House of Commons
Monday 22 March 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make. Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer, who died in the line of duty protecting this Parliament from a terrorist attack. His sacrifice will not be forgotten. May I express on behalf of the whole House our sympathy with his family, friends and colleagues on this sad anniversary? We are grateful every day to the police services in all parts of the country for all that they do.
I gather that there is a technical problem that means we cannot proceed immediately with our business today. I am going to suspend the House for 30 minutes while we seek to resolve the problem.
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—
Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, may I join you in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer? Keith was a brave, brave office dedicated to his work and we will always remember him.
Following last week’s meeting of the crime and justice taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, the Government have doubled the size of the safer streets fund, which will go towards neighbourhood measures designed to improve public safety and protection.
Knife and gang crime is sadly an issue in my constituency, but, at the same time, two police stations in the north of it are under threat. One is Notting Hill police station, which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is planning to sell—he closed its front counter a couple of years ago—and the other is Lancaster Road, where the lease is due to expire. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given this Government’s huge investment in the police, we need physical police stations in London and in the north of my constituency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her because she is an incredible constituency MP. I spent time with her on patrol, where she joined me very much in backing and supporting the police. I am incredibly disappointed by what she said about police stations closing in her constituency. It is a fact that they are a vital lifeline to protect communities and the public. She will know that police and crime commissioners are elected to be accountable to the communities they serve, and with that, they also need to be a strong voice when it comes to fighting crime and dealing with, as she rightly highlighted, the issue of knife crime, drug crime and attacks on young people.
Last year, I oversaw the temporary creation of a mobile police station in Blyth marketplace. This was very well received by the local residents and retailers in the town, as well as being supported by our fantastic local police force. However, a more permanent fixture, as well as the installation of CCTV, would be welcomed by all. Will my right hon. Friend support me, the police and the residents of Blyth Valley in our endeavours to create a safer environment for all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I commend him because, again, he is a tour de force locally, giving strong voice and representation to safer streets and safer communities and, again, backing the police. He is right to work with the police locally to make sure that more community support and safety measures come into place. I will support and work with him in whatever way I can. He will also know that when it comes to the funding for these schemes, the money is there from central Government. I urge all police and crime commissioners to step up and make absolutely sure that they tap into that funding to ensure that these measures come into place.
May I associate myself with the remembrance today of PC Palmer and the other victims we lost on that day? I remember coming out of Westminster tube at exactly this time four years ago and seeing the aftermath of that dreadful terrorist attack.
I welcome the reopening of the call for evidence on violence against women and girls, which I believe now closes this Friday—26 March—and I encourage as many people to have their say as possible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we listen to victims of violence and all women and girls to really understand their experiences in their daily lives, so that we can ensure that the strategy that the Government finally introduce does tackle violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I echo her call to continue to encourage people to respond to the survey. We have already had in excess of 135,000 people writing in to the survey since it has been reopened. But there is a fundamental point here: in having people join that consultation, that public survey, we want their views, because their views matter, but so do their personal experiences. I am talking about personal experiences and insights whether or not someone has been a victim, which is always a terrible, terrible thing, but also if someone has interacted with the system—it could be the criminal justice system, victim support services, the police or any aspect of the system. We want that to come together so that we can have the right type of approach that gives voice and strength to the type of policies and the legislation that we bring forward.
Over the past year in Aylesbury Vale, robberies have fallen by 35% and many more criminals have been brought to justice for violent offences. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the superb officers at Thames Valley police’s Aylesbury police station on those achievements, and can she tell the House how her Department will ensure that those officers can continue to keep those in my local community safe, especially women?
My hon. Friend will have heard me speaking with great praise for Thames Valley police and for its incredible work and dedication, of which there are many examples that we have spoken about in the past. He spoke about Thames Valley Aylesbury’s work on reducing crime within the community. That is very much down to great leadership, no doubt about that, and also to resourcing, with the money that the Government are putting in place, and to the new police officers, the visibility, the money that goes into crime reduction and the surge funding that has gone in. I absolutely stand with him and with his local officers who are doing outstanding work.
Many of my constituents in Bracknell have contacted me recently to express concern about antisocial behaviour. This includes nuisance neighbours, drug abuse, speeding cars and general disorder. Given that the Government have a responsibility to safeguard the law-abiding majority, could my right hon. Friend please confirm what is being done to curb this behaviour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Knowing his constituency as I do from previous visits, and knowing the way in which the police work locally, we absolutely stand with them in our determination to stamp out criminality and also antisocial behaviour—the things that blight communities. Of course we stand on the side of the silent law-abiding majority—no question about that whatsoever. The funding that we have seen for more police officers within his force and his constituency, along with the money for the safer streets fund, will go a long way to delivering for his constituents.
Recently, gangs of bicycle and car thieves have been targeting the High Peak, travelling into the area from Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. Derbyshire police is working hard to try to tackle this problem, but can I urge the Home Secretary to do more to ensure that the different police forces, including the British Transport police, work more closely together to tackle the criminal gangs that operate over county lines?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the blended way in which forces should come together, because county lines cross boundaries. Whether it is the British Transport police, his own police or the neighbouring forces, we need them to pull together to deal with the level of criminality that he has spoken about. That is taking place on one of the biggest issues that faces our country, which is county lines drug gangs. He will know, from when we have spoken previously, of the great operational work that is taking place across our police forces and intelligence agencies to go after the criminals that are out there pursuing such high-harm crimes.
The shadow Home Secretary will speak about the violence last night in his remarks. I simply want to say that there is never an excuse for violence, and as shadow Policing Minister, my thoughts are obviously with the police who were on duty. I wish them a swift recovery.
Mr Speaker, I want to associate myself with the remarks that you made about PC Keith Palmer and, if I may, I would also like to send my best wishes to the Minister for Crime and Policing, the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I hope he continues to show no symptoms of covid-19 and that the virus was not passed on to anyone working in the Home Office. One would hope that this is a lesson to him of the importance of sticking to the rules.
Thousands of women across the land, including the Home Secretary, have spoken of the danger they feel on the streets and the harassment they have suffered. Now is the time for action. The number of stalking and harassment offences recorded by the police has more than doubled in four years, with 500,000 offences last year, and we know that this is the tip of the iceberg, as most women do not report street harassment. Will the Home Secretary work cross-party to introduce a law similar to the one introduced in France in 2018 to make street harassment a specific criminal offence?
I say to the hon. Lady that street harassment—in fact, all harassment against individuals, male and female, but particularly women and girls—is absolutely unacceptable. I have spent some time with campaigners who are campaigning to change the law on street harassment, so I am absolutely committed to working with everybody on this. This will be part of our strategy on violence against women and girls. The hon. Lady will know of the work that is taking place on the VAWG consultation right now, and we are going to build on that. We will look at all the calls that come in, and look at how we can have a proper strategy that will formulate legislation to bring about the changes that women and girls quite rightly want to see.
Asylum Accommodation: Northern Ireland
Home Office officials meet weekly with the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership to discuss intake, accommodation and other operational matters relating to asylum accommodation. That is supplemented by formal monthly meetings with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Belfast City Council, the voluntary and communities sector, public health colleagues and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Asylum seekers in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged by a lack of parity in specialist services such as trauma counselling and legal advice, but instead of plugging these gaps, this Secretary of State seems obsessed with introducing ever more punitive and dehumanising policies in her approach to dealing with people fleeing persecution. We have seen the outworkings of offshore processing in Australia, which cost lives and hundreds of millions of pounds; it was a human rights disaster. Will the Minister take the opportunity to confirm that the Department is not pursuing plans to use third countries as dumping grounds? Will the Government instead commit to establishing safe and legal routes, and housing with dignity those who need asylum in the UK?
It is disappointing to hear the tone of the hon. Lady’s question, given that the Belfast City Council area is the only part of Northern Ireland to act as a dispersal area. Securing suitable accommodation relies on local communities taking part. Perhaps she may wish to reflect on what more action could be taken by councils where the Social Democratic and Labour party has a presence to match her words.
Misuse of Drugs Act
Before I answer the question, may I reassure the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) that I did follow the rules? I urge her, and indeed all Members, to get themselves regularly tested on a random basis, whether they have any symptoms or not.
The Government currently have no plans to review the 1971 Act. Obviously, we keep drugs controls under review, in consultation with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but drugs legislation is only part of our wider approach to preventing drug misuse, which includes: focusing on education in schools; promoting treatment and recovery; and preventing the supply of illicit drugs.
As a former Metropolitan police officer, may I pay tribute to the memory of PC Keith Palmer?
The largest review ever undertaken of 349 research studies from across the globe, carried out by the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales in 2017, found that safe or supervised injection rooms significantly reduced drug-related harms and dramatically cut mortality rates. Will the Minister pay heed to this overwhelming evidence and support at least one pilot facility—preferably more—for safe drug consumption rooms in Scotland?
I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, given that Scotland currently has a drug death rate three and a half times that of the whole of the UK, and it is a matter that should be of concern to all of us. I have had extensive discussions with my Scottish colleagues, not least the new Scottish Minister for Drugs Policy, about how we could work together to try to tackle this problem. Although at the moment we do not envisage changing the rules to look at safe consumption rooms, there is a huge amount we can do together. I urge the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues north of the border to look at our groundbreaking ADDER— Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery—projects, which are bringing together the police and the most critical partner for drug recovery, the health service, in five areas across England and Wales to focus on this problem and try to shift the numbers.
Removing people who should not be here is vital in order to maintain the integrity of our immigration system. In particular, removing dangerous foreign national offenders is crucial to protecting our fellow citizens. In the year to June 2020, there were 5,208 enforced removals. However, that was significantly lower than in previous years, which is why we are going to be bringing forward proposals very shortly to reform the system to make sure we can better enforce our immigration rules.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My North West Durham constituents want genuine refugees to be supported, but they also want to see foreign criminals and bogus asylum seekers deported. Members of the local Labour party are spreading scare stories about the plans for the Hassockfield site, so will the Minister confirm that it will be a secure facility—essentially a category C prison—with around 80 females detained for as short a time as possible, and that recruitment for 200 local jobs will start as soon as possible? Finally, will he ignore the calls of the hard-left Labour activists who want to have open borders and would allow foreign criminals to stay in the UK, and ensure that those people who have no right to be here are deported as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is right: when people have valid asylum claims, we should of course look after them, but when they do not, we should ensure that they leave. The Hassockfield centre is indeed designed for 80 female detainees and will be a secure facility. As my hon. Friend says, it will create local jobs, and only people with no right to stay in the country will be there. I join my hon. Friend in condemning the local Labour party in his neighbourhood, which appears to be against proper border controls.
My hon. Friend the Minister will well know of the frustration when violent criminals who are foreign nationals leave prison and are due to be deported, only for their lawyers to frustrate the process with last-minute appeals. Will he bring forward proposals to prevent such action and make sure that those dangerous criminals who are a threat to this country are deported at the end of their criminal convictions?
My hon. Friend is right: dangerous criminals, including murderers and rapists, should be deported once their sentence is over. I am afraid he is also right that we face legal challenges, often very late in the day and despite the fact that there have been many previous opportunities to make such claims, the vast majority of which—well over 80%—subsequently turn out to be totally without merit. It is for that reason that the Home Secretary and I will bring forward proposals in the very near future to address exactly that issue.
We learned this month that under this Government the number of foreign criminals living freely in the UK has exceeded 10,000 for the first time ever, while last year the number deported fell to its lowest level on record. However bad those numbers are, at least they exist, unlike—astonishingly, as I found out today—any figures on the rearrest of previously charged and potentially dangerous terrorist suspects. Does that not show how, for all their tough talk, this Government’s record is weak and their competence lacking? It is a totally unacceptable state of affairs when it comes to the safety and security of the British people.
Given the shadow Minister’s new-found concern about deporting foreign national offenders, we will find out whether his actions in the Division Lobbies match his rhetoric when we come to vote on legislation in the relatively near future. Why was it that when we brought forward a charter flight in December to deport dangerous foreign national offenders, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to oppose that? That is completely wrong.
Fraud During the Pandemic
The Home Office has been working with policing, public and private sector partners to track and mitigate the risk of fraud during the pandemic. The National Cyber Security Centre has taken down tens of thousands of online scams and gov.uk is giving the public the advice that they need to spot scams and avoid falling victim to them.
Recent months have seen an increasing number of scams related to the coronavirus vaccine. As rumours swirl in the press about a delay to the vaccine in the UK, it is even more important that the Government take urgent action to stop fraudulent opportunists from exploiting the vulnerable. With one scam charging for a fake vaccine on the doorstep, will the Minister detail what steps the Government can take, in addition to what he has already mentioned, to tackle this dangerous fraud?
I can well understand the hon. Lady’s frustration and fear about this issue. For people to be duped by others offering fake vaccines is a disgraceful type of crime, particularly as we face this awful pandemic together. We are working closely with partners across health and law enforcement to make sure that we catch up with these villains as quickly as we possibly can. I have been reassured by the fact that the number of vaccine-related frauds that have been reported is, pleasingly, still quite low, but we continue to monitor the situation carefully. I urge people who come across this kind of instance to report it, please, to the City of London’s Action Fraud as soon as they can.
The Government are committed to recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers by March 2024. Ahead of that recruitment drive, we already have 6,620 more police officers. The hon. Lady will also be aware of the significant police funding that has come to her own police force.
The Home Secretary fails to recognise that Lancashire has lost 750 officers over the past decade and is under a huge amount of pressure as it simply does not have enough officers to investigate some crimes. This causes great concern to residents. Does she feel that that is fair on victims of crime and does she agree that justice delayed is justice denied? Is she concerned that the public could lose faith in the police unless those concerns are addressed urgently?
The hon. Lady fails to recognise the amount of police funding that her own local area of Lancashire has received. She also fails to recognise the number of new police officers who have been recruited and who are out there, day in, day out, protecting our streets and her constituents. She is right to speak about victims because support for victims is absolutely crucial, but she must reflect on the support that victims receive in relation to particular crimes and offences within the wider criminal justice system, and also on the role of the Crown Prosecution Service. On that basis, it is an absolute shame that she and her party failed to stand up for victims in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Second Reading last week.
Street Safety: Women
There is no place in our society for violence against women and girls. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are putting record levels of investment into the police and that there are more police officers on the streets. We as a Government are ensuring that those individuals who commit crimes against women and girls receive longer prison sentences, which was opposed by the Labour party.
Our hearts are with the friends and family of Sarah Everard after her tragic and brutal killing, which comes at a time when recorded rape has doubled since 2014 and when 99% of reported rapes are not charged. Will the Government now enable people instantly to report street nuisance and harassment from their mobile phones in texts and images to allow immediate police intervention? Will she also invest in immediate DNA same-day testing together with Nightingale courts to fast-track rape cases, so that women are safer and justice is done?
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted some important points around rape, sexual violence and abuse within the criminal justice. I can confirm that, as part of the work of the Crime and Justice Taskforce, the Government, with the Ministry of Justice and the courts system, are looking at a range of measures to see how we can do more to fast-track cases and also to make sure that victims are protected in the right kind of way, as the hon. Gentleman has said. Alongside that, a great deal of work has taken place across Government with the end-to-end rape review.
I am delighted to hear that the Home Secretary has finally joined up with us on trying to do better to address violence against women and girls, and that the taskforce was announced last week; we look forward to working with her. We are hopefully going to enter a new era on street harassment, thanks to the deeds of Labour women here in the Commons and in the other place, who pushed the Government to record misogyny as a hate crime. With that in mind, may I ask the Home Secretary what she intends to do to train police forces? Can she tell us why only half of English and Welsh forces have undertaken Domestic Abuse Matters training, even though research shows that where forces have received it, there is a 41% increase in coercive control arrests?
The Minister for safeguarding, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), said over and over again last week that police training was important in improving the dreadful and worsening outcomes for abused women in this country, so how come, under her watch and the watch of the Home Secretary, only half of forces have undergone the necessary, proven training? Will the Home Secretary tell the House what she has done to ensure that all are trained, other than just saying she wants them to be? We need deeds, not words; otherwise, her Home Office will keep releasing more and more violent perpetrators back on to our streets.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has taken the tone that she has. [Interruption.] Well, many people are cross, but she should recognise that this should never become a partisan or party political issue. [Interruption.] I appreciate that she would like to chunter from the sidelines, but the fact of the matter is that when we look at the work done across this House and by all parliamentarians, no one individual holds the licence to determine the changes in outcomes that we collectively want to see for women and girls. If she was interested at all in getting justice and driving the right kinds of outcomes for women and girls, she would listen to what I have to say on this. A great deal of work is taking place. I am sorry she does not want to listen to the serious points that I am about to make about Government actions; she sits there pulling faces and nodding her head.
I have commissioned a thematic review of violence against women and girls in policing, which will be led by Her Majesty’s inspectorate. It will look at how the police deal with these issues. Over the last 12 months, through the National Policing Board, some very strong work has taken place across 43 police forces to look at the work and training in conjunction—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to listen to what I have to say, rather than the sound of her own voice? We are not just looking at the work of police forces; with the College of Policing, we are also looking at the training that is in place and where that training needs to be improved.
Of course, there are standards in the inspectorate, through which police forces are held to account. Those are important benchmarks of quality, but also outcomes; and it is outcomes that matter to the victims that we all care about. We want to ensure that there are fewer victims in the future, because all of us in this House—irrespective of our political party—want to ensure that women and girls, and victims, are safeguarded and protected in the criminal justice system.
We recognise the misery that some unauthorised encampments cause to local communities and businesses. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are pleased to be delivering on our manifesto commitment to strengthen the powers of the police to arrest and seize the vehicles of those who set up unauthorised encampments and cause damage, disruption and distress.
My hon. Friend will have noticed that last week, in voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Labour party also voted against giving the police the powers they need to act quickly and effectively against illegal Traveller encampments. The key word there is “illegal”; illegal encampments are, by definition, illegal. With illegal encampments popping up across Milton Keynes, does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to prioritise the rights of criminals, and that we are right to be giving the police the powers they need to act and enforce the law?
My hon. Friend is exactly right; we have to balance the rights of so many Travellers to lead a nomadic life—and the vast majority do, in a legal way—with the rights of those who own property, live in communities, and deserve to live without the distress, aggravation and difficulty that comes from unauthorised encampments. He will know that we are a Government who do not tolerate law breaking of any kind. The measures that we are introducing will ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle this problem—hopefully, once and for all.
I recently met a local business that transports food up and down the country from a warehouse in my constituency. It was disrupted by an unauthorised encampment and subjected to harassment and demands for cash payments. Will my hon. Friend confirm that our proposed new laws aim to prevent just that type of behaviour, and that, importantly, the vast majority of the Traveller community, who do not harass or disrupt the local communities they travel through, face no reduction in their rights?
My hon. Friend speaks the truth. I am very sorry to hear about the circumstances that afflicted the business in his community. I know that he works hard to ensure that his part of the world remains a great place for investment, and I hope that business managed to deal with the problem. The country is littered with businesses that have had to put boulders, huge logs or other barriers over their hardstanding or car parks. That is not a situation we can tolerate into the future.
As my hon. Friend says, the vast majority of Travellers go about their lifestyle in a perfectly legal manner, and we should facilitate and help them to do so, but those who do not and who cross the line into illegality need to be dealt with. We believe that the measures in the Bill will allow the police to do that with much greater efficiency.
Contingency Asylum Accommodation
During the pandemic, the number of accommodated asylum seekers has increased, because we have not been able to move people on from accommodation and continuing claims. That means we have needed to secure contingency accommodation options, including two Ministry of Defence sites. We await the inspector’s full report on contingency accommodation, which will lay in Parliament alongside the Department’s response after his inspection is concluded.
Many constituents have been in touch about the unhygienic conditions at Napier barracks, which risk spreading covid. I understand that the Home Secretary told the Select Committee that she had been following guidance, yet that seems to be the opposite of what Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group said. It stated that there were
“too many people housed in each block to allow adequate social distancing and to prevent the risk of spread of infection”.
Will the Minister once and for all decide that barracks are simply super-spreader venues that should not be used for anyone, let alone vulnerable asylum seekers?
We expect the highest standards from our providers and have instructed them to make improvements following the interim report from the independent chief inspector. In future, a core part of avoiding the pressures that result in the need for contingency accommodation will be fixing our broken asylum system, so that decisions are fair, prompt and firmer, and those whose claims are not genuine can be removed more easily.
The Home Secretary said to the Select Committee that
“advice around dormitories and the use of the accommodation was all based on Public Health England advice”.
However, the inspection report reveals that Public Health England had advised that opening
“dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not supported by current guidance”.
Ministers have claimed that the barracks are
“good enough for the armed services and they are certainly more than good enough for people…seeking asylum.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 10.]
However, the report says that they are “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable”. When will those statements be corrected, and, more importantly, why did the Home Office not grasp that the use of dormitory accommodation in the middle of a pandemic was utterly reckless?
I note the hon. Member’s points, but I have already outlined that we expect the highest standards from providers and have instructed them to make improvements. A core part of being able to end the use of contingency accommodation in hotels and barracks is having more options and locations for dispersed accommodation. Sadly, Glasgow is the only location currently providing it in Scotland. Part of the solution might be for his council in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to agree to be next on the list—something I hope he will reflect positively on.
It is well and good for the Minister to ask providers to make improvements, but it is a blindingly obvious fact that whatever is done with dormitory accommodation will not protect against coronavirus. I agree that to fix asylum accommodation, local authorities must have the powers and the funding they need for the job. The Home Affairs Committee has said that several times. If the Home Office agrees to do that, instead of launching the horrendous large-scale warehousing of vulnerable people, more local authorities will get on board and I will, indeed, encourage it. Will the Home Office make sure local authorities get the powers and the funding they need?
We can see from the contribution Glasgow makes that a range of support is already available. As I say, we want to end the use of contingency accommodation. It is just that—contingency. As the pressures have reduced, we have moved away from using the Penally site, for example. However, as has been touched on, the solution is for more areas to come forward, because we need local councils to back up some of what they call for with action.
The independent inspector’s report states very clearly that
“once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable.”
In addition, the Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group inspection report on Napier confirmed that some communal areas were cleaned just once a week; that staff were expected to sleep three to a room; and that there were people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including diabetes, leukaemia and tuberculosis, accommodated there. The public health advice never supported the use of dormitories, so why is Napier barracks still open?
As I have already outlined, we have instructed our providers to make improvements, and we want to reduce the use of contingency accommodation through fixing our broken asylum system. I am sure many will be interested to note the Labour party’s sudden interest in, and enthusiasm for, securing improvements at Napier barracks now that they are no longer being used by our armed forces.
The Home Office, alongside other policing partners, continues to provide Cleveland police with the support it requires through Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services’ police performance oversight group, a meeting of which I was happy to attend a couple of weeks ago. Cleveland’s funding will increase by up to £7.2 million in the next year, and as of 31 December, it had recruited an additional 159 officers through our uplift programme, with a further 70 officers to be recruited in the coming year.
Our Conservative police and crime commissioner candidate Steve Turner is rightly calling for a review of the funding allocation formula, so that Cleveland can access future rounds of violence reduction unit funding and start to tackle this menace on our streets. Will my hon. Friend meet Steve Turner and me to discuss this issue and unlock violence reduction unit funding for Cleveland?
My hon. Friend is a doughty and, I have to say, given recent announcements, successful advocate for investment and funding for his part of the world, and I would of course be more than happy to meet him. He is right that Cleveland missed out on violence reduction unit funding last time, falling just outside the funding formula, but I would be happy to talk to him about what more we can do to help the police and crime commissioner—who hopefully will be a Conservative after the May elections—and the chief constable to tackle some of the violent crime that plagues parts of Cleveland, and bring peace and light into the future.
Border Force Dispute: Heathrow
The strike at Heathrow is over temporary arrangements that are designed to keep staff safe during coronavirus. There has been a large number of discussions between Border Force and the union, but I am frankly astonished that the trade union is striking over measures designed to protect the health and safety of its own members.
I am not surprised that the Minister is astonished, but as we all remember, Border Force staff have been on the frontline during the pandemic, and have played a pivotal role in keeping the country covid-secure. The imposition of a new roster at Heathrow airport is creating chaos. It is making staff feel less safe, as there are unavoidable covid-19 breaches; and as the Minister mentioned, there has been a 96% positive ballot result. The staff are set to walk out next week, at a time when the airport’s own workers are striking over the shameful fire and rehire abuses. Will the Home Secretary intervene to pause these counterproductive changes and allow proper negotiations to take place with the PCS union before Heathrow airport grinds to a halt over the Easter holidays?
These measures have been introduced on a temporary basis, for just a few months, to protect the health of the Border Force workers, and it is frankly astonishing that the union has decided to go on strike. These measures will cease to apply in July and over 90% of the affected Border Force staff now have rosters that they agree with, so I call on the PCS union to withdraw any proposal to indulge in this completely unnecessary, counterproductive strike against—absurdly—measures that are designed to protect its own members.
Immigration: Hong Kong
On 31 January, we launched a bespoke immigration route for British national overseas status-holders and their households, allowing them to come to the UK to live, work and study on a pathway to British citizenship. On 23 February, we also launched a fully digital application process, which will allow many applicants to apply from home using a smart device.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and her Ministers on the excellent work with Hong Kong BNOs, and long may it continue. On the wider point of asylum, may I thank the Secretary of State and her excellent ministerial team for the much-needed reforms to the asylum system that they are introducing, which will make the asylum system significantly fairer to the British people? These changes cannot come soon enough.
We appreciate my hon. Friend’s warm endorsement of the work done to create this route, which will give many millions the opportunity to make their home here in our United Kingdom, if they decide that that is the right choice for them and their family. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and with local councils and the devolved Administrations, to ensure a warm welcome across our United Kingdom for those who arrive here under the new settlement route.
Violence Reduction Units
The Home Office is working closely with the Treasury on the future funding of violence reduction units. In February, we announced VRU funding of £35.5 million for the coming year, bringing the total investment to £105.5 million over three financial years.
The Government’s own guidance for violence reduction units requires them to generate long-term solutions to violence reduction. Why, therefore, have the Government announced only piecemeal funding for violence reduction units, one year at a time, which makes it impossible to plan with certainty for long-term interventions? When do they plan to embed the work of violence reduction units within mainstream long-term funding commitments, so that this vital work, including with some of the most vulnerable and traumatised young people, can be guaranteed for as long as it is needed?
We recognise the need to put VRUs on a sustainable funding basis, and the hon. Lady is quite right that much of their work is multi-year, which needs to be reflected in the investment we make. We are working closely with Treasury colleagues and can hope for a multi-year financial settlement, which would allow us to move to that position. Having said that, it is also incumbent on the wider organisations involved in fighting violence, such as the Mayor of London, to embed this kind of work as part of their day-to-day addressing of crime, particularly working closely with young people. I would urge her to lobby City Hall to mainstream the violence reduction unit as part of its activity, rather than relying on Westminster funding, although we will of course support the capital substantially, as we have in the past.
Even when the promised 150 police officers are recruited to the Cleveland force, we will still have 350 fewer police than in 2010, and that in an area where the rate of serious violent crime is among the highest in England. Unlike other areas, Cleveland has not received additional funds to tackle it. The Government are now well known for their bizarre rationale for allocating funding for all manner of things in order to favour areas with Tory MPs, but will the Minister now do the right and mature thing and ensure that Cleveland gets the support that the area desperately needs?
As I said in a previous answer, I am meeting, certainly, a Conservative MP to talk about what more we can do to support Cleveland, and I think it is very unfair of the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the experience of his force in that way. We have put significant extra funding into Cleveland police to allow it to uplift the number of police officers. It is benefiting from wider money that we are spending across the whole country on things such as county lines—from which Cleveland sadly suffers, along with other parts of the country—to deal with that particular drugs problem. That is against an overall spending commitment for UK policing that is the largest we have seen for a decade and has been for two successive years, so I do not think anybody could accuse this Government of skimping on investment in the police; quite the reverse. I hope and believe that, as Cleveland police emerges from a difficult period in its history, with a strong chief constable, the hon. Gentleman will start to feel the benefit on his streets quite soon.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following the incidents over the weekend, and particularly the anarchic and violent scenes that we saw in Bristol last night. We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic people must not currently hold large gatherings. Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them. We will always give the police the support and protection that they need. It was sad that, as we saw last week, the Opposition voted against measures to protect our police and also introduce longer sentences. The scenes in Bristol yesterday were utterly shameful. We saw criminal thuggery and disorder caused by a minority who put lives at risk. Our exceptional and brave police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. For them to face criminal violence against themselves while upholding the law is completely unacceptable. My thoughts are with the injured officers and their families. I hope that every single Member of Parliament in this House will join me in condemning the shameful actions of the criminal minority involved.
I am sure that everybody will join the Home Secretary in condemning what were evil and shameful acts yesterday—there are no two ways about that. The simple truth is that those evil and shameful acts demonstrated only too clearly the need for the police to have powers to deal with disruptive, dangerous actions masquerading behind the right to demonstrate, and she is right to promote that. That being said, many of us, I suspect including her, view the right to demonstrate peacefully as a foundation stone of our democracy. Can she give the House an undertaking that before we get to Report stage we will make sure that the right to demonstrate peacefully is absolutely guaranteed in our law?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the right to protest peacefully is in fact a cornerstone of our democracy, and it is one that this Government will always defend. He references a point in relation to the Bill that is coming forward. He will know my views. I will work with everybody to make sure that when the police need the powers to tackle the type of appalling thuggery and criminality that we saw yesterday, we will achieve that, while absolutely protecting the right to protest peacefully in our country.
First, I would like to pass on the thoughts of those of us on the Labour Benches to police officers and to local residents who were victims of the unacceptable and inexcusable violence we saw in Bristol yesterday. Officers should never face that kind of behaviour as they undertake their work to keep us all safe, and anyone involved in those violent and appalling scenes should face the consequences of their actions.
I would also like to pay tribute, along with the whole House, to the victims of the Westminster Bridge attack four years ago today, and to the memory of PC Keith Palmer, who was tragically killed outside this House protecting all of us and our democracy.
In recent weeks we have heard extraordinarily powerful testimony from women and girls about the level of violence and abuse they continue to face. Now is the time to act decisively to address the appalling behaviour on our streets that causes distress and intimidation. In answer to the shadow Crime and Policing Minister, the Home Secretary spoke about a strategy, which of course we all contribute to, to recommend legislation, but the need for action is urgent. So will she work with me to introduce a specific law on street harassment and tougher sentences for stalking?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the tragic attacks here in Westminster. I refer him to the comments I made earlier to the shadow Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I am sorry that it has taken so long for the Labour party to contribute to the survey on violence against women and girls. This survey is fundamental, so that we take a balanced approach. It is all very well to say that we need action right now, but there is action taking place. It is important that we listen to people. It is also important that we engage with those affected by violence against women and girls, street harassment and the unacceptable harassment and abuse that takes place against women and girls.
We are going to work with everybody involved in this. I do not think that this should become a partisan or party political issue one bit. I would like our work, our strategy and the legislation we bring forward to build upon the work that this Government have led already when it comes to protecting women and girls, whether it is on issues such as stalking protection orders, sexual risk orders, the introduction of Clare’s law or the fact that we have a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament.
The problem is that the longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes. More than two years have passed since this Government announced their end-to-end rape review, and there has been no action. In that time, rape convictions have shamefully fallen to the worst on record—an all-time record low. Systemic change is needed, but action is urgently required, so I put another suggestion to the Home Secretary: will she commit to working cross-party to create new specialised rape and serious sexual offence units in every police force in England and Wales now?
The right hon. Gentleman disparagingly dismisses the end-to-end rape review that is taking place. [Interruption.] Yes, it has taken time, and once the right hon. Gentleman reads the review, he might understand why it has taken time. There is extensive work taking place with the individuals who are contributing and have contributed to the rape review. I am sure that he, of all people, will recognise many of the sensitive issues around rape and the handling of rape cases, and it is absolutely right and proper that we as a Government provide the time, the space and the ability for those who want to contribute to do so in a very candid way. That is how we can shape legislation to drive the right kind of outcomes, not saying that we need action now and coming up with ideas that will just make people feel better at this particular moment in time.
My hon. Friend has tapped into my affection for Stoke-on-Trent and done so with great flair. He is right: his constituents are brilliant individuals, and I have been to Stoke-on-Trent many times. They saw sense by voting for more Conservative Members of Parliament at the last election.
We are scoping new locations for a second site for the Home Office, and we are going to go beyond the conventional Government footprint and size. I can confirm that we are looking at long-term plans, and I will share our proposals with my hon. Friend and the House in due course.
I join the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life keeping us safe four years ago, and in sending support to the Avon and Somerset officers injured in the unacceptable violence in Bristol yesterday.
Scientists estimate that there are now up to 2,000 new cases of the South African variant a day in France. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many of the 15,000 people arriving in the UK each day are travelling here from France, and does she intend to put France on the red list?
The right hon. Lady will know that red-listing countries is a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care. She is absolutely right to point to the prevalence of the South African variant in France. That is why we have effective measures in place at the border, with compliance checks and upstream checks for people who are travelling to the United Kingdom, alongside measures to test road hauliers, which, as she will be aware, we have been doing in Kent.
My hon. Friend raises what is an excellent point and an important one. If I may, I would like to praise the work of her police and crime commissioner for the work that she is doing around special constables. Currently, we have no plans to set up a formal police reserve. However, my hon. Friend will know we are seeing more and more special constables joining to become full-time police officers. We are working with them. We are also looking at new protections for them. Of course, it is absolutely right that local forces should have the ability to reward volunteers for their valuable contributions. That is something that I fully back.
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue around equality and the fair treatment of individuals in the justice system. There is a great deal of work taking place across both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, but specifically in relation to policing, this does come back to much of the police training, the work that we do with the college and the work that our forces do as well—not just when they recruit, but how they constantly train individuals. I would like just to say that I am very sorry about the time that it has taken for the Briggs family to receive justice. Seven years is far too long. Clearly, we want to stop such appalling time periods and families being left in limbo for such an unacceptable period of time.
I will absolutely meet my hon. Friend to discuss Charley Patterson’s case and, if the opportunity arises, meet the family as well. These are tragic cases and I am so saddened and sorry to hear of the case that my hon. Friend has raised. So much more work is required by social media companies. Extensive work is taking place across Government. In fact, I will also speak to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport because we are looking to introduce the online harms Bill and across Government we need to come together to hold these social media companies to account. It is a tragedy. So many of us have constituents and know of constituents who have suffered in the same way as the Patterson family and that is wrong. We need to stop that.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I thank her for raising the case. I will look at the specific case that she has spoken about, but she is right. There are many measures that we have undertaken to ensure that those from overseas who are on the frontline in the NHS are supported, and we have made various changes to ensure that they can stay, but I will happily look at the case she raises.
You bet—absolutely. My hon. Friend will know of the support that we are giving to Cleveland police in particular, which had a particularly difficult time, but I will join him and others campaigning to get absolutely the right outcome in the police and crime commissioner elections.
Human Rights Update
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is clear, as it is sobering. It includes satellite imagery; survivor testimony; official documentation and, indeed, leaks from the Chinese Government themselves; credible open-source reporting, including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and visits by British diplomats to the region that have corroborated other reports about the targeting of specific ethnic groups.
In sum, the evidence points to a highly disturbing programme of repression. Expressions of religion have been criminalised, and Uyghur language and culture discriminated against on a systematic scale. There is widespread use of forced labour; women forcibly sterilised; children separated from their parents; an entire population subject to surveillance, including collection of DNA and use of facial recognition software and so-called predictive policing algorithms.
State control in the region is systemic. Over 1 million people have been detained without trial. There are widespread claims of torture and rape in the camps based on first-hand survivor testimony. People are detained for having too many children, for praying too much, for having a beard or wearing a headscarf, for having the wrong thoughts.
I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning such appalling violations of the most basic human rights. In terms of scale, it is the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since the second world war, and I believe one thing is clear: the international community cannot simply look the other way.
It has been two and a half years since the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on China to stop arbitrarily detaining Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang province. It is over 18 months since the UK led the first ever joint UN statement on Xinjiang at the UN General Assembly’s third committee, back in October 2019. The number of countries now willing to speak out collectively has grown from just 23 to 39 as the evidence has accumulated and as our diplomatic efforts have borne fruit. That is a clear signal to China about the breadth of international concern.
Last year, 50 independent UN experts spoke out about the situation in an exceptional joint statement calling on China to respect basic human rights. Last month at the Human Rights Council, I led the calls on China to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet—or some other fact-finding expert—urgent, unfettered access to Xinjiang. Since then, Ms Bachelet herself has reinforced in the clearest terms the need for independent access to verify the deteriorating situation. We regret that, instead of recognising those calls from the international community, China has simply sought to deny them. Chinese authorities have claimed that the legitimate concerns raised are fake news. At the same time, the authorities continue to expand prison facilities, surveillance networks and forced labour programmes. China continues to resist access for the UN or other independent experts to verify the truth, notwithstanding its blanket denials.
For the UK’s part, our approach has been to call out these egregious, industrial-scale human rights abuses, to work with our international partners and ultimately to match words with actions. In January, I announced a package of measures to help ensure that no British organisations—Government or private sector—deliberately or inadvertently can profit from human rights violations against the Uyghurs or other minorities, and that no businesses connected with the internment camps can do business in the UK.
Today, we are taking further steps, again in co-ordination with our international partners. Having very carefully considered the evidence against the criteria in our global human rights sanctions regime, I can tell the House that I am designating four senior individuals responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Alongside those individuals, we are also designating the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. That is the organisation responsible for enforcing the repressive security policies across many areas of Xinjiang. The sanctions involve travel bans and asset freezes against the individuals and asset freezes against the entity we are designating. The individuals are barred from entering the UK. Any assets found in the UK will be frozen.
We take this action alongside the EU, the US and Canada, which are all taking similar measures today. I think it is clear that, by acting with our partners—30 of us in total—we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese Government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights, and that we will act in concert to hold those responsible to account.
As the Prime Minister set out in the integrated review last week, China is an important partner in tackling global challenges such as climate change. We pursue a constructive dialogue where that proves possible, but we will always stand up for our values, and in the face of evidence of such serious human rights violations, we will not look the other way. The suffering of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang cannot be ignored. Human rights violations on this scale cannot be ignored. Together with our partners, we call on China to end these cruel practices, and I commend this statement to the House.
There is no question but that this is a welcome step, and I welcome the moves by the EU today and other partners. I am sure the whole House will stand in solidarity with our fellow European parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by the Chinese Government in response. This is an unacceptable attack on democratic lawmakers simply for highlighting the horrific evidence from Xinjiang.
However, the Foreign Secretary has just read out the evidence that we have known about for years. He rightly called it barbaric, but when it has come to taking concrete steps, for years he has not listened. He did not listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) or his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). He did not listen to us. He did not listen to the Board of Deputies. He did not listen to the World Uyghur Congress. Yet suddenly today the Foreign Secretary has discovered a new-found sense of urgency about the desperate plight of the Uyghur, despite that mounting evidence over several years. The truth is that the timing is grubby and cynical; it is designed to send a signal first and foremost not to the Chinese Government but to his own Back Benchers. It is motivated primarily by a desire to protect the Government, not the Uyghur. For all the talk of being a force for good in the world, it is only when this Government are staring down the barrel of defeat that they discover a moral centre. Only now that the US and the EU have acted has the Foreign Secretary finally moved to take this step.
I urge all Members, especially those brave and conscientious Conservative Members, to think carefully before accepting that this signals a change of approach from this Government. This week we learnt that, despite his protestations, the Foreign Secretary has been talking up a trade deal with China in private at gatherings with Beijing officials. This week, the Prime Minister launched his global Britain policy, signalling a closer economic relationship with China. Members had eagerly awaited details of the Indo-Pacific tilt; we did not dream for a moment, from the talk over the last year, that it would be a tilt towards China.
Today is perhaps the most acute example of the Government’s decade-long incoherent, inconsistent approach to the Chinese Government. On the day the Foreign Secretary finally announces sanctions on some of the officials responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang he is also pulling every trick in the book to stop Parliament gaining the power to block any bilateral trade or investment agreement with China based on a determination of genocide.
I ask hon. Members to pause and ponder: if this is about co-ordination, why has it taken so long? The Government could have taken co-ordinated action with the United States when it brought sanctions in July last year, or if they felt so strongly they could have moved independently from the EU, as they have done in sanctions on other countries over the last year. Where are the sanctions on officials in Hong Kong when the US took that step this week? We should be taking a leadership approach given our historical commitments in the bilateral treaty, which China is in breach of. We are signatories to the joint declaration, not the United States. Where is the tougher sanctions regime that brings corruption into scope? Why did the Foreign Secretary say at a private gathering earlier this month that he had no reason to think that we could not deepen our trading relationship with China? Why did the Prime Minister say last month that he was committed to strengthening the UK’s ties with China
“whatever the occasional political difficulties”?
If this signals a change in approach, why on earth on the same day as the Government are announcing these sanctions are they twisting the arms of Back Benchers who want to support the genocide amendment?
Today I urge all parliamentarians to stand firm: to stand with the public, who overwhelmingly support a principled stance on genocide; to stand with their consciences; and most of all to stand with the Uyghur people. After a decade of rolling out the red carpet for Beijing and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, this is the moment when we will finally force a change in Britain’s foreign policy, live up to our values as a country and be a force for good in the world.
No, but you said “false”. I am not sure that it was false, and I am not sure that all the script was read out either; certainly my pages did not match what was said—I am not sure whether it was the same for the shadow Foreign Secretary— in which case we all might feel a little aggrieved if we did not see the full script. It was only when you read it out that I realised that the pages were not corresponding.
On the first point, I am certainly not imputing bad faith, but what the shadow Foreign Secretary said is wholly inaccurate and I will correct the record shortly. In relation to the statement, the only bit that has been removed was reference to the individuals sanctioned, because for legal and propriety reasons we cannot give that out in advance. I hope you will accept my apologies for that, Mr Speaker, but we were doing it so as not to frustrate the very purpose of the sanctions.
In relation to the remarks, or rather selective snippets, made by the shadow Foreign Secretary, it is wholly inaccurate to suggest that I talked up an FTA with China. I made it very clear that there was no realistic or foreseeable prospect of a free trade agreement and that the way to deepen our trade with China was for it to improve its human rights record.
On the one hand, the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that we have proceeded in concert with 30 partners, including ourselves. On the other, she says it is too slow. It is the Goldilocks of criticism. She suggests it was linked to the Trade Bill. [Interruption.] I know she believes in human rights. I had hoped that she would at least recognise that 30 countries imposing targeted sanctions on China for human rights abuses is an important moment. It is a bit disappointing to hear her trying to score political points in relation to this important step, let alone suggesting that the concerted and unprecedented action of 30 countries is somehow tied up with the UK’s domestic legislative timetable.
The reality, on the genocide amendment, is that we absolutely recognise the ability of this House to hold the Government to account. Through support for the Neill amendment and further concessions, we continue to want to see maximum scrutiny of the Government by Parliament. The reality is that this British Government under this Prime Minister have done more to stand up for human rights around the world than any previous British Government. We have demonstrated that through our diplomatic leadership in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly Third Committee. We have demonstrated it through the actions that we are taking on modern slavery. We have demonstrated it in the offer that we have made to the British nationals overseas from Hong Kong. And we have demonstrated it again today with these Magnitsky sanctions.
I very much welcome the announcement of sanctions that the Foreign Secretary has made this afternoon. He knows that he has no greater supporters on this decision than the Foreign Affairs Committee. However, may I ask him—a gentleman who has devoted so much of his career to human rights law—what is it in human rights law or in the UN definition of genocide that fails to get him to use the word in this circumstance? My understanding —I admit I am not a lawyer—is that the attempted destruction of a people or its culture in whole or in part constitutes genocide. What he has just described to the House sounds to me like it fits that definition, so I am just wondering why he is reticent to use the word.
Given that the Foreign Secretary rightly identified that sanctions on individuals operating in the UK are a matter of great concern, will he please let the House know when he intends to bring forward a foreign agents registration Act? He knows as well as I do that there are, sadly, too many British people in the UK—sometimes, sadly, even former Ministers or those connected to Government—using their influence in a surreptitious manner to further the aims or interests of a country such as China, which is so violating human rights.
I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. There will be ample time for further discussions of the Trade Bill, but the arguments around genocide and the importance of its being determined by a court are well rehearsed. Equally, we have made clear the importance of this House in controlling the Executive in relation to free trade policy. On further legislation, an announcement will be made by the relevant Secretary of State in due course.
The SNP wholly condemns the human rights violations taking place in China.
Last week, the Prime Minister published the long-awaited integrated review, which stated:
“Our first goal is to support open societies and defend human rights, as a force for good in the world.”
Despite that, the Prime Minister wants to forge closer ties to some of the worst human rights-violating states in our world. Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the review’s publication, the Foreign Secretary lamented that restricting trade because of human rights abuses would mean missing out on growth markets. The Foreign Secretary’s remarks last week do not chime with today’s statement. His insistence that the UK will seek to do trade deals with countries that violate standards enshrined in the European convention on human rights—the very laws drawn up by British officials after the horrors of the second world war—marks yet another record low for this UK Government.
China is a serial human rights violator and we must call out the appalling state-backed human rights violations taking place there. It is crystal clear: it is genocide. Indeed, the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy think-tank found that through its actions in Xinjiang, China has breached every single article of the UN genocide convention and has accused China of clearly demonstrating
“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Shamefully, the UK Government refused to back the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, making clear their desire for a trade deal with China as opposed to the preferable tougher approach on human rights.
The Foreign Secretary can talk tough on China but until he takes action it does nothing for those living under oppression in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Will he tell the House and the world what specific actions he intends to take to ensure that the UK upholds human rights and that this is a new approach that will not be characterised by the inconsistency, ambiguity and policy incoherence that has defined this Government so far? Finally, will he call out what is happening in China? It is quite simply genocide.
The hon. Gentleman made a whole range of remarks that suggest he lives in a parallel universe. I have to say that some of what he said was just pure nonsense. I made it clear that we would never do an FTA with a country with a human rights record that is beyond the pale. Through the recent action we have been taking under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, particularly in relation to supply chains, we have demonstrated that we will not allow businesses that profit from modern slavery either here or abroad to do business in the UK, and we have introduced the Magnitsky sanctions.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of whether we would ever trade with countries that do not have ECHR-level human rights; I put it to him that neither he nor the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) has ever once suggested that we should tear up any of the free trade deals that we have with countries that still have the death penalty, which of course does not comply with the ECHR. If he wants to keep making that argument, will he tell me which of the FTAs—whether with Korea or Japan, or the negotiations with the US—he is opposed to?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome statement. Does he agree that it is because a Conservative Government put in place Magnitsky legislation that we are able to make these designations, and that by working closely with the United States, the EU and others we can lead the charge against authoritarian regimes that have poor human rights records?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of real significance today is not just the groundbreaking measures that we are taking but the fact that 30 other countries are taking action in concert. We are far more likely to have impact that way and far more likely to get China to think twice.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I am glad that this Government and others are now taking seriously the treatment of Uyghur people and the violation of their human rights. Will he tell us what action is being taken over the historic profits made by British companies from manufacturing in that part of China? By the same token, will he undertake that the UN requests about the treatment of those being discriminated against—such as the Dalit peoples in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh—will also be included in the advice given to British companies, so that we do not profit from the abuse of human rights in any country around the world? If we do, we put ourselves in further violation of the universal declaration of human rights.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He makes an important and focused point about the fact that the requirements under the Modern Slavery Act, particularly in respect of the transparency of supply chains, apply across the board. He is absolutely right on that, and it is an issue on which we ought to work with businesses but ultimately be willing to fine them if they do not comply.
What China has been doing to the Uyghur people and others, including the Tibetans, is nothing short of absolutely appalling. Frankly, as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), said, we are dancing elaborately around the whole idea of genocide when it is clear that that is what is going on.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on making this statement. He knows that I and many others in this place have called for action for some time, so I welcome it. As I understand it, though, two people are not on the list. First, Chen Quanguo, the political commissar of the infamous Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—which is on the list, but he is not—is the architect of what is going on in Tibet and in Xinjiang. Will my right hon. Friend please take that into consideration?
Secondly, the buck for all this stops with the President of China, who was recently quoted as saying that the Chinese should show the Uyghur people “no mercy”. When do we start calling his name up?
I thank my right hon. Friend. First, may I pay tribute to him for his campaigning efforts in this regard? I know he will feel no small sense of accomplishment today, because has eloquently and powerfully made the case in the House. I will certainly look at any names he has. Of course, we have a clear, specific legal regime, and I and the Government have to assess the evidence based on it, but we should be willing to call out. The action we have taken both today and more generally, with the Magnitsky sanctions regime, shows that we not afraid not just to talk, but to act.
May I too give a warm welcome to this announcement of these sanctions? They have been long sought and they are welcome now that they have finally arrived. May I say to the Foreign Secretary that while he is on a roll we might possibly see some positive announcement on the Alton amendment later on today, as he has a taste for this? Will he also give urgent consideration to the recent report from the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which came forward with good and constructive suggestions about how to tackle the issue of the use of Uyghur slavery in the supply chain of many goods available in this country, possibly including the eventual linking of that to the disqualification of directors?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the action we have taken today. More generally, in relation to the Committee’s reports, may I say how important it is, as I mentioned in response to a previous question, that we take action on supply chains? Often, particularly in relation to the internment camps in Xinjiang, which are profiting, the best source of action is to follow the money, to cut it off and to prevent those who are profiting from making money out of it—if they do so, it should certainly not be through UK companies or through UK consumers.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and welcome the sanctions on the Chinese regime. What steps are he and the UK Government taking with our Five Eyes partners to co-ordinate a response to China’s appalling aggression and human rights abuses?
My hon. Friend will have noticed that we have taken action with our Canadian and US counterparts, and we have also engaged closely with my Australian opposite number; they have legislation that is being actively considered at the moment. I have also had engagement with my New Zealand opposite number. The Five Eyes are important, and the EU is important. What we really need to do is broaden the caucus of countries, like-minded on values, that will take action and have the courage to stand up for these important universal rights.
I thank the Secretary of State for his strong action in today’s statement. China’s systematic persecution and abuse of Uyghurs and Christians, and Buddhists in Nepal, is outrageous and despicable. Following the latest news that the EU has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, due to what some of us are terming as the genocide of the Uyghurs, will the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place with global powers to send a joint message that the removal of children from their parents and their being sent to orphan camps will not be tolerated by the global community and that these words will be followed up with economic action?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and I absolutely share his concerns. Those are some of the appalling violations of human rights that I set out before the House today. They clearly violate the most basic human rights protected under not just domestic law but international human rights law. We have taken sanctions partly in response to the evidence related to them, and we will continue to do so. They are some of the worst and most egregious violations we have seen.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for his long-standing personal commitment to upholding human rights around the world. What steps has he taken to rally further international support for action on Xinjiang? Does he agree that China can be considered a leading member of the international community only if it abides by basic human rights norms?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. It is crucial, although we have 30 countries taking this stance today, that we swell those numbers. Different regions and countries around the world take a different view, but it is crucial that we swell the ranks and also hold China to keeping its obligations. This is in part about human rights, and in part about a leading member of the international community being held to account and living up to its international obligations.
The Foreign Secretary has described what is happening to the Uyghur Muslims as
“barbarianism we had hoped was lost to another era”.—[Official Report, 12 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 160.]
He has previously set out measures on the use of forced labour from Xinjiang province in supply chains, so will he now commit to strengthening section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to stop forced labour being supported by UK business supply chains completely?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for, I think, welcoming the measures we have taken today. He will have seen the Modern Slavery Act supply chain measures and action that I announced to the House some weeks ago. If there is a specific further piece of action that he would like us to take, he should write to me or to the Home Secretary and I would be very happy to consider what we do on that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Just 25 years ago, it was China that hosted the UN’s platform for action to ensure greater equality for men, women, girls and boys, yet today we are seeing the appalling record that he has set out. Does he agree that China will be considered a leading member of the international community only if it abides by basic human rights norms in its day-to-day business?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. China is a leading member of the international community, and we want a positive, constructive relationship with it, but that is in no small part dependent on what China does. As a permanent member of the Security Council and a leading member of the United Nations, it must stand up and respect the basic tenets that come with that status.
We have been pretty clear that there are no realistic prospects of a free trade deal on the horizon. Of course, given China’s size, there is an economic reality that we recognise, as every other country around the world does. As I have said before, the best route to engaging more deeply with China on trade, including going down the track I have set out today, is for China to improve its human rights record, but that is for China itself to demonstrate.
I welcome today’s announcement, but I am afraid that, as China’s power and influence grows, our ability to pressure it into following the international rules-based order shrinks. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the recent revival of the quadrilateral security dialogue, and does he agree with the Australian Prime Minister that the largely benign security environment in the region has gone?
I am in very close co-ordination with my Australian opposite number. We understand that Australia is very much on the frontline in all sorts of different ways relating to some of the challenging and threatening behaviour from China. We worked very closely with China, and we obviously collaborate with what the Quad is doing. We will continue not just to deepen and expand that but to look and see if there are concrete areas where we can do more.
Given the actions and the rightful condemnation that the Foreign Secretary has announced today, does he still feel it will be appropriate to hold the winter 2022 Olympics in Beijing?
The hon. Lady raises a perfectly legitimate question, but we have a long tradition in this country of keeping politics and sport separate. Of course, she will also know that that is an independent decision made by the sporting authorities, and not one for the Government.
Last year, along with many other Members, I signed a joint letter organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) condemning China and calling for sanctions and an independent investigation, so I welcome the sanctions announced today. The Chinese Government continue to issue denials. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that for Beijing’s denials to have even a shred of credibility, China must give the UN Commissioner for Human Rights full access to Xinjiang immediately?
Article 2 of the convention on genocide sets out five different aspects of genocide. I hope that the reluctance to invoke the term “genocide” is not based on avoiding the widespread responsibilities that arise from that under international law. Will the Government now automatically grant refugee status to all Uyghur people fleeing to the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Asylum applications are quite rightly done independently, rather than just on a political whim. He refers to the definition in the genocide convention. Before coming to the House, I worked on war crimes, including in The Hague. It is very rare that a tribunal has found human rights abuses to amount to genocide because of the specific legal definition, but we do think the right thing is that a tribunal, whether it is domestic or international, makes that judgment.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today, but it is one element of so much more that needs to be done. Everything he referred to as industrial scale assaults on human rights against the Uyghurs has been committed by the Chinese Government against the Tibetans since 1959, until recently by one Chen Quanguo, who brought what he called “ethnic stability”—it is what we know as “ethnic cleansing”—to Tibet and who is now bringing genocide to the people of Xinjiang. So why is he not on the list? And when our Five Eyes partners, such as America and Canada, and allies such as the Netherlands have referred to this as genocide, and many other countries are considering doing so, why can we not call it out for what it is: genocide, pure and simple?
The reality is that genocide has a very, very complex legal definition, which is why, in war crimes tribunals since Nuremberg, it has very rarely been found. The right thing to do is to respect the legal definition and allow a court to make those determinations. It is principally for the purposes of finding criminal accountability, but I understand the wider points that my hon. Friend makes.
The Foreign Secretary said in January that we should not be doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”—
yet now, in private, he has been caught out on record saying that he is happy for the Government to do trade deals with countries who fail to meet international human rights standards. Indeed, just this month we have signed one with Cameroon. Is the Foreign Secretary concerned that he has been misleading the House?
I am not sure what is left of the question with that bit withdrawn, but the reality is that it is a totally inaccurate reflection—I am sure inadvertently —of the remarks we have made. I made it clear that we will never do free trade deals with countries whose human rights records are beyond the pale. We are taking Magnitsky sanctions, as well as modern slavery action measures, precisely because we never shirk our human rights and responsibilities. But we do recognise the value of trade deals, and if we held countries around the world to ECHR-level standards, we would be—I do not hear Opposition Front Benchers calling for this—ripping up trade deals with Korea, Japan and not engaging with other countries that have either the death penalty or corporal punishment. We take a balanced approach, but, as we have shown today, we will never shrink from standing up for human rights and holding those to account, and we have done more than any other Government in this country’s history, and certainly more than the Labour Government before.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement word for word and, of course, the sanctions that so many of us have argued for for so long.
I will cut to the chase: my right hon. Friend talks about supply chains. He knows that my Select Committee—the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee—produced a report on this. Let us just blacklist companies that are based in Xinjiang. We cannot go in and check what is happening, and we know that it is basically a prison camp. Secondly, because I agree word for word with my right hon. Friend’s statement, I assume that he is going to be in the Lobby with me tonight backing the genocide amendment, because without it, the Neill amendment excludes the Uyghurs. Let us not have a two-tier genocide policy. Let us make sure that the Uyghurs have their case heard.
I thank my hon. Friend, who continues to campaign with her usual eloquence and tenacity, and I pay tribute to her on the issue of the Uyghur Muslims. We will look very carefully at the BEIS Committee report, not least because of the action that we are taking on supply chains under the MSA. She will understand my position on genocide, which I have already set out.
Amnesty International’s report, “Hearts and Lives Broken: The Nightmare of Uyghur Families Separated by Repression” tells a very chilling story of families who have no idea where their children are. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that the Uyghurs and all Chinese ethnic minorities who have been separated are facilitated to get back to their children and to put those families back together?
All I can say to the hon. Lady is what we have set out before the House, which is that we are taking action under the Modern Slavery Act and that we are using the Magnitsky sanctions. I was asked earlier, I think, about asylum. Of course asylum will be applied independently in the normal way. If there is anything else that she would specifically like me to consider, I am very happy for her to write to me.
Two weeks ago today, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Many of us spoke about the abhorrent persecution of the Uyghur women, but this community is clearly experiencing genocide by the Chinese Government. I am appalled to hear that the Secretary of State told his staff candidly that he planned to trade with any country regardless of their human rights record. If that is true, it is shameful. When will he call out the genocide of the Uyghur people and when will the UK take a world-leading role on this matter?
It is extraordinary to hear the Opposition criticise the Government for not working with the international community one week and then criticise us this week for working with the international community. Today, we are taking a lockstep approach with 30 other countries. If the Opposition will not ask the salient questions then we will. May I ask how the Foreign Secretary will look to include or expand the list of those named in China and how we will be able to further engage the international community to take action where human rights violations take place?
I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful statement and his welcome support. Obviously, we do not comment on individual names, not least because we do not want to give them foresight or advance warning if we were to take measures. We keep the evidence under review. If he has any particular evidence—I have talked to other Members of the House in relation to some of the third-party and open-source information that has been published—we will, of course, look at it very carefully.
I warmly commend what the Foreign Secretary has announced today, not least because I have been calling for it, like many others across the House, for weeks and weeks. It is a delight to hear what he has had to say today, but I wish he would be a little bit less of a lawyer about all of this. Sometimes it ends up looking as if the Government are trying to have it both ways all the time. Yes, announce sanctions against those involved in what I would certainly call genocide in China, but, at the same time, they drag their feet about it, take too long to deal with the human rights abuses in Hong Kong being perpetuated by Carrie Lam, and quite often refuse to take action against the dirty money, for instance, from Russia that is coming into the UK. May I urge him to think seriously about how we make the Magnitsky sanctions regime, which he very wisely and courageously introduced, have more of a parliamentary angle to it, so that we can help review and bring these sanctions into place?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to him, because, back in 2012, he was one of the cross-party alliance in favour of these measures. I remember his moral courage and tenacity in calling for it in relation to the Uyghur Muslims. He has complained about lawyerliness. Let us remember that we are talking about a legal regime that imposes visa bans and asset freezes, which affects the rights of others. It is absolutely right that we take very seriously the legal criteria and the evidence base for doing so, and there is absolutely nothing stopping him, either in relation to the regime or by providing evidence to the Government, from playing a full role. However, let us also ensure that we have due process, otherwise the risk is that we trip up, we get legally challenged and we give the PR coup to precisely those whom we want to be calling to account.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. States where the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief is respected are more likely to be stable and therefore to be more reliable trading partners, and less likely to pose a security risk. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it makes good sense for the UK to promote FoRB across the world, apart from this being the right thing to do?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to her for her eloquent and tenacious role as a champion for freedom of religion and belief, and as the Prime Minister’s special envoy. She is right that we should do this as a point of principle because it is the right thing to do, but she is also right to say that liberal democracies that respect, more or less, freedom of religion or belief, and other principles of open societies, are easier to trade with and resolve problems with, and that we are less likely to find ourselves in conflict or dispute with them.
It is good to see action finally being taken with regard to the atrocities being perpetrated in Xinjiang. I urge the Foreign Secretary to take further steps regarding the situation in Hong Kong. Last week, it was reported that Lord Neuberger will remain on the Hong Kong court of final appeal for another three years. Does the Secretary of State accept that such decisions risk legitimising China’s failure to abide by its international commitments, and will he agree that it is no longer appropriate for UK judges to sit in Hong Kong courts?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising a really important point. I have had discussions about this not just with the Lord Chancellor, but with the President of the Supreme Court. We have agreed a common set of principles that should apply. The challenge is whether, by removing UK judges wholesale, we would actually be removing a moderating impact on the way in which the national security legislation is applied. I hope the hon. Lady will know that the Hong Kong Bar and other countries around the world have suggested to us that they would prefer those international judges to stay. With one narrow exception, I do not think that any other country has removed its judges. We are very much seized of the issue, and I hope that my answer demonstrates that.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the action being taken, and congratulate him on the personal role that he has played in building the international coalition to highlight the atrocities against the Uyghurs. What in his opinion would be the ideal response from the Chinese regime to the actions today, and what response does he fear we will actually get?
That is a great question. Of course, we live in hope; I always want the door to be open on this and other issues where we want to engage. What I would like to see is either for China to moderate its action, or—if it contests that this is all fake news and nonsense—for it to allow Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to go in and verify the facts. That would seem, under all international auspices, a fair and reasonable way to determine the accuracy of all the allegations that have been made.
In their 2019 report on human rights and democracy, the British Government rightly label the death penalty “abhorrent”. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the British Government will not attempt to secure new trade deals with countries where the death penalty is operational in order to give global Britain a moral underpinning?
We already have free trade deals—indeed, the EU did such free trade deals—with countries around the world, from Asia to Africa, which have the death penalty or corporal punishment. I am curious to know whether the hon. Gentleman is actually advocating that we tear up those existing deals. I do not think that that would be the right thing to do. Of course, different countries have different approaches and different legal systems, but we are very clear that we would never do trade deals with countries whose records are beyond the pale. Notwithstanding whatever trade or investment we have, as we have demonstrated today, we will impose Magnitsky sanctions to hold to account those individually responsible for whatever abuses they may be involved with.
Integrated Review: Defence Command Paper
As a young officer, 30 years ago almost to the day, I was summoned to the drill square to have read aloud key decisions from the Government’s defence review at the time, “Options for Change”. We did not know it then, but the world was set for massive change. The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the global impact of the internet and the emergence of al-Qaeda were some way off, which meant that no one was really prepared for what happened.
I was part of an Army that, on paper, fielded three armoured divisions in Germany but, in reality, could muster much less. It was, in truth, a hollow force. While I know that some colleagues would rather play Top Trumps with our force numbers, there is no point boasting about numbers of regiments while sending them to war in Snatch Land Rovers or simply counting the number of tanks when our adversaries are developing new ways to defeat them. That is why we have put at the heart of the Defence Command Paper the mission to seek out and understand future threats and to invest in the capabilities needed so that we can defeat them.
In defence, it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities. Such sentimentality, when coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset. It would, of course, similarly endanger our people if we simply wielded a sword of cuts, slicing away the battle-proven on the promise of novelty, without regard for what is left behind. Old capabilities are not necessarily redundant, just as new technologies are not always relevant.
We must employ both sword and shield, because those of us in government charged with defending the country have a duty to protect new domains, as well as continuing investment in the traditional ones, but always adapting to the threat. History shows us time and again that failing to do so risks irrelevance and defeat. As the threat changes, we must change with it, remaining clear-eyed about what capabilities we retire, why we are doing so and how they will be replaced.
The Prime Minister’s vision for the UK in 2030 sees a stronger and more secure, prosperous and resilient Union, better equipped for a more competitive age, as a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective. To become so requires Britain’s soft and hard power to be better integrated. In this more competitive age, a global Britain has no choice but to step up, ready to take on the challenges and shape the opportunities of the years ahead alongside our allies and friends. Let us be clear: the benefits and institutions of multilateralism, to which we have all become so accustomed, are an extension of, not an alternative to, our shared leadership and our hard power. UK diplomacy should work hand in hand with the UK armed forces abroad, and we will invest in our defence diplomacy network in order to strengthen the influence we can bring to bear. At this point I wish to pay tribute to all our civil servants in the Department, and further afield in defence, whose professionalism and dedication is every bit as vital to UK security as all the other component parts of the defence enterprise. In the past, we have been too tempted to fund equipment at the expense of our service personnel’s lived experience. That is why we will spend £1.5 billion on improving single living accommodation over the next four years, and £1.4 billion on wraparound childcare over the next decade.
The Government’s commitment to spending £188 billion on defence over the coming four years—an increase of £24 billion, or 14%—is an investment in the Prime Minister’s vision of security and prosperity in 2030. Previous reviews have been over-ambitious and underfunded, leaving forces that were overstretched and underequipped. This increased funding offers defence an exciting opportunity to turn our current forces into credible ones, modernising for the threats of the 2020s and beyond, and contributing to national prosperity in the process. It marks a shift from mass mobilisation to information-age speed, readiness and relevance for confronting the threats of the future. These principles will guide our doctrine and our force development.
The integrated operating concept, published last year, recognises that changes in the information and political environments now impact not just the context, but the conduct, of military operations. The notion of war and peace as binary states has given way to a continuum of conflict, requiring us to prepare our forces for more persistent global engagement and constant campaigning, moving seamlessly from operating to warfighting if that is required. The armed forces, working with the rest of Government, must think and act differently. They will no longer be held as a force of last resort, but become a more present and active force around the world. Our forces will still be able to warfight as their primary function, but they will also have a role to play before and after what we traditionally consider as war, whether that is supporting humanitarian projects, conflict prevention and stabilisation, or United Nations peacekeeping.
However, technological proliferation and the use of proxies and adversaries operating below the threshold of open conflict mean that the United Kingdom must also play a role in countering such aggressive acts. As such, the steps to sustaining UK leadership in defence must start with ensuring we are a credible and truly threat-orientated organisation, and we must do so in conjunction with our allies and friends. Today’s reforms will ensure that we continue to meet our NATO commitments on land and enhance our contributions at sea. As the second biggest spender in NATO, and a major contributor across all five domains, we have a responsibility to support the alliance’s own transformation for this more competitive age. Today, I am setting out in this defence Command Paper the threats we are facing; our operating concept for countering them; and the investments in our forces that are required to deliver the nation’s defences. Those threats demand that we make the following investments in, and adjustments to, the services.
We have been a maritime nation for many centuries, and it is vital that we have a navy that is both global and powerful. The Royal Navy, because of our investment in the Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32, will by the start of the next decade have over 20 frigates and destroyers. We will also commission a new multi-role ocean surveillance ship, which will protect the integrity of the UK’s maritime zones and undersea critical national infrastructure. We will deploy new automated minehunting systems, which will replace the Sandown and Hunt classes as they retire through the decade. The interim surface-to-surface guided weapon will replace the Typhoon missile, and we will upgrade the air defence weapon system on our Type 45s to better protect them from new threats.[Official Report, 25 March 2021, Vol. 691, c. 5MC.] We will invest further to implement the availability of our submarine fleet and start development of the next generation of subsea systems for the 2040s. The Royal Marines will be developed from being an amphibious infantry, held at readiness, to a forward-based, highly capable, maritime-for-future commando force, further enabled by the conversion of a Bay class landing ship to enable littoral strike.
Our land forces have been for too long deprived of investment. That is why, over the next four years, we will spend £23 billion on their modernisation. The British Army will reorganise in seven brigade combat teams—two heavy, one deep strike, one air manoeuvre and two light, plus a combat aviation brigade. In addition, a newly formed security force assistance brigade will provide the skills and capabilities to build the capacity of partner nations. In recognition of the growing demand for enhanced assistance and our commitment to delivering resilience to those partners, we will establish an Army special operations brigade, built around the four battalions of the new ranger regiments. This new regiment will be seeded from 1 Royal Scots, 2 Prince of Wales Royal Rifles, 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster and 4th Battalion The Rifles.[Official Report, 25 March 2021, Vol. 691, c. 6MC.]
Our adversaries set a premium on rapid deployability, so we will enhance the existing 16 Air Assault Brigade with an additional infantry unit, supported by upgraded Apache attack helicopters. Together, they will create a global response force for both crisis response and warfighting. The third division will remain the heart of our warfighting capability, leading in NATO with two modernised heavy brigades. In order to ensure that we are more lethal and better protected, it will be built around a modern armoured nucleus of 148 upgraded Challenger 3 tanks and Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicles, with the accelerated introduction of Boxer armoured personnel carriers.
As I have repeatedly said, recent conflicts in Libya, Syria and the Caucasus have shown the vulnerability of armour, so we will increase both manning and investments in electronic warfare regiments, air defence and uncrewed aerial surveillance systems, all complemented by offensive cyber-capabilities.
The Army’s increased deployability and technological advantage will mean that greater effect can be delivered by fewer people. I have therefore taken the decision to reduce the size of the Army from today’s current strength of 76,500 trained personnel to 72,500 by 2025. The Army has not been at its established strength of 82,000 since the middle of last decade. These changes will not require redundancies. We wish to build on the work already done on utilising our reserves to make sure the whole force is better integrated and more productive.
There will be no loss of cap badges and, as I said earlier, the new structures will require fewer units. Therefore, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment will be amalgamated with the 1st Battalion to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion. To administer the new infantry, we will reorganise the regiments to sit in four infantry divisions. Each will comprise a more balanced number of battalions and give the men and women serving in them a wider range of choices and opportunities in pursuing their careers and specialties. To ensure a balanced allocation of recruits, we will introduce intelligent recruiting for the infantry, and each division of infantry will initially feed the four new-range battalions. The final details of these administrative divisions, along with the wider Army restructuring, will be announced before the summer. No major unit deletions will be further required.
Today’s Royal Air Force is now deploying world-leading capabilities: P-8, Rivet Joint, A400M and the latest Typhoons. The F-35, the world’s most capable combat aircraft, is now being deployed to frontline squadrons. In recognition of its battle-winning capabilities, we will commit to growing the fleet to 48 aircraft. The E-3D Sentry, two generations behind its contemporaries, will be replaced by a more capable fleet of three E-7 Wedgetails in 2023. These will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, transforming the United Kingdom’s early warning and control capabilities, as well as contributing to NATO. As the transport fleet improves availability, we will retire the C-130J Hercules in 2023, after 24 years’ service. Twenty-two A400Ms, alongside the C-17s, will provide a more capable and flexible transport fleet.
Our counter-terrorism operations are currently supported by nine Reaper drones, which will be replaced by Protectors in 2024. These new platforms will provide the enhanced strategic ISR—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance —and strike capabilities that are so vital for all our forces.
All forces evolve, and the increasingly competitive and complex air environment means that we must set the foundations now for our sixth generation of fighter. The Typhoon has been a tremendous success for the British aerospace industry and we will seek to repeat that with £2 billion of investment in the future combat air system over the next four years, alongside further development of the LANCA unmanned combat air vehicle system. We will continue to seek further international collaboration. All services recognise the importance of unmanned aerial systems, which is why we will also develop combat drone swarm technologies. To ensure that our current platforms have the necessary protection and lethality, we will also upgrade the Typhoon radar and introduce Spear Cap 3 deep strike capabilities.
The lessons of current conflict demonstrate that however capable individual forces may be, they are vulnerable without integration. UK strategic command will therefore invest £1.5 billion over the next decade to build and sustain a digital backbone to share and exploit vast amounts of data through the cloud and secure networks. To ensure that our workforce are able to exploit new domains and enhance productivity, the command will invest in synthetics and simulation, providing a step change in our training.
The National Cyber Force will lie at the heart of Defence and GCHQ’s offensive cyber-capability and will be based in the north-west of England. The need to keep ourselves informed of the threat and ahead of our rivals means that defence intelligence will be at the heart of our enterprise. We will exploit a wider network of advanced surveillance platforms, all classifications of data and enhanced analysis using artificial intelligence.
Strategic command will partner the RAF to deliver a step change in our space capabilities. From next year, we will start delivering a UK-built intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellite constellation. Space is just one area in which the Ministry of Defence will prioritise more than £6.6 billion-worth of research, development and experimentation over the next four years. Those investments in our future battle-winning capabilities will be guided by the science and technology strategy of 2020 and a new defence and security industrial strategy to be published tomorrow.
Our special forces are world leading. We are committed to investing in their cutting-edge capabilities to ensure that they retain their excellence in counter-terrorism, while becoming increasingly capable of also countering hostile state activity.
To conclude, if this Defence Command Paper is anything, it is an honest assessment of what we can do and what we will do. We will ensure that defence is threat-focused, modernised and financially sustainable, ready to confront future challenges, seize new opportunities for global Britain and lay the foundations of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom. We will, for the first time in decades, match genuine money to credible ambitions; we will retire platforms to make way for new systems and approaches; and we will invest in that most precious commodity of all—the people of our armed forces.
To serve my country as a soldier was one of the greatest privileges of my life: serving to lead, contributing to keeping this country safe, upholding our values, and defending those who could not defend themselves. Putting oneself in harm’s way in the service of our country is something that, fortunately, few of us are ever required to do, but we all have a duty to ensure that those who do so on our behalf are as well prepared and equipped as possible. Therefore, the success of this Defence Command Paper should be judged not on the sophistication of its words, but on the implementation of its reforms and, ultimately, on the delivery of its capabilities into the hands of the men and women of the armed forces. It is they who keep us safe and will continue to do so in the years ahead. It is to them, their families and all those across defence that we owe it to make this policy into reality. The work to do so has only just begun.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement and an advance copy of the White Paper a little earlier, although I believe, Mr Speaker, that the House will share my dismay that so much of the content of the White Paper has been given in advance to the media over the past week, despite your warning to the House and to the Defence Secretary last Monday. Our forces deserve better, as do the public and Parliament.
This defence review could not be more important. Last year we were promised
“the most radical reassessment of”
“place in the world since the end of the Cold War”;
we need just that. The integrated review last week confirmed that
“State threats to the UK, and to our allies, are growing and diversifying”.
In the defence review, the Secretary of State was right to set out that grey zone warfare, terrorism, climate change and organised crime mean that the threats to our national security and international stability are becoming less conventional, less predictable and more continuous.
We need this reassessment, because the last two Conservative defence reviews have weakened the foundations of our armed forces—they cut our full-time armed forces by 45,000, cut the defence budget by £8 billion, and cut critical defence capabilities and upgrades, largely to deal with budget pressures. The Prime Minister promised an end to this era of retreat, and the Defence Secretary pledged that this defence review would be different, yet I fear that it is set to repeat many of the same mistakes. The strength of our armed forces is being cut again; crucial military capabilities are cut again; and there are plans to complete a full overhaul of the Army in 10 years’ time—again. How do the Government square this circle? The threats to Britain are increasing, and our forces will be forward deployed further from home, yet this is a plan for fewer troops, fewer ships and fewer planes over the next few years.
Our armed forces are rightly respected worldwide for their professionalism and all-round excellence, but size matters. Our full-time forces are already nearly 10,000 below the strength that Ministers said in 2015 was needed to meet the threats Britain faces. The Defence Secretary goes further today, confirming that the Army alone will have its established strength cut by 10,000 to just 72,500 over the next four years. How can he argue that these deeper cuts will not limit our forces’ capacity to simultaneously deploy overseas, support allies, maintain strong national defences, and reinforce domestic resilience, as they have done in helping our country through the recent covid crisis? What does he say to the ex-Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, who recently said that further cuts to the Army would mean the UK was no longer taken seriously as a military power, and that this would damage our relationship with the US and our position in NATO? What does the Defence Secretary say to each and every voter who heard the Prime Minister say this at the launch of the Conservatives’ 2019 election campaign:
“We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces”?
We welcome the plans announced today for cyber, for space, for defence science, for artificial intelligence and for the next generation of fighter jets, but these new technologies may take years to come on stream, so this is a plan for cuts now with a promise of jam tomorrow.
Let me ask the Defence Secretary a series of questions. When will the war fighting division promised in 2015 finally be battle-ready? When will we have enough British F35 jets to fly from our aircraft carriers? Will there be any short-term cuts in anti-submarine warfare capabilities? How will the new Ranger regiment be recruited? Where will it be based, and when will it be fully operational? Will the plans for the combat service support battalions mean any reduction in the number of Army medics? Finally, on funding for single living accommodation, I was not going to raise this, but the Secretary of State said today that, as the Ministry of Defence has told the National Audit Office, the plan is for £1.5 billion over 10 years. However, page 36 of the White Paper says £1.3 billion. Is that a cut, or is it an error?
The finances for the last defence review were a fiction. The MOD’s budget was balanced in 2012, but the NAO has now judged the defence equipment plan “unaffordable” for four years in a row, and it reports a black hole of up to £17 billion. We welcome the Prime Minister’s extra £16.5 billion, but there is a risk that we will be throwing good money after bad. How much of this extra money will be swallowed by the black hole in the current programmes and not used to fund the new ones that the Secretary of State has announced today?
Ministers talk about the rise in capital funding but not the real cut in revenue funding over the next four years. That cut in day-to-day spending is the Achilles heel of defence plans. The Secretary of State should never have agreed it. Will he today spell out the consequences of that real-terms cut in revenue funding for forces recruitment, training, pay and family support?
The MOD’s bad habits run deep. Only three of its 30 major projects, together worth a staggering £162 billion, have a clear green light, and are on time and on budget. It is clear to me that Parliament needs a system of special measures for the MOD. The Secretary of State’s new Office of Net Assessment and Challenge will deal with policy but not money or delivery, so will he commission a special capability review of the MOD, conducted by a top team of internal and external experts, backed by the NAO and reporting to this House?
On nuclear, Labour’s commitment to the renewal of our deterrent is non-negotiable, alongside our multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament and greater arms control. The Secretary of State made no mention in his statement of reversing 30 years of proud non-proliferation policy in the UK under successive Governments, and the White Paper does not come close to explaining, let alone justifying, this change. Parliament, the public and our allies are owed a much fuller account of this decision from Ministers.
The White Paper also has little to say on the lessons from covid. Pandemic was indeed identified as a tier 1 threat in 2015 and 2018, but no preparation was done, and when the virus hit, less than 1% of our personal protective equipment was sourced in the UK. Full-spectrum society resilience requires training, planning and exercising that must be led by the Government and involve private industry, local agencies and the public. Some countries are ahead of us with such civil-military strategies for the grey zone. Why does the White Paper have nothing to catch Britain up?
Finally, on the principal threats, China is certainly a great and growing power challenge that the US, backed by democratic countries such as Britain, must meet. However, the White Paper rightly confirms that Russia remains Britain’s greatest state threat. Our highest priority must therefore be Europe, the north Atlantic and the High North—our NATO area. While the Prime Minister talks up Britain’s Indo-Pacific focus, how does the Defence Secretary reassure NATO that we are not neglecting the leading role that our alliance countries, including the US, continue to require of Britain?
We want to see this defence review succeed, but there is a growing gulf between the Government’s ambitions and their actions—a gulf that we will challenge hard in the months ahead, and that the Secretary of State has much more to do to close.
Oh dear. I get the impression that no matter what I brought to the House today, that speech would have been trucked out. This is not the defence review that usually takes place in an environment of cuts. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) is wrong: there is not a cut to the resource departmental expenditure limit over the four years. It is flat, or if not, there is a tiny increase in RDEL. That slightly undermines the desperate attempt to make £24 billion-plus look like some form of cut. He asked what impact that will have. First of all, he obviously got the Command Paper delivered electronically, but there should be an insert in the printed ones that shows that the figure is actually £1.5 billion, not £1.3 billion. The impact of that RDEL is obviously wraparound childcare for £1.4 billion over 10 years. That is a plus, in case anyone missed it from the tone of his speech.
When it comes to the MOD budget, I have been very honest in this House. I would admit the role that former Conservative Governments have taken in defence reviews, but I have never once heard the right hon. Gentleman own up at all, or admit that the Government he served in produced what the 2010 NAO audit report showed was £38 billion of overspend; it was £3 billion in the last year. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is shouting, was himself a Minister in the MOD. I have never heard Labour Members say, “Under our Government, we delivered lots of regiments, but we delivered our soldiers into Snatch Land Rovers.” I have never heard them say with a sense of apology or humility that they took soldiers into war ill-equipped, ill-trained and often unable to make the peace. That is really important, because behind all this are the men and women of our armed forces.
We are trying to strike the balance between our ambition, the funding and looking after those people. In defence, we are all ambitious to do more around the world, but if I let my enthusiasm get away with me, I would end up hollowing out the equipment the men and women of the armed forces have, and that is no legacy to leave those people. That is why, in this blueprint for a future force, we are almost setting out two parts of our forces: forces for war fighting, and forces to prevent conflict or help rebuild countries afterwards. We know we can win the conflict, because we usually do it with allies, and we can deploy our armoured divisions or brigades—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) is wrong. In Telic I, it was not a division but two armoured brigades—16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigades—that deployed.
If my right hon. Friend wants to see what happened to a Russian armoured division, he should look what happened in Syria last year, in the weeks when 172 tanks were wiped out by Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles. I wonder what comfort that would have been to the 3,000 Syrian soldiers—fighting for the wrong regime, however—who no doubt thought that somehow their mass gave them protection. [Interruption.] They were Russian.
In the China-Russia war I think it was, a British officer went to observe and saw the machine gun being used for the first time, and his report back said, “They’re not British. We don’t need the machine gun,” and the rest was history. Therein lies the fault and the fallacy of defence reform. If we wrap ourselves in sentimentality, what we get is a betrayal of the men and women who go to fight.
On other points that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne raised, we will go beyond the 48 F-35 fighters, and we will continue to purchase them until we have decided whether we have the right numbers to continue. We are on track to deliver the squadrons required as planned and to man our aircraft carriers. There will be no reduction in combat medics as a result of these reorganisations. He and I both know the importance of the role they have played in covid. Indeed, they are a key enabler that will be useful not only for ourselves, but when it comes to conflict prevention and winning the peace.
On the nuclear deterrent, we do not believe that the changes to the number of warheads in any way breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that advice is backed up by the Attorney General. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman is correct about his party’s new-found love of the nuclear deterrent since his previous leader, or indeed since the shadow Foreign Secretary voted against renewing it, he will of course agree with me that a nuclear deterrent should be credible; otherwise, it would just be a massive waste of money.
I knew that was what the hon. Member from the Scottish nationalist party was going to say; it was predictable. I remember the former leader of the Labour party suggesting to the good people of Barrow that they would be allowed to continue to make submarines, and could maybe use them for tourism purposes. Maybe that is the true version of the Labour party’s manifesto on defence.
I would take on board many of the criticisms and charges by the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne if he came to this House with a mea culpa about his own Government’s role in producing defence reviews over time that were both over-ambitious and underfunded; if he accepted that when we over-sentimentalise our armed forces or avoid taking the tough decisions, the people who suffer in the end are the men and women of the armed forces; and, if he came here and acknowledged that the men and women of the armed forces who I served with who perished, some of them in Snatch Land Rovers, did so because in the end we overstretched, underfunded and failed to recognise that the best thing is to be honest, with a well-funded armed forces that we do not overstretch and with which we are not over-ambitious.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I just pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who was killed on this day four years ago? There is much to welcome in this Command Paper today, and the Defence Secretary is to be congratulated on advancing our force structure and investments in cyber, special forces and autonomous platforms, but they come at a huge price to our conventional defence posture, with dramatic cuts to our troop numbers, tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and more than 100 RAF aircraft, including fast jets and heavy lift—cuts that, if tested by a parliamentary vote, I do not believe would pass. Why? Because the Government’s own integrated review paper spells out in very clear language how dangerous this next decade will be—more so than in the cold war, when defence spending was 4%-plus of GDP.
Today, we face multiple complex threats to our security and our prosperity, yet our defence spend remains at a peacetime level of just 2.2%. With international rivalry increasing and western influence on the retreat, we must wake up to how dangerous the next decade will be. Is it not the time to increase the defence budget to 3%, so that these dangerous cuts to our conventional hard power can be avoided?
Asking any Defence Secretary in history if he would like to support an increase in his budget is usually going to get only one response. The reality is that I am dealing with a budget that is incredibly generous compared with my colleagues in other Departments in the middle of this pandemic. Indeed, many people object to the increase in the defence budget. It is a defence budget big enough to allow me to fix the issues of the past and to invest in modernisation.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and my answer to him would be about ambition. How ambitious and how global do we wish to be? I do not believe that our security is at threat from this document. I think it provides a very good foundation for our homeland security. What comes next is how much we help our friends around the world and what ambition we have for them. I can give him and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) the assurance that our defence priority No. 1 is our commitment to membership of NATO, because that coalition and that part of the world—western Europe and the Atlantic—is key to our own security. That comes first, as does, for those on the Government Benches, our nuclear deterrent as our guarantor for security from aggressive states. That is maybe where my right hon. Friend and I will disagree, and we will no doubt explore that, and the extent to which our ambitions are matched, during the Defence Committee meetings.
Where we are today, we can match our ambitions with this defence paper but, as I have always said in this House, if the threat changes, we should always be prepared to change with it. I cannot say what will happen in 2035. I cannot say what will happen even further out from there, and that is why I think that at the heart of this paper is something on which my hon. Friend and I do strongly agree, which is that our approach should, for once, be threat-driven. That should drive what we buy. That should drive how we equip our people. That should drive what we do. We are determined to do it, and as Defence Secretary, it is my job to provide the rest of Government—the Prime Minister and the National Security Council—with the range of options and range of tools to allow them to follow those ambitions.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the paper and his statement, and I apologise to him for the difficulties we had in trying to get each other on the phone earlier. As the Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has said, on behalf of SNP Members, I acknowledge the anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman’s own bravery on that day.
Turning to the paper, I think it does seek to ask some of the right questions. Within the broader context of the integrated review and what the Minister will no doubt reveal to us tomorrow, I can see where the Government are trying to go. The problem we have is that it comes to some of the wrong conclusions, not least—and let me be unequivocal on this—in terms of the increase in the nuclear stockpile. We think that that is an expensive folly that should be cancelled with immediate effect.
However, in terms of the changing nature of threats that the document and the Secretary of the State have outlined, there are some things that are worth exploring and that this House should have debated long ago. We welcome, for example, the investment in space research, not least because my own city of Glasgow produces more satellites than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. But the reliance on technology, which I accept is a new feature of defence and security, and particularly on autonomous weapons, does raise some serious concerns. While the Government have paraded all this flashy, expensive new tech—I understand that hon. Members, and not just those on the Government Benches, get very razzle-dazzled with this stuff—what are we going to see in terms of the proper oversight of its use? We cannot have a situation where killer robots are sent into battlefields with no proper oversight of weapons deployed on our behalf and in our name.
That takes me on to the wider issue of international norms, not just on lethal autonomous weapons, but in terms of data and AI. What are the Government doing not just nationally but to work with partners internationally to develop international norms on this stuff? I accept that Russia and China will always pose a challenge in trying to develop international norms, but I want to hear more about what the Government are doing to do so, especially within NATO.
Turning to the armed forces, it has rightly been mentioned—and I suspect we will hear it again during this statement—that the Secretary of State will have some convincing to do here in Parliament that he will be able to retire the old, bring in the new and not have such a big gap in the middle. On numbers, what will be the impact of the reduction in numbers on the Scottish footprint in 2025? During the past few Defence Question Times I have raised with the Secretary of State the fact that the 12,500 promise made to Scots seven years ago has never been met, so we can now assume that those numbers will be even further from the promise made by his own party ahead of the 2014 referendum. That will be not just a breach of that promise, but a breach of his own manifesto commitment. I accept that the Secretary of State is trying to clear up a lot of what his predecessors have done—indeed, I partly commend him on being honest with the House on that today—but he does have some convincing to do, not just here but back in communities that he knows well.
When will we see something on terms and conditions for the armed forces? We want to see a pay increase for members of the armed forces. We know that four in 10 serving personnel do not believe their pay properly reflects their work. That is work that all of us in here admire; indeed, I have seen it in Castlemilk in my own constituency during the covid pandemic, where we have the vaccination and testing centre. When will the Secretary of State bring forward a real and proper pay rise and give them the money they deserve? Surely that is something all of us in the House could agree with.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns both about reliance on technology and the human in the loop issue. Britain has been one of the leaders in trying to raise those discussions in places like the United Nations, to ensure that there is a standard that is acceptable—a moral standard, making sure that there is a human in the loop at nearly all times. That is important for reassurance.
On AI and data, Britain leads within NATO on cyber. It pushed NATO to examine cyber, but not in being a cyber nation—Estonia is probably one of the greatest cyber nations, although there is a data issue that I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s party would disagree with about relying on data that much. But fundamentally it is incredibly important, and Britain’s work alongside some of its allies in NATO has pushed NATO to look at both hybrid threats and cyber and to start making sure that it reforms and modernises to address that.
I understand the concerns about troops and personnel in Scotland. There are over 28,000 people currently in Scotland who rely directly on defence: that is the civil servants, the regulars, the reserves and in industry. When we send the E-7 Wedgetails up to Lossiemouth there will be an increase of a few hundred people to work in that part of the world, which is to be welcomed. Decisions exactly on where the Rangers will be and how it will develop will come soon. What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is a tribute to Scottish infantry and Scottish heritage that 1 Scots will become the seed of the Rangers. For anyone who knows Scottish military history, the Lovat Scouts and brave souls like that have set the fierce reputation of Scottish soldiers around the world. I hope that that will be recognised as they go forward.
On pay and allowances, I have started a process of reviewing allowances. On the allowances I have already signed off, I chose to protect the lowest paid at the expense of the highest paid. I am not a socialist. I would not be surprised if the hon. Gentleman might be —[Interruption.] Or he might not. However, I felt that the lowest paid should be protected, as well as overseas allowances and individuals with children. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman’s Government in Scotland would like to pledge to give our troops in Scotland the same £500 bonus they have given NHS staff, we would be absolutely delighted. Perhaps the extra tax that the SNP—[Interruption.] I’ll tell you what, Madam Deputy Speaker, maybe the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity here. I will do a deal with him. If he will cover for one year the extra money we pay to mitigate the tax burden that falls on Scottish soldiers, we shall pass that on to them. Would he like to do that now? He has the chance. [Interruption.] I think the Scottish National party are busy spending all that money on lawyers.
I welcome the clarity of my right hon. Friend’s statement today and I look forward to the publication tomorrow of the defence and security industrial strategy alongside it, which will provide, I hope, a degree of coherence that will be very welcome to all those involved in supporting our armed forces. In light of the necessary decision to proceed with upgrading the warhead for the strategic deterrent, can my right hon. Friend explain to the House the rationale for increasing the number of warheads during the transition from one system to the next? Will the cost in developing the strategic deterrent absorb any of the welcome £6.6 billion R&D programme that has been announced?
My right hon. Friend laid the foundations for linking prosperity in a much more deliberate and thoughtful manner into defence and defence procurement. I hope he will see that reflected in the strategy tomorrow. It is of course welcome that the review brings more prosperity—the investment in Boxers to be made in places like Telford; Ajax in Merthyr Tydfil, a Challenger upgrade and the commitment to a next generation of aerospace. As a Lancashire MP, the prosperity that Typhoon has given us all in my part of the world is incredibly important.
On the rationale of the deterrent, it cannot be taken from a one-sided view. We have to look at our adversary, Russia, and see the investments it has made, as well as its plans to both break the intermediate nuclear treaty, which was broken in 2018, and to invest in new weapon systems and missile defence. If we are going to keep it as credible, then we need to make sure that we do that.
On the R&D budget, I am not aware—I will write to my right hon. Friend with a correction if necessary—that the £6.6 billion is anything to do with the nuclear warhead programme or anything else. For clarity, the United Kingdom does not buy warheads from other countries. Under the nuclear proliferation treaty, warheads have to be developed within that very country itself.
I should make it clear that neither I nor my party can agree with the proposal to increase the number of nuclear warheads. We also have grave doubts about some of the spending decisions the Government are making within the context of the defence budget.
May I turn the Secretary of State’s attention to something that I think is close to both our hearts? What he has said about the cadet force is welcome; I seek to determine whether the cadet force will be supported in the most outlying parts of the UK, such as Wick and Thurso in my constituency. More broadly, I myself served in the Territorial Army; will the Secretary of State go a little further in outlining what is going to happen for our volunteer service personnel in the Territorial Army and others right across the UK?
The Reserve Forces 2030 review on the next iteration of reserves will report to Parliament very soon and will certainly show our desire to build on the direction of travel in respect of the reserves over the years and integrate them further into defence. That is incredibly important. The skills and force-multiplier effect that they bring are incredible. In previous decades there has been too much resistance within our Department to using them properly or involving them, especially in the Army. We need do more on that.
On the cadets, we have exceeded our target of providing opportunities for 130,000 cadets in state secondary schools across the United Kingdom. We are going to go further by investing in the cadet expansion programme to bring this fantastic opportunity to young people up and down the United Kingdom.
The Government are absolutely right in their vision of a global Britain that does not simply watch from the sidelines, so I welcome today’s commitment to a more persistent global engagement. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what this more active approach will mean for our gallant armed forces personnel?
It will mean more opportunities for them to do the job that they have trained for to help to deliver Britain’s influence around the world. They will be able to go forward and train abroad in countries such as Somalia and Kenya, provide reassurance and resilience and, indeed, hopefully prevent conflict. The prevention of conflict is a noble thing and is not something to be separated from the armed forces—they are not mutually exclusive, because sometimes the way in which we prevent major conflict is to intervene in support of allies and friends. We will give young men and women throughout the country plenty of opportunity around the world, and at the same time they will be able to train fully as soldiers and follow their specialities.
I recognise that the Secretary of State will come before the Defence Committee so look forward to more detailed consideration in due course. I welcome the recognition of the defence procurement footprint in Northern Ireland and the suggestion that, given the cyber-security and advanced engineering capacity in my constituency and throughout the Province, we are well placed for future investment. On the balancing of new technologies with old footprint, will the Secretary of State commit today to the sustained continuance of the Northern Ireland garrison, and in particular 2 Rifles at Thiepval barracks in Lisburn?
Last week’s integrated review made it clear that the threats that our country faces are changing rapidly and that our adversaries are increasingly operating in the grey zone, where they perceive the risks of repercussions to be far lower. Will the Secretary of State confirm that what he has announced today will give us the ability to respond to such threats in a far more meaningful way, because they threaten us and our allies?
One way in which our adversaries use sub-threshold activity is by corrupting or undermining a fragile state. By being able to deploy, either in support of partner host nations or by improving their training, we will help to build their resilience. At same time, we can sometimes supply or co-train in respect of key enabling, as we do in Kenya with the bomb disposal college. We work alongside the Kenyans to train people, and we now train countries from other parts of Africa together.
Our strategic threats are from China, which grows stronger each day from manufacturing trade, and Russia, which is threatened by China and relies on fossil fuel exports. Instead of focusing on cutting one in eight soldiers and stockpiling nuclear weapons, what discussions has the Secretary of State had across Government about using COP26 to put a carbon tax on trade, in order to check Chinese power and to help transition Russia from fossil fuels towards a wood economy for construction, to tackle climate change, so that holistically, we can protect the world without escalating the risk of war and destruction?