House of Commons
Monday 5 September 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Before we begin today’s business, I want to welcome back all Members and make a short statement. I know you want to be updated on the protest incident in the Chamber on Friday, and to be reassured that steps are being taken to minimise the risk of a reoccurrence.
On 2 September 2022, four groups of Extinction Rebellion activists came on to the estate as ticket holders on paid tours. One of these groups superglued themselves to one another around the Speaker’s Chair. The Parliamentary Security Department and the Metropolitan Police Service worked closely together to ensure that all Extinction Rebellion protesters were removed safely and as quickly as possible from the House of Commons. Eight individuals were arrested and have since been released on bail.
A police investigation into the incident is now taking place in close liaison with the Parliamentary Security Department to establish the full circumstances of this incident. Given the number of protests and campaigns planned over the coming fortnight, and drawing on the events of Friday, the Parliamentary Security Department and the MPS have adjusted their posture accordingly. You will all understand why I cannot go into detail on what processes have been put in place.
As I wrote in my notice to you on Friday, it is a real shame that visitors who made arrangements to join the tours of the Palace of Westminster on Friday had their visit disrupted and cancelled. The right of protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but the right of peaceful protest does not extend to unlawful activity and I reassure all of you that the Parliamentary Security Department and the police will take appropriate action to deal with any such acts on the parliamentary estate in future.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Overdose Prevention Centres
Welcome back, Mr Speaker. I endorse everything you have just said. We enjoy the right to lawful, peaceful protest, but we enjoy the right to open democracy as well. Those who behave in this way should feel the full force of the law.
Before I answer these questions, I will briefly remark on my three years as Home Secretary under Boris Johnson’s prime ministership. A written ministerial statement in my name was tabled this morning—[Interruption]—shut up—outlining the work of the Home Office over the last three years to meet our manifesto commitments, which include some of the biggest reforms on security, migration and public safety, about which Mr Speaker has just spoken. I am proud to have served in this Government, and I thank the Prime Minister, Home Office Ministers past and present, and a wide range of officials.
Drugs are a scourge on society that destroys lives, blights communities and fuels crime. There is no safe way to take dangerous drugs, so I do not support legalising drugs. Importantly, the drug strategy led by this Government will tackle drug supply, reduce demand and provide world-class treatment to those in need of help.
Tragically, York saw a number of deaths over the summer caused by substance misuse. There were 4,859 drug deaths in England and Wales last year, up 6.2% on the previous year, and Dame Carol Black’s second report highlighted that intervention services are not fit for purpose. It is important that we see change based on evidence. Will the Government look again at the impact of overdose prevention units and pilot them in places such as York?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the tragedy of drug deaths, and she highlights the incredibly important work of Dame Carol Black. I pay tribute to the work of Dame Carol Black, including everything she proposed on the drug strategy and treatment programmes. She also highlighted where funding needs to come together across the whole of Government, and a great deal of work is taking place on that.
The hon. Lady is correct. Not only does more work need to be done, but we need to have bottom-up solutions. Dame Carol Black has presented some strong proposals to the Government, and the Prime Minister and I have backed and supported them. It is right that that legacy continues, as it will help to save lives and re-establish rehabilitation programmes across the country.
Last week I spent an evening in Glasgow with families who, like me, have lost someone to drug addiction. They and I accept that the ideal situation is that people will conquer their addiction, but does the right hon. Lady accept that they can do that only if they do not die first? Does she also accept that, for those who continue to use, we should enable them to do so as safely as possible and as close to medical assistance as possible? The Royal College of Nursing supports drug consumption rooms. Will she support them? And will she support the families and the memory of all those who have lost their life to drugs? Will she give the go-ahead for just one pilot project?
I totally recognise and understand not only the hon. Lady’s remarks, but the scale of drug addiction and drug deaths—we have discussed this many times before in this House and it is tragic. Conquering addiction is not easy, which is why I stand by the work of Carol Black. It is pivotal in terms of putting forward long-term treatment programmes, because long-term treatment is really required. My views on drug consumption rooms, in particular, are known, but there are no easy solutions to this, because people who are addicted to drugs have taken drugs for a wide range of reasons. It is important that we seek to support them to conquer addiction and help them to rebuild their lives.
Knife Crime and Serious Violence
The Government take a dual approach, combining tough enforcement with programmes that steer young people away from crime. Since 2019, we have invested £170 million in the areas worst affected by violence to boost the police response. In those same areas, we have also invested another £170 million to develop violence reduction units, to tackle the root causes of violence. Those programmes have prevented 49,000 violent offences in their first two years.
Over the summer we had two very high-profile knife attacks in Ipswich. We know that this is inter-gang violence—it is often members of each gang who are targeted—but it often erupts in a public space and has a chilling effect within communities. I am pleased that we have secured extra funding from the safer streets fund and that we are getting our uplift to the 20,000, but does the Minister agree that our UK shared prosperity fund bid to get even more police presence during the day would help to tackle knife crime? Does he also agree that it is right that we look at the national police funding formula in order to provide long-term fairer funding for Suffolk police?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who pays laser-like attention to crime and policing issues in his area. He was at the forefront of arguing the case for the safer streets bid, which has, fortunately, been successful. It is very welcome that his area is seeing £8.9 million of additional police funding and we have seen 114 extra officers recruited. Building on the work that is already happening, those resources will come together to help to continue to drive down crime in his area. That is a priority for this Government, as it is for him, and I know he will continue to follow this closely.
Last February, a constituent of mine, a young man, was attacked in the street by a man wielding a machete. There have been a number of further incidents since then, including last month on the streets of Leeds, where video shows two gangs squaring up to each other and holding these weapons. Why on earth is it still legal for anyone over the age of 18 to go into a shop and buy a machete?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. It is important to note that since 2019 we have seen 72,000 weapons taken off our streets, but we cannot be complacent on this, which is why Ministers are looking at this issue of serious weapons, with a serious weapons review. I will want to see its conclusions as quickly as possible, but he can be absolutely assured that our drive and determination is to get these weapons off our streets wherever possible. It is not acceptable to have any life lost to crime in this way.
Deterrence is more important than almost anything else, and the Minister knows well of the tragic case in my constituency of Ellie Gould, who was murdered by a knife-wielding boyfriend. People there are rightly of the view that we must find ways of improving and increasing the sentences for knife murder if we can. So what discussions has he had with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who are currently looking at guidelines for sentencing? When can we expect the results of that consultation to come out?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We do have Ministers who are joint between the Home Office and the MOJ, which means that we have been able to look at some of these issues in the round. What I hope can give him some reassurance is the fact that, through serious violence reduction orders, which we are introducing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, we are seeing a greater likelihood of people being caught, of being before the court and of receiving a custodial sentence. I think the whole House can welcome that.
It was alarming enough to find out that foreign intelligence played a role in the trafficking of Shamima Begum and other British children to ISIS, but to find out that our Government were aware of this is incredibly disturbing and raises questions on the decision to revoke her citizenship. So will the Home Secretary tell us exactly when—
The current Home Secretary says that her “record…speaks volumes”. On her watch, far more people are a victim of crime, far more criminals are getting away with it, nine in 10 serious violent offenders never see the inside of a court, police officers are forced to use food banks, and the police have declared no confidence. What does the Minister think the Home Secretary is most proud of: criminals laughing in our face as they get away with it, or thousands more people across this country blighted by crime?
I think it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who I believe has done a sterling job in the role, can be proud of seeing burglary down by 24% nationally, neighbourhood crime down by 33% and vehicle offences down by 28%. We have got 72,000 weapons off our streets since 2019. Leicester, which I visited a couple of weeks ago, has a hugely successful violence reduction unit that is driving down criminality, steering young people away from that course. Some 49,000 offences have been prevented nationally, with a return that means that in the round we are seeing benefits to society: violent crime is not happening, because it has been prevented by the work that my right hon. Friend has done.
War in Ukraine
The UK Government rapidly created the UK visa scheme to support Ukrainians seeking refuge from Putin’s barbaric invasion, each for a three-year period with full access to work, public funds and services. The Ukraine family scheme was the first of its kind to be operational anywhere in the world, and we should be proud of the role that our country has played in helping.
The UK was the first country anywhere in the world to operationalise its Ukraine visa scheme, welcoming thousands of people to this country. May I congratulate the Home Secretary and her officials on this feat, which was undertaken in a matter of days back in March? May I ask her to reaffirm that this country will continue to offer the support needed by Ukraine and its brave people, as she has always shown during her time at the Home Office?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are consistently working hard to maximise the number of people in sponsorship schemes, as well as those coming through the visa routes. It is also worth noting that there has recently been an uptick in the number of people applying for these visas. That is because the scheme is not only successful, but generous, and is helping people who are in need of support right now.
I recently met one of the many refugees in my constituency. He was full of praise for how the system has worked for him, but concerns were raised about the lack of affordable housing in the south-west. What work is the Department doing with other Departments to ensure that there are no issues down the line?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: housing remains a challenge, as we have always found through all the schemes that we have run, particularly the resettlement and refugee programmes. Work has taken place across other Departments, particularly the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is responsible for housing. I think that reflects the fact that the sponsorship scheme has worked because of the generosity of the British public, who have been housing Ukrainian nationals. Of course we hope that the scheme will continue to be as vigorous and strong in that sense.
Many six-month placements under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are coming to an end. For many reasons, not least the cost of living crisis, lots of them will not be extended, yet the Government have not set out a clear plan for what happens next. Families risk being placed in temporary accommodation miles away from where they have begun to rebuild their lives. Will the Home Secretary take urgent action to ensure that host families are properly supported and that measures are put in place to ensure that where a placement cannot continue, families are assisted into decent rented accommodation or accommodation with another host family?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right—there is no dispute there whatever. Other Departments are involved in housing, working with local authorities and ensuring a smooth transfer and transition. The Homes for Ukraine scheme, clearly, was there for six months; the transition period is taking place now, in many cases. A whole-of-Government effort is being co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, working with other Departments. I think we should always reflect on and recognise the generosity of the British public, but also how Departments and local councils in particular have been providing support to make sure that that continues.
Prior to the implementation of the UK family visa scheme, to which the Home Secretary has referred, some concern was expressed by the Government that there needed to be additional checks because not everyone coming from Ukraine could be relied on. Can she give us an update on how those checks have proceeded and how many people coming from Ukraine were identified as fraudulent?
Those checks are there for very good reasons—there is no question about that. When we look at the volatility and the instability in the region and many of the national security concerns, we can see that that those checks are absolutely legitimate. The record is clear in terms of the number of Ukrainian nationals who have come here. There are people who have been refused on legitimate grounds involving national security concerns, which we do not discuss publicly.
Antisocial behaviour is a menace to society. This Government have committed to stamping it out everywhere that it occurs. In our communities, we have already ensured that local agencies have the flexible tools to tackle it through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Of course, people are not just subject to abuse offline; despicable instances such as the racism online following the Euro 2020 final are why this Government will also tackle harmful content online through the Online Safety Bill.
Portsmouth police go above and beyond to keep communities safe as I saw at first hand when I joined them on patrol at the Camber and the Hotwalls last month. However, they face an uphill battle following a 10% drop in the region’s police community support officers and police officers since 2015. Will the Minister confirm today when the Conservatives will finally get tough on crime and give my local force the resources that it so desperately needs?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear about ensuring that, with the police uplift programme, there are 20,000 more police officers, and that is making a huge difference. Local police and crime commissioners are responsible for working with local authorities to ensure that they tackle antisocial behaviour locally, so I think that the hon. Gentleman should direct his comments to his local police and crime commissioner.
The boundaries between antisocial behaviour, gangs, drugs, and knife crime are increasingly blurred. An unwelcome recent trend in my constituency of Gloucester is that of an increase in young people’s involvement. None of us wants to see children criminalised, but we need to act, not least in order to protect other young people. Can the Minister arrange a meeting where best practice on how to tackle this growing problem can be shared with many of us in this Chamber who have similar problems?
I know the work that my hon. Friend has done to try to reduce antisocial behaviour within his own community, and I know that he has been working hard. He supports violence reduction units. There is a huge amount of money and investment going into sharing best practice among forces to ensure that we also protect these individuals. We know the huge problems that county lines are creating up and down the country, and there has been a massive investment in breaking county lines on which this Government have been leading the way.
While the Conservative party has spent the summer infighting, our country and our communities have been left fearful about the plight of antisocial behaviour that is rife across Britain. Because of a lack of legislative support, families and the most vulnerable in our communities are left suffering from fireworks and nuisance into the early hours of the morning without any help, including in my constituency of Bradford West. Car theft has gone up, burglary has gone up, individual theft has gone up, car crime has gone up, and dangerous driving has gone up, and all the while families are feeling unsafe to walk the streets of Britain. The Government have simply gone and are nowhere to be seen. Can the Minister explain why, after 12 years in Government, the Conservatives have failed so badly?
I am astonished. The reality is that antisocial behaviour in the year to March 2022 is down 37%. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends may also be intrigued to hear that, nationally, burglary is down 24%, neighbourhood crime by 33%, and vehicle offences by 28%. That has been made possible by the commitment the Government have made to increasing police numbers by more than 20,000. Perhaps the answer is that Conservative police and crime commissioners deliver for their communities.
County Lines Drug Gangs
Through our drugs strategy, we are investing up to £145 million in the county lines programme to tackle ruthless gangs harming our communities. That includes providing specialist support to victims of county lines exploitation and their families. Since 2019, police activity funded by the programme has resulted in more than 2,400 line closures, 8,000 arrests and 9,500 individuals engaged through safeguarding interventions.
Over the summer recess I was proud to join our brave Staffordshire police officers on a drugs raid of a suspected county lines operation, sweeping the scrotes and their drugs off the streets of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Sadly, we have seen an increase in filthy drug thugs peddling their dirt on our streets. It is because of this that I ask my hon. Friend to join me in supporting the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) to have monkey dust reclassified as a class A substance and increase the prison sentence on the parasites who plague our community.
I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about this issue in more detail. Monkey dust is a street name for certain cathinones. The Government recognise the harm of cathinones, which is why they are controlled under class B of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The penalty for supplying a class B drug is 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. There are no plans to reclassify those drugs, although the Government keep drug classification under review and will seek to take account of any new evidence of harms.
Over the summer I met residents and parents in North Shropshire who are concerned about the presence of county lines drug networks in our market towns. Our local police force has done a superb job in breaking up some of those lines, but more needs to be done. The Government promised an additional 311 police officers in West Mercia, but at the moment we are only at 165—far off target. Can the Minister reassure me that those additional police officers will be recruited into West Mercia to tackle the ongoing county lines problem, which exists in rural areas as well as urban ones?
I thank the hon. Lady for approaching this issue so constructively, because the matter of county lines gangs is of huge concern to communities both urban and rural, as she alludes to. The team in the Home Office will work very constructively and intensively with her force to ensure that we see the uplift programme through, so that her constituents feel the maximum benefit of the highest number of officers possible out on the streets, catching criminals and deterring crime.
Thanks to the work of the Home Office, British Transport police are working alongside Hampshire Constabulary to help tackle the appalling problems we have with county lines in north Hampshire. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that is a project that he continues to see moving forward? I have seen at first hand that it is an essential way of tackling the appalling movement of drugs from different parts of the south-east into my county of Hampshire.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the way she approaches this issue and her positive advocacy for that initiative, which we are committed to. It is about continuing to roll out the county lines programme, with £145 million over the next three years, to tackle what is the most violent and exploitative distribution model yet seen. It is about safeguarding vulnerable people from being exploited, arresting and charging those running the lines, and stopping them exploiting people.
Local police have told me that they have seen a worrying rise in teenagers going missing, and there is inevitably an increase in county lines activity. Given the huge issues with county lines drugs gangs exploiting vulnerable children, will the Minister confirm whether the Government will be implementing the definition of child criminal exploitation in law and assessing whether police have the resources on the ground to deal with this terrible issue?
It is fair to say that what is happening in London is a considerable increase in police officer numbers, running at nearly 3,000 already recruited through the uplift programme, as well as additional funding in the millions and millions of pounds. The Mayor of London has the resources he requires to tackle these issues and this criminality. It is important that the hon. Lady has strong dialogue with him on that and, of course, the Home Office will continue to monitor progress on the issue.
Protestor Activity: Risk to Infrastructure and Public Safety
We live in a vibrant, open country, where we all enjoy the right to lawful, peaceful protest. However, I, the public and, no doubt, my hon. Friend are increasingly incensed by the attention-seeking antics of a small band of publicity-hungry lawbreakers intent on causing disruption for the law-abiding majority. We have a proud tradition of upholding the rule of law, and those who trespass and cause criminal damage should face the full force of the law.
As the Home Secretary says, the right to protest is fundamental to our democracy, but this new activity of gluing oneself to parts of our national infrastructure—indeed, gluing oneself to your Chair, Mr Speaker—is absolutely unacceptable. Does the Home Secretary need to give the police more powers to deter such activities?
My hon. Friend raises some really important points, and this comes back to your opening remarks, Mr Speaker, about the season of protest that seems to be taking place, which has actually become an annual thing, particularly with Extinction Rebellion and others. First and foremost, she asks about police powers. I give credit and pay tribute to the police, because they use specialist skills to de-glue or de-bond. But had we not seen the measures introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 earlier this year thrown out by Labour Lords, the police would have had the powers to deal with these types of protests. Of course, the Public Order Bill, which is going through the House right now, will absolutely double down and reaffirm those powers.
Small Boat Crossings
Our new laws, brought in through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, mean that we have legislated to introduce long-term solutions and to address legal entry into the UK. Of course, that means tackling the number of people coming over in small boats, but also introducing tougher criminal sentences. As my right hon. Friend will know, all these measures were opposed by the Labour party.
In view of the uncertainty as to who will fill the Government Front Bench in the coming days and weeks, I will break the rules a bit by asking the Home Secretary to accept my thanks for her robust management of the most difficult Department of State. That is not to say that we always agree on everything, particularly on Rwanda, but we do agree that we must take back control, or keep control, of our own borders. The Australian experience demonstrated that pushback works, and we can learn from that. We can learn from the necessary increase in surveillance, we can learn from the increase in control and command by both the Australians and Frontex, and we can learn from the application of international maritime law. If we do all those things, I have no doubt that pushback will work with Belgium and France too.
Despite the chuntering from the Opposition Benches, my right hon. Friend speaks a lot of common sense on these issues. This is important, primarily because when it comes to tackling channel crossings, we have specifically reviewed the whole Australian model, which, for the benefit of Opposition Members, is called Operation Sovereign Borders. That is effectively what the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was built upon, including the proposition of pushbacks at sea—something that has been developed by the Home Office but has not been operationalised by the Ministry of Defence—surveillance tactics and many other measures.
Finally, for the benefit of our colleague on the Opposition Benches, there is no single solution to this issue, which is why, as my right hon. Friend pointed out and as I have said at the Dispatch Box many times, it takes multiple solutions to come together, including reform of the asylum system, deterrents and criminal sanctions, which the Opposition completely voted against.
I agree with the Home Secretary that it takes multiple ways of looking at the problem of channel crossings. In July, the Home Affairs Committee produced our report on channel crossings. We were very keen to discuss the report with the Home Secretary but, sadly, she cancelled her appearance before the Committee. However, we hope that she will, in whatever capacity she holds in the coming weeks, attend the next Committee hearing in September to discuss her time at the Home Office. One of our key recommendations was to pilot providing UK asylum assessment facilities within France, enabling the juxtaposed consideration of claims in the same way that we already have juxtaposed immigration and passport controls in Dover and Calais. I wonder whether she might say what her solution to the problem would be.
They are our friends. In fact, I spoke to my French counterpart last week. In that conversation, as ever, a range of issues on UK co-operation were discussed. Those discussions continue right now, including on work on deterrence and interceptions—points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) would support. A range of issues, such as processing, are always under discussion.
Instead of the cruel and utterly failed Rwanda policy, or resurrecting impossible and dangerous pushbacks, we need safe legal routes, investment, asylum and modern slavery processing, and, as the Home Secretary has alluded to, close co-operation with our French allies. On that note, will she join me in stating clearly that President Macron is very much a friend rather than a foe, and will someone have a quiet word with the incoming Prime Minister about how important it is to work with France and avoid unhelpful, attention-seeking and counterproductive comments about our allies?
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, we clearly have a different stance on the policies and tactics. We debated these issues—and accommodation, refugees and so on—many times during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. I have worked closely with my counterparts in the French Government for three years, and I restate for the record that, on the basis of the discussions I had last week, of course they are our friends. It is important to say that in international co-operation on anything to do with migration—particularly illegal migration, at a time when 100 million people around the world are on the move because of global migration pressures—it is always right that we work in a united way with our international colleagues.
Over the last calendar year, I have overseen the enforced removal of more Albanian nationals than any other nationality. We regularly return Albanian criminals and immigration offenders to Albania via chartered flights, a process that is aided by the returns agreement that I have signed with the Albanian Government.
Recent reports suggest that despite passing through many safe countries en route to the UK, when the very large numbers of Albanians who have been crossing the channel in small boats in recent weeks land on our shores, they claim not only asylum, but modern slavery protection. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time to reform our modern slavery laws to prevent an increased abuse of our good will?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is correct that over the summer the majority of arrivals in small boats from France—about 60%—have been Albanian nationals. He will be delighted to hear about the work that I have led on reform of the national referral mechanism, a key component of the reforms to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which has been committed to within this Session of Parliament.
Afghan Citizens: Asylum Policies
Our United Kingdom has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need through our resettlement schemes. The new plan for immigration will ensure that our resources can be focused on those in most need of resettlement around the world, including in Afghanistan, rather than on those who can pay a people smuggler.
Does the Minister share my concern regarding the findings of nine expert groups last month, including Humans Rights Watch, which found the UK Government’s resettlement schemes to be “unjustifiably restrictive”, and that it is deeply concerning that the UK Government are not offering a safe route for many Afghan women and girls, or to oppressed minority groups?
Well, I look at our record, which includes last year’s evacuation—the largest since the war—to bring people to safety here in the United Kingdom, and at the work we are doing week in, week out with colleagues, particularly in the Ministry of Defence, to bring more people to safety. We need to focus our efforts on those who need resettlement and safety and are under threat in Afghanistan, rather than on those who prefer to be here than in another safe and democratic country.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government still hold in a special place in their priorities those Afghans who assisted the British armed forces when they were present in Afghanistan? May I thank the Minister and the Home Secretary for the work of those in the specialist hub, whether in Portcullis House or remotely, who have done outstanding work in enabling MPs on both sides of the House to help people fleeing from persecution?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks about the work that has been done by Home Office teams via the hub. Those people who worked with UK operations, particularly the military operation in Afghanistan, would liaise primarily with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, who hold the records and will do the relevant checks under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme. We then look to work with them to facilitate the relocation of those people to the UK, where that is deemed appropriate.
We owe loyal-to-Britain Afghans a debt of gratitude and honour, yet with 10,000 of them still stuck in bridging hotels, at huge cost to their mental health and a cost of £1.4 million a day to the taxpayer, it looks as though Operation Warm Welcome has become operation cold shoulder. It is little wonder that the Minister for Refugees resigned yesterday in despair. Further still, the Government have broken their promises to vulnerable Afghan groups such as women judges and LGBT activists. Can the Minister therefore tell us why, if British Council employees and Chevening scholars can apply for asylum in the UK from within Afghanistan, pathway 2 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme does not allow women judges and LGBT activists to do the same? Does he accept that these failures put Afghan lives at risk, bearing in mind that the Taliban have already conducted at least 160 reprisal killings?
I know that whoever takes office this week can look forward to plenty of attacks but few alternatives from the hon. Gentleman. We are proud of what we have done. As I said, last year we arranged one of the biggest evacuations since the war years and a rapid process to bring people here. About 7,400 people have moved into new homes since the first ARAP flight in June, which is an unprecedented pace of resettlement. Yes, there is more work to do; we are working with local authorities to do that and to find more homes, but we have to be clear: it is about working with local communities, particularly given the size and scale of accommodation, particularly family accommodation, that needs to be provided across the country.
UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership
I have secured a world-first migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda, and our innovative partnership means that illegal migrants will be relocated to Rwanda to build a new and prosperous life there. The number of people who can be relocated there is unlimited, and they will have support and care while their claims are considered.
First and foremost, as well as all our work with the Government of Rwanda—even prior to the announcement of this policy and the work that went into this partnership—plenty of in-country work has been undertaken. That is part of our country report and planning work, and all the advice that is taken in-country and across Government. With that, however, it is important to recognise that this partnership is very clear in terms of standards, the treatment of people who are relocated to Rwanda, the resources that are put in, and the processing of how every applicant is treated.
There are various reports—not all of them accurate—about the limit on the number of people who can be processed under the partnership agreement with Rwanda. What action is being taken to increase capacity in Rwanda to accept more asylum seekers so that the full benefits of the partnership can be realised?
It is important to emphasise again that the number of people who can be relocated is unlimited and, importantly, they have the support and capacity in-country—that is part of the resources that we have put in, and part of the programming approach that has been developed directly with the Government of Rwanda.
Deaths following Domestic Abuse
Every domestic abuse-related death is a tragedy, leaving too many families in grief. This is why, in the tackling domestic abuse plan, we committed to significant reforms of the domestic homicide review process to ensure that lessons are learned, victims are supported appropriately and deaths are prevented in the first place. The Home Office is also providing £250,000 in funding to the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse to deliver specialist and expert advocacy to families affected by domestic homicide, domestic abuse-related suicides and unexplained deaths linked to domestic abuse.
The Government’s latest domestic abuse plan confirms the stark truth that action on domestic abuse is getting worse, with fewer domestic abusers being prosecuted. Three in four recorded domestic abuse cases are closed due to evidential difficulties or because the victim is unable to continue. I hope the new Prime Minister takes the issue more seriously than she did as Minister for Women and Equalities. Will the Minister commit to bringing forward plans to support victims taking action and introducing a domestic abuse perpetrator register?
I commend all the work that has been done on domestic abuse, and all the issues we have to face are not taken lightly. A central count of domestic abuse fatalities is crucial to building the evidence base for effective interventions and preventing future tragedies. This Government have been counting all domestic homicides, domestic abuse-related unexplained or suspicious deaths, and suspected suicides of individuals with a known history of domestic abuse victimisation since March 2020.
On 20 June, I stood at this Dispatch Box and asked the then Minister, the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), where the Government’s response to the domestic homicide sentencing review was. I said then that 105 women had been killed during the period of delay to that response. The then Minister—to be fair to the current Minister—assured me that she would write to me on the issue; she did not. Since I asked in June, there have been 18 more victims of femicide counted by the organisation Counting Dead Women, which will not account for the cases referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) because those are not as well known. May I ask what exactly is causing the Government such delay in responding to the QC-led report? They have had it for months and have promised the grief-stricken families of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse that it will be delivered. Does the Minister wonder how many other women will have died by the time they finally respond?
Violence against Women and Girls
We have published our tackling domestic abuse plan, which invests more than £230 million to tackle this heinous crime, and launched the “Enough” national communications campaign, which educates young people about healthy relationships and ensures victims can access support. We have been driving transformation in how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service respond to rape cases, with 19 forces participating in Operation Soteria, and we also continue to fund the specialist helplines that supported over 81,000 people in 2021-22.
On 17 September, it will be one year to the day since the brutal, sexually-motivated murder of Sabina Nessa in my constituency. In the year she was murdered—to the end of March 2022—an astonishing 70,330 rapes were recorded, which is up from 16,000 in 2010, yet we have a charge rate of just 1.3%. Does the Minister not think that we owe it to the memory of people such as Sabina to improve those figures?
These are all tragic circumstances, which is exactly why we are working on the reforms. Tackling violence against women and girls is a Government priority, and it is unacceptable that this preventable issue, which blights and limits the lives of millions, is allowed to continue.
Afghan Citizens: Asylum Policies
Together with our colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities we provide a range of support in accessing public services including essentials such as school places for children and housing. Around 7,400 people have moved, or are in the process of being moved, into new homes since the first ARAP flights in June 2021, an unprecedented rate of resettlement.
Of those who have arrived in the UK, around 10,000 Afghans remain stuck in hotels up and down the country at a cost to the public of £1 million a day. Most of them have been there for a year now, left in limbo due to the Government’s failure to work effectively with local authorities. Will the Minister commit to opening up safe and legal routes so that those in Afghanistan who are at risk can come to the UK? That also requires working constructively with local authorities so that Afghans in this country can finally start their new lives properly, in a home rather than a hotel room.
We are working constructively with 350 local authorities to ensure people get the accommodation they need. Given the cohort, that is clearly a challenge as there are large families and a balance needs to be struck with local authorities meeting their housing duties to local people. This also involves working with others, but we are grateful to see the number of local authorities taking part; their reaction is far better than that of the Lib Dem leader of my local council who initially, until he made a U-turn, refused to take part.
Police Officer Recruitment: London Region
As I said earlier, data to 30 June shows that 2,952 additional officers have been recruited by the Metropolitan Police Service as part of the police uplift. In addition, City of London Police has recruited 60 additional police officers as part of this unprecedented recruitment drive.
In his most recent letter to me, Mayor Khan admitted that the Met police now has more officers than at any time in its history thanks to the national uplift under this Home Secretary. He has also confirmed that he will push ahead with plans to sell Hornchurch police station, the only base for officers in my constituency. Since a major review is now under way into the Met on his watch, will the Minister encourage the Mayor to use this moment to reflect on his own performance and whether he is doing enough to make sure every part of the capital has bases from which officers can operate?
It is welcome that the incoming commissioner has a 100-day plan. As my hon. Friend set out, the fact is that the Mayor has 3,000 new officers in London over and above what he had previously as a result of the uplift, and his resources are up by £164 million compared with 2021-22. The bottom line is that he has the resources to get on and do it and it is time for the Mayor to show up and deliver.
Since I became Home Secretary in 2019 I have pursued the people’s priorities: backed the police with a record £17 billion; expanded stop-and-search powers; better equipped the police; and introduced a police uplift programme that is well on the way to putting in place 20,000 additional police officers. Harper’s law is in place, as is the police covenant and the support the police need to make our streets, transport network and our public safe both publicly and online. We have taken back control with a new plan for immigration that rewards talent, welcomes refugees, allows EU citizens to settle here, makes it easier to remove foreign national offenders, attracts businesses and deals with the issue of people smugglers.
I have also overhauled the Windrush compensation scheme and fixed the outdated nationality laws, supported law enforcement and the security services in fighting terrorism, including through the superb National Security Bill, and worked with our Five Eyes partners, the G7 and our international allies. In addition, we have collectively been combating the evils of violence against women and girls and changing the laws on trespass. But keeping our citizens safe is the Government’s first duty and it has been my privilege to do so, serving in this Government but also in my service to our country.
This Government are planning to remove refugees to Rwanda who sought sanctuary in the UK from torture and trafficking. This is a new and despicable low even from this Home Office. Can the Home Secretary confirm whether she has read the medical analysis from the charity Medical Justice, and will she find some moral backbone, immediately release from indefinite immigration detention all those targeted with removal to Rwanda and finally abandon this shameful policy?
Absolutely not, because the immoral aspect is the role of people smugglers and the criminal trade that facilitates people smuggling. Not only is the migration and economic development partnership the first of its kind, but it is being looked at by other countries around the world. Our processes are not only legitimate but show that a deterrent factor can be achieved through this policy. It is absolutely right that we ensure that people are detained on the basis that they will be removed to Rwanda at the soonest possible opportunity.
The rise in dangerous channel crossings is unacceptable, as my hon. Friend has said. Indeed, there is a push-back policy in place. Not only are these crossings an overt abuse of our immigration laws, but they risk the lives of vulnerable people who are being exploited by ruthless criminal gangs. Our new Nationality and Borders Act 2022 is breaking the business model of these evil criminals. We have introduced tougher sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country, with 38 people already arrested and facing further action since the Act became law.
As this may be the Home Secretary’s last question time, may I recognise the unseen work that she and all her predecessors have done on national security and on warrants, which often goes unrecognised? I also join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to Oliva Pratt-Korbel, Thomas O’Halloran and the other victims of devastating knife and gun crime, which has escalated this summer.
Stabbings are now 60% higher than in 2015, yet the number of violent criminals caught is at a record low.
“There is a serious problem in this country with gun crime…with gangs…with knife crime”.
Those are not my words, but those of the incoming Prime Minister, so why have successive Conservative Home Secretaries allowed it to get this bad?
The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well the Government’s record over many years in boosting police funding—which neither she nor the Labour party supported—including the work under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which has all the right deterrents in place to go after criminals and ensure that they are given the right kinds of sentences, supports serious violence reduction units, and extends the capabilities of stop and search. Those are the very tools and tactics that the police have, and it is this Government who have supported them every single step of the way—not just by backing, equipping and empowering them to go after criminals, but by working with the criminal justice system to ensure that the right sentences are given out.
But the Conservatives have cut the funding for policing and they have brought in lots of legislation that has not worked. Stabbings are up by 60%, and over 90% of violent criminals now get away with it. That is way higher than it was just seven years ago. The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said:
“Detection and charge rates for a range of crimes have fallen over the past five years. This has been impacted by austerity and the loss of thousands of police officers and staff…and…backlogs in the court system.”
That is a damning reflection on 12 years of Conservative policies on policing and crime. On her last day in the job, will the Home Secretary tell us whether she thinks that 43 police chiefs are wrong?
It is this Government who have delivered over 13,000 additional police officers. That is 69% of the 20,000 target that we have set to meet by March 2023. Not only that, but it is our Government who have been committed from day one to reducing serious violence by putting an end to tragedies. We have invested over £130 million in tackling serious violence, including £64 million for violence reduction units. It is important to remind the House, the public and the right hon. Lady that at every single step of the way, she and her party have voted against every single law enforcement measure that this Government have brought in, including our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. Quite frankly, I suggest—
Order. I need to step in now. We have to get through some topical questions: at this rate, we will not get any further. Can we get back to what topicals are meant to be—short and quick, both asking and answering? Anna Firth is going to give us a good example.
We were all shocked by the horrendous shootings in Liverpool and on the Isle of Skye over the summer and send our condolences to all who were affected. While our gun laws are comparatively robust by international standards, is it not now time for another comprehensive look at both policy and practice, to see what more can be done to stop guns getting into the wrong hands?
There are two points that I would like to make to the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely correct. First, the introduction of safety and security declarations, to which the Government are committed, will help with that, by tracking fast parcels that come into our country, often containing goods and materials such as firearms. Secondly—and it is a point of assurance—there is a force-by-force review of firearms licensing taking place right now.
As of June 2022, the latest data for hospital admissions for under-25s for assault with a sharp object—our primary metric for measuring serious violence—was down 17% in London compared to June 2021. This financial year, we have provided £12 million of funding to the London violence reduction unit, which brings together key partners to tackle violence, and £8 million in Grip funding for the Metropolitan police service’s response to violence.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are working constructively with councils. To be fair, I have to say that Glasgow is stepping forward, as always, to find accommodation. It is about finding suitable accommodation, not just any accommodation for them. We have also had constructive discussions with the Scottish Government—credit where it is due to Neil Gray—about where we may be able to go further in creating housing, particularly in Scotland, to accommodate many of those families; we all want them to be found accommodation in a permanent home.
Of course, as well as the additional police funding that has been made available for my hon. Friend’s force area, and the additional officer numbers through the uplift programme, it is fair to say that one of the important pieces of work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been progressing is another round of the safer streets fund, which I am sure his area will be interested in.
Last year, 28,526 people arrived illegally via small boats. So far this year 26,000 have done so, and it is clear that the previous record will be surpassed. Will the Home Secretary join me in asking the new Prime Minister to make tackling this issue a national priority so that we can finally take back control of our borders?
My hon. Friend is well aware of my views, so I do not need to add much more on that. This absolutely is a priority, on the basis of the new plan for immigration and making sure that is delivered, along with the legislation on reforming the national referral mechanism and the many other approaches we have spoken about.
The bottom line—I know the hon. Gentleman does not like it very much—is that we have recruited over 13,500 new police officers as part of the uplift, and the fact is that his party has not been supportive of those efforts. We are putting more police officers out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime.
We are seeing the sinister rise of the vegan militia, which is seeking to hold to ransom families and farmers across the country. When the Public Order Bill comes forward, does my hon. Friend agree that we should legislate for farming sites, abattoirs and food production sites to be sites of national infrastructure?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this, and I know that she has been engaging proactively in her constituency of Rutland and Melton. I can say that the local police forces have been working with the sites affected to mitigate the risks of these protests, and we will of course keep under review the measures we introduce as part of the Public Order Bill, which is an important step change that we are going to bring forward.
I am going to correct the hon. Lady on this, because the top four forces for the percentage of adult rape charges received—Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire—are leading the way, along with much of the work of Operation Soteria, of which she will be well aware. My team and I would be happy to discuss that with her, because these schemes are very successful in working with the CPS and getting charges brought.
I would like to thank the Met police for its very professional policing of the Notting Hill carnival. In the last week, my constituency has seen two murders and at least six stabbings. Can my right hon. Friend update me on what conversations she has had with the Mayor of London to really get rid of this epidemic of violent crime in London?
All-change is coming in London with the appointment of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and I have been working with him on his 100-day plan. My hon. Friend and her constituents can be reassured that the Mayor, in particular—through our dialogue during the recent work with Tom Winsor—will be held to account for delivery, and that the new commissioner will have a very forceful plan to deal with serious violence, including by ensuring that the application of stop and search continues and that more work is done to keep the streets of our brilliant city safe.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right on this. Work is taking place with the Department for Transport very specifically on these scooters, and police forces—through the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council—are working on appropriate guidance to tackle not only the inappropriate use of e-scooters, but some of the criminality associated with them.
In Ashfield, I have pensioners who cannot get to the local library or the post office because of a lack of bus drivers, but there is no lack of bus drivers in Kent, shipping illegal immigrants to their four-star hotels. Is it not time that we declared a state of emergency?
My hon. Friend is well aware of the Government’s work to deal with illegal migration. That continues to be robust, with our removals policies and the removals agreements that I have with countries around the world—not to mention Albania, which I have touched on. He mentioned the lack of bus drivers. If I may, I suggest that he makes representations to the Department for Transport, because that clearly requires more training and the issuing of more bus driver licences.
Will the Home Secretary look at my ten-minute rule Bill on joint enterprise, which I will present tomorrow? Is it not a scandal that thousands of young people are in prison without a route for anyone to look at their case?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her diligent and professional work in the Home Office, where she championed the safety of women and girls. She is absolutely right about the safety and security of our great country, and when it comes to the checking of illegal migrants, she is well aware of the detailed work taking place, much of which we cannot speak about publicly for security reasons. That robust work will continue.
With permission, Mr Speaker, it may help if I inform the House that, following the election of the new leader of the Conservative party, the business managers have agreed that the Government will not move the Second Reading and other motions relating to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill today to allow Ministers to consider the legislation further. The remainder of this week’s business is as I announced on 21 July.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. The phrase “the remainder of this week’s business is as I announced on 21 July” will be interesting to follow, and I will watch closely. I hope that he had a good break, but the Government do not seem to have got their house or their business in order. This is the first day back, and the Government are already pulling their own business. Even though the data Bill fell well short on ambition, it was supposed to unlock growth and business opportunities. What do the Government have against those things? As if we needed more evidence of a zombie Government and a party divided, they will not even carry on with a pretty uncontentious Bill.
Why has this important Bill been pulled? Does the Culture Secretary not support her own Bill any more? When will it be rescheduled? Are the Government planning to drop it completely? Are the Government planning to drop any other legislation? Vital Parliamentary time is being scrapped this evening, and we could have used it to legislate for Labour’s plan to freeze the energy price cap, which would stop families paying a penny more on energy this winter. Our soon to be Prime Minister said she wants to take “immediate action” on the soaring energy crisis, but where is the plan? We could have been doing that this evening. Will the Leader of the House give us any idea at all of when this Government or the next Government, or any Government, are going to get a move on and bring forward legislation to tackle this Tory cost-of-living emergency?
Mr Speaker, I am very much aware of your desire to move quickly and for us to keep comments to a minimum. The hon. Lady is aware that there will be ample opportunity to debate such things. We have three statements this afternoon on very important matters that happened over the summer, including in the health service. The Government announced a huge £37 billion investment earlier this year to support people with the cost of living. Once the new Prime Minister is established, I am sure that she will come forward rapidly with her plan, and the shadow Leader of the House will see a united Conservative party that is firmly behind the Prime Minister delivering for the people of this country.
There are two things that we could have been discussing this evening that might have been helpful for the whole House. First, the interviews for the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards were held months ago, and everything has been agreed by all the various bodies, so I do not understand why we could not have discussed that appointment today. Secondly, why can we not implement the new code of conduct, which the Committee on Standards recommended in the summer?
My question relates to today’s business. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that at the end of the summer term you granted an urgent question on the issue of infected blood compensation payments. The Government then announced, in August, that £100,000 would be awarded to some of those infected, but not to all. Today a written ministerial statement has been tabled, which offers no opportunity for us to question the Government about the groups who are not included in the scheme, which was announced in August, not to the House, but in my view could have been made in July. I wonder when the Leader of the House might arrange for a statement to be made to the House so that we can question the Government on the infected blood scandal.
It is nice to see you in your place, Mr Speaker, and it is nice to be back.
I understand the reasons for the postponement of tonight’s business, but my constituents tell me that they consider the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill to be a welcome development, given the current conflicting theories about how the existing terms should be interpreted and the associated difficulties. They are worried about that. May I ask the Leader of the House when we will have the Bill before us?
It is good to be back after the summer recess, and it is good to see you in your place, Mr Speaker.
I want to update Members about progress in Ukraine and UK support to date since the House rose for the recess. On 29 August, Ukraine embarked on a counter-offensive in the south of the country, around the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro river. As part of the shaping fires, Ukraine has inflicted serious damage on a range of river crossings with the aim of restricting Russian logistical support. That has had considerable success. I can report to the House that the Ukrainian forces have made real progress, assaulting on three axes, and especially on the advance to the south of the city of Kryvyi Rih. The grinding fight in the Donbas continues, but with Russia making few substantive gains in the east over the past two months. Since June, Ukraine has struck more than 350 Russian command posts, ammo dumps, supply depots, and other high-value targets far back from the frontline. Many of those have been with longer-range weaponry supplied by international partners, including the United Kingdom.
As of today, the Ukrainian army is engaging with Russian forces using both artillery and brigade-level operations. It is making real gains, but understandably, as we have seen elsewhere in this conflict, the fighting is close and hard, and Ukraine is suffering losses associated with an attacking force. My thoughts, and the Government’s thoughts, are obviously with the men and women of the brave Ukrainian forces who are fighting to uphold our values as well as theirs, and to defend their land. However, Russia continues to lose significant equipment and personnel. It is estimated that to date more than 25,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives, and that, in all, more than 80,000 have been killed, have been casualties, have been captured, or constitute the reported tens of thousands of deserters. This will have a long-lasting impact on Russia’s army and its future combat effectiveness. Russia has yet to achieve any of its strategic objectives, and we are now on day 194 of what was expected to be a month-long campaign.
I know that Members will be worried by reports about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the biggest nuclear power station in Europe. On Friday 1 September, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Authority visited the plant accompanied by Russian media. No other international media were allowed to attend. Under the IAEA, an inspection was carried out, and the agency has left a team behind. It has already drawn attention to the violation of the plant’s “physical integrity”, and the United Nations remains gravely concerned about the dangerous situation in and around the plant. We will continue to monitor it, and ensure that we engage with Ukrainian partners to ensure that no one’s safety is put at risk.
Earlier in the month, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations came to an agreement on grain exports from Ukraine; the so called “Black sea initiative” was put in place. This has now seen over 2 million tonnes of grain exported, with another 100 ships waiting to embark with grain from Ukraine’s ports. I want to place on record the Government’s thanks to both the United Nations and the Turkish authorities for facilitating this—it was no mean feat. We have offered the Turkish military any support they require; to date, the Turkish Government have not requested any support, but we stand ready to do that. The United Kingdom continues to gift military aid to the Ukrainian armed forces to help resist the illegal invasion. Since the end of July, when this House rose, we have gifted a further three M270 guided multiple-launch rocket system platforms, and accompanying missiles. We are now working on an additional package of support. The total funding committed to this support is £2.3 billion.
In June, I recognised that training is as important as military hardware, which is why we embarked on establishing a network of training camps in the UK to train 10,000 Ukrainians. That was accompanied by specialist armed training across a number of countries in Europe. So far, we have trained 4,700, and I am delighted that over the summer we were joined by forces from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Canada, Holland and New Zealand; they are all now in place alongside British military personnel delivering that training. The training cycle is now in its third iteration and, after lessons learned, we have now extended it to a five-week syllabus. We are already seeing this make a difference to the combat effectiveness of Ukraine, and we are evolving the course and feedback to make sure that the experiences do exactly what the Ukrainians need.
Support for Ukraine goes beyond the here and now. Being able to plan for the medium and long term requires international funding. So at the beginning of August, at the invitation of our Danish friends in the Danish Government, I co-chaired with them a conference in Copenhagen. So far, we have amassed pledges of up to €420 million of support, including through an international fund for Ukraine. We are working through the governance of the fund with our international partners and we hope to add to it when I present more details this week to the Ukraine defence contact group convened by the United States in Germany on Thursday. The fund will be used hopefully to support a range of measures, including ammunition production, to ensure that there is a sustainable supply over the long term in Ukraine.
I would like to place on record my appreciation of the Prime Minister’s enduring support for Ukraine throughout the process, without which a lot would not have been possible. I am grateful, too, for all the support of all the parties in this House for the action we have taken. That allows us to lead on the world stage with determination and a focus on all the things that are right about Ukraine’s defence from an illegal invasion and on the fact that we share such common values of freedom, and respect for sovereignty and the international rule of law. I hope all of us in this House do so—I know from experience that we do so. This Government’s commitment to Ukraine remains unwavering and enduring, and I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome this statement on day one after the recess and on day 194 of Russia’s brutal illegal invasion of Ukraine. I thank the Defence Secretary for the regular briefings he has given during this period to those in all parts of the House and on all sides. On behalf of Members on all sides, may I say that we trust that he will remain in his post in the new Truss Cabinet?
I say on behalf of my party that we now stand ready to work with the new Prime Minister to maintain the UK’s united support for Ukraine and united determination to stand up against Russian aggression. President Putin expected Ukraine to fall within six days. Six months on, the massively brave Ukrainian resistance, military and civilian alike, is stronger now than it was in February, and all the Government’s moves to provide military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian help to Ukraine will continue to have Labour’s fullest backing.
We strongly support the UK’s training programme for new Ukrainian army recruits, which the Labour leader and I saw for ourselves on Salisbury plain. I am humbled by the fact that those brave new recruits whom we met last month are now on the frontline, fighting in Donbas. I thank the Defence Secretary and Brigadier Justin Stenhouse for organising our visit. Will this training under Operation Interflex be extended beyond the initial commitment of 10,000 troops and beyond the basic soldiering skills currently covered?
We also welcome the extra long-range missiles and unmanned air systems announced over the summer. What is the strategy behind our military assistance? Is it designed to help Ukrainians hold current ground or take back more territory from Russian forces? What action has been taken to replenish our domestic stockpiles? How many new contracts have been signed? Has the production of replacement NLAWs—next generation anti-tank and anti-armour weapons—now finally started?
The war is entering a critical new stage, with Russia unable to deploy the overwhelming force needed for a decisive breakthrough and Ukraine well on the way to sapping the will of the Russian army to fight, hitting ammunition dumps, command posts and airfields deep into Russian-held territory. With the Russian military leadership under increasing military pressure, does the Defence Secretary agree that we are approaching another turning point, where Putin is likely to step up efforts to persuade the west to lean on Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations? What are the Government doing to counter such activities?
What are the Government doing to explain to the public that the energy crisis and supply disruptions are not a result of Russia’s war, but an essential part of Russia’s war? Russia is fighting on the economic battlefield, not just the military battlefield. What action will the new Prime Minister take to help the country with escalating energy costs, rapidly rising food costs and the highest rate of inflation in this country for 40 years?
On the subject of the new Prime Minister, before the Tory leadership campaign, the Defence Secretary and Defence Ministers said that the invasion of Ukraine proved the integrated review right. They said:
“if more money were made available, there are other things that we would do more immediately than regrow the size of the Army.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2022; Vol. 718, c. 688.]
Then, towards the end of the leadership campaign, the Defence Secretary wrote of the new Prime Minister:
“I welcome her plans to update the integrated review, reconsider the shape of our forces, and increase defence spending.”
I welcome his conversion to the arguments that Labour has been making for well over a year, but what does he believe now needs updating in the integrated review? Will he halt his plans for Army cuts? Will the £1.7 billion cut in day-to-day MOD spending now be replaced?
Finally, very few people believed Ukraine would still be fighting Russia’s invasion six months on. We now know that Russia’s aggression will go on a lot longer. Will the Government set aside individual announcements and instead set out a grand strategy of long-term military, economic and diplomatic support, so that we can help ensure Putin’s invasion really does end in failure?
I am grateful for the support of the right hon. Gentleman and his party on Ukraine. I apologise to him that he did not get my statement earlier. I changed it at the last minute—I was taking a bit of time as I wanted to give the House as many facts as we could and declassify some material.
It is my ambition that Operation Interflex—the training of Ukrainian forces in the UK with the international community—goes on as long as necessary, for now. We set a target of 10,000 troops, but through this pipeline I envisage that we will continue to train as many as are sent by Ukraine, to ensure that we are providing forces for them during the offences they are engaged in. Last Thursday, I again visited Yorkshire and met some troops who had come back. I met one man who had been injured by shrapnel and another man who, not long after leaving, had used a British NLAW to destroy a Russian tank. The scheme has a double benefit: we are learning as we go and improving the curriculum to ensure they get the very best training—they already want to learn more about some things and less about others—and our own troops are learning on the latest battlefield what our enemy does and how we deal with it. That is incredibly important, and we will continue to supply and support them as long as possible. When they arrived for the first curriculum I went to visit them, and some of those guys were getting off the plane in their tracksuits, training in uniforms and then having to hand them all back. They now leave here with 50 pieces of uniform—equipped, ready to go, with much better battle training and so on—to go into the next phase of their training in Ukraine. We will continue to supply that.
How many are trained, again, is in the hands of the Ukrainians, but we already know that they will want more specialist training. That is where I often convene our international partners, because they might want to do that closer to Ukraine than in Yorkshire or wherever we are delivering it. Those are the two phases, but the training is still going strong. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman came to visit, and I am happy to facilitate the leaders of the other parties or their Defence spokespersons to come and visit it as it progresses. I notice we have all the Vikings—the Danes, the Swedes and the Finns—all in the same camp, so come October time they will be able to teach us about working in the cold. That is very good.
Our strategy is to give the Ukrainians the absolute best chance either to negotiate, when they wish to, from a position of strength or to defeat Russia in their own country—to hold their position, to push back the Russians and, if necessary, to defeat Russia within Ukraine, to ensure that Russia comes to its senses and withdraws from its military and illegal action there.
We signed off last week on more replenishment of the high-velocity anti-air missiles, which are made in the same factories as the Thales NLAWs, to ensure that they are replaced. Right across the western industries there is a challenge with replenishment. Many of the supply chains have been dormant, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will know—as I think either he or the Leader of the Opposition made a visit to Belfast—that it is not as simple as switching on a tap. I have been very clear that we will place the orders, but we need to encourage the arms industry to invest as well.
It is not just for us to effectively pay for manufacturers to double their production lines; those lines will be full of customers, and we would like to ensure we get the balance right. Nevertheless, I will not sacrifice our readiness and our stocks to do that. The industry has letters of comfort from the accounting officer in the Department to say, “We will be placing orders, and you should start to proceed.” I met the head of BAE recently, who said it is already starting to expand its production, so that is on track.
The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne is absolutely right about the energy crisis. It did not come out of nowhere; some of it was about peak demand post covid, but President Putin is weaponising energy. He has weaponised a lot of other stuff over the years: he has weaponised cyber, political division in our countries, misinformation and corruption, and energy is just another plank in his arsenal. It is important that we communicate to our constituents that some of the deeply uncomfortable times that we all face are driven by a totalitarian regime in Russia that is deliberately setting out to harm us and trying to test whether we will sacrifice our values for our energy costs. That is very important.
For what it is worth, President Putin is sowing the seeds of the end of energy dependency, not only for Russia but around the world. We must all work on putting investments into renewables, which many Governments have talked about—I have been in this House under both Labour and Conservative Governments—but diversity of supply is also important. In the long term, Putin has put Russia in a weaker position. Switching off the pipeline instantly will just persuade Germany even more that it has to invest in something else, and I think that is a good thing.
I am delighted to join the right hon. Gentleman on a commitment to more defence spending; I wonder whether he will join us in our commitment to 3% of GDP on defence spending by 2030. I have always been very clear that as the threat changes, we should change what we do and how we invest. The Armed Forces Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), has made the point that it is not as simple as taking whatever extra money we get and doubling or increasing our troops; the lesson of Ukraine, as I have often said, is that history shows that when people spend lots of money on lots of new platforms and on certain numbers, they can hollow them out and not actually produce medium, small or large perfectly formed units.
If we have more money, I can assure the House that we will ensure that our soldiers and sailors are less vulnerable than they are today, that they have the 360° protection they need and that we invest in the enablers to make sure that the frontline is properly supported. All the vulnerabilities that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown—across the western armies, not just in the United Kingdom—will be fixed. At the same time, we will make sure that we fix the forces we have with better maintenance, better spares and everything else, so we can be more available and readier.
It is always tempting at these times for people to come out with ideas that are like going back to the steam train. Some people still want to go back to the steam train. There is always a tendency to want to suddenly mass up, but if we mass up without the appropriate funding, we will be in a mess in 10 years’ time. I do not want to repeat that.
Although the commitment to 3% of GDP on defence is welcome, 2030 is further away in time than the entire duration of the second world war. It would be nice to see that commitment, which the Select Committee on Defence originally called for about six years ago, implemented a little sooner than the new Prime Minister plans. Can the Defence Secretary confirm that the extra expenditure on replenishing the arms supplies that we are giving to Ukraine is being met with extra funds from the Treasury reserve? What steps are we taking to ensure that the Russian people get the same message about the failure of Putin’s campaign that the rest of the world can clearly see?
On the latter point, in one sense it is sad, because it is people’s lives, but in Russia they cannot ignore the long and continued train of bodies to their loved ones and families. It was not missed by Soviets in the Afghan conflict. The terms “boys in zinc” and “load 200”, which are now in the Russian vocabulary, refer to the planes that brought back the dead bodies: zinc was what they used to wrap them. That is clearly before people in Russia. It is not helped by the misleading, dishonest and manipulative state information that tries to say that these people died fighting Nazis. The only people who are displaying a fascist tendency in Ukraine are the Russian regime; it is not in any way being extolled by the Ukrainians defending their soil. But we obviously do our best.
On the increase to defence funding, some of that £2.3 billion is replacing gifted equipment from our own stocks; that is already being done. We were able to release the GMLRS M270 because we received some others from another country, which we are refurbishing. We will continue to keep pace and make sure that we do not sacrifice too many of our own stocks. At some stages, there are also opportunities when our stocks come out of life or approach their sell-by date and are perfect for gifting, because they will be used. We have already planned to replace them. Some of the NLAW orders are actually quite old, because we knew anyhow that they were coming out of date; they were a 2003 weapon, so we had already started that process. I think it is NLAWs, but I can happily write to my right hon. Friend about the exact weapon system.
I thank the Secretary of State for the update that he has given the House. Like many, we have been watching over the summer period as Ukrainian forces take back their territory. In one sense, although we would rather none of this were happening, it is heartening to see that weapons being supplied by this country are being used so successfully on the battlefield. Let us be clear about what that represents and what arming Ukraine’s armed forces represents: it is, by definition, an act against fascism and war to support those who are the victims of a campaign of genocide.
It is also heartening to hear of the training by UK armed forces and partnered armed forces that is taking place. I think my office is in the process of organising an opportunity for me and the leader of the SNP here, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), to witness it at first hand.
One thing that definitely worries me—we are starting to see it happen across Europe—is that the unity that we have all maintained over the past six months or so is starting to crack as winter arrives. We saw that in the massive demonstrations at the weekend in Prague and, I think I am right in saying, in Cologne. That is something that we must—absolutely must—stand against.
The single best way to end this war is for the Kremlin to recall every single Russian troop on Ukrainian soil. All the calls to end the sanctions now, as though that would somehow help to end the conflict in Ukraine, are a falsehood, but that takes us to another important aspect of the war, which is the information war. As winter bites, as bills go up, as the effects of the conflict start to appear in people’s bank accounts, and as an obvious information war from Russia takes place in that respect, can the Secretary of State assure the House, or outline to the House—this is similar to what the shadow Secretary of State asked—how he will ensure that we are fully equipped to withstand that information war? Standing with Ukrainians is the right thing to do, and that is something we need to communicate well.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, to not stand would be infinitely worse in a decade’s time. If we do not stand together and deal with them now, these threats will not go away on their own. To the people in Prague or Cologne, I say that if someone gives in to the drug dealer or the guy that gets them hooked on heroin, he will be back for more in a good few years. We should not forget that, sadly, this is an opportunity to diversify our supply, and that will be better for everyone in the long run as well.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman will come and visit; if he has any problems, he should let me know. It was 3 Scots doing the training. I saw a lot of bemused Ukrainians, because the battle order that the 3 Scots wear in the field is a kilt. I saw them being piped through the battle runs. It was curious: I could tell that some had developed a love of the pipes, but that others had not. I will give them some more battle inoculation; that will be much better. It is incredibly important.
Again, there is a danger of the media narrative that people are losing interest crowding out the action. Chancellor Scholz recently announced another €500 million. President Macron said that we pay “the price of freedom”. At the conference in Denmark that the Danish organised, there was no shortage of international attendees. In total, we pledged €420 million and I am hoping for more; the Dutch, the Danish, the Swedes and the Norwegians have all pledged money. Our actions are the opposite of the narrative of “Isn’t everyone bored?”—I do not think they are; I think the international community is strong.
Of course, people in Members’ constituencies will feel it and respond, but again, I ask everyone in the House to make it clear to their constituents that part of the extreme gas prices that we are facing is a direct result of President Putin.
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning Turkey’s role in getting the grain out. Indeed, Turkey remains a valued and vital ally in the NATO alliance. I am sure that he, like the rest of the House, will have been horrified at the footage that emerged over the summer of the mutilation of prisoners of war through having their genitalia removed by scalpels, which was filmed and put out there. Those war crimes must be prosecuted. I ask him to reiterate the support that the United Kingdom is giving to the investigations into those terrible war crimes.
On the investigations, as Defence Secretary, I am not entirely on top of that relationship, but I know that the Attorney General visited Ukraine a few months ago and worked closely with the international prosecutor. We are assisting countries such as Canada in gathering evidence to submit to the International Criminal Court. Like my right hon. Friend, I was appalled by the crimes that we have witnessed. We saw the castration and heads on spikes. The reported number of people killed in Mariupol is in the tens and tens of thousands—it is unverified, but I saw 87,000 in an open media source yesterday. People should not forget the scale of the war we are witnessing. I never thought in my generation we would see such actions from Russia—directed from the top—on the edges of Europe. The tragedy is of history repeating itself.
I pay tribute to Lord Harrington, who has resigned today. He been an excellent member of our Government, who managed to smooth the way when it came to refugees and settlement. I am informed that the Ukrainian refugee scheme has been the largest resettlement scheme since the war, with 120,000 Ukrainians having settled here. I will do all I can to ensure that scheme is extended to keep people in this country. The fact that so many people have come here is a symptom of what is going on in their country, and we are determined to ensure that brutality does not win the day.
That was going to be my exact question: on the next step of the scheme. None of us wishes to see Homes for Ukraine become homeless Ukrainians on our streets. Perhaps some other Departments are not as enthusiastic as the Defence Secretary and need to be rallied to provide a follow-on scheme—particularly given the meltdown in the private rented sector and the lack of a deposit scheme for the second phase—so that we can play our part in helping the 9 million refugees created by this vile conflict.
Although the scheme has some imperfections, as it was done in a rush, I think it is absolutely brilliant. I will be urging its extension and I know that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), is keen for that too. I cannot speak for the here and now, but I will do what I can to extend the scheme. It has worked. It does work. Many of us will have met Ukrainians in our own communities. It is good to welcome them and do anything further that we can.
May I first echo the comment of the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), about how fitting it is that this should be the first statement the Government make on our return to Parliament?
So many Members on the Government Benches hope for the Secretary of State’s continuity in his role in the new Administration, so that we can press our efforts as effectively as possible. May I just press him on something he admitted to about dormant supply chains? Our conventional armed forces are an important part of our deterrent posture, but dormant supply chains are no deterrence at all. What lessons are being learned about the future—not just for this conflict—about how to give real credibility to our deterrent capability through our conventional forces with active supply chains that can sustain a long period of warfare if necessary?
My hon. Friend makes a point about one of the consequences of a hollowed-out armed forces. Those who save money in the areas no one notices—such as hollowing out ammunition stocks—because they are always spending on something nice, shiny and brand new, pay for it. Industry will not just keep supply chains open for nothing. One lesson is to ensure that whatever we put in the field and whatever military we commit to, we equip it properly, support it properly with the right logistics and ammunition, and create the relationship with industry so that it knows when we are going to top up or keep it at the right level.
It is also incredibly important to ensure that we invest in the skills base, which in some parts of the country is well invested in by the Government and the primes. Last week, I went to Barrow-in-Furness to see 1,000 young people starting in the submarine and shipbuilding skills academy to learn the skills needed to equip our armed forces and engineering capacity into the future.
I get very angry when I hear people such as Mick Lynch of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers suggest that it was the EU that effectively led to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and that there were lots of people who were fascist and Nazi in Ukraine. That infuriates me, so I am glad to hear what the Secretary of State has said today. It also infuriates me when I hear people suggest that this has only been going on for six months; it has been going on since 2014, and we in the west did not take it seriously enough. The most shocking statistic of all is that 10 people who have now been sanctioned by the UK were given tier 1 visas to live and work in this country. When are the Government going to honour their pledge to publish their review of the tier 1 visa scheme?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Actually, to be honest, the writing was on the wall for many of us in 2008. I remember his experience as a member of the all-party group. On our watch—all of ours—Russia has turned from a country that we had hopes for into, effectively, an authoritarian, intolerant state that is oppressing its own people. Let us not forget that accompanying this Ukraine invasion is a mass oppression of its own people. People who disagree with Russia, or even criticise it, go to jail. We should all put our hands up to say that none of us did enough back in 2008 onwards. [Interruption.] I am not the Home Secretary, but I would be delighted to see that published—[Interruption.] I think I will go back to the Back Benches. Look, when I was security Minister, I had deep concerns about all of those things. We did some work on tightening up the first time round, but there is always more to do.
I welcome the news that we have trained nearly 5,000 Ukrainians through Operation Interflex. What assessment has my right hon. Friend had from Ukraine about the effectiveness and usefulness of the training? May I also ask him about the capacity of training: are we training the numbers that Ukraine wants us to train and is he seeking further partner nations if this capacity could be expanded?
There are two parts to the training. First, can Ukraine release enough training population? It obviously needs people for it to carry out the fight—we can only train what we get. We are always pressing to do more, and we have plenty of capacity to do more. If Members have a training camp near them, or in their constituency, I urge them to go and see it. The dedication from Ukrainians of all ages, including the hours they put in, is phenomenal. I met a man in his 60s who had joined up and was being put through it. We have a lot more capacity. It is also great that our international partners have joined us, because that means they can take a share as well.
I know the Secretary of State will have had a good reason for mentioning 3 Scots, but I hope that he recognises the contribution of the Irish Guards in the training. Over the summer, I was talking to a friend who was very proud of the role that the Irish Guards were playing.
I thought that Olena Zelenska made a very powerful contribution yesterday. There are concerns about boredom, lethargy and support right across the western world as this conflict drags on. Her juxtaposition between counting the pennies as opposed to counting the pennies and counting the casualties powerfully spoke to many of us who want to ensure that our support is enduring and lasts as long as it needs to last. I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind that there are supporters right across this Chamber who want to ensure that the public do not lose interest and continue to recognise the goal that we all seek.
Yes. I understand—and the hon. Gentleman, from the part of the world in which he lives, will also understand—the cost of standing up for freedom, the rule of law and doing the right thing. They do not come easily and at no cost. To be fair, I think the British public know that. Apart from one or two emails in my inbox, I have not found many people who have remotely swayed from the opinion that we are doing the right thing in Ukraine. That applies to all parties. In my constituency, it does not matter whether they are voters from my party or not—[Interruption.] I notice that I have just had a missed call from the Foreign Secretary, so I hope that I am not being sent to be the Home Secretary after that—I hope she was not ringing me about that. We still have a united population, which is a good thing.
I commend the continued leadership that the Secretary of State and his team have shown over the past few months. It is particularly important to help stiffen the resolve of our European partners because we are in this for the long haul. On that basis, there has been speculation by recently retired generals that, given that this could drag on and that Putin sees little prospect of winning, he may resort to using battlefield nuclear weapons. What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of that possibility and what does he think the response of NATO would and should be?
We do not hide from the fact that Russian military doctrine involves the use of tactical nuclear weapons under certain conditions—that is public knowledge. The conditions are not remotely met for that, but we have nevertheless seen President Putin evoke nuclear weapons in public more than 35 times, I think, in the last six months. Of course we are mindful of that and, as I have said all along, it is incredibly important that we calibrate everything we do in the west to make sure that this is about Russia in Ukraine and saying that Russia must fail in Ukraine. It is not a threat to the Russian state. The west and NATO are not organising against the Russian state; the international community is organising to help Ukraine defend itself. That message is loud and clear. The consequence of the use of tactical nuclear weapons would be global condemnation of Russia by all countries, including countries such as China, and I think President Putin is well aware of that.
The jury is not out. Our friends are our European allies, and our foe is Putin’s regime and the illegal invasion of Ukraine. Maintaining western unity is really crucial, but each western country is facing the same economic problems of rising inflation and rising energy costs. What is the Secretary of State’s strategy for maintaining that unity in the many years ahead?
All of us have come together more times in the last six months than we probably have in the last four years, and I have said that I am off to the US airbase at Ramstein on Thursday to meet some 40 nations that it has convened on many occasions. What I would say is that the political body of Europe is pretty solid. Yes, there are a few stragglers, but fundamentally it is strong.
The hon. Lady mentions rising inflation, which is considerably driven by rising energy costs. The rising energy costs are the result of President Putin using energy as a weapon. The reality for us on both sides of the House is that we can take some measures to take the edge off the energy prices for our constituents, but the global price is driven partly by a man in the Kremlin who is determined to use it to try to punish us. The British, just like the French and the Germans, are tough enough to make sure we will not be bullied by that. What we have to do is work together to either mitigate it or find alternative fuel sources to try to reduce prices. In the meantime, we have the political challenge from the Opposition on how we will help our constituents.
I heard the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on nuclear weapons, but is he aware that President Lukashenko recently announced that he has completely refitted the Belarus air force to be able to carry nuclear weapons? What effect does the Secretary of State think that will have on the Ukraine war?
Yes, I saw those statements by the President of Belarus. He has been remarkably canny in not entering his own forces into the war, although we have often seen Russian munitions launched from the territory of Belarus. I think it is inevitable that he will try to escalate that by saying that the Russians could give nuclear weapons to Belarus and that his planes could carry them, but that is why NATO has a nuclear deterrent and why Britain provides that nuclear deterrent. Somewhere out there in the Atlantic is one of our patrol boats, which never stop patrolling, to make sure that the nuclear deterrent is capable and ready. As much as that is not what some people wish, I am pleased that we have it now.
During my time as my party’s defence spokesman, the Secretary of State and his ministerial team have treated all my questions and inquiries with great courtesy. I thank them for that, and I wish them all the best for the future. Equally, last week, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) had an excellent briefing from the MOD as the handover between him and me takes place. Will the Secretary of State pass on our thanks to his officials as well?
Napoleon’s Grande Armée and Hitler’s Wehrmacht fell foul of the Russian winter, and the rest is history. Will the Secretary of State explain what we are doing to help our friends in Ukraine to train for a brutal and severe Russian winter? It can have a massive impact on tactics and strategy unless we are prepared for it.
The first thing to say is that the Ukrainians are as tough, if not tougher. A Ukrainian winter and a Russian winter are pretty similar, and their history shows that they are pretty good at dealing with them. We are in constant discussions with our Ukrainian counterparts and have already made provision for winter warfare clothes, and we will ensure not only that they are supported with that, but that it brings an advantage.
Will the Black sea initiative, which the Secretary of State spoke about, allow materials such as ammonia to come out of Ukraine? I gather from reporting that the initiative will only be in place for 120 days if all parties agree. Is there a contingency plan for ensuring that in the depths of winter there is a secure food supply?
I will have to write to my hon. Friend on what individual cargoes are available, but he is right that there is currently a time limit on the initiative. That is why working with our Turkish friends is so important to try to keep that going. It is also why it is important that, with 100 ships waiting, we make sure we get that grain out as quickly as we can.
Is the Secretary of State aware that some of us on the Opposition side of the House were a bit worried that he might have become leader of the Conservative party? I congratulate him on his determination to remain Secretary of State for Defence, and he will certainly have the support of many of us for the way he has handled that job in recent months. First, I wish to press him on the role of the BBC World Service in getting good news out around the world. It is a vital component and should be encouraged. Secondly, is the Royal Navy playing a full part? He mentioned it in passing, but we recently had the embarrassment of one of our new aircraft carriers breaking down, so is everything all right with the Royal Navy and is it able to play its part?
In the next few days HMS Queen Elizabeth, the other carrier, will depart to fulfil the duties of HMS Prince of Wales, which shows one of the benefits of having a second carrier. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments; I do not know what to say in response, but that job was not for me. Some people are braver than I am when it comes to that type of job, and I am lucky in this House in that I feel fulfilled, and there are not many people in politics who get to make a difference. As far as I go, I am delighted—but who knows; I might be off to the Home Office. We will carry on, working across the House, to make sure that we look after not only our troops and our people, but the people of Ukraine.
I commend the Defence Secretary for his outstanding response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine; he has set an example that every other western Defence Minister should follow. The Royal Navy’s naval mine counter-measures capability is world class, completely outstanding and second to none. Have we been able to share any of that expertise with the Ukrainian navy to help guarantee the exports of grain shipments from Ukraine across the Black sea?
My hon. Friend is right to observe the unique, often global, expertise of our mine-clearing capabilities. We have Ukrainians being trained in that right now in Portsmouth, and at the same time we are working with other Black sea nations in the same space. Obviously, with the Montreux treaty being invoked by Turkey, we cannot put military ships into the Black sea, but we are teaching and supporting Ukraine and our other colleagues in the Black sea.
There has always been strong cross-party support for our military assistance in Ukraine, and I am sure that will continue. Like the shadow Secretary of State, I clocked the commitment that the incoming Prime Minister made on 24 July to update the integrated review in response to Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Will the Secretary of State say a bit more about what preparations are being made to do that and, critically, whether in the interim there will be no cuts to capability, including personnel?
The size of the Army currently stands at about 79,000. There has not yet been a reduction from the 82,000 as such. In fact, I think it is higher than when I first started as Defence Secretary, so my record is in the wrong direction at the moment. We will obviously look at the issues around vulnerabilities. The integrated review identified Russia as our most pressing adversary, and I do not think that anybody is going to need to change that observation. If we receive more funding—I think the first preparation for battle will be with the Treasury, to make sure that we get the profile that makes the difference—I will of course be delighted to have a much wider conversation with all Members of the House about where they envisage us spending that money in order to make our armed forces the very best they can be. We have a role to play not just in Ukraine and Europe, but globally. That is one of our differences and I would be delighted to explore more with hon. Members.
History can be a double-edged teacher. We know that the Soviet Union lost out in Afghanistan because public opinion among the people of the Soviet Union turned so firmly against it. Are we able to do more to make sure that real information is getting through to the Russian population, particularly older people who are dependent on state-controlled media, about what exactly is happening to their sons in Ukraine?
There are two parts to that. Obviously, we do our best to make sure that the people of Russia understand what is going on, and I would be delighted to arrange a briefing for the hon. Gentleman, if he would like one. On the wider issue, we should not forget that, although this is not getting out of Russia, the Russian people are feeling it themselves. It is not possible to ignore the cemeteries, with lines and lines of graves, the exodus of international companies, or the fact that the standard of living is starting to drop in some parts. The problem is that, in a country whose Government do not really listen to, or care much about, their own people, I am not sure that has a major effect on the decision makers, but we need to never stop telling the Russian people what is actually going on.
Following the International Atomic Energy Agency visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Mr Rafael Grossi, the agency’s head, spoke out very strongly about the risks to the integrity and safety of the plant from the fighting that is taking place around it. We understand that the report will be out in a week or so, but what is the Government’s plan—indeed, what is the international community’s plan—to take forward the report’s recommendations? Does the Secretary of State think that the Russians understand the risks that are being taken with the safety of the plant through what has been going on, or does he feel that they do not care?
This is a personal view. Do I think Russia cares? Not really. I do not think it cares about anything that it is seeking to capture. It has destroyed Mariupol and killed and brutalised everyone who seems to get in its path. One of the anxieties of the Baltic states is that, historically, the defence plans were to hold an invading Russia and to try to get there in a number of weeks and push them back, but the Estonians and the Latvians will say, “We don’t have a couple of weeks, because look at what they do.” It is no accident that we saw, on the Chernobyl site, Russia deliberately using its forces to frighten, to demand attention and to potentially use it as a hostage.
I am pleased, to be fair, that they let the UN inspectors turn up. I am pleased that they were allowed to leave people behind. Of course, as I said in my statement, the fact that no international media were allowed to accompany them is obviously a worry, and that relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about the BBC World Service, which is one of our best soft power tools globally. It is highly respected. I am of an age to remember the late President Gorbachev—who, we should not forget, was a significant force for change in Russia in his time—saying that he listened to the BBC World Service during the short coup when he was captured and it was the only place he got news from. In these days of social media, the BBC World Service can be a rock in a storm.
One of the major flanks drawing the international community into one place—there has been a focus on countries such as India—is the need to stop dependence on Russian energy, yet the energy crisis makes that ever more difficult. Will the Secretary of State say more about how he is holding the global community together to oppose Russia’s ongoing assaults, particularly its weaponisation of energy in this conflict?
I know that the hon. Lady is keen on environmental issues. Some of this starts at home, because we can all ensure in our countries that we do not just talk, but get on and invest both in renewables and, I would say, in more nuclear and alternative energy supplies. The United Nations General Assembly is coming up soon, and I noted that some of the G7 communiqués referred to capping Russian oil prices to send a strong message. We must ensure that all these international forums, which are now coming even more to the fore, are used to remind Russia that its actions are completely unacceptable. I urge India to be more strident in that space.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the head of the British Army said recently that the Army must be prepared, working with our allies, to successfully confront the Russian army. In that context, will the Secretary of State at least commit to examining whether it is appropriate for the Government to cut our Army by 10,000?
Obviously, it is for Her Majesty the Queen to appoint the next Prime Minister, but the new leader of the Conservative party has committed to more defence spending. I will absolutely look at how we can populate our armed forces to give us the best readiness and the best availability of equipment, and at how to ensure we can be more persistently present around the world, and that will involve considering force laydown and the required size of our forces. For example, we simply do not have enough long-range artillery, and we do not have any ground-based, long-range, anti-air capability. That will come with more platforms and equipment, and it will come with more people, but not remotely as many people as an infantry battalion would. We should look in the round at what capabilities we need and at what that means for the number of people needed to man them.
As it becomes accepted that Russia has failed in all its objectives, and as the public accept the success of the Ukrainian defence, the risk is that that will lead to complacency about the dangers facing the Ukrainians and that public interest will start to wane. The Secretary of State spoke powerfully about the counter-offensive in Kherson and about the risk of increasing Ukrainian army casualties. Has our training and support for the Ukrainians had to change as they move from a purely defensive posture into starting to retake land? What further support might we need to give in this next stage of the conflict?
First, the curriculum has become less defensive and more offensive as we teach the Ukrainians how to assault positions and so on. As for what more we could do, I will give a small but important example. Historically, when a soldier was injured on the battlefield, they were evacuated to a company battalion or company aid post. However, owing to the existence of modern, cheap drones that can drop grenades, the Ukrainians are having to treat their people where they fall for longer before they can move them in, for example, armoured ambulances. That means they need more tourniquets, because securing the blood supply is more important than ever, given that the casualty will not get to an aid post as quickly. Those are the sort of the things that we look for in the training and feedback, and we then immediately try to buy it, source it or seek donations to try to help the Ukrainians on the battlefield. We were there back in 2015 training Ukrainians under Operation Orbital, and we have been there all along with the Canadians, the Swedes and the United States. It pays dividends in our relationship that we know what they need in the here and now.
The hon. Gentleman is also right about Putin’s longer-term strategy, and I think he is counting on two things. The first is the international community getting bored, not sticking around and splitting up, and he may just say, “I thought it would take three months, but it only took six.” Secondly, he is counting on the fact that his brutality is how to win a war, and we must not let that message be successful, because if Putin is successful, all our adversaries and all those around the world who think that brutality and breaking international law are the ways to win will take succour from that.