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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 January 2015

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Turkey: EU Accession

1. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What his policy is on Turkey’s accession to the EU. [907094]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): We remain strong supporters of Turkey’s EU accession process. We believe that Turkish accession would be in the national interest of the UK and would contribute to the security and prosperity of the British people. But like any other new member Turkey would have to meet the tough and demanding conditions for entry before she could join.

Mr Robertson: If Turkey or any other country were to come into the European Union, how will the Government prevent large-scale migration to this country from those countries under the current rules of the single market?

Mr Lidington: As the Prime Minister has already said publicly, we believe that future arrangements for freedom of movement from new member countries cannot take place on the same basis as has happened with transitional arrangements in the past. The Commission, in its annual report on enlargement, acknowledged that these matters did need to be considered and we would insist that these changes be made before any new member state is admitted to full membership.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I would very much like to see Turkey joining the EU, but the repression and imprisonment of journalists and the clampdown on the press continues every day in Turkey. What representations are we making to the Turkish Government?

Mr Lidington: We regularly raise human rights concerns, including freedom of the media, with Turkish officials, and Ministers and will continue to do so. I believe that the EU accession process provides the best mechanism through which to press and encourage Turkey to move further in the right direction.

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): On the last point, is the Minister aware that Turkey has had more cases referred to the European Court of Human Rights than Putin’s Russia? Also, if Turkey wishes to be taken seriously, it must become a more reliable ally. Will he press Turkey to make its bases available to coalition aircraft and to control its border with Syria much more tightly than it is at the moment?

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Mr Lidington: I acknowledge Turkey’s commitment to the international coalition against ISIL and the tremendous burden that Turkey has shouldered in looking after roughly 1.5 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. But we do continue to talk at the top level to the Turkish Government about how to improve that alliance further to secure more effective action against ISIL.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): If the UK is still a member of the EU at the time of any future accession by Turkey, does my right hon. Friend think that it would be appropriate for the British people to be asked in a referendum whether they think Turkey should be allowed to join the EU?

Mr Lidington: It will be up to this House to decide whether or not to approve a Turkish accession treaty. Of course it will be open to Parliament, if it wanted to do so, to make that subject to a referendum but, in the past, all new accessions to the EU have been dealt with in this country by parliamentary process. The coalition has strengthened that to make sure that there must be an Act of Parliament before any new accessions take place.

Arms Trade

2. Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): If he will discuss with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the imposition of further restrictions on the sale of arms to countries his Department has identified as having a record of disregarding human rights; and if he will make a statement. [907095]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): The Government are satisfied that we have a robust system in place. All arms licensing applications are subject to a case-by-case assessment against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. That is the best way to ensure that UK goods are not supplied in circumstances where there is a clear risk they might be used for internal repression. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.

Sheila Gilmore: Even if it would appear that arms will not be used internally, would it not be a real marker of the Government’s commitment to human rights to use the restrictions on arms sales against countries that are treating their own subjects badly in terms of human rights?

Mr Hammond: The purpose of the consolidated criteria is to ensure that arms are not exported into situations where those arms will make the situation worse. I believe that the current regime is effective. The hon. Lady is suggesting something that goes far beyond that; a form of trade sanctions against countries based on their human rights performance. She is singling out arms exports, but she could equally argue for trade sanctions involving other forms of export. That would be a significant further step and the Government have no plans to go down that route. But I recognise that what the hon. Lady has suggested is a perfectly credible idea and people may wish to consider it.

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Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): May I ask the Foreign Secretary to recommit the United Kingdom to its commitment to making fully effective the arms trade treaty that we signed last year? Will he also ensure that during discussions this year on the rules and procedures to make the arms trade treaty effective, the engagement of NGOs will be seen to be constructive and there will not be procedures that will enable some NGOs that oppose the spirit of the arms trade treaty to subvert it?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I know this is an area in which he has taken a great interest and played a very important role over many years. The UK was instrumental in bringing about the arms trade treaty, and it is an extremely important step forward. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that some NGOs do not accept the principle of the arms trade treaty, but I agree with him: we must now make this treaty, as it is now in force, effective, ensure that the key states sign up to it and then ratify their engagement with the treaty, and make this work for the benefit of the whole world.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Perhaps if the Secretary of State were tempted to have a meeting with the Business Secretary, they might also invite the Defence Secretary to join them. Despite the appalling human rights record of the Colombian Government, we seem very happy to sell weapons—and, indeed, provide military training—to them. Should the Foreign Secretary not be sitting down and having a tripartite discussion with the other Secretaries of State about that, looking into why we seem so happy to provide support to a country that is quite happily terrorising its own people?

Mr Hammond: As the hon. Gentleman will, I think, understand, these are always carefully balanced judgments, and in many cases—[Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to comment from a sedentary position, but very often we have to deal with conflicting agendas in unstable and fragile countries, where there will be human rights concerns that we have to take into account and manage, but also counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics concerns, and we have to act to keep our own population safe—where we have to make the balanced judgment between engaging to support the CT or counter-narcotics agenda and maintaining pressure on Governments to comply with their human rights obligations. I think we get that balance right.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): There is nothing fragile or unstable about Saudi Arabia, so given the public beheadings, public torture and public lashings, can my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that there are no arms sales by this country to Saudi Arabia?

Mr Hammond: I go back to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore). It is not the Government’s policy that we should use restrictions on arms sales as a sanction against Governments whose policies we do not agree with. The restrictions on arms sales—the arms licensing regime—is designed to ensure that arms are not misused in their final destination.

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With regard to the wider points my right hon. Friend makes about Saudi Arabia, of course the Government deplore the use of corporal punishment in the kinds of forms presented in Saudi Arabia. We have long understood that the best way to make effective representations to Saudi Arabia is through the many channels that we have with them at all levels, and we are actively doing so at the moment.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): In that case, will the Foreign Secretary please explain to the House why Britain has routinely supplied arms—anti-personnel equipment—to Bahrain that have been used to oppress and suppress demonstrations in Bahrain, and our reward is to provide yet more arms and a British military base there? Should we not really engage with Bahrain on solving the human rights issues and freeing the opposition leader, rather than have this hands-off approach on arms sales?

Mr Hammond: Let me make two responses to the hon. Gentleman. First, is the straightforward response: we apply the consolidated criteria to all arms exports, including arms exports to Bahrain, so we would not license for export any equipment where there was evidence it was likely to be used for internal repression purposes. But let me say something wider about the situation in Bahrain, because I have looked at the situation in Bahrain quite carefully. It is clearly the case that Bahrain is by no means perfect and that it has quite a long way to go in delivering on its human rights commitments, but it is a country that is travelling in the right direction. It is making significant reform. The Crown Prince, who is charged with this agenda, is directly engaged and has made significant progress even over the last few months. We continually remind the Bahrainis of their commitments and how much further they have to go, but I think we should support them to get there.

Mr Speaker: It would be good to get through some questions.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): But will not the Foreign Secretary accept that what undermines the UK’s credibility on these matters is the charge of double standards? In relation to Bahrain, it has been estimated that 54 people have been arrested just this month. There is no consistency between our arms sales policy and our human rights policy. Will the Foreign Secretary not accept that we need to address that more seriously than we have done up till now?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that, as I said to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) earlier, rather than using the consolidated criteria, we should develop a set of arms trade sanctions based on human rights performance. That is a radical suggestion and he is perfectly entitled to make it. The Government have no plans at present to go down that route.

EU Reform

3. Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on reforming the EU to make it more competitive and accountable. [907096]

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): I have already visited 18 member states to discuss EU reform with my counterparts—most recently from Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia last week. Leaders across Europe agree that the EU needs to change. We are setting out the case for Britain’s view of the reforms required to make the EU fit for purpose in the 21st century. We have already made some progress: the June European Council agreed that EU reform was necessary and that the UK’s concerns should be addressed.

Nigel Mills: Mr Juncker yesterday appeared to rule out reform of freedom of movement as a way of reinvigorating our loveless marriage with the EU. Is there more hope from my right hon. Friend’s discussions with his counterparts that real reform of that can be achieved?

Mr Hammond: As the Prime Minister has set out on more than one occasion, we have increasing agreement across the European Union that we need to address abuse of free movement. Free movement to work is one of the principles of the European Union; free movement to freeload is not one of the principles of the European Union. Britain is not the only country affected by this problem and not the only country determined to address it.

Mr Speaker: I note the sibling solidarity as brother and sister Vaz are today seated together.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): We will do this every day, if it gets me called, Mr Speaker.

Will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the decision taken 30 minutes ago by the EU to raise the ban on the import of Alphonso mangoes from India? Does he agree that a lesson should be learned by the EU that before it makes such decisions, there should be proper consultation and full transparency?

Mr Hammond: Yes, I am absolutely clear that there should be full transparency on all issues concerning mangoes, and I am delighted to see the greatest possible level of free trade in the international market for mangoes.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): That is a difficult one to follow. I have a little experience in EU negotiations, so may I encourage my right hon. Friend not to do as some suggest, which is to set out clearly precisely what our red lines might be in the negotiations? That would make the negotiations 10 times more difficult.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right. This will be a negotiation. In the present pre-negotiation phase, we are quite properly setting out our broad agenda. Understanding our partners’ concerns, where their agendas coincide with ours and where their red lines are is all perfectly legitimate. It is clear already that some of our partners are beginning to line up for a negotiation. Giving away our hand at this stage would be foolish.

22. [907117] Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): My constituents are extremely concerned about the payment of child benefit for children living not in this country, but in other European countries. Did the Foreign Secretary make any progress with Chancellor Merkel recently on this, or is it still the Government’s

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view, as expressed by the Prime Minister in May, that it would be impossible to stop this? Is that why the Government have resisted publishing an accurate estimate of the cost?

Mr Hammond: There are accurate estimates in the public domain of the amounts of child benefits paid overseas. I have seen them regularly. When I was shadow Chief Secretary in opposition, I remember briefing them to the media regularly, so those data are published. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Conservative party intends, if re-elected, to proceed down a route that will include ending the payment of child benefits in respect of children not resident in the United Kingdom.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The Prime Minister has made it clear that democratic accountability and flexibility must be the pillars of any forward-looking European Union that this country would be willing to remain a member of. Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions with senior EU officials, does he believe that that view is shared across the European Union?

Mr Hammond: I do. I think European politicians are beginning to get the message after successive elections to the European Parliament in which the percentage of participation has fallen and fallen again. Politicians across the European Union understand that something has to be done to reconnect the EU with the people who pay for it and the people whom it is meant to represent. In our case, we believe that the best way of doing that would be to give a greater role to our national Parliament in overseeing the operation of the European Union.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): What progress has the Secretary of State made in his discussions on furthering the single market so that Britain can have greater access to trade and export opportunities for businesses based here? While he has been in those discussions, has he also made any assessment of the effect on the UK economy of being outside the single market, which is where we would be if we withdrew from the EU—an option that he has said he might favour?

Mr Hammond: Clearly, being inside the single market is of great and significant benefit to the UK economy. We want reform of the European Union that satisfies the requirements of the British people so that Britain can remain inside the single market and inside the EU. We want a European Union that is fit for the 21st century, rather than one that looks as though it was designed for the last one. And yes, we have made significant progress in our discussions on completing the single market, including the digital single market, the energy single market and, most importantly for Britain, the single market for services.


4. Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What assessment he has made of the political and security situation in Libya. [907097]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I met the Libyan Foreign Minister last week. The UK is

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concerned by the increasing violence across Libya. We continue to support the efforts of the UN to resolve the crisis and pave the way for peaceful dialogue. We welcome recent UN talks in Geneva, and call on all Libyans to resolve their differences through negotiation and compromise.

Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for his answer. What lessons have been learned from our intervention in Libya four years ago? Will he comment further on the potential for peace following the Geneva talks?

Mr Ellwood: The situation is very delicate indeed, but our military action in Libya did save lives. The UK’s actions in 2011 were consistent with our obligations under international law and, as the House will be aware, after four decades of misrule, Libya had been left with a political and constitutional vacuum. It was therefore perhaps inevitable that it would end up with a large number of groups jostling for power.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Did the Minister see the Economist Intelligence Unit’s appraisal of politics across Europe, which shows just how fragile the situation is at the moment? Surely, if Europe is to be something of which we can be proud, it should have a view on Libya and be active on the Libyan question. The chaos in Libya is spilling over and affecting migration in the whole of the rest of Europe. When is he going to get Europe to do something about that?

Mr Ellwood: As the Foreign Secretary has just said to me, that subject is on the agenda for the next foreign affairs meeting in Brussels. It is important to recognise where things stand with Britain’s contribution. We are working incredibly hard with our special envoy, Jonathan Powell, and with the United Nations envoy, Bernardino León, to bring the political parties together. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, however. If we do not get a resolution and find a political path to follow, that space will be taken up by insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sharia and ISIL.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Do not the vicious civil war in Libya, the high number of casualties and the fact that the Parliament has had to take refuge on a Greek car ferry prove that there is a deficit of analysis at the centre of our foreign policy-making process?

Mr Ellwood: I can only repeat what I said—that we are working extremely hard to bring the political parties together. There is a danger that if these parties do not recognise the importance of taking advantage of the UN’s direction of travel, we will indeed suffer problems connected with ISIL taking advantage of the space, just as we saw in Syria.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): “There is a civil war, we are working hard and it is on the agenda next week”, but I still have no sense of what precisely the United Kingdom will say we should be doing practically to bring the two warring sides together and do what the United Nations suggests—building confidence so that we can find a resolution. What are we actually going to do?

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Mr Ellwood: It is for the United Nations and the UN special representative to lead on this. We are supporting the UN in its endeavours. The hon. Lady simplifies the situation, however. She seems to suggest that it is just two sides acting against each other, but that is not the case. The country is made up of 35 main tribes and 100 other tribes. We are dealing with a complex history, and we simply cannot expect that, after 40 years of misrule, all parties will suddenly come together, because Gaddafi did not take advantage of that period to build the infrastructure and the political basis on which to move forward.


5. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to promote human rights in Belarus. [907098]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): We make our concerns known through regular meetings between the British embassy in Minsk and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and through representations by our senior officials in London to the Belarusian ambassador based here.

Maria Miller: I thank the Minister for that reply. There are likely to be Belarus presidential elections this year. Last time, such elections led to candidates being arrested, beaten up and even imprisoned. On this day, which is, after all, the birthday of our Parliament, what encouragement can he give to those who want to see free and fair elections in Belarus, which is such an important part of Europe?

Mr Lidington: We will continue to speak up publicly as a Government and through the European Union and other international organisations of which we are a member to draw attention to the continuing abuse of human rights within Belarus, to urge the Belarusian authorities to take the path towards European and democratic values of pluralism and the rule of law, and to speak up for individual Belarusian human rights defenders—men such as Mikola Statkevich, still in prison in Belarus today—and demand that those prisoners be not only released but fully rehabilitated.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): If Britain were to leave the European convention on human rights, what sort of message would that send to human rights supporters in Belarus?

Mr Lidington: Of course, Belarus is not party to the European convention on human rights and is not subject to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Whether we are looking at the European convention on human rights or the international covenant on civil and political rights, it is important to continue to urge the Belarusian authorities to end their flagrant abuse of normal human rights and democratic standards. That is something on which I hope the whole House will be united.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): On that point, given that Belarus is the only one of 48 European states not to be under the aegis of the European Court of Human Rights, will the Minister make it clear that he disagrees with those of his colleagues who think we should join that elite grouping?

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Mr Lidington: As the Prime Minister has made clear, we want to see reforms to the way in which human rights are dealt with in this country. We have a very long tradition of respecting human rights—one that is embodied in our parliamentary procedures and in our legal arrangements—and we want to make sure that it is the United Kingdom courts who stand up for human rights and that it is ultimately their judgments that interpret how human rights standards are applied here.

Hamas (Turkish Support)

7. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What assessment he has made of the extent to which the Turkish Government provide support to Hamas in its conflict with Israel. [907100]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): We are aware of reports that Turkey maintains a dialogue with Hamas. We call on those in the region with influence over Hamas to press them to end the armed violence and to support reconciliation and peace talks with Israel.

Mr Hollobone: With Khaled Meshal, the exiled Hamas leader, reportedly expelled from Qatar to safe haven in Turkey, will the Minister insist that the Turkish Government, as a NATO ally, renounce any affiliation to, and support for, this internationally recognised terrorist organisation?

Mr Ellwood: I had an opportunity to meet President Erdogan just before Christmas. We raised the issue of what more Turkey could do to assist the peace process, and it is very much on board. I am not aware of information that Khaled Meshal has left Qatar, although I have seen the media reports as well, but wherever he is, it needs to be understood that Hamas must play a role in working with the Palestinian authorities to move the peace process forward.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Turkey supports Hamas, at a time when it is being reported that Hamas are building more rockets that will be able to go further into Israel, and are starting to rebuild the terror tunnels. What action is being taken to stop Hamas’s preparations for a new war of aggression against Israel?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady is right to speak of concern about what is being done by the military wing of Hamas, because it is undermining what we want to do in moving the peace process forward. We need countries such as Turkey and Qatar to join in, to influence Hamas, and to say that it needs to participate with the Palestinian authorities in order to allow Gaza itself to move forward. They could start by undoing the 1988 charter which states that that they want to destroy Israel.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the Minister continue to address—by himself, and with his officials—the whole nature of the wider political Islamic movement of which Hamas is part, so that we can begin to disinter part of the Palestinian national struggle from Hamas’s role as part of the Muslim Brotherhood?

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Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend speaks very wisely on these matters, and I have travelled to the region with him. We are working extremely hard, not only with the Palestinian authorities but throughout the region, to bring the parties together, although the process is currently on hold because of the Israeli elections.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) was right to mention reports that Hamas is developing new rockets instead of contributing to a peace process, and building more tunnels instead of building the homes and businesses that people in Gaza need. What more can our Government do to contribute to the reconstruction and demilitarisation of Gaza?

Mr Ellwood: The Department for International Development is contributing an awful lot of funds, and we participated in—indeed, I attended—the donors’ conference in Cairo. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that Hamas is having a disruptive effect on the process. I have visited Shujaiyya in Gaza, and I have seen the destruction that has resulted not just from the conflict in the summer, but from previous conflicts as well. The cement is starting to move in following the conference, and we do not want it to be used to build more tunnels.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

8. Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU and US counterparts on progress in negotiations on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. [907101]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed TTIP this month with both Chancellor Merkel and President Obama. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I regularly raise the subject of TTIP, and the benefits that it would bring to businesses and consumers, in our conversations with both European and United States colleagues.

Neil Carmichael: Given that misinformation verging on conspiracy theory is emerging from various quarters about the impact of TTIP, what more can the Minister and his colleagues do to promote and highlight the economic and trade advantages that a successful agreement would bring to this country?

Mr Lidington: Ministers continue to speak up for the benefits of TTIP, with my noble Friend Lord Livingston in the vanguard on this matter. A successful TTIP deal would benefit the average British family by about £400 a year by delivering a greater choice of products at lower prices, and would give our small businesses much better access to the 300 million consumers in the United States.

Sri Lanka

9. Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Sri Lankan presidential election result on democracy and human rights in that country. [907102]

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): We have welcomed the election of President Sirisena and his early commitments to good governance, to restoring the independence of the police and judiciary, to respecting the freedom of the media, and to protecting the rights and freedoms of all religions in Sri Lanka. We hope that the new Government will honour those commitments.

Jenny Chapman: Does the Minister agree that the United Nations inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka should continue? If he does agree, does he accept that it would be much better if it proceeded with the full engagement of Sri Lanka, and, if so, what will he do to try to bring that about?

Mr Swire: The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and we continue to urge the Sri Lankans in that regard. I had a conversation with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in which I congratulated him, and I stressed the importance of engagement with the community. I hope to travel out to meet the new Government as soon as I can, and I echo the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, who said there recently:

“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening new wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.”

That is exactly what we feel, too.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Following on from the very successful Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka and the peaceful transition from the Rajapaksa regime, does the Minister agree that there is now a chance for our Government to focus on positive trading opportunities between Sri Lanka and the UK, so that we can travel in the right direction?

Mr Swire: I know the hon. Gentleman is a great fan of Sri Lanka, I welcome his endorsement of the new Government and I hope he will continue to take as active an interest now under them. Trade is important and so, too, are human rights. We have a large diaspora community in this country, from both sides of the divide, and we want to see peace and reconciliation. We believe that until there is justice, peace and reconciliation, trade cannot grow in the way it should do and prosperity will not benefit the whole country as he and I would both wish.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I am sure we all hope that President Sirisena’s election marks a new era for Sri Lanka. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), does the Minister agree that if the President is to gain the trust of the international community, he must now demonstrate his support for the UN inquiry? From the Minister’s initial conversations, does he believe that the new Administration will fully co-operate with the UN and will fully commit to securing truth and justice for the Sri Lankan people?

Mr Swire: That is certainly what I want to see. After all, I am part of a Government who went out to Colombo for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting when the hon. Lady’s party said we should not go. We have engaged consistently on this matter. We pressed the Government of President Rajapaksa and

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we press the current Government


It is no good Opposition Members chuntering, because the Labour party’s position was for us not to go to CHOGM—we went, and the Prime Minister went to the north. We continue to engage, and I shall be travelling to Sri Lanka again shortly to make these points.

Lebanon (Syrian Refugees)

10. Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the capacity of Lebanon to support refugees from conflict in Syria. [907103]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I had the pleasure of visiting Lebanon—and indeed Jordan—last month, and I pay tribute to the enormous efforts that are being made in taking on 1.2 million registered refugees. This is a concern we have relating to the Syrian crisis, and the UK is providing more than £160 million-worth of help to manage the influx of refugees.

Kate Green: The Lebanese interior Minister said recently that Lebanon lacked capacity to host more displaced people, given the substantial number of refugees to whom our Minister referred. The UK has received just 90 Syrian refugees to date. Does he agree that that limits our ability to press Lebanon to keep its borders open? Will he have discussions with the Home Secretary to ensure that the UK plays its part?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady raises a question which has been put to the House before, and I should highlight something that has also been raised before: the amount of funding that Britain is providing and the emergency cases that we bring across to the UK. I raised with refugees in the Zaatari camp, which has 80,000 people, the issue of whether they would prefer to be in the locality or to be taken away. It is very much the case that they would like to remain in the region—as close as possible. Britain is doing its best: we are one of the largest donors to support these countries in providing refugee camps, to give them the stability they need in this hour of need.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I am glad to hear that the Minister visited Jordan, one of our closest and most loyal allies in the middle east, which has paid a terrible price from the impact of refugees. Given our special relationship with Jordan and the fact that the country is fragile both economically and politically, do we not have a special responsibility to the people of that country?

Mr Ellwood: I could not agree more with my right hon. and learned Friend. I saw for myself when I visited the country the closeness of the relationship that we have, which also extends to the security relationship, which he will be very familiar with, given the Committees on which he serves. We are working very hard to make sure that Jordan receives support, and I know that the Prime Minister has a very strong relationship with the King, too.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): What recommendations have the Government made to the United Nations to ensure that the food voucher system remains for Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanon?

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Mr Ellwood: That is actually a matter for DFID, but it did come up on my visit as well. There was a concern that there was a breakdown in the food voucher system because the funding was not there. I understand that the funding streams have now been repaired, but we will keep an eye on the situation. It is important to ensure that the refugees have the food that they require.

Sir Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): Reports at the weekend suggested that Islamic forces were massing on the Lebanese border around the town of Qalamoun. Is the Minister in a position to update the House on the situation, and does he agree that any threat to the territorial integrity of Lebanon would be extremely serious indeed?

Mr Ellwood: I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend in this area. He was in Lebanon this summer. I had the chance to visit the Bekaa valley and see the work that the British are doing in training the Lebanese armed forces and in creating the watchtowers, which will help to enable the Lebanese to monitor and provide security themselves. But the situation is very intense indeed, and there is a threat of ISIL punching into Lebanon.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): The Minister is absolutely right to pay tribute to the neighbouring countries of the Syrian conflict, Jordan and the Lebanon, for the extraordinary work that they have done in receiving a huge population of refugees as a consequence of the conflict. On the point about the UN food vouchers, given the reports last week of the value of those food vouchers having been cut as well as the importance of ensuring the availability of vouchers, what further steps are the British Government taking to encourage international partners to provide a level of resource needed by the United Nations to meet the humanitarian crisis?

Mr Ellwood: Given the right hon. Gentleman’s previous job, I know that this is a matter that is close to him as well. As I have said, I raised that issue in meetings with the United Nations representatives both in Lebanon and in Jordan. I was assured that, for the moment, the funding streams are in place. It might be helpful if I get a colleague from DFID to write to him with an update.

Mr Alexander: In these exchanges, we have already heard of the importance of the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Jordan. Beyond the very welcome humanitarian support that is being provided to refugees in Jordan and the Lebanon, what specific additional support is being provided to Jordan to maintain stability within that country given that a significant number of refugees are not in camps such as Zaatari, but with host populations?

Mr Ellwood: We are adopting a number of initiatives to support a country that has already been described as being very, very close to Britain. The Secretary of State has met his counterpart to look at improvements to the security situation, and I have visited Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp. We are not simply pouring money into the area, but funding support for the local towns that feel the burden of having large numbers of Syrians coming into their area. We are providing support to the

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Jordanian towns in the area as well so that they do no feel so burdened with what is happening in the north part of Jordan.

Ebola (Sierra Leone)

11. Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the Ebola infection rate in Sierra Leone. [907104]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): The number of new cases and the rate of infection are, I am pleased to say, both now decreasing in Sierra Leone. The fall in the infection rate is a clear demonstration that UK-led efforts are slowing the spread of this deadly disease. The UK remains fully committed to providing the resources and leadership needed to defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Stephen Mosley: I thank my right hon. Friend for that really positive response, but what support is he offering to British nationals, including health workers, to ensure that they are fully protected from this disease?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend will know, we have established a military-run facility in Sierra Leone to provide health care to health workers who may have been exposed to Ebola. We also regularly arrange medevac flights, where necessary, to bring out health workers. In fact, two health workers were brought out on a precautionary basis in the past few days.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What advice would the Secretary of State give to anyone planning to travel from the UK to Sierra Leone at the present time?

Mr Hammond: Our advice is that unless they are going as a health care worker to fight the Ebola emergency as part of an organised humanitarian programme, they should not travel. The advice is to avoid travel.


12. Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): What the Government’s priorities are for the UK’s relationship with Cuba; and if he will make a statement. [907105]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I visited Cuba in October, the first British Minister to do so in nearly a decade, and signed three memorandums of understanding to drive forward our bilateral relationship. We continue to encourage progress on economic reforms and human rights, and support a closer EU-Cuba dialogue.

Andy McDonald: Last December, online customers buying Cuban coffee from The Bean Shop in Perth were reported to US authorities by PayPal, which sent e-mails to those customers threatening to close their accounts if they continued to breach US law. In the light of last month’s announcement of a new start to US-Cuban relations, will the Minister secure a guarantee from the US Government that UK companies and citizens will not be penalised for trading with Cuba?

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Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman refers to the Helms-Burton Act, which will, I have no doubt, be part of the discussion between the Americans and the Cubans. I am pleased that the US Assistant Secretary of State for the western hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, with whom I discussed these matters in Washington before I went to Cuba, is in Havana this week. That is the good news. As for the question of bilateral trade between the UK and Cuba, if the hon. Gentleman has a company in his constituency that wishes to trade and to sort out such matters with Cuba, I would suggest that he gets in touch with Lord Hutton and the Cuba initiative, as they are putting together a multi-sector trade delegation visit later this year to support economic reforms in Cuba and to contribute to jobs and growth back here in the UK.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Following President Obama’s welcome Cuban initiative, what is the Minister’s expectation of improving human rights and political freedom in Cuba? Following on from his previous answer, what is the Government’s assessment of the opportunities for British businesses and for broader relations with Cuba?

Mr Swire: The three memorandums of understanding that I signed covered foreign policy, trade and investment and sport. I have referred already to the fact that Lord Hutton and the Cuba initiative are taking a large delegation there in a few months’ time. On the human rights front, I am particularly encouraged by the recent release of prisoners from both sides. I discussed human rights with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, and I also met Mariela Castro, the director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education in Havana and an activist on gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. We continue to stress the need to release prisoners of conscience and I also call on Cuba to ratify the UN covenants on political and economic rights.

Sanctions: Russia

13. Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in other EU member states on sanctions against Russia imposed in response to the situation in Ukraine. [907106]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): We had a long discussion on Russia at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday. I have also discussed Russia bilaterally with the 18 counterparts in the European Union that I have visited over the past six months. Sanctions are delivering a real cost to Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. The EU is clear and resolute in its determination to maintain them and the UK argues consistently and robustly for maintaining the pressure on Russia until it delivers on its obligations under the Minsk agreement.

Mrs Hodgson: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Has he had a discussion with his Russian counterpart to make it clear that there is another path that Russia could follow in Ukraine by ceasing support for the Russian nationalist rebels, which could pave the way for the lifting of the sanctions?

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Mr Hammond: I do not have direct action with my Russian counterpart on Ukraine, because we handle this issue through EU channels, but I have spoken to him on the margins of E3 plus 3 meetings on Iran. The Russians are well aware of what they have to do to see the sanctions removed and the EU is keen to be able to reduce sanctions at the earliest opportunity, but only when Russia comes into compliance with its obligations.


14. Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the human rights situation in Colombia. [907107]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): We welcome the Colombian Government’s efforts to improve the human rights situation, including through their land restitution and victims reparations processes. There has been a worrying increase in the number of threats against human rights defenders and we continue to raise that with the Colombian Government.

Pat Glass: I heard the Secretary of State’s response to an earlier question on human rights in Colombia and found it very disappointing. The UK is the second largest investor in Colombia, so does that not give us leverage in securing commitments from the Colombian Government to dealing with sexual violence in conflict, with trade unionists being locked up for being trade unionists and with human rights in general?

Mr Swire: Yes, and we regularly use it. In fact, we pushed hard in negotiations with the EU, Colombia and Peru for a legally binding and robust human rights clause in the text of the EU-Andean free trade agreement. These matters are raised regularly in the House by followers of the situation in Colombia and I always argue the same, which is that I think that the big prize is the peace process. I am glad that that has kicked off again in Havana. I can also announce to the House that I have got the Colombian ambassador to agree to host a meeting for Members of both Houses on 10 March for a full discussion on all of our interests in Colombia. I am sure that the hon. Lady would like to come along to that and raise her questions with the ambassador.

Topical Questions

T1. [907083] Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): Since the last Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions we have continued to focus on the major foreign policy challenges and international crises that we face: the threat from Islamist terrorism, including ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria; Russian aggression in Nigeria—in Ukraine; we have not got there yet—the middle east peace process; the Iran nuclear talks; and the Ebola outbreak. In addition, I have continued my programme of visits to EU capitals, exploring common ground on

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the need for EU reform. On Thursday, I will co-chair a meeting in London of key partners in the coalition against ISIL.

Jason McCartney: I celebrated Christmas with Huddersfield’s Ukrainian community only a fortnight ago. They are concerned about the situation in Ukraine. What support and communications can the Foreign Office offer my constituents, who are worried about family and friends in Ukraine?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): We will continue to speak up strongly and in public to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We will work bilaterally and through the European Union and the international financial institutions to provide Ukraine with the financing and technical support that it needs to carry through an ambitious programme of political and economic reform.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I have written to the Foreign Secretary raising the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for the content of his blog. I am still awaiting a reply. Earlier, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the importance of effective channels of communication to the Saudis. Does that include him? Would he tell the House whether he has raised this matter directly with the Saudi Government?

Mr Philip Hammond: As I said earlier, we deplore this punishment—we deplore the use of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere—but we have found in the past that the best way of influencing Saudi behaviour is to message them privately through the many channels available to us. The deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia—the Foreign Minister is undergoing medical treatment—will be in London on Thursday, and I shall speak to him directly on this issue. We have already made our views known to the Saudi authorities at the highest level.

T2. [907084] Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): A stable and prosperous Egypt could play an important part in resolving some of the problems in the area. What steps has my hon. Friend taken to develop the economic relationship between the UK and Egypt, and does he agree that political development and economic development in Egypt can be mutually reinforcing?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): As part of our efforts to support Egypt’s economic recovery, I was delighted to lead a trade mission of 51 companies to Egypt last week. That was the largest delegation to Egypt in 15 years. We are the largest foreign direct investor in Egypt, and it is absolutely right that we should seek to deepen our trade and investment partnership with it. A more secure, prosperous and dynamic country can only be founded on a growing and dynamic economy, which creates jobs and opportunities for all Egyptians.

T4. [907086] Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier this month, some 2,000 people lost their lives in brutal attacks in Nigeria at the hands

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of Boko Haram. What is the Foreign Secretary’s response to Angela Merkel’s call for the EU to help to fund a force to combat Boko Haram?

Mr Philip Hammond: The Boko Haram terrorist group continues to wreak havoc across north-east Nigeria, and we must see that as part of the broader challenge of militant Islam across a swathe of the globe, from west Africa to the middle east. We continue to support the Nigerians and work closely with them. We are one of the leading partners for the Nigerians, and we have provided a substantial package of UK military intelligence and development support to Nigeria. Last week, I had a meeting with the US Secretary of State to co-ordinate our response to the crisis in Nigeria with the United States, and I expect to visit Nigeria with him after the Nigerian elections.

T3. [907085] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are campaigning hard for a majority Conservative Government at the next election so that we can have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. Should, heaven forfend, despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goal, does he agree that our Conservative party commitment to an EU referendum should be a red line in any coalition negotiation?

Mr Hammond: The Prime Minister has made it clear that any Government of whom he is Prime Minister will be committed to that referendum.

T9. [907091] Dame Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): This week, as part of the congregation of Stirling Methodist church, I joined other local politicians in writing to the UN about a global climate agreement in Paris. Can the Secretary of State tell us what work is being done on the agreements reached in Lima in December 2014, leading up to the Paris conference in 2015?

Mr Hammond: As it happens, I can, because the item was on the agenda at the European Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, when there was an update report on the work programme that was agreed at Lima. My French colleague reported on the progress that is being made. The French are confident that we are making good progress towards a substantive agreement in Paris later this year. EU colleagues agreed that we should continue to lobby the countries that are perhaps considered to be back-markers; and, in particular, that European Union countries should seek to exert as much pressure as possible on China and the United States, both of which appear now to be in a good place on this agenda. We need to make sure that they stay there.

T5. [907087] Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Minister reaffirmed earlier that the Government are in favour of Turkey joining the EU. Have they estimated the additional financial cost to the UK of Turkey joining the EU, and the additional immigration to the UK resulting from Turkey joining the EU, beyond any transitional arrangements; or do they support Turkey’s membership of the EU at any long-term cost to the UK?

Mr Lidington: The answer to my hon. Friend’s last point is no, we support Turkish accession to the EU because we believe that would be in the interests of the United Kingdom. We have made it clear that the

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arrangements for transitional controls on freedom of movement would have to be radically reformed before we could agree to new countries becoming full EU members. The question about cost would have to be settled in negotiations. Of course, it would depend very much on the prosperity not only of Turkey but of existing EU member states at the time when Turkish accession seemed likely to be on the cards.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Tensions on either side of the Jammu-Kashmir line of control have escalated in recent weeks, and human rights violations have been consistently reported that are of global concern. I appreciate that a lasting resolution will be down to India and Pakistan. However, given Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK next month, will the Minister be discussing this with him, and what, specifically, will he ask?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Of course, these things are also followed very closely by the Kashmiri community who are such an integral part of life here in the United Kingdom. The Government provide £2 million of funding to Kashmir through the tri-departmental conflict pool. We are aware of the allegations of human rights abuses on both sides of the line of control. Officials from our high commissions in New Delhi and Islamabad discuss the situation in Kashmir with the Governments of India and of Pakistan. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is meeting the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and he will no doubt raise this matter. At the end of the day, however, it has be resolved by those two countries.

Mr Speaker: Order. It is quite useful if we have time for the questions as well as for the answers.

T6. [907088] Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I am grateful for the earlier confirmation about the EU referendum if the Prime Minister remains the Prime Minister. Is there now an update on what the date of that referendum might be? Will it be earlier than 2017?

Mr Philip Hammond: The Government’s position is that we will negotiate a reform package in the European Union—that will take some time—and then present it to the British people before the end of 2017 for their endorsement or otherwise. The British people will have the last say, unlike under the position of the Labour party, which is apparently that the European Union is perfect. Let us remember that the Leader of the Opposition said on the BBC that, in his opinion, Brussels does not have too much power, and therefore he does not have a European Union reform policy.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Palestinian leadership to ensure that Christian communities living under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction in the west bank and under Hamas rule in Gaza are allowed to practise their religion without fear or intimidation?

Mr Ellwood: We are deeply concerned by the difficulties facing many Christians and, indeed, other religious minorities in the middle east, and we deplore all discrimination and constraints on religious freedom.

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We will certainly raise those issues. I raised the issue in question when I met the President during my visit last autumn, and I will raise it again when I visit the region in the next month.

T7. [907089] Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Given this country’s historical strength in soft power and its potential to further our foreign policy objectives, has the time not come to reconsider funding cuts to soft power institutions such as the BBC World Service and the British Council, as well as others?

Mr Swire: The House will know that, as of this financial year, the BBC World Service is funded by the BBC Trust. The British Council is extremely well funded and undergoing a trilateral review at the moment. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that this country probably does soft power better than any other country. The GREAT campaign, which is funded by Government, has already delivered a direct return to the economy of more than £1 billion. The combination of the British Council, the GREAT campaign, the BBC World Service and others showcases the UK at its best.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Further to the question about the persecution of Christians in Africa and in other countries overseas, what discussions have taken place within the G8 and the European Union to lessen the threat to religious freedom?

Mr Lidington: The EU strategic guidelines on freedom of religion very much reflect the ideas that the United Kingdom Government put forward. Of course, it was during our chairmanship of the then G8 that there was an international initiative through the G8 to try to give greater focus to human rights. Human rights and the freedom of people to practise their religion as they choose are absolutely at the heart of everything we do in foreign policy, whether bilaterally or through the various multilateral institutions.

T8.[907090] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I congratulate the Government on initiating the resettlement feasibility study of the Chagos islands, which is due to report imminently. May I seek an assurance that that issue will be debated when the findings of the report are known?

Mr Swire: My hon. Friend is right and I congratulate him on all he does for the Chagossian community. The resettlement report will be completed by KPMG by the end of this month and the Government will publish it shortly thereafter. Should Mr Speaker agree to a debate in the House once the report has been published, the Government would, of course, be pleased to participate in it.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): With some 50 murderous, marauding militia operating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and some 5 million dead during the conflict, what assessment have the Government made of the role of MONUSCO in bringing that violence to an end?

Mr Lidington: We strongly support the role that MONUSCO is playing, but we continue to work with European and international colleagues to see whether improvements need to be made. Ultimately, that will

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depend in large part on getting the co-operation of the neighbouring countries to work towards peace in the great lakes region.

T10. [907092] Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): On Yemen, taking into account that the Houthis are now in effective control of the country, where does the future of the Friends of Yemen group lie?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I spoke to our ambassador there this morning, to make sure that our embassy personnel are safe. As the House will be aware, violence in Sana’a has escalated, with heavy clashes breaking out yesterday between the Houthis and Yemeni security forces. Those who use violence and the threat of violence to dictate Yemen’s future are undermining security, and we are calling for all parties to work together to implement the ceasefire and return to dialogue.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Yesterday a large group of Zimbabweans came to Parliament to express their concerns about human rights in Zimbabwe—I think the Minister joined them later—and about the Home Office delaying decisions on their cases. What action has the Minister been taking to make sure that the Zimbabwean constitution’s commitment to human rights is actually delivered in practice?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady raises a very important issue on which we are trying to have similar conversations with the Zimbabweans. Perhaps once those conservations have taken place I will be able to write to her with an update.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) on Yemen, will the Minister confirm that it is Her Majesty’s policy to support the legitimate Government of Yemen? [Interruption.] I meant Her Majesty’s Government’s policy—we hope that both polices are the same. Will he also confirm that the policy is not in any way to cave in to militia who wish to displace a legitimate President and Prime Minister?

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As envoy to the region, he is well versed in what is happening there. The House will be aware that Houthi

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forces have moved from the north-west of the country down into the capital and are now probing even further. We call on all parties to come together, go back to the UN resolution and try to secure a ceasefire.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What steps have been taken to secure the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria?

Mr Philip Hammond: The UK has contributed considerable resources, including military surveillance resources, to assist the Nigerians, and we have produced some intelligence that could have been helpful in the ongoing manhunt. However, the capacity of Nigerian forces on the ground in that region is not as great as we would like, and the constraints on their freedom of action in the north-east region are growing all the time because of the increasing role of Boko Haram.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Allied warplanes cross the skies above Syria while Assad’s helicopters drop barrel bombs on the civilian population, unimpeded by any flight restrictions. How can this apparent indifference possibly help to discourage Syrians from turning to the ISIL militia?

Mr Hammond: There have been proposals, principally promoted by the Turks, for the introduction of no-fly zones and safe havens in northern Syria. We have not dismissed these proposals out of hand. We are engaged with the Turks in looking at them—the hon. Gentleman will probably know that the Turkish Prime Minister is here in London today—but there are some practical difficulties with them. Both we and the United States have said that we would need to look very carefully at any such proposal before we could consider it further. The House of Commons, given the view it clearly expressed about UK engagement in Syria, would undoubtedly want to have a very significant say in this matter.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. I would have liked to take more questions, but time is our enemy. We must move on.

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Points of Order

12.36 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On democracy day, I am concerned that the fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has made a statement on his personal Facebook page specific to changes in bass fishing, saying that he has made a breakthrough. However, when I checked the Order Paper, the official website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Marine Management Organisation website, I found no formal statement. The EU website says that the deal has not been finalised, and fishers directly affected are finding out about it from cross-posting from sea anglers. I would welcome your advice on whether it is appropriate for ministerial statements to be put out in this way.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I understand that her concerns relate to the Minister’s comments on Facebook about the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council. I believe that there has been no ministerial statement to the House, following that Council meeting, but that a number of parliamentary questions on it have since been answered. Off the top of my head and on the basis of such thought as I have been able to give to it, it is not clear to me that the Minister is on this occasion guilty of breaching the important principle that Parliament should be informed first of significant developments in public policy. Nevertheless,

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I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench has taken note of the point, and will convey its gist to Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) had a point of order, but I am all agog if he has.

Sir Edward Leigh: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning, we had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on Holocaust memorial day. I thought that it would be appropriate, as we celebrate our 750th birthday today, for this House—I recognise that you are the head of our House, Mr Speaker, and you are of Jewish ancestry—to proclaim that, even if our House survives for another 750 years, we will not, in this, our time, be found wanting in standing up for the right of Jewish people to live in peace and freedom wherever they are in the world.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the point of order, and the consideration that underlies it. I think that the reception to it tells its own story. It will be endorsed by everybody from across the House. It might be thought a particularly timely point of order for the hon. Gentleman to raise given the pervasive threat of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, and the fact that it is a significant problem in the United Kingdom as well.

The hon. Gentleman’s wider point—namely, the 2015 anniversary and celebrations—will be of great interest to the House. All sorts of plans have been developed to mark and commemorate that anniversary, about which Members will hear, and with which they will be involved, during the year. I will of course have something to say on that matter not today, but in the course of the week.

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Road Fuel Pricing (Equalisation)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.39 pm

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require that companies selling road fuels be required to charge prices equalised between rural and urban areas; and for connected purposes.

The retail market in road fuels is complex. According to the Petrol Retailers Association, the UK has 8,605 road fuel retailing sites—what the normal consumer would refer to as petrol stations. Petrol stations are administered by a variety of operators, including small, independent dealers, companies that own a significant number of petrol stations, or what the PRA refers to as hypermarkets but are more familiar to us as supermarkets—Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, and Morrisons. In addition, motorway based service stations are owned and operated by a different set of retailers.

Consumers are familiar with the provision of petrol stations. In the majority of cases, the petrol station will have a familiar brand name—BP, Shell, Esso—yet it is less well understood by the consumer that the large petrol corporation does not necessarily own and operate the petrol station displaying the brand name. In the majority of cases, brand-name petrol stations are operated by either independent companies or smaller retailers. These so-called dealers operate 5,385 of the 8,605 petrol stations across the UK—some 62.5% of the outlet share. Similarly, petrol companies, many of which are in the process of divesting their portfolio of outlets, comprise just 1,846 of the open outlets, or a 21.5% outlet share. The remainder of the outlet share is taken by just 1,374 supermarket outlets—a small 16% of the outlet share.

To look simply at the number of petrol retail sites is to fail to appreciate how the market works and what factors affect the pricing of petrol and diesel, and a number of factors drive the price of petrol in various areas. In the far outlying regions of the country, scarcity of population means that the number of cars per outlet becomes small, and accordingly petrol stations are small as well. The economy of scale vanishes, and petrol stations can be as simple as a single pump. Although that makes for high price road fuel, in reality the choice in many cases is high price or no fuel at all, and the Government have already helped with a fuel duty subsidy in outlying and hard-to-reach regions. In other areas there is a high degree of competition, with many outlets and a high number of cars per fuel pump. Again, that drives healthy competition, and cheap road fuel prices are available to the lucky people who live within the petrol station catchment area.

I am an enthusiast for markets being allowed to drive positive outcomes for the consumer; I am an advocate of free market economics and support healthy competition. However, in our complex world, from time to time markets fail to deliver exclusively fair outcomes, and when markets go wrong I believe intervention should happen, as is the case with road fuel pricing.

I have already stated that petrol companies own 21.5% of the outlet share in the UK, with dealers owning 62.6% and supermarkets just 16%, but those figures fail to highlight the inequality within the market.

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Although companies own 21% of outlets, they hold 24% of the volume sales share—the amount of petrol and diesel sold—and dealers with 63% of the outlets transact just 32% of the volume sales. Supermarkets, however, with just 16% of outlets, dominate the market with 44% of the volume market share—just four big supermarket chains in the UK hold 44% of the market.

Trying to understand the supermarkets’ pricing model is like trying to read and understand a dark art. Many hon. Members will be aware that there are peculiar price anomalies between their constituencies and neighbouring ones. In Kidderminster, Stourport and Bewdley, we frequently find that petrol and diesel prices are up to 7p more expensive than in neighbouring Bromsgrove just 10 miles down the road. Having written to supermarkets in my constituency, only Tesco agreed to meet me and discuss how it constructs prices in Kidderminster. It seems that the supermarkets look to the competition within three miles of their local petrol station and decide, on an undisclosed and opaque basis, the best price to charge at any given petrol station.

That process throws up anomalies. In a city such as Birmingham there is healthy competition between retailers and across the city, and it is unlikely that there will be a three mile gap between retailers. Therefore, a supermarket such as Asda can cut its price on one side of the city, and that will transmit quickly through the entire city to reduce prices for everybody. In addition, petrol retailers are not just competing against each other, but against an efficient public transport system. Prices locally in a city such as Birmingham can be significantly cheaper, but in a town such as Kidderminster the area is surrounded by a void of petrol stations far wider than three miles. Kidderminster, and any similar small town, will find itself in a closed and inefficient market for road fuel. Add to that the fact that local residents rely on their cars much more, not least because of a less than optimal public transport system, and the supermarkets can charge more for their fuel locally.

The question inevitably follows: is the significant price anomaly between same-brand supermarkets and road fuel prices a healthy outcome of market forces, or a cynical attempt by supermarkets to charge premium prices for fuel in areas where competition is weak, to subsidise their activities where competition is strong? A similar question needs to be answered with regard to motorway service stations, which charge even higher premiums for urban fuel prices. Again, is that driven by genuine market forces, or by opportunism to overcharge motorists who would otherwise have to detour off their motorway route to search for properly priced fuel?

There are certainly significant anomalies within regions, but when looking at regional pricing there seems to be a more efficient market operating. The AA, in its November fuel price report, notes that the difference between the highest priced region for petrol, London, and the lowest, Yorkshire and Humberside, is just 0.4p. However, the price differences within those regions mean that many people are paying a significant rural premium for their essential road fuel. My Bill will seek to address the problem by giving reserve powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to intervene when price anomalies cannot easily be explained by significant pricing factors.

It is clear that the factors affecting a single pump retailer in a sparsely populated region with hundreds of miles to the nearest wholesaler will result in a higher

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than average fuel retail price. However, the factors that decide Kidderminster is charged a 7p premium over neighbouring Bromsgrove are not so easy to determine. In this event, the CMA will expect an immediate explanation of the anomaly, which, if not satisfactory, will mean an intervention to iron out the price discrepancy. The reserve power can also be used to determine anomalies with motorway service stations, and the discrepancy between petrol and diesel prices.

We have already seen a drop in the wholesale prices of road fuel and crude oil, one that lessens the impact of fuel prices on households. However, while that is in part welcome—the phenomenon of fuel prices rising like a rocket but falling like a feather has not yet been resolved satisfactorily—there is no reason not to address the price anomaly that sees rural communities being required, in the main by supermarkets, to pay a significant premium for their fuel over communities in better served areas such as conurbations. My proposals seek to bring that inequality to an end by providing a mechanism that, I hope, those people guilty of infringement will respond to before intervention by the CMA is necessary. That will begin to bring to an end the premiums paid by rural communities for their road fuel.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mark Garnier, Jason McCartney, Jim Shannon, Oliver Colvile, John Thurso, Mr James Gray, Mr Philip Hollobone, Peter Aldous, Jeremy Lefroy, Guto Bebb, Simon Hart and Pauline Latham present the Bill.

Mark Garnier accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March, and to be printed (Bill 157).

20 Jan 2015 : Column 90

Opposition Day

[13th Allotted Day]

Trident Renewal

12.49 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House believes that Trident should not be renewed.

It is a pleasure to move the motion, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru—the party of Wales—and the Green party. I am also pleased that the motion is supported by other Members, such as the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has a long-standing, principled position on this issue.

I thank, in advance, the Secretary of State for Defence for replying to this SNP-Plaid Cymru debate and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who has responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, for closing the debate, and the shadow Secretary of State for his participation on behalf of the official Opposition.

Today’s debate is the first opportunity to debate Trident replacement since the publication of the Government’s 2014 update to Parliament on Trident, published on 18 December. That document confirmed that a further £261 million had been reprofiled to be spent on the project ahead of the maingate stage, when MPs will decide whether to authorise construction of new submarines, thereby confirming that Trident is not subject to the Government’s austerity agenda. The document also confirms that the maingate decision will be reached in early 2016. MPs re-standing for election in 2015 and candidates for all parties can expect to be asked by electors how they would vote on Trident.

This debate also offers the first opportunity for the Government and Members to report back from the international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, held in December in Vienna, and comes ahead of a demonstration on scrapping Trident taking place this Saturday in London, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The event starts outside the Ministry of Defence on Horse Guards avenue, just off Whitehall, at noon, and I encourage as many people as possible who want Trident scrapped to attend.

I also put on the record the sincere appreciation of myself, my colleagues and others in the House to Kate Hudson of CND UK, John Ainslie of CND Scotland and Ben Folley, who supports parliamentary CND, as well as all colleagues in other disarmament and non-proliferation organisations.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is being fulsome in his praise for CND. Does he think that that organisation was right during the cold war to dismiss the Soviet threat?

Angus Robertson: I do not think anybody should dismiss threats at any time, but the question is whether one believes that the threat of catastrophic nuclear annihilation worked. I happen to believe that nuclear deterrents have not worked, and there are plenty of examples of conflicts that were not avoided—

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Mr Spellar rose—

Angus Robertson: Forgive me, but I want to make some progress. The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make a speech later, and I look forward to hearing it.

The time has come to put down a marker about scrapping Trident and not replacing these weapons of mass destruction. At present, a UK Trident submarine remains on patrol at all times, and each submarine carries an estimated eight missiles, each of which can carry up to five warheads. In total, that makes 40 warheads, each with an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons of conventional high explosive—eight times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing an estimated 240,000 people from blast and radiation.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The hon. Gentleman and I have agreed on a number of foreign policy and defence issues, but can he not see that recent events, even on NATO’s border, again remind us of the importance of retaining the ultimate insurance policy in order to help keep Britain and its allies safe?

Angus Robertson: The difficulty with that position, of course, is that, were it true, it would mean that Germany, Italy and Spain were not safe and required nuclear weapons. In fact, it is the same argument made by the North Korean regime, which believes it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself. It is a dangerous argument to pursue.

I have yet to hear a supporter of Trident convincingly explain in what circumstances they would be prepared to justify the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and the causing of massive environmental damage to the world for generations to come. Those are the consequences of using nuclear weapons, and surely if one has them, one has to be prepared to use them. I have yet to hear anybody give an example of circumstances where they would be prepared to kill millions of people.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Angus Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman explain in what circumstances he would be in favour of using nuclear weapons?

John Woodcock: Will the hon. Gentleman explain the logic of his party’s position? It thinks that nuclear weapons are an abomination, but wants an independent Scotland to remain part of NATO, which is an explicitly nuclear alliance founded on the concept of overall nuclear protection.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the position of the SNP on NATO is exactly the same as that taken by the Governments of Denmark and Norway—countries that have provided the most recent NATO Secretaries-General. Those countries do not want to possess or host nuclear weapons, which is exactly the SNP’s position, but that has not precluded their participation in NATO. Perhaps having countries take that position might offer the opportunity to change the global approach to nuclear weapons currently pursued by NATO and nuclear-hosting states.

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Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) rose—

Angus Robertson: On the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s long-standing and principled support for nuclear weapons, I would be pleased to take an intervention.

Dr Lewis: In return, I acknowledge the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman’s point about not finding anybody prepared to kill millions of people, but the logical conclusion of that standpoint is that we remain pacifists —[Interruption.] Let me explain. It would mean we could never declare war on any country, whatever the circumstances, because when we do, millions of people inevitably die. The question is, therefore: how do we prevent war? We do it by showing someone that they cannot attack us with these weapons without suffering similar retaliation.

Angus Robertson: I like the hon. Gentleman a great deal, but I note that even he, one of the leading supporters of nuclear weapons, could not give an example of circumstances where he would be prepared to see the killing of hundreds of millions of people.

The case is stronger than ever for embracing the non-replacement of Trident, which would offer serious strategic and economic benefits, as outlined in the June 2013 report “The Real Alternative”, including,

“improved national security—through budgetary flexibility in the Ministry of Defence and a more effective response to emerging security challenges in the 21st century”


“improved global security—through a strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, deterring of nuclear proliferation and de-escalation of international tensions”.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that opposition to Trident is not limited to CND or parties such as ours, but includes many in the military? The former British armed forces head described nuclear weapons as “completely useless” and “virtually irrelevant”.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Lady makes a good point. We are hearing ever more—and respected—people from within the defence community understanding the consequences of the replacement of Trident and the displacement effect that would have on conventional defence within the MOD budget.

I will come to that last issue shortly, but first I want to return to the advantages outlined in the 2013 report “The Real Alternative”, including

“vast economic savings—of more than £100 billion over the lifetime of a successor nuclear weapons system, releasing resources for effective security spending, as well as a range of public spending priorities”

as well as our

“adherence to legal obligations including responsibilities as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”,

and—think about this—the

“moral and diplomatic leadership in global multilateral disarmament initiatives such as a global nuclear abolition treaty and the UN’s proposed Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East”.

All this would be possible if the UK Government were prepared to embrace a new approach to weapons of mass destruction.

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Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): What evidence is there that if we got rid of our nuclear weapons, anybody else would get rid of theirs? Would the French give up their nuclear weapons? Would the Russians?

Angus Robertson: If common sense were to prevail, it would have a positive impact on other countries. In the first instance, we have to be responsible for the decisions we make in this country, but I remember that when President Nelson Mandela announced he was changing the South African Government’s position on nuclear weapons, he was lauded for it by Members on both sides of the House. I think the UK would be lauded for making a similar decision.

Mr Spellar: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: I am going to make some progress now. I have given way generously to Members on both sides of the House.

The benefits that I have outlined from the 2013 report could inform the strategic defence and security review that will follow the general election if we were to recast the UK’s approach to nuclear weapons. The reasons for doing so should be obvious to all; they were written about this week in an article, which I would commend to Members, by Paul Mason of “Channel 4 News”. He wrote:

“Russia, jihadis or cyberwarfare—which is the most urgent of the new threats we face? The forthcoming strategic review will force the British military establishment to ask difficult questions. It must separate real threats from imagined ones.

It is in this context that Britain’s hapless defence establishment has to carry out yet another strategic defence and security review. The last one, in 2010, was a valiant effort to impose philosophical coherence on policies, commitments and projects that had become self-perpetuating, strategically meaningless and financially unsustainable. It did not succeed.

In 2010, the essential problem boiled down to two things: maintaining (and modernising) Britain's capacity to do expeditionary warfare, as in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan; and boosting the strategic end of the armed forces—Trident and the Royal Navy—so that we could still claim to be a world power.”

It is worth reflecting on what Paul Mason wrote because of the squeeze to UK conventional defence capabilities in recent years. We have seen significant cuts to personnel, basing, capabilities and, frankly and sadly, too often a substandard approach to the safety of our service personnel.

Members are well aware of the recent difficulties the MOD is in, in terms of cutting regular troop numbers and filling the gaps with reserves. Bases have been closed, including the end of flying operations from two out of three air bases in Scotland. Crucial capability gaps have been exposed, including the absence of a single maritime patrol aircraft since the scrapping of the entire Nimrod fleet. I observe that the Irish Air Corps has more maritime patrol aircraft than the UK at present. In recent weeks in my constituency, one has been able to regularly see maritime patrol aircraft from other countries operating from RAF Lossiemouth, helping to fill a capability that the UK currently has no concrete plans to fill.

Similar shortcomings have been exposed with other capabilities needed to deal with

“violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided midair collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions”.

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As has been officially confirmed, the Royal Navy has on a number of occasions “gapped” the provision of fleet ready escort vessels; that is, there was no availability of the appropriate vessel to patrol and screen in UK waters.

My constituents have on a number of occasions been able to see the Admiral Kuznetsov, the largest vessel in the Russian northern fleet, and it has been widely reported about the MOD initially depending on reports from Scottish fishing boats before Royal Navy vessels interdicted the visiting vessels from Russia after being dispatched from the south coast of England.

In recent years we have also had to go through a variety of issues where service personnel equipment malfunctioned or was not up to the appropriate safety standard. Most recently, and tragically, this was exposed after the death of three of my constituents aboard two RAF Tornados that collided above the Moray firth. The Tornado fleet still does not have collision avoidance systems fully installed, decades after they were recommended, and there are no concrete plans or timetables for that potentially life-saving equipment for Typhoons or F35 jets. The MOD has the wrong priorities, investing billions in nuclear weapons that it can never use but not properly managing the conventional armed forces which are so necessary.

The national security strategy noted in 2010 that, in a period of changing security threats, it would be sensible to consider how ending the Trident replacement programme would release resources that could be spent on more effective security measures. What commitment will the Secretary of State give to the national security strategy informing the strategic defence and security review on the issue of nuclear weapons? In 2010, the NSS downgraded the threat of a nuclear weapon conflict without the SDSR downgrading the role of nuclear weapons in our military capability. That mistake should not be repeated in 2015.

The Defence Committee, in its report “Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century”, argued that at some point in the future the core role of nuclear weapons could be achieved by the deployment of advanced conventional weapons. The NSS and SDSR 2015 should model and scenario-plan such situations, and allow MPs to assess the findings, before we commit further billions to the construction of Trident replacement. Ahead of a final decision on the construction of Trident replacement submarines at the 2016 maingate, the role of SDSR 2015 should be to deliver the most open consultation and debate on the role of UK nuclear weapons and whether we should maintain them at all.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that with the national security strategy placing international terrorism, cybercrime and major accidents and natural hazards such as coastal flooding at the top tier of threats to the UK, recent experience suggests that these areas need greater resources, rather than the false priorities of the nuclear deterrent?

On the cost of Trident replacement, we know from studies, including “In the Firing Line”—an investigation into the hidden costs of replacing Trident—that the costs are astronomic and approach £100 billion. It is not just the costs of development and construction. It is also about the in-service running costs over decades. It is worth noting that despite the fact that Parliament has not given maingate approval for Trident replacement, the MOD has already spent between £2 billion and £3 billion on what are called long-lead items.

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Most recently, news emerged about the purchase of the “common missile compartment” that is being built in the US at a cost of approximately £37 million. The spec of the common missile compartment has 12 launch tubes and runs contrary to claims by the MOD in the 2010 SDSR that it will

“reduce the number of operational launch tubes on the submarines from 12 to eight”.

Also the UK’s disarmament ambassador, John Duncan, told the UN that the plan was to

“configure the next generation of submarines accordingly with only eight operational missile”


The Royal United Services Institute has estimated that the construction cost of Trident replacement will consume 35% of the procurement budget by the early 2020s. The Minister should be concerned that the cost overruns we have seen with other MOD major projects, such as the Astute submarines, Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers and A400M refuelling aircraft, will be replicated with Trident replacement and will further impact on resources for other equipment and capabilities.

Has the Secretary of State read the recent media reports that the replacement of Britain’s nuclear deterrent means that his Department will be forced to make more significant cuts to troop numbers unless the next Government agree to keep real-terms increases to the defence budget—something that is not being offered to other Departments?

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case. Has he made any estimate of the savings that might be made if the House were to vote for the motion and the Government decided to follow that as a policy, bearing in mind that the Government might still wish to proceed with submarine capability?

Angus Robertson: As I have outlined, there are a number of reports that the through-life costs are nearly £100 billion. There is an issue as to how much one is spending year on year on the existing Trident fleet and then the construction costs, which will peak, I think, between 2019 and 2030.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD) indicated assent.

Angus Robertson: The former Armed Forces Minister is, I think, concurring with that. It is billions and billions of pounds every year that could be saved and reprioritised. Given all the debates that we are currently having on austerity, the growth of food banks and many other issues—no doubt there are great supporters of the MOD who would wish to see increased spending within the MOD—there are alternatives. A significant amount of money could be saved were one to vote for the motion or if we were to ensure that, at the general election, as many Members as possible are returned to this place who share the views of those of us who wish to see Trident scrapped.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has been very generous with his time. Has he calculated the cost to UK manufacturing of not going ahead with the submarine successor programme at this late stage?

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Angus Robertson: Occasionally I hear from Members who have a constituency interest, and I understand that they want to stand up for firms in their constituency. What I would say to them—I represent a constituency with a very significant defence footprint—is that there are alternatives to spending £100 billion on Trident, and it cannot be beyond the wit or imagination of the Government to look at alternatives for those people with amazing engineering and design skills. They do not need to produce nuclear weapons to have successful careers or, indeed, for their companies to be successful.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his choice of Opposition day motion. He will be aware that the west of Scotland is very dependent on defence jobs. Does he agree that both the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government should be investing heavily in defence diversification, because that is essential if we are going to put our communities in a position where they are not reliant on one particular weapons system?

Angus Robertson: Indeed. The hon. Lady makes a very strong point, and I am pleased that there are Members in other parties who are clearly supporting the direction of the motion before us. Of course, it is not beyond the wit of Government or companies in the defence sector to concentrate their efforts on the conventional areas of defence rather than on nuclear submarines which have to be one of the most expensive ways of creating and maintaining jobs.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): May I take my hon. Friend back to the question of costs and try to put some numbers on this? Is it not the case that according to the last comprehensive assessment, the cost was something in the order of 9% of the MOD budget, around £2.9 billion a year, moving to around £4 billion throughout the 2020s? Does that not give a clear indication of the scale—the quantum—of the money we are wasting on these systems?

Angus Robertson: My hon. Friend makes a good point and it is what I was trying to outline in response to the interventions from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches. This is about many billions of pounds about which we have a choice: do we want to invest in something we can never use, or do we spend the money in an entirely more beneficial way for society as a whole?

Does the Secretary of State recognise the assessment that during the next decade more than £40 billion is due to be spent on submarines—among them, Trident’s replacement submarines—and that this figure is more than is due to be spent on new land equipment and air equipment combined? Does he agree that the waste of £4 billion with the scrapping of the Nimrod patrol aircraft is now being replicated with the expenditure of £4 billion on the Trident replacement submarine programme ahead of the maingate decision?

The scrapping of Nimrod has limited Vanguard’s operational effectiveness and must mean that the scrapping of Trident is now more certain. What cost has been incurred by the MOD in requesting the deployment of maritime patrol aircraft by allied forces since October 2010, now that Vanguard operates without the support of Nimrod? On how many occasions has the MOD

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requested deployment of MPA by allied forces since October 2010, now that Vanguard operates without the support of Nimrod?

The issue of Trident replacement comes at a time when the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are being taken seriously by the international community. In December the overwhelming majority of countries attended the international conference on the subject hosted by the Austrian Government. After the US Government confirmed their attendance, the UK relented on its intended boycott and attended in an official capacity, which I welcome. A number of Members of the House, including me, attended the conference, which had a huge impact, forcing attendees to confront the calamity of what would actually happen should there be a planned or unintended nuclear explosion. The UK and other countries need to give a commitment that they will take this issue seriously.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross’s findings that global cooling as a result of nuclear conflict could cut food production for many years and put 1 billion people at risk of starvation worldwide? Is this stark warning not further evidence that we must act on disarmament and scrap Trident? Does he not agree that publishing a UK assessment of the global atmospheric consequences of nuclear war would be a positive contribution to the international discussion on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons? Will the Government ensure that the issues raised at the Vienna conference are discussed at the meeting of the P5 nuclear weapons states in February?

While on the international issues relating to Trident, may I say to the Secretary of State that it is high time the Government stated their support for a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons that would complement our disarmament commitment under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty? It is time that the Government recognised that the success of past international bans on weapons of mass destruction such as landmines, cluster munitions and chemical and biological weapons must be applied to nuclear weapons. Does the Secretary of State recognise, as those on the Opposition Benches do, the success of past international bans on weapons of mass destruction such as landmines, cluster munitions and chemical and biological weapons, and that this principle must be extended to nuclear weapons?

Before concluding, may I seek clarification relating to the Trident maingate decision that will follow if this vote is unsuccessful today? Will the maingate decision for Trident replacement be published as a report and discussed as a stand-alone issue, separately from the strategic defence and security review? Will the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State both commit to a binding vote of the House at the maingate decision point for Trident replacement?

In conclusion, today’s debate and vote are an important opportunity to show that there is opposition to Trident renewal at Westminster. May I thank all the constituents who have lobbied all of us in past days, sending e-mails and messaging us via Twitter, encouraging us to vote for the motion?

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Opposition to Trident is of course particularly strong in Scotland. It is opposed by our faith communities, including the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church and many others among our faith communities. It is also opposed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish voluntary sector. Opinion opposing Trident is covered fully in today’s The National newspaper, which splashes on a new opinion poll that shows that, of those with an opinion, 60% of respondents in Scotland do not want Trident. Today, sadly, I fear that the Labour party will not represent the majority of its own supporters: in that poll it is clear that a significant majority of Labour voters agree with the SNP in not wanting Trident in Scotland. In the forthcoming general election, we have a huge opportunity to underline our opposition to Trident by electing MPs who have a policy opposed to Trident—in Scotland, that is the SNP; in Wales, it is Plaid Cymru; and in England, it is the Green party. With polls showing that we may very well hold the balance of power after the next general election, we will do everything we can to ensure that Trident replacement does not go ahead.

1.17 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon): Today’s debate is about the primary responsibility of any Government: the security of our nation, our freedoms and our way of life. It is not about short-term politics. Whatever the current threats to this country, we cannot gamble with tomorrow’s security. That is why this Government, and all previous Governments for the last six decades, have retained an operationally independent nuclear deterrent, and today this Government are committed to maintaining that credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent based on Trident and operating in a continuously at-sea posture for as long as we need it.

We also committed in the 2010 strategic defence and security review to renew our deterrent by proceeding with the programme that Parliament approved in March 2007 by a majority of 409 to 161 to build a fleet of new ballistic missile submarines. For 45 years, Britain has kept a ballistic missile submarine at sea, providing the ultimate guarantee of security against nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In December I saw that deterrent for myself at Faslane, and let me pay tribute to the crews of Vanguard, Vengeance, Victorious and Vigilant, their families and all those whose support has been essential to Operation Relentless, our continuous at-sea deterrent patrols. It is Faslane that is truly Britain’s peace camp. Whether we like it or not, there remain approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons globally. We cannot uninvent those weapons.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall that during the Scottish referendum a number of people said that somehow, because there was a base in Scotland, the rest of England was getting away without having bases related to our nuclear deterrent? It is worth reminding people that from my bedroom window I can see the towers of Aldermaston, Greenham common and the royal ordnance factory at Burghfield. The defence footprint relating to the support of our nuclear deterrent is as important throughout the United Kingdom as it is in Scotland.

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Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. From Aldermaston and Burghfield to Barrow and Scotland, the United Kingdom together has an interest in the nuclear industry.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend also recognise that Devonport plays a significant part in this matter, because it has the licence for the refitting and refuelling of our nuclear submarines?

Michael Fallon: I certainly recognise the importance of Devonport and all our naval bases in sustaining our naval operations, including the submarine fleet.

In the context of 17,000 nuclear weapons globally, we cannot gamble with our country’s national security. We have to plan for a major direct nuclear threat to this country, or to our NATO allies, that might emerge over the 50 years during which the next generation of submarines will be in service. We already know that there are substantial nuclear arsenals and that the number of nuclear states has increased. Russia is modernising its nuclear forces, actively commissioning a new Dolgoruky class of eight SSBN vessels, preparing to deploy a variety of land-based ICBM classes, and planning to reintroduce rail-based intercontinental missiles. North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests, threatened a fourth, and carried out ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community. Iran’s nuclear programme remains a real concern: we see a worrying lack of progress from Iran with the international agency on the military dimensions of its nuclear programme.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Secretary of State is right to discuss some of the new, emerging external threats, but the major external threat faced by this country is from IS—from jihadists. Would they not be encouraged if we threatened them with nuclear weapons?

Michael Fallon: There are of course current threats to this country from ISIL and the jihadists, as, indeed, there are from Russia’s behaviour over the past year or so, but we must also plan for future threats to this country, including nuclear threats. Some may well argue, like the hon. Gentleman, that in the face of terrorism and the other immediate threats that we have seen over the past year, a nuclear deterrent is somehow less relevant. That is an argument, but we have never suggested that those other threats should or can be countered by the nuclear deterrent. We are clear that the nuclear deterrent is the only assured way to deter nuclear threats.

Others have suggested that we should move away from continuous patrols and have a part-time deterrent, as if our enemies did not work the full week, but there is simply no alternative to a continuous at-sea deterrent that can provide the same level of protection and the ability to deter an aggressor. We know that because successive Governments have looked at the different options for delivering a deterrent capability. Most recently, the Trident alternatives review in 2013 demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable or cost-effective as a Trident-based deterrent. It also found:

“None of these alternative systems and postures offers the same degree of resilience as the current posture of Continuous at Sea Deterrence, nor could they guarantee a prompt response in all circumstances.”

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All the previous studies have also shown that four submarines are required to maintain the continuous posture.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I wanted to intervene earlier, at the end of my right hon. Friend’s arguments about the nature of the gamble that one would be taking with the future security of the United Kingdom by not having a nuclear weapons system. Is not the rather difficult truth that we are making a series of risk assessments and gambles about what we spend on defence and the particular type of defence we buy? While it is funded from the defence budget, Trident comes at the expense of a larger Army, Navy and Air Force, so it is all part of a wider risk assessment, not, as the Secretary of State has suggested, an absolute. If there was no money left for anything except Trident, is that really the decision that we would take?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend is of course right to say that we must assess future risks and the capabilities that we will have to deal with them. All I can say to him is that every successive Government who have looked at the future threat have, in the end, decided to continue to renew our continuous at-sea deterrent. In a world that is becoming more dangerous, there are no alternatives that offer the level of protection and security that this country needs.

Let me be clear, particularly to the Scottish National party, about what we are planning to replace and when. Subject to a maingate decision in 2016, we are planning to replace the current Vanguard submarines—not the Trident missile or the warheads. We are planning to replace the submarines in the late 2020s, by which time our Vanguard submarines will be 35 years old.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Secretary of State has spoken about the need to take defence and security seriously and the necessity of nuclear weapons to achieving that. Is he saying that nations that do not have nuclear weapons are not taking their defence and security seriously?

Michael Fallon: No, I am not. I am saying that countries such as ours that have nuclear weapons cannot simply uninvent them; a responsibility comes with those nuclear weapons, and I will come on to explain how we should discharge it.

Let me be clear about the decision that we are going to take in 2016. With the approval of Parliament, the previous Government began the design phase of that decision. In May 2011, we announced the assessment phase, and since then we have reported progress to Parliament annually—most recently, as the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) pointed out, just before Christmas. We are now more than halfway through that five-year, £3.3 billion assessment phase, the main purpose of which is to refine the design and mature the costs ahead of the maingate decision. After all, this is the largest British submarine project in a generation and one of the most complex ever undertaken by British industry. Of that £3.3 billion of assessment costs, I can confirm that so far we have invested around £1.2 billion as part of the assessment phase. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), will be giving further details of those costs when he winds up the debate.

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I want to be clear with the House: no submarines are being built before the maingate decision in 2016. However, as with any major programme of this complexity, it is essential and more cost-effective to order now certain items that would delay the programme if we were to wait until the maingate decision. Such items include propulsion components, generators, main engines, condensers and electrical distribution components.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so generously. Given how much work has been done on this matter in the Ministry of Defence—he is well supported by a large team of civil servants—will he confirm at the Dispatch Box today the total cost of Trident replacement, including its through-life costs? Is it approaching £100 billion or not?

Michael Fallon: I do not recognise the £100 billion figure, and it is not possible to answer that question until the maingate decision is made which will be put before this House next year.

Let me turn directly to the issue that the hon. Member for Moray quite rightly and fairly put to me—the issue of affordability.

Mr Jenkin: If we are going to talk about through-life costs, is it not important to point out that the amortised costs of our nuclear deterrent will be only some 6% of the overall defence budget or 0.3% of gross domestic product? The idea that cancellation of this programme will pay for all the goodies outlined by the Scottish National party—one presumes that the SNP will want to carry on building different types of submarine at the these yards in any case—is just moonshine.

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend who, having served as shadow Defence Secretary, knows a great deal about this issue, is absolutely right. These are replacement submarines that are going to last us until 2060, so it is very important to look at the cost of the project over the next 45 years.

Several hon. Members rose

Michael Fallon: I want to make some progress. Given the £38 billion hole in the defence budget that we inherited from the shower opposite, this Government have scrutinised the procurement programme to ensure value for money. We have identified savings and we will continue to submit the programme to rigorous scrutiny. Let me assure the House that no part of that programme will be exempt. As I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), we are talking about maintaining a capability in service until 2060—for the next 45 years.

We told the House in the 2011 parliamentary report that the cost of the four submarines was estimated to be around £25 billion at out-turn prices. Those costs, of course, will be spread over 25 years. Indeed, if the costs were spread evenly, it would represent an annual insurance premium of around 0.13% of total Government spending. Let me put it another way. Crossrail is costing us around £14.8 billion. Replacing four 16,000-tonne submarines will cost around £25 billion; Crossrail 2 will cost around £27 billion. I hope that provides some context.

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Let me now turn to the position of the various parties. The SNP has set out very clearly its opposition to the renewal of Trident. I believe and suggest to the House that that is a highly irresponsible position. It would sacrifice the security of the United Kingdom on the wrong-headed notion that opposes nuclear in all its forms and on the basis of cost savings that would be minuscule compared with the impact on our national security and the damage to our economy, to jobs and to the submarine building industry.

HM Naval Base Clyde is, by the way, the largest single employment site in Scotland, and it is set to increase to 8,200 jobs by 2020 when all of the Royal Navy’s submarines will be based at Faslane. It is the SNP that would put all those jobs at risk. Indeed, the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Moray, who has regularly raised the issue of maritime patrol aircraft and foreign submarines, does not seem to see anything odd about wanting the capability to spot other countries’ submarines without making the case for retaining our deterrent in the first place. It is pretty hard to deter our enemies when we do not have the means to do so.

We should also note the nonsense of somehow promising a nuclear-free Scotland. In 2013, the percentage of electricity generated in Scotland from nuclear power increased to nearly 35%—nearly double that of England. Indeed, an independent Scotland would rank seventh in the nuclear league table of EU member states. I do not think, of course, that we should expect consistency from an SNP that wants to dispense with nuclear weapons, but wants also, as the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) pointed out, to join NATO—a nuclear alliance. Indeed, according to the document of November 2013, “Scotland’s Future”, the SNP would allow nuclear-armed vessels to use Scottish ports. Perhaps the hon. Member for Moray could explain some of those inconsistencies.

Angus Robertson: The Secretary of State was unable to tell us earlier what the through-life costs of Trident replacement would be, so let me ask him a second question: when are the UK armed forces going to have a maritime patrol aircraft in service? When will that be?

Michael Fallon: On his first question—I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not addressed any of the inconsistencies I pointed out—I have already made it clear that we cannot be final about the full-length costs of the renewal until we come to take that maingate decision next year. That will be explained to Parliament. So far as maritime patrol aircraft are concerned, we inherited a situation in which some 21 Nimrod aircraft were supposed to be available by 2003, yet when we came to office seven years later, none was available. As part of the painful decisions we had to take to regularise the defence budget and sort out the £38 billion black hole, it was necessary to cancel a programme that had not in any case delivered. The hon. Gentleman asked me when we were going to examine this matter again, and the answer is very clear: we will, of course, look at that particular capability, along with other capabilities, as part of the strategic defence review, which will be initiated immediately after the general election.

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): On the issue of security, I have been arguing for some two or three years that Iran had no intention of giving up its ability to make weapons-grade fissionable material and

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that it is intent on building a nuclear weapon, which is the only reason why it is pursuing its particular plan. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that that is now the case, and that Iran simply wanted to ease the sanctions for a short time? Should we not now be really frightened of that threat from the middle east?

Michael Fallon: Indeed, we should certainly be concerned about the lack of progress in the talks that have been dragging on for months now, and we should be particularly concerned about the military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Let me deal now with the position of the official Opposition. On 14 November, the shadow Defence Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary wrote to the Prime Minister declaring that Britain should maintain

“a minimum credible independent, nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent”.

However, on 5 January this year, the Leader of the Opposition told Andrew Marr that

“we have got to have the least-cost deterrent that we can have, and that’s my philosophy.”

How, then, can we explain this apparent shift away from the continuous at-sea deterrent? Perhaps it has something to do with the comments of the leader of the SNP who, in talking about coalition, said that Labour would

“have to think again about putting a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde.”

The public and those whose jobs depend on this programme have a right to know whether the Labour party would be prepared to trade our security if that were the price of power, and I offer the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) the opportunity to make that clear.

John Woodcock: I think that the Defence Secretary used wise words when, at the beginning of his speech, he said that we should not use this issue to play short-term politics. Let me gently warn him. We—he and I, and his party and mine—have worked constructively on this issue during difficult times in recent years. I hope that when the shadow Defence Secretary speaks, the right hon. Gentleman will take it from him—if he will not take it from me—that we remain absolutely committed to the statement that he read out. We remain absolutely committed to an independent minimum credible strategic deterrent delivered by means of the submarine programme that we started in government and will finish. A least-cost deterrent is, to our mind, exactly the same as a minimum deterrent. If the Defence Secretary wants to spend more than least costs, he should say so now.

Michael Fallon: What I am seeking, and what I have still not heard, is a recommitment to a continuous at-sea deterrent, but those words seem to have slipped out of Labour’s position. I hope that, when we hear from the hon. Member for Gedling—

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab) rose—

Michael Fallon: Ah! We are going to hear from the hon. Gentleman.