There are people inside and outside our country who seek to commit serious crimes and to harm our communities, our way of life, and our nation and who

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wish to harm our children. It is entirely right—and indeed it is a responsibility of Governments—to ensure that the police and other agencies have effective powers to tackle those threats, and to ensure that robust legal frameworks exist for the use of sometimes intrusive tactics.

Undercover officers, sometimes working in difficult and dangerous conditions, have helped bring criminals to justice. They have stopped bad things happening to our country. None the less, the Ellison review reveals very real and substantial failings. The picture that emerges about the SDS from this report, and from other material in the public domain, is of significant failings of judgment and of intrusive supervision and leadership over a sustained period. Mark Ellison has performed a commendable public duty in revealing these issues. His report lays bare issues of great seriousness in relation not only to Peter Francis, but to the SDS more widely.

When I asked Mark Ellison to consider the SDS within the scope of his review, I asked him to tell me in his report whether he felt that a public inquiry was needed to get to the full truth. Although Ellison does not go as far as recommending a public inquiry, he is clear that in respect of the SDS in general, and the Peter Francis allegations in particular, a public inquiry might be better placed to make definitive findings.

I do not say this lightly, but the greatest possible scrutiny is now needed into what has taken place. Given the gravity of what has now been uncovered, I have decided that a public inquiry, led by a judge, is necessary to investigate undercover policing and the operation of the SDS. Only a public inquiry will be able to get to the full truth behind the matters of huge concern contained in Mark Ellison's report.

The House will understand that an inquiry cannot be set up immediately. It must wait for the conclusion of the criminal investigation and Ellison’s further work to identify possible miscarriages of justice. It is right and proper that those legal processes are allowed to conclude first. Ellison himself identifies his further review as a priority before any public inquiry can take place. That further work will also inform the inquiry’s precise terms of reference.

As I have said, the matters that I have announced today are deeply concerning. More broadly, it is imperative that public trust and confidence in the police is maintained. I do not believe corruption and misconduct to be endemic in the police, and it is clear that the majority of policemen and women conduct themselves honestly and with integrity.

In February last year, I announced to the House specific measures to address corruption and misconduct, to ensure greater transparency, to provide clearer rules on conduct, and to improve standards of professional behaviour. That work is on track. The College of Policing, which has a clear remit of enhancing police integrity, is delivering a package of measures that includes a new code of ethics. The code sets out clearly the high standards of behaviour expected from police officers.

In addition, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is being expanded and emboldened so that in future it will have responsibility for dealing with all serious and sensitive cases involving the police. I can tell the House that I am reflecting on whether further proposals are needed.

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I also want to ensure that those who want to report corruption and misconduct are encouraged to do so. I therefore want to strengthen protections for whistleblowers in the police and I will bring proposals to the House in due course.

We must also ensure that police forces have all the capability they need to pursue corruption, so I have today asked the chief inspector of constabulary to look specifically at the anti-corruption capability of forces, including professional standards departments.

Arrangements for undercover officer deployments are very different today from those in the early 1990s. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, all deployments must be authorised as both necessary and proportionate to the issue being investigated. This Government have introduced further safeguards. The independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners is now notified of all deployments and must approve those that last longer than 12 months. We have also increased the rank of the authorising officer so that all deployments must be authorised by an assistant chief constable, and those lasting longer than 12 months by a chief constable.

There also needs to be a change in culture and we need to continue the work we have already done to reform the police. From this autumn, the police will for the first time have the opportunity to bring in talented and experienced leaders from other walks of life to senior ranks. The College of Policing will provide those individuals with world-class training. Those coming in will bring a fresh perspective and approach and will open up policing culture. I believe that that is one of the most important reforms in shaping the police of the future.

I have committed to funding a cadre of new direct-entrant superintendents from this autumn until spring 2018, so I challenge all those forces that have not yet signed up to take that opportunity to do so. It is vital that the public know that policing is not a closed shop.

We are changing the culture of the police through direct entry, the code of ethics, greater transparency and professionalisation, and we are transforming the investigation of cases involving the police through reform of the IPCC, but I would like to do more. The current law on police corruption relies on the outdated common-law offence of misconduct in public office. It is untenable that we should be relying on such a legal basis to deal with serious issues of corruption in modern policing, so I shall table amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to introduce a new offence of police corruption, supplementing the existing offence of misconduct in public office and focusing clearly on those who hold police powers.

In policing, as in other areas, the problems of the past have a danger of infecting the present and can lay traps for the future. Policing stands damaged today. Trust and confidence in the Metropolitan police and in policing more generally are vital and a public inquiry and the other work I have set out are part of the process of repairing the damage.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered more than 20 years ago and it is deplorable that his family have had to wait so many years for the truth to emerge. Indeed, it is still

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emerging. Understandably, many of us thought that the Macpherson inquiry had answered all the questions surrounding the investigation into Stephen’s death, but the findings I have set out today are profoundly disturbing. For the sake of Doreen Lawrence, Neville Lawrence, their family and the British public we must act now to address these wrongs. I commend the statement to the House.

11.43 am

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I welcome the statement that the Home Secretary has made and the work of Mark Ellison in drawing up this extremely important but serious and disturbing review. The findings of the Ellison review are extremely troubling and the Home Secretary’s statement today is serious.

Nearly 21 years ago, a young man of 18 was killed by racist murderers. Stephen Lawrence and his family were denied justice then and it is clear that they have been denied justice ever since. The findings of the Ellison review are all the more serious because, in the 21 years since, repeated attempts have been made to get to the truth and to deliver justice but, despite all those attempts, that still has not happened. We in this House should show our support today for the Lawrence family in their continued determination to get to the truth and to justice, but we also know that no family should have to keep fighting in this way for so many decades.

Let me touch on some of the key findings that the Home Secretary has set out. First, she said that the Ellison review stated that there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that one of the officers involved in the Lawrence investigation acted corruptly, but that has never been fully investigated. This is extremely serious and a full investigation is needed of the outstanding lines of inquiry identified by the Ellison review. I welcome the Home Secretary’s confirmation that this will now be looked at by the National Crime Agency, and also her confirmation that links with the Daniel Morgan inquiry will be pursued. Will she ensure—I am sure she will—that the House and the Lawrence family are kept updated with the timetable and course of this investigation?

Secondly, the Ellison review found that the full information about corruption and internal corruption investigations was not given to the Macpherson inquiry, and also that the Macpherson inquiry may have come to different conclusions as a result. It found also that the Metropolitan Police Service’s record keeping was a “cause of real concern” and that key evidence was the subject of “mass shredding” in 2003. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the NCA looks at whether information was wilfully withheld from the Macpherson inquiry or whether it was wilfully destroyed, and also looks at the wider issue of record keeping within the Metropolitan police?

The Home Secretary will be aware that we have asked before for an updated Macpherson-style review of progress since the original inquiry, because clearly a lot of changes were made as a result of the Macpherson inquiry. Does she not think this would be timely and that it would be an opportunity to look again at the conclusions of the review and whether they would have been different in the light of this further information?

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Thirdly, the review found that undercover operations were carried out against those around the Lawrence family, and that information from those operations was given to those within the Metropolitan police who were involved in the legal case brought by the Lawrence family. It states:

“The reality was that N81 was, at the time, an MPS spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS.”

The review also found that the SDS, as the Home Secretary mentioned, was inappropriately and unjustifiably reporting on Duwayne Brooks. These findings are deeply disturbing. The Ellison review describes these operations as completely improper and wholly inappropriate, but the whole House will be shocked and we should condemn it in the strongest terms.

The Home Secretary is right: these revelations may mean that there have been miscarriages of justice. So I welcome her decision to instigate a public inquiry into the activities of the SDS. She will know that we have called for an inquiry into undercover policing, and it is right that there should be one. The Home Secretary is right to say that intelligence is a vital part of policing and the Ellison review says so, but it needs to be within a clear legal framework with proper safeguards in place. It is clear that that did not happen in these investigations and operations by the SDS against the Lawrence family and those linked to them at the time. We do not know how wide these miscarriages may go, but we cannot have a branch of policing that operated in this way, against the very ethos of policing and justice that it was charged with protecting and that the vast majority of police officers across the country have signed up to. Will the right hon. Lady discuss further not just with the family but with others on the Opposition Benches what form that public inquiry should take? We would welcome further discussions on that.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to keep pursuing the truth. The Macpherson review was set up to get to the truth in the first place. It is important, too, that we should also keep pursuing justice. Will she ensure that in pursuing all these lines of inquiry, consideration is given to any lines that could lead to prosecutions of the further suspects in Stephen Lawrence’s murder?

Finally, I urge the Home Secretary to consider going further in the reforms that she talked about towards the end of her remarks. There is a serious question about whether the IPCC was able to investigate in the way that the Ellison review has done when it carried out an inquiry in 2006. The IPCC is the independent body charged with such investigations and should be able to get to the truth, but it was not able to do so. It is bad for justice and for policing not to have a credible body able to get to the truth the first time round.

I agree with the Home Secretary about the importance of force-level professional standards. She will know that forces have raised concerns that resources are being transferred from force-level professional standards in corruption investigations to the IPCC. Clearly, both need to be able to do that important job.

I also ask the Home Secretary to go further on the oversight of undercover policing. Clearly that will be considered in the public inquiry, but I urge her to look, in parallel, at further safeguards. As she will know, we

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have previously suggested additional safeguards, including on pre-authorisation for longer-term operations, because the current oversight regime has clearly not been effective enough in preventing some of the problems that have arisen.

I also ask the Home Secretary to look at the implications for the Hillsborough inquiry. As she will know, when we had the discussion three weeks ago, we also raised concerns about whether there was inappropriate surveillance or intercept against the Hillsborough families. It is hugely important that we get to the full truth about that and that it comes out at the earliest possible opportunity.

Twenty-one years later, no one should underestimate the gravity of the institutional failure two decades ago or the seriousness of the continued institutional failure to get to the truth. The Home Secretary has rightly said that we need to get to the truth. Police officers do a vital job, helping to keep the public safe every day. They need public trust and confidence, and we all need truth and justice. Three weeks ago she made the statement about the failure of the criminal justice system to get to the truth and to get justice for the families of Hillsborough victims decades ago, and today we have heard about that failure over the murder of Stephen Lawrence decades ago.

Families should never have to wait decades to get to the truth. Everyone must recognise that, unless we get to the truth and get justice, these tragedies will continue to cast a long shadow over the vital work that our criminal justice system and the police need to do. We owe it to the families, but we also owe it to confidence in the justice system.

Mrs May: I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady’s comments on the significance of the review. Of course, as she said, it is not alone in identifying problems with how cases have been treated; the Daniel Morgan case and the results of the Hillsborough Independent Panel also revealed failings that had taken place. As she said, it is absolutely imperative, in order to ensure that there is trust and confidence in the police, which is vital for us all, that we deal with these failings appropriately and get to the truth.

As the right hon. Lady and I have said, the results of the Ellison review are truly shocking. I suspect that it will take hon. Members some time to examine all the aspects that Mark Ellison has brought out, but the extent to which the report shows that a deep failure occurred at the time of the incidents and behaviours he examined is obvious from the remarks I have made today. It is therefore necessary that we follow that up by a number of different routes.

With regard to the timetable for the further investigation I have referred to the director-general of the National Crime Agency, I will of course be happy to keep the House informed of the results and how it will be taken forward. I would expect the director-general to look at the various issues the right hon. Lady referred to when considering how the investigation should take place and what is necessary to ensure that prosecutions, if they are required, can take place.

I do not think that it will be possible for us to discuss the form of the public inquiry properly until we have seen more of the next stage of Mark Ellison’s work, which is considering the wider issue and the question of miscarriages of justice. However, I will of course want

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to ensure that the public inquiry has the right terms of reference and that it is able to conduct the job that we want it to do and that the Lawrence family will obviously be concerned that it does. At the right time, I think that it will be appropriate to have discussions about the form of the public inquiry and its terms of reference.

On the IPCC, as the right hon. Lady said and as I said, Mark Ellison finds that its inquiries and work were not adequate and that it did not find the corruption that is alleged to have taken place. I have already given the IPCC more resources, more power and more of a task. The right hon. Lady referred to transferring resources from professional standards departments. That is a reflection of the fact that we are transferring work to the IPCC. One concern that people have always had is about the police themselves investigating serious complaints against them. That is why we are transferring that responsibility to the IPCC and the resources to undertake it.

On the safeguards on undercover policing, we have recently made changes to enhance them so that although longer-term deployments—anything over 12 months—must be authorised by a chief constable, undercover deployments can be authorised by an assistant chief constable. The independent Office of Surveillance Commissioners must be notified of all deployments, so the oversight framework is already stronger.

The right hon. Lady rightly raised the concern of Hillsborough families that they may have been subject to inappropriate surveillance. I understand that a formal complaint has been made to the IPCC about that, and that it is considering how best to investigate the concerns that have been raised.

There is much still to be done. Change has taken place over the years but sadly, what we have seen today is that it is necessary to continue the inquiries and investigations to ensure that, for the sake of the family particularly and for all of us and our trust in the police, we get to the truth.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): May I pay public tribute to the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and John Walker for going to see the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), which led to the inquiry being set up, and to those who organised the meeting between the family and Nelson Mandela, which gave a profile and quiet dignity to reflect properly the way the family had reacted? I pay tribute to the family and those with them, including Baroness Howells, who managed to avoid any disturbance, and I add the name of John Philpott, the local Plumstead commander who, within 24 hours of the murderous attack on Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks, organised a community meeting at the town hall and said publicly that people knew that Stephen Lawrence was a good person, not a bad person. When the further inquiries take place, will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary ask that consideration be given to using Clive Driscoll, the police officer who helped to have one person convicted, as an adviser, if not a member, so that what the police have known for years can be added in?

In both this case and another six years later in Brighton, when constituents of mine, Michael and Jay Abatan were attacked, the first failing was that the police did not arrest the people who were thought to be

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suspects and hold them separately, or have proper surveillance and gather the evidence that was available at the time. We are now sweeping up mistakes that were made later. I pay tribute to all the police who do their job properly and find the evidence straightaway so that justice can be pursued in court.

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right that we should never forget that there are police officers out there who do their job perfectly properly with honesty and integrity, and are bringing criminals to justice as a result of their work. We should not forget to pay tribute—he is right to do so—to those who have campaigned for many years alongside the family and in the House to ensure that those who were responsible are brought to justice and that we can get at the truth.

When the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) set up the Macpherson inquiry and when its results were received, everyone assumed that it had been able to look at all the evidence and to get to the truth. Sadly, as we now know, that was not the case, and certain matters that should have been referred to it were not.

My hon. Friend refers to a particular officer and the need to ensure that in further investigations police experience and knowledge of the case is not lost. That matter has been drawn to my attention, and I am giving proper consideration to it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that there is to be an inquiry into the goings-on within the SDS. However, we should not be sidetracked from the core issue that initiated the Ellison investigation and review, which is that corruption was an influence over the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and that evidence and information were withheld from the Macpherson inquiry. I would like the Secretary of State to confirm that that will be addressed in part of the public inquiry where people have to come and give evidence under oath.

In July 2006, there was a programme on TV called “The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence”. Deputy Commissioner John Yates went on that programme and said that Detective Sergeant John Davidson was a corrupt officer. I contacted the IPCC and the Metropolitan police and asked to know in what way his activities affected the inquiry. In a meeting with the Metropolitan police, I was told categorically that his corruption had nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. We now know from the Ellison inquiry that the evidence on that was destroyed, so on what basis did the Metropolitan police tell me that? I also asked the IPCC to investigate what other crimes Detective Sergeant Davidson had been involved in that may have been corrupted by his illegal activities, and answer got I none.

All this information needs to be investigated thoroughly in a full public inquiry. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the public inquiry will not just focus on the SDS but take in those wider issues, because nothing short of that will be satisfactory to the public or the family of Stephen Lawrence?

Mrs May: I recognise the role that the hon. Gentleman has played in relation to this matter, the concern that he has expressed over the years, and the efforts that he has

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made, as he has just evidenced to us, to ensure that the truth will be found in relation to the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

On the public inquiry, as I indicated earlier, we will be looking at the terms of reference once it is clearer that Mark Ellison has been able to do his work in relation to the question of the SDS in general and miscarriages of justice. It is specifically in respect of the SDS and the Peter Francis allegations that Mark Ellison identifies that a public inquiry might be better placed to make definitive findings, and that is the background against which we will look at the inquiry’s terms of reference. In relation to some of the other aspects that he investigated, he has not highlighted the potential for a public inquiry to find further evidence and get to the truth behind certain allegations. As I said, the inquiry will look at undercover policing and the SDS, in particular, but we will set the terms of reference in due course when Mark Ellison has had an opportunity to conduct the further review that has been proposed in his report and that I have accepted as a recommendation.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the thoroughness of the Ellison inquiry and my right hon. Friend’s resolute response to it. Does she agree that undercover operations, although sometimes necessary, were wholly inappropriate and had no valid purpose when used against the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks, and that that underlines the need not only for effective accountability for such operations but an ethical framework within which they are conducted? Will she say any more about how she hopes to protect whistleblowers, whose lives and careers are often shattered when they serve the public and the vast majority of honest police officers by bringing corruption to public notice?

Mrs May: I thank my right hon. Friend. In fact, “wholly inappropriate” is precisely the wording that Mark Ellison uses in relation to the use of an undercover officer during the Macpherson inquiry. I think that many people will be absolutely shocked by the fact that there was an individual who was, in Mark Ellison’s words—I used the quote as did the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—

“an MPS spy in the Lawrence family camp”

at a time when the family were in opposition to the MPS in judicial proceedings. I am sure that everybody recognises that that was wholly inappropriate and that this is not the behaviour that we expect from the police.

On the question on whistleblowing, my right hon. Friend makes a very valid and important point. It is crucial. The issue of whistleblowing in various aspects of the public sector has been raised in recent times. It is very important that police officers feel that they are able to raise matters of concern and that those matters of concern will be properly considered and properly dealt with. I have not quite finalised my proposals in this area, so I ask my right hon. Friend to have some patience. I will inform the House in due course of how we intend to improve the ability of police officers to be whistleblowers and to feel that they are able to do that and what they feel is absolutely right and of benefit to the vast majority of offers, who operate with integrity.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I first welcome the resolute determination the Home Secretary has shown in pursuing this issue and thank her for establishing

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the Ellison inquiry and for making this statement, which I have to say is one of the most shocking and serious statements I have heard by any Minister from any party over the whole of the 35 years I have been in this House?

As the Home Secretary and the police authority for London who established the Macpherson inquiry, I was struck, in the three months it took me to establish that inquiry and agree its terms of reference, by the reluctance of the Metropolitan Police Service to have any inquiry that focused forensically on the facts, as it had successfully resisted such calls for four years. I attributed that defensiveness to a bureaucratic unwillingness to accept scrutiny, but it is now clear that there was venality, probably at the highest level of the Metropolitan police, by which, against all rules, they refused to offer evidence, as they were required to do, to the full judicial inquiry of Sir William Macpherson. I have to say, given what the Home Secretary has now said, that had that evidence been offered, I think it is at least possible that Sir William Macpherson and his colleagues would have concluded not only, as they did, that there had been institutional racism, but that there had been institutional corruption as well.

I had a personal interest in the issue of the SDS and that organisation’s activities to go after subversives, because in 1974 the Security Service informed me of, and showed me, records that had been kept on my family and me from 1960 until 1971, when I finished as a student activist. When I went to the Home Office, I said that I did not want to see my file, but that I did want to know whether they were carrying on wasting money looking at subversives like myself, my family and successors. I was assured that that kind of activity was not going on, so I hope very much that this inquiry will get to the bottom of it.

May I also say—this is my last point—that I am very pleased that the permanent secretary is going to scrutinise what happened under the previous Government? I will give every possible co-operation to that inquiry, because, to my certain knowledge, I knew nothing whatever of these continuing activities, and had I done so, I would have stopped them immediately.

Mrs May: On the right hon. Gentleman’s last point, one of the things that comes through clearly in the Ellison review is that part of the ethos of the SDS was precisely that of secrecy, to the extent that very few people—this is one of the difficulties in establishing exactly who knew—within the Metropolitan police, let alone outside it, knew. This was kept very tight and close in terms of those who were even aware that the SDS was in existence, let alone of what it was doing.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the specific issue of corruption. Everybody will be appalled that there was an allegation of corruption by an individual police officer that was brought to the attention of superior officers in the Metropolitan police, yet it was not referred to the Macpherson inquiry.

One has to ask what the thinking was of somebody who thought that it was right not to refer the allegation to the Macpherson inquiry. I find it absolutely incredible that that further reference did not take place. As Mark Ellison says, it was a significant failure by the Metropolitan police.

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I just want to comment on the issue of culture, which is part of this matter, and also goes back to the question about whistleblowing asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). The culture of looking inward and protecting each other was rife at the time. One of the issues that can be looked at in the public inquiry is the whole question of Peter Francis’s allegations against that background and against what was actually going on in the SDS at the time.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just say to the House that we have so far had four questions in 14 minutes? We have had questions from Members with very close personal experience of these matters either as constituency representatives or holders of ministerial office. I think that the House will agree that I have therefore very properly allowed latitude, because these matters need to be treated seriously, but we have a lot of other very pressing business. I am afraid that I must now insist on short questions and short answers so that we can proceed expeditiously. I know that I will be helped supremely in this matter by Nicola Blackwood.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): The findings could not be more serious, and they cannot help but undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system. This is far from the first time that the competency of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been put in question. I welcome the steps that have been taken to strengthen the IPCC and the oversight of undercover operations, but I urge the Home Secretary to go further with the reforms so that the public can have confidence in the oversight mechanisms, and so that those mechanisms are sufficiently robust and sufficiently funded to root out police failings wherever they may be found, not just to put right past wrongs, but to prevent future wrongs.

Mrs May: As I have said, I am considering whether any further steps are necessary in relation to the IPCC. The step I am taking, which goes to the heart of what my hon. Friend says, is asking Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to look at the current capability of police forces to identify and deal with corruption inside their forces. Today, we are talking about events that took place in the past, but people need to know that they can have every confidence that the police will identify and root out corruption in the future.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Since the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993—as we know, he was murdered for only one reason: the colour of his skin; that is why he was put to death—is not the very strong and justified impression that much more time was spent investigating the Lawrence family and Mr Brooks than in bringing those responsible to justice? May I simply say that a society based on the rule of law should feel thoroughly ashamed of what has been revealed in the Ellison review and of what the Home Secretary has said today? A thorough investigation into undercover policing is absolutely essential, and I welcome the public inquiry.

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Mrs May: I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the public inquiry, and I note his other comments. It is of course the case that the initial investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder was deeply flawed. As we know, it is only recently that the family has seen any level of justice in relation to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It is imperative that the investigations continue, and that as we bring forward various other measures, we make sure and keep our focus on ensuring that we get to the truth about the murder of Stephen Lawrence and, obviously, the behaviour of officers in the Metropolitan police and the way in which the investigation and other matters were conducted.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The allegations are extremely serious, indeed. Notwithstanding what the Home Secretary has said about the general nature of policing, they show that there is a great need to change the culture of policing in this country. She has put a lot of faith in bringing in outside talent, but does she really think that that is enough?

Mrs May: Bringing in outside talent is a very important part of this process. It will bring different cultures, attitudes and experiences into the police, which will be a significant part of changing the culture. I also think that other steps we are taking—such as the code of ethics by the College of Policing, and the transfer of investigations of serious complaints against the police to the IPCC so that the police do not investigate themselves—are all part of the picture. I believe that opening up senior ranks to people from outside is an important part of bringing in a more diverse culture, experience and approach, which can only be of benefit.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): May I thank the Home Secretary both for the content of her statement and for the tone of what she has said? She mentioned the fact that allegations were made to officers in the Metropolitan police about corruption during the initial investigation. Will she confirm that none of the officers to whom those allegations were made is still employed by the Metropolitan police?

Mrs May: If the hon. Lady will permit me, I will write to her on that matter so that I am absolutely certain of the facts I give her.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The review discloses breathtaking and monumental corruption, and it will take a monumental effort to begin to repair the damage that has been caused. Among other things, the report discloses that officers in criminal trials failed to reveal their true identities, and that they failed to correct evidence that they knew to be wrong. As a result, there will doubtless have been miscarriages of justice in other cases, which it will be extremely complicated and difficult to root out, but does the Home Secretary agree that that must happen? Does she also agree that the culture of policing needs to change considerably not just in relation to this matter, but generally? Will she look at the report of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into undercover policing, which has already taken place? Finally, may I suggest that what she said about adding an offence of police corruption is extremely important, because the current offence of misconduct in a public office is clearly insufficient?

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Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the new offence, which I, too, think is important. He is absolutely right on the issue of miscarriages of justice: it is imperative to look into it, and I am grateful to Mark Ellison for undertaking that work. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has made it clear that every effort will be made to ensure that this work can be completed properly and fully. We obviously do not yet know quite what the extent of that work will be, but with his experience of the work that he has already done, Mark Ellison is absolutely the right person to take it forward. As I have said, he will work with the CPS and report to the Attorney-General. If necessary, cases will of course be put to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Does the Home Secretary recall that when she began her programme of comprehensive police reform—it was then led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who was in the Chamber for her statement—many people questioned the need for it? I do not think that anyone will say that today, but does she agree that we owe it to the vast majority of police officers who carry out their duties with honesty and integrity to state that we know that police corruption is limited to a few immoral individuals?

Mrs May: I pay tribute to the work on police reform done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and which is being continued by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims. I hope that everybody sees that it was important to embark on police reform and, as I have said, we are obviously taking forward further measures, which is important not just for public confidence in the police, but because, as my hon. Friend says, we owe it to the majority of police officers who work with honesty and integrity—day in, day out—to prevent crime, catch criminals and keep us safe.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): My constituency has a majority BME—black and minority ethnic—population. Policing is by consent, and it is obviously crucial that the whole community has confidence in the chain of command, the policies enacted and operational decisions made on the ground. With that in mind, does my right hon. Friend agree with me about the misuse

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and abuse of stop-and-search powers, which are often targeted at a particular section of the community and seem to be unfairly used?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is right that certain communities are subject to stop and search disproportionately. The Government, the Prime Minister and I are clear that we need changes to stop and search to ensure that people have confidence in it. It is an important tool, but people must have confidence in its use.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I was an undercover military officer in 1978. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is absolutely right and proper that undercover operations are continued by the police, and that the men and women who are involved in those operations, who act with integrity and sometimes with great courage, should be applauded?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Undercover policing is an important tool. It is important that the police can use it. Many undercover police officers act very bravely and put themselves at great risk in the work that they do. Such work is important in catching criminals and in protecting the public. We need to ensure that all undercover officers operate with full honesty and integrity, and that there is a clear and appropriate legal and supervisory framework so that the boundaries of that activity are known. Sadly, it is clear from the Ellison review that, in relation to the SDS, there were rather fewer boundaries in that activity than there should have been.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I commend the Home Secretary for her work to root out corruption in the police. Does she agree that we must not only restore public confidence in the police force, but boost the morale of the very good officers who make up the vast majority of the police and ensure that they are seen to be doing a good job?

Mrs May: Absolutely. I hope that the majority of police officers, who operate with honesty and integrity day by day, will welcome our commitment to rooting out any corruption or misbehaviour within the police. We owe it to them to ensure that they see that happening and know that we value the work that they do. We want to ensure that all officers operate with honesty and integrity.

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Nuclear Submarines

12.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): Before I make my statement, I am sure that the House will want to join me in sending condolences to the family and friends of the sapper from 32 Engineer Regiment who sadly died while on duty in Helmand province yesterday as a result of non-battle related injuries sustained in Camp Bastion. The incident is not believed to have involved any enemy action. The serviceman’s next of kin have been informed and have requested the customary 24-hour delay before further details are released.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to inform the House that I have decided to refuel the nuclear reactor in HMS Vanguard, one of the UK’s four ballistic missile submarines, during its planned deep maintenance period, which begins in 2015. It will be the second time that Vanguard’s reactor has been refuelled since it entered service in 1993. I will explain to the House now why I have reached the decision to conduct a second refuelling.

As many hon. Members will know, alongside the operational reactors on board our ballistic missile submarines, a prototype reactor of the same class has been running at the naval reactor test establishment at Dounreay in Scotland since 2002. Its purpose is to help us assess how the reactor cores within our submarines will perform over time. It has therefore been run for significantly longer periods and at a significantly higher intensity than the cores of the same type in our submarines, to allow us to identify early any age or use-related issues that may arise later in the lives of the operational reactor cores.

In January 2012, low levels of radioactivity were detected in the cooling water surrounding the prototype core. Low levels of radioactivity are a normal product of the nuclear reaction that takes place within the fuel, but they would not normally enter the cooling water. The water is contained within the sealed reactor circuit, and I can reassure the House that there has been no detectable radiation leak from that sealed circuit. The independent Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have been kept informed.

When the coolant radioactivity was first detected, the reactor was shut down as a precaution. Following investigations and a series of trials, and with the agreement of the relevant regulator, the reactor was restarted in November 2012. It continues to operate safely. Both radiation exposure for workers at the site and discharges from the site have remained well inside the strictly prescribed limits set by the regulators. Indeed, against the International Atomic Energy Agency’s measurement scale for nuclear-related events, this issue is classed as level zero, which is described by the agency as

“below scale—no safety significance”.

The naval reactor test establishment is, and remains, a very safe and low-risk site. However, the fact that low levels of radioactivity have been detected in the coolant water clearly means that the reactor is not operating exactly as planned. As one would expect, we have conducted extensive investigations to determine how the radioactivity has entered the cooling water. We believe that it is due to a microscopic breach in a small

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area of the metal cladding that surrounds one fuel element within the core of the reactor. It is not yet clear why that breach has occurred. It might be related to the age of the reactor, it might be a function of the high intensity use to which we have subjected the test reactor or it might be a random event. We do not yet know.

On current plans, the Dounreay test reactor will start to be decommissioned in 2015. We are confident that the reactor can be operated safely until that date. We may decide to bring forward decommissioning if it will allow us better to understand the causes of the breach through examination of the reactor core.

This occurrence does not present any safety risk. It does, however, potentially present additional risks to future submarine availability. Consequently, I have had to consider carefully the implications for the Vanguard-class and Astute-class submarines, which use the same design of reactor core. We constantly monitor our submarine reactors. We have never detected a similar occurrence to that found in the prototype reactor. We are confident that if one did occur, we would detect it straight away.

Despite that, we now have to consider the possibility, however remote, that the useful operating life of this particular design of core may not be as long as previously expected. As a result, I have decided that, as a precautionary measure, we should refuel HMS Vanguard, the oldest SSBN class and the one with the highest mileage, as it were, on her reactor, when she enters her scheduled deep maintenance period in 2015. This is the responsible option: replacing the core on a precautionary basis at the next arising opportunity, rather than waiting to see if the core needs to be replaced at a later date, which would mean returning Vanguard for a period of unscheduled deep maintenance, potentially putting at risk the resilience of our ballistic missile submarine operations.

The refuelling will increase our confidence that Vanguard will be able to operate effectively and safely until the planned fleet of Successor submarines begins to be delivered from 2028. The refuelling will be conducted within the current planned dry dock maintenance period for Vanguard, which starts in late 2015 and will last for about three and a half years. It is therefore expected to have no impact on deterrent operations. The additional cost of refuelling Vanguard is estimated to be about £120 million over the next six years.

A decision on whether to refuel the next oldest submarine, HMS Victorious, when she enters her next planned deep maintenance period does not need to be made until 2018. It will be informed by further analysis of the data from the reactor at Dounreay and examination of the core after the reactor is decommissioned. I have decided, again on a precautionary basis, that in the meantime we will take the necessary steps to keep open the option of refuelling Victorious. That will involve investment at Devonport and at the reactor plant at Raynesway in Derby to preserve our ability to conduct nuclear refuelling. The total cost of that investment is still being scoped, but it is expected to be of the order of £150 million.

Those costs—perhaps £270 million in total—will be met from existing provision for financial risk in the submarine programme budget. They represent substantially less than 10% of that risk provision and will not impact on the more than £4 billion of contingency that we are holding in the overall defence equipment plan.

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The implications for the Astute-class submarines will be the subject of further analysis, particularly once we have had the opportunity to examine the core from Dounreay. As the Astutes are only now entering service, and thus their cores have seen far less operation, a decision on whether to refuel any of them will not be needed for many years to come. These decisions do not affect our plans for the Successor submarine that will replace the Vanguard class. Refuelling HMS Vanguard does not enable us to extend further the overall life of the submarine, which is limited by a number of factors other than the age of the reactor. Neither do these decisions have any implications for our confidence in the reactor we are developing for the Successor submarine, which is based on a completely different design.

Finally, the House will understand that our naval reactor cores are a highly specialised, UK-bespoke maritime design, and there is no read-across from this occurrence to the performance of naval reactors operated by other countries, or indeed reactors operating in the UK civil nuclear sector. The safety of the UK’s naval nuclear reactor at the test establishment at Dounreay, and on our submarines, is of critical importance to us, as is the maintenance of continuous at-sea deterrence. That is why I have taken the decision to apply the precautionary principle, even though there is no evidence at this stage that the problem detected with the test reactor is likely to present in the operational reactors. We will continue to work with independent military and civil regulators to ensure the continuing safety of nuclear operations at Dounreay, Devonport, Faslane and at sea.

The Government are committed to maintaining our nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of the UK’s sovereignty and freedom of action against threats of nuclear aggression, wherever they may come from. Our submarine-based continuous at-sea deterrent remains the most capable and cost-effective way of doing that. The decisions I have announced today are responsible and precautionary, and will assure our ability safely to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent into the future. I commend this statement to the House.

12.32 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I join the Defence Secretary in paying tribute to the soldier from the 32 Engineer Regiment. His death is a reminder of the service and sacrifice given to our country by the armed forces, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time. I thank the Secretary of State for briefing me on this statement last night, and for sight of it. These are complicated and sensitive matters, and it is in all our interests that they are debated in a calm and reasonable manner that befits the seriousness of the issue.

I will come to the specific issues raised about the reactor in Dounreay and the nuclear submarines, but I start by asking the Secretary of State why he is making this statement now, and why the House is being told about this matter only today. He says that this issue was discovered in January 2012, which is more than two years ago. Does he not think it would have been right to brief the official Opposition spokesperson on defence then? Why did that not happen, and why has it not happened at any time since then until now? Should Parliament have known earlier?

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There must be public confidence in the Government to be open and transparent about such matters. A fault, however small, that develops in a nuclear reactor is something that the British people, and this Parliament, should have been told about. This is an issue of national security and national importance, and it will cause particular concern in Scotland. When did the Scottish Secretary know? Did the Defence Secretary or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland discuss the issue with the First Minister of Scotland and the Scottish Government? It seems to me that it was incumbent on the UK Government to inform and work with the Scottish Government on this matter. I accept that the Secretary of State briefed me and other colleagues last night and this morning, and I appreciate his candour, but does he agree that it has come rather late?

Let me turn to the specific issues with the PWR2 nuclear reactor at Dounreay and the implications for the Royal Navy’s fleet submarines and ballistic missile submarines. There will inevitably be concern when the words “nuclear”, “reactor” and “fault” are used in the same sentence. Can the Secretary of State provide further assurance that there has been, and there is now, absolutely no risk to workers on site, personnel in service, or the wider public? Having discovered that there was a problem at the Vulcan naval reactor test establishment, on what basis was the decision made to continue running the reactor? We know it is now in maintenance. Will he tell the House when a decision will be made about whether to continue running the reactor? I understand that if a decision is made to stop running it, it takes three years from the point at which it shuts down to the point at which it has cooled enough to be examined. That is a long time. Has he examined the potential to look at the PWR2 currently being constructed for the later Astute-class boats, and does that provide an opportunity effectively to X-ray every aspect of the cladding to see if we can detect any faults? There will be concerns about the impact that might have on the Astute-class submarines. Will the Secretary of State outline what those are?

The decision to maintain a test reactor so that faults could be identified has proven a good one. A fault has been found, however small, in PWR2—the test reactor in Dounreay. What plans are there to ensure that we have the same security with PWR3, which will be used on the Successor-class submarines? Have there been discussions with our US counterparts to see what lessons or expertise can be borrowed? In the current international defence and security climate, many people will be asking an important question: will this affect the UK’s ability to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence? Will it be necessary to adjust the operations timetable of the continuous at-sea deterrent? Finally, can the Defence Secretary confirm the total cost envisaged and that it will have no impact on the rest of the defence programme? If the cost is met by the submarine contingency fund, will that have any impact on the existing submarine programme?

Given that there will be concern about the length of time it has taken to inform the House and the public about this issue, will the Secretary of State tell the House what plans he has to keep Parliament and the country involved and updated throughout this process? Does he agree that public confidence and trust on these issues is crucial, and that people should have been told earlier? There will rightly be anxiety about these matters.

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The British public must be assured that everything is being done to resolve them, and they must be confident that Britain’s defence and security is paramount and will be maintained. That is best done through openness and transparency.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and by and large we agree on the importance of these matters, but I am afraid I must start by saying that I am not particularly minded to take lectures on transparency from someone who was a member of the previous Government. The decisions we have made throughout this process from January 2012 have been carefully balanced. I have, of course, considered throughout whether it would be appropriate, sensible or helpful to make a public statement, and I remind him that the advice we have received throughout from the regulators and experts is that no safety issues are arising, and that this incident scores as a level zero event on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale—an event that requires no action and presents no risk.

We have kept the independent military nuclear safety regulator and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency informed of matters, as is proper, and I have no doubt that there will be people who say that the Scottish Government should have been informed. We will see when we hear from the representative of the Scottish National party in a moment whether it will approach this matter from a responsible and sensible point of view. Key Ministers within the Government were, of course, aware of these issues throughout.

The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) asked why we decided to restart the reactor. Once it was clear that there was no safety risk and that a safety case for restarting it had been built and approved by the regulators, we continued with the operation of the test reactor to fulfil its intended purpose: to have delivered the same amount of core burn, and some more, as the most aged operational reactor will have achieved by the end of its service life.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the reactors being built for the Astute submarines, which are also core H reactors. I confirm that after this issue arose, all reactors in-build were re-examined with the best equipment available, to look for signs of anything that might give any further clue as to what has happened with the core H reactor at Dounreay.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the decision not to have a test reactor for the successor series—the PWR3 reactor. There are several technical reasons for this. The reactor is being built to an entirely different design specification. Because of the way in which technology has evolved, the engineering tolerances will be much less challenging in the PWR3 reactor and we have access to far more advanced computer modelling techniques, which can provide an adequate substitute for prototyping. However, in view of the concerns that have been expressed about this decision, I have asked the chief scientific adviser to review again the evidence on which the decision not to operate a test reactor was based, and to report back to me on the appropriateness of that decision. I will inform the House in due course of the result of that review.

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The hon. Gentleman asked whether CASD is affected. It will not be, and that is the point of taking this decision today. Refuelling Vanguard during an existing planned deep-maintenance period means that the operational rotation of the Vanguard-class submarines will not be affected. That is the reason we have taken that decision. It is not a safety-related decision; it is a submarine availability-related decision.

On the question of cost and as I have said already, we expect the total cost of the measures I have announced today to be about £270 million, all of which will come from contingency provision within the submarine programme that is currently unused. We do not expect it to have any impact on the wider defence programme. The contingency within the submarine programme is more than adequate—this amount is substantially less than 10% of the total contingency in the programme.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I intended to make further statements. Clearly, I will of course notify the House if anything of significance happens; if we make a decision to decommission the reactor at Dounreay early; or if there are any further significant developments in respect of the reactor while it is running. I stress that we have reacted properly throughout, in consultation with the regulatory authorities, and we have dealt with this matter in the same way that any minor incident in a reactor, whether military or civil, would routinely be dealt with.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend said that the consequences of this announcement for the Astute fleet would be the subject of further review. We all understand that the levels of radioactivity that he has announced are low, but what monitoring will be done of the cooling system in our operational Astutes to reassure the crews and all those involved that they are not in any way at risk?

Mr Hammond: We carry out daily sampling and analysis of the coolant water in all our nuclear submarines.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Can I say to the Secretary of State that the fact that some people may react in an irresponsible way is a reason to be more open on this issue, not a reason to be less open—as he appeared to suggest in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker)?

I am grateful for the briefings that the Secretary of State has given me and others. It will take three years from the decommissioning of the test reactor to be able to examine fully that hot piece of apparatus. In the meantime, we will continue to build the same reactors for the Astute class of submarine. Is he satisfied that we will do everything we can in that interim period to make certain that we minimise any risk and that we do not elongate or widen the safety margins on the reactor during the manufacturing process or otherwise?

Mr Hammond: Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman might anticipate, those are questions that I have already asked of the programme managers throughout this process. There are technical factors in the design of the core that limit the scope to change aspects of the design, but now that we are aware that this microscopic breach has occurred in the test reactor, it will focus the examination of the as yet uninstalled cores that are being built for the Astute class of submarine.

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The test reactor at Dounreay has been hammered. This is the nuclear equivalent of putting an engine on a test bed and running it flat out at maximum revs to see what happens. It does not mean that what happens to that engine will happen in a car that is being driven normally on the roads.

It will take approximately three years from the time of decommissioning the reactor to being able to examine it fully. We now have to make a decision about whether more will be learned by continuing to run the reactor at Dounreay until its intended decommissioning date in 2015 or by decommissioning it a year and a half early and thus being able to examine the core a year and a half earlier than we otherwise would. The balance needs to be struck on that and I will act on the best scientific advice that I receive.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend on his decision. What we are seeing is a vindication of the safety models that have been followed by successive Governments in relation to our nuclear submarine programme, and there is certainly no excuse for scaremongering or irresponsible language. In fact, we should be proud and reassured that safety is given such a high priority even at the financial cost that he has outlined.

In order to give the House an understanding of the scale of the problem, will my right hon. Friend give us an indication of the percentage core burn of the Vulcan test reactor, and how that percentage compares with the percentage burn on the Vanguard submarine?

Mr Hammond: As my right hon. Friend says, Governments of both persuasions over the years have adopted a prudent and precautionary approach to the safety of our nuclear submarine fleet, and have invested money, where it is necessary to do so, on the basis that safety always takes priority. As I have said, the decisions that I am announcing today are not driven by concerns about safety. There is no safety risk identified from this incident. They are driven primarily by concerns about future submarine availability.

The information on core burn is classified, but I can reassure the House that the percentage of core burn on the reactor at Dounreay exceeds by far the percentage of core burn on any of our operational reactors.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Continuous at-sea deterrence is of course the foundation of our deterrent policy. As the Secretary of State knows much better than I do, it requires not only the Vanguard-class submarines to be continuously at sea, but the Trafalgar and the Astute classes to be around. The worst-case scenario would be the refuelling of all Vanguard and Astute submarines. Does he have complete confidence that CASD would be maintained if that were to happen, and what additional capacity would be needed to carry out such an extensive venture?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman asks sensible questions, but he is verging into speculative matters at this stage. This is a very tiny flaw in a reactor that has been hammered at maximum output over a long time. It is premature to suggest that when we examine the core we will find some systemic need to refuel all other reactors of a similar type. That is not the expectation.

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However, as he would expect, we will plan for every contingency, and the measures that I have announced will allow us to preserve the option of refuelling further Vanguard and Astute submarines should that be deemed expedient in the future.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I thank the Defence Secretary for his statement and commend him on his actions. He has acted, rightly, on the precautionary principle—and, God willing, he is acting more cautiously than is necessary. The UK has the highest nuclear standards, but one can never be too cautious on nuclear safety. If the decision has been taken to refuel Vanguard, which had not been anticipated or expected, and possibly others, what implications will that have, not for the operation of Astute but for the timeline of its production at Barrow?

Mr Hammond: That is, again, a good question. I am assured that the investment I have announced today to expand capacity at Raynesway, coupled with the buffer already in the supply line—reactors for future Astute class submarines are built ahead of the need to install them in the submarines—means that we can take a core, which was built with the intention of being installed in Astute, to refuel Vanguard. We will have been able to catch up on the production of cores before we get to a point where there would be any impact on the Astute programme. End result: there will be no impact on the timeline of Astute.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Secretary of State should acknowledge that Scottish MPs and Scotland’s Parliament have voted against nuclear weapons and that there is opposition from the Churches, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and voluntary organisations. He has said that he will plan for every contingency. How will Scottish independence alter his plans, when weapons of mass destruction are removed from Scotland’s environment, and when did he consult Scotland’s Government?

Mr Hammond: This is from the man whose defence policy is based on being able to join NATO, an avowedly nuclear alliance. As I have said many times in the House, we do not expect the Scottish people to vote for independence and we are not planning for that contingency. However, as one would expect, the Royal Navy operates an extensive set of contingency plans for dealing with all sorts of contingent events that may occur.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the whole of the deterrent programme, both maintenance and build, is characterised by monopolies that are pretty much unavoidable. Does he agree that, notwithstanding this actually quite small hiccup, this arrangement, under Governments of all kinds, works well and offers lessons for wider consideration across procurement?

Mr Hammond: Our track record speaks for itself. Since 1963, the Royal Navy has operated 80-odd cores, both at sea and at shore-based test reactors. Rolls-Royce has acted as the technical authority and delivery partner, providing the design and manufacture of cores in an arrangement that has been very satisfactory. Nothing that I am announcing should in any way be taken to

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undermine the success of that relationship, or Rolls-Royce’s status as a world-leading provider of military reactor cores.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Having worked with radiation for a number of years in my own career and having followed very closely the development of the civil nuclear programme, I fully concur with the Secretary of State’s comments on the underlying science. On level zero events, similar events, such as moving waste material out of civilian sites, are subject to local communication. Why was there not a parallel situation in the case of Dounreay? Why were local stakeholders not involved? Will he ensure that the chief scientific adviser is given the maximum freedom, within the limits of classified information, to share scientific findings with the broadest possible group of nuclear experts?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that within the circle of nuclear experts—it is quite a small circle—there has already been discussion on these issues in the past two years. There is no requirement to notify level zero events, but we did notify the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and, of course, the military nuclear regulator. It is important to note that SEPA’s primary focus is on emissions from the site—that is, what is in the discharge from the site—and there has been no measurable change in the radiation discharge. That is the important point for people living in those communities.[Official Report, 11 March 2014, Vol. 577, c. 3MC.]

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): If the defect seen on the Vulcan test reactor at Dounreay were to be identified in one of the Astute or Vanguard-class submarines, what would the consequences be, from a safety perspective, for the crew on board those vessels? How would the removal of one or more submarine affect operational maritime capabilities?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend asks a good question. I emphasise again that there are no safety implications from this type of event—a submarine could continue to operate safely. This is a tiny amount of radiation in a coolant that is itself circulating in a closed system inside the sealed reactor shield, so there is no risk to the submarine crew. If such an event occurred, it would be detected almost immediately because of the daily sampling and analysis of coolant water. We are already looking at the operational implications, in a reactor of this type, of a very minor breach. As I have already told the House, the test reactor at Dounreay was restarted in 2012 and has subsequently run without any further problems. It is not absolutely clear that the result of such a minor event occurring in an operational reactor would necessarily mean that the reactor would have to be withdrawn from service. Clearly, we would do so on a precautionary basis while we considered a longer term course of action, but it is not yet clear that that would have to be the long-term state of affairs.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has said a number of times that SEPA was kept informed. Will he inform the House at what stage it was first informed? Given that SEPA is an Executive agency of the devolved Scottish

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Government, were Scottish Ministers informed by SEPA and, if that was the case, why were Scottish Ministers informed but Members of this House not?

Mr Hammond: SEPA was informed in October 2012 and has been involved in the discussions since that point. SEPA is an Executive agency of the Scottish Government, but it deals with operators in relation to the discharge of its regulatory functions on a properly regulated statutory basis and, usually, on a confidential basis. Clearly, SEPA did not feel that this event, as a level zero event, needed to be brought to the attention of Ministers or anyone in the central Scottish Government.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming that no lives were ever endangered by this activity. What discussions has he had with Babcock to ensure that it has the skilled work force in place and is able to deliver the work? It is important to ensure that that happens.

Mr Hammond: Obviously, the implications for Devonport are that a line of work, which was expected to end with the completion of the current refuelling of Vengeance, will now continue at least until 2019, with the refuelling of HMS Vanguard. At this stage, we have not quantified the precise impact on jobs and other activities at Devonport, but it is likely to be modest. Most of the people employed on the refuelling programme were expected to be absorbed elsewhere in the dockyard work force. We are confident that, with the announcements I have made today, there will be the capacity to carry out the Vanguard refuelling and to retain the ability to carry out the Victorious refuelling if necessary.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): The stupidity of both the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government knows no bounds. It is clear from the fact that the Scottish Government have known about this for nearly two years and the United Kingdom Government have known about it for more than two years that they hold the people of this country in contempt. I live very close to Faslane, and it worries me that something could happen that the people of my country and my city know nothing about. The Secretary of State must go and tell people about it, otherwise no one will believe anything he says in future about anything to do with nuclear power.

Mr Hammond: I am not sure about taking any lessons on stupidity. I am afraid that this is scaremongering of the worst kind. I have told the hon. Gentleman and the House that no safety issues are at stake, and all the scientific evidence supports the position that I have taken. Level zero events are not routinely made public; they are not routinely reported. That has been the practice of successive Governments, and it is the practice throughout the civil and military nuclear sector.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The refit for HMS Vanguard will take three and a half years, and that was planned. Does not that fact, and the requirement for us to have a permanent at-sea deterrent, support the plans for a fleet of four Successor SSBNs?

Mr Hammond: Indeed they do. If we are to maintain our posture of continuous at-sea deterrence, we will need to begin replacing the current fleet in the late 2020s. That is not primarily to do with the lives of the

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reactors or the cores; it is to do with the life expectancy of other components of the submarines that cannot effectively be replaced. The final decision to replace the Vanguard-class submarines with Successors will be made in 2016.

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Point of Order

1.1 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This morning the Government published a report on the Home Office website on the impact of migrants on British jobs. Its publication had been delayed for some time, and it was then published at a time when the House was considering the very serious issue of the Ellison review. I think that the House should have been afforded an opportunity to consider the report on immigration, and I seek your guidance on how that could be best achieved.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is a matter for the Government rather than the Chair. We have had two statements today. However, the hon. Lady has put her point on the record, and I am sure that people will respond to it accordingly.

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Future Army 2020

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I call the Chair of the Defence Committee, it may be helpful to the House if I explain again, briefly, the new procedure to which it agreed last year. Essentially, the pattern is the same as for a ministerial statement. The right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) will speak for up to 10 minutes—obviously he is not obliged to take all that time, unless he considers it necessary—after which I will call Members who rise to put questions to the right hon. Gentleman, and will call him to respond to them in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Their interventions should be questions, and should be brief. Front Benchers may take part if they feel so inclined.

1.3 pm

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con) (Select Committee Statement): There is little time available to us, so I shall cut my remarks to the bone in order to allow other Members to ask questions about the Defence Committee’s report, “Future Army 2020”—a report which speaks for itself.

We welcome many aspects of the changes that are being introduced by the Ministry of Defence. We welcome the increased spending on the reserves, the fact that reservists will have more training days, and the fact that they will work more closely with the regulars. We welcome the Government’s commitment to report annually on the state of the reserve forces, although our report calls on the Government to go further. All those measures will help to tie the armed forces into the public that they defend, and to reduce what we describe as the disconnect between the armed forces and the public.

However, we also have real concerns. We are concerned about the fact that the radical reduction of the Regular Army to 82,500 was simply announced to the Chief of the General Staff, without consultation on whether that was the right figure to address the threats we face, without testing or experimentation, and without being referred to the National Security Council, although it amounted to a reduction of 12,000 personnel and although the figure of 94,500 appeared in the strategic defence and security review as recently as 2010. It was a figure set purely on the basis of the finances that were available, rather than through any reiterative process of negotiation.

We are concerned about recruitment to both the regulars and the reservists. A career in the armed forces is a fantastically valuable and enjoyable one—as usual, I declare my interest: my eldest daughter is a lieutenant in the reserves—and people should not hold back from applying for that wonderful career. However, recruitment has not gone as well as it should have, partly because of failings in the Army’s own processes, partly because of IT failures, and partly because of the transfer of the role to Capita.

We are also concerned about the fact that the regulars are being made redundant before the reservists have been recruited. We understand the efforts that everyone is making to put the recruiting difficulties right, and I hear that things are turning around, but turn around they must. As we say in the report, we face the possibility that the Army will be short of personnel in key supporting capabilities.

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Army 2020 presents a radical vision of the future role and structure of the Army. The Government have said it has to work, as there is no plan B. That is the challenge that confronts the Ministry of Defence and the Army. We congratulate the new Chief of the General Staff on his appointment; he has a challenging time ahead. We thank the outgoing Chief of the General Staff for his fantastic work and service over many years. And we commend the report to the House.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): The Committee has produced a considered report, in whose formation I was privileged to be involved at a very late stage. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is a genuine risk that service numbers may fall so low as to affect our ability to sustain a force which the country needs to retain an expeditionary capability to intervene when necessary, unless there is a longer-term strategic rethink of the way in which we fund defence activities?

Mr Arbuthnot: I do consider that there is that risk, and I consider that it is a twofold risk. There is the risk that already exists because of the recruiting issues about which we have expressed concern, but there is an even greater risk of further raids on the defence budget in the future. I personally believe that the defence budget should increase, but in any event we must guard against both those risks.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): My right hon. Friend and I visited the Army recruiting and training centre together. Does he agree that it is truly astonishing that it is only since the arrival of the new director general, Major General Chris Tickell, that really obvious things—such as data protection for medicals, returning some of the focus on recruitment to potential recruits and, above all, sorting out the software—are at last being dealt with for the purposes of both regular and reserve recruiting?

Mr Arbuthnot: I am far too old to be astonished by anything, but I will say that many such issues came to light, and were dealt with, only as a result of my hon. Friend’s assiduity and fantastic work.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for their report. Does he think that it confirms what many of us have been saying for a long time, namely that Army 2020 is being driven by financial considerations? The most worrying part of the report that I read was the part that revealed that the permanent secretary to the MOD, rather than the head of the Army, had set the Army numbers. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that further redundancies in the regular forces should be paused until the recruitment problems have been sorted out?

Mr Arbuthnot: In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s final question, I would say that we may be too late for that, because the recruitment notices have probably already been delivered. However, it is worrying that the 82,500 figure does not appear to have been subjected to any tests or experiments to establish whether it adequately addressed the threats that the country faces. As I said in my brief statement, I think it should have been a

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reiterative process. Obviously, there is a financial envelope within which we all have to work. Whether that is large enough rather depends on the threats we face.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I would like to place on record my appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman, who steps down as Chairman of the Defence Committee shortly. Does he agree that as the final five or six years of this decade unfold, if circumstances require it—notwithstanding the fact that civil servants determined the size of the Army—the Government should step in and increase recruitment so that the country gets the Army it should have?

Mr Arbuthnot: I do agree with the hon. Gentleman, who also does assiduous work on the Defence Committee. It should not be civil servants who determine the size of the Army; it should be this House that determines the size of the Army—it should be Ministers. Ministers are, of course, in overall control, but these are issues that should be discussed by the House of Commons on a regular basis and determined by Ministers.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): According to Ministry of Defence figures, there is a shortfall in jobs across the military. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of our report’s most alarming findings was the number of vacancies in specialist trades, where jobs are being cut and the right personnel are not being recruited? The Army had the equivalent of 8,000 specialist vacancies it could not recruit for.

Mr Arbuthnot: I agree with the hon. Lady, who serves so wonderfully on the Select Committee. These issues are brought out clearly in the report. She also referred to the matter in the estimates debate on Tuesday. There are real shortages in relation to cyber-reserves. We must build up those specialist areas to guard against the threats this country faces.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The figures announced in Army 2020 are significantly different from those predicted in the strategic defence and security review in 2015. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the great value of this strong report is not necessarily with regard to the past, because all those redundancies have happened, but with regard to the future? Looking forward to the next SDSR, does he agree that it is vital that if the SDSR is to have any value whatever it must become binding for the subsequent five years?

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend, who also serves on the Defence Committee, makes, as always, a very good point. It is a matter not of astonishment, because I am not astonished about anything, but of surprise that the National Security Council has not already been brought into this process. It needs to be brought into the next process on a regular basis.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Current events in Ukraine and the continuing need for our country to persuade our allies in Europe to spend more on defence make me believe the Government should revisit the target they have set of a regular Army of 82,500. Has the Defence Committee looked at the feasibility of a Government revising the figure if they think there is a political need to do so?

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Mr Arbuthnot: In our report the Defence Committee calls on the Government to set out how they would rapidly rebuild the regulars as well as building on the reservists. It is difficult enough as it is to recruit into the regulars and the reservists, but regeneration of that capability is important, and the Government must address that.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The report correctly highlights the real possibility of capability gaps, along with the fact that the plans to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists were borne of financial necessity rather than strategic design. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the prospect of rising costs leading to false economies, such as the fact that it costs more to deploy reservists than regulars? Although this cost may have been offloaded on to the Treasury, it could still be a cost borne by taxpayers. The cost may be too much and certainly more than originally envisaged given that the plans come out of a need to make savings. The National Audit Office is also looking into the matter on behalf of taxpayers.

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We say in the report:

“We note that Reservists are cheaper to employ so long as they are not called up. This will only prove to be a cost saving so long as future governments are not required to undertake operations. This will need to be closely monitored.”

I hope—indeed, I am sure—that the Government will do exactly that.

Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): The report is about Army 2020. It talks about retaining the regimental structure but building an adaptive and reactive force with an integrated reserve. There is money for that until 2019, but there will be a defence and security review in 2015-16. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the resources and the integration quality, not the changes to the structure that have been outlined, will need to be re-examined at that time?

Mr Arbuthnot: The hon. Gentleman, who has been on the Defence Committee since, I think, 2003, and who knows more about it than any of us, is quite right. He will raise his points in the next Defence Committee inquiry into Future Force 2020, which will tie together all these issues in the reports that the Committee does to build up to the next defence and security review.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the next SDSR should look at the fighting power of the Army, possibly also looking at the concept of critical mass as part of the SDSR?

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend is right. The fighting power of the Army seems to have been less used than we would like by the MOD both as a concept and in its language in recent years. Fighting power involves the conceptual component—the thought process—the moral component, which is the ability to get people to fight, and the physical component, or the means to fight. We call on the MOD to produce a regular report on that so that we can understand how well defended the country actually is.

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Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Committee on producing what is, I must say, really rather a disturbing report, certainly from my perspective. He talks about Army 2020 as a radical vision, but I am still not quite clear whether he believes it is radically good or radically bad. The report says that the Committee members have “considerable doubts” as to whether Army 2020

“will meet the needs of the UK’s national security.”

I cannot think of anything more serious than that.

Mr Arbuthnot: Well, it is radical in that it goes to the root of what the Army is about. It changes the entire configuration of the Army from a predominantly—hugely so—regular Army with a very small proportion of reservists, to an Army of 82,500 regulars and 30,000 reservists. That is certainly radical. I think certain things really work well, but there are other things which are not working so well about which we have real concerns. I have said that and we have made that point in the report.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I certainly look forward to the Government response to this report. Much of it focuses on the rebalancing of the regular and reservist ratio, and I should declare an interest as a reservist myself. Many reservists currently fail to secure their bounty or credits for promotion because they miss their annual camp. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new ambitious reservist recruitment targets, as spelled out on page 38 of his report, are more likely to be met if the Army is more flexible in allowing a series of four-day commitments to be completed throughout the year for those who are unable—for work or family reasons—to make the fixed dates of an annual eight to 14-day camp?

Mr Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend knows far more about it than I do. I am sure he is right. I am sure the answer is in the report somewhere, but I cannot put my finger on exactly where.

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Backbench Business

Security of Women in Afghanistan

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I ask Members to speak for the usual 10 to 15 minutes. There will be time pressure on the next debate, so it would be helpful if people could be brief, as I do not wish to introduce a time limit. However, I will do so if pushed.

1.19 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House recognises, ahead of critical presidential elections in April 2014, the essential contribution of Afghan human rights defenders to building peace and security in their country; further recognises the extreme challenges, including violent attacks and killings, that they face as a result of their peaceful work; believes that sustainable peace and security cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without women’s full participation; and encourages the UK Government to improve its support and protection for women human rights defenders in Afghanistan.

I am sure that all hon. Members would like to take this opportunity to offer their sympathy to the family and friends of the soldier who died yesterday at Camp Bastion, bringing to 448 the number of British personnel who have died while serving in Afghanistan.

I would like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time for this debate on the security of women in Afghanistan.

Many people will remember 11 September 2001. I remember that I was trying to get a survival suit on while waiting for a helicopter to bring me back from a visit to an offshore platform when the offshore installation manager came to us and said, “There’s been an aircraft crash in New York; I’ll put it on the telly.” When we got off the helicopter at Aberdeen airport, we saw on the news that there had been another crash. It was obviously not an accident; it was a serious situation. That event has linked the mountains of Afghanistan and the living rooms of the UK and tied our two countries together since 2001. I pay tribute to the troops and to the staff of the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the non-governmental organisations for all the work that they have done in Afghanistan since then to try to establish a more stable and secure situation for that country and for the wider world.

On a visit to Afghanistan in 2007, while I was serving on the International Development Select Committee, I saw at first hand some of the challenges involved, and some of the achievements, especially those relating to the role of women in society. It was particularly memorable and moving to visit a classroom of girls, and I remember sitting next to a girl who enthusiastically showed me the homework that she had taken from her school bag. Those girls were able to engage in the learning process again. In the context of the transition in Afghanistan, it is telling that on the successor Committee’s more recent visit to the same school, it was felt inappropriate that Committee members should visit the classroom where the girls were. That might be a measure of the hardening of attitudes towards women that is beginning to cause concern.

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We also saw a project for start-up businesses, and it was pointed out to us that loans to women were considered far more secure than loans to men, because the women entrepreneurs repaid their loans far more effectively than the men. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the range of businesses that could support the Afghan economy. We also visited a maternity hospital in Lashkar Gah, where DFID had built accommodation for the training of midwives. The development of women’s health and the support for engaging with women was recognised as an important contribution.

This debate is timely because international women’s day is coming up at the weekend. The security situation in Afghanistan is changing with the withdrawal of international security assistance force troops, the handover to Afghan security forces and the election of a new President in April. Progress has been made since 2001, but it has been fragile.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I travelled to Afghanistan with the hon. Gentleman on that Select Committee visit in 2007. When our troops come back from Afghanistan and no longer have a security role in the country, we will not be able to enforce the rights of women in the way that we have to some extent been able to do while our troops have been in the country. The hon. Gentleman has been explaining how much DFID has achieved in changing the prospects of women through its aid programme. Does he agree that that aid programme should be maintained and should have a footprint across the whole of the country, rather than just being based in the capital, Kabul?

Sir Robert Smith: I certainly recognise the crucial importance of the aid programme in building on what has been achieved to date. I also recognise that we need to engage with the whole of Afghanistan to get the messages across.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for the work he does with the all-party parliamentary group on Afghanistan. He talks about the challenges for the whole of Afghanistan. Will he join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on the work that the Department has done to promote the interests of women? I have visited the country a number of times, and things have changed—albeit slowly—in the areas of education, health and access to justice. Does my hon. Friend also agree, however, that there are too many disparate agendas? DFID does excellent work, but it often takes place separately from that done by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the non-governmental organisations operating there. Given that we have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade, do we perhaps need greater co-ordination to achieve the success that we wish to see?

Sir Robert Smith: Effective co-ordination among all the agencies involved is an important part of maximising the benefit and working together. The conference in London in November could provide an opportunity to focus the minds of all those agencies on adopting a co-ordinated approach.

I want to put on record the names of some of the victims of the attacks on women that have taken place in Afghanistan. Islam Bibi, a senior policewoman from

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Helmand province, was murdered last July. A few months later, another senior policewoman from Helmand, Lieutenant Negar, was also murdered. Parliamentarian Rooh Gul survived an attack in which her driver and eight-year-old daughter were killed in August. Parliamentarian Fariba Kakar was kidnapped by insurgents and held for ransom before, fortunately, being released in September. Sushmita Banerjee, a well-known author who had written about life under the Taliban, was dragged out of her home and shot 15 times in September. December 2013 was a deadly month for Afghan women. A policewoman, Masooma, from Nimruz was shot on 5 December, and on 19 December a policewoman and a pregnant teacher were found hanged in Uruzgan. In January 2014, Yalda Waziri, a senior government official in Herat, was murdered by unknown attackers who shot her from a motorbike. High-profile attacks such as those get into the news, but many more victims in everyday life go under the radar. Nevertheless, we should be concerned about them, too.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the problems that women human rights defenders across Afghanistan are facing? Many of them are continuing to try to work and travel, but they are finding it increasingly difficult, and their lives and their families are under constant threat. That shows the risk that they will be under once we finally withdraw from the country.

Sir Robert Smith: Yes, the lack of security presents a huge challenge for human rights defenders. That makes it even more important to have in place as effective a strategy as possible among the agencies that will continue to work in Afghanistan.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Having been involved with human rights in the field in Bosnia, and having heard my hon. Friend’s litany of appalling crimes against women, I am really concerned about how once we have gone we will be able to reduce those numbers. It will have to be done by the security forces of Afghanistan, and that is a huge commitment. I am not quite sure how we can help.

Sir Robert Smith: We can help by maintaining our engagement in Afghanistan through DFID and the Foreign Office and through NGOs. We can also help by highlighting our values and the importance of women to society there, and by engaging in debate with Afghanistan. But yes, the security is going to be delivered by the Afghan forces.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): This is an incredibly important debate. Saferworld recently found a direct correlation between increased insecurity and violence against women and decreasing public participation among women. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Afghan women are not just victims and that the incredibly brave women who remain involved in public life deserve our support and our wholehearted protection, wherever we can give it? That is one key way in which we can show our support and make a difference to women in Afghanistan.

Sir Robert Smith: We get the opportunity, as parliamentarians, to meet some of those brave women on delegations from the Afghan Parliament. They reinforce

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the case that, from the perspective of women in Afghanistan, the engagement of ISAF has been seen as supportive and important.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in also paying tribute to those women who are participating directly in the security of Afghanistan—the women who, often in the face of tremendous opposition, are training to be police officers, members of the army or members of special forces? The House may be surprised to learn about the latter group; we too frequently use the word “trailblazer”, but they really are trailblazers.

Sir Robert Smith: Yes, the bravery such women show is immensely inspiring. Again, it shows the need for us to continue to focus on Afghanistan, even though our troops are no longer there, bringing it to our news and engaging the public. We need to make sure we build as much as we can on what has been achieved to date.

One suggestion from Amnesty International is to have a country-specific plan on human rights defenders, which could ensure that training and awareness-raising occurs with mission staff on gender considerations, and on the particular challenges facing those who work to promote human rights and those who face risk because of their work; to prioritise gendered approaches to the support and protection of HRDs; to appoint a liaison officer to act as focal point for HRDs for information exchange and case support; to explore with civil society organisations and HRDs—this depends on security considerations—safe opportunities to support local events; and to outline how and what support protection would be delivered in conjunction with, or through, the European Union and United Nations.

Mrs Moon: During the Defence Committee’s last visit to Afghanistan we met women at the forefront of trying to change the society. I turned to the leader of the women we were meeting and said, “In the time leading up to our departure, what is the most important thing we could provide to you?” Surprisingly, her response was, “Artillery.” She was saying, “Unless we know we are going to be able to defend ourselves against the Taliban and reach a point where we can build a society outside the Taliban’s horrific views on women, nothing will change in Afghanistan.”

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I make the point again that long interventions are not helpful, either to this debate or the one afterwards? Let us try to contain them, especially where a Member has already had one go.

Sir Robert Smith: That lady’s message is a very important one about bringing support and resources to the Afghan security forces to make sure that they can maintain the security situation. The engagement with human rights defenders is an important part of ensuring that the messages get through about the important role of women. We need to engage with the men of Afghanistan about the fact that where a society does not use half its population, its economic potential is not being achieved, and that if a society does not engage with the next generation of women in education, it is failing to achieve its potential. That will be a major cultural challenge.

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The Government will be hosting a summit in November 2014 where they could focus on the needs of women by ensuring that women’s representation at that summit is substantial; by supporting human rights defenders to travel to take part in the summit; by establishing formal processes of consultation with Afghan women and women human rights defenders in advance of the summit, to ensure their input into its format and content, and to ensure that women who take part receive protection from retaliation and intimidation; and by working to build on the Tokyo commitments.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con) rose

Sir Robert Smith: Time is beginning to run short, but I will take one more intervention.

Mr Gray: The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely interesting and thoughtful speech, but will he give consideration to one other thing? Although it is important that we should provide safety for these human rights defenders and high-profile women in Afghanistan, the good old Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky is particularly true in Afghanistan, which is a matriarchal society. Does he agree that one of the most important things to do is put in place defence strategies to keep the Taliban under control once we have left, so that women who run the households in Afghanistan can be allowed to do so?

Sir Robert Smith: Yes, the security situation is crucial, because a resurgence of the Taliban will start to knock back all the achievements made; we will be back to square one and all the risks that evolve from that scenario will be back to haunt us. It is crucial that we maintain our engagement.

Will the Secretary of State say what assessment her Department has made of the different programmes to support women—which have and which have not been successful—so that in the future we can focus on those that have had achievements? As I said, 2001 brought our two countries together, and progress has been made, but it is fragile and we must not turn our backs now when handing over security to the Afghan Government. I urge the House to support this motion.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am introducing an eight-minute limit.

1.36 pm

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also wish to thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time for this debate. I speak whenever I can in this House on the issues of education and women, and today I want to bring those issues together in this debate on the security situation of women in Afghanistan. I do so for a number of reasons, one of which is that when I became an MP in May 2010, the very first thing—and I mean the very first thing—I had to do officially was attend the funeral of Daryn Roy, a young man who was born and brought up in Dipton in my constituency and who died in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan right at the end of April 2010. When I attended his funeral, I found that his parents took great comfort from the fact that he had told them that he was fighting in Afghanistan on behalf of not only Britain, but the people of Afghanistan and that he and his colleagues were there not only to deal with

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terrorists and remove them from that sorry land, but to create a land in which education could be brought to children—all children, both girls and boys. He had taken great pride in the fact that he and his colleagues were protecting women from the worst excesses of the Taliban.

As we know, the lives of women in Afghanistan have never been easy, but under the spiritual leader Mullah Omar the Taliban brought a whole new level of misery and terror to the lives of many, particularly women. Women were not allowed to work outside the home; and they were not allowed to leave their home unless accompanied by a male relative. Women who could not afford a burqa or who did not have a living male relative were, in effect, housebound for four years. Education for women and girls was banned by the Taliban, and as most of the teachers in Afghanistan were women, the education of boys and girls suffered. Throughout that time, brave women teachers continued secretly to teach young girls, and some boys, in their homes. Information about secret schools was spread by word of mouth, from woman to woman. Through the generosity and bravery of these women teachers, some young girls did continue to receive an education.

The international invasion and the election of President Karzai’s Government did lead to a relaxation of some restrictions on women, but women’s lives continued to be difficult. His Government endorsed a code of conduct that continued to require women to be accompanied by a male relative when travelling and not to mingle with strange men—anyone outside the family—in places such as schools, markets and offices. Although that did not amount to a ban, it made work and life very difficult for most women.

We know that Afghanistan continues to be one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman. More women and girls die in pregnancy there than almost anywhere else in the world. Nine out of 10 women cannot read or write. One in 10 children dies before their fifth birthday. The life expectancy of a woman in Afghanistan is 44 years of age, one of the lowest in the world. More than 50% of Afghan women are married or engaged by the age of 10; 60% are married by the age of 16; 80% of marriages are either forced or arranged; and violence against women is endemic.

There are 1.5 million widows in Afghanistan, one of the highest proportions in the world, 94% of whom are illiterate. The average age of a widow is 35. Widows without male relatives prepared to support them have few options, and most are forced to beg or are forced into prostitution.

Education for women has improved since 2001, but still, in 2011, of the 8 million students in Afghanistan, only 30% of them were women and girls. Things have improved, and education is no longer banned, but the Taliban has continued to conduct a reign of terror against schools. There is a campaign of burning down schools and of killing students and teachers, and the Taliban has been helped in this by its supporters in Pakistan who have banned the delivery of school books and texts to Afghanistan.

Teachers and those running schools endure violent threats from the Taliban on a daily basis. There are attacks on their families and they risk losing their homes and those closest to them, and yet they persevere. They continue to provide essential education to women and girls across the country at great cost to themselves.

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Mr Ellwood: I am reluctant to interrupt what is a very powerful speech, but does she agree that there is huge concern about the contracts for schools and clinics? The west builds them, but then we do not provide the contracts for the teachers to continue there—certainly after we have left. That applies not only in the southern area, the Pashtun area, where the Taliban operate, but in the north.

Pat Glass: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that the Minister is listening.

As I was saying, it is because of the teachers—my professional colleagues of whom I am so proud—and others working in women's health, human rights and security that the lot of women in Afghanistan has improved. However, that is now at risk as the time of withdrawal draws close. Most international forces are set to withdraw this year, and, as the deadline draws near, women activists, women teachers and doctors and those working on behalf of women in Afghanistan become increasingly concerned about the future.

I want to give just one small example of what is happening now. We worry about what will happen after we withdraw in 2014, but what is going on now? In 2009, the law on the elimination of violence against women finally criminalised acts of child marriage, rape and other forms of violence against women. Despite that, there was a 27% increase in attacks on women last year in a society where attacks on women usually take place within the family and are rarely reported or challenged. Now a small, seemingly inconsequential change in the criminal law could make domestic violence against women almost impossible to prosecute. The new law proposes that relatives can no longer testify when a woman has been assaulted or raped. Essentially, that means that no one can testify on a woman’s behalf, because in Afghanistan a woman rarely sees anyone outside of the family. Relatives are the only people who would ever be privy to a woman being abused, who would see her afterwards or who could testify on her behalf. The change in the law would mean that women could be beaten and raped without any fear of prosecution for the persecutor.

We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, but we have not gone yet. This Parliament, the British Government and international forces need to tell President Karzai now, firmly and loudly, that this kind of law must be repealed. It is an offence to Afghan women and to women everywhere and it needs to go. This is not what Daryn Roy and the other young men and women from constituencies up and down this country fought and died for. Although I understand the need to withdraw, surely we owe an assurance to our war dead and to those who have been injured and who have fought on our behalf in Afghanistan that they did not fight for nothing and that they leave a lasting legacy that includes a better, safer and educated future for the women and girls of Afghanistan.

1.44 pm

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) for securing this timely debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to happen. I feel privileged to be taking part.

As important as this debate is—and it is very important —we should not overestimate our ability to influence cultural change within Afghanistan just by speaking in

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this Chamber; the challenge is much bigger than that. Fundamentally, the change will have to come from people within Afghanistan whom we can support.

In January, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said:

“Afghan women are all too well aware that international donors are walking away from Afghanistan.”

As the Secretary of State is in her place, I am sure that she will want to make it clear that that is not the case with Britain. Indeed, the longer and deeper our commitment is, and the more that we talk about it, the better we will be able to support those in Afghanistan who are working for change.

Reference has been made to the visit the International Development Committee made to the country in 2007—we also visited it 18 months ago—in which we had a robust meeting with President Karzai. He was challenged on the rights of women. Specifically, we talked about the fact that more than 80% were beaten by their husbands and other male family members, and that those who fled violent relationships were jailed while the perpetrators of the violence had immunity from any sanction.

At the end of the exchange, Mr Karzai said that we had to understand that Afghanistan was a conservative country with its own values. He said that the last ruler who challenged those values was the king who was assassinated in 1929, and Mr Karzai did not want to repeat that example.

In an article in The Guardian last month, Nushin Arbadzadah warned of the challenges. She said that

“the idea that we could empower Afghan women by making them aware of their individual rights was preposterous and bound to fail from the inception. Anyone who has spent even two days in Afghanistan knows that individualism as a concept does not exist there. The idea that we could treat women as a separate entity, legal or political, and disconnected from their family was flawed from the start.”

She said that those who fought for those values were likely to do so perpetually and in isolation. In her conclusion, she said:

“Afghanistan’s patriarchal clans have survived leftist coups and rightwing wars, becoming the only source of stability in a society constantly in turmoil. To dismantle their power would amount to freedom not only for women but also for men. But to reach that end, we need more than the rhetoric of individual rights imported from the other side of the planet.”

That is a sobering article. We feel angry and we state our case, but we must realise what we are up against. Very often, it is women, and not just men, who are oppressing women, and not supporting them when they stand up, which is why I agree with my hon. Friend that the role of men is important too and that we need to be part of it.

Bob Stewart: It is not only the role of men that is important, but the men themselves. They are the people who drive the change, and we must put all our efforts into making them understand and be more enlightened, in our way of thinking, towards their women.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: Of course I accept that, but we should not underestimate the challenge. That is why we need to work with local women and women’s groups and accept the way in which they want to achieve change and support them.

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Our second report on Afghanistan, which was published 18 months ago, said:

“The treatment of women in Afghanistan after troops pull out in 2014 will be the litmus test of whether we have succeeded in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans over the last ten years.”

We urged the Government to prioritise women in their programmes, especially on education, supporting shelters and providing legal advice. I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to give us some insight about how that is being done under the DFID programme.

Like others, we have met articulate women MPs and civil rights campaigners who were fearful that there would be push back on the gains, but were determined to protect and advance the progress that had been made. We all recognise that educating girls and women is an essential part of that.

Everyone knows that Afghanistan has an uncertain future. We do not know what the next Government will look like or who will be President, although the candidates are now lining up. The idea that the whole country will quickly fall back into the arms of the Taliban seems unlikely. Many of the people who suffered under the Taliban have gained under the current situation and will not readily succumb to that again. Furthermore, the Taliban are not a single, coherent entity.

I note that Zalmai Rassoul, one of the frontrunners for the presidency, has chosen a woman as one of his running mates. Habiba Sarabi was the former governor of Bamiyan Province. Some members of the Committee visited the province briefly in 2012. Having suffered at the hands of the Taliban, not only through the destruction of the famous Buddhas but through much more serious infringements of lives and livelihoods, the people of the predominantly Shi’ite Hazara province of Bamiyan clearly told us that they were determined to pursue their own destiny and will at all odds resist any re-incursion by the Taliban. The principal of the university told us that fathers and husbands were actively encouraging their daughters and wives to go to university and that a third of the students there are now female.

I must also say, however, that I and a number of other members of the Committee met a young woman in Kabul. She was a highly educated and very articulate postgraduate, but when I asked her about her personal circumstances she said that she would of course have to marry whoever her brother, who was the head of her household, chose for her. I asked whether her brother would consult her, to which she replied, “How on earth would my brother have any idea what kind of man I want anyway?” I asked what she would do if she did not like that person or if she suffered violence and she said, “I am used to violence; I can accept it.” She is an intelligent, educated and articulate woman, more or less saying that she must succumb to her fate.

We have made progress. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine rightly referred to girls’ education. The front cover of our first report in 2007 was a photograph of girls in school because we thought that was symptomatic of how Afghanistan was changing. My hon. Friend rightly said that 2001 was a moment of destiny, but I think that Afghanistan is a country in which the UK would be engaged regardless of that because it is one of the poorest countries on the planet and because we make a commitment to try to lift people out of absolute poverty. It is a poor country seeking to develop and exactly the kind of country that we want to help.

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The Taliban are against development of all kinds, but many Afghans have experienced the benefits that development can bring. They have glimpsed the opportunities and will not, in my view, simply allow themselves to be pushed back. I suggest that our job is to stand by those who seek to move forward on their own terms. We must do everything we can to support those women who are campaigning to secure progress, but we must follow their leadership and not impose our own. They will understand how to make that change better than anything we can do. Although there are absolute rights and values that we stand by, we must accept that change will be brought about by people inside the community who understand how to do it. We must stand by them and say that we are here to help them in any way we can to secure progress.

I am grateful that the Secretary of State is replying to the debate and hope that she will be able to say that we are there to stand by Afghan women for as long as it takes.

1.52 pm

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and I congratulate him on ensuring that the Select Committee on International Development focused on women’s rights in its report. I can do that in all modesty because I was not a member of the Select Committee when it began its inquiry. I was involved in the latter stages, but the first issue I raised, in the first session I attended, was women’s rights and security in Afghanistan. I questioned the former Secretary of State about the effectiveness and scope of what was being done and I give credit to the current Secretary of State for her tenacity and commitment on this issue. We have seen progress and movement.

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) on introducing the debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have it. This might sound slightly strange, but I want to apologise to members of Musselburgh twinning association for no longer being able to join them this evening. I hope they will realise that, as the right hon. Member for Gordon said, it is vital that our voices are heard by women in Afghanistan so that they know that we stand by them and are committed to their safety, security, human rights and right to participate in Afghan society at every level. I hope that the association will think it is worth while my being in the Chamber today.

As Amnesty International has said:

“sustainable security cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the full participation of women; moreover, for security to be meaningful, it must include security for women”.

As established in UN Security Council resolution 1325, the UK Government have a responsibility to ensure not only that women participate in all peace and security-related processes, but that that is seen as vital to the success of those processes.

Last year the UN reported that the lack of female participation in peace processes was a shortcoming. The establishment of an elite women’s advisory board charged with ensuring women’s participation in the peace process in Afghanistan is undermined by the limited number of women—just nine out of 70—on the High Peace Council. That is simply not good enough.

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The UK Government have said that they are committed, as they are, to ensuring that the progress achieved on rights is safeguarded. As international partners withdraw from Afghanistan, however, this is a worrying year for many women. As other Members have said, it is now increasingly for the Afghans to safeguard progress and hold their Government to account for their record on human and women’s rights.

Progress has been made in Afghanistan by the Afghans for the Afghans, and I pay tribute to some of the advances we have seen. In 2003 the Afghan Government ratified the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; in 2004 the new constitution outlawed discrimination and enshrined equal rights for women and men; in 2008 the national action plan for women of Afghanistan was launched; and in 2009 the elimination of violence against women law was adopted. About 20 women’s shelters have been established, which is a start, and they are accommodating about 350 women. Some 25% of Government jobs are filled by women, 2.7 million girls were enrolled in Afghan schools in 2011-12 compared with fewer than 10,000 in 2001, and 28% of MPs are women, a record that some in this House should seek to emulate.

It is essential that Afghan women human rights defenders, including those in civil society, public servants and parliamentarians, should be able to continue their work and make further progress. I want to be clear that that progress remains under threat and the situation in Afghanistan appears precarious, with women’s rights threatened. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) spoke about article 26 and the threat it poses to prosecutions for domestic violence. A recent report from Human Rights Watch raises concerns about the number of convictions for assaults on all sorts on women, and I hope that the Secretary of State will address the fact that they are particularly prevalent in underdeveloped and remote regions of the country.

We have heard about the cases of prominent women who have been attacked but, as the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine said, hidden behind those are attacks on ordinary Afghan women. I want to highlight a few of my concerns. Last year, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament passed a revision of the country’s electoral law, deleting a guarantee that at least 25% of seats in each of the 34 provincial councils should be for female candidates. Thanks to an intervention from the upper house, that has been set at 20%. Last May, conservative MPs called for the repeal of the 2009 law on the elimination of violence against women, focusing on the minimum marriage age, the abolition of shelters and criminal penalties for rape.

There has been almost exclusive impunity for high-profile attacks, but I want to highlight the case of one woman, Sahar Gul, who has been let down by the Government in Afghanistan. Three family members were convicted of the starvation and torture of that teenager, and they have served only a year of their 10-year sentence. In 2011, Sahar’s stepbrother sold her to be married for $5,000. She was about 13 at the time and soon after the marriage her in-laws attempted to force her into prostitution. When she resisted, they locked her in the basement, pulled out her fingernails and burned her. It is simply not good enough that the perpetrators should be released after just a year.

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A Ministry of Justice working group has actually assisted in drafting a law that would have reinstated public execution by stoning for the crime of adultery. Too many women and girls are in prison or juvenile detention centres for what are called “moral crimes”. Women are having to suffer the indignity and pain of vaginal examinations to establish whether they are virgins.

I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State’s speech. The initiative from the Foreign Secretary to try to prevent violence against women is welcome, but the real way to prevent it is by changing these societies. I am incredibly lucky to have three grandsons and I hope for a granddaughter one day, but if I were living in Afghanistan I would not be hoping for a granddaughter.

2 pm

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) on introducing the debate and giving the House an opportunity to discuss this matter. As the House knows, for two years I had the privilege of being the Minister responsible for Afghanistan in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I pay tribute to all those I worked with at the time who were involved with Afghanistan. The House rightly pays tribute regularly to our armed forces for the extraordinary work they do, but it is also important to remember the contribution made by civilians from this country who go out to Afghanistan to engage locally in some of the many complex issues that have been mentioned and to work with different international organisations. I also want to pay tribute to experienced parliamentarians. Once again this debate is enlightened by colleagues who have been to Afghanistan and met those engaged in some of the difficulties we are talking about.

When I become the Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, I was clear from the beginning that the development of women in society and the importance of maintaining the progress that had been made was central to many organisations that are campaigning for, and worried about, the position of women. I pay tribute to Amnesty and other organisations that have done so much work in that respect, but they were always pushing at an open door. I want to make it clear to the House how central the role of women in Afghanistan was to the development of policy, within both the FCO and DFID, right through the period when I was involved and beyond.

When the Foreign Secretary published the United Kingdom’s national action plan in response to UN Security Council resolution 1325 in relation to the development of societies post conflict, he said:

“No lasting peace can be achieved after conflict unless the needs of women are met—not only justice for the victims of crimes of war, but their active involvement in creating a society in which their rights are respected and their voices are heard.”

I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary, who has been quite remarkable—I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) for what she said about this—in his dedication to the rights of women and his concern about the use of conflict to damage women. He has been quite exceptional in that regard. I know from personal experience how much he was concerned about Afghanistan and how much support he gave me and others in our work.

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That there has been progress in Afghanistan since 2001 is clear—it has been documented by other Members, so I will not detain the House long on this—with regard to health, education, justice and participation. Women have seen their circumstances improve. Some 3 million girls are now in education and there are now women teachers, whereas there were not before. To some extent, that helps to contradict the sense, which some portray, that it is a society that it is impossible to change. If it were impossible for it to change, those brave women would not have come forward, which is another reason why they deserve support.

We understand very well that there are different cultures in different societies, but we have a culture too. Our culture and our tradition in this country is to stand up for what we think is right and to say very clearly, even though value judgments are involved, when we think something is wrong. The subjugation and terrorisation of women is wrong. We know, however, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said, that that cannot be done from the Chamber of a Parliament thousands of miles away. It needs to be done by working with those on the ground. Again, the extraordinary work that has been done in capacity building and support over recent years has, I believe, made a significant difference and will continue to do so.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that we should also pay tribute to voluntary organisations such as Afghan Connection, which is on the ground in areas such as north-east Afghanistan and putting in place education and training for teachers?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I could name a number of different organisations—I will mention one in a moment. Men and women are going out from this country to do extraordinary work with people in Afghanistan and to support the bravery of women and others there who are working for change.

I remember on my first visit to Afghanistan meeting a group of women civil society activists and being told straightforwardly, “If you ask women in our society whether life has changed for the better since 2001, between 60% and 70% will say yes. But if you ask how many are afraid for the future, 99% will say yes.” The constant refrain, particularly as we got closer to naming a date when the United Kingdom’s armed forces would withdraw—2014—was, “Are you all going? Are the lights going out?” I remember being very committed to saying, on behalf of the Government, “Absolutely not. People are staying and the commitment to Afghanistan will remain.”

It is very important to recognise that that is done in conjunction and co-operation with brave individuals who are there. I could name many, but let me refer to just two or three in the short time available. Habiba Sarabi, who was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, is a remarkable woman who made her name working on women’s literacy, before joining the Government in 2004 after the Taliban had gone. She is now the governor of Bamiyan province. Sometimes the media can present the image that it is all about Helmand, but it is not. There are places where things are happening and women are engaged in society and want to remain engaged. She is a remarkable woman.