year, he will recall that the Government were guilty of granting 14— or was it 20?—unlawful arms export licences. It does seem that last week’s announcement, a day after the Magnitsky sanctions were imposed, was incredibly cynical. Is that not the case?
No, it is not the case. I think the hon. Gentleman refers in his question to the Secretary of State apologising to the House, and indeed to the Court, for the inadvertent breaches of the Court judgment last June. However, we are talking today about a forward-looking way of doing this, using the revised methodology based on the consolidated criteria.
Will my right hon. Friend please explain to the House why there has been a delay in reaching this decision?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It was vital that the Government got this right first time with a comprehensive assessment. The Court judgment last year was a very serious matter, and it was absolutely right that we took the time to have a comprehensive assessment process in accordance with the legal approach identified by the Court of Appeal last June.
Like many people listening today, I am astonished that the Minister has said that the global human rights sanctions regime is a separate matter from selling arms to the brutal Saudi regime. Can he tell me how this Government can, in all good conscience, continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia when we know that there is a risk that they may be used in Yemen, after 17,640 civilian casualties have been documented in that country? Is it simply a case of profit before Yemeni lives?
The process that is with me is to use the consolidated criteria. That is why we have developed a revised methodology in respect of all the allegations which it is assessed are likely to have occurred and to have been caused by fixed-wing aircraft. Each of those allegations has been subject to detailed analysis by reference to the relevant principles of international humanitarian law. An evaluation has been made and it has been applied to all credible incidents of concern of which we are aware. Importantly, our revised methodology will allow us to make these decisions going forward.
The enduring alliance with Saudi Arabia is vital to regional security and bolsters the ability of the United Kingdom and our allies to help to police the region. The UK has licensed more than £5.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2015, and that has secured thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Wakefield. Does the Minister agree that if we maintain arms sales to our Saudi allies, the whole UK prospers?
It is very important that we have a broad and deep relationship covering matters such as trade, defence, security, energy and regional issues. It is important that the UK maintains that relationship overall. It does not prevent us from being critical, as we have been on occasions, in relation to human rights.
As is well documented, the Government of Saudi Arabia are indiscriminate in their use of the death penalty, including against minors. In recent years they have detained without trial members of their own royal family, and just recently they were found at the World Trade Organisation to be responsible for sports piracy through the company beoutQ. What makes the Minister think that the Saudi Government will have any regard for the rules of international law? Does he not agree that our new policy in relation to China would be seen in a much better light if we were seen to hold Saudi Arabia to the same standards?
I am not going to comment on China, because I think it is not quite within the scope of the urgent question. At all times, the UK campaigns actively in its foreign policy for the abolition of the death penalty. The right hon. Gentleman and I know that; he served in the Government not so long ago, and he will know that that is an important pillar of our foreign policy. These matters do not prevent us from having a good overall relationship with as many countries around the world as we reasonably can, where it is in the national interest to do so. I will look into the WTO complaint and write to him.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments so far. In any arms export regime, it is important that we not only operate on a principled basis but respond rapidly to global circumstances that often change at short notice. Can he reassure me and the House that our regime is adaptable and responsive, and that it can deal with changing circumstances?
Yes, I can. We work very closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development to make sure we are aware of all changes in policy and all uses of military weapons around the world, and to make sure that that feeds through into our ability to change policy and, if necessary, revoke a licence.
Saudi state media reported that the Secretary of State for Defence called Saudi Ministers last week after the announcement of sanctions against the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi and reassured them of the Government’s support on the issue of arms exports. Can the Minister explain now why his colleague felt that that was his job and why he chose to keep that call secret?
Mr Speaker, you will know that it is the policy of successive Governments not to comment on calls or conversations between Government Ministers and their opposite numbers, even including if the call itself took place, so I am not going to comment on those matters. What I will say is that there is a very, very important multi-faceted relationship with Saudi Arabia, which I have already talked about, which must be considered in the round.
Have my right hon. Friends the International Trade Secretary and the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of international humanitarian law compliance with Saudi Arabia and the others in the coalition?
Yes, we have. We do that on a regular basis to make sure, as part of our wider work in the region, that UK foreign policy goals are achieved.
There is a difference between what is permissible and what is right. Since the bombing of Yemen commenced in March 2015, £5.3 billion-worth of export licences have been issued to Saudi Arabia, of which £2.5 billion have related to bombs, missiles and other types of ordnance. So what does the Secretary of State have to hide in not publishing the evidence on which to resume licensing arms and the trade in these deadly weapons?
I think I have already laid out to the House why these reports are not published: a lot are based on confidential information, which it would not be in the national interest for us to disclose. What we can say is that the incidents assessed to have been possible violations of international humanitarian law occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion was that they were isolated incidents. On that basis, we believe there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Could the Minister please outline the importance with which the UK regards Saudi Arabia as a diplomatic and trading partner in the middle east?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Saudi Arabia is an important diplomatic and trading partner for this country. That has been the case for many decades under successive Governments.
A number of my constituents in Vauxhall have written to me about their concerns about the devastating conflict in Yemen. We must acknowledge and speak out about the immense human cost of this war. It is one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world and we know that thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, including women and children. Now 20 million people face food insecurity and 10 million are at risk of famine. That suffering is unimaginable. We know that the coalition has conducted numerous and indiscriminate air strikes, in violation of the laws of wars, using munitions sold by the US, the United Kingdom and others. How can the Minister be confident that the arms sold by the UK will not be used in similar attacks?
That is exactly why we have the arms control and export licence regime in place, properly using the consolidated criteria to make those assessments. In terms of what anybody else may do in the region, the hon. Lady mentioned the United States. That is very much a matter for the United States Government.
The excellent Minister seems quite sure that it is right to export these arms at the moment and I have no problem with that, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) and for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) said, this needs to be kept under review. The Minister said that that will happen. Can he give the House a bit more detail: on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis, how does that review take place?
That is a good question. Obviously, we operate in an overall policy framework called the consolidated criteria. Each individual licence application is in itself a separate decision, based on those consolidated criteria. We follow those criteria. Those decisions can be made on a daily basis—for each individual export licence that comes in—by Ministers.
The Minister really is missing an opportunity to reassure the House. I am entirely unpersuaded that there is not a risk that these armaments will be used against civilians. Oxfam, a deeply credible organisation, has had three installations attacked, in Sa’ada, Al-Hamazat and Abs, over the past few years. Have they been investigated by the joint incidents assessments team? If not, why not, and how on earth can the Minister possibly pretend that this is a credible statement?
As I have said before, the incidents that have been assessed as possible violations of international humanitarian law have been looked at, but we are confident that they occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. Therefore, there is not a pattern. We are content with this regime going forward and about sticking to our consolidated criteria. That is absolutely the proper way to be doing this.
Will the Minister provide an assurance to the House that the Department will continue to investigate every possible violation of international humanitarian law in the Yemen conflict by coalition forces?
My hon. Friend raises a good question. It is worth noting, again, that the investigation process is principally a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, which track allegations of incidents. However, the Government take their export responsibilities seriously and assess all export licences in accordance with the strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria.
Given that the United Nations Refugee Agency reports that, over the past five years, more than 3.5 million people in Yemen have been displaced as a direct result of the civil war there, the Minister will understand the concern about the resumption of arms sales. He tells us that he cannot share with us the specific details on which the Government have made the assessment to resume those sales, but he could set out for us what he means by the “genuine intent” that he believes is behind the Saudi Arabian decision on human rights, and what might change that. Will he do so?
I have already outlined how, after looking at incidents and the assessment of them, we are confident that there is not a pattern in those previous incidents. I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s concern about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen. However, based on those incidents, we do not believe that there has been a pattern there. Therefore, as long as we stick to our consolidated criteria and continue our assessment of incidents, that is absolutely the right decision for the UK Government to make.
I am proud that so many young people in my constituency have raised the situation in Yemen with me. Saudi Arabia itself is a young country, with half its population under the age of 25. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue to raise human rights with his counterparts?
Yes, we do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team do so on a regular basis with Saudi Arabia and with other partners all the way around the world. We are immensely proud of the record that we have as a Government and as a country of promoting human rights around the world. That was absolutely the basis of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in this place just last week.
The Secretary of State has announced that new arms sale to Saudi will commence, claiming that international humanitarian law had only been violated in “isolated incidents”. The Minister has said that he is not at liberty to disclose the number of incidents but, this morning, in response to my written question, the Government revealed that the Ministry of Defence’s own database records 516 potential violations of international humanitarian law since the war in Yemen began in 2015. In the light of that, will the Minister stand by the Secretary of State’s claim that violations of international law are only “isolated incidents”, or will the Government finally do the right thing and stop these arms sales?
As I pointed out earlier, all potential incidents must, for these purposes, be treated as actual violations of international humanitarian law. I am not at liberty to comment on whatever numbers the hon. Lady may have in front of her, but it is clear that all potential incidents must be treated as actual incidents for the purposes of putting forward the consolidated criteria.
The announcement last week was welcomed by hundreds of my constituents who work at the BAE plant in the Fylde, which assembles the Hawk and Typhoon aircraft, and I would like to put on record my support for the decision to resume the granting of export licences. Saudi Arabia is one of our key strategic partners, and rightly so. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government will continue to work closely with the Saudi Government on all security and military issues and that his Department will continue to explore investment and trade opportunities with the kingdom that will benefit jobs and economic growth in the UK?
My hon. Friend raises a good point in relation to jobs in the north-west at BAE Systems. I was getting a little bit worried about the Opposition’s approach to this. I am going to read out a quote:
“we have a brilliant arms industry in the United Kingdom, and I have no problem with arms sales to other countries, as long as they are properly controlled”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2020; Vol. 804, c. 1346.]
I agree with that—and it was from the Labour spokesman in the House of Lords at a similar urgent question on Friday. I think we can all agree that BAE Systems and others in this field do a great job for the UK overall.
The United Nations has verified that, since 2015, at least 7,700 Yemeni civilians have been killed, with 60% due to bombing raids by the Saudi-led coalition. The Committees on Arms Export Controls have recently been re-established. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that, if that Committee were to choose to investigate British arms sales that are leading to arms reaching the Saudi-led coalition, his Department will co-operate fully?
Our Department always co-operates with Select Committees. If the hon. Gentleman’s point is that that Committee should follow a particular course, he needs to speak to its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). I suggest that he makes his representations to the Chair.
How will this sort of action against Saudi Arabia achieve reciprocity in the Yemen? There are two sides to this conflict. One is led by the Houthis and their backers, Iran, and we have no examples of how to control the arms sales that go to them.
My hon. Friend has expertise in this area. He will know that those are matters for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and I am sure he is making representations to it. I will certainly make those representations. He will know that the Government are involved considerably on the diplomatic front to seek a resolution of the conflict in the Yemen.
More than five years of death and destruction in Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the Yemeni people are rightly looking to us to show compassion and leadership. Despite compelling evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has violated international humanitarian law, a day after the Government finally held Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, they announced the resumption of arms sales for use in the war in Yemen. Can the Minister see that this all makes the Government’s avowed concern for human rights look inconsistent, if not downright hypocritical?
No, I do not agree with that at all. I have already answered the question on the relationship between the announcement last week, which concerns individuals’ human rights, and this announcement in relation to the consolidated criteria for export controls.
The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is right to ask her urgent question. None of us wants to add to the awful situation in Yemen. Paris is working hard with Berlin to finesse the German ban on German componentry in French arms exports. France has a more questionable approach to the consolidated criteria than this country does, and its arms exports are skyrocketing. What are we to do about this? I fear that the action urged by the right hon. Lady will have the effect of exporting jobs from her constituency and mine to France—a country with a far more questionable approach to the consolidated criteria—and will have no effect whatsoever on the welfare of people in Yemen.
My right hon. Friend may well be right, but it is important from our perspective to make sure that the UK does adhere to and follow the consolidated criteria. That is absolutely the basis of our policy in this area: we must stick rigidly to assessments based on the consolidated criteria.
The Government lost the Appeal Court case, then admitted that they had contravened the instructions given by the Appeal Court, then abandoned their own appeal to the Supreme Court, and have now decided, after abandoning the Court case, that they are going to resume arms exports. Could not the Minister at least agree to publish the reasons for the resumption of issuing licences, with sensitive parts either taken out or redacted?
We have published the reasons why we are doing the policy that we are doing. We published that in the form of a written ministerial statement to the House of Commons last week, and actually that is the subject today. On the hon. Member’s wider point about why we have withdrawn the appeal, we do not think the appeal is necessary any more. We have in place the revised methodology, and we are putting in place the process to withdraw the appeal.
Last week, the Foreign Secretary revealed a new and seemingly ethical dimension to the UK’s foreign policy, yet within 48 hours we were back selling arms to Saudi Arabia and this Government were refusing to take action against their friends in Bahrain who are about to execute two more political prisoners. Is it not the truth that it is business as usual for any regime—however brutal, however undemocratic—as long as its pockets are deep enough and this Government think there is something to be gained? Is that not the squalid truth?
No, it is not.
The humanitarian situation in Yemen is, of course, a proxy war between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Iranians and their proxies, with the innocent civilians in the middle of it. What efforts is my right hon. Friend making to use his Department’s capability on trade to encourage these parties to come to the table and negotiate a political settlement under which Yemen can become a peaceful place for innocent civilians to live in once again?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He has great expertise on the region and in these matters. The UK is involved right the way across Government —it is a whole-of-Government effort—to make sure that we seek a diplomatic solution in the region. If the Department for International Trade can play a role in that, we certainly will—and we certainly are. On our relationship with Iran, it is very important that Iran also complies, particularly in relation to trade matters, with the sanctions regime and the World Trade Organisation.
This decision reduces the bold statements made last week by the Government on human rights and the Magnitsky sanctions to just mere finger-wagging. If that is not correct, to restore the Government’s credibility on this issue, they must publish the evidence on which they based their decisions that these are just mere isolated incidents.
First, I could just say to the hon. Gentleman that I refer him to the answer I gave earlier: I have already given repeatedly the reason why we are not publishing the reports on any incidents. Secondly, on the international human rights violations regime launched last week by the Foreign Secretary, we think that new sanctions regime will give the UK a powerful new tool to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses.
Can the Minister provide true clarity about the total value exported to Saudi Arabia, including arms traded through open licences, and will he provide the number for how much the UK has profited from the conflict since the war began?
We publish quarterly the list of licences granted. I would suggest that the hon. Member look at that list.
I thank my right hon. Friend for explaining with great care the strict criteria applied in all export licence cases. Can he update the House on the backlog of export licences? How quickly and carefully can they be reviewed?
Yes, there is a backlog, and it will take a few months to clear it. There are a few hundred applications —something of that magnitude. With the policy we launched last week, however, we will now begin to clear that backlog.
The Government’s policy seems to be one of abject hypocrisy. The Minister has made a false distinction between the sanctions on individuals and wider policy, which is simply not possible. Let me give him one example. General Ahmed al-Asiri was listed on the Foreign Secretary’s sanctions list last week for his involvement in the unlawful killing of Jamal Khashoggi and for commissioning the team that went to assassinate him. That is the same man who came to this House, this building, on 29 March 2017 to justify to me and many other Members the Saudi actions in Yemen, including the use of British military support. How can it be that we are sanctioning this individual for his unlawful actions and yet he was at the heart of the war in Yemen?
I do not have in front of me information about individuals in any country who are subject to a sanctions regime, but criteria 2c—of the criteria we follow to assess export licences—includes the
“clear risk the equipment being exported might be used in the serious violation of international humanitarian law”.
Those are the criteria we follow when assessing export licences.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement last week. Would my right hon. Friend elaborate on how the revised methodology differs from its predecessor?
The revised methodology takes into account all the decisions by the Court of Appeal. Were these historic incidents part of a pattern? Even if we could not answer in every incident, we should at least attempt to do so. That is the question the revised methodology is seeking to answer—and I believe does answer—so that we can move forward.
The Saudis are currently taking part in the action in Yemen as part of a coalition. They are also part of a coalition involved in the blockade of Qatar. That is not currently a military action, but what guarantees do the Government have that arms sold to the Saudis for use in Yemen will not be used against another of our allies elsewhere in the middle east?
I am not aware of there being any conflict at the moment in that space, but clearly we look at these matters as part of the criteria against which we assess export licences.
I have great affection for Yemen, having lived there for three years, so after the last massacre of innocents, I managed to get myself to Riyadh and went to the combined air operations centre to examine exactly what was going on. I have to say, having spoken to the air controllers, which included Royal Air Force people, I was most impressed by their orders for opening fire. I spoke to the pilots, and they do not open fire unless they are guaranteed there are no innocents underneath. I presume these factors are taken into account.
My hon. Friend also has great expertise in this area, particularly in relation to military operations. What may or may not be happening in Yemen is of course taken into account in the assessments done by the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As Amnesty International pointed out in March:
“The conflict in Yemen shows no real signs of abating as it enters its sixth year”.
This will result in even more civilian casualties, both as a direct and indirect result of the conflict. After the UK Government’s arms export policy to Saudi Arabia was found to be unlawful last year, can the Minister explain how continued UK arms sales for potential use in this theatre can possibly help prevent the loss of yet more innocent Yemeni lives?