House of Commons
Tuesday 17 October 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
I have regular discussions with our P3 partners—the French and the Americans—and with Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates on how we can bring together the international community in support of the United Nations plan for Libya, which in our view offers by far the best hope for that country and the best prospect of security for all its people.
We must all be aware of the reality in Libya, and indeed in Sirte: there is a tragic absence of security and the problems of that city have yet to be resolved. But when they are resolved—they will be addressed, and are being, with the help of this country—the people of Libya will indeed have fantastic economic prospects, and that is the objective of this Government.
The power vacuum in Libya is sucking in economic migration from the rest of Africa, causing deaths in the Mediterranean as migrants try to flee to the European Union. What can the Foreign Secretary do to make sure that the international community recognises the scale of the problem that it faces in this benighted part of the world?
As I have been saying, the key thing is to bring together all the sides in Libya—the two halves of the country, Mr Swehli, Mr Saleh, Prime Minister al-Sarraj and of course General Haftar—to change the Skhirat agreement of 2014 to get a new political settlement and then to have elections, and through those elections to produce a unified Government that we believe offer the prospect of peace and security in Libya.
My hon. Friend also raises the problem of illegal immigration, which the UK is of course doing a great deal to combat.
When challenged about his recent “clear the dead bodies” remarks, the Foreign Secretary said that his only critics were those with
“no knowledge or understanding of Libya.”
Can he therefore respond to Guma el-Gamaty, the head of the Libyan Taghyeer party, who said:
“Libyans fought and died fighting Islamic State in Sirte…Many remain where they fell…It is insensitive to talk about those bodies as if they are some obstacle to British businessmen enjoying beer and sunbathing. The very least he should do is apologise to the families of the young men who died”?
Will the Foreign Secretary now directly apologise to those families today?
By far the best thing this Government and this House can do is to get behind the plan this Government are promoting to bring security to Libya and to Sirte, which would do honour to all those who fell fighting Daesh in Libya. That is the way forward for that country, and that is the course we are promoting.
That is a very good point, because one of the difficulties in Libya over the last few months and years has been the tendency of actors across the international landscape to try to come up with their own plans, which has allowed the various parties in Libya to play one part of the international community off against another, and not to do the deals that are necessary. What needs to happen now is for the various parties in Libya to put aside their selfish interests and co-operate in the name of the country as a whole.
The Foreign Secretary is certainly right to say that he has managed to bring people together in Libya. Quite remarkably, he has been criticised across the political divide, as well as by a former British ambassador, and he was described as having “dishonoured” the sacrifice of those who fought and died in Sirte. Will he now retract his comments, and will he tell us whether he is the best placed to take forward a relationship with Libya?
I do not believe that political point scoring of this kind or trivialising the reality—[Interruption.] Ignoring the reality of the security situation in Sirte does no favours to the people of Libya. They want to see the international community concerted and co-ordinated around the UN plan so that their children can have the opportunities that are currently being denied to their own generation in Libya. That is what we are working to achieve.
As the hon. Lady will recognise, the UK’s long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK either to prescribe some sort of solution or to play a mediation role.
In the context of continued reports of human rights violations in Kashmir, will the Minister commit to placing human rights and a peace process for Kashmir firmly on the table as part of any new trade and labour market negotiations with India and Pakistan?
I am very happy to do that. I visited India only last month and was able to discuss the Kashmiri situation. I am hoping to go to Pakistan in the next few weeks, and I will do likewise there. I think all of us in the House recognise that there are human rights concerns throughout both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. We continue to encourage all states to ensure that domestic laws are in line with international standards but, as the hon. Lady rightly says, those human rights issues need to be taken into account when it comes to trade and all the other important work that goes on.
There have been threats from both sides to target nuclear facilities, and talks at the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have broken down, so what exactly will the Government and the Foreign Secretary do to defuse those tensions and promote dialogue?
Obviously we will do our part within the international community—as a member of the P5 at the UN, for example—to encourage all sides to maintain a positive dialogue, but the pace and scope of that must be for India and Pakistan to determine. We cannot insist on that. As I have said, we will continue to discuss the Kashmiri issue at every opportunity, both here in London, and out in Islamabad or New Delhi.
I should like to begin by expressing strong condolences on behalf of the British Government, and indeed the whole House, following the horrifying situation in Mogadishu—this was one of the largest bombs ever. Almost 300 people were killed and 500 were injured. As part of the United Kingdom’s response to that terrorist incident, we have provided support through the counter-terrorist police and the joint operations centre. More broadly, through the London Somalia conference, we are supporting the security infrastructure of the Somali state.
I join the Minister in offering heartfelt sympathy and prayers to President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and his people at this dreadful time. This was the most lethal bomb ever let off in Africa, yet it has received minimal coverage in the west. What more can we do to redouble not only security input but our development efforts, so that we can give the Somali people hope for the future and enable them to triumph over this evil?
The UK Government are doing three things. First, we are providing £170 million in drought response to Somalia, where people are dying of starvation. Secondly, through the London Somalia conference, we have given new energy to the international community, and a focus on economic development and security. The most important thing we need to do at the moment, however, is to focus on the relationships between Mogadishu and the federal member states, where tensions are rising daily.
I want to reinforce how horrifying the attack was and emphasise the threat that al-Shabaab poses to Somalia and the broader regions, and to the United Kingdom. I also reiterate our absolute abhorrence of and determination to clamp down on any British citizen who involves themselves with a group of such extreme horror.
On behalf of the Labour party, I associate myself with the comments about the despicable act by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu. Together with our European partners, we must step up our efforts to destroy that organisation and to help Somalia to achieve lasting peace and stability. To that end, will the Minister assure the House that, whatever the terms of our exit from the European Union, our joint efforts with the EU in Somalia will carry on in exactly the same way?
We remain very committed to working not only with the European Union but, critically, with the African Union, whose troops have taken a lot of pain and sacrificed their lives to keep Somalia together. The US, the EU and the African Union need to work together until the Somali security forces can build themselves up to ensure that the progress that we have made over the past 10 years is guaranteed for the future.
Following the collapse of the Cyprus talks at Crans-Montana in Switzerland in July, there has inevitably been a pause in any further negotiations. We are encouraging all parties to reflect on any steps that they might now take towards constructive future talks.
Like the hon. Gentleman, we all share the disappointment at the collapse of the talks. As he rightly says, they were as close as they have ever been, perhaps for decades, to reaching a settlement. Getting a unified Cyprus is the principal objective of the talks, in which human rights will of course play their proper part.
Along with the UN, we remain flexible as a facilitator to try to bring about a unified Cyprus. However, our sovereign base areas will, of course, remain. They are not subject to negotiation, except in terms of some territory that we might cede, if that were to help.
We are gravely concerned by demolitions, by the eviction of Palestinians and by the increased pace of settlement advancement, including the discussions this week of plans for 3,000 new settlement units to be constructed on the west bank. Such actions undermine both the physical viability of the two-state solution and Israel’s commitment to it.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I recently visited the communities of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya in Area C of the west bank, both of which are under threat of demolition. I was surprised that both have received significant investment from the EU and therefore from the British taxpayer. Will the Minister tell me what representations he has made to the Israeli Government about that?
I visited Susiya in August to talk to members of the community about the pressures that they were under. We maintain a continued interest in legal arguments in relation to both Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, and we regularly make it clear to the Israeli authorities that activities there and other settlement actions are deeply concerning, and undermine the intentions that we all have for a viable two-state solution and a movement towards peace.
I join the Minister in agreeing that such settlements are not in any way conducive to peace, but does he agree that what is required in the end is a negotiated settlement involving the other countries in the region? That will inevitably involve an element of land swap, which the Palestinians have accepted in the past.
It does and, as many of us are aware, the outline of the parameters of a peace agreement, including some degree of land swaps, is known. However, the encroachment in recent years of Israeli settlements on areas well beyond those anticipated to be part of a future land swap undermines the credibility of the so-called commitment to that answer.
We work extremely hard to play our part in fulfilling that second half of the Balfour declaration. I met one of the negotiators appointed by President Trump at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and I was recently in Israel to talk to people there. We believe it is absolutely essential to make progress on the middle east peace process, which is not something to be managed but something to be solved, and the United Kingdom is bending all its efforts to seek to do so, particularly in this sensitive year.
The short answer is yes. Hezbollah appears to have been rearmed in recent years, and the conflict in Syria has provided the opportunity for Iran to supply more weapons—and more dangerous weapons—to Hezbollah. The possibility of a confrontation remains high. Those who have been committed to violence should renounce that commitment and make progress on reconciliation among the Palestinians on that basis, and all the parties involved should seek the peace we all want in the region.
We cannot have a normal relationship with Russia, given how it has behaved in Ukraine and Syria, and given its continuing behaviour in the cyber sphere, but we must engage with Russia, which is what we will do and are doing, to further mutual interests where they exist.
I urge the Secretary of State and his whole team to reread George Kennan’s famous 1947 article on containment, because Kennan predicted that the then Soviet Union, now Russia, would come forward to destabilise Europe, the United States and Japan. Will the Secretary of State also note what Hillary Clinton said yesterday: there is
“a new…cold war and it is just getting started.”?
I remember reading George Kennan’s article many years ago and it contains much wisdom. The tragedy is that, in many ways, Russia is behaving as though there is a new cold war, and our objective is to prevent the situation from getting any worse by constraining Russia and ensuring that we penalise it for its malign and disruptive activities. However, it is also our objective to engage where we can, which is why I will be going to Russia later this year.
A hundred years ago this month saw the start of the Russian revolution, which unleashed misery and purges against millions of Russian people. Although we are right to remind future generations and younger people about the evils of the past, for example through Holocaust Memorial Day, does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to the younger generation to educate them about the warped and failed Marxist-Leninist ideology that continues to unleash misery across the world? People should be very worried about that.
Absolutely. It is also worth reminding people that it was the Labour party that sneered at working people who tried to rise up against such regimes, and it was the Labour party that supported and connived in the repressive activities of Moscow for decades.
Amid reports that Russia is hacking into the smartphones of NATO troops and the ongoing revelations about the Russian online involvement in the US election, what is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the cyber threat posed to this country by Russia and what are his Government doing about it?
We are continually monitoring Russian activity in that sphere. I can tell the hon. Lady that the Russians have been up to all sorts of mischief in many countries, but so far we cannot yet pinpoint any direct Russian cyber-attacks on this country. [Official Report, 14 November 2017, Vol. 631, c. 2MC.]
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assessment of the impact of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 on Russian relations? Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), perhaps he will assure me and others in this House that this Act will be used to prevent corrupt, human rights-denying and human rights-abusing Russian oligarchs from using London to launder their ill-gotten gains?
I can tell my hon. Friend that only yesterday, at breakfast, I met Vladimir Kara-Murza, a distinguished leader of the Russian Opposition and a journalist, who paid tribute to this country for being one of the few European countries to implement what is, to all intents and purposes, a Magnitsky Act. People on this side of the House can be very proud of the role they have played—in fact, people on both sides of the House can.
Broadly speaking, there are two, mutually contaminating ecosystems of terror that we face, one is at home and one is abroad. What the UK is doing overseas is to drive out the terrorists from the spaces they currently occupy, be that in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Nigeria. We are having a great deal of success in that. The ungoverned space occupied by terrorists has been greatly reduced in the past year. In addition, we are working to increase aviation security around the world and, above all, at the UN, with the resolution agreed last month, to bring Daesh fighters to justice.
Following last year’s decision to strip the Foreign Office of its responsibilities for co-ordinating the UK’s diplomatic counter-terrorism relationships, what reassurances can the Foreign Secretary provide that his Department’s unique expertise in this area is not being lost?
I believe the hon. Gentleman is referring to the JICTU—Joint International Counter Terrorism Unit—arrangement we have across government. I think he would accept that in view of what I have said about the mutually contaminating ecosystems of terror that we face, where people are being radicalised online here at home and people are in the ungoverned spaces, be it in Iraq, Syria or wherever, a one-Government approach has to be taken to all this by Her Majesty’s Government. It is right therefore that we co-ordinate with the Home Office to tackle this, but we are also tackling it overseas. One aspect of international diplomacy which the Prime Minister has been leading is countering online radicalisation and taking more than 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material off the internet.
May I remind the Foreign Secretary that 20 million Russians died in the second world war, without which we might have lost the war? Does he agree with Sir Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, that despite Russia’s being a leading nuclear power, a member of the UN Security Council, a fundamental source of hydrocarbons and other vital raw materials, and a leading player in the middle east, we are, through “pointless sanctions” and “demonisation”, doing everything we can
“to push Russia into China’s arms”?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Sir Tony Brenton that this may prove to be
“the geopolitical blunder of a generation”?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out Russian sacrifice in the war. He is quite right to allude to it, although I might also point out that probably 30 million people died in Stalin’s purges and famines and various other things associated with communism which, as I say, were indulged by the Labour party. [Interruption.] It is true. My hon. Friend’s point about engagement is valid, and that is what we are doing.
One of the things we need from cross-Government co-ordination is for British citizens who fought for Daesh to be prosecuted for genocide and war crimes. More than 400 people from this country have fought in that conflict and come back here, but not a single one has been prosecuted for either genocide or war crimes. Surely that must change.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As he knows, they are guilty of a crime—what they have done in going to fight overseas is a crime—and they should be brought to justice. What we have done overall is to call for the evidence that we need to prosecute them to be gathered by the special investigative team that has just been set up by the UN, thanks to the UK’s agency.
Did my right hon. Friend notice Tony Blair’s remarks over the weekend in which he recognised that the international community was wrong not to enter into dialogue with Hamas when it was elected in 2006? In the light of the deal between Hamas and Fatah that has been brokered by Egypt, is there not now another opportunity to engage Hamas in a dialogue in order to draw it into a constructive position and at least have a chance of making it a more constructive player?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question; he brings great learning to this subject. In the end, there might be the prospect of Hamas being brought in—of course that must be right—but before that can happen it has to renounce terror, to recognise Israel’s right to exist, to cease and desist from vile and anti-Semitic propaganda and to abide by the Quartet principles. Nevertheless, what he says has a profound truth; if only Hamas would listen to it and act on what he says.
The whole House can be proud of the way the country responded. We have committed £62 million to meet the immediate—[Interruption.] Excuse me, Mr Speaker; I am answering Questions 10 and 15 together with Question 8—
I am obliged and I stand corrected, Mr Speaker. I am answering Questions 8, 10 and 14 together, because they all relate to the impact of the hurricane.
The House can be proud of the way in which the country responded. We have provided £62 million to meet the immediate humanitarian needs. We deployed 2,000 military personnel and delivered 600 tonnes of aid. We fielded fantastic quantities of calls, not least from colleagues, some of whom I see are present behind me. I am chairing an inter-ministerial group to support a long-term recovery plan to get those overseas territories and British citizens back on their feet.
I am grateful for the sentiment that my hon. Friend has expressed and his willingness to come to the defence and support of our military and our aid workers. I saw from my own direct experience that they did an absolutely fantastic job. I will not hide it from the House: I was surprised to see on the news—before the hurricane had even finished—that I had received a letter denouncing the UK’s performance and our response from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I thought that was hasty, and I hope to be able to explain to him when I appear before his Committee, as I shall shortly, that I thought it was a premature judgment.
I really must advise my hon. Friend that the extent of the damage is so considerable that he must see it for himself. It is quite extraordinary. Hon. Members should understand that the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla have seen nothing like this for generations, and it will take time, but we are committed and we will be there for the long term.
The Foreign Secretary is right to pay tribute to the British armed forces for the part they played in the overseas territories, but it is also right to recognise that the contribution that the British Government made both immediately and in the days after Hurricane Irma was considerably less than that of their counterparts in Holland and France in their overseas territories. It is absolutely crucial that, going forward, the investment that the islands need means that those people no longer look with envy to their French and Dutch counterparts.
The hon. Gentleman is completely in error when he says that. In point of fact, both the French and the Dutch appealed to us at various times for help with their own needs, and, of course, we were very glad to supply that. We are now working with them and the Americans to make sure that we have a joined-up plan to react in the event of any future hurricanes.
As I have said, there is a long-term plan to restore those overseas territories to full economic health, and it will take a long-term commitment from this country. I want all those British nationals there to realise that this Government are absolutely determined to vindicate their rights and to give them the support that they need.
Following the hurricanes, the British overseas territory has a reconstruction bill of about £4 billion. The Government are providing grants to the Dominican Republic, but seem to be relying on private sector loans for the British Virgin Islands. With the loss of EU funding, is it not time that the Government stopped trying to fiddle the definition of overseas aid and set up a dedicated scheme and used the contingency reserve for the first year?
If I may humbly correct the hon. Lady there has been no loss of EU funding so far. As she will understand, EU funding will continue for some years—let me put it like that. [Interruption.] In the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that, one way or the other, we will get through the very considerable sums that are needed—whether it is through the Caribbean Community or the Caribbean Development Bank. The assessments of the requirements are only now coming in. We must wait to see exactly what the bill and the requirements are before we start pushing out the money. When we have a full understanding of the requirements, we will ensure that the UK stands behind the plan.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi on 7 and 17 September. I met her in Naypyidaw in Burma on 27 September, and the Deputy Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly on 20 September. We called for an end to the violence in Rakhine state, a safe return for refugees, full humanitarian access, and, most importantly, implementation in full of the Annan Commission’s recommendations.
We are seeing the heartbreaking pictures and hearing the tragic stories of the plight of the Rohingya people on a daily basis now. Will the Minister increase his representations? Specifically in the light of the evidence of the atrocities by the Myanmar armed forces, does he feel that the decision to lift the EU sanctions against the military regime was premature?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful question. What is going on in Rakhine is a human tragedy and a humanitarian catastrophe. When the UN lifted sanctions in 2011, it was trying to encourage a road towards democracy, which has obviously happened with the election that took place only 18 months ago. With hindsight, one might argue that these sanctions were lifted prematurely. However, a lot of Burma watchers would say that the sanctions did not have a huge effect. There was not a great deal of money from the Burmese military in western bank accounts in the way that applies, for example, to sanctions for Russia, China and elsewhere.
As I said, it is a humanitarian catastrophe out there. Sadly, this increasingly appears to be an accurate description of the situation. It is now essential for the Burmese authorities to enact the positive measures that were announced by the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Thursday evening. They include the establishment of a new civilian-led body to oversee refugee returns and the development of Rakhine into a state in which all communities can live together sustainably.
That is a matter for the UN. The issue of genocide is a legal one and it will be determined at UN level. I understand that there is some frustration and a perception that diplomatic advancement has been slow. We have taken a lead in this. There have been two closed meetings and an open meeting of the UN Security Council. The truth is that a headlong rush to get a Security Council resolution along these sorts of lines would most likely end up being vetoed by the Chinese or the Russians. We need to move together as an international community, recognising that these serious crimes must be properly dealt with.
I discussed Catalonia with the Spanish ambassador to the UK on 11 October. Our embassy in Madrid regularly discusses the issue with the Spanish Government. We also routinely engage with the Catalan regional Government on matters that fall properly within their competence.
The referendum provided a clear mandate for independence with over 92% of voters voting yes, despite horrific violence by the Spanish authorities. Yesterday pro-independence leaders were detained and charged with sedition. Surely the British Government and the international community should now be guided by the words of Woodrow Wilson:
“‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of actions”.
We should support the values of peace and democracy, not the forces of oppression.
Malaysia: General Election
We encourage all countries, including Malaysia, to conduct open and transparent election processes. Naturally that should include external observation missions, which I believe—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman believes—are important to achieving a legitimate democratic outcome.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. Election observers can help to check that electoral registration in constituencies and districts, campaign finance and polling day are all above board. Will the Minister do what he can to help our friends in Malaysia show the entire world that these elections can be free and fair?
I very much hope so. As the hon. Gentleman points out, Malaysia is an important partner for the United Kingdom, with co-operation across a range of areas, including security, prosperity, education, foreign policy and Islamic finance. He will be glad to know that I have a routine meeting—tomorrow morning, no less—at the Foreign Office with the high commissioner to Malaysia, and I will ensure that his heartfelt views are put forward.
I was proud, on 21 September this year, to speak at the United Nations Security Council when it unanimously adopted a UK-drafted resolution, which involved the deployment of an investigative team to Iraq to help bring Daesh perpetrators to justice. The United Kingdom is giving material and moral support to this work.
Absolutely. I have been to the region twice in recent months to speak to Iraqi authorities about what is happening to make sure that areas formerly occupied by Daesh are given support. We strongly support the work being carried out on behalf of the UK Government through the Department for International Development to make sure there is stabilisation. We recognise not only that these areas need physical reconstruction but that the political reconciliation that brings different sides together to work in effective local governance is a key part of the solution for the future.
The UK is leading the global coalition’s efforts to disrupt and counter Daesh’s communications. Can the Minister broadly say what we are now doing differently, as a result of our learning against this fast-moving and fluid organisation, from what we were doing a couple of years ago?
It is a good question. There is a certain amount that can be said and cannot be said. We are all aware that Daesh operates in an increasingly sophisticated way. It should never be underestimated. Those who are fighting in the region fight not just physically but through the internet and through the spread of false ideological information and the like. The UK takes certain steps to deal with this, in company with partners, through cyber-protection and the like. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as Daesh’s attempts to infiltrate the minds of people have stepped up, so have our attempts to counter that.
We are, of course, supporting the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s plans to hold a detailed forum for Commonwealth parliamentarians in February 2018, before CHOGM. As my hon. Friend will know, we intend to have a range of contemporary issues discussed, including security, prosperity, climate change and all aspects of human rights, ahead of the national debates that will take place at the Commonwealth summit in April 2018.
I thank the Minister for that reply, specifically because it advertises an event this afternoon offering colleagues the opportunity to find out more about the forum. What specific opportunities will there be for parliamentarians at CHOGM and in the two years after CHOGM, when the UK is in the chair?
My hon. Friend, a former Minister, makes a valid point. There is no point having large-scale meetings such as CHOGM if we see them as an end in themselves. We need to have plans for the future, and I think those plans are afoot. Let us be honest: there has never been a more important time for us to be networked in, whether with the Commonwealth or a range of other international institutions, on all the issues—particularly around security and prosperity—that should be close to the hearts of all British parliamentarians.
The nation of Sudan may have expressed its interest in joining the Commonwealth, but will the Minister make it clear that, despite Donald Trump’s recent lifting of sanctions on Sudan—a decision welcomed by this Government—there is no way we will allow into the Commonwealth a Sudanese regime that continues to brutally persecute ethnic and religious minorities and to perpetrate the most outrageous abuses of human rights?
I very much understand the shadow Minister’s concern. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa made it clear in meeting Sudan people only yesterday that we are pushing for further reforms. As she rightly says, it would be very premature at this juncture for there to be any application to join the Commonwealth, and it would obviously be a matter for other Commonwealth members to approve.
It is also important to point out that the Commonwealth, as a body, is much respected, particularly in Africa. One looks at countries such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never part of the British empire, but which have joined the Commonwealth. That is a big sign of approval for it, but obviously these things need to be done in a properly concerted manner.
The whole House will wish to join me in condemning the atrocity in Mogadishu on Saturday, which claimed at least 281 lives. Those who inflicted this heinous act of terrorism on a thriving capital city achieved nothing except to demonstrate their own wickedness. We offer our profound condolences to the Government and people of Somalia. Britain shall not rest in our efforts to restore stability in a country that has suffered for too long.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the terrible events in Somalia.
In March, the Foreign Secretary told this House that the Labour party had been “far too pessimistic” about Donald Trump. He said specifically that the nuclear deal with Iran
“was going to be junked”,
“it is now pretty clear that America supports it.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 116.]
Does the Foreign Secretary think that those comments perhaps demonstrate that he has a lack of political judgment?
If I may say so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s question demonstrates that he has a lack of understanding of what has taken place, because, as he will readily appreciate, the United States has not abrogated, or “junked”, the joint comprehensive plan of action. The JCPOA remains alive; it remains intact. It is our intention in this Government, working with our French and German friends, and with China and Russia, as well as with the rest of the European Union, to keep that deal alive, because that is in the interests of the whole world.
My hon. Friend is completely right. The best way forward is to continue with what I think is the common policy on both sides of the House, which is to encourage the Chinese to intensify the economic pressure on Pyongyang with a view to getting it round the table, and that is what we are doing.
At our last session of questions, the Foreign Secretary agreed with the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) that if the EU demanded a single penny in the Brexit divorce bill, then they could “go whistle”. A month later, the Foreign Secretary said—[Interruption.] I appreciate that accountability is difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, but he ought to listen. He said:
“We are law-abiding, bill-paying people”
“meet our legal obligations as we understand them”,
so can he clear up this issue today? Does he accept that there will be a divorce bill or not, and if so, how much should the bill be?
I must very humbly and apologetically correct the right hon. Lady, because she is not faithfully representing what I said. [Hon. Members: “She is.”] She is not. What I said in answer to an hon. Friend on these Benches was that some of the sums I had heard spoken of were, in my view, or in the view of my hon. Friends, eye-watering and far too high. The figure I heard was €100 billion. Would Labour Members cough up €100 billion? Would you, or you, or you? I think they would, the supine, protoplasmic, invertebrate jellies. I think that is the sort of money they would readily fork out. I think it is too much.
Let me just quote again from the last session of Foreign Office questions, when the Foreign Secretary told the House:
“There is no plan for no deal”.—[Official Report, 11 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 141.]
Five days ago, he said that
“we must make the right preparations…for a no-deal scenario.”
We know that the Cabinet cannot stop fighting about the Brexit that they want, but it would be a start if our flip-flopping Foreign Secretary could stop fighting with himself.
I would not dream of calling the right hon. Lady by any name other than Lady Nugee. May I say to her that, in fact, there is a ruthless and an iron consistency that applies not just to everything I have said, but to all the statements made by Conservative Members? We are united behind the principles of the Lancaster House speech, the article 50 letter and every jot, tittle, comma, syllable and every other item of punctuation in the Florence speech. I suggest that she adopts it as well.
May I begin by expressing our condolences to Mr Harron, who has been through a very difficult situation? We are grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this specific case. Consular staff have spoken to Mr Harron’s family, we have dealt with Mr Harron himself, we have provided consular access for friends to visit him and we have provided access to the best legal advice. He is currently on bail, awaiting sentence for an alcohol-related offence. The point about the travel advice is one that we take very seriously, and we continue to review it on a regular basis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter of real seriousness in Egypt. I met leaders of the Coptic Church just last week with the support of His Grace Bishop Angaelos, and I am going to the Coptic service later today to express further solidarity. We raise these matters directly with the Egyptian Government, who view these terrorist attacks with the same degree of horror as we do, and who are doing all in their power to stop them. We will continue to urge just that.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in thanking Ambassador Frank Baker for all his tireless work in Iraq? He has worked with the Foreign Secretary, Secretary Tillerson and the Iraqi Prime Minister to put together a deal that would have avoided the catastrophic situation that now plagues the country between the Kurds and Baghdad. Will the Foreign Secretary urge all sides to come back together around the negotiating table on that framework and negotiate a deal?
I want to thank my hon. Friend very much for his work in this sphere. There is no one who knows the Kurdistan Regional Government or Kurdistan better than he does. Clearly, to a great extent the troubles that are now befalling that area were anticipated. We saw this coming, and we warned our friends in Kurdistan that it would happen. My hon. Friend also did a great job of warning them. We now have to manage a very difficult situation, and it calls for calm heads and negotiation.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. The Government are united on a very coherent policy, and we made a very generous offer. If I may say to the gentleman that he quotes, whose name I did not, alas, catch, it is up to our friends and partners in the EU to look seriously at the offer we are making, particularly on citizens, and to make progress. Everybody wants to make progress, and everybody wants to give the 3.2 million EU citizens in this country the maximum possible reassurance and security. That can only happen once our friends and partners decide to get serious in these negotiations.
May I thank the Foreign Secretary, notwithstanding our differences, for his personal intervention in the case of a constituent of mine who, along with her 22-month-old son, was rescued from Dominica by our Government—I am very proud of that —and brought back to this country safely? Unfortunately, she is not entitled to any benefits for three months, and she is relying on the generosity of the great people of Broxtowe. In the circumstances, will my right hon. Friend at least look at the bill for her flight home and consider waiving it?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who I know has campaigned assiduously for the rights of this particular constituent, and I congratulate her on everything she has done. Unfortunately, that kind of agreement would set all sorts of precedents, but we will look at the particular case and we will certainly see whether we can come up with a payment plan to extend the period of the loan.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I spoke this morning to the Foreign Minister of Iraq, and I am speaking later to representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government to do exactly what is being expressed in the House—to urge caution on all sides, and to continue a careful dialogue to make sure that there is no possibility of a miscalculation leading to conflict. It is essential that matters are pursued on a constitutional basis, but there is a difficulty at the moment in getting accurate information about precisely what is happening in the region. We are doing all we can to verify all stories, but we are also doing all we can to cool down the situation.
This Government have promised protection to an area of ocean equal in size to India, covering Pitcairn, St Helena and much more. I think it is a source of huge pride for our country, but we are not all the way there yet, so I hope the Minister can provide an update on progress, specifically in relation to Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, both of which have been promised protection —in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
I am very happy to update my hon. Friend in due course on the exact details of those two, but I think we can all bask in the reflected historic glory, as it were, of having pretty much the largest ocean protection area in the world, apart from the United States, which made ours one of the most effective voices at the oceans summit in Washington last year.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the failure of communications has greatly exacerbated the difficulties. One of the things we have been trying to do is to restore mobile communications as fast as possible. We are putting in a £5 million aid package to Dominica through the Department for International Development, and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, has written to our Prime Minister to express his profound gratitude for the Government’s response.
I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s earlier remarks about Hamas, but does he share my deep concern about the groups linked to Islamic State that now have a presence in Gaza and Sinai and that, even in recent days, have been firing rockets into southern Israel?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Absolutely—rooting out those terrorist organisations in Gaza and Sinai is hugely important, not only for those who live in the immediate target area but for wider regional peace. There can be no peace without a rejection of violence, particularly rocket attacks in relation to Israel, but there are indications that something is going on that may help the process of peace in the area.
The short answer is no, as the Foreign Secretary indicated earlier, until there is movement on the Quartet principles. However, resolution to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza is urgently needed, and we are doing all that we can to support that.
Do Ministers share concern about the apparent continuing erosion of the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong following the disappearances of booksellers, the recent imprisonment of a democratically elected representative and, last week, the refusal of entry into Hong Kong on a purely private visit by UK citizen and human rights campaigner Ben Rogers, who is watching our proceedings today? If so, what action is the Foreign Office taking?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is fair to say that broadly UK-Hong Kong relations remain strong, and there is bilateral work. However, I very much accept her position. We are very concerned that Ben Rogers, a UK national, was denied entry into Hong Kong on 11 October in absolute disregard of the one country, two systems principle. The Foreign Secretary has issued a statement, and the Foreign Office director-general for economic and global issues summoned the Chinese ambassador on this issue over the past few days. We have also made representations to Beijing, and I shall write to Carrie Lam in Hong Kong in the days ahead.
I thank the Minister of State for what he said, and the Foreign Secretary for issuing that statement. Ben Rogers is an outstanding and articulate champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Asia and elsewhere, well known to Members on both sides of the House. His treatment was utterly scandalous, and those responsible have certainly not heard the last of it—of that we can be sure. I call Paula Sherriff.
West Oxfordshire has been celebrating the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Royal Air Force Brize Norton this weekend with a magnificent sculpture at the main gates. The extraordinary history of that station is exemplified by its response to our hurricane relief programme. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in celebrating that response and provide an assessment of the contribution that the station made to our humanitarian hurricane response?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to congratulate RAF Brize Norton on its anniversary and all its achievements in tackling the consequences of the hurricane. Along with colleagues on the Government Benches, I used RAF services during trips to the region, and the station will continue to be absolutely vital to getting those areas back on their feet.
In view of the Foreign Secretary’s self-declared “ruthless consistency”, will he tell the House why he now thinks that we should accept the judgments of the European Court of Justice during the transitional period that the Prime Minister has announced the UK will now seek?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the implementation period that we have suggested is still under negotiation, so we will have to see the result of that negotiation. We do not know as yet whether our friends and partners will accept the suggestion of an implementation period. What we do know is that we have made a fair—we think reasonable—suggestion on money, citizenship, the Northern Ireland question, rights and privileges, and so on. It is now up to our friends and partners to decide how they will respond. If we are going to get on to that kind of question, now is the time for them to do so.
Reports from Cameroon describe barbaric clashes between security forces and civilian opposition. The internet and phone lines have been cut, and constituents of mine with family members in the country are rightly concerned about their welfare. What can my hon. Friend do to help stop the worsening crisis and help people find out about their family members?
Clearly, the situation in Cameroon is very disturbing. As my right hon. Friend suggests, the Anglophone community has been particularly victimised in terms of internet access, which has now been restored. We call on all parties to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law, and call particularly on the Government of Cameroon to exercise restraint and address the root causes of the dispute.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the tragic and unexplained death of my constituent Kirsty Maxwell, who died in Benidorm in April this year. Her family are distraught, as the investigation’s progress has been very slow and there are a number of issues. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Kirsty’s family to discuss what further support can be given at this very difficult time?
At present, I do not think there is any reason to change the arrangements of the armed forces who have worked with the peshmerga and have done such an outstanding job to push back Daesh. What we are all hoping for is that there will be no conflict in the area and that the determination already expressed by both sides to prevent any conflict will lead to a peaceful resolution of the current difficulties.
As Amnesty International among others has pointed out, the disproportionate use of force by police against civilians is contrary to international law. What representations has the Minister made to his Spanish counterparts about the treatment by Spanish police of civilians voting in the Catalonian independence referendum?
People understand that we do not wish to see scenes such as that, but it is the duty of everyone in this House personally to uphold the rule of law. I very much regret that Scottish National party Members considered it appropriate to call themselves “official” observers at what was an illegal referendum.
Yesterday’s red skies were a timely reminder of the Russian revolution 100 years ago, which brought such chaos and suffering. In the light of indications that Russia seeks to destabilise western democracies, does the Secretary of State share my concern that Russia’s state broadcaster appeared to be providing a platform to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and its campaign to inflict socialism on the UK?
Order. This tendency to name people is very unseemly. I said earlier that it was vulgar. If it was vulgar from the illustrious figure of the shadow Foreign Secretary, it is also vulgar from the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). The tendency must cease.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s excellent question. If we study the output of Russia Today and consider the state of the press in Russia at present, we see that it is a scandal that Labour Members should be continuing to validate and legitimate that kind of propaganda by going on those programmes. [Interruption.] I am assured by my ministerial team that none of them does so.
Further to the questions about Kashmir, we are talking about two states with nuclear arms possibly edging towards a conflict, and we should all take that seriously. Given our unique historical relationship with both countries, cannot pressure be brought to bring the two sides together to engage in some sort of meaningful dialogue?
It is the 14th minute of injury time already —unlucky for some, I think. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier answers on this issue. We understand that clearly there is a worry: as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and the world can ill afford this flashpoint. From my own discussions in India and Afghanistan—I am going to Pakistan next month, as I said—there seems to be a lessening of some of the tensions. We can take nothing for granted, but ultimately this must be an issue for India and Pakistan rather than anyone else.
I remind the Minister that we are in injury time, and that is at least in part because questions and answers at Foreign Office questions are always longer. As a Clerk of the House once said to me, “Mr Speaker, I think that Ministers tend to feel that they’re addressing not merely the House but the world.”
I warmly thank the Foreign Secretary for suggesting that he and I should visit the BBC Monitoring Service at Caversham Park before the crazy decision is implemented next year to sell off the site and break our link with the similar American operation there. Will he remonstrate with his officials, however, on the grounds that 45 minutes for a walk-through on a Thursday is not long enough for him to see what is going on there? Given also—[Interruption.]—that the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee cannot accompany us, should the visit not be altered?
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that it was former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo who said we should campaign in poetry but govern in prose? The next time we hear the Foreign Secretary quoting Kipling, will he be campaigning or governing?
Much as I would like my hon. Friend to take over this particular matter, I will answer.
I know that this case, which my right hon. Friend raises with me whenever I see him on the parliamentary estate, is very close to his heart. I raised it this month during my visit to India and spent a day in Chennai, when I had a chance to visit the men in prison. It was heart breaking, but the determination of those men and their families is to be much admired. I also saw the families in my office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I should take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend and other MPs across the House who represent the Chennai Six. I know that a huge amount of work has been done. I cannot make any promises, and I do not want to raise expectations that we cannot meet, but we are doing our level best here and in India to bring them back as soon as possible.
I seek an apology from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who is no longer in his seat. The SNP did not send official observers to the Catalonian referendum. The Catalonian Government invited observers from across Europe and the Israeli Knesset. In addition to me, other Members of the House and a peer of the House of Lords, Lord Rennard, were present. We were there as international parliamentary observers, just as Conservative Members were in Gibraltar in 2002 at the request of the Gibraltar Government, despite that being an illegal referendum. I would like an apology and the record set straight.
I have understood the hon. and learned Lady, but we do not need to delve into the archives and refer back to 2002 and comparable examples. I recognise it is something that a distinguished legal practitioner is accustomed to doing, but we are short of time. If Ministers want to apologise, they can, but they are not under any obligation to do so.
I am afraid that the Foreign Secretary is shaking his head. It is clear that he does not wish to apologise. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point with force and eloquence, however, and it is on the record; it will be in the Official Report. If that does not satisfy her, I hope it at least mollifies her.
The United Kingdom has a deserved reputation as one of the most open economies in the world, one that welcomes international investment and the benefits it brings. Our position as the fifth-largest economy in the world has been built on international trade and investment. Today’s Green Paper affirms our commitment to that approach, and sets out proposed reforms of our scrutiny of foreign investment to ensure that our national security is protected.
An open approach to international investment must include appropriate safeguards. It is vital that the UK Government can deliver on their primary duty to safeguard national security and ensure that the interests of the British people are protected, and it is important for the Government to have both knowledge of potential national security risks to the UK and the ability to act where necessary. Our review has highlighted the need for that to be updated to take account of the changing structure and size of companies in sectors that are critical to our national security. Our reforms will bring the UK in line with many major developed economies. We want to develop clear, consistent and proportionate rules which will enable us to scrutinise the ownership of our infrastructure, but which will also be well understood and will give international investors the clarity and transparency that they require.
We are proposing a two-stage approach. First, I am updating our current arrangements by consulting on amendments to the Enterprise Act 2002 to enable the Government, if necessary, to intervene in mergers that fall outside the current provisions. In most sectors, the thresholds in the Act allow the Government to intervene in mergers on public interest grounds only if the acquired company has a UK turnover of more than £70 million, or if the share of supply is 25% or more of the market. The thresholds are no longer appropriate for certain sectors, particularly those in which smaller companies may hold technologies that are critical to national security. For those sectors, we are proposing to introduce amendments through secondary legislation that would lower the turnover threshold to £1 million and remove the requirement for the merger to increase the share of supply to 25% or more.
Specifically, I am consulting on amendments to the thresholds for the dual use and military sector, and certain parts of the advanced technology sectors. The first relates to items that are currently subject to export controls. Hostile actors should not be able to acquire such items, or knowledge about how to make them, by buying UK-based businesses. The second relates to companies that are involved in the design of computer chips and quantum technology. Advanced technologies can create threats that are difficult to detect, and may mean that devices could be directed remotely should a hostile actor gain access.
The Green Paper also seeks public views about options for broader reforms to the way in which we scrutinise investment for national security purposes. In particular, we are seeking views on two proposals: broadening the range of transactions that the Government are able to review for national security purposes, and the introduction of mandatory notification of foreign investment in certain parts of the economy that are critical for national security, such as the civil nuclear and defence sectors. The Government intend any reforms to be firmly targeted at national security. While the national security assessment must, by its very nature, remain confidential, we will also seek to provide greater certainty and clarity for businesses in respect of the process itself. Our proposals will ensure that our arrangements for protecting national security are aligned with the practices in other major countries, and are more robust in response to the evolving nature of national security threats and technological change.
Let me say something about takeovers more generally, outside the area of national security. We have held discussions with stakeholders, including the Takeover Panel, about the current process. Those discussions have covered the need for more information and time to allow for the assessment of takeover bids by interested parties, and to enable assurances given during the takeover process to be properly assessed and compliance-scrutinised. We believe that the changes recently proposed by the Takeover Panel would improve the UK’s takeover rules, and we look forward to the conclusion of the consultation.
The Government will also act, when appropriate, to ensure that public funds are protected in mergers. In particular, we will take steps to ensure that Government-funded research and development grants can be clawed back following a takeover if the new company would have been ineligible to receive the grant. or if the purpose for which the grant was made has changed.
Let me now turn to an international investment announcement that was made late last night. On Tuesday, I briefed the House on the trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier. My colleagues and I have been constantly engaged from the outset, and have considered all the alternatives that we can bring to bear to resolve the dispute. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that yesterday the boards of Bombardier and Airbus announced plans for a joint venture involving the C series aircraft. The deal is expected to be completed by the second half of next year. I have spoken directly to the chairman of Bombardier and the chief executive of Airbus about the joint venture specifically, and I have also discussed the matter with Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. My top priority has been to emphasise the importance of giving certainty to Bombardier’s high-quality UK workforce, now and in the future.
As the House well knows, the Shorts factory in Belfast employs more than 4,200 highly skilled workers and supports a supply chain of hundreds of companies and many more jobs across the United Kingdom. Airbus also has a large presence in the UK, employing more than 15,000 people, and is firmly rooted in the UK’s advanced-technology industrial base. It is in all our interests for the C series to be successful. Both Bombardier and Airbus have made a number of important commitments to me, including commitments that C series wing manufacturing will continue in Belfast, and that the strategy will be one of building on existing strengths and commitments.
This announcement offers the potential to protect the interests of Bombardier’s Belfast workers and the UK supply chain. The UK is already Airbus’s wing factory for the world, and the announcement reinforces that position. The trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier’s C series remains in place. We consider Boeing’s action to be totally unjustified, unwarranted and incompatible with the conduct that we would expect of a company that has a long-term business relationship with the United Kingdom. We reject entirely any suggestion that our support for Shorts contravenes international rules. We will continue to work to see the dispute resolved while Bombardier and Airbus complete their merger.
I remain in close contact with Airbus, Bombardier, and the Canadian and US Governments. I will be speaking to the chairman of Bombardier and the chief executive of Airbus again later this week for an update on progress. I will, of course, continue to meet the representatives, and to meet Members of Parliament with constituency interests, who have been assiduous in standing up for their constituents. I will do everything I can to secure, at all times, the best possible future for Bombardier’s Belfast workforce and its UK-based suppliers.
I commend my statement to the House.
The news that Bombardier and Airbus will be forming a partnership will be welcome to the thousands of Airbus and Bombardier staff who are employed in the United Kingdom, but can the Secretary of State confirm that he has received unequivocal assurances from Airbus and Bombardier about the security of UK jobs in the long term? The pairing of two cutting-edge product lines is very exciting for the future of aerospace manufacturing, but it should not be an excuse for the Government to diminish their efforts to ensure that the unfair tariffs imposed in the United States are dropped. Will the Secretary of State give more details about the further action that he proposes to take? For example, has he written to the European Commission?
Britain clearly wants to be open to investment, despite reports that the Office for National Statistics is revising its investment position downwards. However, it would be naive to allow key businesses to be at risk from people who have no interest in the long-term success of a business, its workers and its pensioners, or in the long-term interests of the British economy.
Today’s proposals are welcome, but I have some concerns. First, I am concerned about the delay in the presenting of the proposals. In the last year or so, we have seen mergers that have called into question the adequacy of our merger regime to defend vital economic interests: jobs, research and development, and the significance of the company involved to the supply chain, to name but a few. For instance, our biggest chip manufacturer, ARM, was sold to Japan’s SoftBank. ARM is one of the jewels in our crown, developing cutting-edge chip design and generating thousands of jobs, yet there was no guarantee that R and D—or investment, or jobs—would be protected in the long run. The best that our takeover regime could generate was post-offer undertakings by SoftBank for five years on some of those issues.
That is not an isolated example in the high-tech world. The UK firm Imagination Technologies was sold to Canyon Bridge just a few weeks ago, and our automobile sector has also witnessed the shortcomings of the takeover regime. PSA’s purchase of Opel and Vauxhall raised concerns about jobs and investment. Yet again, our takeover regime was unable to guarantee that those things would be protected, and this week we have heard about the risk of voluntary redundancies. My first question to the Secretary of State is this: why did it take so long, given the manifest deficiencies in the regime to which we drew his attention earlier this year?
My second concern relates to the inadequacy of the proposals. They seem to lower the threshold tests that must take place before the competition authorities and the Government can scrutinise a merger. However, those lower tests apply only to the dual-use and military sector, and to companies that are involved in the design of computer chips and quantum technology. But there are other high-technology sectors that are also in need of the same protections, including life sciences, and food, chemical and automobile manufacturing, to name but a few on a very long list of sectors and business areas that are systemically important to UK plc. These powers would have given no assurances to companies like Unilever, for example, who might try to resist a takeover and have been calling for better safeguards in the takeover regime overall.
Similarly, it is not clear how these powers would have helped in many of the cases I have mentioned where they potentially do apply. Indeed, this morning when the Secretary of State was asked whether these powers would have altered the takeover of ARM, he stated that the turnover of that firm already qualified for scrutiny so this would have made no difference.
So, finally, does the Secretary of State agree that his proposals, while welcome, on the thresholds in particular, fail to protect companies that still fall within them, and will he confirm what further action he proposes to take, because action is desperately needed?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her response and questions. On Bombardier, I am grateful for her recognition—which I hope and think is shared across the House and certainly in Northern Ireland—that this is a very positive step forward. I have been very clear that we will continue to seek to strike out and resolve the trade dispute that has been brought by Boeing. Given what we have been doing during the weeks since the initial complaint was made, I do not think anyone could accuse the Government of being anything other than full-hearted in our attempts to resolve this, and our efforts, with our Canadian Government counterparts, to find a secure source of guarantees for Belfast have been widely welcomed this morning.
In terms of the assurances given, Bombardier and Airbus have clearly said they regard the Belfast wing operation as foundational. They expect to expand the production, which means good prospects for those jobs in Northern Ireland and the supply chain across the United Kingdom. That is extremely good news. We will continue to pursue to the point of resolution the trade dispute. The hon. Lady asked about the European Commissioner: my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has discussed this personally with the European Commissioner for Trade. We will leave no stone unturned in seeking a resolution of this dispute.
On the proposals in the Green Paper on international investment, I would have thought the hon. Lady should welcome the fact that we continue to be the third-biggest destination in the world for overseas investment. One of the major strengths of our economy is that we have a reputation for dependability and openness, and it is important that we preserve that while upgrading our systems of scrutiny to make sure that the national interest is protected, particularly in the case of national security. In saying that, I note that the hon. Lady suggests that there has been some delay in so doing, but the changes we are making were changes that were not made during 13 years when the Labour party had the chance to address these matters. I hope she will respond to the consultation and welcome it.
It is right that the threshold should be dropped in order to admit small companies: everyone knows that as technology develops, smaller companies can have a critical role to play in producing products that are part of a wider system. It is right to have that degree of scrutiny. But when the hon. Lady reads the Green Paper she will see that, in addition to those initial changes, we are consulting on whether there should be a wider set of powers to require the mandatory notification of mergers in other sectors of the economy, and we make some proposals around that. It is right to consult on that, but it would not be right for every single transaction in the economy to be required to go through an administrative process when it does not pose a threat to our national interest. That is the purpose of the consultation, and I hope she will welcome it.
The hon. Lady raises the question of Unilever. One of the features of the proposed takeover of Unilever was that the company—correctly, in my view—did not feel it had the time to prepare a proper defence of itself, given the current takeover rules. Following conversations that we have had, the Takeover Panel is proposing a more substantial period in which, at the request of the target company, it will have longer to prepare that defence. That will be welcomed across the economy. This is a consultation by the Takeover Panel so we will wait for that to conclude, but I have welcomed it as a positive step forward.
I agree: it is a proud boast that we are the No. 3 nation in the world. We are by no means the biggest nation in the world, but to be No. 3 behind the US and China in terms of foreign direct investment is a real vote of confidence in this economy, and that is something I and my team and my colleagues across Government will always work hard to extend.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for an advance copy of his statement.
The Scottish National party supports measures that best protect our citizens and measures that relate to national security. However, it is not clear why these proposals have been brought forward now, so can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why now, and what the UK Government’s long-term strategy is?
We also believe it is vital that Parliament is fully involved in this process. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the case?
Finally, on military technology, the UK Government must look to their own track record. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the same degree of stringent oversight and scrutiny is to be applied to arms sales abroad?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions, although I am surprised that he did not want to welcome the investment decision in Bombardier. In response to his—perfectly reasonable—question, “Why now?”, it is right to upgrade our systems for scrutiny periodically. A national security risk assessment was carried out recently, which correctly pointed out that smaller companies have the potential to pose a threat to national security, and these measures respond to that. We are publishing a Green Paper; Parliament is being invited to scrutinise it, as the essence of a Green Paper is that it is published for Parliament, as well as people in the outside world, to examine. On military technology and the scrutiny of arms sales, I think the hon. Gentleman should know that that is already subject to a licensing procedure.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that robust due diligence is always carried out on foreign investment when it might afford other Governments control of systems that are closely linked to national security, such as the grid?
That is the essence of the proposals, and it is necessary to update them from time to time in line with the recommendations that arose from the national security risk assessment. It is very important—it is the first duty of Government—to make sure that we are protected from hostile threats.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of the need to widen the public interest test, but express some disappointment that his definition of it does not appear to include cases where British companies that are fundamental to the science base would be at risk of acquisition, as in the abortive Pfizer AstraZeneca bid, and more recently in the successful bid for ARM, Aveco and the many smaller companies now being acquired on the back of a cheap pound.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will be aware that under European law we are limited in the public interest test to questions of national security, financial stability and media plurality. That is the situation that exists, hence the proposals that we have are around strengthening national security. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to study the Takeover Panel proposals to give a longer period for the scrutiny of any bids in the public domain, allowing the target company to respond, because from what I have seen so far, that has received a very positive response in corporate Britain, and when that consultation concludes I very much hope it will be enacted.
There are occupants of the Treasury Bench to whom I once taught economics, and I used to tell them that the United Kingdom owned more assets overseas per capita than any other nation on earth. Do we still believe in the free movement of capital?
We certainly do, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has been part of the process of educating generations of Conservative Front Benchers. In fact, the UK’s stock of overseas investment is second only to that of the United States of America. For this country to be second only to the United States in terms of the value of the assets that we own overseas is a remarkable achievement, and he is right to pay tribute to that.
I sincerely thank the Secretary of State and the Energy Minister, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), for their steadfast support for Bombardier and Belfast. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, in encouraging a union between Bombardier and Airbus, Boeing has scored a spectacular own goal? Will he continue his commitment to supporting that partnership, both in terms of the tariff proposition from the US International Trade Commission and of the regulatory considerations to come?
I will indeed, and I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is the constituency Member for the Bombardier Shorts plant in Belfast. No part of the United Kingdom could have a more vigorous representative of the interests of its constituents than his constituency. He and his colleagues have played an important role in this process. The reaction of Boeing is clearly a matter for that company, but I have been clear that as long as that unjustified and unmerited complaint is being pursued, we will vigorously defend it. We think that the complaint is without merit. As I said when I last updated the House, it is in everyone’s interest that the complaint should be withdrawn so that the relationship that Boeing seeks to have with this country should not be marred by the unjustified action that it is taking. My hon. Friend has my commitment on this.
I welcome the Government’s attention to this area. I note that research and development in areas of critical national security often occur in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to how these proposals might impact on the propensity of people to invest in that sector?
It is important that investors, especially those starting up a firm for the first time, should reflect on the fact that the UK is the best place in the world to establish new scientific and technological companies. They can invest with confidence. The ability to scrutinise investments should not put anyone off establishing a firm in this country. It is often possible to deal with security concerns through conditions and undertakings, and getting that framework clear and in place will give confidence to investors in the future.
I welcome the Bombardier announcement—it is very good news. However, future Airbus investment in the UK will depend on a Brexit deal that allows the company to operate as it does now. The company has been very clear about that, and it will mean having a deal rather than no deal. For example, if a wing leaves Broughton but then needs further work, British Airbus employees can leap on to a plane and follow it. They might be away for days or even weeks. Will that be able to continue post Brexit?
My colleagues and I meet regularly not only with Airbus but with the whole of the aerospace industry, which is one of our most successful industries, and we are well aware of how the sector and the companies within it work. This informs our negotiations to allow us to ensure that that way of working can continue.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the investment in Bombardier. As the fourth industrial revolution accelerates and new technologies emerge, will he consider introducing a call-in mechanism to allow flexibility when the Government scrutinise transactions for national security concerns?