House of Commons
Tuesday 4 September 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
University of London Bill [Lords]
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 11 September (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Official Development Assistance: Endangered Species
The Foreign Secretary meets the International Development Secretary regularly to discuss Government action on the illegal wildlife trade and to plan for the UK-hosted international conference in October, which will focus on countering that hideous crime.
Welcome back, Mr Speaker. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that Britain’s international aid budget will be used to boost mutual trade. Would my hon. Friend the Minister also like to see more aid used to support conservation efforts to similarly boost the protection of endangered species through, for example, more invaluable park rangers?
My hon. Friend draws attention to the work we are already doing in this area. I had the privilege during the recess of complimenting the British Army, which is helping to train and work with rangers in Malawi. While I was out there I announced a programme that helps with alternative livelihoods to poaching for people who live around that park.
It is good to be back, Mr Speaker. Last week the press informed us that 10 black rhinos, which are an endangered species, were moved from one location to another without the water there having even been checked. It turned out to be salt water and the 10 rhinos died. Is it not possible to do things better when trying to save endangered species, rather than letting such things happen?
I did see reports of that very unfortunate incident. I am not clear whether there was any UK Government involvement, but it was a very sad incident. The summit we will host in October will see delegations from all over the world putting their heads together on the ways in which we can tackle the issue, both through law enforcement and through creating areas and safe space for species, and other ways in which we can work together with the rest of the world to tackle this hideous trade.
The situation in Burma/Myanmar remains of real concern. On 27 August, the United Nations fact-finding mission published a report that said that there were grounds for prosecution of members of the Burma military for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In the face of such serious allegations, no country that considers itself humane can stand back and do nothing.
The UN’s report states that the violence against the Rohingya continues to bear “genocidal intent”. As the official UN penholder on Myanmar issues, the UK has so far failed to refer it to the International Criminal Court. Does the Secretary of State agree that ethnic cleansing must not go unpunished, and will he commit to pushing the UN to refer Myanmar to the ICC?
I very strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that ethnic cleansing, in whatever shape or form, wherever it happens, should never go unpunished, and that the perpetrators of these appalling crimes must be brought to justice. He is right to say that the UK has a special responsibility as the penholder. I intend to convene a high-level meeting of Ministers in the margins of the UN General Assembly later this month. ICC referral, however, has to happen as a decision of the Security Council, and at the moment it is not clear that there would be consensus on the Security Council to deliver that. I want the hon. Gentleman to be comforted, however, that we will leave no stone unturned to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
There are chilling reports of sexual violence being inflicted on Rohingya people. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm how many experts employed by the Foreign Office under the preventing sexual violence initiative have been deployed to assist in this terrible situation?
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that number, but I will happily write to him with the information. What I can tell him is that our aid to the Rohingya, which is £129 million so far, has helped counsel 2,000 victims of sexual violence. We consider that an extremely important part of our support for this people.
May I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role? He has great relevant experience, and we all know he will carry out his role superbly. Will he ensure he uses all his considerable influence, and that of the British, at the United Nations to make it clear that there can be no impunity for crimes of genocide committed by the Burmese army, which have been so eloquently set out by the United Nations independent international fact-finding mission? Britain has an acute and important leadership role to discharge here, not least because of the tremendous amount of aid and support we have given to the poor Rohingya community over the many years of their suffering.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and commend him for the leadership he showed on many humanitarian issues as International Development Secretary. He is absolutely right: the report said that in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states there was gang rape, assaults on children, villages razed, and, in northern Rakhine, mass extermination and mass deportations. This is the kind of issue where countries that believe in civilised values have to take a stand and make sure that justice is done.
I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new and vital role. While the Foreign Office is considering the damning UN report and deciding how most effectively Britain should respond, will he consider carefully the pros and cons of the current parliamentary engagement carried out by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which has done good work through the Officials of this House? We will need to weigh in the balance whether it is appropriate to continue such engagement.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s experience of the region. Obviously that would be a matter for Parliament to decide, but it is very important that in all our dealings with the Burmese regime they understand that a line has been crossed. It is also important to update the House on the fact that a great deal has happened over the summer months, including an EU decision, which the UK was instrumental in making happen, to impose sanctions on seven individuals in the Burmese military. Much more now needs to be done.
It was a shock to read reports of the jailing of two Reuters journalists in Burma who had been instrumental in reporting the Rohingya massacre. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Burmese Government on the importance of press freedom?
The two journalists were doing what is in the very best traditions of all journalism: exposing evil and bad things that Governments do not want exposed. We are very concerned, and I want to visit Burma/Myanmar to talk about all these issues and will certainly raise the issue with the Burmese authorities.
What diplomatic initiatives are under way to overcome the statelessness of the Rohingya refugees?
My hon. Friend raises a very good question. My colleague in the other place, Lord Ahmad, hosted a Security Council meeting on 28 August to look at all these issues. I will be looking at that particular issue when we have a high-level meeting of Foreign Ministers at the UN General Assembly.
The United Nations panel of experts report is very powerful and is damning of the Burmese military and the Burmese regime more generally. May I urge the new Foreign Secretary to take a lead at the United Nations and build a coalition so that we can refer Burma to the International Criminal Court?
I recognise the enormous amount that the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development. I think we have two priorities in this situation, which is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a justice issue. The first is to enable the safe return of the Rohingya to their home. That is not unproblematic, but it is very, very important because of the humanitarian situation across the border. The second is to ensure that the perpetrators face justice. That will be a long, hard road, but he should rest assured that we are committed to going on that journey.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role, and I welcome his words of assurance that war crimes will not go unpunished in Myanmar, or indeed anywhere in the world. On the latter point, will he do the same for the Syrian and Russian regimes, which according to Syrian doctors are currently bombing hospitals as priority and primary targets, and will he update me on how we are going to take the Russian and Syrian regimes to the ICC?
Order. That is audacious to the point of extreme chutzpah. Much as I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity, I am not sure that I altogether salute his cheekiness. [Interruption.] “Go on”, says the hon. Gentleman from a sedentary position. If the Secretary of State wants to issue one of his brief but eloquent replies, we are happy to hear it.
My hon. Friend should rest assured that we will deal with crimes against humanity wherever in the world they happen.
A year ago, we began hearing first-hand accounts of the horrors taking place in Rakhine state. I travelled to the region as a doctor and am still haunted by my meetings with mothers who had to choose between rescuing their children from fires and running with the ones who were still alive. The military have now focused their attention on the Kachin in Myanmar. Can the Secretary of State tell me how many more minority groups in the country will be persecuted before the UK Government hold Aung San Suu Kyi and her military to account?
The hon. Lady should rest assured that we absolutely believe that everyone responsible for these atrocities must be held to account. I hope to meet Aung San Suu Kyi; I think I have probably expressed the disappointment felt on both sides of the House that she has not taken the stand that many of us who have admired her for many years had hoped she might. The key issue is whether she chooses to go down the path of Burmese nationalism or whether she recognises that all citizens of her country are entitled to high standards of treatment.
Order. There is now a premium on brevity. I call Sarah Jones.
My constituent Mr Rasalingam has been in prison for four years in Myanmar, having been sentenced to 17 years on a fraud conviction. There is evidence that his conviction represents a major miscarriage of justice. Next Wednesday, the facts of his case will be reviewed by a judge to assess whether Mr Rasalingam can appeal. Will the Secretary of State look into his case and see whether action from the UK Government might help with the appeal?
I am very happy to make all consular assistance available to the hon. Lady’s constituent.
I join Members from throughout the House in welcoming the new Foreign Secretary to his place; I genuinely hope that he will bring a more constructive tone in debating foreign policy challenges around the world and a more proactive attitude when it comes to resolving them. With that in mind, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has shown such strong concern over last week’s United Nations report on the actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya. I hear that he will be visiting Myanmar at the earliest opportunity to seek answers, but I am not sure what he means by that. The evidence is damning and the conclusions obvious, so what questions does he believe still need to be asked?
First, I should say that it is a great pleasure to have the right hon. Lady shadowing me. As Health Secretary, I was shadowed by four different shadow Secretaries of State; I hope the right hon. Lady will stay long enough for us to really get to know each other.
Things need to happen if we are to deal with these very serious issues. It is important that I visit Burma/Myanmar to meet the military and Aung San Suu Kyi and see for myself the situation on the ground. But there are things that we can do only in concert with other countries: one is referral to the International Criminal Court, which can come only if there is a consensus on the Security Council. There is a huge amount of work for Britain to do—both individually, as we are doing with our aid support, and with other countries.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I listened carefully to his earlier explanation of the long, hard road to a referral to the International Criminal Court, but we have not been afraid in the past to support resolutions to refer Syria to the ICC and expose Russia in the court of public opinion when it vetoes them. Why are we not prepared to do the same with China? In 2005, China and the United States abstained on Darfur rather than using their vetoes—the weight of public opinion can be a powerful tool.
With all due respect to the Foreign Secretary, if he wants to mark a genuine break with his predecessor, instead of travelling to Myanmar to ask more questions to which we already have the answers, why does he not just travel to New York and demand justice through the United Nations?
With the greatest respect to my new shadow, that is exactly what I am going to do and what I have said I will do. I will be in the margins of the UN General Assembly raising the issue with my counterparts from the other permanent members of the Security Council. But I also want to visit Burma/Myanmar, and I think I will be able to make a stronger case if I do.
Leaving the EU: Co-operation
Over the summer I visited seven EU countries and had substantive bilateral talks with 18 EU Foreign Ministers, and to all of them I said the same thing: if there is not a deal on our exit from the EU, Britain will find a way to survive and prosper, but it would be a big mistake for the continent of Europe, because at a time of great international upheaval, countries that share the same values should stand together.
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) met with the Port of Dover in my neighbouring constituency. The port, my colleagues, and all those dealing with trade matters in particular would appreciate clarification on whether other EU countries have signalled their willingness to collect tariffs on behalf of the UK and continue full co-operation with other EU agencies.
The facilitated customs arrangement is one of the issues being negotiated. Many discussions are happening between my colleague the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Michel Barnier, and we are starting to make progress, but there is a long way to go.
What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the benefits of the European health insurance scheme for EU and UK citizens will continue post Brexit, and can he confirm reports that the UK will guarantee the rights of EU citizens to access the national health service and the social security system regardless of the outcome of negotiations?
That is something I can talk about a little bit, because of my last role as Health Secretary. We have made it clear to the EU that we are very happy to continue with the European health insurance card scheme, which allows British citizens to access healthcare free of charge anywhere in the EU and the same for EU citizens coming to Britain, but obviously there has to be agreement with the EU to do that, and we are waiting to see whether that is the outcome. On EU citizens living in the UK, we have made it clear that we want them to stay here—they make an important contribution to our economy and national life—with broadly the same rights as they currently have.
It is nice to see you after the summer, Mr Speaker. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. The Foreign Affairs Committee looks forward to working with him to deliver a policy overseas that delivers for British people wherever they find themselves and in whatever difficulty they may be.
On the EU and Europe, I want to ask my right hon. Friend about the defence of Europe. With an expansionist and aggressive country to the east corrupting and using its influence in various of our European allies, does he agree that standing up for NATO is just as important as standing up for co-operation with our EU partner states, and does he not also agree, therefore, that tying in the United States is important and that, for example, naming the new NATO headquarters after Senator McCain, a man who did so much for European defence and trans-Atlantic partnership, would be a strong symbol on both sides of the Atlantic that we are in this together?
I very much look forward to working with my hon. Friend in his role as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have great sympathy for what he says about Senator John McCain, who was a great statesman and friend of this country. He is absolutely right, too, that we have an opportunistic foe testing our defences at every opportunity, and we are far more likely to be successful if we stand together with our allies across Europe and the Atlantic.
One of my right hon. Friend’s first visits was to see his German opposite number, Heiko Maas, in Berlin. Could he tell us a little bit about the discussions he had with him about Russia, and specifically about sanctions? Given that 40% of the western trade affected by those sanctions is with Germany, it is important that Germany remain resolute in pursuing economic sanctions against Russia.
I heard many compliments when I went to Germany about my right hon. Friend’s diplomacy with and links to Germany, and we had very good discussions with Heiko Maas on the issue of sanctions. That is going to become more important in the months ahead, because the United States has said it will introduce sanctions as a result of the Salisbury attacks and is very clear that it would not be appropriate for Europe not to respond in kind, given that the attack happened on European soil. That is an area where we hope to make common cause with Germany.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State is taking this question. I hope he will answer a very simple yes or no question that his predecessor always refused to answer: does the new Secretary of State believe that cameras and number plate readers placed on roads are physical infrastructure?
What we want is no physical infrastructure, because we want to defend the Good Friday agreement, and that is what our current proposals do.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. Given the greater importance of bilateral relations after the United Kingdom has left the European Union, what steps is he taking to increase British diplomatic representation, not only in the 27 other EU countries and the four states in the European economic area, but in the countries in which we are currently represented largely through an EU office, and in which we do not have our own mission?
My predecessor has already increased the budget for our representation throughout the European Union as a response to Brexit and the need to raise our game when it comes to diplomacy inside the EU. When it comes to diplomacy outside the EU, I hope that it will sometimes be possible for the co-operative arrangements that we have now to continue—because I think that that works to the benefit of both sides—but we shall have to see whether the other countries are still up for that.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, and welcome him to his post. I know that he will take the job seriously, and I know that, at the end of his time, he will have at least tried in everything that he does, but will he now tell me what impact a challenging, divisive and difficult Brexit will have on our relationship with our European partners?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman as one of my shadows. Our objective is a friendly, smooth Brexit, which is why we have made the proposals that we have made. We think that a messy divorce is in no one’s interests. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that this Government would never sign up to proposals that were not consistent with the spirit and letter of the referendum decision, and we must honour that as well.
I think that we need to probe our relationship with our European partners as we go forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to point out—and I am glad he did—that countries in Europe need to stand together at this critical juncture, given the challenges in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. What damage will a no deal Brexit do to that relationship?
I think that a no deal scenario would inevitably have an impact on the friendship that we currently have with European nations. That is why I think that all sides should think carefully before proceeding. I would say that this country is proud and strong and we would find a way in which to prosper and succeed whatever the outcome of these talks, but that, given the threats that we face, it would be better to stand together.
We are deeply concerned by the tragic incident in which so many were killed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Saudi counterpart shortly afterwards and pressed for a quick and transparent investigation, so the recent announcement of the outcome, the coalition’s regret and action to address the recommendations are important developments. We call on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law, and to engage in the UN-led talks this week to reach a political settlement.
It beggars belief that anyone could claim that a school bus travelling through a marketplace crowded with civilians could ever be a legitimate military target, but that is precisely what the Saudi Arabian regime did. Does the Minister now accept that the previous Government policy of leaving Saudi Arabia to investigate its own crimes is not working, and will the Government support the call from the United Nations Human Rights Council for us to refrain from providing arms that could be used in this dreadful conflict?
The hon. Gentleman’s concerns are obviously shared by all, but let me draw attention to the fact that the report produced by the Joint Incidents Assessment Team is almost unparalleled in terms of admitting error and pointing out where that error was. I think that the hand of the United Kingdom can be seen in the work that we have done with the coalition over time in order to ensure that should things go wrong, there is proper accountability, and I think that that is what we have seen in the report. Of course we regret the circumstances hugely, but what is most important is for the conflict to come to an end so that we see no more of this.
As the Minister will know, in the past I have offered help from SNP Members to support the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen. I have also issued a plea for a halt to the bombing and the weapon sales from the UK to Saudi Arabia, and for the envoy to be given space in which to do his work and, indeed, back up some of the great work done by Karen Pierce, our ambassador to the UN, who has asked for a review in the event that an investigation proves flimsy. Why is the Minister tone deaf to those calls? How many more Yemeni children have to die?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s approach to this and know that he wants Martin Griffiths’s work to succeed. The United Kingdom is not tone deaf to this at all; I draw attention to the detail of the report which sets out the errors that were made and suggests that this would just not have happened some time ago. I am not aware of it happening in parallel with others responsible for humanitarian offences and issues in the region, such as the Houthi; there is no comparison with this. We are not tone deaf; we will continue to work with partners but the most important thing is to give Martin Griffiths that space so that the conflict comes to an end.
The value of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia surpassed £1billion in the first six months of 2017 alone. Is not one of the most effective diplomatic and political steps the Government can take right now to join other countries such as Germany and Norway and stop selling arms and call for a genuinely independent international inquiry to fully establish culpability?
I understand the force of the question and I think we will be coming to that in detail in a further question, but the short answer is no. The coalition acted in support of a legitimate Government; they are currently having missiles fired at civilian targets in their own state and I do not see the political justification for withdrawing our arms.
Assad has been roundly condemned in this Parliament many times for dropping bombs on schools and hospitals, let alone the barrel bombs, so why are the Saudis getting off lightly in this case when they are acting like barbarians? The Minister should go and tell them that.
There is no justification for any breaches of international humanitarian law. It is absolutely essential that it is adhered to, and should errors be made in any bombing, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure that those responsible are called to account, but the way in which there has been a particular response on this is, in my opinion, unparalleled.
I am pleased the Minister has condemned the latest tragic mistakes made by the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, but what steps is he taking to ensure that we support UN attempts to broker dialogue between the Houthi rebels and the Saudis?
The United Kingdom continues to work very closely with all parties to ensure that special envoy Martin Griffiths has the necessary space. We are in constant contact; I spoke to the Deputy Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates yesterday and spoke to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister just this morning to urge the maximum support for the negotiations, and we have spoken to other parties who have an opportunity to make representations to others involved in the conflict to do exactly the same.
Last week’s United Nations expert panel report on Yemen completed before the bus bombing of 9 August said that the Saudi coalition was routinely ignoring its own no-strike list of 30,000 civilian sites. Surely that is the very definition of indiscriminate bombing. In light of that, how can the Government continue to claim that there is no clear risk that the arms we sell to Riyadh are being used to violate international humanitarian law?
The particular report that has been brought forward is not accepted in full by the coalition, and there are some elements of it that the UK does not accept, so we are looking at that more carefully. The important thing is—the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct on this—that international humanitarian law must be adhered to, but the practices of the coalition that have developed over the conflict to ensure proper investigation should anything go wrong are far more developed than they were. Nobody wants to see such investigations because nobody wants to see the actions that have caused them, and that is the UK position.
I was appalled by the attack in the bar in Benidorm that put Jimmy Carol in a coma. Our consular staff have been supporting him and his family and talking to the Spanish police responsible for the investigation, and I hope Mr Carol makes a full recovery and that his attacker is brought to justice.
What information does the Minister have that might explain the serious delay in the investigation of that violent attack on my constituent?
The circumstances were a little confusing. The Spanish police might have seen it as a straightforward pub brawl, when in fact Mr Carol was intervening to back up some women who were being badly harassed. I think the answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it took some time for the local police to pass the case on to the national police. I would be perfectly happy for her to come and see me, perhaps with a close relative of Mr Carol, and I will do my utmost to ensure that consular officials do all that they can on this case.
Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia
We assess arms exports to Saudi Arabia against strict criteria. The key test is whether there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. We take this very seriously and keep licensing decisions under careful review.
The New York Times reports today that Spain has heeded the United Nations Human Rights Council’s group of eminent experts on Yemen and ceased its sales of arms to Saudi Arabia for fear that they might be used in Yemen. This decision was taken following the publication of the report, which also expressed serious concern about the independence of the Joint Incidents Assessments Team. How many children in Yemen have to be blown to pieces on a bus before we cease our arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
That incident, and the deaths of any civilians, particularly children, caught up in a conflict are always dreadful. The most important thing is to bring the conflict to an end. We assess our arms sales on a case-by-case basis. I indicated earlier that the coalition was engaged in Yemen to try to reverse an insurgency. That insurgency is now firing missiles at civilian targets and, accordingly, I do not think that the political justification to withdraw arms sales to Saudi Arabia is made, but it is essential that international humanitarian law is adhered to and that there are no such further incidents.
Venezuela: Economic Stability
We are deeply concerned by the severe economic challenges and deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and indeed by their impact on the wider region. We have noted the Government’s recently announced economic measures, but it remains to be seen whether they are going to improve the situation in any way at all.
An oil-rich nation that once boasted the highest living standards of the whole of Latin America has now been plunged into starvation and crisis as a result of years of socialist policy and the removal of democracy. Does my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those who have imposed socialism and removed democracy in Venezuela, and those who have given them succour from the House of Commons?
I must say that I do. Venezuela enjoys the world’s largest proven oil reserves and it has the largest gas reserves in Latin America, but all of these are being squandered. It has had years of economic mismanagement based on outdated and misguided ideologies, and it cannot even provide the most basic necessities for its people. The country is facing rampant inflation. This is an example of how one man at the top of a country can destroy that country’s economy and prospects.
Clearly, a precondition for resolving the dreadful situation in Venezuela is an early end to the disastrous communist Maduro regime and a return to parliamentary democracy, but the desperate people of Venezuela—those in the country and the millions in exile—need food and medical supplies now. What are the Minister and the Department for International Development doing about that?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that DFID has limited experience in Latin America. We would like to be doing more, and there has been the provision of humanitarian advice, but I would be the first to admit that that is not nearly enough to address the seriousness of the plight that Venezuelans face. As he rightly says, millions of people have left Venezuela and these problems are now affecting neighbouring countries in a serious way. We are working closely with the Lima group, led by the Peruvian Foreign Minister, to do what we can to try to change the disastrous situation in Venezuela.
Sierra Leone: Political Violence and Arrests
Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections in March, and power was transferred peacefully. We are aware of recent allegations of politically motivated violence and we continue to monitor the situation. The new Government have made a commitment to govern for all Sierra Leoneans, and I call on them to honour that pledge and to ensure due process in all cases.
I am proud of the large and vibrant Sierra Leonean community in my constituency, but many community leaders have come to see me to discuss their worries about escalating tensions, arrests, violence and restrictions on political activity since the elections earlier this year. Will the Minister meet Southwark’s Sierra Leonean community representatives to outline what the Government are doing in response to their concerns?
On my visit to the country earlier this year, I was struck by the journey that it has gone through from civil war to the presence of United Nations peacekeepers to the terrible Ebola outbreak, so it was welcome that elections were held this year and that there was a peaceful transition of power. I would, of course, always be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the community. To reiterate the point I just made, we welcome the inclusive approach that the Sierra Leonean Government are talking about and hope to see it implemented.
Promoting and defending human rights is an essential aim of the foreign policy of “Global Britain”. The Foreign Office’s 2017 “Human Rights & Democracy” report demonstrates the breadth of the issues that we campaign on and how we mobilise the diplomatic network to champion universal rights.
It is now over a week since the Government missed their own deadline to take a decision on whether to order an independent inquiry into the role of the UK in the use of torture. When can a decision be expected? Why have the Government not accepted the recommendations of Members across the House to hold such an inquiry?
Obviously, this matter will in due course be addressed in front of the House, not in public first. The Prime Minister will make a decision and will inform the House accordingly.
The human rights situation of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov should give us all cause for concern. When I first raised Mr Sentsov’s plight in October 2016, the then Foreign Secretary said that the UK Government were appealing to the Russian authorities for his release. Sentsov is now three months into a hunger strike and faces almost certain death unless he is released. What further representations can our Government make to secure his release and save his life?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this pressing case. We should all be speaking loudly in favour of the release of this prisoner from unjustified detention. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary undertakes to raise the matter directly with Sergey Lavrov when he meets him, and I hope that the prisoner will be released. There is absolutely no justification for this man being imprisoned. Indeed, he risks death as a result of his hunger strike.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who doubles up as a Department for International Development Minister, made direct representations when he visited last week, and the high commissioner in Bangladesh is continuing to make strong representations as frequently and as effectively as she possibly can.
A vital human right is that girls receive an education. Given that girls are likely to be out of education in conflict zones, what further actions are the Government and the Department taking to tackle that serious and worrying issue?
We championed that important issue when I was DFID Minister, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). It is a joint objective of DFID and the Foreign Office to ensure that girls have a full education for as many years as possible, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be meeting the DFID Secretary this afternoon to discuss exactly this topic.
In June, the International Trade Secretary hailed a new £1.5 billion natural gas deal with President Biya’s regime in Cameroon in a Government press release entitled “International visits pay off”. Can the Minister tell us whether the International Trade Secretary knew about the Biya regime’s ongoing persecution and massacres in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, or did he just not care?
I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the investment that goes into Cameroon, particularly from the United Kingdom, but she is also right to say that any investment, particularly in the extractive industries, must meet the highest possible environmental and social standards, and we will endeavour to make sure it does.
The detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a gross injustice. She is innocent; she is separated from her four-year-old daughter and her husband; and we will continue to leave no stone unturned to get her home.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his proactive and willing support of Nazanin’s case from the outset. He clearly shares the concerns on both sides of the House about the impact that the unlawful detention is having on her health.
Following the visit of the Minister for the Middle East to Iran last week, can the Foreign Secretary set out any new initiatives that he is trying to secure, particularly on, for instance, using diplomatic protection or working with the UN and our international partners?
We will keep going with a whole range of activities. As well as the visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, the Prime Minister spoke to President Rouhani on 10 May. I spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif on 24 August, and I hope to meet him at the United Nations General Assembly. I am also willing to go to Tehran, if necessary.
What steps are the Government taking to ensure that Iran cannot use its embassies in the UK to harbour terrorists?
We take all steps necessary to make sure that does not happen. When we have any evidence of that kind of activity, we react accordingly.
Australia: Diplomatic Relations
Australia is one of our closest bilateral partners, and diplomatic relations are excellent. In July, we held our 10th annual ministerial talks, where we agreed to strengthen foreign, security and trade relations. The Prime Minister spoke to Australia’s new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on 27 August.
I welcome the fact that the first major summit attended by the Foreign Secretary on his appointment was his and the Defence Secretary’s meeting with their Australian counterparts. Will he update the House on the progress made in preparing a free trade deal between our two countries?
I am sure the whole House will want to welcome Australia’s purchase of nine Type 26 frigates from the UK, which is a significant defence export and means that we have the “Five Eyes” frigate with our friends in Australia.
The UK-Australia trade working group is meeting regularly to lay the foundations for future free trade negotiations. Indeed, there is a public consultation so that the public can express their opinions.
Does the recent removal of the Prime Minister of Australia have any lessons for this country?
I am sure that diplomatic relations between the UK and Australia, despite the changes the Australians have had at their end, will endure with the stability of this Government.
Peace Process: Israel and Palestine
There is an urgent need to restart the peace process, and we regularly press Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations towards a two-state solution. We are in close consultation with international partners on how to encourage the parties to the middle east peace process to reverse the negative trends on the ground. Rocket fire and other violence makes achieving peace more difficult.
I am grateful for that answer. The World Health Organisation reports that 10 Palestinian people, including a pregnant woman and her two children, were killed and more than 400 were injured by Israeli forces in one week in August. Instead of deploying even more chatter, why will the international community not actually act and protect some of the most vulnerable people on earth?
The experiences in Gaza and the crisis we have seen over the summer have different roots and causes. It is essential that all those who are contributing in any way to the violence in relation to the process desist and find a way through to the peace opportunities that are there. We deeply regret the loss of life, and it is essential that all sides respond to that. Also, the violence that comes from Gaza towards Israel is making negotiations very difficult.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent rocket attacks by Hamas demonstrate, once again, that they are the biggest roadblock to peace in the middle east, frustrating the sincere efforts made by Israel to try to secure a peaceful future for the region?
Both the rocket fire and the incendiary devices that have come from Gaza have certainly made this difficult for Israeli politics, because a great deal of damage has been done in the area, which encourages people to demand that their Government protect them and keep them safe. As we know well, there are difficulties on all sides. Our concern has been that the problems in Gaza have made it more difficult for the negotiations, which we all anticipate following the US envoy’s reports, to get started. That is why we urge a restraint on violence and that the talking going on all through the region bears some fruit.
In response to the cruel decision taken by the Trump Administration to cut US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German Government have pledged to increase their financial support for the agency. Will the Minister commit his Government to do the same, so that Palestinian refugees do not suffer as a result of the President’s decision?
I am pleased to announce to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that today we have taken the decision to increase funding to UNRWA by a further £7 million. I spoke just a couple of hours ago to Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to express our support for UNRWA. We understand the concerns of the United States, but we do not believe that the way it has gone about this is correct. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people, because that also forms a vital part of a just solution to the issues between the Palestinians and Israel.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the single most important thing for both unlocking the peace process and bringing relief to the desperate lives of Palestinians in Gaza is for Hamas to renounce violence and terror, and turn its back on those ways?
Yes. Hamas’s resistance to meeting the Quartet principles and to renouncing violence, by contrast to the Palestinian Authority, who have done that for many years, is indeed a stumbling block. Talks, brokered by Egypt, are taking place in the region, as we are well aware. Who knows what will come out of those talks, but if there is to be any progress in the future, Hamas’s position on Israel has to change.
To follow up on that point, there needs to be the renunciation of not only violence, but of the idea of the annihilation of Israel as a state. If we are to have proper negotiations, is it not critical that they are based on a mutual recognition of people’s rights and not on the basis of Hamas and others wanting to see the destruction of Israel?
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right; Israel cannot be expected to find an accommodation with terrorist groups that seek an annihilation and the extinction of the country. However, there are opportunities to make progress on that. Hamas’s position is in contrast with that of the Palestinian Authority, who have accepted the existence of Israel and worked with it on security matters in the past 20 years. A resolution has to be just to all sides in the situation, but Hamas’s position cannot hold.
I welcome what the Minister has just said about new funding for UNRWA. Labour has been saying for months that proposed cuts from Donald Trump would damage Palestinian schooling and education and harm the peace process. Will the Foreign Office also now take the lead in organising an international emergency conference, so that others may also pledge more support?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support, and it is a common view in the House. We have increased funding more than once during this year, and more than £40 million extra has been brought forward to support UNRWA. I spoke to the commissioner-general about education in particular. He has the funds to open the schools at present and keep them going, but this will depend on further funding decisions in the future. I hope that we will be able to take part in mutual discussions at the UN General Assembly with other states that are affected. This is not just about the west bank and Gaza; it is also about Jordan and Lebanon. It is about places where children are getting an education. We are talking about an education that is gender neutral in a way in which other parts of the education system in the region are not. The question is: if UNRWA does not provide the education, who might? That is why it is so important to keep this going.
Following earlier comments, I know that many Members of the House would like to pay tribute, formally, to the life of Senator John McCain, who described the UK as
“the country which Americans have long regarded, in good times and bad, as our greatest and most influential friend.”
He also talked about the importance of the global role played by our two countries, saying that
“the future is in the safe hands of the two great peoples who long ago decided to make history together.”
So we celebrate his courage, integrity and generosity of spirit.
I endorse what the Secretary of State said in tribute to John McCain. May I put it to him that one of the most disreputable aspects of President Trump’s decision to end United States funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is the fact that he dressed it up as part of a grand negotiating strategy towards what he calls the deal of the century, when in reality that decision is hitting schools and hospitals and the food aid for hundreds of thousands of people in abject poverty? I applaud the increase in funding for UNRWA, but may I press the Secretary of State a bit more about what action the UK Government and their partners will take to ensure that the vital lifeline that UNRWA provides to vulnerable people around the world will not be lost?
As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East said earlier, we do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue. Today’s funding announcement is part of our response, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will talk to other donors as well, to see whether we can make up the gap in funding to UNRWA that has been caused by that decision.
Labour can be incredibly proud that Clement Attlee was responsible for setting up NATO in 1949. NATO has been supported by every single Labour leader since then—except the current one. It would be interesting to know whether the current shadow Foreign Secretary supports the current Labour leader or his predecessors.
I absolutely give the hon. Lady those assurances, because it is vital not just for the Rohingya people but for people everywhere that countries with values such as ours take a firm stand when there is genocide.
I am very happy to do that. It is extremely important that there is a clear red line: the use of chemical weapons, of which nerve agents are one, is totally unacceptable. The price will always be too high. The EU has already agreed to a chemical weapons sanctions regime, and we will press it to implement that regime as soon as possible.
I do agree with the hon. Lady. A referral to the International Criminal Court would need Security Council consensus, and we need to discuss with our Security Council colleagues whether that is achievable. We will not stop making sure that justice is done in this situation.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spent much of the summer travelling across Europe and meeting his European counterparts. Through EU membership, the UK is part of around 40 international agreements covering 70 countries. We are committed to ensuring continuity for existing EU trade agreements as we leave the European Union and to building up the closest trade agreements that we can with countries in the Commonwealth.
I hope to make the hon. Lady’s comments of even greater value by saying that I will have such conversations and that I will put in calls to Colombia. I know that our mission in Colombia, in Bogota, is always doing its best to make representations of this sort.
As my hon. Friend appreciates we do have a long-standing policy on this issue and we do not recognise the sovereignty claim of the Republic of Mauritius over Chagos archipelago. We very much regret that Mauritius is taking its case to the International Court of Justice. That case started yesterday, so it would be more appropriate for us to wait until the outcome of any judgment, which should conclude this week.
This is some distance from the middle east, but in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific, I will say that I am aware that we have been engaged in supporting British citizens and in offering support to the Government of India where necessary. The Government are very self-sufficient, as they have dealt with similar issues before, but we have said that, should there be things they need, we will help. As always, our FCO team has been touch through its consular service with those who seek support.
I am proud that the UK has taken a global lead on tackling plastics in our oceans and the terrible pollution that it causes, including, of course, the ban on microbeads and microplastics. None the less, more must be done. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to talk with other nations, so that they follow our example, and that we bring in the cause of microfibres as well, which are causing devastating pollution, too?
At the Commonwealth meeting, the Prime Minister launched the UK-Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, which sees countries across the Commonwealth join forces in the fight against plastic, including a ban on microbeads. I shall take further steps after these questions to investigate further the extent to which it also might include microfibres.
I can confirm that we have announced this year that we are reopening an embassy in Lesotho. I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing this case to my attention, and I will certainly follow up by writing to him about the matter.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lewis Pugh on his recent swim across the English channel? It was a fantastic achievement. Along with 285 Members of Parliament, Lewis is championing the cause of the Great British Ocean Coalition. May I ask what progress is being made on marine conservation areas around the South Sandwich islands?
I think that the whole House will want to congratulate Lewis Pugh on his quite amazing swim. It puts my crawl—if I might put it that way—to shame. What he achieved was quite remarkable. The South Sandwich islands are very well managed. We are committed to protecting 10% of the world’s penguins there and around about. The UK is on course to protect 4 million square kilometres by 2020, which represents 60% of the UK’s oceans.
Further to the answer that the Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), since President Duque took office there have been over 30 extra-judicial murders in Colombia; that is one every 18 hours. What can the Minister do when he calls Colombia to draw these murders to the attention of the Government in Colombia and to ensure that they bring the perpetrators to justice?
We are happy to include all such issues in any conversations that we might have with Colombian Ministers. Indeed, we are particularly concerned to ensure that the peace process remains on course. It has been deviating slightly recently. The Prime Minister confirmed the UK’s full support of that process during her phone call with the new Colombian President on 9 August. The Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister Holmes also discussed UN Security Council support for peace in Colombia when they met in New York on 24 August.
How are plans progressing to redeploy secondees to the European External Action Service, and what plans does the Foreign Office have to reconfigure our diplomatic footprint in Europe post Brexit?
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, we have dedicated more resources to increasing our representation across Europe, so that we are fully equipped to do all that we can to represent the UK’s interest once we have left the European Union.
The 50-year conflict in Colombia has seen thousands and thousands of campesino and indigenous families thrown off their territory, tortured and murdered, so the Minister is absolutely right to say that it is distressing in the extreme to see that the peace process has now stalled. The Spanish Prime Minister went to Colombia last week to impress on President Duque that he must get this back on track. Will the Minister make sure that British representations to President Duque are just as strong as those from Spain?
Yes, I will do so very genuinely. I think that I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman has recently visited Colombia. I would therefore like to invite him and any other colleagues to see me in order to brief me on what they learned during their visit.
Further to the Minister’s earlier remarks, will he make it clear to our Saudi allies that they are on a hiding to nothing in this war in Yemen and that every effort must be made to support the peace process being brokered by Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Representative for Yemen? Will the UK support renewal of the mandate of the UN’s group of eminent experts on Yemen at the Human Rights Council this month?
I think that the answer to all that is yes.
Could we have a couple of one-sentence questions, perchance?
Will the Minister insist as a matter of urgency that Kurdish representatives are allowed to attend the peace process meetings on the future of Syria?
Kurdish representatives are already included with the representatives of the Syrian opposition. Any further invitations are up to Staffan de Mistura, who is responsible for the negotiations, but the hon. Lady is right that it is absolutely important that Kurdish interests are represented.
It is now four years since my constituent Iftikhar Ahmad’s three-year-old son Shahryar—a British subject—was abducted and brutally murdered in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Will the Secretary of State meet me and others to see how we can get justice for this family?
There are reports this afternoon that Russian war planes have resumed bombing in Idlib province. What can we do to help Staffan de Mistura’s plan to create a humanitarian corridor to prevent more civilian tragedy in Syria?
In the first place, it is essential to convey to the Syrian regime, through its partners, the need to avoid a tragedy in Idlib, and that includes a bombing campaign or anything similar. I have been in contact with Turkey. I will be speaking to the Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister later this afternoon. It is essential that we find a way for non-combatants to leave the area, and all efforts are being made with all partners to try to ensure that this will be the case. However, the House should not be in any doubt that there is likely to be some military action. There are some terrorist entities in Idlib against whom the United Kingdom has been engaged in the past and who pose a threat. It is essential that there is not a humanitarian disaster, nor the use of chemical weapons.
What assistance has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office given to the victims of the devastating earthquakes on the island of Lombok over the past two months—UK citizens in particular—and to the humanitarian effort in general?
I am absolutely certain that the Foreign and Commonwealth, through its consular team, has given all assistance to those who have asked. I will redouble my efforts to find out more and relay that to my hon. Friend.
Will the Foreign Secretary respond positively to Etienne Krug of the World Health Organisation, who said that any Foreign Secretary’s priority should be the end of violent deaths of so many children worldwide?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. I have regular contact with the WHO through my responsibilities at the Department for International Development. There is a tragedy of children caught up in violence wherever it may be, whether it is the result of trafficking, abuse or conflict. This is not just for the WHO; it is for all parties involved. It should be of interest that only last week we spoke about mediation at the UN General Assembly. There must be more mediation, rather than confrontation, to end conflict.
What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with his counterpart in Spain about the Catalan prisoners, some Ministers, who are imprisoned without charge?
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, this is of course primarily a matter for Spain itself, but in our conversations with Spain we urge it to make sure that every step it takes is fully in compliance with its constitutional obligations.
It is very welcome that the UK is the first country to support the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to bring people together to build peace, reconciliation and coexistence—vital for a lasting settlement. What multilateral and bilateral steps will the Government now be taking to build international support for that vital fund?
The right hon. Lady is right that one of the elements of distress over the years has been the gradual separation of young people, in particular, in the Palestinian areas and those in Israel. All efforts to use the organisations that bring people together are to be supported and sponsored. She will know well that we have a bilateral programme to do this. I hope to ensure when I am in conversation with others, particularly at the UN General Assembly, that this area is not neglected and that we see more of it. It also forms part of the comprehensive settlement we know is necessary to end the conflict in the area.
I am sorry, because I could enjoy the eloquence of my colleagues for an indefinite period, but we must now move on to the next business.
Before we come to the urgent questions, I must advise the House of the following. I have received notification from the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) of his intention to resign from the chair of the Standards Committee once a successor has been elected. He has served with great dedication and commitment for more than eight years in this role, often a thankless task, which has seen, of course, the introduction of lay members—a cause that I know is close to his heart—and, in recent months, the introduction of the new independent complaints and grievance policy, where the right hon. Gentleman has played an important role. He will also be stepping down from the chair of the Committee on Privileges.
Under the Standing Order, 10 sitting days have to elapse before an election. I have decided that the election for the new Chair of the Standards Committee will be held on Wednesday 17 October. The right hon. Gentleman has kindly agreed to continue in the chair until that date. I hope—I say this in all sincerity to colleagues across the House—that colleagues will want to show their appreciation of the work and commitment of the right hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the Government’s policy on Windrush.
It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker.
The Home Secretary has been very clear both that the Government deeply regret what has happened over decades to some of the Windrush generation and that we are determined to put it right. The Home Secretary laid a written statement in the House on 24 May to establish the Windrush scheme, which ensures that members of the Windrush generation, their children born in the UK and those who arrived in the UK as minors and others who have been in the United Kingdom for a long period of time will be able to obtain the documents to confirm their status and, in appropriate cases, obtain British citizenship free of charge.
The last update on our historical review of removals and detentions was presented to the Home Affairs Committee on 21 August. The Home Secretary has written to apologise in the case of 18 people whom we have identified are most likely to have suffered detriment as a result of Government action. To the end of July, 2,272 people have been helped by the taskforce to get the documentation they need to prove their existing right to be in the UK under the initial arrangements put in place prior to the establishment of the Windrush scheme, and 1,465 people have also been granted citizenship or documentation to prove their status under the formal Windrush scheme. The taskforce is also working to help eligible individuals return to the UK.
The Home Secretary has announced a compensation scheme for those who have been affected as a result of not being able to demonstrate their status. The public consultation for that scheme was launched on 19 July and will run to 11 October. The Home Office is using a range of channels to engage with those who have been affected and to encourage people to respond to the consultation. We will announce details of the final scheme and how to apply as soon as possible after the consultation has ended.
Finally, the Home Secretary has commissioned a lessons learned review, to identify how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants. He has been clear that the lessons learned review requires independent oversight and scrutiny and has appointed Wendy Williams as independent adviser to the review. I know that, across the House, we are united in our determination to deal with the problems faced by people of the Windrush generation. I therefore hope we can take a cross-party approach which recognises that the most important thing we can do is ensure the wrongs that some have faced are put right.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
Ministers might have thought that they had drawn a line under the Windrush scandal, but it continues to throw up new horrors. This summer I was in the Caribbean, and Ministers should not underestimate the concern that the Windrush issue has caused throughout the Commonwealth. We are preparing to leave the EU. At a time when we should be strengthening our trading links with Commonwealth partners in Africa, the Caribbean and south Asia, are Ministers aware of how much damage the Windrush scandal has caused?
Now we have learnt that three citizens have died in Jamaica after having been wrongfully deported from this country. This is something that ought to shame Ministers. Worse, we did not learn this from our own Government. This intelligence comes from Her Excellency the Foreign Minister for Jamaica, Kamina Johnson-Smith. Left to this Government’s own devices, we might never have learnt of those deaths.
The Government have been dilatory in fulfilling their repeated verbal commitments to find out who the victims are of this scandal and what they will do to correct it. Instead, we have the Home Secretary making an apology to just 18 of the victims identified who have been wrongly detained or deported. This is despite the fact that the Government themselves have identified 164 such victims. Were any of the three victims now deceased who have been identified by Jamaican Ministers included in the Government’s list of 164? If they were, what was done to try to remedy the situation before the deaths? If not, we are entitled to believe that the Government’s list of 164 is of little value, with gaping holes in its information.
The Home Secretary’s apology to the 18 is welcome. A sincere apology is long overdue, but why only these 18, when the Government have identified many, many more cases? What is the basis of the apology? Does it include an assurance to address the hardship being caused here and now, or will the 18 have to wait like everyone else until the Government finalise their compensation scheme?
We learned from newspaper reports that the Government are losing the majority of their appeals in immigration cases. They are still trying to deport thousands of people who are entitled to be here. The Windrush scandal lives, even while some of its victims have died. This scandal is due to the Government’s hostile environment policy, which is supported by the entire Government, including the Home Secretary, who has tried to rebrand it. Ministers need to abandon the hostile environment policy. Unless and until they do, the reek of the Windrush scandal will forever be associated with the Home Secretary and this Government, not just here in Britain but throughout the Commonwealth.
I was delighted to hear the right hon. Lady refer to the importance of reaching out to different parts of the world in a post-Brexit scenario. She will be aware, as I am, of the work the Prime Minister has done in Africa over the past few weeks. I agree that it is important that we foster relations right around the globe, which is why we have been extremely proactive in working with high commissioners across the Caribbean to make sure that the 164 people identified so far as part of our review are proactively contacted and that we can, as I said earlier, put right the wrongs that have been done to the Windrush generation.
The former Home Secretary and the current Home Secretary have been clear in their apologies to the Windrush generation, and those have been sincere and heartfelt. However, I would point out to the right hon. Lady that there have been policies under successive Governments to make sure that those who have the right to be here are able to access benefits, employment and services, but those who do not are correctly identified by a series of compliant-environment policies. The right hon. Lady speaks as if those policies were begun by this Government, but in fact right-to-work checks commenced in 1997, controls on benefits in 1999, controls on social care in 2002, and civil penalties for employers of illegal workers in 2008.
It is notable, as I said right at the beginning of my statement, that people from the Windrush generation who have had wrong done to them, for which we have apologised and will continue to apologise, have been affected over decades. The right hon. Lady might like to reflect that, of the 164 individuals identified so far by the review, in the region of half were impacted prior to 2010.
For how much longer are the Government going to refuse to publish the unredacted report by Sir Alex Allan on the whole Windrush situation?
The Government have of course commissioned the lessons learned review, and the permanent secretary in the Home Office commissioned Alex Allan to conduct that review. It is important that we focus very much in this regard on making sure that we put right the wrongs for those who are part of the Windrush generation, but also that we work proactively with the Home Affairs Committee to make sure that these mistakes do not happen again.
I commend the right hon. Lady, the shadow Home Secretary, for securing this urgent question on such an important issue.
Over the summer we have learned that wrongly deported Windrush generation citizens died before they could be repatriated. We have learned that the private firm responsible for removing Windrush citizens operated on the basis of incentives for exceeding its removal targets. We have also learned that the Home Office may be withholding crucial evidence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the wrongful detentions and deportations. Does the Minister regret any of those matters, and can she tell us why the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are still refusing to make a full and proper apology to all the victims of this appalling episode?
When will the Home Secretary respond to calls from the Scottish National party and others, which we have heard today, for a full and proper revisiting of the hostile environment policy, which led to this scandal and which may yet lead to others?
The Government’s compliant-environment policies, which were, of course, started under the previous Labour Administration, are an important part of our ability to make sure that those who have the right to be here and are entitled to goods, services and benefits can be correctly identified, and, equally, that those who are here illegally can also be identified. This Government do not intend to remove our compliant-environment policies; we believe that they provide an important part of our suite to address illegal immigration. The hon. and learned Lady referred to the private company that had a contract to enable those who had no right to be here to accept voluntary returns. It played no part in decision making and, of course, that contract was ended in 2016.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which she personally is getting to grips with this important issue? I believe she said that 2,272 individuals have had their documentation sorted. What is the total number of applications to the helpline to date, and what is her estimate of the likely number of applications before this whole sorry episode is brought to a successful conclusion?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that many thousands of people have received their documentation. We should be pleased that that has occurred, and in the vast majority of cases it has occurred very swiftly after they have provided details to the taskforce. That is crucial, so that they can access the benefits and services to which they are entitled. The taskforce has received well in excess of 8,000 calls, but only a proportion of them will be part of the Windrush scheme, and there is very careful triaging so that people receive calls back and the correct information is identified at that time.
We will publish today the Home Office’s response to our Select Committee’s Windrush report. The response rejects our cross-party recommendation to reinstate immigration appeals. Does not the Minister recognise that, in Windrush cases, people lost their homes, their residency and citizenship rights, their healthcare rights and their jobs because the Home Office got decisions wrong and there was no right of appeal and no independent checks and balances? Does she not recognise that, if we are to have any chance of preventing Windrush injustices from happening again, there needs to be the restoration of immigration appeal rights?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The Windrush taskforce and the review processes that are commencing and, indeed, will be ongoing for a considerable time show that, yes, absolutely, mistakes were made over a long period, for which this Government have apologised and continue to apologise, because we are very sorry for those to whom wrong was done. It is absolutely imperative that we learn those lessons, which is why Wendy Williams has been commissioned for the independent review, and that we make sure that we take account of the recommendations that come forward from that review and make appropriate changes.
May I thank the Minister for the rapid way in which her Department has helped to assist a constituent of mine who has been affected? Will she assure me that direct contact will be made with those affected so that they can receive compensation with minimum difficulty?
It is absolutely our intention that those who will be entitled to compensation should be able to access it with minimum difficulty. The public consultation opened in July and will close on 11 October, and it is absolutely imperative that we take into account all the suggestions and comments that come forward as part of it, and that we make sure that we have a scheme that works for those individuals affected.
The Home Secretary was right to apologise to the victims of the Windrush scandal, but if the Government want to end their hostile environment, which led to the Windrush scandal, is not it time to abolish their net migration target?
Given the commitment in successive general election manifestos that have been endorsed by the public, it is absolutely imperative to reduce immigration to sustainable levels. As part of that, we have a compliant environment, which makes sure that people who are in this country illegally are not entitled to access the benefits and services that those who are here legally can.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that analysis of the Windrush cases reveals problems over many years under successive Governments, and that this Government will resolve those problems?
My hon. Friend is right to point that out. These issues have occurred over successive Governments and many years. This Government are absolutely determined to make sure we put right those wrongs.
My caseworkers tell me that intolerable delays are occurring and that people in the pipeline are not being dealt with promptly, even though we were promised they would be. We had good experiences at the start of this process, but I am afraid to say that that has gone backwards. What is the Minister doing to deal with delays, and how many people are in that delayed situation?
The vast majority of cases have been dealt with within the two-week deadline after the receipt of full documentation; both the former and the current Home Secretary committed to that. However, I hope the hon. Lady will understand that some cases are extremely complex, that we are looking for reasons to grant, not reasons to refuse and that, in some cases, that has taken longer.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, especially the lessons learned review and the fact that a great many people have indeed been helped so far. Can she confirm that the children of the Windrush generation are able to apply to naturalise at no cost?
As I set out in my initial response, we are making sure that that is the case. I am very conscious of the issues with the children of Windrush, as well as of those of the Windrush generation themselves. It is important that those who have a claim under the Windrush scheme make contact with the taskforce, so that their case can be gone through individually and with the incredibly experienced caseworkers who are charged with making sure we get decisions right.
The Minister will be aware, as I have raised it before, that many of the Chagos islander community in this country are also seeking to establish their citizenship. We would not want any more scandals in the mould of Windrush. Will she therefore make sure that their citizenship is considered as the Government take forward progress on Windrush?
I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions earlier, when he would have heard the response by the Minister for Europe and the Americas on the subject of the Chagos islanders and the Government’s long-standing policy.
It is right that the Government have offered both an apology and compensation to those in the Windrush generation who have been affected. However, is the Minister aware that in many instances people feel they have to choose between being able to speak out and receiving compensation? Will she therefore confirm that no one who applies to the Windrush compensation scheme will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement?
The Home Secretary has been absolutely clear: nobody applying to the Windrush compensation scheme will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
It is worth noting that the 164 figure for those wrongfully removed or detained is still provisional and may change. Does the Minister expect the figure to go up? More importantly, the scandal goes well beyond the Windrush generation; this is about the impact of the hostile environment and of the lack of a right to appeal. Can she tell us how many non-Windrush cases have been wrongfully removed or detained in the last year?
The hon. Gentleman makes a specific point about whether we expect those numbers to change. It is really important that we have an independent assurance exercise once the review has completed. We are determined to find out the exact number and to do our absolute best to make sure that any people identified are encouraged to go through the Windrush taskforce and, if eligible for compensation, to apply for the scheme when it is open. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about the number of people who may have been wrongfully removed in the last year. I cannot provide him with that information right at this moment, but I am very happy to provide him with the latest statistics that we have.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary for the leadership they have shown in righting the wrongs that have happened in these Windrush cases. Will she set out for the House the progress of the independent review and its anticipated timescale?
As my hon. Friend will know, Wendy Williams has been appointed to lead the independent review, which will be a thorough look at everything that has occurred and the lessons that we must learn. We expect her report to be available in March next year.
I thank my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary for requesting this urgent question. What I find shocking and disturbing is the fact that three people have died in Jamaica as a result of this hostile policy. We are hearing an apology, but I would like to hear more about action from the Government. I would particularly like to know what proactive action is being taken in the cases of the three people who have died overseas.
The Government are very appreciative of the work that has been going on with Commonwealth high commissioners, among others, to make sure that those who have been affected have been correctly identified. When people have subsequently passed away, our sympathies and condolences, of course, are with their families. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written not only to those affected but to the families of those who have passed away.
The hon. Lady is right that a wrong was done, and the Government are determined to right that wrong, but I point out to her that a good number of these people were removed prior to 2010.
The appalling treatment of the Windrush generation and their descendants extends far beyond those who have come forward to contact the Home Office team to date. Many of my constituents are living in fear and deep mistrust of the Home Office—not least because of the continual conflation with illegal immigration in discussions of Windrush, which we have heard again from the Minister today.
There is an urgent need for access to independent confidential advice for Windrush citizens and their descendants, who are concerned about their status but do not trust the Home Office. So far, that work has been left to the voluntary sector, but the lack of funding over the summer has meant that Black Cultural Archives in my constituency has had to stop running advice surgeries. Will the Minister now acknowledge the far-reaching breach of trust that the Windrush scandal has caused and commit to funding genuinely independent advice for those who are too fearful of the Home Office to come forward?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point about people who might be afraid to come forward. We have given a clear assurance that no information provided to the Windrush taskforce will be passed to immigration enforcement and we will work extremely hard to assist all those with partial information to demonstrate their time in the UK.
Martin Forde QC, the independent consultant for the compensation scheme, has been working hard with outreach programmes, which are an important part of the process. The Windrush taskforce has held a number of surgeries up and down the country, reaching out to members of the Caribbean communities to engender confidence.
Some of the best advocates for the Windrush taskforce are those who have been through it successfully. There have been a number of reports from those who have found the process easy, and thousands have been granted not only documentation but citizenship.
Will the Minister explain why the Government are still failing to support those affected who are going through the process? That is the case with eight of my constituents, one of whom was left destitute, having lost all his benefits—evicted by the council and forced to sleep on the streets until my office intervened. That happened three weeks ago.
I thank the hon. Lady for drawing that to my attention. The Windrush taskforce has been working proactively with local authorities, housing providers and the third sector so that those in hardship are put in touch with the correct agencies to make sure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. If she gives me individual information after this urgent question, I shall be very happy to take it away.
My constituent who got caught up in this carry-on has finally received his passport. He is both relieved and grateful for that, but has yet to receive any compensation for lost earnings, lawyers’ fees and NHS fees. This summer, things took an unbelievable turn when he finally tried to sign on for benefits and was told that because he had lost his job four years ago as a result of the situation, he was not eligible because he had not made enough national insurance contributions. If the Government are, as the Minister says, “determined to put it right”, is she working with her colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to sort this out now?
When we first became aware of the scale of the Windrush problem, I chaired a ministerial meeting across Government, and the Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions was one of the most proactive Ministers there and determined to make sure that the DWP regarded somebody as eligible if they had an appointment with the Windrush taskforce. That important work continues at an official level. The hon. Lady has raised an individual case. She will have heard me say earlier that the consultation on the compensation scheme closes on 11 October, and we will bring forward a scheme as soon as possible after that, but we are also working with third sector organisations to make sure that advice and support is available for people.
The Minister is a fortunate woman—my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and her excellent Select Committee have done all the work for her. She should get on with implementing their recommendations; it will make her life a lot easier. Those affected in my community in Huddersfield, mainly from Grenada and other parts of the Caribbean, are mostly elderly. This is an all-party, all-Government muck-up, and we are not talking about many people, so let us be generous with the compensation and in giving free access to new passports and citizenship rights. That is what they deserve.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have been generous in granting citizenship rights and have been determined, as I said a few moments ago, to find reasons to grant, not reasons to refuse. As I have said, the public consultation on the compensation scheme closes on 11 October, but I urge him to encourage all his constituents who may have been affected to take part in that consultation so that their voices can be heard.
The Minister and the Government claim that the hostile environment is over, but in Westminster Hall shortly we will be describing the situation of international students who are currently victims of the hostile environment. Is it not the case that the Home Office is in this mess because it continues to come forward with cases on the basis of flimsy evidence; it is losing appeals left, right and centre, trying to deny people access to justice; and, perhaps worst of all, at the same time as victimising people in a David versus Goliath contest in the courts, it is wasting taxpayers’ money hand over fist that should be spent on our schools, our police and our hospitals? Why will she not reinstate the appeals, as the cross-party Home Affairs Committee suggests, and why will she not genuinely end the hostile environment?
The hon. Gentleman is indeed leading a debate later this afternoon about English language testing. We are very conscious that there was significant fraud. Many thousands of cases were found to have been fraudulent and many colleges not only closed as a result but were bogus colleges that we had already identified problems with. Where there is systemic fraud and abuse in the immigration system, as we saw with some language testing, it is important that the Government take action, and he will be aware that successive court cases have upheld our position.
The Minister has said several times that she wishes to ensure that the wrongs done to the Windrush generation are righted. We now know that three people who were wrongly deported have since died. What will her Department do to right the wrongs done to those three families?
As the hon. Lady will have heard me say, the Home Secretary has already reached out to individuals impacted and the families of those who have passed away to offer his personal apology. They will of course be entitled to apply to the compensation scheme when that is open.
The Minister is aware of a constituent of mine, Paulette Wilson, a 62-year-old grandmother who came here more than 50 years ago from Jamaica and who was detained at Yarl’s Wood and Heathrow detention centre last year and nearly deported back to Jamaica. I ask my question on behalf of her and all those in a similar situation. I heard what the Minister said about the compensation scheme and the consultation, but can she give a commitment to the House today that the scheme will be operational some time next year so that Paulette and others can be properly compensated?
I would like to reassure the hon. Lady on this point. Her constituent’s case was one of those clearly highlighted, of course, and I was pleased that I was able to offer my personal apology to Paulette Wilson. It is imperative that we get the compensation scheme up and running as soon as possible, and I am determined to do that.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I thought that the Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was wholly inadequate. What analysis have the Government done of the hostile environment affecting the other communities, such as the Chagos community in my constituency?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government suspended the proactive sharing between Departments of data relating to those over 30 in the context of the compliant environment. It is important for us to ensure that we have a suite of policies that enable us to take action and correctly identify those who have no right to be here, but it is equally important for us to take the appropriate steps when we identify people who have a right to be here. As the hon. Gentleman will have heard earlier from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), our policy on the Chagos islanders is long-standing. I have listened carefully to what has been said by both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).
The Minister will be aware that confidence among Windrush families remains low, despite the efforts of the Home Office in recent months. As I have said, publishing Sir Alex Allan’s report in full would certainly provide some reassurance, but what opportunities will those families have to participate in and contribute to the independent lessons learned review as it is rolled out over the next few months?
That is an important aspect: individuals should be able to contribute to the lessons learned review, and in many cases it is the personal stories that are most compelling. The Alex Allan review was, of course, an internal review commissioned by the permanent secretary at the Home Office. An executive summary was shared with the House, but the Home Secretary is currently considering whether a redacted version of the report can be published.
In our sixth report on the Windrush generation, the Home Affairs Committee stressed the need for transparency on the Sir Alex Allan report. As the Minister has said, the Home Secretary has promised to consider that, as he has been doing for a number of months. Do those at the Home Office really not understand that if they want to rebuild trust following this fiasco, hiding things that they know is not a good way to start?
As I have just said, and as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the Home Secretary is currently considering this matter, and I would expect him, rather than me, to come forward with a decision.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will take the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order now, because it relates to the exchanges that we have just heard.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker.
I have asked on a number of occasions—including of the Prime Minister—when we can expect to see the publication of the report on Windrush that was commissioned from Sir Alex Allan. That desire is felt across the House, and it has even been articulated by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Each and every time, we are told that various Ministers are thinking of publishing it and making it available to Back Benchers, but there seems to be no real desire to do so.
I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, on how—other than by raising it again and again on the Floor of the House, which I shall continue to do—we can make progress on this matter. Until we can see the contents of the report in an unredacted form, we will not get to the bottom of what advice was given to whom and when.
I think that I must add to the many other qualities of which the right hon. Gentleman can boast—although he rarely does so—the quality of being psychic, because he correctly anticipated what would be my likely advice to him, which, in its purest and most succinct form, consists of one word: persist, persist, persist. If the matter continues to be raised by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government will be left in no doubt of the appetite of the House for the said report to be published. It is very difficult to come to a view of the merits of the recommendations in a report if one has not been allowed to see it. I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I urge him not to lack self-confidence, but to go forth with vigour and robustness.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on his Government’s plans for HMP Birmingham.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to the work of the chief inspector, in particular in relation to Birmingham, and indeed his entire inspection team.
The situation in HMP Birmingham was simply unacceptable. It was shocking in terms of the levels of violence, in terms of the response to those levels of violence, in terms of the drugs, and in terms of basic decency. The situation in Birmingham has of course been of considerable concern for some time; for that reason I visited personally in the week before the inspector issued the report. The Secretary of State for Justice, the Lord Chancellor, also made a personal visit to Birmingham, and the chief executive of the Prison Service also visited Birmingham.
The reason for this is that over the last few weeks and months we have been increasingly concerned about G4S’s inability to turn around the situation. The steps we took were initially to issue a notice to improve, followed by a second notice to improve. I then held meetings with G4S in London at which it replaced its governor—who had been in place for 18 months—and brought in a new governor. It then brought in a new team; we came up with a new action plan and a new team was brought in by the Ministry to work alongside it.
Notwithstanding all the steps that Birmingham and G4S took over those months, the conclusion that we reluctantly reached in the week before the inspector published his urgent notification was that G4S would not be able on its own to turn around the significant problems of Birmingham. Therefore the decision was made to take the unprecedented step of the Government stepping in and taking over control. That means in effect three things. First, we have brought in a highly experienced governor from the public sector, Mr Paul Newton, who has taken over as the governor of the prison. Secondly, we have reduced the number of prisoners in Birmingham prison by 300, which has allowed us to take key cells out of operation and renovate them. Thirdly, we have brought in an additional 32 highly experienced public sector prison staff in order to support the team on the ground.
All of this will be done with no cost to the taxpayer, and I want to take this opportunity also to say that, notwithstanding the very significant problems at Birmingham, there are dedicated, serious professional staff on the ground who have been facing a very difficult situation. There have been real challenges around drugs and leadership. We are confident that, with Paul Newton and the new team and the reduction in numbers, we can stabilise that prison, address the drugs and the violence, and turn it around and restore the confidence to the team.
I anticipate that this could rapidly become a debate over the merits or otherwise of privatisation, and I am expecting that the shadow Secretary of State will almost certainly go in that direction. For what it is worth, we on this side of the House do not believe that this is primarily an ideological battle. The situation in Birmingham has been serious for some time. It was a Labour Secretary of State for Justice who initially decided to proceed with the privatisation of Birmingham in 2010, although it was a Conservative Secretary of State who finally let the contract. The company concerned, G4S, has clearly significantly failed in Birmingham, but at the same time, as hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) can confirm, it is running an impressive prison in Parc and at Altcourse in Liverpool, which is performing well particularly in education and work, while Parc is doing well on family services. The BBC has just produced a very positive report on its performance at Oakwood as well.
So this is not primarily about the difference between the public and the private sectors. Sadly, there have been significant challenges also within the public sector, at Nottingham prison, at Liverpool and at Exeter most recently. Indeed the chief inspector of prisons himself underlined that this is not primarily about public against private, but is about basic issues primarily around drugs, violence and management. We will be focusing on those three things above all through this step-in, and, as I have said, at no cost to the taxpayer.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for his reply. It is clear from the damning report on HMP Birmingham, as well as from the failings in the probation system, that the costly privatisation experiment in our justice system should be ended. Costs aside, one of the great failings of privatisation is that we in this House struggle to hold mega-corporations such as G4S to account. They use the cloak of commercial confidentiality until it is all too late, and then they need rescuing by the state. Despite that, I hope that we will get some straight answers to straight questions today.
Will the Ministry of Justice be imposing a financial penalty on G4S for its failures at HMP Birmingham? What additional funding will be provided to HMP Birmingham to remedy the current failings? Will any public funding be used to do that? If so, will this come from the current MOJ budget? Thirty additional officers are to be sent to Birmingham Prison. Will the Minister commit to giving all other failing prisons—including public prisons—the same percentage increase in staffing above current levels?
Why did the Government decide that HMP Birmingham would not be permanently returned to the public sector? Will the Minister today commit to an independent commission to look at the merits of doing so before handing the prison back to G4S? Will the Government now halt their plans to build new private prisons? If not, will the Minister at least rule out G4S bidding for them? And will the Government now commit to a wider independent review of the involvement of private companies in the justice system?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for Justice for his questions. They are serious questions, and this was a serious failing in that prison. I shall try to answer them one by one. The financial cost to G4S of us stepping in will be very considerable. G4S already estimates that it is losing on this contract. It is to a great extent paid according to the number of prison places. Specifically, therefore, the removal of 300 prisoners from that prison will impose a direct financial penalty on G4S, which will be covered by G4S itself. I can also confirm that the entire cost of this step-in will be covered not by the taxpayer but by G4S, because we will withhold the payment we would normally make in line with the contract with G4S to cover those costs.
The shadow Secretary of State also asked whether we would put exactly 32 officers into the other challenged prisons. We are not in a position to specify the exact numbers, but the broad approach that we would take to Birmingham is the same as the approach that we would take to the other public sector prisons. That approach involves focusing first on the inflow of drugs into those prisons, through the use of intelligence disruption for organised criminal groups as well as through the use of scanners. We are putting nearly £6 million-worth of investment into drug interdiction and scanners.
Secondly, our approach involves focusing on basic decency, and nearly £30 million-worth of extra investment is going into living conditions in our prisons. Thirdly, there is a focus on education, and the Secretary of State’s education and employment strategy is central to this, giving prisoners purposeful activity within the prison walls and ensuring that they get jobs on release, thereby reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, we are focusing on supporting our hard-working prison officers with the right training in leadership and management skills. They are doing an incredibly tough job outside prison doors. They are facing unprecedented levels of challenges with the new psychoactive substances coming in, and we really need to support them. We are doing that through the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) which will double the sentences for people who assault prison officers and other emergency workers. We are also doing it through additional training for prison officers before they go on the wings and supporting them through training as they continue.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about an independent commission. Respectfully, I would argue that we already understand very well what happened at Birmingham Prison, without the need for an additional independent report. The independent monitoring board has produced a full report on Birmingham Prison. The chief inspector of prisons has also produced a full report, and we have looked closely at Birmingham Prison over the past few weeks and months. Unfortunately, the story at Birmingham Prison is a relatively familiar one. It is about drugs, about violence and about management and training. There is no great secret there. The question of G4S bidding for future prison contracts is a hypothetical one, and no such contracts will be let for a number of years. However, we will of course, in accordance with all our rules, look seriously at the past record and performance of the companies involved, including G4S, before considering it for a tender.
The Minister and the Secretary of State are to be commended on their prompt action. The Minister should be commended on his swift involvement, and I thank him for contacting me, as the Chair of the Justice Committee, so quickly. Does he agree that no pattern emerges in the evidence to show that there is any distinction between the problems that arise in our prisons that relates to the public or private nature of their ownership and management? Two patterns do emerge, however. One is a consistent history of failure in our old Victorian local prisons, be they run by the public or private sector, and the second is a persistent failure by the Prison Service, whether acting directly or through contract, to act upon the recommendations of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons—a litany that has been picked up by the chief inspector. What are the Government going to do to address those two clear patterns of failure?
I will take those two matters separately. As for responding to the inspector’s recommendations, we have changed—the Secretary of State for Justice has driven this through—how our management systems work to put the inspector’s recommendations and reports at the heart of the way we set objectives for the Prison Service. We had our own independent assessment under the previous system, but we expect the House to see that how we manage prisons much more closely reflects inspection reports in the future.
On the question of old Victorian buildings, there clearly is a pattern, but it is not an absolute pattern. There are old buildings, such as Stafford, that are well run, good prisons, and there are new prisons, such as Nottingham, that have managed to get themselves into trouble despite the new buildings. However, generally speaking, running an old Victorian prison adds to the problems, and we should ensure that our investment in 10,000 new places endeavours to remove the worst-affected prisons from our system.
It is clear that prisons in England and Wales are suffering from excessive budget pressures, inconsistent policy and a lack of direction. The Minister recently visited the prisons system in Scotland, and while prison staffing levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have fallen by around a third since 2010, in Scotland they have increased by 14%, and we have minimised cuts to our justice system, resulting in a 43-year crime low. Overcrowding has been addressed by the Scottish Government’s successful presumption against short-term custodial sentences, which has been increased today to 12 months in the Scottish Government’s programme for government. Having visited Scotland recently, will the Minister tell the House what lessons from the experience of successful prison reform in Scotland does he intend to apply to the system in England and Wales?
I genuinely pay tribute to some of the things that are happening in Scotland in relation to prisons, and I was privileged to visit HMP Perth, which is a good example of a busy, challenged local prison that is being run well. Prison officers in Scotland would also say that there have been significant cuts to their numbers since the early 2000s, and they, too, have had to make serious efficiency savings, which they have done well, and they are running good prisons.
We are watching closely what is happening on short sentences in Scotland. Like the Scottish Government, our priority is to protect the public, but the evidence on what could be done to reduce reoffending by not overusing short prison sentences inappropriately is a good lesson from Scotland, from which we wish to learn.
Prisoners who are at leisure to consume and trade Spice would benefit from penal servitude with hard labour. Will the Minister bring it back?
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will first provide some information about my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). The prison is in her constituency, but she is unfortunately in a meeting and I am unsure whether she has received notice of this urgent question, so I apologise on her behalf that she is not here.
My question to the Minister is simple. He has made a huge commitment to clean up our prisons, but the real issues are with staff, training, and allowing drugs and other things into prisons. Tackling all that will require resources, so how will he ensure that it happens?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is about staff. We now have 3,000 more prison officers than we had when we made the announcement, and having more staff will make a difference. The next stage is getting the training right, particularly the training for the band 5 and band 4 uniformed staff who are out there on the landings day in, day out. It is about getting the staff college right for governors, and it is also about making sure that, in places like our Newbold Revel training college, we have the right support for our prison officers. It is an amazing profession, but it needs support and training.
I agree with the Minister that this is not a debate about privatised versus publicly run prisons; obviously it is about how we work to ensure that we do not have such trouble again. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice, said about the need to carry on the vision of reinvigorating the prison estate.
I also echo the Minister’s comments about education. The great opportunity in our prisons is to work with prisoners and to use, for example, culture and sport to give them opportunities. Prisons are often dealing with people who have mental health issues and, sometimes, a lack of education, and it has been shown that the arts and sport can do a great deal to help rehabilitate prisoners, as opposed to, say, penal servitude.
My right hon. Friend encourages me to reflect on our sport strategy, which is coming through. Broadly speaking, there is also the key point about how education changes lives. By changing lives and helping people to get employment when they leave prison, education reduces reoffending and protects the public. Stabilising our prisons and delivering high-quality education in prisons is good not just for prisoners but for the rest of society.
A month ago my constituent was beaten within an inch of his life at HMP Birmingham not once but twice, and not in a dark corner but in the full glare of a video that was then posted on social media. The chaos over which G4S presided at HMP Birmingham was dark, dangerous and violent. It is very hard to square a future in which this prison is returned to G4S with the level of investment and staffing that is needed to ensure it is a safe prison. Will the Minister reflect again on what the shadow Secretary of State said about the need for an independent commission to stand as a gateway, a test, before any decision is made to put this prison back into the private sector that so desperately failed the people of Birmingham?
That is a very shocking, very immediate illustration of just how horrifying what was happening at Birmingham was. The right hon. Gentleman is right that, when something like that happens, not only should we take back control from G4S but we should think very seriously before returning the prison to it. That is why, for exactly the reasons he raises, we are giving the House the assurance that we will be taking over for a minimum of six months—that is a minimum of six months —and we will be very tough and clear in the decisions we reach at the end of those six months on whether we believe the prison is stable enough to be handed back to G4S.
Following on from the previous question, does my hon. Friend agree that this debate is not about public or private management of prisons but is, in fact, about when it is appropriate for the Government to step in when prisons are failing? If I may say so, this debate is also about when it is appropriate for a Minister to take responsibility for the Prison Service, as I was pleased to read over the summer that he is willing to do.
Without getting dragged into an ideological discussion about public versus private, hopefully both sides of the House can agree that, if we are to have privatised systems, the best way for them to operate is by having the right degree of Government regulation and intervention when things go wrong. Whether we are talking about water, utilities or, indeed, prisons, we cannot have a system in which the Government do not have a clear grip. I hope stepping in at Birmingham demonstrates that the Government are prepared to do that when we reach this situation.
The Minister has rightly decided to solve the shocking problems at HMP Birmingham by reducing its prison population and increasing staff numbers. I congratulate him on this radical policy and on the huge brain power that must have gone into this ingenious solution. When will the rest of Britain’s crisis prisons benefit from more staff and reduced overcrowding?
The rebuke is taken; of course it is true that, as with any institution, it is easier to run this with more staff and fewer people. But the answer in practice is that we take this remedy to stabilise a prison that has reached a situation that Birmingham has reached. Once the prison is stabilised and functioning well, it is possible to run it with the full population. We can see that being done at Altcourse and Thameside, and at a busy, challenged local prison such as HMP Hull at the moment. But it is necessary to take these steps at Birmingham, and the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it does not take a massive brain to work out that this is the first thing we need to do.
How will the Minister ensure that the new governor has both the powers and the support to carry out the reform of the prison?
Again, this is a good challenge. It comes down to reasserting, in every way, both here in the House and through the management chain, that the governor is in charge, that we will give them the resources to get behind them and that we will support them in what they are doing. It is absolutely right to say that only with a properly empowered governor are we going to achieve that change.
The Minister suggested during the summer that if he does not achieve a reduction in drugs in prisons by next year he will resign. The letter to the Secretary of State from the chief inspector of prisons stated that the conditions at HMP Birmingham were among the worst that inspectors had ever seen, with many prisoners under the influence of drugs. In April, five prisoners died within the space of seven weeks—that was widely reported. Why did Ministers not intervene then in a prison that was clearly falling apart and not fit for purpose?
This is a good challenge. Birmingham was challenged, and we were focused on that situation. That is why we had put in notices to improve, why we had negotiated to bring in a new governor and why we had put in a new team. A judgment had to be made as to the point at which we decided that G4S did not have the capacity to turn things around on its own and we had to step in. I think we were correct in taking a number of steps before we formally stepped in, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to challenge whether we could have done this a little earlier or a little later. That, in the end, was the judgment call we had to make.
How many prisons have triggered urgent notifications since the system was introduced at the end of last year? How does that number break down between privately managed prisons and those run by the public sector?
The inspector has clarified that so far this year the prisons that have triggered urgent notification have been Exeter and Nottingham, and that he would have triggered a UN on Liverpool. Birmingham is the fourth, so the answer is: three out of the four since the beginning of this year have been from the public sector.
The Minister has already made reference to the situation at Nottingham Prison, in my constituency. For at least the past year, it has been going through considerable challenges, not only with deaths in custody, but with endemic psychoactive substance misuse. Will he explain and put a timeline on the interventions that he is making and on when we will be able to see some improvements in performance?
The situation at Nottingham Prison has been very concerning, with deaths at the prison of particular concern. We now have a new governor; a very highly respected, professional governor has come in. Tom Wheatley, the previous governor, is moving on to another role. We would expect to see the beginning of a turnaround there within the next six months, with the things to look at in particular being the statistics on drugs and violence.
Paul Newton is an excellent governor. He was transferred from Swaleside prison, in my constituency—a prison that has its own problems. What assurances can the Minister give me that the transfer of Mr Newton will not be detrimental to my local prison?
We have to be cognisant of that, but the Prison Service is a large system. We have more than 20,000 prison officers, so although moving 32 staff will challenge some of the prisons from which they are removed, this should be accommodated within our prisons system. We have a lot of other talented governors, and we remain confident that the need in Birmingham is greater than that at Swaleside. We will make sure that Paul Newton is replaced with a highly effective governor.
How on earth did G4S’s management of HMP Birmingham lose control of the prison so dramatically? What is the Minister going to do about the poor level of retention of experienced officers, with the number of those leaving their jobs having doubled in the past two years?
The fundamental factor that triggered the change at Birmingham was that in December 2016 one of the prison officers managed to lose their keys, which led to nearly 200 prisoners being unlocked and a riot in the prison. G4S had been improving the prison over the previous three years, but that event really knocked the bottom out of it. It had a devastating effect on morale, and as the hon. Lady implied, it led to a lot of experienced staff leaving the prison. Looking back over that period, we can see that, although the chief inspector of prisons and the Government had hoped that things were beginning to improve during 2017, that turned out in the end to be a false promise, and we are still recovering from the blow of that December 2016 event.
I have huge confidence in my hon. Friend the Minister, but I do not have confidence that the prison officers that the Government employ will stay on. The facts speak for themselves. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant); many of my local prison officers, along with, I am sure, many across the prison estate, are concerned that the proper discipline, protection and all the other things are not in place to look after them. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will look into the matter and make sure that if, for example, a prison officer is assaulted, the assaulter is jailed for a much longer period?
That is absolutely the right challenge. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has introduced a private Member’s Bill that will double the maximum sentence available for assaulting prison officers. But it is not enough just to double the maximum sentence. We need to make sure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to bring prosecutions forward. There are still today too many incidents of prison officers being assaulted. They are hard-working, serious and professional public servants with a very challenging working life. We owe them a duty of care, and we must prosecute people who assault them.
Of course I fully agree with the points that have just been made, but I wish to ask about brain injury in Birmingham Prison. The work that has been done in Leeds Prison shows that there is a very high incidence of traumatic brain injury in the prison population, and the work done in a pilot in Cardiff Prison shows that we can make dramatic differences to reoffending if we screen everybody who comes on to the secure estate and provide full neuro-rehabilitation to those who require it. Will that be available in Her Majesty’s prison in Birmingham?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work on this issue. In fact, I would like to offer to sit down with him immediately to discuss the findings he mentioned and how we can apply them to Birmingham Prison.
Like Birmingham Prison, the prison in Chelmsford has some ancient Victorian wings and the staff numbers had become very low, but those numbers have now increased. Does my hon. Friend agree that new staff need support in the form of training, ongoing mentoring and tutoring? Will he ensure that they get that support?
Absolutely. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has made seven visits to Chelmsford Prison and has worked closely with the acting governor there on the steps that are being taken to turn it around. [Interruption.] I hasten to add that she made those visits as a visitor. The key point that she raises is the one on mentoring, particularly the role that more experienced prison officers at band 4 can play in providing the day-to-day model for and partnership with the staff on the ground, to teach them the jail craft that is essential for everybody’s safety, and ultimately for turning around lives.
It is clear that drugs have played a significant role in the problems in Birmingham; similarly, drugs have played a significant role in the challenges in Nottingham Prison, and I suspect across the prison estate. What is the Minister’s latest assessment of the use of body scanners, and what is the latest legal advice he has been given about how widely they can be used?
There have been historical challenges with the use of body scanners. We have now gone through the legal advice very carefully, and I am clear that they can be and ought to be used much more frequently, so we have invested almost £6 million in additional scanning. That will allow us to detect, as we already do at Belmarsh, drugs carried by people inside their body, as well as drugs carried on their person. That will go along with the new scanners that we are bringing in to detect mail infused with Spice and all the work that we are doing to combat drones and other ways of getting drugs into prison. Protective security measures must work alongside demand reduction and therapy, but without protective security we cannot get on top of the drugs epidemic.
Violent offences are committed in prison. If drugs are peddled in prison, appropriate punishment needs to be meted out to those who are responsible and the ringleaders removed. If the Minister will not bring back hard labour, will he at least look at the punishment regime so that prison officers and inmates who obey the rules can regard prison as a safe place to be, because at the moment it sounds to me as though the Government are losing control?
This is a very good challenge. There are two fundamental issues. One is the nature of the punishment that we impose. Somebody who is dealing drugs in prison is committing a criminal offence, so we would expect that person to proceed to court and receive extra days, or extra years, of sentence for importing drugs into a prison—that should be a consecutive, not concurrent, sentence. The second and most important issue is consistency. We need to ensure that any punishments that are inflicted are predictable and consistent, and we need not only to do that with drugs, but to challenge low-level disruptive behaviour consistently if we are to turn around the culture in our most troubled prisons.
Given that the Minister has accepted that, in the short-term at least, increasing the number of staff and cutting the number of prisoners is a way to stabilise the situation, will he make sure that if he does hand this prison back to G4S, which I do not think he should do, it does not then immediately cut the staffing levels again, because that is how it makes its money?
That is a very good point. If the prison is stabilised as a result of this action, we need to make sure that the plan that takes it forward respects those ratios and that, if those ratios are reduced, it is done on an evidence base. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point to the danger of doing that suddenly after the takeover.
The Minister has reduced the number of prisoners at HMP Birmingham. Will he look seriously at reducing the number of prisoners right across the prison estate and relentlessly focus on rehabilitation? For victims and for those serving sentences of under 12 months, prison is not working.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for his question. It is of course true that we have evidence that shows clearly that there is a higher incidence of reoffending by people on short prison sentences than by people who serve community sentences. That is why the example from the Government of Scotland is very relevant. The best way to protect the public is by reducing reoffending. Putting people unnecessarily into prison in a way that damages them, does not change their lives and leads to reoffending when they leave is not in the prisoners’ interests, is not in the public purse’s interest and, ultimately, is not in the interests of public safety.
Does my hon. Friend agree that tackling the problems in prison is important, but that it is very important to reduce the number of those ending up in prison? Recent data shows that two thirds of all young offenders have speech, language and communication disorders. Surely, if we can focus more on that in the early years, we can reduce the number of young people ever finding their way to prison.
That is absolutely right. A lot of people who are offending and ending up in prison come from very difficult backgrounds. We have a situation at the moment in our prisons where nearly half our prisoners have been excluded from school at some time compared with only 2% of the general population. We have a situation where almost 40% of the people in prison currently have a reading age of under 11 and a very significant number have a reading age of under six. Addressing those problems in early years is vital if we are to reduce offending.
Birmingham is one of the four most violent prisons in England and Wales, and all those prisons are privately operated. Does the Minister agree that, logically, this level of violence is a consequence of running prisons for profit where costs are cut to the bone to maximise returns for shareholders?
I say very respectfully that the chief inspector of prisons argues that the steepest increase in violence has taken place at Exeter Prison, which, sadly, is a public sector prison. Yes, it is true that we have very significant problems in Birmingham, which is a private prison, but we also have significant problems in Exeter, which is a public prison. The driver of this issue is not public against private; it is drugs, violence and, ultimately, the management leadership culture and the support for the staff on the ground. These problems can happen whatever the particular model.
I understand that Altcourse Prison, to which the Minister referred, was inspected in November 2017. In the report published in March this year, the chief inspector of prisons described an excellent staff culture and said that almost all interactions between staff and inmates were positive. Does this show that the private sector does have a role to play in running prisons?
Altcourse Prison is a G4S prison; it is run by the same company that is being criticised in Birmingham. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, that prison—as I saw directly—has incredibly good education facilities and workshops, and it had a good inspection report. It is showing how to run a safe, clean and orderly regime that is genuinely changing lives, and how to do so through the private sector.
May I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. Friend is handling this very difficult and sensitive matter? The tendering process is critical wherever the private sector is involved in the provision of public services. Will he ensure that anyone bidding in any future tenders for prisons, including this one, will have to show that they have the capacity to avoid losing control of the prisons in their charge?
This is a fundamental challenge, and of course it is central to anything that happens when the Government work with the private sector. We must make sure that the tender process ensures that the people bidding for any of these contracts have the credibility, legitimacy and capacity to run the contracts effectively.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
If the point of order relates to these exchanges, let us hear it.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. The Minister and several other Members referred to my private Member’s Bill, which might help with some of these matters. It has completed its passage through the House of Commons and through the House of Lords. I just wondered whether you have any means of ensuring that it receives Royal Assent as soon as possible.
I think that the prognosis is positive and the hon. Gentleman may be satisfied erelong, but I say that with caution because he is not easily satisfied and, even if satisfied, is not necessarily satisfied for long.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
It is not necessary for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that he is hailing a taxi, but I am happy to take his point of order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Over the recess, the number of people killed, stabbed and murdered on the streets of London this year reached 100. That figure has already surpassed the years of 2012, 2013 and 2014. I have received emails from constituents asking me what I will be doing to reduce that number or to prevent further deaths. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Mayor of London is responsible for the crime strategy for London. Would you advise me how I can hold the Mayor of London to account, because his crime strategy simply is not working?
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know would not seek to entice me in a political controversy, is that it is open to him both to question Ministers in relation to policy and, through the Committees of the House, to undertake such inquiries and seek to secure the attendance of such witnesses as will provide evidence that the hon. Gentleman can then use. I feel sure that he will use it always and only in the public interest.
Brexit Negotiations and No Deal Contingency Planning
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to provide the House with an update on the progress of Brexit negotiations and the Government’s no deal contingency planning.
On Friday, I was in Brussels for the fourth time since I became Secretary of State for a further round of talks with Michel Barnier. We had an extended discussion covering outstanding withdrawal issues, internal and external security and our future economic partnership. We have injected some additional pace and intensity into the negotiations as we reach the final phases. The vast majority of the withdrawal agreement has been agreed. When signed, the agreement will safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, so they can continue to live their lives broadly as they do now; provide for a time-limited implementation period, giving businesses and citizens the certainty they deserve until we reach the new partnership; and allow for the UK to make an orderly and smooth transition as we move towards a future deep and special partnership with the EU. During August, we made further progress across a range of the outstanding separation issues, including protection of data and information, the treatment of ongoing police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and ongoing Union judicial and administrative procedures after exit. So the scope and the contours of the withdrawal agreement are now clear, subject to some further technical detail that we will of course continue to work on.
At the same time, we continue to work to complete a backstop to deal with the position of Northern Ireland and Ireland, as we committed to do in the December joint report with the EU. As the Government have made clear, the EU proposals are unacceptable, because they would create a customs border down the Irish sea. We are determined to reach a solution that protects the Belfast agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland. We will not permit a customs border down the Irish sea, which would put at risk the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. And, of course, this can be done without compromising the EU’s core principles. Importantly, we look to meet our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland through our future partnership, so that no backstop would ever need to come into effect.
The White Paper we published in July has served as the basis for constructive discussions on our future relationship with the EU. I, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Cabinet colleagues have made visits across Europe, explaining our proposals and making the case for what we have put forward for our future relationship. I can tell the House that since the publication of the White Paper, Ministers have had more than 60 ministerial engagements with their counterparts across Europe. I met the French Europe Minister in Paris recently, and saw the Swedish Europe Minister and the Irish Foreign Minister in London. I also met Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, last week. We have received a wide range of positive and constructive feedback.
Equally, just as we have presented our proposals in a spirit of compromise, so, too, they have proved challenging in some respects for some in the EU. But our friends across Europe are engaging seriously with our proposals on the substance. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out, we are committed to delivering on the vision in the White Paper and delivering a future relationship that will see the United Kingdom leave the single market and the customs union, an end to freedom of movement so the UK controls its own borders, the end of the jurisdiction of the European Court, and the UK and the EU meeting their shared commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland in the way that I have already described.
At the same time, we want to build up the foundations of a bright, strong and enduring new relationship for the future, with frictionless trade across our borders; continued close co-operation on law enforcement and other security matters; the UK free to develop its own independent trade policy; and broader UK-EU co-operation, from research to student exchanges, in many of the areas that we prize on both sides. We approach these talks with ambition, pragmatism and energy. If our EU friends match us, we will strike a deal that is in the clear and overwhelming interests of both sides.
I would also like to update the House on steps the Government have taken over the summer to prepare for the unlikely event that we do not reach a deal with the EU. While we expect to reach a deal with the EU, while it remains the most likely outcome and while it remains our top and, indeed, our overriding priority, as a responsible Government we have a duty to prepare for any eventuality. So on 23 August, we published 25 technical notices intended to inform people, businesses and stakeholders about steps they need to take in the event of a no deal scenario. They build on the steady and patient work that has taken place over the past two years to prepare this country for life outside the EU, irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations. That work has included passing key bits of legislation to ensure a smooth Brexit, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; recruiting the staff in Whitehall and our operational agencies so we have the teams in place; and preparing our institutional capacity, from the Competition and Markets Authority to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The technical notices continue that same responsible, practical approach to preparing our country for Brexit. Among the technical notices, there is advice for businesses on some of the new processes they would be expected to follow when moving goods between the EU and the UK in a no deal scenario. Our technical notice on workplace rights sets out how workers in the UK will continue to be entitled to the rights they have under UK law. We have set out how, in the event of no deal, we would recognise the testing and safety approvals of existing medicines if they have been carried out by an EU member state regulator, to minimise any disruption to the supplies of medicines or medical devices from the EU.
Those notices are proportionate and measured, and they prioritise stability for our citizens, businesses, public bodies and NGOs. The 25 notices published in August were the first in a series of updates that we will be publishing over the coming weeks to keep stakeholders informed about what action, if any, they need to take.
Our approach acknowledges that there are some risks to a no deal scenario and demonstrates that we are taking action to avoid, minimise and mitigate those potential risks, so that we are equipped to manage any short-term disruption. While it is not what we want, a no deal scenario would bring some countervailing opportunities. We would be able to lower tariffs and negotiate and bring into effect new free trade deals straightaway. There would be the immediate recovery of full legislative and regulatory control, including over immigration policy, and, while we are mindful of our legal obligations, a swifter end to our financial contributions to the EU.
I will continue to meet regularly with Michel Barnier, confident that a deal is within our grasp if the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown are matched by our EU friends. But this House and the British people can rest assured that the UK will be ready for Brexit, deal or no deal, and prepared, whatever the outcome, so that this country goes from strength to strength. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement, but I am sorry to say that that statement is not going to reassure anyone.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State has to put a brave face on it, but there is no hiding the fact that the Government are in a real fix. There are two parts to that fix. The first is the reckless red lines set out by the Prime Minister two years ago, tearing us out of the customs union and single market with no European Court jurisdiction, which meant that a deal that safeguards our economy and avoids a hard border in Northern Ireland simply cannot be negotiated. The second part of the fix is the Chequers fudge, cobbled together nearly two years later. It satisfies no one and is being attacked from all quarters. It is obvious that something is going to have to give. The only question being asked up and down the country is, what is going to give?
Time is running out. The October summit is on 18 to 19 October. That is 44 days away. When the Secretary of State last updated the House in July, he said:
“Our expectation is to reach agreement in October.”—[Official Report, 24 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 891.]
I note that he has not repeated that today. Can he account for that change? The reality, of course, is that no one now seriously expects the deal to be agreed by then, hence the talk of a special summit in November. The trouble with that is that even November only buys four extra weeks. It is impossible to see how the Chequers proposal could lead to a deal that would command a majority in Parliament in that time. Meanwhile, the confidence of businesses and working people in the Government’s ability to reach a deal sinks by the day.
Hence what we have seen is a summer of debate about no deal. There have been two sides to that debate. On one side is the Secretary of State talking up what he calls the “countervailing opportunities” of no deal—something he repeats today—and the Prime Minister saying that no deal would not be “the end of the world”, which is an interesting but hardly inspiring description. On the other hand, we have the Chancellor warning that there will be “large fiscal consequences” of no deal and the recently appointed Foreign Secretary saying it would be a
“mistake we would regret for generations”.
May I gently say to the Secretary of State that all his talk of no deal is not kidding anyone? Being told that we only need to stockpile medicines for six weeks and that there are no plans yet to deploy the Army to maintain food supplies has not reassured anyone.
There are obviously huge gaps in the Secretary of State’s no deal strategy, and there is no better example than Northern Ireland. I want to dwell on this for a moment, because once again the Secretary of State’s statement identifies the problem but offers no solution. The anxiety on both sides of the Irish border about the risk of no deal and the failure to agree a legally binding backstop is real. It is not a myth; it is shared by all communities. I have spoken to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and I know how seriously he is taking this. For the former Foreign Secretary to say that this issue has been manipulated by the Irish and UK Governments is completely and, I am afraid to say, typically irresponsible, and I invite the Secretary of State to take this opportunity to dissociate himself from those remarks.
The technical notices that the Secretary of State mentioned—issued two weeks ago—are themselves revealing. When it comes to no deal and Northern Ireland, they say simply this:
“we stand ready to engage constructively”.
That is not a plan for no deal. The truth is that the Government have no idea how they will mitigate the impact of no deal when it comes to Northern Ireland. That is just not good enough. In December last year, the Government signed up to a solemn commitment to a backstop agreement in Northern Ireland. This House is entitled to know this afternoon how, in six weeks, the Secretary of State actually intends to keep that commitment.
The Brexit negotiations are in serious trouble. It appears from the Secretary of State’s statement that the Government’s strategy is simply to plough on regardless, to pretend everything is going to plan and to hope that, somehow, the dynamics of the negotiation and the arithmetic in this House will magically change. That is incredibly irresponsible. It will reassure no one. The Secretary of State is likely to face significant challenge from all sides this afternoon, and he knows it.
The Government must change course and put forward a credible plan that can break this impasse—one that can command the support of the House, protect jobs and the economy, and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. The Government have six weeks to get this right. More of the same will not do.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his reply and some of the constructive tone in it. On timing, both I and Michel Barnier repeated on Friday that we were aiming for the October Council but recognised that there would be some margin of leeway, as is often the case with negotiations.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me at various points to comment on the newspaper commentary throughout the summer. Actually, I have been focused on the negotiation and getting the best deal for Britain.
On the negotiations themselves, may I just reassure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that progress is real on data sharing, criminal justice co-operation, passenger name record and Prüm data, and continuing fast-track extradition co-operation, which Michel Barnier and I talked about on Friday? Those are the areas one might think a former Director of Public Prosecutions would attach serious weight to, but there was not one mention of them at all.
On the outstanding separation issues, including data protection and cases going through administrative and judicial procedures when we leave, I would have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might at least have paused to welcome some of the progress in those areas.
That is what the Government have been doing over the summer: making progress towards a deal that is within our sights. As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, well, last week he said that Labour’s position is that a second referendum is “on the table”. I have to say that it is rare that I agree with the shadow Trade Secretary, who said that a second referendum would be “damaging” to the foundations of this country, but I think, in democratic terms, he is right about that.
I am afraid that that shows how frankly useless the Labour party would be, if it were ever in charge of Government, in terms of standing up for the United Kingdom in these negotiations. Nothing could be calibrated to weaken the UK’s negotiating position more than dangling the prospect of a second referendum, which would only invite the very worst terms.
On the technical notices, we are doing the responsible thing that any responsible Government would need to do: striving for the very best deal but preparing for all outcomes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not actually asked me a single question of substance about any one of the 25 notices that we have published.
In relation to Northern Ireland, he clearly has not read the technical notices, because they were referred to at various points where they are applicable and relevant to the individual sectoral notices. Again, I am afraid that the Labour party is demonstrating that it is not fit to govern. We have the leader of the Labour party admitting in an interview on LBC that he would accept any deal, however bad its terms, and the shadow Chancellor explaining that he would not set aside any money to deal with the worst-case scenario of a no deal Brexit. Yet again, I am afraid that the Labour party has shown that it would roll over in Brussels and fail to stand up for this country.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK has absolutely no plans to impose new barriers and bureaucratic complications against German pharmaceuticals, French food and other such products in the event of us leaving and trading under World Trade Organisation terms?
My right hon. Friend will know from the technical notices that we would prioritise continuity and stability, to make sure that in some of those areas he has raised we could continue to receive those goods and supplies into the UK.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. We of course welcome those areas where progress has been made, but he must share our concern at the lack of progress, which is still too slow, and the still too many fundamental important areas where little or no progress has been made.
The Secretary of State’s statement runs to eight pages—1,297 words in the version received in advance—and yet certainly the first half of it tells us nothing, or next to nothing, that is new. There is a lot of repetition of the old mantras and the old wildly confident assertions, with little or no evidence to back any of them up. On citizens’ rights, there is nothing new; on Northern Ireland, there is nothing new; and on customs, there is nothing new, apart from the fact that Michel Barnier thinks that the customs element of the Chequers proposal is illegal and unworkable. The Prime Minister, in her pragmatic, constructive and helpful way, has said that the proposal is completely non-negotiable, so they can find common ground on that.
I assume that the positive and constructive feedback that the Secretary of State has received over the past few weeks does not include that from the plethora of former Ministers and former Secretaries of State, including the Prime Minister’s first choice for his job, who have been enthusiastically tweeting away with the hashtag #ChuckChequers. I would suggest that, before the Secretary of State starts to criticise Labour on its lack of unity on Brexit, it might help—although maybe he will not want to do this—if he cast a look behind him.
What analysis have the Government done of the costs to businesses, schools, colleges, universities and everyone else of taking the steps the Secretary of State is now advising us to take to prepare for a no deal Brexit? When will the Government publish their backstop to the Northern Ireland and Irish border question, which was promised nine months ago? Will the Secretary of State confirm that recognising and respecting Ireland’s sovereign decision to remain a full and integral part of the European Union means recognising that Ireland must and will respect EU legislation about the enforcement of its external border, whether it is deal or no deal?
Finally, instead of continuing to set unilateral, non-negotiable red lines, as happened before the negotiations had even started, will the Government finally accept that they got it wrong and that continued membership of the single market and the customs union will not only break the logjam in the negotiations and deliver the Brexit that the Vote Leave campaign promised people they would get if they voted to leave, but help to save at least some of the hundreds of thousands of jobs on these islands that are threatened by an ideologically driven hard Brexit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and