House of Commons
Tuesday 21 September 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Motor Neurone Disease Research Funding
The pandemic has shown us just how important and world-leading the UK’s life sciences sector is, and our Government are committed to making it go from strength to strength.
As a fellow rugby league fan, Mr Speaker, you will know the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the pitch and now his inspiration off the pitch. Rob is in Parliament today with his friend Doddie Weir to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and of the campaign calling on the Government to invest £50 million in MND research over the next five years for a virtual MND research institute. Will the Secretary of State please commit to meeting the MND Association to discuss this funding proposal further?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in this area. He will know that in the last fiscal year, UK Research and Innovation spent £15.9 million on MND research. In the previous Parliament, 2017 to 2019, we announced £20 million to support the work of medical research charities which have now been impacted by covid.
It has been said already, but rugby league fanatics like you and I, Mr Speaker, have long been inspired by the brilliance of Rob Burrow on the field, but I think we have been blown away by his tireless determination off the pitch to campaign to raise awareness of motor neurone disease. Does the Secretary of State agree with Rob and Scotland’s rugby union star Doddie Weir, who are both watching us, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said? We need to act now, Secretary of State—now—to increase research funding into this devastating, debilitating and life- limiting disease.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member, who raises an extremely important point. I do not know Rob, but I am very pleased that his tireless work has been raised today. As I said, in the last fiscal year UKRI spent £15.9 million on MND research. We have had a wider offer for medical research charities—we announced £204 million for Research England in the fiscal year 2020-21—but I am very happy to meet him and see what more we can do to pursue this important topic.
Lucy Lintott from Moray was Scotland’s youngest person to be diagnosed with MND, aged 19. Eight years on, she is living with fiancé Tommy Smith. They have an 18-month-old, LJ, and, on Hogmanay, they are expecting their second child, a little girl. It is believed that Lucy is the first person in the world to have had two pregnancies after diagnosis. Will the Secretary of State meet Lucy and other campaigners to see what we can do to support her family and so many others in Scotland and across the UK?
As I am sure the Secretary of State will appreciate, there are very many of us in this House for whom this is a hugely important issue. He has already mentioned the research, but the key to the £50 million over five years is that it is not spread over other research—it is completely targeted on motor neurone disease. Will he take that to the Government and bear that in mind please?
Innovation: Private Sector Investment
It is very good to be back as the newly appointed Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for his tireless work on levelling up and the importance of innovation in supporting left-behind communities. Science and innovation are not the same thing. We are committed to being both a science superpower and an innovation nation, and that is why I am looking hard at what we can do, through the business innovation forum, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, Innovate UK and UKRI, to drive levelling up.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him back to his new position—congratulations. There is an oven-ready package available in the east midlands, with key projects set to boost private investment in the region. The Government’s backing for those projects this autumn is vital. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are supportive of our plans for an east midlands freeport, our development corporation and the importance of Toton in the integrated rail plan? Does he agree that this is a huge opportunity to attract private investment into a region that traditionally is at the bottom of the table for attracting that kind of money?
In a word, yes. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Freeports and regeneration corporations are vital to our innovation strategy. Not only are we determined that there will be funding for the golden triangle, but we want to harness science and regeneration to drive growth around the country.
Fire and Rehire
We have been clear that threats to fire and rehire as a tactic to pressure workers during negotiations are totally unacceptable. That is why we have asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to produce guidance to help employers to reach negotiated outcomes with their workforce. We continue to keep the issue under review.
While Members across the House were munching away this morning at the country’s favourite breakfast cereal, Weetabix, they will have been blissfully unaware that Post Holdings, which owns Weetabix, has turned its guns on its workforce with fire and rehire. Employees at Weetabix are set to lose £5,000 per annum, and of course if they refuse they will lose their jobs. That is quite simply not good enough. Minister after Minister, including the Prime Minister, has stood at the Dispatch Box saying how abhorrent fire and rehire is. Will the Minister please tell the House what he intends to do about fire and rehire? Can he confirm that the Government will support the Second Reading of the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill—the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—on 22 October?
The Government take fire and rehire very seriously. Obviously there are occasions when businesses need the flexibility to change workers’ terms and conditions to avoid mass redundancies and insolvency, but there have been examples of its being used as a bully boy tactic. I know that the Labour party understands that, because as recently as July, it made a load of its own employees redundant and hired workers on temporary contracts with worse terms and conditions to keep the party afloat—unless that was a case of one law for the Labour party and another for UK businesses.
I think that every Member of this House shares concerns about the practice of fire and rehire, but does the Minister agree that taking a sledgehammer to the delicate ecosystem of redundancy laws contained in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is fraught with danger and that there are levers that we can deploy instead that would strongly disincentivise such conduct? Will he meet me again to discuss the issue?
I always thank my hon. Friend for her interventions in the matter, because with her experience as an employment barrister she has seen it from both angles. The Government do not currently plan to legislate, but because of its obvious importance we are keeping the matter under review. I recognise the wealth of expertise on employment law and related matters in this House; I have met MPs on both sides of the issue and am glad to continue these conversations with my hon. Friend.
We hear lots of talk of levelling up from Ministers at the Dispatch Box, do we not? Well, here is a genuine opportunity to improve terms and conditions for employees up and down the land, including at Weetabix, and legislate through the private Member’s Bill. Stop the reviews, get on with it and legislate!
We introduced the national living wage. We have enabled workers to carry over more annual leave because of the pandemic. We have increased the reference period that employers use to calculate holiday pay, to improve seasonal workers’ wages. We are continuing to improve workers’ rights over this Parliament. We are indeed the workers’ party, so we will continue to make sure that we tackle fire and rehire when it is used as a bully boy tactic.
World Leadership in Science, Research and Innovation
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a distinguished Minister in the Treasury and the Department for Transport and a champion of innovation. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government are completely committed to unlocking this country’s global reach as a science superpower and an innovation nation. That is why we are committed to spending £14.9 billion this year on research and development, and to increasing the total R&D budget to £22 billion and 2.5% of GDP.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and congratulate him. It is good to see him back at the Dispatch Box.
One of the largest employers in my constituency is Labcorp, a business that is at the heart of new medicine development both in the UK and across Europe and has played a role in the life science industry response to covid. It is considering UK expansion over the next five years at a number of sites across the UK. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss that opportunity, and also some of the obstacles that may get in the way of it, with a view to securing expansion in the UK as a whole but in Harrogate in particular?
I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend soon to discuss that. Labcorp is a major global corporation whose investment in the new clinical pharmacology site is vital. It is in such companies that we need to be investing to drive private investment in research and development.
Time and again I have raised with the Government the opportunity to invest in BioYorkshire, which will create 4,000 jobs for my constituents, upskill 25,000 people, and deliver £5 billion in gross value added to the Government. Will the Minister meet me to discuss it? COP26 is just six weeks away, and not pursuing projects like this is holding back the improvements that we can make to our environment.
As I have said, I am wholly committed to ensuring that science innovation drives levelling up and regeneration, and I should be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I shall be on my way to County Durham on Thursday, so perhaps I can meet her next week or the week after.
Automotive Battery Manufacturers
The Government remain firmly committed to securing gigafactories in the UK, and have demonstrated that commitment through the automotive transformation fund. As many Members will know, the first site in Sunderland was announced in July, and will see an unprecedented 100,000 battery-electric cars produced annually by Nissan and Envision AESC from 2024.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, and pay tribute to the Secretary of State and his team for facilitating investment in gigafactories in the UK. Britishvolt is making excellent progress in Blyth, but was originally intended to come to my constituency. These large-scale projects have both devolved and reserved functions. When similar projects arise, might a Minister be dedicated to lead them, looking after both the devolved and the reserved functions and working with the Welsh Government in securing that investment?
I am extremely grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. I know that he is a huge champion of Wales, and that he has huge experience in this regard. I should be happy to meet him to discuss his suggestion. As he will know, the automotive transformation fund is a UK-wide programme, and we will welcome applications for support throughout the UK. I look forward to talking to my right hon. Friend about that.
I welcome the Minister to his position.
The Prime Minister’s climate change spokeswoman recently announced that she would not be buying an electric car because of the lack of charging infrastructure and battery capacity. In 2018 the UK produced a quarter of Europe’s electric vehicles, but that is set to fall to just 4% by 2030. Motor manufacturers predict that tens of thousands of good jobs will be lost.
Will the Minister confirm that even if he meets his own targets, by 2025 the UK will have only 7% of the battery production capacity of Germany? Germans receive grants of up to €9,000 to buy an electric car, three times what he is offering. What will he do to deliver the battery capacity that is needed to secure British jobs, and make electric cars affordable? Does he understand what affordable means?
We absolutely understand what affordable means, and we are absolutely committed to building an industry that supports batteries in the United Kingdom, ensuring that the transition to electric vehicles will take place within a short period. I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady more about that if she wishes.
Neonatal Care: Statutory Leave and Pay
The Government are committed to introducing statutory leave and pay for parents of babies requiring neonatal care, and we will do that as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but I am afraid it is not good enough. Every year 100,000 babies are born premature or sick, and parents like me then have to take time off work to be with their child in hospital where, perhaps, it is fighting for its life. When will the Government get a grip on the issue? This is something that they have committed themselves to doing, and parents of premature and sick babies across these islands are desperate for action. Do we have to wait for an employment Bill? Why are the Government taking so long?
I appreciate the work that the hon. Gentleman and his all-party parliamentary group on premature and sick babies are doing in this area. The Government are committed to ensuring that all workers can participate and progress in the labour market and that we build back better as we recover from covid-19. We will bring forward the employment Bill when the time is right. In the meantime, we will continue to take the necessary action to support businesses and protect jobs.
Millions of workers are denied maternity pay and parental leave, as well as other basic rights and protections, because the Government allow only some workers to have full rights, and only after two years in the job. Is it not the case that working people are paying the price for the Government’s broken promise to bring in an employment Bill? Does the Minister not agree that all workers should have full rights from day one on the job?
As I say, we are expanding workers’ rights and delivering based on qualitative and quantitative evidence. That will be seen when the employment Bill comes through, when parliamentary time allows. What we cannot do, though, is work on a whim. Last week, the Labour party announced that it wanted a £10 minimum wage, yet this week it is reportedly recruiting stewards for its conference at £9.75 an hour. We say what we mean and we will deliver.
Net Zero Emissions by 2050
Ahead of COP26, we will publish a net zero strategy. This will set out our vision for transitioning to a net zero economy and outline our path to meet net zero by 2050. Ahead of this, we have already published important sector strategies and made major green investments in key technologies, including a £240 million net zero hydrogen fund and a £1 billion fund for carbon capture.
I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role, although he will be much missed from his previous role in the Department for International Trade where he played a crucial role in building the Department from scratch since 2016. Reducing emissions in the heat sector is vital to decarbonising our economy, and the Government have set an ambitious target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government’s anticipated heat and building strategy will include a pathway for reaching that target, including measures to make heat pumps more affordable for working households?
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. As he has pointed out, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution sets an ambition to grow the market to 600,000 heat pump installations per annum by 2028. The heat and building strategy, due soon, will set out the policies that will deliver this target in a fair and affordable way, including for his High Peak constituency.
Experts have concluded that to reach net zero by 2050, there should be no new oil and gas fields approved for development and no new coalmines or mine extensions from the end of this year. Does the Minister agree with that assessment by the experts, and if so, does he agree that the Cumbrian coalmine and the Cambo oilfield surely cannot go ahead?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Of course, we look carefully at what the Climate Change Committee has recommended at all times, and we are in the process of meeting last year’s recommendations very well. I can tell her that the climate checkpoint will apply to all future licensing rounds. Cambo is of course already licensed, and projects that are already licensed are already accounted for in our projection of emissions from future oil and gas production. So those emissions are already accounted for in our plans.
I would like to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position, and I wish him well. May I also welcome the Government’s new target to cut our carbon emissions by 78% by 2035? Does he agree that this ambitious world-leading target puts us on track to get to net zero by 2050 and shows how we are leading the world in building back greener?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Referring back to the Climate Change Committee progress report, I read an interesting comment in it at the weekend while I was learning into my new brief. It states:
“The rate of reductions since 2012…is comparable to that needed in the future.”
That is not a reason for complacency, but I would point out, as my right hon. Friend has done, that the UK has an enviable record in this space. We have grown the economy by 78% since 1990 and reduced our emissions by 44%, showing that the right way forward is to grow our economy while simultaneously reducing emissions.
Household energy bills are set to increase by £400 a year as green costs escalate and energy-intensive industries are leaving the UK, with the loss of thousands of jobs. We are becoming increasingly reliant on hostile and unstable states, as we refuse to give licences to exploit our own oil, coal and gas in the United Kingdom. This week we found out that emergency electricity supplies have had to be bought in because the wind did not blow. All that is a result of the policy of aiming for zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Does the Minister not have even the tiniest doubt that these policies are economic madness?
I always enjoy my engagements with the right hon. Gentleman on a number of topics, whether in relation to Northern Ireland or to these kinds of issues more broadly. First, on jobs leaving the UK, overall we have fantastic economic growth at the moment, 4.8% in the last quarter.
We have also done an incredible job of making sure that we have diverse sources of supply that do not leave us vulnerable to the actions of hostile states. Actually, 48% of our gas is taken from the UK continental shelf and an additional 30% comes from Norway. Norway is one of our greatest friends and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced yesterday, it is increasing its production.
On renewables, our ability to diversify shows the strength of the UK’s ability to generate energy and electricity that is both sustainable and diverse.
In addressing the energy trilemma of cost, security and decarbonisation, what account is my right hon. Friend taking of the 10,000 MW, 4,500 km power link between Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations? Does he feel that there is any read across for what the UK might do to address the problems we will likely face, if not this winter, in the very near future?
I take a keen interest in both Australia and ASEAN, having recently come from the Department for International Trade. There is a new Australia trade agreement and we have dialogue partner status at ASEAN. My right hon. Friend refers to an interesting project and, of course, the UK is always looking to make our energy supply more secure and to make our sources of energy more diverse. These are the sorts of things on which we are keeping a close eye as a potential model for the UK.
If the closure of the GKN plant in Erdington goes ahead, it will be a blow to the automotive industry’s transition to an electric future and a betrayal of the British national interest, with 519 workers sacked in an area of high deprivation and with production exported to Poland and France. I welcome the statement made by Ministers as early as April 2021 on their preparedness to contemplate investment in both skills and plant as part of keeping the factory open. As talks reach a critical stage, will the Minister confirm that the Government stand ready to continue to play an active role in seeking a resolution?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s engagement as the constituency’s Member of Parliament. I do not buy into his idea that we are neglecting the national interest. This Government and this Department have the national interest very much at our core, as he will have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the rest of the ministerial team. We are engaging with GKN—my right hon. Friend has met GKN—and we will continue to engage with it at this difficult time.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the issuance this morning of the UK’s first sovereign green gilt, which saw a record £90 billion of orders in the first hour? Does he agree that we should now seek to get more corporations to issue corporate green debt?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. Having worked in futures markets, I think the first sovereign green gilt is a great step forward for this country. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Treasury will be working very closely with the market and will be advising issuers to make sure this important sector grows in the years ahead.
Soaring gas prices have plummeted the UK into an energy crisis, with fears for vulnerable households and for the wave of energy firms folding. We have relied far too heavily on gas most recently, and it did not have to be this way; the Government could have foreseen it. We see that countries that have prioritised low-carbon energy are far more insulated from shocks such as this, and protect those vulnerable families as we head into winter, and meet climate objectives, which we know the Government are failing on. So will the Secretary of State commit to demanding that the Chancellor this autumn delivers a Budget that can ensure that we in the UK deliver an efficient, diverse, secure green energy sector, at speed?
As a former Treasury Minister, I have to advise the hon. Lady to wait and see on the Budget. We have set out clear actions in relation to the wholesale gas price problems, outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday, reassuring the public that the consumer always comes first. We have been absolutely clear that the energy price cap will remain—it protects 15 million households. On her accusation that we have done nothing for renewables, I can tell her that under this Government they are up sixfold and that since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was the Energy Secretary in 2010 they have quadrupled as a share of our energy generation.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that ceramics is an energy-intensive industry, and companies such as Churchill China and Steelite are desperate to find a green solution that will enable them to fire the plates that we are lucky enough to dine on here in the House of Commons. So will he meet me and representatives of the ceramics industry to hear how we can help them to achieve net zero?
We, of course, deliver relief schemes to reduce the cumulative impact of some energy and climate change policies on industrial electricity prices for eligible energy-intensive industries and sectors, such as steel, chemicals, cement, ceramics, paper and glass. I know the sector well from my previous role at the Department for International Trade, and of course I would be ready to meet my hon. Friend, the brilliant Stoke Conservative team of other MPs and the British Ceramic Confederation.
We recognise that this project has good potential, but obviously we need to work through these kinds of projects in a proper and methodical way, to make sure that all of the questions people would expect the Government to look at—value for money, viability and so on—are properly met.
We cannot understate the importance of the delivery of carbon capture and underground storage to the UK’s and Scotland’s journey to net zero. Let me be clear: the Acorn project should be in the vanguard of that process. I hear the warm words from the Minister, but warm words only go so far, particularly when we frame them within this Government’s record on sustainable projects in Scotland. If we look at the likes of offshore wind, we see that SSEN—Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks—has produced another report highlighting the fact that Scottish renewables projects continue to pay the highest grid charges in not only the UK, but the entirety of Europe. What is he going to do, as the new energy Minister, to end that renewables robbery?
The hon. Gentleman’s talk of Scotland being short-changed on renewables is entirely wrong. Scotland is a massive part of our renewables offer, today and going forward. Secondly, this is a competitive process. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is a key plank of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. So of course we look at CCUS and the potential it offers, but this is a competitive process and it would not be right at this point to pass specific comment on the project.
Northern Lincolnshire and the wider Humber region are playing a major part in our reaching zero emissions targets in the next few years. The Minister will have been made aware of a number of projects that the Department has supported. Will he assure us that that support will continue? May I urge him to build into his schedule a visit to the region as quickly as possible?
I look forward to a visit to Yorkshire and the Humber region as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend will know how Yorkshire has delivered incredibly for the UK as a whole, particularly in respect of offshore wind. The world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, Hornsea One, spans 400 sq km off the Yorkshire coast and generates enough power for 1 million UK homes.
The Minister has talked a lot about what is going to happen ahead of COP in respect of net zero, but will he look back at the green homes grant voucher scheme that was delivered in September last year? It was set up in 12 weeks, from announcement to delivery, and was axed six months later without having delivered the jobs or the green homes measures. What is the Minister’s Department doing to reflect on that? Is he thinking about longer-term planning to the benefit of both the industry and our net zero targets?
The hon. Lady will know the course of that scheme through her important work as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. She will also know that we are committed to publishing a heat and buildings strategy in the run-up to COP, and she will just have to wait and see what is in it. It is incredibly important that we take strong action to make sure that our public and private building stock remains sustainable for the future and makes its contribution as we move forward to net zero and our chairing of COP in November.
I welcome my right hon. Friend and the other new BEIS Ministers to their places.
Perhaps uncharacteristically, I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) in backing the Acorn project, which is in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. The hon. Gentleman and other SNP Members often like to talk about the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to £500 million of support for a so-called just transition in the north-east of Scotland, but as far as I can tell no actual plan of action is connected to that funding to deliver the energy transition that we need. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister inform the House of what this Government actually plan to do to deliver net zero and how much investment has been and will be available through, for example, the North sea transition deal?
My hon. Friend will know about the North sea transition agreement, which we announced earlier this year. I share his concern about the Scottish Government’s approach to all these things. It is still very early days for that coalition, but we are watching carefully. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that Scotland has benefited enormously from UK Government investment in renewables. On the contract for difference scheme, for example, 20 of the 58 projects that have been awarded CfDs to date are in Scotland. That represents 34% of all CfD projects and 21% of total CfD capacity. My hon. Friend is right that the UK Government are delivering for Scotland.
Climate Change Committee: 2021 Annual Progress Report
The Government are carefully considering the Climate Change Committee’s progress report and will respond to it in full as part of our forthcoming net zero strategy ahead of COP26. That strategy, which will outline our path to meet net zero by 2050, will contain policies and proposals that will allow the Government to respond substantively to the report’s recommendations.
Well, it needs to, because the report was pretty damning. The Environmental Audit Committee recently made a number of recommendations to support community energy projects such as Greater Manchester Community Renewables in my constituency. Will the Minister emphasise the importance of community energy in the upcoming net zero strategy, as recommended specifically by the Committee, and put in place some practical measures to harness the potential of community energy, including support to enable groups to get investment for energy transition projects?
Yes, of course we take community renewable initiatives very seriously indeed. We also take the Environmental Audit Committee very seriously indeed and I look forward to appearing before its Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), in due course.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the CCC progress report was damning. For example, the report says:
“The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions”,
“The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance”.
Recently, John Kerry himself, the President’s special envoy on climate, praised the UK approach.
I too welcome the Minister to his new post, my opposite number in the Department, and hope that he will last a little longer in the post than his immediate predecessor.
The Climate Change Committee’s report to Parliament highlights how little progress has been made with the upgrading of insulation in buildings and points out that
“insulation rates remain well below the delivery achieved in 2012 before key policies were scrapped.”
Does the Minister accept that, had those insulation policies been pursued, energy customers would have been in a much better position to cope with the energy prices rises and the cost of living crisis that we have currently. Does the Minister now take responsibility for the abject failure of the Government’s home insulation policies, and, most importantly, what will he now do about it?
The hon. Gentleman has managed to pack a lot into that question. Let me try to answer it in three ways. First, when it comes to the heat and buildings strategy, he will just have to wait until we publish it. We are doing the right thing. Secondly, when it comes to energy price rises, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out at great length the action we are taking to protect customers, including vulnerable customers, with the rest of the support that the Government provide. Thirdly, when it comes to the Climate Change Committee, we have done very well on achieving, for example, last year’s recommendations. Actually we have achieved in full or in part 40 of the Committee’s 92 recommendations last year; 32 are already on their way. We are looking forward to responding as well to this year’s recommendations.
The Kettering constituency generates enough wind power to power all local homes, but if we are to meet our net zero target by 2050, we need to develop more offshore wind power. Can the Energy Minister confirm that we are on track to increase the capacity of offshore wind from 30 GW to 40 GW by 2030?
I always call my hon. Friend Mr Kettering, Mr Speaker, as he has been a councillor there for a long time and the Member of Parliament representing Kettering so diligently and astutely in this House. He is right: the UK currently has 10 GW of offshore wind capacity, which is around a third of the world’s total. We are looking to grow that to 40 GW by the year 2030.
Successful resolution of supply chain pressures will be a joint effort between stakeholders and the Government, and we will continue to engage with industry stakeholders and other Departments to find practical solutions to these challenges, which are not unique to the UK.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating companies such as Cardon Energy and Maritime Transport in my constituency on keeping the country fed, fuelled and supplied? However, they tell me that there is a tsunami of HGV drivers reaching retirement. Unite the Union says that terms and conditions are not good enough and lengthening the working day will not improve that. NG Transport has offered to resettle six Afghanistan families with the requisite skills. Will the Minister not stand in the way of companies trying to innovate to plug the gaps while we tackle these structural problems?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Indeed, that is exactly why we are engaging with industry because the solutions will likely come predominantly from industry. We will continue to work with stakeholders on this so that we are able to innovate to tackle this incredibly intractable—at the moment—problem.
For months, the Government have ignored warnings about supply chain issues from the Food and Drink Federation, UKHospitality and other businesses. August saw Nando’s temporarily close 50 stores. McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes and now the HGV shortage has been compounded by a CO2 crisis that the Government should have foreseen. With Iceland warning of food shortages in days, jobs at risk as businesses deal with this utter chaos, and looming costs for consumers who are now paying the price, will the Minister now tell the Chancellor that universal credit must not be cut? Is Professor Haszeldine not right to say today that, with only two to three days’ of methane stored rather than months’ of supply that other countries have, we should have been far better prepared?
The hon. Lady started talking about supply chains and ended up talking about welfare, but let me tackle the supply chains issue. We are working closely with sector leaders to understand how we can encourage more people to work in these areas. Through our plan for jobs, we are also giving people the skills and qualifications that they need to quickly take up roles in key sectors. That is why we are inviting employers from a range of sectors, including farming and hospitality, into local jobcentres, as one of the most effective ways to promote vacancies is for employers to come out and market their opportunities directly to our work coaches and jobseekers
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) asks a timely question; he may be aware that the United Kingdom recently published a hydrogen strategy outlining the Government’s comprehensive package to incentivise low-carbon hydrogen, and a broader plan to help the wider hydrogen economy to develop.
The recent increase in wholesale energy prices strengthens the case for investing in hydrogen in the north-west of England. May I urge the Minister to come to Warrington and see the businesses that rely on intensive use of energy, and rapidly progress hydrogen and the HyNet scheme to produce carbon capture and storage in the UK, so that businesses such as Novelis Recycling and Solvay Interox are able to decarbonise rapidly?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the north-west and his constituency of Warrington. The Secretary of State has said to me that one of the ministerial team would be happy to visit. I think the Secretary of State would be happy to do that—indeed, I think he has already visited. As my hon. Friend is aware, many of the decisions around this matter are currently under way, so I am not going to comment on them at this point. At the end of the process, we will have a low-carbon hydrogen economy to be proud of.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Teesside already produces more than 50% of the UK’s commercially viable hydrogen. What assessment has he made of the benefits of the recently signed deal between BP, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Masdar for the Tees valley? Does he support the phenomenal work being done locally by Ben Houchen to revolutionise our green energy sector?
Yesterday I updated the House on the UK gas market. As I said in my statement, protecting consumers is our primary focus and is shaping our entire approach to the issue; they must come first.
I welcome the new members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ministerial team. We had a great team before the reshuffle, but I am pleased that we have a good team with us today.
Over the summer, my Department has been abuzz with activity. We have introduced our innovation strategy and the hydrogen strategy, and outlined the new round for our contracts for difference scheme. It has been an excellent way to start and I look forward to continuing in that vein.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; for a minute, I thought you were going to miss me out!
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State launched the Government’s hydrogen strategy in my constituency at ITM Power, which is a leading green hydrogen producer. The German strategy is totally committed to green hydrogen alone, and of course the Germans have put substantially more funding in than we have into this country’s strategy. The Government have an aspiration to replace all fossil fuel boilers in this country by the 2030s. That ambition is important for reducing carbon emissions and for the security of our energy supplies. Does the Secretary of State agree that we can deliver on that ambition only with a much more significant commitment from the Government to develop and install green hydrogen boilers across the country?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I make no apology for the fact that we have a twin-track approach in the hydrogen strategy. We have endorsed the production of green hydrogen, as he has described the German Government have done. We have also endorsed the production of blue hydrogen, because in the first instance, as he will understand, blue hydrogen is much cheaper than green hydrogen. In order to kickstart a hydrogen economy, we need a cheap source of decarbonised hydrogen. As such, blue hydrogen represents a transition to an economy that can be driven more by green hydrogen. The twin-track approach that we have outlined is certainly the best one.
I know, as a former Treasury Minister, that my hon. Friend is very focused on making the green transition as economically successful as possible. I and others in the Government are very focused on getting a proper electric vehicle charge roll-out, and I would be happy to speak to her to discuss the plans that we have adopted.
Families looking at soaring gas prices will be deeply worried about how they will pay their bills. One of the reasons UK households are particularly vulnerable is the Government’s failure on home insulation. Emissions from buildings are in fact higher today than in 2015. I am afraid to say that the Secretary of State’s record is abysmal, with the fiasco of the green homes grant, cuts to spending, a heat and buildings strategy originally promised for spring 2020 which is still not published, and no proper plan for retrofit. Will he admit that families this winter will be paying the price of the Government’s failure on home insulation?
Yes, it is still late, and I want to publish it as quickly as possible. I can admit that candidly.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the green homes grant. I remind him that of the £3 billion that was sequestered—ringfenced—for the green homes grant, £1.5 billion was disbursed through Salix for public buildings, and that worked very well, while £500 million was disbursed by local authorities, and that was successful. The owner-occupier bit of it was a six-month programme—a short-term fiscal stimulus—that we have closed, and we are going to have a replacement imminently.
It is a complete fiasco. The Secretary of State actually cut the money that was supposed to be allocated to homeowners.
At least half a million families are going to be thrown into fuel poverty by the rise in energy prices. On top of that, along with national insurance rises, millions of families are facing a £1,000 a year cut in universal credit in just 10 days’ time. It is a Tory triple whammy made in Downing Street. Will the Secretary of State stand up for the millions of people who are deeply worried about their bills and tell the Prime Minister that he should cancel the universal credit cut?
I have a sense of déjà vu, as we addressed this issue directly yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman knows with his experience—I was going to say in government but I mean and in opposition—that universal credit is a matter for the Chancellor, in discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a phenomenal champion of science and technology in space. I am delighted to say that the Government are very shortly to publish our national space strategy, into which we put a huge amount of work. In addition to the £1.4 billion that we spend on defence space activities in our innovation strategy, we are looking to make sure that we boost the wider science and technology applications of our £16.4 billion space sector.
Absolutely. In relation to this question, I pointed out that UKRI spent £15.9 million in the last fiscal year. The UKRI portion of our Department’s spend is being negotiated in the course of the spending review. I would be very happy to follow the guidance of the hon. Gentleman and make sure that we properly fund research into motor neurone disease.
My hon. Friend is absolutely tireless in promoting Truro and Falmouth. The project she mentions is very interesting. Last year, the new Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), made a successful visit to the site. Subject to diary commitments, I or the Secretary of State would be delighted to visit to see the latest progress, which is supported, in part, by our Getting Building fund.
Stockport has a vibrant high street with excellent retailers and independent businesses, but in recent years, and particularly since the pandemic, many have had to shut up shop and, like lots of other high streets, we have lost beloved names such as BHS and Debenhams after they went into administration and moved online. What steps is the Minister therefore taking to ensure that large online retailers do not undercut our high street stores?
The hon. Gentleman will know that his area has received £14.5 million from the future high streets fund, which will bring local projects to life to help revitalise the high street. In the meantime, we will work with the sector and across Government to ensure that we get the balance right between online retail and bricks and mortar, which bring community spirit and social value to areas such as his constituency.
That is absolutely right. I fully recognise, as my hon. Friend appreciates, that we have had huge success in decarbonising our power sector, but we need to accelerate the decarbonisation of our homes and buildings. As I pointed out to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), we have had some success in decarbonising public sector buildings—particularly through Salix—but we now need to focus on decarbonising our dwellings and other buildings.
The Minister can play accounting games over the Cambo oilfield, arguing that it was licensed 20 years ago, but essentially its emissions will still drive climate change. New research shows that 60% of existing oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground if we are to stay within 1.5° C, and the International Energy Agency has said that there must be no new oil and gas development of any kind. With COP26 in just six weeks, with the Secretary of State trying to have international diplomacy, what message does he think is given out by the Government going ahead with more oil and gas?
With regard to Cambo, the hon. Member will appreciate that the decision has been scrutinised in the normal regulatory way. As an energy Minister I helped to negotiate a North sea transition deal, and key to that was the word transition. We need to transition our existing oil and gas sector to a decarbonised platform. What she and others like her want to see is a complete eclipse and shutting down of oil and gas, with 250,000 jobs vanishing overnight. That would be completely irresponsible.
My hon. Friend is a real champion for his area, often talking about family businesses such as Strickland and Holt, which was established in 1854, and the contribution of such places to the economy. We expect the fundamental review of business rates to conclude in the autumn. Businesses benefited from 100% business rates relief until 30 June 2021 and they continue to benefit from 66% business rates relief until 31 March 2022.
Many people applying for jobs have to jump through a series of stages in the recruitment process before they find out what the salary would be were they to be successful. Is it not time that Ministers sat down with job application platforms such as LinkedIn and told them to require minimum salary levels in adverts?
May I press the Secretary of State further on blue hydrogen? The source of blue hydrogen is natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, so how can a Government committed to net zero invest millions of pounds in new technologies based on fossil fuels? The Secretary of State has said several times that it is a “transition”, but since this is not a net zero technology, a transition to what?
We have spoken about this issue many times in this House, and the hon. Member will appreciate that carbon capture is a key part of our net zero strategy. I think that is widely accepted, particularly by the Climate Change Committee. With her knowledge of chemistry, she will also know that carbon capture works hand in hand with the production of blue hydrogen and that blue hydrogen is not particularly carbon intensive. The reason why countries such as Germany have not pursued a blue hydrogen strategy is that they do not have the physical infrastructure in the North sea to do it.
There are robust processes in place for bringing forward new grid upgrades to meet demand. Smart electric vehicle charging and other smart technologies of course reduce the need for new infrastructure, and the recent smart systems and flexibility plan sets out the actions the Government will take in an area in which I know my hon. Friend takes an ongoing interest.
UK steel producers face dramatically higher electricity costs than our European competitors. How can the sector attract the investment needed to decarbonise when it faces a £50 million a year barrier to investment?
I have discussed with the sector the ongoing issue of electricity prices or energy prices for the steel industry. That is why one of the first things I did as Secretary of State was to resuscitate the Steel Council. We are coming up with ideas to try to create a sustainable steel sector on a decarbonised basis.
I welcome the Minister back re-energised to his place in the Department, and as today is Gloucestershire Day, can I ask him to look very closely at the bid made by Gloucestershire to support the development of a vital new technology—nuclear fusion?
Renewables are very important everywhere across the United Kingdom, but one of the problems for renewables is getting access to the grid. The Electric Storage Company in Northern Ireland has told me that if that was improved, energy could be stored for access to the grid. Can the Secretary of State tell us what he could do to make that happen?
It seems that legislation is the only way that the hundreds of postmasters and postmistresses who have had their lives destroyed by the Horizon scandal will get sufficient compensation in a timely manner. Will the Department look at legislation to deliver this?
I thank my right hon. Friend not only for his question, but for his meeting last week with my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) as well as Tracy Felstead, Janet Skinner and Seema Misra, and we cannot help but be moved by the harrowing tales that the sub-postmasters tell after 20 years of suffering. Yes, we will look at everything that is required to make sure that we tackle the issue of how all sub-postmasters can seek justice and request compensation.
Data Breach: ARAP Applicants in Afghanistan
I understand the strength of feeling on this subject, and this question gives me the opportunity to set out where we are with the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and yesterday’s data breach. I would like to place it on record that I had offered a statement for when we return from conference recess, as the investigation I have ordered will be able to report fully by then, and I still expect to make those details available.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I have taken the obligation we have to the Afghan personnel who have supported us throughout extremely seriously. Despite this disappointing event, we should pay tribute to the armed forces for Operation Pitting and the that we have managed to evacuate 8,800 people and families eligible under the ARAP scheme since April, in addition to the 1,400 who had already been relocated prior to that date. However, worryingly for me, over the last few weeks lapses from the highest standards in the management of those people remaining in Afghanistan have been brought to my attention by both hon. Members of this House and others. For that reason Ministers raised concerns both last week and yesterday, and sought assurances that these problems would be rectified. Those assurances were given. However, it was brought to my attention at 2000 hours last night that there had been a significant data breach. To say I was angered by this is an understatement and I immediately directed an investigation to take place.
Initial findings show that an email was sent at 17.44 hours as part of the “weekly contact” we maintain with ARAP currently remaining in Afghanistan. This had been copied to all the 245 applicants, rather than blind copying them. The email was immediately recalled on identification of the breach and then a subsequent email was sent advising people to delete the email and change their addresses, which many of them have done.
So far, one individual has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and processes for data handling and correspondence processing have already been changed. I have directed that extensive steps are to be taken to quantify the potential increased risk to individuals in order to take further steps to protect them. The Information Commissioner has been notified and we will co-operate fully with any of its own enquiries.
I apologise to those Afghans affected by this data breach, and we are now working with them to provide security advice. As I speak, the Minister for the Armed Forces is in the region speaking to neighbouring countries to see what more we can do with both third country and in-country applicants. This is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans, and on behalf of the Ministry of Defence I apologise.
I offer the reassurance that the scheme will continue to operate and bring people back to the United Kingdom for however many are eligible and however long it takes.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
There is rightly cross-party concern about this very grave security breach, with names, email addresses and in some cases photographs of 250 Afghan ARAP applicants, all still in Afghanistan and in danger, shared in a mass mailing. This needlessly puts their lives at risk.
I welcome the Defence Secretary’s presence here this morning and welcome his apology, inquiry and commitment to a statement when the House returns after its short recess, but it is not the apology but the action which matters most now. These Afghan interpreters worked alongside our British forces and the Government rightly pledged to protect them. Ministers must make good on those promises now, so can the Defence Secretary answer the following questions: when will he complete that assessment of the increased risk these individuals now face as a result of the data breach; what action is he taking urgently to evacuate them and their families; and why on earth is the MOD mass emailing people who face life-or-death situations?
I know from ARAP evacuees in my constituency who have separated family members still in hiding in Afghanistan that their social media has been blocked. Is there any evidence of email surveillance or interference from the Taliban? How will the MOD remain in contact with these people if they follow the advice to change their email addresses?
Yesterday, Ministers confirmed that 7,900 applications have been made to the ARAP scheme, with 900 so far approved since the end of August. Have there been any data breaches linked to other ARAP applicants?
This is the third known serious defence data breach in as many months. Each time, we have the same response: public apology, internal inquiry, then silence—no report on the inquiry results, no confirmation of action taken to tighten up the system. The Secretary of State rightly started by paying tribute to all involved in Operation Pitting. Our forces were totally professional in that extraordinary evacuation from Kabul, but they must be asking now: how can we trust our back-up at the MOD?
The right hon. Member makes some points that I would say are deservedly landed, and I hear what he says. First, yes, we mass email individuals, but we also email individually. This was a weekly catch-up email that was sent to over 250 people to make sure that they were kept in touch, because, quite rightly, as many Members have pointed out on a number of occasions, they need to be engaged and know that there is someone out there keeping it going and trying to get them through the country.
This was a mass email. It did not contain individuals’ home addresses or anything. The photo profiles that the right hon. Member mentioned were ones that were in profiles of the email addresses as opposed to the individuals’ names. Indeed, having looked at all the email addresses, I can say that the vast majority were not specific names, necessarily; they were email addresses rather than particular names. However, that does not change the fundamental impact that the email could have had and could still have.
I have asked Defence Intelligence to go through all the cases and assess the risk to the individuals. That will be ongoing. I can of course get an update, and I will be happy to share with the right hon. Member where we are with those updates on intelligence. I can certainly also give a Privy Council briefing to both him and, indeed, the Scottish National party if it wishes, on the greater security situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
This group was not the wider cohort that the right hon. Member referred to—the people who have applied since ARAP. To put it in perspective, some 68,000 have applied for ARAP. Obviously, when that number is scrubbed and worked through, it reduces significantly, but that is the number of emails that have been sitting in email boxes and have been worked through—and are being worked through—to try to make sure that we find the right people with the right criteria and then, obviously, communicate with them.
This matter relates only to the number of people who had been called forward under Op Pitting, had been security checked and were ready to go but either never made it to the Baron hotel or never made it on to a flight. That number started at 311, as hon. Members will remember. Of the 311, there are 260 principals left in Afghanistan—that is 1,232 people if we include their families—43 principals, or 163 pax in total, in third countries, and eight with whom we have still not been able to establish communications despite trying numerous times. That is the cohort that this relates to. We will do everything we can.
As far as getting those people out of the country, as I said, the Minister for the Armed Forces is now in one of the neighbouring countries and will continue to do that. I have spoken to my defence sections and offered to increase resource and to give reassurances to those third countries. The MOD funds the flying of those people back to the United Kingdom. We have already done so, and I will be happy to update the House as we go about how many people come out of the country.
Some of the other challenges, obviously, relate to security, and we have to have that balance in bringing people back who sometimes turn out, eventually, to have the wrong record; we want to protect the British public from that. But fundamentally, that is the cohort of people that these emails relate to.
I welcome the statement. I hope that the necessary oversight protocols are now in place to make sure that this does not happen again. The Taliban have not changed. They seek to exact revenge on anyone who worked for NATO. We must get these interpreters out or they will be hunted and killed. If the usual methods, via the ARAP scheme, are not available, may I invite the Secretary of State to take advantage of the chaos in the country to find clandestine means of leading these people to safety?
I thank the Secretary of State for his apology. I do not doubt the sincerity of it, and I do not doubt for a second the anger that he will have felt when he got the news of this unacceptable and quite dangerous leak yesterday. However, I have a few questions to follow on from those asked by the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), and the Chair of the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).
Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the Taliban have the capability to monitor these people’s emails? I do not want to know if they are monitoring them—I suspect that he would not tell the House even if he did know—but do they have the capability to do so? How long will the investigation take? Who will carry out the investigation? Is the person who has been suspended an employee of the Ministry of Defence or of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office?
Will the Secretary of State outline in a bit more detail, if he is able to, the additional resources that he intends to commit to ensure that people are not exposed to any more danger than they already are as a result of the leak? I understand entirely the point that he makes about using mass email as a communications method, but who signed off on that as an okay way to make that communication?
The shadow Secretary of State is right that when these breaches happen, we get these apologies and then there tends to be silence, so more broadly, what is being done to arrest this worrying trend of data leaks from the Secretary of State’s Department? Is he going to order a broader investigation? I think the House would welcome that.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his series of questions. First, the investigation will be carried out by Admiral Sir Ben Key, the commander of joint operations at PJHQ—permanent joint headquarters—who also led the planning and the evacuation from Kabul.
On data leaks, the hon. Member is right that these are a concern. The previous leak obviously involved a senior official who deliberately broke the regulation, in so far as he took something out the Department. If the regulation had been followed, that would not have been the case. However, although I cannot say too much, I have instigated changes to improve information security within the Department, and I am happy to brief the hon. Member on that.
The “Manual of Protective Security”, the modern rules that govern information security, is, I believe, fit for purpose; it is really the training and the adherence to it that must be improved. I am graduate of something called the classified documents handling course from the early ’90s—I think I am the only saddo who actually knows what type of lock should be on what type of cabinet that links to different types of security classifications. Nevertheless, information security is not something that western Governments are good at, which is why our adversaries seem to be. We have to improve it, and we have to stand by it.
The Taliban, or obviously any Government that control a country, have control of the telephone network. I cannot say too much about what they can and cannot do; suffice it to say that the method we used to communicate with those people is a way of minimising that risk. One of the reasons we involve emails rather than telephone calls is to try to do that, which is important.
On resource, right from the beginning of this process, way back in August, or in July, I was very clear with my senior military commanders and civil servants that they would have whatever resource they needed to process emails and carry people out, for example. We will fly these people back from third countries out of the MOD budget. It is my view that we should continue to stand by them, including using married quarters, for example, in military establishments to look after them if they cannot get places elsewhere. There has not been a resource problem; the challenge is whether people have been asking for the resource within the system to do this.
The individual concerned was a member of the Ministry of Defence, but I am very keen that it is not just the poor person who drafts the email who is held to account, but the chain upwards, to ensure that this does not happen again.
I am delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend just now that Admiral Key has got a knighthood. There has not been one earned by anyone better for many years.
The challenge of this event is not the accident, the mistake, that we can see happened. I think we all sympathise with the Ministry of Defence and indeed the Secretary of State; accidents do happen. The challenge is that there are people still there and that the co-ordination for getting people out is still complicated. Will my right hon. Friend commit to working to get a single point of contact for all those in Afghanistan who are seeking to leave? The system whereby some have to apply to the MOD, and others to the Foreign Office or through the Home Office, is excessively complicated and is leading to obstacles, including on at least four different occasions that I can speak of. People are stuck in Lashkar Gah, Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif, trying to get out, but they are still not getting the smooth transfer that we need.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a really important point. I would ask colleagues to have some understanding of this. The MOD, which is of course charged with defending the nation, has in very short order had to turn part of itself over to processing visas and doing the job that traditionally we would have done in the Home Office. We have taken that on ourselves because of the pace, urgency and, in the earlier time, danger.
As I have said, 68,000 emails arrived, many of which are speculative, concerning refugee status, so not even for the Foreign Office. It is a very big enterprise to take on, which is why I was determined to give all that resource. However, I would ask colleagues to remember that, at the same time, we are doing that in an Afghanistan that we have no control over. We are doing it in what for many is a dangerous environment, with the Taliban clearly in some cases actively seeking out people that they wish to deal with—murder, or whatever they are up to. At the same time, we are dealing with an ever-moving situation on the ground, and not everyone who comes out communicates back.
When I look at the spread of where people have gone to third countries, we find people in Australia, people who got on the next flight, people in other parts of Europe and people in the United States. The United States brought some people back to Germany who immediately claimed asylum to the United Kingdom. We find, when we contact people, that some are saying, “Thank you very much, but I am quite happy to stay where I am in sunny California or Australia or somewhere like that.” Some have been here for a very long period of time and have not engaged.
The next stage, which I commissioned today, is, quite rightly, a full and detailed survey of the people we have brought back to know even more about them. Obviously, there are data protection issues we have to cross, but it is really important that we get to the bottom of that.
This is another in a long line of serious errors regarding the Government’s Afghan relocations that will cost lives. Can the Secretary of State please advise us how many of the 260 interpreters the Government have been unable to make direct contact with since the breach?
Of the 260, there were eight we have not had comms with since the end of Operation Pitting. We have continued to try. The data breach happened at about 5.30 yesterday afternoon and we have engaged with as many of them as possible. I can give the House a rolling update of how many of the 260 have responded. A number have already changed their email address. There is a link in the email that allows them to communicate that securely, but I will keep the House updated on exactly the number as we go. The other point is that the numbers are changing every day, either because people crop up and say, “Actually, I’m in London or Australia,” or because of what is happening on the ground and they make it across the border. Often, when they are travelling, they are not in communication.
Between 2001 and 2014, UK forces employed 2,850 interpreters. From 2014, they were on sub-contracts, so we are looking at 300 or 400 more. The relocation programme up till April this year relocated 440 interpreters. I can account for about 99 interpreters who were rescued during Operation Pitting. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of how many interpreters—not families, but interpreters—the MOD has been able to rescue from Afghanistan? It jars slightly with numbers in the low hundreds that he is presenting to the House today.
I am listening to my hon. Friend. Where I take issue with him is that it is not 99. Some 650 principals, not families, came out through Operation Pitting. There were: 850 under categories 1 and 2; 836 under category 4; and 50 under other categories. Some 650 of those were interpreters either through contractors or directly employed, or supporting in the contractor role.
The Secretary of State’s anger at hearing the news is not in any way misplaced, and I thank him for coming to the Chamber and making his statement. It seems to me that there is a wealth of difference between a mass email and individual one-to-one contact. Can I seek an assurance that every one of the people we know about is in proper one-to-one contact, either by text or other means, with somebody in the Ministry of Defence or the FCDO who can mentor them, talk to them and help them face this huge problem?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that they have all replied, but we have absolutely taken a view that they should be case managed, on top of the weekly update. To do that, we find it is best through email because of the security issues. Earlier on I was pushing for voice, but actually—I made the point about the Taliban being in control of the telephone network—we are probably better doing it through other means, so it is important that we do that. He is absolutely right. Only today, I pressed on unlimited resource. How many people have we got working on this? Why do we not have more? We have, in total, 50 people dealing with the ARAP scheme. One of our biggest challenges in the past two weeks was clearing or separating away the 68,000 to focus on the people who come within the criteria that we can put the resource on to. The hon. Gentleman’s ambition and my ambition are the same: we are there, but it is often in slow time because of the delay in the response to our emails.
Internet banking constantly asks customers if they are sure they wish to proceed. Surely it would not be too difficult to have an automated reminder or check, if it looks as if an email of a sensitive nature is going to be sent to multiple recipients? In that connection, I have here a printed list of 70 former long-term employees on British contracts in Afghanistan. I propose to hand it to the excellent new Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Defence ministerial team. When I am informed of a secure address to which I can send it electronically, I will be happy to do so.
The base at PJHQ is open to all manner of communication to those individuals, whichever way best keeps them safe and secure. I welcome my two new PPSs, my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland), to the role. What a day to start, but I look forward to working with them. The key here is to engage throughout the process with parliamentarians to make sure that I can keep them as informed as possible.
Following on from the question from the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), pretty much every MP uses a caseworker system, a piece of simple software that costs a few hundred pounds per year which ensures that mistakes of this nature cannot happen. Is the Secretary of State looking at using similar, and if not, why not?
Our nation owes a huge debt of gratitude and honour to the people who helped our forces when they were deployed for 20 years in Afghanistan. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the offer to relocate and assist in bringing them back is open-ended, and we will do whatever we can, even if it takes years to do it, to open up and offer that assistance and help?
Yes, the ARAP scheme is open-ended. It will continue and it is an obligation we will stand by. I suspect that, given the nature of that part of the world, people will come through in dribs and drabs. We may find that in four and five years’ time, people come across the border. There is also a challenge when we have the principal in the UK though their families, who are not British citizens, are in Afghanistan. They are eligible; they will be able to come forward. We have to make sure that they are managed. I am hopeful that they are at lesser risk than the principals, because they are often the women and children, but that does not mean to say that we should not have the same urgency and anxiousness for their safety.
First, we had secret documents on Afghanistan left at a bus stop in Kent. Now, we have this latest breach of security. I say to the Secretary of State that it has become a little habit forming in his Department to have information leaks. Can I ask him directly: does he have confidence in his Department’s ability to handle sensitive and secret information? He says he has instigated a review. How can he ensure the lessons learned go all the way through the chain of command so it does not happen again?
I think the best way to do it is by personal supervision. I fundamentally agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point. We are in a world with even more data and we have to be even more careful. Our adversaries are even more aggressive in finding it. Where there was a breach recently, I took action: that individual is no longer in the Department. In this case, the individual is suspended. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right. Information security should go to the fingertips of organisations, from the most junior to the most senior. I have to say, having been the previous Security Minister, that I have seen some pretty bad examples in the last few years.
There is no doubt as to the frustration and the heartache of the Defence Secretary about this situation. In the correspondence we are having with those still on the ground, recognising that the situation is changing and that we are not on the ground, can he reassure us that extraction advice or advice on how to get to borders is being given to those still on the ground who do not have intel themselves and are too scared to move from where they are currently in hiding?
In answer to the question from the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) about how we communicate one-to-one versus mass, the one-to-one communications are the place where we dispense advice, depending on their situation and geography.
I have been contacted about the harrowing case of a man who worked as a UK contractor on a UK project for many years and had a specific directed threat from a senior Taliban official. He fled his home with his family, but when his wife returned to the house to collect some belongings a few days ago, the Taliban arrived and she was shot in the head. She died a couple of days later.
The man applied twice for the ARAP scheme and has still not had a reply. Please could the Secretary of State make sure that this case is pursued? Could he also make sure that everyone who has applied gets a personal response? Will he confirm that contractors on UK projects whose families and who themselves are at mortal danger from the Taliban are eligible for the ARAP scheme?
On the criteria for the ARAP scheme, I point the right hon. Lady to the website, but what I can say generically is that contractors and the directly employed, if they come under that umbrella of the ARAP scheme, are eligible. I would be very happy to look at that case.
We assess that, despite the huge number of extra applications that have come in since we left, there are approximately 900 credible further cases of ARAP to bring forward; we are processing them at the moment, on top of the 311. We have already brought back 50 from that cohort and we will continue to bring those people out or from third countries where we find them.
The case that the right hon. Lady raises is the most worrying part. Despite the warm words of the Taliban when they started their effort to run the country, we have seen significant numbers of such incidents occurring, which only adds to my sense of sorrow about what happened today.
I commend the Secretary of State for his response to the urgent question, for the action that he has taken and for all his efforts throughout Operation Pitting. Quite a few numbers have been cited around the Chamber; I think he said that there had been 68,000 email applications to ARAP, and I believe that the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), said that 7,900 had been processed and 900 had been approved. Could we have a definitive list of the applications received, those being processed and those approved?
If my hon. Friend accepts that it will be rolling, because it is moving, I will be happy to write to him with details of a fixed period of time. Obviously those vast amounts were from a range of people and were speculative about potential refugee status as well as ARAP; part of the resource has been taken up trying to separate the two.
The other thing to say is that the Department and I started on ARAP when I went to see the Home Secretary in September 2020. That was when we realised that the previous scheme was not working, and it was why we took the steps that we needed to take. It was signed off by the National Security Council in December 2020. It is a scheme that is in large parts mature, but the final collapse in Kabul has clearly been the biggest test. That is why we will do everything we can for the people left behind.
This is the fourth data breach this year. Does the Secretary of State agree that his Department has a systemic problem with data security? What steps will he take to fix the issues and ensure the safety of the thousands still waiting to be evacuated? What assurances can he give to the families in my Liverpool, Riverside constituency who are very concerned about the safety of their loved ones who are still waiting to be evacuated?
The assurance that I can give is only limited, I am afraid, given that we are no longer in Afghanistan and given the actions of the Taliban. I think that to give a 100% assurance would be misleading.
On data, as I have said to other Members, it is not good enough. It is not a unique MOD thing, but information security across the board has to improve. We are investing billions of pounds in improving our computer systems and our encryption, which is incredibly important to keep one step ahead. Unfortunately, I cannot talk about a lot of it in public, but it takes significant commitment, funding and British know-how.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s characteristic candour in addressing the issues. The sad fact is that we will probably see another Operation Pitting at some point in our lifetime. Can he assure me that he will work across the board, particularly with our allies, to ensure that information security standards are improved and that we continue to be at the forefront of protecting the most vulnerable in the world?
I think that the lesson learned is that this was an evacuation in the 21st century in which emails, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook were a running commentary, but the inboxes of serving officers and soldiers in Kabul on the operation were also filling up with emails from former colleagues in the hundreds, saying “Can you get X and Y out?” It would not have happened in my day, because we did not have that type of network. It is a new phenomenon; today I met the Five Eyes chiefs of defence staff, for example, and we discussed the change.
We will have to take into consideration how we do many operations in the full glow of social media, with people out there who can communicate but who might not be safe. Usually, we equate being able to communicate with being safe; now we are in a very different world. I think that that is a lesson for all militaries around the world to learn.
An Afghan family I saw at my surgery yesterday told me that a relative working with coalition forces had been literally blown to bits by the Taliban in a targeted assassination two days before they took Kabul. Other relatives are similarly at risk, but the response that I have had from the MOD says that they are not eligible for ARAP. We are assembling more evidence in that case, but as I have had only four replies to more than 100 live cases, I am not hopeful. Even if they are accepted on the scheme, what do I tell them to do next?
I understand the hon. Member’s desire to manage his individual cases, but we are doing everything we can with the people who are referred to us, either via Members or directly through the application process. We are putting all our resource into dealing with them. We will keep colleagues and Members up to date as much as possible, but if he wants specific advice for each case, I urge him to make sure that it is delivered by the people who are co-ordinating it. If there are people who are not eligible and who he thinks should be eligible, I will be very happy to look again at their cases, if he writes to me with the details, and make sure that we see what we can do.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his commitment to update the House after the recess. When he does so in five or six weeks’ time, will he please ensure that he gives an accurate assessment of the additional threats and intimidation that Afghan nationals face as a result of the data breach? I am concerned less about the technical nature of the failing, however important that is, than about the lives of the individuals and their families.
Asking people simply to change their email address seems woefully inadequate, given that names can be extracted from email addresses. What additional security advice has the Secretary of State given to the interpreters on the email list and their families?
As I have said, they will be contacted or have been contacted. Where, on a one-to-one basis, there is a case management process, we will try to tailor advice on counter-intelligence methods, on how people can protect themselves and on locations that we think are safer.
Although the breach is in his Department, will the Secretary of State outline what discussions he is having with his counterparts in the Foreign Office and the Home Office? Are any specific measures being taken now to secure information on all cases processed? What assessment can he give of how the Ministry of Defence ensures that the correct information goes to the correct part of Government so that we can help those we have a duty to help?
Among the 50 personnel working on the ARAP scheme in PJHQ, there are a number embedded in other Departments whose main job is to liaise on everything from Parliament all the way through to the Home Office and the Foreign Office, to ensure that information is cross-checked. Some of it is cross-checking, because some of the applicants have applied to all schemes, but I hear what the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), said about the demand for a single point of contact, which might help going forward.
I have a constituency case about which I have written to the Home Office. It relates to an 18-year-old woman who married a British constituent of mine. Her father worked as a translator for a number of allies in Afghanistan, albeit not the UK. Her parents and siblings may be evacuated, but she will be left behind, alone and vulnerable. This data breach is only exacerbating the worry and distress that she feels, still stuck in Kabul. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues about how such vulnerable citizens will be supported?
The hon. Lady has raised a challenging case. The person concerned is probably an adult, she is not herself the interpreter, and he worked for a third country. However, if the hon. Lady sends me the details, I shall be happy to approach that third country to see whether we can assist in the case, or get them to assist in it.
I thank the Secretary of State for his dedication to the job in hand, and for answering these questions as well.
In Northern Ireland, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, prison officers and elected representatives are only too well aware of the awful feeling of knowing that one’s safe haven—one’s home—is endangered What has been done to help those who responded with personal details to enable them to relocate quickly and safely in the interim?
The first thing to do is establish contact with as many of them as possible, which we are doing, and I have offered to update the House on how many we have contacted. I will see what I can do by the end of today, or certainly by the end of this week. We need to establish new contact details and get some assurances about them, but at the same time we need to start or continue the one-to-one management of their cases.
Salisbury Incident 2018: Update
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on today’s announcement by Counter Terrorism Policing that the Crown Prosecution Service has authorised charges against a third individual in relation to the 2018 Salisbury attack, an appalling event that shook the entire country and united our allies in condemnation. I thank the Opposition for their courtesy and support in allowing some of their parliamentary time to be used for the statement. The House will of course understand that this is an ongoing investigation, and that we are therefore limited in terms of what can be said about these three individuals.
In March 2018, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, commonly known as Novichok. Two officers from Wiltshire police who were involved in searching the victims’ home were also poisoned with the same agent. In July 2018, a further two members of the public were found unwell in Amesbury, both of whom had been exposed to Novichok. Tragically, one of them, Dawn Sturgess, died. An inquest into her death is ongoing. I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the loved ones of Dawn today.
This House has profound differences with Russia. In annexing Crimea in 2014, igniting the flames of conflict in eastern Ukraine and threatening western democracies by, for instance, interfering in their elections, it has challenged the fundamental basis of international order. Although attacks such as the one in Salisbury are uncommon, this is not the first time Russia has committed a brazen attack in the UK. Today the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that it was responsible for the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko; that supports the findings of the independent Litvinenko inquiry. However, as the then Government made clear following the Salisbury attack in 2018 and as I reiterate today, we will not tolerate such malign activity here in the United Kingdom.
The UK, under successive Governments, has responded with strength and determination. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), then Prime Minister, announced in 2018, 250 detectives were involved in the Salisbury murder investigation, working round the clock to discover who was responsible. On 5 September 2018, the independent Director of Public Prosecutions announced that there was sufficient evidence to bring charges against two Russian nationals for conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal; the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey; causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey; and possession and use of a chemical weapon, contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act 1996.
The two Russian nationals were known as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, but the police believed these to be aliases. The then Prime Minister announced that the Government had concluded that the two men were members of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, and that the operation had almost certainly been approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. I want to recognise the exemplary work of our emergency services, intelligence agencies, armed forces and law enforcement staff who led the initial response to this despicable and outrageous attack; I also pay tribute to the ongoing work to bring the perpetrators to justice. We will not let this go.
As Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon has said, this investigation has been extraordinarily complex, and our country is fortunate that so many brave people do such outstanding work to keep us safe. As a result of those efforts, the police have evidence that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are aliases for Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, and that both are members of the GRU. The CPS has now authorised charges against a third individual, known as Sergey Fedotov. The Counter Terrorism Policing investigation established that Fedotov had entered the UK on a flight from Moscow to London Heathrow, and had stayed at a hotel in central London between 2 and 4 March 2018 before returning to Moscow. While in the UK, he had met Petrov and Boshirov on more than one occasion in central London.
The CT Policing investigation has established that Fedotov is in fact Denis Sergeev, that he is also a member of the GRU, and that all three men previously worked together for the GRU as part of additional operations outside Russia All three are now wanted by UK police, and arrest warrants are in place for them. The police have applied for an Interpol notice against Fedotov, mirroring those already in place against the other two suspects. Russia has repeatedly refused to allow its nationals to stand trial overseas. That was also the case following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, when a UK extradition request was refused. This has only added to the heartache of those hurt by these attacks, and, inevitably, has further damaged our relations with Russia.
As was made clear following the Salisbury attack in 2018, should any of these individuals ever travel outside Russia, we will work with our international partners and take every possible step to detain them and extradite them so that they face justice. After the attack in Salisbury, my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) put in place the toughest package that the UK has levied against another state for more than 30 years, consisting of diplomatic, legislative and economic measures. We continue to take robust steps to counter the threat posed by the Russian state. In 2018, 23 undeclared Russian intelligence officers were immediately expelled from the UK. In solidarity, 28 other countries and NATO joined us, which resulted in the largest collective expulsion ever—of more than 150 Russian intelligence officers. That fundamentally degraded Russian intelligence capability for years to come.
The Government will continue to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with all the additional tools that they need to deal with the full range of state threats, which continue to evolve. In direct response to the Salisbury attack, we introduced new powers to enable the police to stop, question, search and detain individuals at the UK border to determine whether they are spies or otherwise involved in hostile activity. These vital powers are already helping the security services and law enforcement agencies to protect the UK from the very real and serious threat posed by states that seek to undermine and destabilise our country.
In July 2020, we published a full and comprehensive response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, which addressed point by point all the key themes and recommendations raised by the Committee, but we are going even further and have committed to introducing new legislation to counter state threats and protect the United Kingdom. Earlier this summer, we held a public consultation on the Government’s proposals, to improve our ability to detect, respond to, and prevent state threats, keep our citizens safe and protect sensitive data and intellectual property. Responses to that consultation are currently being considered and we will return with comprehensive legislation.
Another crucial strand of this work is combating illicit finance. To secure our global prosperity, squeezing dirty money and money launderers out of the UK is our priority. We are at the forefront of the international fight against illicit finance, combating the threat from source to destination. We have introduced a new global human rights sanctions regime and a global anti-corruption sanctions regime. The National Crime Agency continues to lead UK efforts to bring the full power of law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites and their assets, including through increased checks on private flights, customs and freight travel.
In July and September 2020, working in tandem with the EU, we announced sanctions against the Russian intelligence services for cyber-attacks against the UK and her allies. We have also taken robust action in response to the poisoning and attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, enforcing asset freezes and travel bans against 13 individuals and a Russian research institute involved in the case. The Government will continue to respond extremely robustly to the enduring and significant threat from the Russian state. We continue to make huge strides to counter this threat and to increase our resilience and that of our allies to Russian malign activity. We respect the people of Russia, but we will do whatever it takes—everything it takes—to keep our country safe. We will work actively to deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia until relations with its Government improve.
I would like to end by paying tribute to the resilience of the people of Salisbury, who suffered a sickening and despicable act in their community, and to the people of Amesbury, who lost one of their own in the most dreadful circumstances. Our Government will be relentless in our pursuit of justice for the victims of these attacks and continue to do whatever is necessary to keep our people safe. I commend this statement to the House.
The sub judice resolution means that, other than when legislating, the House does not discuss issues that are active in the UK courts. However, where in the Chair’s opinion cases concern issues of national importance, reference to them may be made. I am prepared to allow such references during the course of this statement.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for giving me advance sight of it. I am also grateful to the Minister for Security and Borders, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), for the advance briefing yesterday.
The use of a nerve agent, a chemical weapon, on British soil was an outrage and we unite across the House in our condemnation of it. We also unite in our praise of our emergency services, whose response was nothing short of remarkable. At the time, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was clear that, based on intelligence, this was not a rogue operation, given the GRU’s well-established chain of command, and that it was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. Let me be direct, as shadow Home Secretary—as I was then, as shadow Security Minister, and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), Leader of the Opposition, also was—that Labour is clear that the Russian state was responsible for this appalling act using a chemical weapon. Today, as the Home Secretary has said, the European Court of Human Rights has also confirmed the Russian state’s responsibility for the killing of Alexander Litvinenko.
I thank counter-terror policing for their dedicated work, as well as the wider law enforcement community, our security services and the Crown Prosecution Service. The additional information we have today is the result of many hours of careful investigation that identified a third suspect, their membership of the GRU and the real identities of these men. I shall of course choose my words carefully, Mr Speaker, but I appreciate the barriers that still lie in the way of those people facing justice in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary has mentioned the arrest warrants and the Interpol notices, but will she give us more detail on what she said about ensuring that everything possible would be done through diplomatic channels with our friends and partners around the world to ensure that if those men ever leave the Russian state, they will be apprehended?
The consequences of this appalling act have been profound. We think of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who spent weeks in hospital in a critical condition. Our thoughts are also with the two police officers who were poisoned. It is the most sobering reminder of the unknown dangers our police officers face every time they work a shift. I have met Sergeant Nick Bailey and thanked him and all his colleagues in Wiltshire police for their service, and I thank them once again for their bravery, as I am sure the whole House does. Today we remember Dawn Sturgess, who died after coming into contact with the Novichok, and her family. We also think of the illness it caused to Charlie Rowley. A life lost and lives badly damaged by this terrible act. We also remember the people of Salisbury and of Amesbury who, in the face of despair, came together. I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who helped his constituents during that terrible period.
This all underlines the continuing importance of the NATO alliance as fundamental for our security in the 21st century. It also underlines the imperative of implementing each and every recommendation in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, which was published in July last year. That report must be taken with the utmost seriousness by the Government. Can the Home Secretary update the House on the progress on implementing its 21 recommendations? Can she further confirm that the forthcoming counter-state threats Bill mentioned in the Queen’s Speech will put all those recommendations into law, without exception?
The report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, published in recent days, raised deep concerns about the National Security Council, the cross-government machinery that supports it, and the Prime Minister’s level of attendance. The Government’s response is due by 19 November, but in the circumstances will the Home Secretary confirm today that that response will be speeded up and made urgent? She also mentioned the issue of illicit finance. The Government imposed the first Magnitsky sanctions in July 2020. She mentioned 13 people in her statement who had been made subject to travel bans and asset freezes, but how many in total have now been subjected to Magnitsky sanctions? Can she also confirm that resources will be dedicated to ensuring that the cyber-threat posed by Russia can be effectively dealt with? Finally, let us unite in condemnation of this vile act committed at the behest of another state on our own British soil, and make it clear that we will do all we can to ensure that such a thing never happens again.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for the reflective way in which he has responded to today’s statement. It is correct that the charging announcement is the result of the tireless work that has been undertaken over the past few years, and of the ongoing work by policing, counter-terrorism policing, security partners and our intelligence agencies. I think that everyone in the House is fully reflective of that. Today’s statement and the charges are a sobering reminder of the threats that our country has been exposed to.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, first and foremost, the use of the Novichok nerve agent on British soil was an utterly reckless act. Of course, all our thoughts remain with those whose lives have been changed or lost. This was not a rogue operation but a shameless and deliberate attack, as we all recognise, and it has concentrated the whole of Government in how we not only respond to but prepare against such attacks to protect our country, our domestic homeland, in every single aspect of our national security work in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Home Office, the national security apparatus and the entire UK intelligence community.
I reassure the House and the right hon. Gentleman that our resourcing is always there. Along with the whole-system approach, the resourcing effectively governs the entire UK intelligence community covering cyber, hostile state activity, the diplomatic aspects and the Magnitsky sanctions. We have applied our diplomatic levers internationally, working with our NATO allies and counterparts, as the right hon. Gentleman and I have both mentioned, in the expulsion of former intelligence officers.
None of that changes. We continue with absolute resolve and resolute determination to do everything possible to protect British citizens and our domestic homeland. Naturally, on the back of today’s announcement, there will be further investigations and, inevitably, more law enforcement work with our allies. I assure the House that all that work is under way, as all hon. and right hon. Members would expect.
The right hon. Gentleman also touched on forthcoming legislation against hostile activity, as well as the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We will update the House in due course, and I hope he will respect that there is cross-Government work on the recommendations. We have already consulted on future legislation, and there is further work taking place. We will, of course, share further information on the national security element with the House, the right hon. Gentleman and other colleagues.
I am sure the whole House welcomes the fact that the Home Secretary has chosen to come here today to volunteer this statement. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the links firmly associating these murderous activities with the Russian state have been made clear. Does my right hon. Friend recall that, a few days after the death of Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006, the BBC published an account of how the upper House of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council, had adopted a new law in the previous July that the BBC said
“formally permits the extra-judicial killings abroad of those Moscow accuses of ‘extremism’”?
As we know, one of the suspected killers later became a Russian Member of Parliament.
In the light of this brazenness and shamelessness, does my right hon. Friend agree that we ought to be very careful not only of Russians who come to this country with poison but of Russians who come to this country with funds with which they hope to make investments that allow them to get a handhold on our critical national infrastructure, which we should resist at all costs?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that the Russian state targets its perceived enemies at home and abroad, and we have seen far too much of that. We will always continue to work closely with the relevant law enforcement agencies to protect individuals. He is also right to highlight critical national infrastructure and other vulnerabilities, which is exactly what our future legislation will aim to address.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement and for the opportunity to have a briefing from the Minister for Security and Borders, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds).
I welcome the ongoing investigation into the Salisbury poisonings and the charging of a third suspect. Every avenue and every effort must be made to bring these killers to justice.
I also welcome this morning’s judgment by the European Court of Human Rights on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. For those remaining few who apparently still needed convincing, this judgment is firm and final confirmation of Russian state murder on this island. There are no ifs, no buts and no maybes. Whether the Litvinenko murder or the attacks in Salisbury, these were acts of state-sponsored terrorism on the streets of the United Kingdom.
We are still uncovering the level and depth of Russian interference across liberal democracies, because the Litvinenko murder began the process of lifting the lid on the sheer scale of Russian money laundering, political interference and, ultimately, violence that had gone either unseen or, worse, unchallenged. The attacks in Salisbury in March 2018 show that the lid may have been lifted but that the state-sponsored terrorism continues to this very day.
I have a number of questions for the Home Secretary on how we meet all the layers of this Russian threat. The Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet tomorrow. What stance and what sanction will the Foreign Secretary take with her Russian counterpart at that meeting so that these suspects are forced to face justice?
The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russian subversion found that successive Governments welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, with allies of the Kremlin easily laundering illegal Russian money in what they refer to as “Londongrad”. Will this Government finally launch a full independent investigation into where this illegal Russian money has gone, including money that has been funnelled into companies, assets and, indeed, political parties? As part of this, we need to tighten up the legislation on Scottish limited partnerships.
Finally, it is self-evident that co-operation with NATO allies is crucial to our defence against the Russian threat. The Prime Minister assured me last week that the AUKUS arrangement had the blessing of NATO, which clearly is not the case. Are the Government now willing to open up the agreement to include other NATO allies?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of important points, including on today’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. He is correct that, as we have always made clear, the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was a blatant and unacceptable breach of international law and civilised behaviour—he used similarly strong language. Successive Governments have taken a robust approach, including following the publication of the Litvinenko inquiry, and this Government will always pursue every available means to bring those responsible to justice, and we will not let go of that. We will continue to deter such reckless and malign actions in future.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the UN General Assembly is meeting this week, and obviously there will be security meetings with our P5 partners. I assure him and the House that the Foreign Secretary and the FCDO are undertaking a range of diplomatic engagements in UN forums right now, as everyone would rightly expect, in relation to this and other associated matters. I also highlight the wider bilateral and diplomatic work and handling on the AUKUS agreement, which he also mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman and I both mentioned the serious and important issues of dirty money, money laundering and the facilitation of Russian money that comes through the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware and has sight of the Government’s work on unexplained wealth orders, investigations with law enforcement and the work with the economic and financial institutions, which takes place in a very detailed and strategic way. That work continues, and the Security Minister and I will be meeting many of our counterparts within financial institutions tomorrow to continue to up the ante and focus on what more can be done on money laundering, following the money in every way and dealing with the routes and where that money leads to assets being purchased and investments being made in the UK, all of which, clearly, we need to change.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s response today, which I have to say contrasts with the responses of previous Governments to the Litvinenko murder on Putin’s orders, including that of our own Government under David Cameron, who tried to prevent an inquiry and I am afraid subordinated justice to trade interests. They were overruled in 2014 by the High Court, which is how we end up today with the European Court of Human Rights ruling against Putin’s Russia on this killing. After that, the Skripal attempted killing happened. The lesson is very clear: if we do not act very firmly, they will do it again. So we should act, not just against the GRU officers the Home Secretary has properly highlighted, but against all the manifestations of the Russian mafia state. I am afraid that that includes some of the oligarchs in London who act as proxies for Putin’s Russia; whether they own property, companies, newspapers or football clubs, it does not matter; we should act to make sure they do not corrupt our state. The Home Secretary is doing the right thing pursuing the perpetrators of this evil crime, but will she talk to other members of the Cabinet to find other ways in which to punish this evil Government who gave these orders? If our Government do not act more firmly now than we did after the Litvinenko murder, this will happen again.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and suggestions. He is correct in the proposition he has spoken of; there is much more to do. That is partly the purpose of my statement today, not just in providing the wider update, and rightly so, but in illustrating that the Government will not tolerate these types of malign activity—state sponsored terror that has taken place on the streets of the UK. Importantly, as a Government we have to do the right thing in protecting our citizens and our domestic homeland. He is right about this and that work will continue across the whole of government.
I thank the Home Secretary for this statement, and for the work of the police and of the intelligence and security agencies to have brought us to this point. The Salisbury attack was a truly appalling attack on UK soil, with charges now laid against the agents of a foreign state. It should be unthinkable that this could happen and for it to come at the same time as the ECHR confirmation that Russia was behind the murder of Alexander Litvinenko is further disturbing evidence of Russia’s willingness to use dangerous weapons in other countries. I support the work the Government have been doing on this, but may I ask her specifically about the review launched three years ago into the so-called “golden visas”, the tier 1 visas, to look at oligarchs with close links to the Russian state who might be using criminal money and others? We have not heard any update on that review, so will she update the House now on what work is being done?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions and remarks. She is right to point to the whole area of the tier 1 investor visa route, which, historically, as the whole House is well aware, has led to a range of the wider issues we have just been speaking about—investments, illicit finance, corruption and a lack of transparency. The purpose of the review was to look at exactly that. I cannot provide the full update right now, but I want to reassure the House and to let it know that the whole of government is acutely aware of how these routes have previously been used. I would go as far as to say they have been abused for malign purposes—for entry into the UK to do us harm and to harm our country. That is why we will never rule out changes, which we constantly make to our immigration system and to our visas.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my congratulations on her mentioning the ECHR judgment on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, after which many of us thought such events would never occur again. Will she welcome the calls I have made this morning, as the leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe, for an urgent debate on this issue next week at the full meeting of the Council of Europe, both to gain support for our move against Russia and to make sure we can address the Russians face to face, to show them down?
My hon. Friend is correct in the case he is making. There has to be a fair degree of openness, honesty and transparency on the acts that have taken place; lives have been lost and today’s ruling is significant, so he is absolutely right in the way in which he has been making the case, and I hope he achieves the outcome he is seeking.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, and join her in thanking the security services and all those involved. The judgment sends a clear message that even though these individuals are outside our jurisdiction, we are not going to give up pursuing them. Will she share the intelligence behind the latest developments with the Intelligence and Security Committee? I welcome her commitment to implement the recommendations from the Russia report, particularly in respect of the registration of foreign individuals pursuing other states’ interests. Those recommendations are important, but there are existing weapons in her armoury that need to be used, including against the facilitators of these acts—the estate agents, lawyers, accountants in London. If she grasps that, and her new Security Minister grasps it, she could make some great progress and hurt the Russians very hard.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and the points he has made. He is right about the tools or levers that exist across government and across law enforcement—many strong laws are in place. As ever, this is about the application of the law and the levers that could help to denude capability further, so he is absolutely right on the point he makes. On the ISC, we will be in touch directly with the Committee after today’s statement, even on the basis of how information and intelligence is shared.
The Home Secretary mentions the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which I am a member, has pathetically allowed Russia back into the Assembly and has done so for one reason only—money. These Putin thugs strut around there and ignore any motion passed by the Assembly. Russia does not care a damn about the ECHR and will simply ignore it, but this same court is constantly invoked by human rights lawyers when we try to save lives at sea, when dealing with migrants, or when we are trying to run our prisons. This is just a fig leaf for tyranny. Perhaps the time has come to replace the Human Rights Act with our own British rights Act and get out of the ECHR altogether.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. Today’s judgment and ruling from the ECHR is important and significant, particularly in the context of what we are speaking about. He is also right to touch on some of the other issues he has mentioned, which obviously link to our work in the Home Office in dealing with illegal migration. There is always more we can do and we would welcome greater support, through some of the courts, to help us in how we tackle some of these very challenging issues.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. We now know that not one, not two, but three Russian agents were able to get into this country by basically just walking into the airport. In the statement, the Home Secretary talked about
“new powers to enable the police to stop, question, search, and detain individuals…to determine whether they are spies or otherwise”.
Does she believe that those new powers would have prevented the three individuals from getting into this country?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point with his question. The fact of the matter is that those powers were introduced as a direct response to the Salisbury attack, as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, to enable the police to effectively stop, question, search and detain individuals. Those powers came in after the attack and there is no doubt that they would have made a difference at that particular time. The fact of the matter is that those powers are now being used in the way we have spoken about and to which I referred in my statement. On a day-to-day basis people are being stopped, detained and asked significant questions. As I said in my statement, we will look at everything—all measures—in terms of how we not only protect our border but prevent individuals with malign intent from coming to our country.
I commend the Home Secretary for her statement and the action that she and the Crown Prosecution Service have taken. To follow on from the previous question, state-sponsored terrorism in the UK cannot happen if state-sponsored terrorists are blocked from entry. This case was made worse because they were carrying poison. Regardless of any new powers, people travelling on false passports should not be allowed into the country. Is the Home Secretary confident that the requisite changes have been made at the passport entry desk to prevent GRU agents—they used to be known as the KGB—from coming into this country when they want, leaving when they want and doing all sorts of things that we do not want them to do in the United Kingdom?