House of Commons
Tuesday 16 March 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mental Health Act Reform
We are determined to work across Government to modernise the Mental Health Act 2007 so that it ensures that patients receive the right care in the right setting at the right time. Prison should be a place for rehabilitation, not a convenient holding pen for those people for whom mental health is the primary driver of their offending.
What is the timetable for the Mental Health Act consultation and how can interested parties participate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her continuing interest in this important process. We are consulting widely on these proposed reforms, including service users, carers and professionals, to ensure that we get this once-in-a-generation opportunity right. The consultation is now available on the gov.UK website, and will close on 21 April.
Will the Secretary of State explain how reforms of the Mental Health Act will strengthen the role that the justice system plays in protecting society’s most vulnerable, both in north Wales and across the country?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend who, from his professional experience, has a great deal of expertise and knowledge in this area. Among other reforms, we want, in particular, to increase patient access to the Mental Health Tribunal, which provides vital independent scrutiny of detention orders. We wish to expand its powers so that it plays a greater safeguarding role. Health policy is devolved to Wales, so it will be for the Welsh Government to decide whether they wish to join the UK Government on many of our reforms in the White Paper, and we will continue to work closely with them in order to secure that partnership.
Covid-19: Legal Aid Sector Support
With regard to the legal aid sector during this crisis, we have expanded the scope of and relaxed the evidence requirements for hardship payments in Crown court cases, including reducing the threshold for work done; we have increased opportunities to claim payment on account in civil legal aid cases, as well as increasing the amounts; we have halted the pursuit of outstanding debts owed by providers of legal aid to the Legal Aid Agency; and we have suspended sanctions in relation to mixed deadlines. That is in addition to the range of measures that we have taken in order to support the sector through this crisis.
The latest Ministry of Justice figures show that there are 56,544 outstanding Crown court cases at the end of January. Given that defence lawyers are paid for litigation when a case finishes, can the Secretary of State confirm what steps have been taken to assist legal aid lawyers with their cash flow at this time?
The hon. Lady will be glad to know that, as I referred to in my initial reply, we have already relaxed the evidence requirements for hardship payments and, importantly, reduced the threshold for work done by criminal lawyers to £450 from the current £5,000. It is absolutely essential that we maintain throughput, and as we move on through this year with the road map out of lockdown, I am confident that the court system will be able to list even more proactively, making sure that there is plenty of work for dedicated criminal legal aid lawyers.
The independent criminal legal aid review is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to fix a vital element of our criminal justice system. There are more than 400 fewer criminal legal aid firms today than in 2015. That means that more than one in four has left the system. When these firms fold, legal aid family law departments often go with them, leaving domestic abuse victims without representation. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government cannot simply wait for the recommendations of CLAR before taking action and that we must make sure that the number of unrepresented domestic abuse victims does not increase yet further.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the need for representation for domestic abuse victims. He knows, of course, that in criminal scenarios the Crown Prosecution Service will act with regard to the prosecution of offences. He will also note that, in phase 1 of the CLAR process, up to £51 million a year has already been injected into criminal legal aid fees. That is the most significant increase in investment in legal aid for a quarter of a century. We are working on the existing body of evidence with the new chair of the criminal legal aid review, Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, who is already engaging with the professions. I am confident that his work will deal not only with the situation with regard to fees in court, but, as he says, the “sustainability” of those criminal legal aid firms that are the lifeblood of representation in that sector.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service: Backlog
In common with so much of the public sector, and life in general, courts have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Government have taken decisive action to address this, investing a quarter of a billion pounds in covid recovery, which has paid for, among other things, 40 Nightingale courtrooms, soon to increase to 60 by the end of this month, and installing video technology enabling over 20,000 hearings a week across all jurisdictions to take place. As a result of that, for example, the outstanding caseload in the magistrates courts has dropped by about 50,000 cases over the past eight months.
Three court buildings have now failed safety inspections by the Health and Safety Executive, yet the Government continue to say that courts are covid-secure. What evidence is there to support this claim, and what steps are Ministers going to take to ensure that no more court buildings fail safety inspections?
We work very closely with Public Health England and follow the guidelines that it gives us. The number of coronavirus cases that have been detected among court users is no higher than among the general population. It is not true to say that there are any more coronavirus cases in courts than anywhere else. That is, in part, because we have invested so much in coronavirus measures like installing plexiglass screens, ensuring there is social distancing, and having overspill rooms so that people can space out when using courts. Where we have tested people in courts, we found extremely low levels of coronavirus cases.
I am encouraged by the measures my hon. Friend is taking to catch up on the backlog. Will he update me specifically on how many Nightingale courts are now open and in use for Crown court work?
There are currently, as we speak, 49 Nightingale courtrooms open and available for work. There are five more opening this week, one of which is Croydon, the borough that I have the honour of representing in south London, and by the end of this month we will get up to a total of 60. Many of those courtrooms can be used for Crown court work, but even where they cannot—for example, because they do not have custodial facilities—they are very often able to do work that would otherwise be done in a Crown court centre that is then freed up for work where, for example, custody suites are required. This is making a real contribution and we intend to go further.
Justice delayed is justice denied. That is no cliché; it is the lived reality for the many, many victims who have not had their day in court during this pandemic. The Minister has said that he expects the number of cases to be brought back to acceptable levels before Easter 2023. Is this really acceptable, and what confidence can victims have that this late date will be met?
I do agree that timely justice is essential. In the magistrates courts, the outstanding caseload has already come down by about 50,000 cases since last summer, which is very welcome progress. In Crown courts, we are now getting through about 2,000 cases a week, which is about the same as it was before the pandemic. But we do need to go faster: the hon. Lady is right. I think the judiciary eased off listing a little bit in January, February and the early part March owing to the more recent lockdown. Now we are moving out of those restrictions, in phases, our expectation is that listing levels will go up again. We have certainly created the capacity to do that, with 290 jury courtrooms available. As listing levels increase, using the capacity we have created I expect the outstanding caseloads to come down.
This is an issue that is very close to the heart of many of my residents in South West Hertfordshire. How is the Department increasing use of remote hearings to ensure the safety of the people involved during the covid-19 outbreak?
I thank my hon. Friend for a very prescient question. We have made a huge investment in IT and technology. We have purchased getting on for 10,000 laptops to enable remote working and video working. We have rolled out the cloud video platform on an expedited basis. As a result of that work, more than 20,000 hearings per week across all jurisdictions are now being held remotely. That is orders of magnitude higher than was the case before, and that is why we have managed to keep getting work done across so many parts of the jurisdiction when in many other countries around the world work has considerably slowed down or even stopped.
An application for bail to Chester Crown court today will not be listed until February next year. This is not a problem of the pandemic, as there was already a backlog because of court closures and because the Government chose to reduce the number of sitting days at Chester Crown court and others. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) says, how can the Government claim to be the party of law and order when justice is being delayed and justice is being denied?
The hon. Gentleman talks about sitting days, and the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that there will be no constraint on sitting days at present. The judiciary can list as many cases as they like, and we are anticipating a very considerable increase in sitting days for the next financial year. The hon. Gentleman talks about the justice system prior to the pandemic, and he may be aware that the outstanding Crown court caseload prior to the pandemic was 39,000—considerably lower than 47,000, as it was under the last Labour Administration. He talks about our record on law and order, and he may be aware that the only authoritative source of crime figures, the crime survey, shows a 41% reduction in crime since 2010, from 9.5 million to 5.6 million, so I will certainly be taking no lectures on law and order from the Labour party.
Well, let us see what you can do with the next question. I call Cherilyn Mackrory.
Will my hon. Friend join me in recognising the efforts made by the police and crime commissioner in Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, in helping to ensure that our area was the first outside of London to set up virtual remand hearings in police custody during the pandemic? Can he assure me that Devon and Cornwall will continue to receive its fair share of resources and funding to continue dealing with the backlog in criminal cases?
I pay tribute to police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez and all those working in Devon and Cornwall and across the country. I congratulate them on being first out of the blocks on video remand hearings. We are continuing to do video remand hearing work, particularly during the recent lockdown, and we have in fact made some funding available to support some forces to do that. I am sure that Devon and Cornwall will be receiving its fair share of support as part of the Government’s commitment to recruit 23,000 extra police officers, underlining our commitment to law and order.
As we have already heard, the Crown court backlog has reached nearly 57,000 cases. Many victims of rape and sexual violence face waits of three or four years until their case comes to trial, all the while unable to fully access the therapeutic support they desperately need. It is yet another example of this Government failing to support victims of male violence properly. Will the Minister finally listen to calls from the Victims’ Commissioner and urgently roll-out section 28 measures to all intimidated witnesses, so that victims of these horrific sexual crimes can give evidence as soon as possible, relieving some of the burden of stress and anxiety that they carry as they journey through our criminal justice system?
I share the shadow Minister’s concern about rape prosecutions. There is a rape review currently under way. It is being worked on by the police Minister and the Lord Chancellor, and will be reporting very shortly. Much of the waits actually relate not to the court system but to the time taken to collect evidence, to disclosure issues and to the time taken to prosecute, which is why we are putting £85 million extra into the Crown Prosecution Service.
The shadow Minister asked about section 28. The application of section 28 has been considerably widened recently, and we want to make that available as widely as we can, as quickly as possible. We also want to support victims. That is why we will be spending £140 million in the next financial year—a significant increase—on supporting victims and witnesses.
Finally, on rape, perhaps the shadow Minister can explain to the country and his constituents why it is that this evening the Labour party will vote against—
Order. Minister, we need to calm down. [Interruption.] I am not being funny; you are taking advantage of a situation and I do not expect that. [Interruption.] It is no use looking at me in that way. Trying to score points at the end is not the way we need to do it. We need shorter answers to get through the questions as well.
This question is about sentencing, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before the House on Second Reading today, will see whole-life orders for premeditated child murder. It will see life sentences imposed for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence. It will also see longer prison sentences for rapists, which I believe the Labour party plans to vote against.
This month, a Nottinghamshire removal man was convicted of possessing 8,000 indecent images and videos of children ranging from 15 to just one year old, with many classed as category A or extreme child pornography. This man was given a two-year suspended sentence and, as a result, is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell. I welcome proposals to toughen sentencing and be tough on crime, but a sentence like that one seems to be inconsistent with that work. Will my hon. Friend look again at guidance that says that a suspended sentence is the same as a custodial one, because it is pretty clear that in practical terms that is not the case? Will he also ensure that people who commit serious crimes like that, where children have been exploited and abused, are given a punishment that fits the crime?
Individual sentencing decisions are obviously for the judge who sentences the case, having regard to the facts of that case, but we do take very seriously the kind of offences that my hon. Friend has described. In fact, the maximum penalty for the offence of taking indecent photographs of children is 10 years’ imprisonment. Where an offence is sentenced at a lower level and somebody thinks that that is inappropriate, they can apply under the unduly lenient sentence scheme within 28 days. In 2019, the Government added those kinds of offence to the list of offences eligible under that scheme. If anyone feels that a sentence is too light, I strongly urge them to make an application to the Attorney General under the ULS scheme, and she will then look at that again.
Reconviction rates in Scotland are at a 21-year low. That is because of the community justice approach of the SNP Government for less serious crimes. Even the Minister has admitted that harsher sentencing has
“limited or no general deterrent effect.”
It is not a competition; all countries can learn from each other. If he truly aspires to reduce reoffending—because that is what keeps people safe—will he at least consider a community justice approach, in the knowledge that it is working in Scotland?
I understand that Scotland has the highest rate of imprisonment of any country in western Europe, so I find the question slightly surprising. However, we do accept that, particularly for less serious offences, community sentences have a role to play in rehabilitating. That is why we are keen to expedite the roll-out of community sentence treatment requirements, whereby if someone has a mental health problem, a drug addiction problem or an alcohol problem, we treat that as a health problem as an alternative to short custody. That is being rolled out.
Probation, the police and other services are working together to address the drivers of reoffending, to cut crime and keep our neighbourhoods safe. We recently announced a £70 million investment in accommodation and rehabilitative support for prison leavers to reduce reoffending—part of a £220 million Government plan to cut crime and protect the public. I am pleased to say that, hopefully tomorrow morning, I will lay legislation to impose GPS tracking on offenders who have committed burglary and theft offences, who often have the highest rates of reoffending.
What happens immediately upon release is fundamental. What progress has been made on ensuring that prison leavers have access to benefits and accommodation and can get on the road towards sustainable employment?
With his usual wisdom, my right hon. Friend has put his finger on two of the three pillars of success after prison—a job, a house and a friend—and we are working hard to ensure that all those released from prison have exactly that. The majority of the £70 million investment that I referred to is being focused on providing accommodation for prison leavers. We are working closely with the New Futures Network, a specialist part of the Prison and Probation Service that brokers partnerships with employers to ensure that ex-offenders have access to jobs, which is critical to their success. There is lots of work being done at the moment and lots more to do, and I welcome his concern in this area.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The Farmer review in 2017 concluded that family is the golden thread in reducing offending rates. It cited evidence including a 39% reduction in reoffending among those who had maintained family contact during incarceration. Does he agree that such effective measures should be at the heart of any effective strategy to reduce reoffending, and will he commit to refreshing the data to ensure that the best available evidence is informing the Government’s approach?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that maintaining strong family links has a significant impact on the likelihood of reoffending for people who have been in the secure estate. We are committed to trying to retain those links as much as we possibly can both to families and to the communities from which offenders are drawn. We have made good progress on the Farmer review in embedding that as part of our work, and we will be looking at innovative approaches to offender management in the future.
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that, any minute now, we will be rolling out sobriety tagging in the rest of England; it is already operational in Wales. The critical thing about this disposal is that it does not mean that somebody goes to prison. Nevertheless, it does mean that their offending is managed in a way that we know now sees enormous compliance—90% compliance. This means, critically, that they can maintain their job and maintain their connections with the family in the community, and that is the kind of innovative approach that we want to look at in the future.
I thank my hon. Friend for his previous answer. What are those innovative approaches, and how are he and his Department bringing them to the reducing offending challenge?
It is no surprise that my hon. Friend, with his background and interest in science and technology, can see the potential for the use of technology in particular for managing offenders. As I say, alongside our sobriety tagging programme, we are going to be rolling out GPS tagging for those convicted of acquisitive crimes—burglary, robbery and theft—so that when they are released on licence, we can put a tag on their ankle meaning that, 24 hours a day for up to a year, they will know that we know where they are. We think that will be an enormous deterrent to reoffending and in particular, if there is any offending, it will allow the police to make much swifter detection. It is all part of our plan to revolutionise the management of offenders in the future, and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s ongoing interest and input.
What is my hon. Friend doing to help the young people of Wolverhampton who have previously offended to turn their lives around and build a better, brighter future?
My hon. Friend is a strong voice for Wolverhampton and in particular for the young people of that town. I know that he will commend the brilliant work of probation, police and other partners in Wolverhampton to support young people to, as he says, turn their backs on crime. There is a very proactive community safety partnership in the area, which is committed to making those communities safer. We have been putting pressure on the local services to make sure that they are focused particularly on driving down violence in the town and turning people away from crime. There is fantastic intervention in Wolverhampton, as I say, and I know he will be very supportive of it in the future.
Four years on from my landmark Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which required prison governors to ensure that ex-offenders had secure accommodation on leaving prison, we are still letting people go from prison with £46 in their pockets, two bags of clothes, no accommodation to go to and no job. I welcome the money the Minister is providing for new accommodation, but what action is he taking to make sure that prison governors carry out their statutory duty to ensure that ex-offenders are started off, on leaving prison, in the right way?
My hon. Friend has done fantastic work over the last few years on the issue of homelessness, and it is to his great credit that he has focused on this particular cohort. As he knows, I hope, we are spending £50 million to expand our approved premises, providing temporary accommodation for prison leavers at risk of homelessness and ensuring that there is a proper rehabilitative approach to reintroducing them into society. However, he makes a good challenge on prison governors, and I will go away and make sure that we are seeing maximum compliance in the way that he intends.
Some 20% of sex offenders already have a previous conviction for sexual assault. The latest figures show that, in the last year, 37 convicted rapists already have convictions for the same crime and 14 have been convicted for rape three times previously. When will protecting women drive policy? The Minister cannot say it is now—just look at the numbers.
The protection of women is at the forefront of much of the work we do. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Bill, which I gather he is going to oppose tonight, contains a number of measures that would help us in that fight, not least the serious violence duty, which will bring all partners in an area together to diagnose the problems related to violence in that area and promote a strategy to address it. I am surprised that he raised those particular points, given that the Bill currently going through the House contains the notion of longer sentences for those convicted of serious sexual offences. We think that that will be an enormous deterrent for those who are thinking about offending, and such measures will protect women in the future.
Legal Aid Advice Deserts
The Legal Aid Agency is currently acting to fill any gaps in the market, and it frequently renews capacity, to ensure adequate provision. We are currently considering civil legal aid market sustainability, and I have provided £5.4 million in emergency funding for not-for-profit legal advice providers during covid-19.
Bradford’s community advice centres that provide legal support have been devastated by the Government’s funding cuts and preference for bigger providers. As a result, some of our excellent, hard-working, local grassroot community advice centres have been run into the ground, creating legal aid and advice deserts in some of our most vulnerable communities that need the greatest support. Will the Justice Secretary commit to a “local first” policy, to ensure that community advice centres get the funding they need to help some of society’s most vulnerable people, who cannot afford help elsewhere? Will he commit to ensuring an increase in the number of grassroot community advice centres in Bradford?
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the importance of community provision. Indeed, among those sectors that were helped by the £5.4 million funding during covid was the Law Centres Network, which plays an invaluable role. He will be glad to know that the Legal Aid Agency has launched a procurement process to identify new providers in the areas of housing and debt, where there is currently little or no provision, to help citizens get that advice. It will shortly announce a positive outcome to that process.
Covid-19: Justice System
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were guided by public health advice, and we took immediate and decisive action across prison, probation, youth justice and courts services, to implement a range of measures to respond. Our protection of those in prisons, through compartmentalisation, testing, the use of exceptional delivery models and probation services and the creation of Nightingale courts, alongside physical changes to courtrooms and increased video technology, helped to mitigate the severe impact of the pandemic.
I am grateful for the Lord Chancellor’s response. We all know the impact that the pandemic has had on life in our country, and I have seen for myself its impact on many communities who live, learn and work across Newport West. What discussions has he had with the Welsh Government about ensuring that those who need justice are able to get it in a timely manner?
The hon. Lady will be glad to know that I regularly engage with the Welsh Government, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, and Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service in Wales to ensure that the prison estate is safe, and the probation service is delivering. We have heard about the sobriety tags that have been piloted in Wales, and our courts are working well. I am glad that in Wales the management of cases has demonstrated that, now that there is no backlog. In particular, Newport Crown court was home to a multi-handed murder trial, which was dealt with successfully in recent weeks. A lot of good work is going on in Wales. Wales is leading the way, and I am proud of that.
Prison Education Programmes
Education helps prisoners to boost their employability, build their self-esteem, and make a law-abiding contribution to society post release. Since April 2019, we have invested more than £20 million in improving technology in prisons, including investing in infrastructure that will support educational delivery.
I thank the Minister for that answer. As he says, prison education programmes can be hugely beneficial, in terms of rehabilitation and preventing reoffending; future employability, life skills and literacy; or simply, as he says, boosting self-esteem. However, despite the figures that he mentions, there has been a dire lack of investment over the years. Can he tell us why the Government’s promised prison education service, which was in last year’s sentencing White Paper and, indeed, the Government’s 2019 manifesto, is completely absent from the Bill that we will vote on later today?
We do not need to legislate for that. We are absolutely committed to an enhanced prison education service, and I am pleased to be able to say that, in a prison close to the hon. Lady’s constituency, we are rolling out additional curriculum and neurodiversity specialists to drive reform. We absolutely believe in education and we are putting in the resources to ensure that it gets better every day.
“A Smarter Approach to Sentencing” White Paper
Last week, we introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This landmark piece of legislation will deliver on the commitments that I made in the White Paper to make punishments tougher for the most serious offenders and those who commit crimes against women and girls, and to introduce more effective community sentences. We are working on those non-legislative reforms in the White Paper that aim to tackle the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and to improve the rehabilitation of offenders in our community.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for that answer. Over the years that I have been involved in the criminal justice system, I have often been struck by the potential for technology to play a greater role in keeping the public safe, punishing criminals and helping to reduce reoffending. I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend can tell the House how measures in the White Paper will enable the courts, prisons and probation services to exploit new technology.
As ever, I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s continued commitment to this issue. We are expanding the use of electronic monitoring to support robust and responsive community supervision. Following its well-received launch in Wales, as I mentioned, courts in England will shortly be able to impose the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement—the sobriety tag—to help tackle offending. We will shortly lay legislation to impose GPS tracking on offenders released from custody who have committed burglary and theft offences. The Bill will extend the maximum length of a curfew from 12 months to two years, making the use of those powers more flexible, and we will use those powers to test the house detention order concept outlined in the White Paper to see how that can contribute to reducing reoffending.
The Secretary of State’s own strategy says that short prison sentences for women do not work because they fail to tackle the reasons women are there, which is often due to the abuse and trauma caused by the men in their lives. His own strategy says that. When the Government’s neglect of crimes against women is under the spotlight, why is he still insisting on spending another £150 million on ineffective prison places when that money could be spent on action to break the cycle of abuse and reoffending?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refer to the female offender strategy, which is at the heart of our approach to women offenders—the trauma-informed approach that she knows is so important. I can reassure her that the prison places that we are building will improve and enhance the existing female estate, some of which, frankly, is not fit for purpose. This will replace and revivify the estate and allow women to be in a secure environment where they can do purposeful activity, support each other and, indeed, benefit—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Front Benchers think it is so funny, Mr Speaker. I have certainly supported the female offender strategy, and I will repeat the point that what we are doing is improving and enhancing the custodial experience while delivering the strategy and, of course, residential centres such as the one in Wales that will be opening very shortly indeed. [Interruption.] I really fail to see why women offenders are so funny, Mr Speaker.
Can I just reassure you, Secretary of State, that they were not laughing at you? I think it was the expressions of the shadow Minister that they were laughing at—and people might think that those on the Government side were, too. I just want to reassure you that nobody was laughing at that situation.
The UK has a long-standing tradition of securing human rights. Indeed, the United Kingdom, for many decades and centuries, has been a beacon around the world for the protection of human rights. The operation of the Human Rights Act, now over 20 years old, is being reviewed. The review is being led by Sir Peter Gross, a retired Court of Appeal judge, supported by, among others, two QCs and two professors.
The pandemic has seen necessary but drastic restrictions on human rights, including the right to assembly and protest. There are fears that not all of those restrictions will be fully rolled back. The campaign group Liberty has said that the United Kingdom Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will undermine protest, stifle dissent and make it harder for us to hold the powerful to account. Does the Minister agree that as the Bill moves through Parliament it should be guided by the principle of the right to peaceful assembly and protest, as fundamental human rights must be protected at all costs?
I agree that fundamental human rights should be protected at all costs. The Bill we are debating does protect the right to peaceful protest, while at the same time respecting the rights of other people to get to their work and the need of emergency vehicles to secure safe passage down the highway, for example. On human rights, I was concerned by the passage through the Scottish Parliament last week of a law that had a chilling effect on free speech.
[Inaudible.]—of the Human Rights Act, in which it is made clear that it would robustly oppose any attempt to undermine the UK’s commitment to the European convention on human rights or distance the UK from membership of the Council of Europe. Does the Minister agree it is crucial that those assurances are given to Scotland and will he be working to ensure that the views of Scotland’s Government are heard and respected?
Yes, most certainly. There is no plan to repudiate our obligations under the European convention on human rights and there is certainly no plan to leave the Council of Europe, so I can absolutely give the hon. Lady the assurance she asks for. On working closely with the Scottish Government, yes we are doing that and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Scottish Government for the response to the review’s call for evidence, which I believe has already been received.
[Inaudible.]—my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) has just referred to, and both this Government’s desire for power grabs in many other areas of Scottish Parliament competence and the fact that Scotland’s legal system is separate and distinct, does the Minister agree that when published the review should include a commitment that they cannot and must not impinge on the integrity of Scottish law?
The review is into human rights. As I said, the United Kingdom has been a beacon of human rights for many centuries now and we intend to honour our ECHR obligations. There is no intention to interfere with the Scottish legal system, although I am rather concerned by the remarks Lord Hope made about the apparent problems with the independence of Scotland’s prosecutors.
Prison Service Pay Review Body: Recommendation 3 and Prison Safety
Prison safety and security is a key priority. The Government are investing £100 million to introduce robust measures such as x-ray body scanners and phone blocking technology, as well as tools such as body-worn cameras and PAVA spray. On pay, in July 2020 the Government accepted in full six out of seven recommendations made by the Prison Service pay review body, delivering an increase in pay of at least 2.5% for all Prison Service staff, from those working on the gate through to those on the landings.
We heard at last month’s Justice questions that rejecting this expert advice will undermine prison safety and is, in fact, a false economy, because once tax receipts and staff retention are taken into consideration this pay rise practically pays for itself, so what is the real reason for denying prison officers pay justice? Is it because the Treasury is worried it will encourage other public sector workers to demand a decent pay rise too?
It is important to note that six out of the seven recommendations were accepted in full. The freeze will not apply to those people earning under £24,000. When it comes to safety, which was the central premise of the hon. Lady’s question, we have to consider the conditions that make a difference to those valuable and professional officers on the landings. Do they feel safe? Do they have a body-worn camera? Do they have SPEAR—spontaneous protection enabling accelerated response—personal safety training? That is what we want to focus on, so they can get the protection they deserve.
Reclaiming Fines: Universal Credit
Deductions from benefit orders are made by the court, and when the court makes them, the judge will take into account the affordability and the means of the person who is having the deduction order made. Someone can, of course, make an application later to remit part or all of the deduction, if their personal circumstances have changed.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but he will know that the Government have ordered jobcentre staff to apply the maximum 30% deduction from universal credit for claimants who have to pay a court fine, regardless of their circumstances. This approach is failing on two fronts. It pushes vulnerable claimants further into poverty and recoups less money. The Ministry’s own data shows that the amount of money recouped in respect of court fines fell by over 13% between June and August last year, when the arbitrary 30% deduction was applied to all claimants. Does the Minister accept that this is the worst of all worlds, and will he begin urgent discussions with his counterparts in the Department for Work and Pensions to follow the data and allow local decision makers a greater degree of discretion as to how much is deducted from each individual claimant to pay a court fine?
I ask the House to be aware that these deductions pay not only for fines, but for compensation to victims, and we should be mindful of that. These orders are ultimately made by a judge, who, in making the order, has discretion and will take someone’s circumstances into account. I repeat the point that I made previously: if someone is experiencing difficulty, it is always open to them to go back to the court to have the order remitted, either in part or in whole.
The entire country has been shocked and appalled by the disappearance of Sarah Everard and the discovery of her body last week, and I know the thoughts of the whole House are with Sarah’s family and friends. Our minds are also on our constituents—the women who have shared their own stories of harassment and harm over the last week. After a quarter of a century of working with victims as a criminal practitioner and sitting as a part-time judge, and as someone who has worked with Members of all parties to successfully include stalking offences in our criminal law, and having taken groundbreaking legislation through this House on coercive control, these stories were all too depressingly familiar to me. Our country today should be a place where no woman has to live in fear of men, and I will continue to work tirelessly to build a criminal justice system that is better able to protect women and girls and that, most notably through our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, delivers more protection. The Government will work across this House to achieve that end.
I thank the Justice Secretary and echo the sentiments that he expressed.
It was the Justice Secretary who made the required statutory statement that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is compatible with convention rights, but given the many voices expressing grave concerns about the impact of that Bill on our human rights —especially rights relating to protest—did he have second thoughts about making that statement and, most importantly, will he listen to those concerns and act on them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but no, I do not have any second thoughts. The particular provisions on protests are a reflection of the Law Commission’s 2015 report and of the common law in England and Wales on public nuisance, which refers to, among other things, “annoyance”, “serious annoyance” and other terms that are well known to law. The maximum penalty in common law for public nuisance was life imprisonment. That is being reduced to 10 years. Frankly, I really do not see what the fuss is about. I rather think it is a confection designed to assist an Opposition in difficulty.
Let us go to Sir Robert Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee.
I, and I am sure all the members of the Justice Committee, will also want to associate ourselves with the Secretary of State’s comments. Does he agree that protection of the public is served not only by deterrent sentencing where necessary, but by a much a broader and more nuanced suite of alternatives for less serious offenders? Can he help us, in particular, on the timescale for the roll out of problem-solving courts, which have been called for by the Select Committee and by many other commentators over a number of years, but which, until now, have perhaps not always had the ministerial or governmental impetus behind them that is required to make them succeed as part of that smarter sentencing package?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee for raising the important issue of problem-solving courts. This will be an opportunity to bring together not just the courts system but other agencies around the issue in order to deal with the particular challenge being faced by a family or by somebody who has been accused of a criminal offence. The work on this is ongoing, and I want to launch the pilots later this year. This is very much at the heart of the sentencing White Paper that I published last September. It is all about getting smart on sentencing and making sure that we reflect the reality of the challenges that are often faced by our courts.
A study by UN Women UK has shown that 97% of young adult women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public places. One in five women will suffer sexual assault in their lifetime. Under the Lord Chancellor’s watch, rape convictions have fallen to an all-time low of just 1.4%. What does he have to say to the 96% of abuse victims who feel it is no longer worth making a complaint? What does he have to say to the 45% who said complaining would make no difference? What does he have to say to all women who have suffered abuse and who have given up hope of this Government’s ability to deliver justice?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the worrying statistics about the gap that exists between the system and the confidence of women, in particular, who feel that the system does not work for them. I would remind him that this Government have pioneered important legislation in areas such as coercive control, stalking reform, and the changes in the Domestic Abuse Bill that I know he and his party support and that have been further refined in their lordships’ House to include offences such as non-fatal strangulation, an extension to coercive control, and threats to inflict revenge porn. We are able, in the Bill that we are debating today, to go even further and impose longer sentences for those who commit crimes predominantly against women and girls. He and his party have an opportunity tonight to help the very women that he talks about, but they choose to vote against the Bill and not to support the Government in their fight against crime and in their support for victims such as women and girls.
The Secretary of State has got to watch it, because I think he is getting annoyed, and he has made that something that you can go to prison for in the Bill that we are voting on a bit later.
Some 80% in prison of women are there for non-violent offences, serving short sentences that the Government know do not work. Most are themselves victims of crime—often much more serious crimes than those they have been convicted of. Separated from their families, they lose their children, their jobs and their hope. They make up 5% of the prison population, but they account for almost 20% of the self-harm, which has gone up under the Secretary of State’s watch. While he works to save statues and gag protesters, more and more women become victims. When will he admit that his Government just do not care?
I think I am entitled to be more than a little annoyed by the refusal of the Opposition to come together to work to achieve a better society for women and girls—[Interruption.] No, they have chosen the path of party politicking, and in an attempt to cover the deep divisions that exist on their side, they are politicising an issue that should rise above politics. I am deeply disappointed and, yes, I am annoyed on behalf of the thousands of women and girls who see this as an opportunity for change. The right hon. Gentleman is rejecting that, he is voting against tougher sentences, and he will have to answer to his constituents and the country.
My hon. Friend has been a tireless and energetic advocate for a Nightingale court in Kent, and the options are being studied carefully by officials, who will continue to work with her and her colleagues. We have got 49 courtrooms open for Nightingale courts, and that will shortly increase to 60. On the terrible problem of domestic abuse and violence against women, which she mentions, the Domestic Abuse Bill is, of course, going through Parliament; we will be spending £140 million next year supporting women and victims; and we have been prioritising domestic violence protection orders throughout the pandemic. I look forward to continuing our conversation about that Nightingale court in Kent.
Will the Cabinet Secretary or a Minister welcome the announcement from the Scottish National party Government that while the UK Government seem intent on rolling back human rights in the UK, Scotland will aim to strengthen them in a truly groundbreaking human rights Bill? That Bill will incorporate four United Nations treaties, to further enhance the rights of women, people with disabilities, older people and minority ethnic communities. Does the Minister agree that independence is the only way for the people of Scotland to truly safeguard their fundamental human rights?
If the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is separation, it is entirely misconceived. The jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should be standing shoulder to shoulder in that fine tradition of the rule of law and respect for human rights. She correctly refers to the Holyrood Parliament’s decisions, and of course we respect that, but across the UK we have world-leading, world-beating laws and provisions relating to the rights of vulnerable people, which she talks about. The job is to make sure that that becomes more of a reality for more and more people, and that is what we should all be working together to achieve.
I will be making announcements on the independent review and the next steps very shortly. Judicial review plays a vital review in upholding the rule of law, and the reason we established the review was that we wanted to look carefully at whether it was running as it needs to or whether changes will be needed. I will make announcements to this House very shortly.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. The primary responsibility for the superintendence of the CPS rests with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, but the hon. Lady does make an important point about the reputation of the rule of law, and I know that these matters are being looked at carefully. I commend the existing coronavirus legislation to her; it has been carefully sunsetted with review provisions, and I assure her that Ministers, including me, take that responsibility very seriously and will not hesitate to remove provisions that either have not been used or are just not proportionate to deal with the problems we face.
I am delighted to let me hon. Friend know that, as a result of the campaigning that he and other Nottinghamshire colleagues have undertaken, we will be opening a Nightingale court in Nottingham before the end of this month. I agree that adding additional capacity through opening up Nightingales is the key to tackling the higher level of outstanding cases caused by the pandemic. We have now opened Nightingales in every Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service region, and we are on track to have a total of 60 additional courtrooms by the end of March.
I greatly respect the hon. Gentleman, and I am more than happy to have a longer discussion with him in real time about the evolution of the legal aid system, which evolved under Governments of both colours. Civil legal aid was slashed considerably by the Labour Government in 1999. This Government still spend £1.7 billion on legal aid. We are already dealing with criminal legal aid, and have a big review into it. With regard to civil legal aid providers, I have already answered questions about the way we are seeking to procure more housing and debt advice. I assure him that the challenges are great, but my personal commitment to legal aid, having been a practitioner in legal aid in my professional career, is real, sincere and will yield proper results.
My hon. Friend is a doughty representative of his constituency. Rightly, he has consistently raised those issues with me on behalf of concerned local residents. The Department has already written to residents living near the proposed locations in the options listed. We have advised them of the proposal, and are seeking their views. We also want the views of Senedd Members, local Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend, and councillors before any final decision is made.
The hon. Gentleman—I nearly said my hon. Friend—makes a very important point. I am looking very carefully at those provisions. It is important to remember that the magistrates have the power to commit for sentence to the Crown court where they consider their powers to be inadequate. I urge that they do that with regard to particular—[Interruption.] Well, I am listening to him, and I do not want to get into a debate with him, but it is important that that point is strongly made in the guidance issued to legal advisers in magistrates courts. I will look into that point to ensure that the maximum sentence that should be imposed, consistent with the facts in a case, is imposed to meet the justice that this House wanted to achieve for blue light emergency workers.
Order. I am suspending the House for three minutes in order for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, which we are publishing today.
The overriding purpose of this review, the most comprehensive since the cold war, is to make the United Kingdom stronger, safer and more prosperous, while standing up for our values. Our international policy is a vital instrument for fulfilling this Government’s vision of uniting and levelling up across our country, reinforcing the Union, and securing Britain’s place as a science superpower and a hub of innovation and research. The review describes how we will bolster our alliances, strengthen our capabilities, find new ways of reaching solutions, and relearn the art of competing against states with opposing values. We will be more dynamic abroad and more focused on delivering for our citizens at home.
I begin with the essential fact that the fortunes of the British people are, almost uniquely, interlinked with events on the far side of the world. With limited natural resources, we have always earned our living as a maritime trading nation. In 2019, the UK sold goods and services overseas worth £690 billion—fully a third of our gross domestic product—sustaining millions of jobs and livelihoods everywhere from Stranraer to St Ives, and making our country the fifth biggest exporter in the world. Between 5 million and 6 million Britons—nearly one in 10 of us—live permanently overseas, including 175,000 in the Gulf and nearly 2 million in Asia and Australasia, so a crisis in any of those regions or in the trade routes connecting them would be a crisis for us from the very beginning.
The truth is that even if we wished it, and of course we do not, the UK could never turn inward or be content with the cramped horizons of a regional foreign policy. For us, there are no far away countries of which we know little. Global Britain is not a reflection of old obligations, still less a vainglorious gesture, but is a necessity for the safety and prosperity of the British people in the decades ahead.
I am determined that the UK will join our friends to ensure that free societies flourish after the pandemic, sharing the risks and burdens of addressing the world’s toughest problems. The UK’s presidency of the G7 has already produced agreement to explore a global treaty on pandemic preparedness, working through the World Health Organisation to enshrine the steps that countries will need to take to prevent another covid. We will host COP26 in Glasgow in November and rally as many nations as possible behind the target of net zero by 2050, leading by example since the UK was the first major economy to accept this obligation in law. Britain will remain unswervingly committed to NATO and preserving peace and security in Europe.
From this secure basis, we will seek out friends and partners wherever they can be found, building a coalition for openness and innovation and engaging more deeply in the Indo-Pacific. I have invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea and India to attend the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in June, and I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy. Our approach will place diplomacy first. The UK has applied to become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and we will seek to join the trans-Pacific free trade agreement.
But all our international goals rest upon keeping our people safe at home and deterring those who would do us harm, so we will create a counter-terrorism operations centre, bringing together our ability to thwart the designs of terrorists, while also dealing with the actions of hostile states—it is almost exactly three years since the Russian state used a chemical weapon in Salisbury, killing an innocent mother, Dawn Sturgess, and bringing fear to a tranquil city. I can announce that the National Cyber Force, which conducts offensive cyber-operations against terrorists, hostile states and criminal gangs, will in future be located in a cyber-corridor in the north-west of England.
Close, Mr Speaker.
We will also establish a cross-Government situation centre in the Cabinet Office, learning the lessons of the pandemic and improving our use of data to anticipate and respond to future crises.
The first outcome of the integrated review was the Government’s decision to invest an extra £24 billion in defence, allowing the wholesale modernisation of our armed forces and taking forward the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. The new money will be focused on mastering the emerging technologies that are transforming warfare, reflecting the premium placed on speed of deployment and technical skill, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will set out the details next week.
Later this year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will embark on her maiden deployment, leading a carrier strike group on a 20,000-mile voyage to the Indo-Pacific and back, exercising with Britain’s allies and partners along the way and demonstrating the importance that we attach to freedom of the seas.
By strengthening our armed forces, we will extend British influence, while simultaneously creating jobs across the United Kingdom, reinforcing the Union and maximising our advantage in science and technology. This Government will invest more in research and development than any of our predecessors because innovation is the key to our success at home and abroad, from speeding our economic recovery, to shaping emerging technologies in accordance with freedom and openness. We will better protect ourselves against threats to our economic security.
Our newly independent trade policy will be an instrument for ensuring that the rules and standards in future trade agreements reflect our values. Our newly independent sanctions policy already allows the UK to act swiftly and robustly wherever necessary, and we were the first European country to sanction the generals in Myanmar after the coup last month.
In all our endeavours, the United States will be our greatest ally and a uniquely close partner in defence, intelligence and security. Britain’s commitment to the security of our European home will remain unconditional and immoveable, incarnated by our leadership of NATO’s deployment in Estonia.
We shall stand up for our values, as well as for our interests, and here I commend the vigilance and dedication of hon. Members from all parties, because the UK, with the wholehearted support of this whole House, has led the international community in expressing our deep concern over China’s mass detention of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province, and in giving nearly three million of Hong Kong’s people a route to British citizenship.
There is no question that China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours, but we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests, including in building a stronger and positive economic relationship and in addressing climate change.
The greater our unity at home, the stronger our influence abroad, which will, in turn, open up new markets and create jobs in every corner of the UK, not only maximising opportunities for the British people, but, I hope, inspiring a sense of pride that their country is willing to follow in its finest traditions and stand up for what is right. With the extra investment and new capabilities of the integrated review, the United Kingdom can thrive in an ever more competitive world and fulfil our historic mission as a force for good. I commend this statement to the House.
We want the integrated review to work. Threats to our national security are increasing; they are becoming more complex and less predictable. The Government must get this review right, but it is built on foundations that have been weakened over the past decade. The Prime Minister has spoken of an era of retreat; he is right. In the last decade of Conservative Government, defence spending and pay for the armed forces both fell in real terms. Our armed forces’ numbers have been cut by 45,000, and there is still a black hole of £17 billion in the defence equipment plan. Although we welcome the long-overdue increase in capital funding, the creation of a counter-terrorism operations centre and new investment in cyber, the Prime Minister cannot avoid the question that everyone in our armed forces and their families will be asking today: will there be further cuts to the strength of our Army and our armed forces? The British Army is already 6,000 below the minimal level set out in the last review. It has been cut every year for the past decade, and it is being reported that the Army will see a further reduction of 10,000, alongside fewer tanks, fewer jets for the RAF and fewer frigates for the Royal Navy.
Prime Minister, if those reports are untrue, can that be said today? Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have cut the armed forces, but at least they have had the courage to come to this House and say so. This statement was silent on the issue. After everything that the armed forces have done for us, the Prime Minister has a duty to be straight with them today.
Turning to foreign policy, Britain needs to be a moral force for good in the world once again, leading the fight against climate change; strengthening multinational alliances, including NATO; championing human rights; valuing international development; and ensuring that trade deals protect high standards and public services. But there is a huge gap between that and the Government’s actions. The review rightly concludes that Russia remains the most acute threat to our security. That is not new. Eighteen months ago, the Russia review concluded that the threat was “urgent and immediate”, so why has none of its recommendations been implemented?
The integrated review talks about the importance of upholding international law, I agree, but from Europe to the Indian Ocean, this Government now have a reputation for breaking international law, not defending it. We welcome the deepening of engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, but that comes on the back of an inconsistent policy towards China for a decade. Conservative Governments have spent 10 years turning a blind eye to human rights abuses while inviting China to help build our infrastructure. That basic inconsistency is now catching up with them.
The review also talks of conflict resolution, yet there is nothing about updating our arms export regime, and in particular suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister’s statement did not mention international development, and I wonder why—because he is cutting development spending for the first time in decades and denying the House a vote on it. If global Britain is to mean anything, it cannot mean selling arms to Saudi Arabia and cutting aid to Yemen.
I voted for the renewal of Trident, and the Labour party’s support for nuclear deterrence is non-negotiable, but this review breaks the goal of successive Prime Ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It does not explain when, why or for what strategic purpose, so the Prime Minister needs to answer that question today.
On trade, we recognise the need for new and ambitious trade deals. There needs to be a major boost in UK exports over the next decade, but that has to start with making a success of the Brexit deal, and that will not happen unless we remove the new red tape that is now holding British businesses back.
Britain should and could be a moral force for good in the world. After a decade of neglect, this review was the chance to turn a corner, but there is now a very real risk that our armed forces will be stripped back even further, and that this review will not end the era of retreat—in fact, it will extend it.
First, we have one of the toughest arms export regimes in the world under the consolidated guidance. Anybody listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not realise that we are the second biggest international donor of aid in the G7.
It is absolutely preposterous to hear the Labour leader calling for more investment in our armed forces when this is the biggest investment in our armed forces since the cold war—£24 billion—and when it was not so long ago that he was campaigning very hard, without dissent, to install a leader of the Labour party as Prime Minister who wanted to withdraw from NATO and disband our armed forces. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) heckles me from the shadow Front Bench, but it is ridiculous for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to talk about our nuclear defences when the reality is that Labour is all over the place. The last time the House voted on protecting our nuclear defences, the shadow Foreign Secretary voted against it, and so did the current Labour deputy leader. They want to talk about standing up for our armed forces. Just in the last year, the Labour party has been given the opportunity to back our armed services, our armed forces, our troops and our soldiers in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. They had the chance to stand up for veterans. They voted against it on a three-line Whip. Those are the instincts of the Labour party—weak on supporting our troops, weak on backing Britain when it matters, and weak on defence.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pointed out that the present Labour leadership is more on the side of Ernest Bevin, who was against fascism and against the left wing both at home and abroad, and that is a sign of some kind of unity.
The Prime Minister did not mention development much in his statement, and I ask him to meet us to have a discussion on it. The question of meeting the 0.7%—70p in every £100 of our income—has been agreed; the Government said that that would be maintained. They now say that there will be a gap and it will be restored. We want that gap to be evaporated—to go away and not to happen. The aid goes down with our income; it should go up with our income, and we should meet the commitment we made in successive manifestos. I leave it to the Prime Minister to say when those who are concerned for aid for Yemen, the Voluntary Service Overseas and others will get an answer as to whether they will be cut as well. I want to stand beside the Prime Minister as well as behind him, and we want to do what he wrote in our 2019 manifesto and proudly meet that commitment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his points. People listening to this debate might not grasp that this country is actually the biggest European donor to Yemen; we have given £1 billion over the past six years and £87 million this year. I do not think people grasp that we are giving £10 billion in international aid. We can be very proud of what we are doing. Of course, we will return to the 0.7% target when fiscal circumstances allow.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of his statement, and I thank my Scottish National party colleagues, led by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and for Stirling (Alyn Smith), who compiled on behalf of the SNP a substantial and constructive submission to the consultation on the review.
This statement is one more insight into just how hollow the brand of global Britain actually is. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric always fails to come close to reality. Today, the Prime Minister preaches about international obligations, but only yesterday we saw that our closest partners in the EU are bringing his Government to court for breaking international law.
The Prime Minister talks about partnership with nations around the world in the very week that the most senior figures in the US, including the Speaker of Congress, warned against the UK’s increasingly unilateralist approach. The chasm between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and the reality of his Government’s actions is deeply damaging. Just because the Prime Minister wastes £2.6 million on desperately trying to copy the White House’s press briefing room, that does not hide the reality of the UK’s weakening global influence.
Given the limited time available, let me ask a number of specific questions to which we demand answers. On cuts to Army personnel, we were promised that 12,500 personnel would be stationed permanently in Scotland; not only does the current number remain well below 10,000, but overall cuts to the Army of 10,000 are expected. Is the Prime Minister prepared to admit that this is one more broken Tory promise to our armed forces and to the people of Scotland?
On international aid cuts, the review fails to reinstate immediately our moral obligation and the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid and development. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, countries devastated by war and famine—Yemen, Syria and South Sudan—will have their humanitarian aid slashed. Only this morning, it has emerged that the UK Government also plan to cut their human rights support and anti-corruption measures by a staggering 80%. If the Prime Minister is prepared to stand up for such callous cuts, is he also prepared to guarantee that he will allow for a straight vote on them in the House of Commons?
Finally, on Trident nuclear weapons, the review disgracefully endorses the attainment of 80 more of these weapons of mass destruction. Will the Prime Minister tell us who gave his Government the democratic right to renege on the UK’s obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?
This Government continue to invest massively in projects that will bring benefit to the whole of the UK, including Scotland. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there will be further investments in Lossiemouth, and that there is no threat to the Black Watch, which he and his colleagues sometimes like to raise in order to alarm people.
We will continue to invest massively in overseas development aid, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned. We are very proud of what we are doing—and by the way, it delivers 500 jobs in East Kilbride. We will continue to invest in shipbuilding, which drives jobs across the whole of the UK, and particularly in Scotland. It is fantastic to see ships being built by apprentices in Govan, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has. The only thing that endangers those investments and our working together as one UK—working with all the fantastic people in the armed services in Scotland—is the reckless referendum that his party insists on calling at the most inapposite time possible for this country.
I very much welcome the comprehensive ambitions set out in this important integrated review paper. There is a 1930s feel to the scale of challenges that we face today, with rising authoritarian powers, weak global institutions, and an absence of western leadership and collective resolve. I was hoping for a Fulton, Missouri moment when we finally call out China for the geo-strategic threat that it is, and a commitment to our aid budget. I do hope that the Prime Minister will summon that Atlantic charter spirit of working together with our closest ally, the United States, to strengthen the rules-based order, such as advancing the G7 to the G10, which could form the backbone for revising the trade and security standards that our ever-dangerous world so desperately needs.
I must say that I think there is a balance to be struck, because, after all, we have a strong trading relationship with China worth about £81 billion. China is the second largest economy in the world and a fact of our lives, and we must accept that fact in a clear-eyed way. But we also have to be tough where we see risk. That is why this Government have brought in the National Security and Investment Bill to protect our intellectual property. That is why we are protecting our critical national infrastructure. That is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done more than virtually any other Foreign Secretary around the world to call out what China is doing in Xinjiang. That is why this Government have offered a place—a refuge and abode—to 3 million Hong Kong Chinese who may be in fear of persecution as a result of what is happening in Hong Kong. This Government take a very, very clear-eyed approach to what is happening in China. It is a balanced approach and one that I think the British people understand.
We have heard a lot of words like “ambition” and “innovation”, so let me bring the Prime Minister a little bit back down to earth, and sea. We have an aircraft carrier strike group with not enough aircraft and not enough ships to support it. We have rotting nuclear submarines, not a single one of which has been decommissioned. We have living accommodation for single personnel and families that is woefully inadequate and needing investment. Quite simply, the maths does not add up. The gap in what is needed to just deliver what is in-plan now is huge, even with the additional investment, so perhaps the Prime Minister could level with the House, the country and our armed forces and tell us now what is going to be cut so that this can be afforded.
The hon. Lady should recognise that this is the biggest commitment in spending on our armed forces since the cold war. Labour left a black hole in our defence money of £38 billion. [Interruption.] Yes, they did. This is a massive investment and it is designed to deal with the chronic problems that previous Governments have failed to address—modernising our forces with AI, with the future combat air system, and finally moving into cyber. I think that is the hard-edged investment this country needs to modernise our forces and take them forward. Labour consistently failed to do that.
As the Prime Minister just mentioned the National Security and Investment Bill, I hope I can rely on him to help the Intelligence and Security Committee to remove the obstacles that are being placed in our way in wishing to scrutinise the work of the Investment Security Unit.
Although there are strong analytical aspects to this review, it is suggested on pages 62 to 63 that our adversary, communist China,
“is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness”—
if you please—and that we want
“deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK.”
Does not that unfortunately demonstrate that the grasping naivety of the Cameron-Osborne years still lingers on in some Departments of State?
Those who call for a new cold war on China or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China, which would seem to be the new policy of the Opposition, weaving, as they generally do, from one position to the next, are, I think, mistaken. We have a balance to strike and we need to have a clear-eyed relationship with China. Of course we are protecting our critical national infrastructure, and we will continue to do that, and we will make sure that through the National Security and Investment Bill we protect our intellectual property. We will take tough measures, as I have said, to call out China for what it is doing in Xinjiang. There is no one around the world who has done more on that matter than my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or this Government, and we will continue to do that. Companies that profit from trade in forced labour will not be allowed to do so in this country. I think the whole House should be very proud of what we are doing.
I am really shocked that development is barely mentioned in the integrated review. When will the Prime Minister understand that full tummies, economic opportunity and stable Governments create the stronger, safer and more prosperous world that he wants, not more nuclear weapons? Looking at the cuts that we know of so far— cuts to the conflict, stability and security fund and 80% cuts in aid corruption work—how do they make sense to create this stable world? When do the Government plan to publish their development strategy, and will they actually consult the non-governmental organisations, the global south and, indeed, Parliament and the International Development Committee on this review? Please, tell us—we need to know the details.
As I have just explained, development remains an absolutely critical part of the UK’s foreign and overseas policy, and £10 billion is being spent this year alone. Given what this country has been going through and given that we have been obliged to spend £280 billion to prop up jobs and livelihoods, another £63 billion to support the NHS and £37 billion on supporting local councils, I think it is up to Members opposite to say which of that support for the NHS they would cut and what they would reduce to spend more on overseas aid. Of course we want the percentage to go back up again when fiscal circumstances allow, but I think people of common sense understand that £10 billion is a huge sum in the current circumstances, and they will appreciate that it is right to wait until fiscal circumstances have improved.
I very much welcome the integrated review as it is set out, and I welcome its aspiration to coherence. I also welcome the fact that many of the ideas, not just the author, have been stolen from the Foreign Affairs Committee, and for that I am very grateful. But may I ask that some of the aspects we have touched on in the past few years are addressed in the strategies that have not been clarified in today’s paper—strategies on artificial intelligence and, indeed, on different forms of financial threats? Where we need to see the UK setting up for ourselves is not just in aid and sticking to the 0.7%, which the Prime Minister has already touched on, but also in platforms, making sure that we do not just reallocate aid to defence, but actually increase the number of ships so that our presence in the east is real, not digital. We also need to look hard at the new threats—from cryptocurrency to the financial mis-dealings in the city of London—that threaten our national security so obviously, whether that is dirty Russian money or, increasingly, dirty Chinese money. We need to stand up for Britain’s interests and bring these tools together. This is a very welcome start, but will the Prime Minister please put some meat on those bones and make sure, when we hear the Command Paper next week, that we do not find that this is a snowstorm without the pounds attached?
It is a pretty big blizzard of a snowstorm when we consider that there is £24 billion and the biggest investment since the cold war. We cover every aspect of the subjects that my hon. Friend has just raised, from artificial intelligence to the threat of cryptocurrencies, and it remains the case that the UK, under these proposals, will continue to be able to project—one of the few countries in the world to be able to project—force 8,000 miles, thanks to our carrier strike force, and we are making the investments now. We are making the investments now that are grasping the nettle that previous Governments have failed to grasp for decades.
Reneging on the commitment to retain 0.7% of GNI on development spending is a short-sighted mistake, and the Prime Minister’s promise that it will be just temporary is not good enough. After all, he said in his own party’s manifesto he would not cut it. Weasel words on aid will not wash. The Prime Minister has said a number of times during this statement so far that aid spending will be restored “when fiscal circumstances allow”, but we all know that the fallout from this pandemic is going to last years, if not decades, so will the Prime Minister promise the House today that this unlawful development cut will be for one year, and if it might be for longer, why does he not just seek a vote on it?
The habit of reading out questions that have been prepared means that I am obliged to return the hon. Lady the answer I gave just a little while ago. We will of course return to the 0.7% when fiscal circumstances allow, but I think that, in the meantime, most people in this country will be amazed, proud and pleased that, in spite of the difficulties we face, we are spending £10 billion on the poorest and neediest around the world.
There is much to be welcomed in my right hon. Friend’s statement today, but is he not concerned that our position as chair of the G7 is undermined by Britain being the only country in the G7 that is cutting its development budget, in breach of our clear party manifesto commitment? If he is determined to pursue this aspect of his policy—I know my right hon. Friend; he is a democrat—when will he bring it to the House for a vote? Otherwise, he may be in danger, as from the start of the new financial year, of creating an unlawful Budget.
I have great respect and admiration for my right hon. Friend, who has campaigned for many years on international development and done much good, but I have to say, listening to contributions from around the Chamber, that we are in danger of talking Britain down. The investments we are making are colossal—absolutely colossal—by any international standards. We are the second-biggest contributor of aid in the G7 already, and in spite of all the difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, we are contributing £10 billion this year to support the poorest and neediest in the world. Yes, I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we will return to the 0.7% when the fiscal circumstances allow, but the law makes it very clear that when we have exceptional circumstances—I do not think anybody in this House or around the world would contest that we have had exceptional circumstances—we are entitled to vary that 0.7% commitment, and that is what we are doing.
Given that the Prime Minister said the climate crisis is his No. 1 international priority, it is disappointing that there is a climate-shaped hole at the heart of the Prime Minister’s review, with resources dangerously diverted to nuclear weapons. Earlier today, the Foreign Secretary justified breaking our nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations on the grounds that nuclear weapons are
“the ultimate insurance policy against the worst threat from hostile states.”
The logical consequence of that position is surely that every country should be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons on the same insurance policy grounds. If such nuclear proliferation happens, and since we are increasing our nuclear warheads by more than 40%, how could we possibly have any moral authority to speak out against it? If that nuclear proliferation happens, does the Prime Minister think the world as a whole will be more safe or less safe?
It is entertaining to see the shadow Foreign Secretary nodding along to the hon. Lady’s denunciation of nuclear weapons after what we heard from the Labour leader—quite extraordinary. I really do not think the hon. Lady can have been reading the integrated review at all, because it sets out very clearly that we will be investing £11.6 billion internationally on tackling climate change. It develops the 10-point plan that the UK is advancing for tackling the emission of greenhouse gases. It stresses that this is the major western economy to go for a net zero target by 2050. She should be applauding the document, but I have to assume that she has not yet properly read it.
I very much welcome this integrated review, although I think there will be challenges in re-engineering Whitehall for this common purpose. How does my right hon. Friend assess the threat from Iran to the Gulf region and the UK’s strategic interests? What does he believe the opportunities are for increased peace and prosperity as a result of the signing of the Abraham accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who knows whereof he speaks and has done much to advance the cause of peace in the middle east. It was an unexpected breakthrough for many in the foreign policy establishment to see the Abraham accords, and I think a significant and positive step forward. As for Iran, I must tell him—I am sure he knows—that we remain extremely concerned by Iran’s influence and disruptive behaviour in the region. In particular, of course, we are concerned by the risk of Iran developing a viable nuclear weapon. That is why we think it right that Iran should be in compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action not just for the benefit of the region, but for the benefit and security of the people of Iran.
This integrated review looks like a desperate, confused and self-important search for purpose, far, far removed from the concerns of the people of Wales. With Welsh trade with our most important trading partner, the EU, collapsing as a result of the fundamental political and strategic error of our exit, is it not increasingly clear that the best interests of my country would be served not by squandering billions and more on literally useless nuclear weapons, but by our ability to pursue our own course in the world?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the people of Wales voted to leave the EU. I think they did the right thing, for all sorts of reasons. Not that I think he supports them, but it is the Welsh Labour Government who continue to squander money hand over fist on all sorts of projects that I do not believe are in the interests of the people of Wales, including £144 million on a study for a bypass alone.
I welcome this integrated review. I recognise how difficult it is to do one during a pandemic. I am worried about designating China simply as a systemic challenge, given the terrible events in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Will the Prime Minister keep that under review? Does he agree that because the 0.7% cut is strictly temporary, relating to the pandemic, there is no need to amend legislation? Finally is not one of the most important reasons to build up Britain’s might to stand squarely behind individual British citizens in peril, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, so that there are no more victims of Iran’s vile hostage diplomacy?
Yes indeed, my right hon. Friend is right in what he says about the ODA commitment and right in what he says about China. Of course we will keep that under review, although, as I said, the balance has to be struck. He is also right that the UK Government should stick up for British citizens, and I thank him for everything he did during his tenure as Foreign Secretary to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is a disgrace that she remains effectively in captivity in Tehran, and on 10 March I raised that very matter with President Rouhani myself.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Will he outline the strategy to bring back into line recruitment of foot soldiers post covid, as well as recruitment of cyber-soldiers? May I highlight that the centre for cyber security in Europe is Belfast in Northern Ireland, with trained staff and low rates? Will he consider basing security in Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom?
The first point to make about the armed forces is that there will be no redundancies under this plan. There will be massive investment in our land forces and particularly in cyber-forces. We are taking the tough decisions needed to modernise and improve our armed forces. Yes, it is expensive—it requires £24 billion to do it—but it means taking historic and difficult decisions now, and that is what we are doing.
As someone who is proud to represent a constituency with tens of thousands of defence and aerospace jobs, I am delighted that at the heart of the review is investment in domestic industries. Does the Prime Minister think that increasing our sovereign defence manufacturing capability will assist us strategically in projecting power and sustaining operations across the globe?
Yes, and one of the things that our defence investments can do is help to entrench our Union and build jobs and growth across the whole of the United Kingdom. There is now a steady stream of shipbuilding contracts and many other defence contracts that will drive high-quality jobs for a generation to come.
Will the Prime Minister explain how building national resilience will include the digital transformation of the security and intelligence agencies, where the resources will come from, and whether it will include industry and international partners?
As I just said to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we are investing massively in cyber and in upgrading the cyber-skills of our troops.
The late and respected American Senator John McCain said in a 2008 speech:
“We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact—a League of Democracies—that can harness the vast influence of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.”
Can my right hon. Friend’s welcome vision, set out today, be aligned with smaller nations around the world such as Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, and Israel, which are vanguards of religious pluralism, democracy, a free society, the rule of law and security against terrorism? Can Great Britain lead a new alliance of democracies around the world, as proposed by the late Senator John McCain?
Yes. Our commitment to Israeli security is unwavering, and we continue to work closely with our partners in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Will the Prime Minister level with the country and tell us exactly how he plans to reduce the armed forces by 10,000 in the years ahead?
I have already explained that this is the biggest investment in our armed forces since the cold war, and there will be no redundancies across the armed forces.
I have been absolutely honoured this year to spend time with the Royal Navy, as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. In a world where new powers are using new tools to redefine the international order, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we now invest in new technologies such as cyber so that our fantastic armed forces personnel are fully equipped to face 21st-century challenges to our nation’s defence?
Yes, indeed, and that is why we are investing in cyber and in shipbuilding. By the end of this decade, we will have 24 frigates, as opposed to the 15 today.
The Prime Minister says that he is tough on illegal migration at home, but withdrawing and reducing aid, development and military support in areas of conflict, famine, war and instability will drive a new wave of international migration. Does he not accept that he cannot be tough, and claim to be tough, on illegal migration at home if his policies are driving it to start with?
The hon. Gentleman is not right; in fact, I think he is talking total nonsense. The most effective thing we can do to ensure that we protect ourselves against illegal migration is to do what we have done, which is take back control of our borders—a measure that he and the Labour party opposed, and that the Labour party would repudiate.
I strongly welcome and support my right hon. Friend’s statement today on our post-Brexit strategy, which is set out in the integrated review. Does he agree that global Britain needs to maximise and co-ordinate its opportunities to promote and protect British industry and interests across the world, including those of our overseas territories?
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is quite right because this integrated review supports our overseas territories and our Crown dependencies, and our armed forces will continue to deter challenges to Gibraltar. We will maintain a permanent presence on the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and the British Indian ocean territories. We will use our increased maritime presence around the world to protect the very territories and dependencies that he mentions.
Today we heard the PM speak about a premium based on speed. However, Scotland’s waters make up over 60% of UK waters, while the Royal Navy’s most northern surface warship base is on the UK’s southern coast. Can he confirm that this review means that, despite regular territorial incursions from Russia’s navy and air force, Scotland still hosts no major surface warships—a fact that means that scrambling the fleet ready escort to Scottish waters takes 24 hours? How on earth is that a premium based on speed?
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s emphatic desire, as a Scottish nationalist—a member of the SNP—for a UK defence role. I think he is absolutely right. But I can tell him that the salient point is that all our nuclear deterrent—all our submarines, I should say, are based on the Clyde.
I strongly welcome the much greater coherence that this review will deliver to our national security strategy, both for our nation’s immediate defence and so that all its elements are working together towards an open international order and being a force for good in the world, supporting open societies, human rights and good governance. As part of this, can I continue to assume that we will honour our commitment to be the country that leads the world in helping hundreds of millions of LGBT people to have the freedom to be themselves, with all the benefits that come from that for the prosperity of those states and the wealth of the spirit of the individuals involved?
My hon. Friend is totally right. This is one of the areas that I know that every embassy and consulate in the Foreign Office campaigns on. I believe that we make a huge difference around the world. There are countries that have changed their policies on marriage and their approach to LGBT issues in response to British lobbying. The latest Magnitsky sanctions that we have implemented are in respect of Chechnya for its policy on LGBT issues. We will continue to campaign and evangelise for our values and our beliefs around the world.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that I am a member of the board of governors of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. In that capacity, I am aware of the importance of the work that it and other organisations do in protecting open, democratic societies across the globe. Not being a Scottish nationalist, I am also aware how important that is to the UK’s own national interest. Can the Prime Minister assure us that that work will continue despite the difficulties we face following the current financial year?
Yes, I can. I have seen the excellent work that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy does around the world. I have personally attended debates that it has championed in countries where democracy is precarious, and I thank the hon. Lady very much for what she is doing.
Our international ambitions must start at home, and through the integrated review we will drive investment back into our communities. It is essential that we ensure that the UK is on the cutting edge of innovation and create an entire country that is match-fit for a more competitive world. In my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, advanced ceramics from local firm Lucideon recently landed on Mars. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sky is not the limit when it comes to innovation?
I am thrilled and amazed to hear that ceramics from my hon. Friend’s constituency have landed on Mars. That is not the limit of our ambitions, as she knows, because the National Space Council has recently approved all sorts of missions and ambitions for the UK. But the point of what we are doing is not just to push back the frontiers of science and knowledge across the universe, but to drive jobs and growth in her constituency and around the whole UK. That is the point of the global Britain agenda, because we believe that by exerting British influence in the world in the way that we are, we can drive the UK economy and drive prosperity here at home.
I declare my interest as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the recognition in the integrated review of threats to our democracy and the role that technology, disinformation and other forms of hybrid warfare play in those threats. On that basis, can the Prime Minister confirm that the online safety Bill that will be presented to the House this year will contain sufficient powers to tackle collective online harms, including threats to our democracy?
Yes, I can.
The integrated review is clearly extremely welcome. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a vigorous approach to foreign policy that recognises the importance of the Indo-Pacific region is key? Does he also agree that a truly global Britain that forges strategic ties with future superpowers, such as Brazil, which partnered with us in the development of the Oxford vaccine, is also of crucial importance?
I know that I speak for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North himself when I say that we understand the importance of Brazil. I share his analysis about the future of Brazil. Together with the Canning of our times, the Foreign Secretary, we intend to build closer relationships not just with Brazil and the rest of the Mercosur countries, but with the Pacific Alliance countries too.
With hostile states, non-state actors, terror and crime groups all posing a threat to the UK and our allies, it is important to be prepared to adapt and develop our cyber-technology and capabilities. However, increasing our nuclear weapons arsenal is something I cannot condone. Both President Biden and Putin renewed their bilateral New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on nuclear weapons reductions just last month, so why is the Prime Minister going against the flow by increasing our arsenal?
Of course we are committed to nuclear arms reduction. Indeed, we believe that China should be brought into strategic nuclear arms reduction, but one of the most important things about having a credible deterrent for friend and foe alike is setting out what we have, and that is what this integrated review does.
I thank the PM for an important statement about the future security of our proud nation. Addressing both the challenges and opportunities the UK faces in a more competitive world is needed, especially when those who seek to harm us are using all the tools of modern technology at their disposal. Lancashire has a proud history of engineering technology solutions, so does the Prime Minister agree that in the future more investment in our technologies, such as cyber, will be key to our defence? Will he take account of Lancashire’s skills and ability to deliver?
I know that my hon. Friend was listening very carefully to the statement, and she will have spotted that there is a commitment to the north-west and to cyber in Lancashire. [Interruption.] I have heard your representations, Mr Speaker. You will have to wait for the Defence Secretary to explain exactly where it is going to be. To boost those skills and jobs for the long term and to make that transformation in defence technology that Lancashire is undoubtedly going to lead, we are investing £6.6 billion in defence research and development over the next four years.
We will certainly take Lancashire, even if the Prime Minister cannot say whereabouts.
The review and the Prime Minister’s statement are typically big on words, but scant on detail or strategy. It was a mass of contradictions steeped in a lack of realism when it comes to affordability and scope, and there was zero acknowledgement of the harm that years of underinvestment in our nation’s defence have caused. Ultimately, the world will judge him and his Government on their actions, so can he explain how breaching article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty fits with his commitment to international law?
I never saw such a seething mass of contradictions as the Opposition Front Bench, because we only have to go a few yards from the Leader of the Opposition to the shadow Foreign Secretary to find a complete gulf in their view on the very matter that the hon. Lady raises. The Leader of the Opposition claims to be in favour of the nuclear deterrent, and the shadow Foreign Secretary voted against it. The most consistent thing that our friends and allies, as well as our foes around the world need to know is that the UK is committed to the defence of this country and to our nuclear defence.
We do have to make sure that when we say how people voted, we are correct.
There is much to commend in this statement from the Prime Minister, but I am saddened to hear that we will be balancing the books on the backs of the poor. We are devastating the amount of money going to Yemen and Sudan, to mention just two countries where children, mothers and whole families are devastated by what they have to face. We are also aware that although funding is being decided, VSO currently does not know when that funding is coming. If it does not have funding by the end of this month, it will have to end its covid-19 response programme in 18 countries, leaving 4.5 million people without support. That decision cannot easily be reversed, so will the Prime Minister tell the House whether VSO will have some money to continue, and if not, when that funding decision will be taken?
I have much enjoyed working with my hon. Friend over the years, and I understand what she says about Yemen. I repeat: most people in this country will be reassured to know that the UK Government continue to be one of the biggest providers for the people of Yemen—the biggest in Europe. I strongly support VSO, which some of my family have done. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be setting out the position shortly.
Despite 20 years of bloodshed, the integrated review makes only two glancing references to Afghanistan. Given that 150,000 people, including 457 British servicemen and women, have lost their lives in that conflict, will the Prime Minister say how the UK will help to establish a lasting peace in the region?
As I have repeatedly told President Ghani of Afghanistan, our commitment is for the long term. He knows the difficulties of the current situation, and the decisions that the US Government have to take. The UK is working hard to ensure that there is a viable process, and that we do not see a return to the kind of civil war that I am afraid has bedevilled Afghanistan. I believe that the legacy of this Government and this country in Afghanistan—and the commitment of British troops, as well as the loss of life to which the hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention—is a proud one. We must ensure that it is not betrayed, and that we leave a legacy in the education of women and the security of the people of Afghanistan that is lasting and that endures.
As a former soldier, may I reassure the Prime Minister that taking the review back to first principles, and assessing the future capability requirements against the threat, is absolutely the right thing to do? Will he reassure me that where restructuring is needed—notably perhaps in my own service—our people will be looked after?
We are determined to look after all the wonderful men and women of our armed services, not just by protecting them after they have served, and by protecting veterans who may be at risk of vexatious litigation in the way I have described; we also have to ensure that we look after people during their service. In particular, we must look after families, who often bear the brunt of the commitments and sacrifices that our armed services make. That is why we have committed to wraparound childcare for those involved in our armed services.
We cannot hear. We will come back to Ms Eshalomi.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s putting diplomacy at the very heart of the integrated review? With new resources going into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, do we not have an independent Britain which still needs to be at the heart of multilateral democracy, multilateral institutions and multilateral diplomacy around the world? That includes conflict prevention and conflict resolution.
We continue to support all the sustainable development goals that my right hon. Friend rightly mentions, and we believe passionately in diplomacy. The flag is going up around the world in embassies, legations and continents. The UK flag is going up, I am proud to say, in Australasia, Africa—around the world.
Why on earth slash budgets used to tackle corruption and promote good governance around the world? Why slash support for the research that our universities do to help the poorest countries to combat disease? Are not these exactly the sort of soft-power policies that deliver positive results and earn respect, rather than extortionate, grotesque and provocative nuclear weapons spending?
This is the country that spends the most on the global vaccine alliance. This is the country that spends £548 million on COVAX and £1.6 billion on Gavi. We lead the world in health protection, in tackling conflict and poverty, in championing female education around the world. I really think international observers who come across Britons around the world working in these fields would simply not recognise the discussion and debate that they are hearing today in the House of Commons. They know that this is a country that is massively committed to the welfare of the poorest and neediest in the world and will remain so.
Let us go back to Florence Eshalomi.
Many of my constituents are concerned that much of this review seems to have prioritised the global projection of hard power. The Government have chosen to cut our aid budget to countries in need, such as Syria and Yemen, and this will have serious knock-on effects. My constituent wrote to me and said:
“Britain has a good track record in recognising the crucial role that aid has in alleviating poverty and enhancing health equity.”
Does the Prime Minister agree that this Government’s cuts to aid will not just let the world’s poorest down, but make it more difficult for the Government to achieve their foreign policy objectives and maintain Britain’s global moral authority?
No, I do not remotely agree with that.
I share the view expressed by the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), at the start. I am proud to be a member of a party which, in its last manifesto, said that it would spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid, but we all know that because of the fall in GNI, the 0.7% represents less money than it did a year ago. Now is not the time to cut our aid to Yemen or to withdraw our support for voluntary services overseas, so will my right hon. Friend consider bridging the gap by additionally donating extra supplies of the world’s finest, safest covid vaccine—the Oxford vaccine—to developing countries?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his suggestion. I remind him of what I said about the commitment of this country to overseas aid, which is enormous by any objective view. On the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, this is the only vaccine in the world, under the terms of the deal struck between the UK Government, the Oxford scientists and AstraZeneca, that is sold at cost around the world. I thank him for raising that, because it is another reason for people in this country to be proud of the outward-looking, engaging, fundamentally compassionate attitude of the British Government and people.