Surely, we should be saying to Iran that we do not want anyone to develop nuclear weapons in the region, that we will push really hard on getting a nuclear weapons-free zone conference to ensure that there is no requirement on anybody to have nuclear weapons and that we will include Iran fully in Geneva II. The rather strange insistence on the acceptance by Iran of everything to do with Geneva I—it is not clear what it does and does not agree with on that—should not be used as an obstacle to getting the country involved. Clearly, if there is to be a ceasefire and a long-term peace in Syria, it has to come about with the involvement of Iran as well as of Russia, all the forces in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and everybody else, otherwise the implications of

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massive flows of refugees and the carnage in Syria just continue. The danger then moves on to the possibility of a war with Iran.

We must negotiate with Iran. We must respect it and its culture, build a relationship with it and recognise that it is still a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The danger would be if it walked away from that treaty and chose to develop nuclear weapons, because Saudi Arabia would do the same and there would then be an arms race within the region. Some rather zany commentators in the US think that Iran should get nuclear weapons on the basis that it would create a regional balance and then we would move on. Balancing nuclear weapons terror is not a way to bring about peace.

I thank the hon. Member for Kettering for securing the debate, which is extremely helpful. I hope the Government will get the message that preparing to reopen diplomatic relations with Iran is welcome, as is the fact that discussions are going on. I look forward to the Minister’s reply, and I hope he will cover human rights in Iran, as well as nuclear power and the potential for others in the region to develop nuclear weapons.

I hope the Government will put serious effort into supporting the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to bring about the dream of a nuclear weapons-free zone across the middle east, because that would help to bring about a much longer-term peace throughout the region.

3.10 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this timely debate. I do not agree with all the points he made, but he made some important points about, for instance, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium being among the considerations the negotiators must take on board.

The news that the Foreign Secretary brought to the House yesterday about progress in the negotiations, or the talks about talks, and about Foreign Minister Zarif proving to be someone whom western powers could do business with, was very welcome. We should reflect for a minute on how far we have come in a year and a half. I was looking back on some notes from May last year, and we were talking then about the risk of strikes on Iran and of a regional war being sparked by preventive strikes against Iran by the United States or by conflict breaking out over the strait of Hormuz. The situation now is not quite unrecognisable, but it has moved a considerable distance.

One crucial change is the election in the summer of President Rouhani. We may think that the electoral process was flawed, and we may think that the constitution of Iran is flawed and still gives too much power to the theocracy, but the election was undoubtedly genuinely contested, and it has undoubtedly changed the political landscape. We must therefore be a little wary of doing a reverse of the Whig interpretation of history: nobody naively believes that things will always get better, but we must never fall into the trap of thinking things can never get better. We must take advantage of the situation when someone such as President Rouhani is elected, because he is at least saying many of the right things, and he appears to be acting in many of the right ways.

In its statements over the past six months on President Rouhani and the situation in Iran, the Foreign Office has been very cautious and guarded, and it has talked

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about actions speaking louder than words. I have sometimes found that a little frustrating, and we could have seen a bit more enthusiasm for the reforming faction in Iran. However, if I am criticising the Foreign Office for going a bit too slowly, and others are criticising it for going too fast, it has perhaps got things just about right.

We should applaud the diplomatic efforts that have been made by British, international and, in this case, European Union diplomats. I was struck by the Foreign Secretary’s praise of Baroness Ashton in the House yesterday. She is, as a Brit, demonstrating not only the great British tradition of diplomacy, but the potential for the European Union to play a positive role in world diplomacy, not displacing, but complementing, national diplomacy. That is very positive.

There are three points that I would like to make. The first builds on my point about seeing the positive potential, rather than always accentuating the negative. I would ask the Foreign Office to be robust not only in pursuing the positive avenue of negotiations, but in standing up to anyone we traditionally think of as an ally who might try to stall the negotiations or prevent them from making too much progress.

There are two countries that I am particularly concerned about. One is Saudi Arabia. The Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, made an interesting comment last month. He said that following Washington’s failure to strike Syria and its entering into nuclear talks with Iran, there would be a major shift in Saudi Arabia’s relations with it. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s perspective on American-Saudi relations and on our own relationships with Saudi Arabia, in the context of the Iranian nuclear talks. I hope we will not allow Saudi Arabia to stall our progress in this area.

Through the channel of this debate, I would tell the Saudi Government that if they look back to the 1990s, to the presidencies of Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami in Iran, they will see that there were much more cordial relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has been only since the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005 and then the coming to power of King Abdullah that the two countries have got into a regional cold war and have almost been fighting proxy battles as rival regional powers from Bahrain to Syria to other places across the middle east. That is regrettable, and they should perhaps realise that the presidency of President Rouhani offers a path back to more constructive engagement.

Like the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I also have concerns about Israel. We have not heard very constructive comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu about the E3 plus 3 talks. He has expressed real fear that they will result in a deal that

“will not work for Israel”.

However, Israel must also see its long-term interests. Surely, the most positive thing for Israel would be a process that ultimately leads towards a nuclear-free middle east and certainly one that has a realistic prospect of achieving a nuclear-free Iran.

Mr Jim Cunningham: I apologise to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for not congratulating him on securing the debate. Does the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) not think that the situation between the Israeli Government and the Palestinians is

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linked to this issue? That must be part of a solution in the middle east, because we cannot have a settlement with Iran in isolation. Does the hon. Gentleman also not think that the settlements Israel has been building have thrown some difficulties in the way of the road map to peace? Finally, despite what the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, there were demonstrations two or three years ago in Iran, and the opposition came close to winning the election. Internally, that may be motivating the regime a lot more than the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Order. Can we keep interventions short? I hope to call the Front-Bench speakers at 3.40 pm.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman makes some important points, although we are also seeing positive engagement by Palestine and Israel in peace talks, so that is another area where we can accentuate the positive. My point is that we should be clear with our traditional allies in the region that we want to pursue this process with Iran robustly.

My second point relates to what the hon. Gentleman has just said: this has to be a regional process. I would therefore like to ask the Minister what the status is of the proposed plan to move towards talks on a nuclear-free middle east. That plan should include Israel as well as Iran. It could be revived in the new, more constructive atmosphere that is emerging. It might also connect with other disputes in the region. That plan was on the table quite seriously, and I would like to hear where the Foreign Office thinks the talks now lie.

My third and final point relates to the non-proliferation treaty. It is something of a rich irony that the E3 plus 3 could also be described as the N5 plus 1. Here we have six countries lecturing Iran on nuclear proliferation, but five of them hold nuclear weapons themselves—only Germany does not. It would send a positive signal if we discussed our own willingness to look at the nuclear threshold. There are countries around the world that have stopped short of it, even though, as in Japan’s case, they probably have the technological capacity to step over it. We are asking Iran to stop at the nuclear threshold or, ideally, to step well back from it, so perhaps we should be constructive in looking at whether we can step down the nuclear ladder; indeed, it is technically our obligation as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to look at progress towards disarmament. I will not get sidetracked into a debate on Trident like-for-like replacement, but the Liberal Democrat position is clearly that we could make a constructive contribution in that regard. I do not expect Ministers immediately to leap up to support that, but they should perhaps reflect on what we can do as part of a global process.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kettering that the talks must be robust and real, and that there must be a real negotiation that puts real demands on Iran. However, at the same time, we should reflect on the fact that all nuclear weapons are dangerous, and there are probably people in every country who are mad or bad enough to use them. The ideal that President Obama has set out of a world free from nuclear weapons and of a global nuclear disarmament process actually getting under way in the 21st century is one we in this country should

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do everything we can to support through our fast-improving relations with Iran and through our own attitude to nuclear armaments.

3.19 pm

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I welcome the debate, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is to be commended on securing. He is right about the importance of the issue, which is on a different scale from other issues that we are involved in, in the middle east or elsewhere, important though those are.

I remind the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) that the debate is about Iran, not Israel or Saudi Arabia—still less about nuclear disarmament. Disarmament combined with unreciprocated concessions to aggressive regimes did not always guarantee a brilliant outcome in the previous century. Iran is an aggressive regime. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) about the Iranian people and culture, which I distinguish from the regime. Many people in Iran are oppressed by it, and notwithstanding the comments of the hon. Member for Cheltenham, it is still a long way from being a democracy. It was observed that there were 3,000 possible candidates, although I was told that 678 presidential candidates were disqualified by Ayatollah Khomeini as ideologically unsound. Only six were allowed to proceed—one of whom is now President Rouhani. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that an approach from any source in Iran must be engaged with constructively, and I support their way of proceeding. However, I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that we must not look through rose-tinted spectacles at President Rouhani.

Martin Horwood: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that even that flawed electoral process makes Iran rather more democratic than Saudi Arabia, which we traditionally treat as a close ally?

Mr Clappison: It is nothing like the democracy that I would like the Iranian people to have and that many of them would want. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that we should not see President Rouhani as a completely new broom. We must not be naive. He has been part of the present regime since its inception and has held high office in it. He has been involved in its nuclear negotiations in the past, and, as my hon. Friend showed in the quotation he used, has stalled and used other devices to further Iran’s nuclear intentions.

I believe that it is the resolute intention of the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons. Why on earth would it have put itself through what it has gone through for so many years—sanctions, international opprobrium, all that has happened in the United Nations and all the economic problems that have been caused for Iran—if not because it wanted nuclear weapons come what may? Is the international community getting it all wrong, and have all the leaders over the years been completely mistaken? I think not. We must accept that the Iranian regime is determined to have nuclear weapons. We should not let them fall into its hands. No matter who else may or may not have them, that regime has demonstrated beyond peradventure its aggressive intent in the region and throughout the world, through the

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export of terrorism by proxy to other countries in the region, including Lebanon and Syria; through its involvement in propping up the Syrian regime now; through its export of worldwide terrorism against Israel and Israeli citizens; and through its leaders’ aggressive statements in the past. We can have no doubts about the nature of the regime and the fact that we should not let nuclear weapons fall into those hands.

It is right, however, to engage with the regime, and I support the Government’s approach, but we must take an exacting and resolute approach in negotiations. We must not exaggerate, as I think the hon. Member for Cheltenham was in danger of doing, any progress that has been made already. We are only at the interim stage and have not even concluded an interim agreement. Let us not rush to say that there is agreement before it happens. We need to apply exacting and rigorous conditions to the regime and should take the view that if there is any doubt or anything unsatisfactory in any negotiations it is better to have no agreement than a bad agreement.

If the Government can reach an agreement that leaves Iran nowhere near the threshold of holding nuclear weapons, that rolls back the Iranian nuclear programme and that creates a framework in which peace can be achieved in the region, they deserve to be encouraged. They must have high expectations and I encourage them to be rigorous and, if necessary, cynical about the regime. In the past it has played for time, stalled and tried to reach a certain level. Iran must go back to the position it was in before it started its nuclear armaments programme; it must dismantle it and put itself far from the threshold of having nuclear weapons.

I agreed with some of what the hon. Member for Islington North said, although not all of it. Human rights are human rights anywhere in the region; but human rights in Iran are at stake. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends, if they get a chance, to raise the issue of human rights with Iran. The regime has an unenviable record on human rights in many respects. I have in the past taken up the issue of persecution of Christians by the Iranian regime, which included death or prison sentences merely for practising their faith. We should not go into the negotiations with any illusions about the regime.

3.26 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am pleased to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan.

This weekend, we honoured the dead of two world wars. It was the horror of the first world war that led to a huge desire for peace and disarmament in the decades that followed. During the 1920s and 1930s, there were disarmament conferences and complex negotiations leading to impressive disarmament treaties, such as the Washington naval treaties. What happened afterwards was instructive. The democracies observed the treaties. The British Navy, for example, redesigned battleships such as the Nelson and the Rodney in strange configurations, to stay within the limits of the Washington naval treaties. The Germans had a much more practical approach to the matter. They simply lied about the tonnage of their battle cruisers, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, claiming to stay within the treaty terms, but actually breaching them.

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We must therefore understand that, in disarmament negotiations and military confrontations, what matters is less the weapons systems than the nature of the Governments who possess them. An example of that is our attitude to the nuclear weapons that Russia holds today, compared with our attitude to nuclear weapons held by the Soviet Union. We were desperately concerned about its nuclear arsenal, because the Soviet Union was governed by a system with an aggressive ideology and a ruthless approach to what it regarded as the inevitable confrontation between communism and capitalism. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia turned, however hesitantly, in a more democratic direction, we ceased to be anything like as concerned about its nuclear weapons systems. We became concerned about whether such systems would leach out of Russia into the hands of other totalitarian-inspired groups. We did not mind so much what arsenal Russia possessed—and continues to possess—provided that it remained in safe hands and not extremist hands.

That is why the comparisons between Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon and Israel’s possession of a nuclear weapon are, frankly, unfounded. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), whom I congratulate both on securing the debate and on the way that he introduced it, we would be concerned today about Israel’s nuclear arsenal if Israel were governed by an extremist religious clique, and we would not be worried about Iran having nuclear weapons to anything like the extent that we are if Iran were as democratic as Israel is at present.

Having said all that, we have to operate within the boundaries of what is or is not practicable. The reality is that if Iran chooses to acquire nuclear weapons, unless some state or alliance of states seeks to intervene in some military way physically to prevent it from doing so, Iran cannot be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons if it wants them enough. As has been pointed out, Iran is signed up to the non-proliferation treaty. I quickly conferred with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and I think that we both agree that ultimately if Iran chose to leave the NPT, frankly there would be nothing that could be legitimately done to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, any more than anything could have been done to prevent Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons in the way that it did.

I always refer to him as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), although we are on opposite sides of the argument. In his contribution, I believe that he was trying to suggest that Israel perhaps ought to give up its nuclear weapons and that that might improve the situation, and he ended his speech by saying that he did not believe that the balance of power, or the balance of terror, was the right way to keep the peace in the middle east. I am afraid that I disagree with him on both counts. I think that Israel giving up its nuclear weapons—and Israel is not party to the NPT—would actually encourage other countries to commit aggression against it. I believe, however, that the possibility of the balance of terror may, in the end, come to be our only resource against Iran, because—as I said before —if Iran is determined to have nuclear weapons and if it is more important to Iran to have nuclear weapons

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than, for example, to have the sanctions against it removed, Iran will have nuclear weapons, unless somebody wants to launch a military strike against it.

In conclusion, we lived through—what was it?—70 years or more of confrontation with the Soviet Union, and we survived that period of intense confrontation through a policy of containment. The containment policy meant that we neutralised the weapons systems of the power that could potentially attack us, and we allowed the slow development of internal political forces until that country’s system of government changed. If ever there were a country that ought to be subject to a policy of containment, it is Iran. Sometimes I get the impression that the leaders of Iran are almost being deliberately provocative, so as to incite some sort of military strike against it to bolster their position with the population at home. I have no doubt that if Iran can be contained for long enough, democracy will emerge in the country and, as I said at the beginning, when democracy emerges the question of what weapons systems a country has or does not have becomes almost completely irrelevant.

3.34 pm

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate. May I also say what a thoughtful and principled speech my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has just made? He is a true believer in the importance of the nuclear deterrent and of the logical application of standards that the deterrent must adhere to.

I had better declare that I have chaired the all-party group on Iran since 2006; my co-chair is now the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). In that time, I have visited Iran and made a number of trips around the world to meet Governments and officials linked to the policy on Iran.

I should start my remarks by saying, briefly, that there is a real certainty in the debate that there is a nuclear weapons programme in Iran. However, that certainty is not shared by the United States Government. The US national intelligence estimate of 2007 said that Iran had halted the programme, and in 2010 the US national intelligence estimate yet again confirmed that Iran was not on the verge of breakout. These national intelligence estimates are significant bodies of work, drawing on intelligence from around the world and on the work of different agencies, so we should not just brush them aside.

A country does not just jump from 20% to a nuclear weapon. The uranium has to be weaponised, the grade of the uranium has to be increased and the weapon must be tested, which would usually leave a very significant footprint and take some time. If we take those facts in conjunction with the US national intelligence estimate—and, indeed, with some of the reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency—we see that there is not such an urgency. Iran is not suddenly going to produce a nuclear weapon. In addition, there is the supreme leader’s fatwa that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic. I have visited Iran and if anyone wants to understand the country they have to understand its supreme leader. When the supreme leader says that about nuclear weapons, he means it. It is absolutely imperative that people follow that ruling.

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That does not mean that there are not people in Iran who want a nuclear weapon; I suspect that there are plenty of people there who wish to have one, for the purposes of deterrence. If a sane-minded Iranian who represented New Forest East was living in downtown Tehran, I suspect that he would believe in the principle of deterrence, given that his neighbours are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Those are sworn enemies of Iran, ideologically different and religiously opposed—there are all sorts of issues that we could say we faced in the cold war in the late 1940s. Those differences are often brought home to Iran by the terrorist attacks across its border. We should certainly remember that the supreme leader—for now—has made that ruling and that it is not something to sniff at.

I totally agree that the nature of the regime goes hand in hand with the issue of nuclear weapons. Obviously, Iran’s record on human rights is abhorrent. It has engaged in the persecution of the Baha’is, the suppression of women’s rights and the persecution of lawyers and of people who lead strikes, including bus drivers who lead strikes and have their rights under the constitution denied. It is very important that we do something to put pressure on Iran about those issues and ensure that they are resolved.

Let us remember that the only democracy in the whole region, other than Israel, is Iran. Iran’s democracy may not be one that we think perfect, but it is a democracy that operates at all sorts of levels—the guardian council, local councils and the mayor of Tehran are all elected. Iran has an active democracy. There is no democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria or others of our allies to whom we sell weapons systems around the world.

There is a democracy and a constitution in Iran. One of the reasons for the green movement in 2009 was the desire among the Iranian people to follow the rule of law. If someone reads the Iranian constitution, they will see that it is quite good, even though it was authored by a Belgian. One of the reasons for the green movement was the demand that the denial of rights to people should stop. Label someone a “terrorist” or a “Zionist spy” and they do not have those rights. Well, we live in a democracy that labels someone a “terrorist” and they are then locked up for 90 days, without the same rights that they would have if they were labelled a “criminal”. Iran is certainly more extreme, but let us not forget that the temptation to deny people their rights for all sorts of reasons is not just confined to Iran.

Then we talk about security guarantees. It is a rough neighbourhood down there—a very rough neighbourhood, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. No one has mentioned the recent discovery that in Saudi Arabia there is a ballistic missile launch-pad facility with two aiming marks: one to Tel Aviv and one to Tehran. It is a rough neighbourhood and I think that if I were there, I, too, might like to look out for myself.

At the heart of all this is trust, rhetoric and history. Let us not forget that Iranians distrust the west as much as we distrust Iran. That is at the heart of this process. Let us remember that we distrusted Gorbachev, but we did not say that because he was from the Soviet regime—the regime that was pulling people’s toenails out and torturing them—we could not do business with him and we could not find a solution. We did not write him off. I was involved with the peace process in Northern Ireland in

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1994 with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who would have been appalled by the people I had to meet in the course of trying to make peace with our enemy. We do not necessarily just write people off.

The history of Iran, the great game, the fact that the BBC World Service was used in 1953 to trigger the coup against Iran’s only democratic prime minister—if we were Iranian, we might be a bit suspicious of western media, although now I think that would be wrong. Then there was the grand bargain offered up in 2003, which was the demilitarisation of Hezbollah, the offer to suspend enrichment of uranium and even a movement to a Saudi recognition of Israel, which was dismissed out of hand by the United States Administration.

We are in the business, with this peace process and the process at Geneva, of trying to build trust. We cannot indulge in rhetoric and history to rule that out. We have to give it a chance. We are not stupid and we have all been here before. No one has rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to dealing with Iran; it is a straw man argument to say that we do. We need to work on that and the Government are engaging. I am confident that we will get there, if we just give it a chance.

3.40 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate. There have been five speeches in the debate, which is topical because of the past week’s events in Geneva. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—although we disagree on nuclear weapons, I respect his position—made a thoughtful speech that put the present situation in its historical context. The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) recognised that much of the suspicion in Iran is down to the history that our country and others have in the region. That is important when we are looking at a possible solution to nuclear weapons in the ongoing talks.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly raised the possibility of proliferation throughout the region. He mentioned Saudi Arabia and other nations that might wish to acquire nuclear weapons if the Iranians were to develop their capability. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said on nuclear deterrents vis-à-vis this country, but I do not agree that if Iran developed a nuclear weapons capability, it would somehow offer a balance of terror with Israel. The clear way forward is to stop Iran developing that capability in the first place.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) warned the Government not to look at this process through rose-tinted spectacles, and I agree. No one should look at the history or the actions of the present regime in Iran and think that we are dealing with people who have not committed atrocities on their own people or have not exported terror to other parts of the middle east. When I was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, I was aware of the involvement of Iran in attacks on our troops in southern Iraq and its support for insurgents against those forces.

We on the Opposition Benches see Iran as a threat—if it acquires nuclear weapons—not only to security in the middle east, but to global security. A nuclear-armed Iran would not only change the balance of power

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within the region, but, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham argued, it would also lead to other nations wishing to acquire a nuclear capability. Many of those nations have the funds to do that.

If Iran gained a nuclear capability, that would be a blow to the United Nations goal of a nuclear-free middle east. It would also be a step away and against the goal that we all share of ensuring that new countries do not acquire nuclear weapons. We in the UK and on the Opposition Benches—well, some of us, anyway—are committed to the retention of our nuclear deterrent, but it is important that we encourage others and ourselves to reduce our nuclear weapon stockpiles. Allowing the Iranians to have a nuclear weapons capability would be a severe blow to that non-proliferation position, which I think all parties in this country would want to protect.

The Opposition agree with the Government’s twin-track approach to Iran, with the imposition of strict sanctions and the encouragement through diplomatic channels to ensure that we can get an agreement that ensures that Iran does not acquire a nuclear capability. Much has been said this afternoon about the election of President Rouhani. I accept the points that hon. Members have made about him and some of the atrocities that have been carried out by the Iranian regime. He stood on a platform of reform, and the sanctions imposed by the international community on Iran are having an effect on the Iranian community and the Iranian people. It is important that we continue our diplomatic efforts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North discussed the UK’s diplomatic relations with Iran. I welcome the appointment of the chargés d’affaires and hope we will see the embassy in Tehran opening to commence that dialogue in the not-too-distant future. That dialogue will be so important in steering the Iranians away from developing nuclear weapons and in raising some of the points about human rights and their support for terrorist activities—both in the region and more widely—that have rightly been mentioned.

This weekend’s talks were positive. It is a disappointment to us all that the next step has not been taken, but, overall, we are moving in the right direction and the Iranians are taking a more positive tone and stance. I say to hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Kettering, that there are two options. One is to allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear capacity and take some type of military action against them. The other is to have talks, to give Iran a chance to disarm and to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Given what the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North said, that would be the preferred option.

Doing nothing is not an option. The Opposition support the continuation of strong and tough sanctions while, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere said, not looking at Iran through rose-tinted spectacles. We have to recognise that the negotiations on ensuring that the Iranians give up their capacity to develop nuclear weapons will be tough and hard. I wish the Government and our international partners well in arriving at that international settlement. It will make not only the middle east, but the world, a safer place.

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3.47 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Hugh Robertson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate at such an important moment in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue. I also congratulate the other hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon. I will address the points raised in their various contributions.

To set the scene, it is worth saying three things. First, Iran has shown over the course of recent months that it is genuinely taking a new approach to negotiations. We need fully to test that and explore the opportunity—I go no further than that at this stage—for a deal. We believe there may well be a deal on the table that would give us meaningful assurance on our immediate proliferation concerns and create the space for a comprehensive solution.

Secondly, let me absolutely clear: there is no question of our seeing this issue through rose-tinted spectacles. We approach this negotiation with our eyes wide open. We are fully aware of Iran’s history of concealment and its defiance of its international obligations. We will continue to be firm in our approach to Iran on that and other issues. Thirdly—this addresses a point raised by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and others—despite the fact that progress on nuclear talks remains possible, we are not blind to Iran’s nefarious activities in its immediate region and beyond, or its terrible human rights record.

I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering will take some comfort from what I have just said. He was worried about the possibility of the talks becoming a space in which the Iranians could continue to enrich. The obvious point is that, without the talks, Iran will continue to enrich anyway, so we might as well give the talks a chance. I cannot go into the detail of the negotiations and the terms around which they revolve, but clearly the basis of the deal is that Iran will take concrete and verifiable action to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear programme, and the E3 plus 3 may consider some measure of sanctions relief to offer in return. There will not be a deal unless Iran ceases its enrichment programme.

The hon. Member for Islington North made the obvious point that human rights in Iran remain in a terrible state, and we agree with him. The negotiations in Geneva are purely about the nuclear file, and the hope is that the twin-track approach of exchanging non-resident charges d’affaires, and so on, will create preconditions that enable progress to be made in other areas.

The hon. Gentleman asked the Foreign Secretary yesterday about the middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone, for which we argued during the non-proliferation treaty review in 2010. There has been a small amount of progress on that recently, and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement in the near future.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) made three clear points. The first was on the international relations dynamic. Tempting though it is, it is not my position to comment on Saudi relations with the United States. Perhaps it would be helpful if he considered that in the context of Iran’s history of negative involvement across the Gulf. There are many states beyond ours that

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are extremely suspicious of Iranian activities, and justifiably so. There is concern across the wider Gulf—the concern in Israel is often mentioned—about many of the worries raised this afternoon. We already keep all our key allies in the Gulf fully briefed on where we are.

I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question on the nuclear-free zone in the middle east. He mentioned disarmament here in the United Kingdom, and I can do no better than repeat the comments of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) by saying that we have a slightly different view on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) talked about our approach to the talks, and I hope that I have reassured him on that. The phrase “rose-tinted spectacles” has come up on a number of occasions this afternoon, and there are no rose-tinted spectacles in the Geneva talks. Everyone knows exactly what is involved, the difficulties of what we are dealing with and the backdrop against which we are trying to do this. However—one only has to talk to the Foreign Secretary, who has met the regime on a number of occasions in New York and Geneva, to get a feel for this—there is a new feel to the talks. It is important that we test that to see what can be achieved. If we are able to get over the line, I doubt there is anyone anywhere in this Chamber who would not agree that that is a good thing. The question is, to test Iran’s resolve and to see what is achievable, but we must do so with our eyes wide open.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) made a good and thoughtful speech, as he always does, and he is absolutely right that Iran ought to be the subject of a system of containment. In a sense, of course, that is what an interim deal before a final deal will seek to achieve, and he is right to make that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), the co-chair of the all-party group on Iran, talked about the importance of trust, which is a key component that he compared to Northern Ireland. I remember someone saying to me some years ago that, in relation to Northern Ireland, the Government of the day were in about the right place if everyone was marginally unhappy with them. I suspect that might be a principle that applies here, too. He is absolutely right about the importance of gaining trust. The hope is that, if trust builds during the negotiations, it could translate into other affairs. He has the Government’s approach in a nutshell—it is important to take the opportunity seriously but to be realistic about what can be achieved.

I thank the hon. Member for North Durham for supporting the process. I was struck in the Chamber yesterday by the level of support from Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and others who dealt with the issue in the past and know what is involved. I am grateful for the continued support of the hon. Member for North Durham.

I do not know whether there is anything that Members feel I have not addressed, but I will provide a brief update on where we are.

As most people know, the Foreign Secretary returned on Sunday from the E3 plus 3 negotiations in Geneva, which were the third round of talks since President Rouhani’s election in June. The talks were detailed and

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complex. They covered every aspect of Iran’s extensive nuclear programme, and the Iranian negotiators were, as has been reported and as the Foreign Secretary mentioned yesterday, tough but constructive. The focus of the negotiations was to reach agreement on a first step—this was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East—that would create confidence and space to negotiate a comprehensive settlement that resolves the Iranian nuclear issue.

Talks ended without that interim agreement because some key differences remained between the parties. Disappointing though that was on one level, it might comfort people to know that we are not running into the talks with rose-tinted spectacles. The negotiations are tough and have a long history, but the gaps are narrowing. At the conclusion of the weekend, the E3 plus 3 Foreign Ministers presented a united position, which we believe gives us a very strong foundation for the next round of talks on 20 November.

Provided the conditions can be met, the Government are in favour of reaching an interim agreement. As the Foreign Secretary told the House yesterday, the agreement being discussed would have real benefits for global security, but it needs to be detailed, clear and concrete. The agreement also needs to assure all countries that the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran is being addressed and, therefore, it is crucial that the agreement cover all aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme. We believe that such a deal is on the table and is within reach.

Sanctions have undoubtedly played an indispensable part in creating the new opening. Sanctions are putting the Iranian leadership and the Iranian economy under serious pressure. We think that the sanctions are costing the Iranian economy at least $4 billion a month or $48 billion a year. There is no question of our relaxing the sanctions pressure before we have taken action to address the proliferation concerns.

It is worth noting in passing that, while the talks are going on—this goes to the centre of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said in his opening remarks—the Iranian nuclear programme continues to advance. The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report of 28 August noted that Iran’s stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium continues to grow. Iran has installed more than 1,000 advanced centrifuges, which are capable of enriching at a significantly faster rate, and there is also the heavy water research reactor at Arak. All that represents a breach of the United Nations Security Council and IAEA board resolutions and shows why, in the interest of international security, we want the talks to succeed.

Because of the time, I will finish by saying that this afternoon’s debate has revolved around two dynamics. There is a new opportunity to do something, and I think that everyone in the Chamber would agree that, if that opportunity exists, we should take it. Rest assured that we are going into the talks with our eyes wide open. We know what we are dealing with. I do not think anyone is in any doubt that a deal will be difficult to achieve, but such a deal would be in the interest of the international community.

Mr Wallace: On a point of order, Mr Sheridan. Throughout the debate my seat has been referred to as Lancaster and Wyre Valley, Lancaster and Wyre or Wyre and Preston North. Given that my hon. Friend

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the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) is sitting behind me, I want to correct the record. Before the boundary changes, I was the Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Wyre, but I am now the Member of Parliament for Wyre and Preston North.

Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): I am sure that Hansard will have recorded the hon. Gentleman’s constituency correctly.

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Sittingbourne and Sheppey Road Infrastructure

3.59 pm

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): It is a delight, Mr Sheridan, to serve under your chairmanship. Two years ago, I took part in a general Westminster Hall debate and used it not only to highlight some of the positive business developments that were taking place in my constituency, but to set out a number of problems with the local roads that needed to be solved if we were to attract even more investment to the area. Those problems have not gone away and in some cases have got worse. I want to use my time today to repeat some of my concerns about the road infrastructure in my constituency.

In many ways, the problem has been brought about by the success of business in our area, which is ironic because the other side of the same coin is that the very same problem could hold back future investment. Sheppey has a major port that is used for the import and export of thousands of cars every year, and we have the largest prison population in the whole country. Eurolink in north Sittingbourne will, when its current expansion plans are realised, be the largest industrial and business park in the south-east. Morrison’s regional distribution centre is also situated in Sittingbourne, and next door is the largest paper mill in the United Kingdom. The thriving Kent science park is in south Sittingbourne and is at the cutting edge of life sciences.

Those success stories generate valuable employment, but also an increasing amount of traffic that is threatening to overwhelm our local roads. When I listen to BBC Radio Kent in the mornings to hear what traffic problems I will face on my drive into London, the same motorways are almost always mentioned: the M25, the M20, and the M2, as well as the Dartford crossing. On the A roads, there is occasionally a problem on the A2, the A20 and the A21, but one Kent road is mentioned every morning without fail: the A249, which happens to be the main road into Sittingbourne and Sheppey from the M2.

Anyone who witnessed the horrendous multi-car pile-up on the Sheppey bridge a few weeks back will appreciate the number of vehicles that use the A249 every day. Not only is it the only road off the Isle of Sheppey, it is also the road used by the thousands of people who commute from Sittingbourne. Traffic from the Eurolink industrial park, the Morrison’s regional warehouse and the paper mill also feeds on to the A249. That has created at least two major pinch points: one at the roundabout at the junction between the A249 and the northern relief road—I will come to that project in a moment—and the other at the roundabout where the A249 meets junction 5 of the M2. The latter is a particular problem because the congestion created at the roundabout affects not only the slip roads from the M2, but local roads.

The Kent science park also creates congestion on local roads in south Sittingbourne, which is another problem that needs to be resolved. The owners of the park, with Swale borough council and Kent county council, have plans for a link from the M2 at what would become junction 5A, but they have been stymied by current Highways Agency restrictions on spur roads from motorways. I wrote to the Minister’s predecessor about the problem and received an assurance that his

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Department was reviewing that restriction. Is there any update on that? I am keen to see that spur built because not only would it help to relieve congestion on a number of roads in south Sittingbourne; it could form part of what we hope will eventually become the southern relief road.

That leads me back to the northern relief road, which links the A249 to both Eurolink and Great Easthall, which is a housing development north of the A2. The problem is that the northern relief road has never been completed, so it is not much of a relief to anyone. Obviously, local businesses on Eurolink and the residents of Great Easthall want the final link to be built as soon as possible, but many other people feel that finishing the northern relief road without first building a southern relief road would be a mistake because it would simply increase congestion on the A2 and the number of vehicles using rural roads in villages such as Bapchild, Bredgar, Rodmersham and Tunstall as rat runs to the M20.

I have some sympathy with the latter view, which is one reason why I have long held the view that a southern relief road is critical to Sittingbourne’s long-term future. Not only would it open the way to completion of the northern relief road, while protecting the southern villages; it would help to reduce congestion on both the A2 and the A249.

Another pinch point on the A249 is where it joins the A250 on the Isle of Sheppey. Until it hits that junction, the A249 is a dual carriageway, but thereafter it goes into a single lane all the way to Sheerness. That part of the A249 is also the main road into Sheerness docks and we desperately need the dual carriageway to be extended at least as far as the eastern boundary of the docks to allow easier access. That would allow a major expansion of the docks, thereby creating additional employment in one of the most socially deprived parts of my constituency.

There is also a problem on Sheppey with the newly created A2500, which is the main road link between the A249 and the eastern part of Sheppey. The A2500 feeds into Minster, which is the largest community on Sheppey and has seen the largest expansion of housing. Sadly, the junction at the A2500 and Barton Hill drive, which is the main route into Minster, is simply not fit for purpose and is seriously congested daily, all year round. The A2500 is also the main road to the three prisons on Sheppey, and ironically also feeds the main holiday camps on the island, so the congestion increases still further during the summer.

The Minister has kindly agreed to come to my constituency next year to open a new logistics hub that, ironically, is being built alongside the A249 and will no doubt add to the current traffic problems at the Morrison’s roundabout. I wonder whether he would agree to meet representatives from Swale borough council and my local business community on the same day to hear at first hand their concerns about our local road infrastructure.

4.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate on road infrastructure

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in his constituency. I also congratulate him on the excellent progress he is making with his “Movember” moustache.

I know that the subject is of great importance to him and his constituents, including businesses in the area, and he spoke eloquently about that. I had the opportunity to have a session with my officials to update myself on the current situation and to hear some of the history of developments in this important area.

Road transport has always been important to the area. From the Roman road, Watling street, which goes through the constituency to the less evocatively named Sittingbourne northern relief road, which opened in December 2011, roads have always been important to the local economy. My hon. Friend highlighted the congestion on the major roads in the area, and he will know that this Government recognise the issues and the importance of transport infrastructure to support the economy. He also knows that we are looking at easing congestion at the Dartford crossing through a new lower Thames crossing to deliver additional capacity. We consulted on options earlier in the year and will make an announcement later in the autumn.

We have already announced increased Government funding to deliver improvements around the trunk road network, targeted at supporting economic growth. Our commitment to delivering a step change in future investment in transport infrastructure was made clear by the Chancellor in his statement on 26 June, when he announced the conclusions of the Government’s 2013 spending review. The Treasury’s Command Paper, “Investing in Britain’s future”, set out that the Government will invest

“over £28 billion in enhancements and maintenance of national and local roads”.

That includes £10.7 billion for major national road projects and £4.9 billion for local major projects. More than £12 billion has been allocated for maintenance, with nearly £6 billion allocated for repairs to local roads and £6 billion for maintenance of strategic roads, including resurfacing 80% of that network.

On future investment planning, my hon. Friend will know that the Highways Agency is conducting its route-based strategy process, which is involving local stakeholders in the consideration of future priorities. It may be useful if I say a little more about the approach we are taking, as that is the mechanism by which we will look at issues on roads such as the M2 and the A249—which, as we have heard, feature so regularly on local radio congestion reports—between Sittingbourne and Sheppey.

In our response in May 2012 to the recommendations in Alan Cook’s report, “A fresh start for the Strategic road network”, we agreed to develop a programme of route-based strategies to inform the identification of future transport investments for the strategic road network. Route-based strategies will provide a smarter approach to investment planning across the network and see greater collaboration with local stakeholders to determine the nature, need and timing of future investment that might be required on the network. We will produce a uniform set of strategies for the entire network, including the M2, the A249 and the M20, as part of the “Kent corridor to M25” route-based strategy.

The Highways Agency has recently completed a series of local engagement events to help identify the performance issues on those routes and the future challenges. I welcome the enthusiasm with which stakeholders in

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Kent, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, have participated in the progress so far. The Highways Agency and the Department will use the evidence to prioritise and take forward a programme of work to identify indicative solutions that will cover operations, maintenance and, if appropriate, potential road improvement schemes. That will then be used to inform investment plans beyond 2015.

The route-based strategies therefore provide an opportunity for stakeholders to provide evidence about problems on the A249 trunk road or the M2, so that the need for improvements can be considered, and I will certainly take my hon. Friend’s speech as part of that process. In addition, the Highways Agency continues routinely to engage with the planning system. That helps to ensure that improvements to the strategic road network are identified and delivered where they are required to mitigate the traffic impacts of local plans and planning applications.

My hon. Friend, in his support for the new junction 5A on the M2, also raised an issue of policy relating to new junctions on motorways. In that regard, the Department has recently published new policy guidance on the way in which the Highways Agency will engage with communities and the development industry to deliver sustainable development and economic growth, while safeguarding the primary function and purpose of the strategic road network.

That guidance is entitled “The Strategic Road Network and the Delivery of Sustainable Development”, and it provides that, where appropriate, proposals for the creation of new junctions or direct means of access to motorways may be identified and developed at the plan-making stage in circumstances where it can be established that such new infrastructure is essential for the delivery of the strategic planned growth. I understand that Swale borough council may be bringing forward proposals for the expansion of the Kent science park as part of its plan-making process, although it is not yet determined whether that development constitutes strategic planned growth, or whether a new junction with the M2 is essential for the delivery of that growth.

The Highways Agency recently met Swale borough council, Kent county council and the operators of the Kent science park regarding those matters, and discussions are ongoing. Decisions on whether a new junction can be accepted in policy terms will be taken in due course, and I will take a personal interest in that decision-making process. Apart from the policy deliberations, consideration also needs to be given to the technical hurdles in providing a junction that is safe and affordable and does not increase congestion on the strategic road network.

It is widely recognised that the condition and efficiency of the local road networks is also essential for economic growth. Nearly all journeys will start or finish on those networks, which are relied on by local residents and businesses alike. Maintenance and management of the networks is the responsibility of the local transport authority. In the case of Sittingbourne and Sheppey, that is Kent county council.

Local road funding, in the guise of integrated transport block funding, is available to local transport authorities in England outside London for small transport improvement projects, such as road safety schemes, bus

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priority, cycling infrastructure and real-time information. That funding allows local authorities to ensure that their transport networks are kept in good condition. It enables them to improve road safety and to stimulate local economies and growth by reducing congestion in their local communities. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, Kent county council will have received £39.4 million through that funding route, and the funding is set to total some £2.75 billion across England between 2015-16 and 2020-21.

Highways maintenance block funding is also given to local transport authorities in England outside London to maintain their highway networks, including carriageways, pavements, structures and so forth. The funding allows local authorities to ensure that their highway networks are kept in good condition. It enables them to improve road safety and to stimulate local economies and growth by reducing damage to vehicles and goods. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, Kent county council will have received £105.8 million for highways maintenance, and the recent 2013 spending round commits to providing just less than £6 billion to local highway authorities over the six-year period between 2015-16 and 2020-21. Indeed, before the 2010 election, when I was in the shadow Transport role, I visited Kent county council to see some of the innovative technology it was using to identify how best to use that money, and particularly the way it addressed the problem of potholes. That funding equates to £976 million a year and highlights the Government’s commitment to the country’s most valuable public asset and to ensuring that our local highways are fit for purpose.

In addition to that funding, the Government have recently announced plans to create a local growth fund from 2015-16 onwards. That fund, among other things, will allow localities to prioritise infrastructure schemes that are deemed essential for economic growth. Those schemes are expected to include major road improvements on the local road network, such as the type of relief road my hon. Friend referred to. That LGF pot will be worth at least £2 billion a year until 2021. The fund will be devolved to local enterprise partnerships across England, and Kent is part of the South East local enterprise partnership. It is for the South East LEP to identify its priority schemes for funding as part of its strategic economic plan. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to make the same representations he has made today to his local LEP to ensure that it understands the importance and priorities of the schemes in his constituency, not least in connection with the port and the science park.

The LEPs have already had some LGF funding allocated to them by formula to enable them to bring forward plans for local major transport projects. The confirmed allocation for the South East LEP is £65.9 million for the four-year period from 2015-16 to 2018-19 inclusive. In addition, the South East LEP will have the opportunity to bid for a lot more than that next year when submitting its strategic economic plan to the Government in March 2014.

The Government recognise the importance of an effective transport infrastructure to the growth of the economy, and there is a real commitment to enhancing our transport networks. More than half the £12 billion that the Chancellor has committed to the local growth fund over the six years from 2015-16 onwards is coming from transport budgets. That amounts to £1.1 billion in

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2015-16 and a further £1 billion a year for each of the following five years for long-term planning of priority transport infrastructure. The growth deals currently being negotiated between the LEPs and Government will enable access to that funding. It is a competitive process, and the areas that present the most compelling and robust evidence-based arguments for growth strategies will be the most successful in accessing that finance.

We see the growth deal process as critical in ensuring that essential transport projects are put forward and funded. I know that Kent county council and local businesses are playing an active role in the South East LEP to ensure that the process delivers necessary infrastructure in the LEP area.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It reminds us of the importance of an effective transport network to the economy. I have been clear that this Government are committed to, and have set out plans for, large-scale investments to improve both the local and strategic road networks. Indeed, the money we are putting into roads during the next 15 years is equivalent to the entire cost of the High Speed 2 project, including the rolling stock.

Through the funding streams set out in the spending round, and through the route-based strategies and strategic economic strategies, processes are in place to identify future transport needs, but also to consider the range of possible solutions. This morning, I was in Birmingham, looking at some of the managed motorway schemes—or smart motorways, as we now call them—which show how we are already managing to deliver better transport solutions in all parts of the country, including the north, the west midlands, the east midlands and, of course, the south-east.

It will be important for future investment proposals to be clearly supported by local stakeholders and for clear consensus to exist on what is required. Ultimately, any future investment proposals need to demonstrate a strong business case and the delivery of both transport and wider economic benefits. In that way, we can place ourselves in a strong position to make the best use of the funds available and establish a sound base for the future development of an effective transport system that can contribute to a low-carbon economy.

I very much look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and seeing the situation at first hand next year, when I plan to visit the opening of one of his local logistics companies. I hope that at the same time, as he suggested, there will be an opportunity to meet representatives of Kent county council, the local district council and the local enterprise partnership, as they will have as key a role as Members of Parliament and other stakeholders in determining the priorities for transport investment in the south-east and ensuring that the taxpayers’ money we are investing in this way is spent wisely and in the place where we get the most biggest for our buck.

4.22 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Glenanne Gang Murders

4.28 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan, even if the subject matter is sombre.

A recently published book by Anne Cadwallader, “Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland”, is the result of work by the Pat Finucane Centre and work previously conducted by members of the Historical Enquiries Team in investigating a number of historical murders in Northern Ireland. The reports by the Historical Enquiries Team, of course, were made available to families, but were not published. That is the basis on which it has worked. The reports on 10 murders were made available to the Pat Finucane Centre.

The Pat Finucane Centre, through Anne Cadwallader, has worked painstakingly to spell out the narrative that emerges from those 10 reports by the HET, but also to build on the work of document recovery and evidential pursuit, which has taken the Pat Finucane Centre to the National Archives in Kew. Although the issues in the book “Lethal Allies” pose fundamental questions about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland Office and armed groups, we should not ignore the fact that it also spells out sharp questions about the Ministry of Defence—not least, but not only, in respect of its oversight of the Ulster Defence Regiment in those years.

The book dwells on the deadly, devastating work of what was called the Glenanne gang. It was more of a syndrome than a fixed gang, because, as the book points out, what was initially thought of as a gang operating in what was called the “triangle of death” or “murder triangle”, ended up being a network, able to source members in the UDR or serving in the RUC—particularly in the part-time reserve—at the time of its involvement in the paramilitary activities. It was also able to source a lot of its weaponry in raids in UDR armouries, one of which was a joint UDR-Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve armoury. The documentary evidence shows that even the MOD suspected that the raids involved large degrees of collusion.

I shall take a selective skimming of the evidence, but I hope that it is relevant. A letter in July 1972 from Army headquarters Northern Ireland, from the civil adviser to the general officer commanding, acknowledges an earlier letter asking about UDR involvement in the UDA. The letter, to Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Powell in the Adjutant General Secretariat at the Ministry of Defence main building in Whitehall, also says, among other things:

“The UDR has to draw a line somewhere between hard-line Protestants who can safely be contained in the UDR, and those who cannot. The UDA is not an illegal organisation, and membership of the UDA is not an offence under the military laws; it is also a large organisation not all of whose members can be regarded as dangerous extremists. One important (but unspoken) function of the UDR is to channel into a constructive and disciplined direction Protestant energies which might otherwise become disruptive. For these reasons it is felt that it would be counter-productive to discharge a UDR member solely on the grounds that he was a member of the UDA.”

The letter later says:

“Similarly, it is not formally laid down that where an applicant to join the UDR is found to be a member of the UDA, his application must automatically be rejected.”

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It goes on:

“I am sure that this moderate line towards UDA supporters is the right one in view of the role of the UDA as a safety valve. In my opinion it would be politically unwise to dismiss a member of the UDA from the UDR unless he had committed a military offence; the dismissal of a member of the UDR on lesser grounds could well lead to wide-spread morale problems particularly in certain areas.”

Tellingly for MPs, it goes on to say:

“I recognise the reasons why Ministers might wish to be able to say unequivocally, in reply to Parliamentary Questions, that membership of the UDA is not compatible with membership of the UDR and that we have no evidence that any UDR member is actively associated with the UDA. But I fear it would be wrong to offer categorical assurances on either point, and indeed it might be very damaging politically if Ministers were to make a public statement which implied that the UDA was an outlawed organisation.”

That tells us that the mentality was more about sensitivity to the reputation of the UDA than to the integrity of the UDR as part of the security forces.

As we go through the various documents from the MOD in 1973, we see that it casually and frequently refers to collusion in its internal documents when describing overlapping membership between the UDA and UDR. There is also evidence from 1973 of the Irish Government, on the basis of representations and complaints from the SDLP and many other people with pastoral and other community interests, registering strong concerns with the British Government about what was going on in relation to some members of the UDR, their overlapping membership of the UDA and the seepage of weapons.

I shall not dwell on the issue here, because you, Mr Sheridan, might rule that that was about the Foreign Office side, but we have a letter from the British Government that basically dismisses the clear concerns of the Irish Government in early 1973 as mere electoral gimmicks.

A series of internal Army and Ministry of Defence reports in 1973 show the ongoing loss of weapons from UDR armouries—and, in some cases, the homes of UDR members. Those reports point to suspicions of and concerns about collusion. A significant MOD report in August 1973, called “Subversion in the UDR”, said:

“Since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons (and the only significant source of modern weapons) for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR.”

It then sets out the details of significant arms losses for 1972-73. I do not wish to go through all the figures for the self-loading rifles, sub-machine-guns and pistols that were lost or the much smaller number that were recovered.

That internal British Government report on subversion in the UDR indicated that a significant proportion, perhaps 5% to 15%, of UDR soldiers would also have been members of the UDA, the Ulster Vanguard Service Corps, the Orange Volunteers or the UVP. Another part of that report confirms that:

“The discovery of members of para-military or extremist organisations in the UDR is not, and has not been, a major intelligence target.”

There we have wilful negligence—people recognise that there is a risk, they see that there has been a pattern of collusion, with arms being removed into the clutches of loyalist paramilitaries, and they know there is overlapping

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membership, but at no point does anybody make it their business to make it a serious matter and intelligence target.

That document on subversion in the UDR was circulated in government and there were a number of replies from a number of people. We will be able to present all the documents at a later date—hopefully, not too much later—to the Minister and the MOD, if it is too much to expect the Minister to reply to all the information today. We might say that it is depressing and regrettable, but those memos and letters in response to that document confirm the accuracy of the report. There was no real dispute about its assessment.

The document tried to indicate that the security vetting process had improved, so some reliance might be put on it. It is interesting to note that the Army director of security said, in response to that suggestion in a memo dated 20 August 1973:

“I would make the general point first that the process is in fact only a screening procedure and has no relationship to normal security vetting carried out on people who require to have access to classified information.”

In a subsequent paragraph in the same letter, he says:

“In order to counter doubts expressed by some MPs about the impartiality of RUC records, the check was extended to include the interview of at least one character referee ‘to establish that an applicant is of good character, is not an active supporter of any organization at one or other extreme of the political spectrum and is likely to act in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.’”

In the next paragraph, he says:

“Although the injection of the interview has probably been successful as part of the PR exercise involved on the checks, it can have had little effect on improving the value of the screening. The applicant nominates the referee, who is almost certain to be influenced in his favour and can add little to the security knowledge of the applicant.”

We have a clear picture: the Ministry of Defence knew the concerns but was not itself concerned, and did nothing to stem members’ involvement in the UDA or the weapons leakage that went with it.

Weapons leakage happened at numerous levels. The most significant raid occurred at the Lurgan UDR and Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve base in October 1972; they raided so much that they could not carry it all away. There was another raid exactly a year later, on 23 October 1973, on the Fort Seagoe UDR base, and another major arms raid at the Magherafelt UDR base in 1975. All of them were conducted similarly, and the lack of proactive security in place showed that no lessons were learned.

What then happened to those weapons? It was not just an embarrassing lapse of security; they were then used by an absolutely ruthless killer gang network. One Sterling sub-machine-gun was stolen from the Glenanne UDR base before the other raids to which I referred. It was stolen some time between 20 and 21 May 1971, as the Historical Enquiries Team found.

The HET was unable to find any documentation explaining the circumstances of the theft, nor could it find any evidence that any investigation had taken place. The whereabouts and use of the weapon during the four-year period between May 1971 and 1 September 1975 are unknown. It did not feature in any ballistics report before the murder of Denis Mullen. After that, it was used to kill 10 other people over a period of 11 months.

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On 1 September 1975, a Sterling sub-machine-gun—UF57, and then a long serial number—was used to kill Denis Mullen, a Social Democratic and Labour party branch secretary who had just won promotion to become the first Catholic ambulance controller at the new South Tyrone hospital in Dungannon. Gunmen threw a clod of mud through a window of his home at Collegeland. He went to the front door to investigate, and they opened fire, shooting him 27 times at close range. His wife Olive ran for her life through the house with bullets slamming into the walls behind her and crawled across the kitchen floor before climbing out through a window to run for help.

Their daughter, Denise, aged four, heard the shots and got out of bed to find her father bleeding and dead at the front door. She stood over his body for an hour, her nightdress soaked in blood, before the police considered it safe enough to remove her and her 11-month-old brother, who was still in his cot. A former Member of this House, Seamus Mallon, also arrived at the scene. He had heard interference on the police radio in his car, was immediately alarmed that it might be his friend and party agent Denny Mullen and went to the house. Denise Mullen, now Denise Fox, spoke about those events at her party conference this weekend, along with Seamus Mallon, to put them on record.

It should be remembered that some convictions were obtained for all 11 subsequent murders committed with that sub-machine-gun, unlike many of the other murders committed by the Glenanne gang. Those convicted included a private in the Territorial Army, a former UDR man and a serving RUC officer. That UDR weapon’s 10 other victims included Peter and Jenny McKearney, an elderly couple shot dead at their farmhouse near Moy on 23 October that year; Michael Donnelly, 14, Patsy Donnelly, 23, and Trevor Brecknell, 32, killed on 19 December; Brian, John, Martin and Anthony Reavey, shot dead on 4 January 1976; Fred McLoughlin, shot dead on 15 May 1976; and Patsy McNeice, shot dead on 25 July 1976. Altogether, that weapon rendered 19 children fatherless and orphaned five.

I am citing only one weapon as an example. The book catalogues 120 killings, all of which relate to the murderous machinations of the Glenanne gang. That is not something being said only now, with hindsight; these allegations and concerns were apparent at the time, as we know from the suggestions in the papers about how to offset the complaints and allegations being made by MPs and others, and the dismissal of active concerns from the Irish Government and at the community and pastoral level.

I am particularly struck by a quotation by Father Denis Faul two days after a bombing in Killyliss in which two men, their sister and her unborn child were blown to pieces by a gang in which the HET believes a UDR man was involved. Only a few days after those murders, on 26 April 1975, Father Denis Faul said:

“The Government are teaching a deadly lesson to the people: that power comes out of the barrel of a gun; that the ballot box is powerless against force; that police and army can betray their trust and not be the impartial servants of government and people; that the judiciary can fail to oppose tyranny and to protect life.”

Many of us tried to scream those concerns at the British Government, the British establishment and the MOD. We know that there were layers and lines of dismissal and denial and that the people offering those concerns were denounced as subversive or irresponsible.

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Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Does my hon. Friend agree that substantive amounts of key information and British Army records are stored in the National Archives at Kew that could help bring justice to some of the victims and survivors?

Mark Durkan: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which relates not only to Kew, but to other locations as well. Sadly, our hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) cannot be with us, as her predecessor, Eddie McGrady, died yesterday. Down the years, Eddie McGrady supported Seamus Mallon in making these very allegations and voicing these concerns.

In touching on those murders, I have in no way decided that they are the worst or the most egregious. I have tried to edit my concerns in this debate to focus on angles of responsibility and irresponsibility on the MOD’s part. I doubt whether the Minister has been briefed on what exactly is in all the documents that the Pat Finucane Centre has unearthed and on which the HET has drawn, but I assure her that the Pat Finucane Centre is more than willing to assemble a thorough compendium of papers for the MOD’s fuller consideration and for the sake of a fuller response from the British Government.

An important process is under way in Northern Ireland that we hope will produce ways to address some of the wider concerns about the past. The Haass process should not be used by the British Government, particularly the MOD, to dodge their responsibility to tell a truth that they denied for so long.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on securing the debate. He raised a serious issue that has been the subject of much comment over a considerable period of time. In recent weeks, the allegations that members of the security forces were part of a murderous gang that killed more than 100 people in the 1970s have been given further currency in the recently published book to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has raised some points that I will not be able to address in my speech. I apologise for that, but I assure him that I will write to him with responses to as many as possible of those questions. The hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) mentioned the records at Kew, and I am told that those records have been made available to researchers and feature heavily in the book “Lethal Allies”.

The hon. Member for Foyle will be aware that such serious allegations should properly be dealt with by the police, so I can say little about them. It is right and proper for me to condemn all sectarian attacks, by whomsoever they may have been carried out, but I cannot comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the allegations, and it is not for the Ministry of Defence to usurp the function of the police by seeking to carry out investigations about those who may have been involved. As I understand it, the Historical Enquiries Team has investigated several cases associated with the Glenanne gang, but I am not aware that those investigations have led to any fresh allegations of specific criminal activity by soldiers that are to be investigated further. Of course,

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if such evidence were found and given to the police, it would be for them to decide whether any further inquiries should be made. If they decided to pursue the matter, my Department would provide every assistance to any subsequent investigation.

It is clear to me, as it will be to most Members here today, that during the long period that we refer to as the troubles, terrible crimes and atrocities were perpetrated by extremists on both sides of the community. The account by the hon. Gentleman of a number of terrible murders and killings brought back to me large chunks of my childhood. It is easy to forget that 40 years ago, such events were almost a feature of life. Here we are, 40 years on, enjoying a period of peace that we could not foresee within our own lifetimes. There were incidents of great tragedy when members of the community were innocently and accidentally caught up in events that led to serious injury or death.

Many allegations have been made about the armed forces’ role in various cases involving violent deaths during the troubles, which remain unsolved. As I have said, such allegations must be investigated. At the same time, however, it is only right for me to make the point that some of these allegations may well be untrue. The truth can be uncovered only by painstaking and professional investigation. Although I am aware of the criticisms that have been made of the Historical Enquiries Team of the Police Service of Northern Ireland—that is not a matter for me, of course—I pay tribute to the work they have done in carrying out this necessary task over a period of several years.

Mark Durkan: The Minister has made the point that some of the allegations against individuals may be untrue, but does she accept that the documentation shows that the Ministry of Defence knew one thing in private but told an entirely different story in public? Does she accept that the evidence points to the fact that the MOD dismissed the concerns that were being legitimately expressed by Members of this House, by other representatives in Northern Ireland and by other Governments?

Anna Soubry: I am in danger of repeating myself, but those are matters for the police to investigate. It would not be appropriate for me to comment. Those matters should be investigated thoroughly, honestly and vigorously by the police. It is not my Department’s intention to shy away from acknowledging or apologising when genuine mistakes or errors have been made, or where, as a Department, we have failed in our obligation properly to manage our activities in Northern Ireland. We know from the conclusions reached by Sir Desmond de Silva in his review of the circumstances leading to the murder of Pat Finucane that the Ministry of Defence made important failures in managing important aspects of our intelligence operations during the mid to late 1980s. Some reports have suggested that that situation may have prevailed for several years. We know, for example, that some members of the security forces bore responsibility for the leaking of some sensitive intelligence information to loyalist organisations. Indeed, there have been convictions as a result, and rightly so. We also know that Army weapons, as the hon. Gentleman has described, have been stolen from military establishments and used in terrorist attacks by loyalist gangs.

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Those failings were totally unacceptable and should never have occurred. Equally, however, attempts to claim that such practices were endemic throughout the security forces serving in Northern Ireland are, in our view, quite unsubstantiated. Sir Desmond goes into great detail on the matter in his report, which was based on unhindered access to the archives of the police, the Army and the Security Service. He shows, to my mind incontrovertibly, that the actions of the security forces frustrated loyalist terrorists and significantly reduced their operational capacity in Northern Ireland.

Mark Durkan: I want to assure the Minister and anyone else who may be concerned that in pointing to the seriousness of the allegations and the fact that they are supported by MOD documentation, I do not want in any way to traduce or hurt the memory of many other members of the security forces, including those of the Ulster Defence Regiment, who served with honourable motives and who believed that they were serving their community. They were let down every bit as much as the civilian community was by the corruption at the heart of the process.

Anna Soubry: I absolutely agree that we must pay tribute to the majority of those individuals who served in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described. As the Minister with responsibility for veterans, I feel strongly that we owe the security forces who served in Northern Ireland a great deal of gratitude. The vast majority served with courage, fortitude, integrity and dignity, risking their lives to bring about the conditions that eventually enabled a process to take place that allowed the people of Northern Ireland to lead peaceful lives without fear for themselves or their families. Northern Ireland has been transformed since the Good Friday agreement was signed.

Devolution has brought about many improvements for the people of Northern Ireland, and the recent positive achievements such as the city of culture award, the investment conference and improved tourism, against a backdrop of relative peace, have been welcomed by all sections of the community. Although a number of people continue to pursue their aims through violence and maintain destructive links to the past, they are, thankfully, few and there is very little public support for their actions.

Dr McDonnell: Is the Minister aware of, and will she comment on, an inquest that is being undertaken at the moment, which has been delayed for years, in which despite Army surveillance on the house that was attacked by the UVF—

Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Order. I think we may be moving into the area of sub judice.

Dr McDonnell: The Roseanne Mallon case is very significant.

Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Order. The Minister has very little time as it is.

Anna Soubry: I would be quite happy for the hon. Gentleman to write to me, which would be the proper way to raise the subject. The Chair has made a good point that the case may, in any event, be sub judice. As the representative of a Department that has, I believe,

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made a huge contribution to the current stable and optimistic situation in Northern Ireland, I share the hopes of many that the Executive’s invitation to Richard Haass to address a range of issues, including those arising from the past, will lead to some real progress on this difficult issue. Although we should never seek to ignore the past, I hope that there will be a great emphasis across all parts of the community on shifting our collective focus to a future shared by all the citizens of Northern

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Ireland. Where things have been done that should not have been done, it is right that the police carry out full, rigorous and professional investigation, and when people have done wrong, they should be brought to justice.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.