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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 16 June 2015

[Mr Philip Hollobonein the Chair]

Iran (Proposed Nuclear Agreement)

9.30 am

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Iran and the proposed nuclear agreement.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This is an opportune moment to consider once again the proposed nuclear agreement regarding Iran. It is opportune because an outline agreement was presented on 2 April 2015, and it is expected that a full agreement might be reached by the end of this month. It is therefore right and proper that Parliament should once again consider the issue.

This debate follows the good and positive Back-Bench business debate held in November 2014, during the last Parliament. Since then, a number of parliamentary questions have been asked of the Government, and several statements have been made. On top of that, by way of context, it is important and relevant to consider the report published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs during the last Parliament. The context extends beyond this place to the outside world, and we need to be aware of it. The debate is opportune. I shall ask the Minister a significant number of questions, to which I hope he can respond. It is relevant to ask those questions before an agreement is finalised, as there are genuine concerns across the House about the details of the proposed agreement.

To start, we must ask what the intention is of any proposed agreement. That is crucial. My understanding was that initially, the aim of any nuclear agreement with Iran was to deal with non-proliferation and ensure no further development of nuclear weapons in that country, yet given the developments that we read about, it appears that the discussion has moved from being about a non-proliferation treaty to being about something more closely related to an arms control treaty. That is an important, but not necessarily positive, development. The original talks between the P5+1 and Iran definitely commenced on the basis of a non-proliferation treaty.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that the proposed deal seeks to legitimise Iran’s nuclear activities, such as enriching and stockpiling low-grade uranium, for which there is no civilian use whatever? We are talking about a country that is one of the world’s largest—if not the largest—state sponsors of terrorism.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. That intervention was perfectly legitimate and in order, but I say to all Members present that there are a lot of Members here and we have only 90 minutes, so it is not my intention to call anybody to make a speech who makes an intervention beforehand. I want to ensure that everybody has a chance to have their say.

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Guto Bebb: Thank you, Mr Hollobone. There is some merit to my hon. Friend’s points, but I called this debate to see what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s view is of the potential context and contents of any proposed agreement.

A bilateral arms control treaty is not what our partners in the region are looking for. In preparing for this debate, I was fortunate enough to be briefed by representatives of the Bahraini Government on behalf of the Gulf Co-operation Council, and it is fair to say that our partner states in the Gulf have specific concerns about how significantly the proposed treaty has moved from what was originally intended. One of the most striking comments made by the representatives of the Bahraini Government was that they felt increasingly as if they were being treated by the P5+1 similarly to how eastern European countries were treated when there were arms control treaties between the US and the Soviet Union. If that development is concerning our allies in the GCC, the Government should take that seriously.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He mentioned the GCC and Bahrain, but another linked point is Iran harbouring and sponsoring terrorism in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels to destabilise the region, as well as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, in addition to supporting Hamas in Israel. We cannot have a nuclear agreement with a state that is sponsoring and harbouring terrorism. It is a short-term fix for a long-term problem for the international community.

Guto Bebb: My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, which was certainly reflected in my discussions with the representatives of the Bahraini Government last week. The fact that good intentions are being taken for granted in relation to the treaty is being questioned by some of the Gulf states, which have concerns about Iran’s foreign policy objectives, to put it mildly, in that part of the world. It is important when we consider the potential treaty that we take into account the views of not just the P5+1 but partner states in that part of the world.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not feel that what he has described as the thoughts of the Gulf states are increased by the attitude to the detail, including about centrifuges? If Iran is allowed to retain 6,000-plus centrifuges against the original estimate of 1,000, that is clearly a bad sign.

Guto Bebb: I fully endorse those comments. I will address the issue of the centrifuges in due course. It is reasonable to say that the figure of 6,000 now assumed to be part of a proposed treaty is significantly in excess of the 1,000 originally discussed by the P5+1 when the negotiations started. The question whether that is actually in the treaty must be addressed.

I do not want to be described as a cynic, but it is fair to question whether the agreement is actually an effort to resolve the issue, or whether it is effectively an effort to ensure a foreign policy legacy for the current American Administration. I am making this contribution in the spirit of the Back-Bench business debate held in November 2014. I think that there is a genuine realisation that we need an agreement, but must that agreement be rushed

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to achieve a foreign policy goal for a US Administration who might not be in place for very long? We need some certainty on that.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Many of the Gulf states—my hon. Friend mentioned Bahrain, but obviously this includes the United Arab Emirates and others—are nervous about Iran’s intentions. Iran knows that we want a deal, but it clearly understands the timetabling, and that it will be much easier to leverage something advantageous to Iran if we are working to a timeline that is affected by legacies in the United States of America or anything else.

Guto Bebb: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The key thing is that the proposed treaty stands or falls on its own merits. It should not be subject to a timetable pushed on the basis of others’ priorities. That certainly came across in my meeting with GCC representatives prior to this debate.

We must ensure that the agreement satisfies the concerns of our allies in the middle east. In addition, it is important to clarify whether major concessions have been made by the P5+1, as current rumours about the agreement’s content would indicate. It is important for the Government to say what concessions have been offered in return for the ones that have been made, for example, in relation to the number of centrifuges. We need an outline of the concessions made.

To return to the Back-Bench business debate held in November 2014, I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), who was one of the Members who secured it. It was a positive debate, in which a range of opinions were expressed about the intentions, or otherwise, of Iran, and about the historical context of any proposed deal. There were fine speeches that highlighted the missed opportunities in the past for an agreement with Iran. It would certainly benefit any Member who is interested in this subject to reread the debate, as I did prior to coming to Westminster Hall today.

I was struck by the very fair summary of that debate provided by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is also here today; I welcome him back to his position in government. He concluded that debate in an excellent manner by saying clearly:

“It is right that we should leave no stone unturned in the quest to”

reach an agreement,

“but we must not, and will not, do a bad deal. The stakes are too high.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 1034WH.]

Those comments can probably be endorsed by everybody here today. However, we need certainty that a proposed deal or compromise, which is rumoured to include significant concessions, is the right deal; we need reassurance on that.

What are the main concerns? My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned centrifuges, and I have to mention one of the biggest challenges in this debate: how do I pronounce “centrifuges”? Initially, the aim of the P5+1 was to reach an agreement

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that would allow Iran to maintain 1,000, or possibly 1,500, centrifuges. In the Back-Bench business debate in November 2014, the then Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee stated that the evidence that the Committee had heard as part of its inquiry was that the maximum number of centrifuges that Iran should be allowed was between 2,000 and 4,000. It is said that 4,500 centrifuges will allow the production of 25 kg of highly enriched uranium within a six-month period, yet we hear a rumour that an agreement will allow Iran to have 6,000 centrifuges. We can do the maths. We would be looking at 25 kg of enriched uranium within not six months, but four. There is a real question as to why the demands of the P5+1 have changed so dramatically and what concessions have been offered in return. We need a response to that question.

Secondly on centrifuges, perhaps 13,000 or 14,000 centrifuges would be made redundant as a result of an agreement that would leave Iran with 6,000. How many of those 13,000 or 14,000 extra centrifuges would be dismantled? If they are not dismantled, what is to stop them being recommissioned, and how long would it take to recommission them? Again, there are significant questions about the possible allowance of 6,000 centrifuges and what happens to the 13,000 or 14,000 other centrifuges that would remain in Iranian hands.

It is important to state that 30 countries have a civilian nuclear programme. In the November debate, Jack Straw, the former Member for Blackburn, forcefully made the point that any sovereign country has the right to pursue an energy policy. I agree. However, of those 30 countries, only 11 have the capacity to enrich their own fuel. On what basis do the P5+1 conclude that Iran should become the 12th, given its Government’s track record on allowing monitoring and allowing third parties to examine its military capacity in relation to the enrichment of uranium?

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that Iran remains a premier sponsor of terror, and does he feel that we ought to consider that when we compare Iran with other nations?

Guto Bebb: I certainly accept that the good will and good intentions of Iran should be considered in the context of its continued support for terrorism in many parts of the middle east, which, as I have said, is a key concern of many of our partner nations in the region.

Nadhim Zahawi rose—

Guto Bebb: I will take a quick intervention.

Nadhim Zahawi: I will be very quick. We sometimes get stuck on the number of centrifuges. However, since the negotiations began, the technology around centrifuges —I declare an interest: my background is in chemical engineering—has advanced so far that a single centrifuge now is much more productive than when the negotiations started.

Guto Bebb: Indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point that I was going to come on to. The research and development allowed as part of any agreement is very important. What guarantees can we be offered about the development of more advanced centrifuges? If there

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are no such guarantees in the agreement, real questions must be asked. If we are trying to reach an agreement to curtail the breakout time for Iran to develop nuclear capacity, the sophistication and possible development of centrifuges is crucial, yet there is no detail, as far as I can see, about what kind of monitoring of research and development will be undertaken.

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He asked a broader question about research and development, and about the importance of the agreement being not only retrospective but prospective. It should be future-proofed, so that improvements in technology, productivity and capacity are taken into account, and sufficient protections are put in place against the future capacity to develop uranium—and, indeed, other harmful technologies.

Guto Bebb: Again, I accept my hon. Friend’s comments. To a large extent, one of my concerns is monitoring, and the access that monitors will be allowed, so that that type of review can be conducted. There are real concerns as to whether that monitoring will be of an acceptable nature.

We also need to address the issue of the nuclear sites. If my understanding of the proposed deal is correct, two sites—Natanz and Fordow—will be retained. I must ask the Government and the Minister a question about that. If such a concession has been made, what concessions have been offered in return by the Iranians to facilitate the agreement?

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on not only securing this debate, but approaching it in a very balanced way. He was good enough to accept that, in the past, mistakes were made by both sides, and we in the west would now gladly take up some of the concessions that we once refused, because things have been moved on.

I say to the Minister that although it is terribly important that we have the proper safeguards in place in any agreement, particularly to protect our friends in the region—I accept that point 100%, and we must focus on it like a laser—we must not lose sight of the benefits that would arise from our reaching some sort of agreement with Iran. There could be many such benefits across the region, which is becoming increasingly unstable, and we cannot ignore the fact that Iran is a major regional power that we created with our misguided invasion of Iraq.

Guto Bebb: I agree with many of my hon. Friend’s points, and I agree that the benefits arising from a good deal are worth fighting for. However, I suspect that many Members have concerns about the nature of the proposed deal and about the certainty that any such deal offers Iran’s neighbours, who also have real concerns, as he acknowledged. I accept the point about mistakes made in the past, and the importance of having a proper deal in place. However, the key point is that the deal must be acceptable to all and must give other countries in that part of the world confidence in the long term.

There is also a concern about the proposed length of the deal; we are looking at a deal that will possibly be limited to 10 years. Again, in the context of considering

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the development of nuclear capacity, we must ask ourselves whether 10 years is reasonable or sufficient. Given that the deal does nothing, as far as I can see, to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, there is a real question as to whether 10 years is insufficient.

If the aim is to secure the right deal, can we justify the type of concessions that we have been reading about? Hon. Members touched on verification in their interventions, but we need certainty from the Foreign Office and the Government that there is confidence that the degree of verification allowed under any agreement will be acceptable. Once again, the track record of the Iranian regime does not allow us to be confident in that regard. I understand from those who comment and speculate on what happens in Iran that only last month the International Atomic Energy Agency was refused access, and Ayatollah Khamenei said:

“No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”

The question whether we will have a proper verification process in any agreement gives rise to real concern. If we have an agreement with a proper verification process, it must be maintained and foolproof, but once again Iran’s track record does not give us much confidence.

The other question that we need to address is whether an agreement that is as compromising as the proposed agreement appears to be actually contributes to an escalation of the arms race in the region, rather than a reduction of tensions. The agreement appears to state clearly that putting Iran in a position in which it is within six months of a breakout for the next 10 years is acceptable. My concern, which I think is shared by hon. Members, is that other countries in the region would end up in an arms race—not to produce a nuclear weapon, but to be within six months of a breakout. It is worth mentioning that Prince Turki al-Faisal from Saudi Arabia stated clearly that

“Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too”.

That comment should be taken seriously by the Government when they assess the merits or otherwise of the deal.

Any proposed deal has to satisfy the needs of the P5+1, a very unstable region and our allies in the region. However, the real test is whether it satisfies the original intention, which was to ensure that Iran did not develop a nuclear capacity. Dr Bruno Tertrais stated that we must not

“ignore the lessons of history: nuclear-capable countries never stay at the threshold for very long.”

Looking at the bare bones of the proposed agreement, it would appear that the P5+1 are now willing to accept Iran’s being at the threshold of a nuclear breakout and that that threshold will be maintained for the next 10 years. Dr Tertrais’s words are important in that context. Countries with the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon will almost invariably end up developing it.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is slightly contradicted by the experience in both Libya and South Africa.

Guto Bebb: That is an interesting point, but I suspect that the significant political changes in South Africa made a real difference to how it viewed its position in

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the world. I suspect that the changes that happened in South Africa are not going to happen any time soon in Iran, so my comments are still worth bearing in mind.

To what extent is the Foreign Office confident that the proposed deal, the outlines of which have been given, will be made in the long-term interest of not only Iran, but neighbouring states in the middle east? If assurances about that cannot be given, there are real questions to be asked about whether we can support any proposed deal.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): I will call Guto Bebb at the end of the debate for two minutes to sum up what has been debated. Seven Members wish to contribute. I do not want to call the Front-Bench spokesmen any later than 10.40 am, with the debate closing at 11 am, so I am introducing a six-minute limit. If there are lots of interventions, I am afraid I will have to cut that to five minutes.

9.53 am

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian President in June 2013 was heralded by certain sections of the western commentariat as a landmark moment: here was a Government with whom we would be able to do business and who would bring Iran in from the cold. Calls for caution from seasoned Iran observers were lost in the now all too familiar triumph of wishful thinking over critical analysis and the superficial obsession with media-friendly projection. Fast forward to 2015 and it has become clear that the country’s direction has not changed. It was never going to, and those who expected change fundamentally misunderstand the structure of Iranian power.

President Rouhani was destined only ever to have a limited influence in a state dominated by the Supreme Leader and the revolutionary guard. Khamenei has shown an amazing ability for consistency that western politicians can only dream of. He has never wavered in his belief about the purity of the Islamic revolution, his detestation of the United States or his contempt for the existence of the state of Israel. Nor has President Rouhani’s Administration brought any respite for the Iranian people. In 2014, Iran was the world’s leader in executions per capita. Freedoms that we in the west take for granted continue to be aggressively curtailed. Persecution of those who supported the green movement, and their families, continues relentlessly, and the western media seem curiously detached from, or even indifferent to, the plight of their savagely repressed Iranian colleagues. Iran remains a sponsor of state terrorism, providing financial, logistical and material support to Islamist terror groups across the region, including those targeting British forces when they were in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iran persists in its refusal to respond adequately to the international community’s fears about its nuclear programme. Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be seen outside the context of its support for terror proxies, arguably the defining feature of its foreign policy. The risks are clear.

Anxieties over Iran's nuclear intentions are well placed. Iran’s extensive nuclear programme features many of the key components required to facilitate the domestic

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production of a nuclear weapon: possession of large quantities of enriched materials; knowledge to convert enriched materials into weaponised form; and the development and possession of a delivery mechanism in the form of ballistic missiles. The country has a long history of clandestine nuclear work. Two of the nuclear-related facilities, at Natanz and Arak, which are at the centre of the international community’s concerns, were constructed secretly in a clear breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of Iran’s obligations under the NPT. For years, Iran used these facilities to enrich uranium to levels and quantities beyond those required for a legitimate and peaceful civil nuclear programme. Iran routinely neglects its obligations to co-operate with the IAEA, including repeatedly denying IAEA inspectors access to contentious nuclear-related facilities, such as the one in Parchin at which it is suspected of having previously undertaken tests related to triggers for nuclear weapons. It is logical to assume that Iran’s intentions are to develop a nuclear weapons capability and any claims that its intentions are exclusively peaceful should not be regarded as credible.

We may have seen a less confrontational diplomatic posture over the nuclear issue than under the former President, but the real position has not changed. Iran must not be allowed to dictate the terms of any final, permanent nuclear agreement; it has not earned the benefit of the doubt. A permanent deal must cover, in meticulous detail, all elements of Iran’s nuclear-related activity, including its ballistic missile programme. Ballistic missiles are, after all, the final critical-stage component of the weaponisation process and prohibited under United Nations Security Council resolution 1929. Omitting such sensitive technology from a final agreement would be inexcusable, and the Iranians are masters are manipulating the detail of any agreement to their advantage. Likewise, to be wrong-footed over this long-term issue due to short-term considerations of potential Iranian help with ISIS would be a colossal error.

We have a number of clear concerns. The time limitation of the agreement is merely to put off the dreadful day that we have all been dreading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) said, allowing the number of centrifuges to remain at 6,000 or above is an utterly unacceptable risk and allows breakout at almost any time. On verification, anything less than unfettered access is unacceptable, because we know, in the light of the Iranians’ behaviour in the past, how they will manipulate any weakness in the terms of the IAEA’s access.

Khamenei has already talked about how sanctions must be lifted immediately that any agreement is made, tearing up the terms of the proposed agreement before it is finally put down on paper. It is a sign of things to come and we should not be giving the benefit of the doubt to such a leader.

A nuclear-armed Iran would make an absolute mockery of the NPT, not least because it would be likely to be followed into the nuclear club in short order by its regional neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. The prospect of a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most unstable regions, where the likelihood of the use of such weapons is probably greatest, should be of concern to us all. The stakes are enormous. It is no exaggeration to state that the fate of international security rests on the P5+1’s ability to secure the right deal. Anything less would reshape our whole understanding

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of international security with dire consequences. The P5+1 must not blink. A bad deal is worse than no deal. Appeasement has a very bad track record.

9.59 am

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to participate in this debate. I have listened to it with interest. I was tempted to intervene on a number of occasions, but did not because I observed your earlier injunction.

I will start with a couple of facts. Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. The same cannot be said of Israel, Pakistan or India. Iran is surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons: to the north, Russia; to the west, Israel; to the east, Pakistan; and, to the south, the United States through its navy. The desire to defend oneself in a tough neighbourhood is normal. Indeed, a moment ago my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said that, if Iran were to get nuclear weapons, it would be rapidly followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. That is probably correct, but when one listens to the debate, one might think that the Iranians are not sentient or thinking people. One might think that it had not occurred to them that, if they got nuclear weapons, it would be rapidly followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. One might think that only we heard Prince Faisal when he said:

“Whatever the Iranians have, we will have”.

In fact, in the region, the Iranians are more directly affected by any of this than we are. I think we can take it as read, actually, that Iran will have a rather precise understanding and calibration of the consequences of its actions. I very much welcome the fact that the Iranians and the Saudi Foreign Ministers met in Oman recently.

I will quote from Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s book, “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis”. In a section at the end, under the heading, “An End to Double Standards”, he said:

“The fact that the P5+1 countries maintain strategic and aid relations with Israel, India and Pakistan, which have nuclear weapons and are not parties to the NPT, while at the same time they pressure Iran, which has not acquired nuclear weapons, sends a message to other countries that once they get the bomb they are immune.”

In one of the concluding paragraphs of the entire book, he states:

“I believe that P5+1 handling of the nuclear issue has been bedeviled by U.S. reluctance to give sufficient weight to accumulating evidence that since 2003 Iran has decided to respect its NPT obligation to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. This misjudgment freezes the P5+1 into positions which preclude any movement towards the areas of mutual interest with Iran that, I am convinced, exist.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) said, we alluded to some of those areas of mutual interest in the debate on 6 November. I hope that there is a degree of flexibility in the negotiations to suggest that misjudgment has been suspended and that, while we need to keep our eyes open, there is a possibility of finding a mutually satisfactory deal.

In that debate on 6 November, Jack Straw, who sadly is no longer in the House of Commons, pointed out something that Foreign Minister Zarif had said to him in January last year:

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“in 2005, Iran had fewer than 200 centrifuges. After eight years of sanctions, it now has 18,800.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 997WH.]

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset will say, “Why on earth would they do that if they were not interested in getting nuclear weapons?” The short answer is that it is the same reason why Vladimir Putin plays silly buggers on the international stage: because he can.

Iran has been treated like a pariah state for many years. Several people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), have referred to terrorism. Iran was described earlier in the debate as “the premier sponsor of terrorism.” It is true that Iran maintains relations with Hamas in Gaza and retains relations with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. We know that they are groups engaged in terrorism, but no one would suggest that they are the premier threat to world peace through terrorism at the moment.

It is also true that Iran has relations with the Houthis, who, depending on the definition, are Shi’a. One can meet Iranians, as I did in Tehran in December, who will say that the Houthis are not necessarily Shi’a. When Iranian Members of Parliament visited Westminster in March this year, they made that point in the Foreign Office. Iranians are engaged with the Houthis in Yemen because they rightly think that Yemen is being used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State as an extended training base. Whoever thinks—forgive me, but I cannot remember who said it—that Iran is “the premier sponsor of terrorism” should look around. No one actually said this, but one might be forgiven for thinking that the present firestorm in the middle east, and the fact that we have the most brutal war going on, where people are being beheaded and crucified, is a direct consequence of Iran—it is not.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. I think Mr Bacon was about to give way to Chloe Smith.

Mr Bacon: Yes, I was.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): That is fine, but in responding to Chloe Smith, I ask Mr Bacon quickly to conclude his speech.

Chloe Smith: My intervention is extremely short, Mr Hollobone, and it is to point out that I believe I referred to Iran as “a premier sponsor”. I hope that that casts some illumination on the notion that there are various sources of threat in this world and that my hon. Friend considers all of them in his following remarks.

Mr Bacon: I will. My final point—I will observe your injunction, Mr Hollobone—is that Iran was in the frontline against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and is now in the frontline against IS, which is one of the most brutal, stone-age regimes that we have seen in modern history and which exists as a direct consequence of our having invaded Iraq in 2003 with President Bush and smashed the country into small pieces.

10.6 am

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing it. I certainly agreed with the first two speeches,

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but I did not agree with a great deal that my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) said. In fact, I would describe his speech as complacent in parts, particularly what appeared to be his defence of the Iranian regime’s actions compared with other countries. I think it is very complacent to dismiss the Iranian regime’s behaviour in sponsoring terrorism and supporting the murder of individuals around the region and the world on the basis that Iran is on the frontline against ISIS, which is, as he said, a cruel and vicious organisation.

Mr Bacon: Since he just accused me of supporting murder—[Interruption.] Those were the words; the tape will show it. Will he draw attention to precisely which words he thinks I used that leant support to murder?

Andrew Percy: I was certainly not accusing my hon. Friend; I accused the Iranian regime, which I said he seemed to be defending, of being engaged in the support of mass murder. If he looks at the record, I am sure he will see that.

I pretty much agreed with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy had to say. It is not the first debate on Iran that he and I have taken part in, but as the United Kingdom is one of the members of the P5+1, it is slightly frustrating that we have had few opportunities in the House to debate the detail of what is emerging, or even to express our concerns during the negotiation process. It should greatly worry us all that, in the lead-up to the 30 June deadline, many issues remain outstanding. Not only are there clear discrepancies between the expectations and demands of the various parties to the negotiating process, but many of the proposed parameters are worthy of criticism.

At this very late stage, increasingly concerning reports have been emerging. An IAEA report—I apologise; with my flat vowels, it is hard to get all those letters out together—this month has revealed that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by 20% in the 18 months since negotiations began. That point has been made by other speakers. Worryingly, the news completely contradicts President Obama’s contention that the nuclear programme had been frozen in that period. In previous debates, I and colleagues across the House said that that was exactly what we expected to happen.

Of particular concern are the many reports of Iran’s intransigence towards the verification of the so-called possible military dimensions and its continued blocking of access to the country’s military sites to allow the IAEA to carry out crucial investigations. In a previous debate, I quoted a report saying exactly the same thing. Will the Minister tell us how we can possibly ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is what it says it is when the IAEA is unable to determine the true extent of Iran’s historical research into nuclear weaponry or properly calculate the breakout time?

I am reminded of the words of the sadly now former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister. His assessment of the process was that past actions predict future actions and that Iran had not earned the right—I have forgotten the quote, Mr Hollobone; I am still very tired from a recent long journey. I will come back to that point in a moment. I do apologise.

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Since the announcement of the proposed parameters in April, Iranian officials have avowedly rejected any co-operation with the IAEA’s crucial investigations. That justifies the IAEA’s long-held concerns about the Iranian regime’s true intentions. Only on Sunday, the deputy chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri—excuse my pronunciation; being from Yorkshire I am not particularly good with anything that is not English—reiterated the regime’s position that permission to visit Iran’s military centres

“will definitely never be issued for any kind of access…even if it runs counter to the acceptance of the Additional Protocol”.

That leads to the question: what do the Iranians have to hide?

As the international community makes numerous concessions to Iran, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy and others pointed out, a country in the grip of a fundamentalist regime that has sponsored terrorism around the world and particularly in the region, Iran continues to hang its political prisoners and fund terror groups across the middle east. Given everything that the P5+1 and the west are seemingly expected to concede, will the Minister tell us what concessions the Iranians are expected to make in return? I will return to the words of the former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, who urged extreme caution in our approach to this situation. I hope that the Minister will have those words and warnings in mind when he responds to the debate.

10.13 am

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing this debate.

This is not the first time we have discussed this issue in Westminster Hall. On 26 February 2014, I initiated a debate on the interim agreement with Iran, so it is hard not to repeat oneself; indeed, many hon. Members have already outlined many of the issues of concern. I have therefore decided to approach the matter from a completely different point of view: the environmental implications of a nuclear Iran. The Iranian regime has announced that it is interested in the construction of nuclear technology only for energy consumption and that a civilian nuclear Iran seeks such capability only for peaceful uses but, in this age of environmental sustainability and renewables, it strikes me as perverse that such a claim is being made to justify a nuclear programme in the middle east.

Iran is rich in its natural supply of minerals, oil and gas, and there is an abundance of possibilities in the country to produce renewable energy from the wind and sun. The opportunities are infinite, as the production of energy from such natural resources is not only cheaper but much safer for the environment. Iran can secure not only its domestic but possibly the regional energy supply, without resorting to nuclear technology.

We have only to look at the country’s existing nuclear facilities to consider how safe such an expanded nuclear industry would be. A good example is the Bushehr nuclear plant, which lies on the coast of the Persian gulf, south of Tehran. There have been huge safety concerns about the plant, associated with its construction, its ageing equipment and under-staffing. The Centre for

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Energy and Security Studies, an independent Russian think tank, explained the construction delays at the plant as due partly to a

“shortage of skilled Russian engineering and construction specialists with suitable experience”.

In 2010, the International Atomic Energy Agency noted that the facility was under-staffed. It is clear that Iran does not have the human capacity for a nuclear industry.

Leaders from Gulf Co-operation Council countries have expressed fears that a serious nuclear accident at the Bushehr plant would spread radiation throughout the region. Bushehr is closer to the six Arab capitals of Kuwait City, Riyadh, Manama, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Muscat than it is to Tehran. The United States Geological Survey and NASA say the plant is near the boundary of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Bushehr plant could be the next Chernobyl or Fukushima, with the potential to contaminate vast swathes of the middle east in the event of an explosion.

Iran’s wants to acquire nuclear technology not so that it can match the technological achievements of the west; we all know that it is an overt attempt to challenge the military capabilities of other countries and to establish itself as a presence in the geopolitics of the middle east.

Mr Bacon: Given that, apart from Egypt, Iran is probably the most populous country in the middle east and given its strategic position occupying one entire side of the Gulf, does it surprise my hon. Friend that it might want to have an important role in the strategic geopolitics of the region?

Dr Offord: It does not surprise me, but I worry about Iran’s intentions in such a role. I will come on to that shortly.

The nuclear programme has many attractions for the Iranian president and the supreme leader. Internally, it increases self-confidence in elements of the regime’s core supporters, such as the revolutionary guards and the Quds and Popular Mobilisation forces. Externally, it boosts the regime’s prestige in the eyes of fundamentalist militant sympathisers such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza—so yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that Iran wants prestige and influence. The nuclear programme can also be used for the blackmail of regional countries by raising the threat of a localised nuclear attack. It allows Iran to become a dominant voice in the Persian gulf and could ensure its ascendancy in the global community as it seeks to cajole and influence. Most of all, it can be used as a tool to sabotage the middle east peace process and give advantage to Iran to dictate the terms and destabilise order in the region, especially in countries such as Israel.

The proposed deal makes no reference to Iran’s role as leading sponsor of state terrorism, which was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). While negotiations were ongoing in Switzerland, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were seizing control of the Yemeni capital, and Iran was extending its presence in Iraq and attempting to establish a new front in the Golan Heights in co-ordination with the terror group Hezbollah. Again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon): Iran is seeking to exert influence.

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The Iranian regime is known to provide financial and material support to extremist Islamist terrorist organisations in the middle east, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. It reportedly provides Hezbollah with up to $200 million a year and spends up to $35 billion to prop up the Assad regime. Between 2006 and 2011, it financed Hamas with up to $300 million annually. Iran actively sponsors international terrorist groups that are committed to the destruction of Israel and act as Iran’s proxies.

It is not just me who has concerns about the Iranian regime and its attempt to attain a nuclear weapon. The IAEA, the UN Security Council and many western countries have long-standing concerns. In November 2014, the IAEA director general called on Iran to

“increase its co-operation with the agency and to provide timely access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel”.

Iran does not act in any way to allay the fear of us sceptics. It has repeatedly denied IAEA inspectors access to key nuclear sites, including at Parchin, where it is believed to have conducted tests involving triggers for nuclear weapons. Our concerns are legitimate. Iran needs to demonstrate the exclusively peaceful, civilian nature of its nuclear programme and intentions before it can possibly be considered a normal, non-nuclear-weapons state. It will not do that though, so I remain highly concerned about the deal, like other Members present.

The verification programme is not enough, and Iran’s failure to address the potential military dimensions to its nuclear programme undermines the IAEA’s ability to verify the programme and accurately calculate its breakout time. Iran needs to make concrete progress on the disclosure of its weaponisation activities prior to receiving sanctions relief, because an agreement that ignores Iran’s past weaponisation work would risk being unverifiable. Until such issues are resolved, I appeal to the Minister, as I did to the Prime Minister in the House, not to enable Iran to become a nuclear power. We should be wary of its intentions. As I said to the Prime Minister, the road between a civilian nuclear Iran and a military nuclear Iran is a short one. I repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), who said that it would be better to have no deal than a bad deal.

10.20 am

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for securing this debate.

I want to discuss the principles behind the forthcoming agreement. American Presidents in their second term are—dare I say it?—dangerous, because they are looking to leave legacies, and those who might struggle to leave a legacy look even harder. We must be careful that that is not what the agreement is about. I have much respect for my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), who is a great friend of mine, but I entirely disagree with him. Will there be a pecking order for terrorism as to which groups are the worst? I think not. In our desire, which is quite right, to have Iranian help to deal with ISIS, I worry that we are blind to what is actually happening in Iran. We must be careful if we take that line.

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Rehman Chishti: The point has been made that Iran is supporting the international community to defeat Daesh or Faesh. I think that that is completely wrong. The G7 statement says that we must first defeat the Assad regime to defeat Daesh, but as long as Iran is supporting the Assad regime, we cannot defeat Daesh or Faesh. That point must be clear.

Neil Parish: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The middle east is complex and contains states such as Iran that will sponsor terrorism. It is something that none of us wants to foresee, but the idea of Iran, with its attitudes towards its neighbours, especially towards Israel, having a nuclear weapon and being capable of using it is abominable.

Why does Iran need so much enriched uranium? We could go through the figures all day, but I do not intend to go into them again. I do not believe that Iran needs uranium just to create nuclear power stations; it wants to enrich it. Why does Iran not allow proper access for us to see what is going on? If we were allowed better access, we could stand up in this Chamber and say what a delight it is that we are able to go all over Iran and see exactly what it is enriching and what it is not, but we have no real idea, because we are not allowed access. We have a fairly good estimate of what might be going on, which in itself is far too much.

I am from the west of England and have the same trouble as my hon. Friend from the north of England, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) in pronouncing such words, but consider the Bushehr nuclear power station. It uses Russian technology— I first upset the Americans and now the Russians, so I will perhaps upset everyone this morning—and I am not always delighted with Russian technology or with Russian nuclear power stations. The idea of such a combination does not bode well. It is no good our sitting here, putting our rose-tinted glasses on and saying, “Let’s do a deal with Iran”—dare I say it?—“at all costs.” I have great faith in the Minister here today and Britain must stand up and be sensible about this matter. If we are actually to reduce terrorism in the middle east and to make the region more secure, we cannot possibly have an Iran with the capability to make a nuclear bomb.

The agreement mentions 10 to 15 years of control, but that is just not enough. Ten to 15 years passes almost in the blink of an eye. I would love to think that we could talk of a wonderfully peaceful middle east in 10 to 15 years. Call me cynical, but I do not believe that that will be the case—although I hope that it is. We must stand up to such states. It is no good sitting here saying, “It’s okay. Let’s have an agreement and brush all the problems under the carpet because they don’t really exist.” Oh yes they do. They exist and Iran will have that capability.

We have debated the matter thoroughly this morning. We need to have our eyes open. I want to hear from the Minister about the British position and not about some nice, cosy and lovely agreement that makes everyone feel warm. What is actually happening in Iran? What are we doing about getting inspectors in? I cannot see how we can sign any agreement until we know exactly what is going on.

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10.25 am

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for allowing me to speak in this debate, in which I will pick up on the theme of the 10-year timeline that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) highlighted. Ten years ago, I had been in Kabul for a few months to set up the Afghan National Security Council, helping the Afghan Government to stand on their own two feet in security matters. It will not surprise many of my hon. Friends to hear that one of the biggest threats then was the penetration of Iranian agents and activists within the Afghan system. I do not have recent experience but have no reason to believe that that has changed.

We are not dealing with a country that is behaving in the ways of the post-Westphalian system in western Europe; we are dealing with a country that has ideas of itself that go back way beyond what anyone in Europe is discussing. We are talking about Cyrus the Great and the Sasanian empire. As you will no doubt remember, Mr Hollobone, the Sasanian empire had its first major expansion into Yemen in the 570s in the year of the Elephant, which is often celebrated as the birth year of the Prophet Mohammed. That expansionism is not something that the present Iranian regime has forgotten. Quite the reverse—it is echoed in every word that it says and in every speech that is made. When I hear that it is not interested in expansionism, I merely look at the maps of the Sasanian empire and of later Iranian empires and I see where its interests lie: all the way from Delhi to Turkey.

Such impacts are serious for us, because our world has also changed. Our friends now lie around the Persian gulf, on all parts of the Arabian peninsula and on the other side in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. For us, the Iranian question is no longer a foreign question about which we know little. It is a personal, immediate and local question, because the nuclearisation of Iran—were it to happen—would trigger, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, the nuclearisation of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which would probably get what they have already paid for: a Pakistani nuclear bomb. That is an extremely threatening situation not only for us, but for many other friends in the region.

In fact, the situation is not, as many people think, about Israel; it is much more fundamentally about Arab sovereignty and Arab states in the region. Those who think that the rights of an Iranian theocratic regime should become supreme also seem to overlook that the situation is also about the rights of the Iranian people. People have now forgotten that the first of the so-called Arab spring revolutions was the Iranian green movement, which was crushed with extreme brutality by the Iranian Government. They were able to do so because, since the revolution, they have constantly played—certainly under Ahmadinejad—the cities against the countryside. They have recruited the Basij, the revolutionary militias, from the countryside and have used them time and again to crush movements not even of liberalism, but of gentle reform in the cities, in particular Tehran. The proposed treaty endorses a theocratic regime that is anathema to peace in the region and anathema to civil rights in its own country. It is not only incumbent on our Government to stand up for ourselves—

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Mr Bacon: When my hon. Friend says “anathema to peace in the region”, I immediately think of Gulf and Saudi financing for IS. When he says “anathema to civil rights”, I immediately think of the civil rights that do not exist in Saudi Arabia. Why does he think that Iran, uniquely, gets picked out?

Tom Tugendhat: My hon. Friend is right that the rest of the Gulf and the Arabian peninsula is far from being an island of perfection in an otherwise dark world. Other states have serious issues and I would not in any way seek to relieve pressure on the Salafi funding of various regimes around the area. I completely agree that such things are inimical to our interests. The pressure that Islamic State, as it has been laughably called—it should be called Daesh—is putting on our interests in the region is abhorrent. The idea, however, that somehow my enemy’s enemy is my friend is also for the birds—it is completely wrong. We are watching the continuation of a period of violence that started with the battle of Karbala and the deaths of Hassan and Hussain. We do not want to get involved, saying, “No, everyone can nuclearise themselves.” Indeed, my hon. Friend makes my point for me, that to nuclearise one would be to encourage further problems for the whole area.

I repeat that to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons would be anathema to peace for the region, anathema to the civil rights of the society and anathema to our interests. I therefore urge the Minister, who I am glad to see in his place, because he understands the region extremely well, to look hard at what Her Majesty’s Government can do. We need to reinforce our position as a voice for peace in the region, reassure our friends in the Gulf and across north Africa that we will not abandon them and be only fair-weather friends. What will we do to stand up for them if Iran insists on pushing things, because we will be standing up not only for them, but for ourselves?

Rehman Chishti: My hon. Friend says that we should support our international allies in the region and around the world, but does he agree that we should learn lessons from what happened previously? For example, the international community stood by when Iran backed the Maliki Government in Iraq, which led to the crushing of the Sunnis and then to the rise of Daesh or Faesh and the massive problem we now have. Therefore, we have an international duty to support our friends and colleagues where oppression is going on and to deal with such policies and issues at an earlier stage.

Tom Tugendhat: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making an excellent point. All I can add is to urge hon. Members to read “The Unravelling” by Emma Sky—a plug for a book by a friend of mine that is absolutely outstanding. It explores not only the failure of the American governance system in Iraq, but the rise of Iran’s influence. The point my hon. Friend made most eloquently is just that—Iran did not wait for us to push, but has been constantly pushing out from its borders, because its view of itself is not the same as what we say when we see the borders. It is not a post-Westphalian state; it is a pre-Islamic state that is still exploring its areas of influence.

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10.33 am

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Hollobone, to serve under the chairmanship of a fellow alumnus of Bromley Borough Council. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing the debate, although I will highlight one or two differences from his approach. I make apologies for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who previously dealt with the subject; he has departed from the Front Bench to spend more time with the London mayoral election. Interestingly enough, this will also be my last debate from the Front Bench on foreign affairs, because I will be spending more time on politics, which I look forward to.

Given how the hon. Member for Aberconwy introduced the debate, I think that we may find more common ground between Front Benchers than between Front Benchers and Government Back Benchers—probably not the last time that will occur in this Parliament, particularly on foreign affairs. We have to define what we see as the objective of our relations with Iran, particularly in terms of the nuclear talks. Is any agreement a nuclear freeze or, as some have described it, weapons control? Is it to influence Iran’s foreign policy, and particularly its actions in respect of its neighbours, or is it to achieve regime change? All those things might be desirable, but they are not necessarily the prime objective of the talks. An analogy was made with eastern Europe and arms control, but that was immensely successful, as indeed were the Helsinki accords that helped to bring about perestroika and glasnost.

Guto Bebb: To clarify, the analogy with eastern Europe was made in the context of an agreement that was possibly successful as regards arms control, but was not especially good for the people of eastern Europe. An agreement now might be successful in controlling arms, but not be good for the people of the Gulf states, or indeed of Iran.

Mr Spellar: That may be true, but such an agreement is preferable to achieving none of those objectives. Not everything has to be agreed, particularly if we view the possession of nuclear weapons as a qualitative rather than simply quantitative change—it is not only another step. Throughout the history of arms control agreements, it has been recognised that the nuclear threshold is a particular and qualitatively different threshold in international relations. We could therefore have arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, even though it was repressing its own citizens and the citizens of eastern Europe and sponsoring terrorism abroad.

Dr Fox: Surely the aim is to stop a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty from gaining nuclear weapons capability, and thus making a mockery of the treaty and giving rise to a much wider risk of nuclear conflict in the region.

Mr Spellar: I take the right hon. Gentleman’s exact point. In fact, he is reinforcing my argument. The fact that there are other undesirable aspects of the Iranian regime does not necessarily mean that we cannot seek a proper, verifiable and effective nuclear agreement. We may argue about how that is achieved, but the other aspects, desirable as they may be—we should certainly

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press them with the Iranian regime—should not prevent us from reaching an agreement. The former Defence Secretary is right: we need to focus on the arms control agreement.

I wish that I had some of the confidence of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) about the internal dynamics of the Iranian regime. The same goes for his comments about the sponsorship of terrorism. He referred to relations with Hamas and Hezbollah, but Iran acts as the armourers of those organisations. Furthermore, it is reasonably argued that in many cases Iran is pressing and supporting elements within Hamas and Hezbollah who want to take things further, as against those who want a more moderate position.

Tom Tugendhat rose

Mr Bacon rose

Mr Spellar: I will give way to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells first, then to the hon. Member for South Norfolk.

Tom Tugendhat: Forgive me, but I am the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling; the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), is not present.

Does the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) agree that Iran’s actions in support of terrorism have not been limited to the region? We have heard a lot of talk about IS, but the reality is that actions in Argentina and Bulgaria, and the murder of Israeli and European citizens in Germany over many years, demonstrate that Iran’s involvement in terrorism is not a foreign matter, but very much a domestic one.

Mr Spellar: As does seeking to procure the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Mr Bacon: Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right: the Iranians have been sponsoring groups of what we call terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon. I did not deny that at all; in fact, I think I said it. I was simply making the point that the world is on fire, and that is not because of Iran, but because George Bush, who did not know the difference between Shi’a and Sunni six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, smashed the region. We are still suffering the consequences, and Iran is trying to help clear up the mess.

Mr Spellar: That is a very simplistic reading of history. The idea that Islamist terrorism was dependent on the invasion of Iraq does not bear any scrutiny. It is interesting that, yet again, the hon. Gentleman referred to “what we call terrorism”. No, it is what the world calls terrorism—and that, indeed, is what it is.

We need to move on to the core questions: what is Iran’s capability, and what is its intention? Those are undoubtedly complex issues. We certainly did not create Iran; it is of very long standing. As the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) rightly said, it is a great historic and continuing nation, and was a great empire and civilisation. The hon. Member

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for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) said that we made it a regional power. History, resources and population made it a regional power.

Interestingly, unlike some other Islamist groups, the Iranian regime has not discouraged education, but very much encouraged it. There is a substantial educated—indeed, sophisticated—section of society. Unfortunately, a considerable number of its members now live in exile, and they would be a huge benefit to a liberal country. There is clearly strong internal opposition to the regime, as we saw with the green revolution after the previous elections, which, as the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, was ruthlessly and shockingly repressed, with too little reaction from the rest of the world—probably not just a moral, but a strategic mistake. There are also widespread executions, and there is imprisonment in absolutely appalling conditions.

It is also rightly said that Iran has drastically worsening relations with its neighbours, who rightly accuse it of not only external threats, but fostering internal subversion. Although there are clearly legitimate, well expressed concerns at some of those neighbouring states’ internal reactions, there is, equally, an understanding of the problems they face. Those problems are a concern to the outside world, just as they are to countries to which Iran—or the Iranian regime, to be more correct—poses an existential threat.

I hope that the Minister will address the broader contextual issues, but my concern is that we see little evidence of strategic vision as Britain retreats from the world stage—something that has been widely commented on in the United States and that is being increasingly understood here. That vision does not mean simplistically dividing the world into friends and foes.

A strong reaffirmation of article 5 of the NATO treaty would be especially welcome to our allies on NATO’s eastern front, who face increasing Russian assertiveness and pressure, but that does not mean that we do not have similar concerns to the Russians in some other parts of the world. Over the years, Ministers will have clearly heard about the Russians’ focus on Islamist fundamentalism and what they refer to as the arc of instability to their south. I agree that that is hard to reconcile with the support given by the Russian nuclear industry to the emerging Iranian nuclear programme. I have heard the justification from Russian Ministers that that support is good business. The argument has also been put to me that one driver of the Russian approach—this was rather echoed by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord)—is the Iranians’ lack of capability to run the system. That runs against the evidence that there is an educated workforce in Iran. It is perhaps a slightly dismissive, almost colonial, position, and a serious miscalculation on the part of the Russians. Will the Minister tell us what efforts have been made to engage with Russia on this issue? Is there a unified Russian view, or are there diverse views in the Russian hierarchy?

Similarly, there is inconsistency in the Russian support for the Assad regime, which is, most significantly, being propped up by the Iranian Hezbollah and the revolutionary guard. We do not need to have any illusions about President Putin’s actions in Ukraine—and, indeed, right the way along Russia’s western flank up into Scandinavia—to see that we may have common interests and concerns in the middle east and north Africa. Ministers will recall that during the last Parliament I

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regularly made similar arguments about the need to engage Afghanistan’s neighbours in the post-drawdown settlement to ensure stability, stressing that not only Russia and the “stans”, but Iran, should be involved. We therefore need a broader policy on this issue.

I recognise that the Minister needs to time to reply, so, in conclusion, I thank him for his courtesy and for the assistance he has provided during his time in the Foreign Office, which has been most welcome and most appreciated.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): I know the Minister will want to conclude his remarks at 10.57 am to allow Guto Bebb the opportunity to reply.

10.45 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for the opportunity to reply to this interesting, informative and important debate, which is taking place before the negotiations.

Let me begin by responding to the kind words from the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar). I am sorry that we have heard his valedictory foreign affairs speech. We will certainly miss him. I have worked with him for more than a year, and it has been a real pleasure. There has been huge cross-party support on this and other issues, and that is very welcome. I am sorry that the energy and enthusiasm he has shown in the debate has not been reflected by Labour Back Benchers, who have not taken part in the debate. It was perhaps also too early for Scottish National party Members to make the debate. I would have thought that they would want to engage in a debate on nuclear issues. None the less, I am grateful for the debate.

Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing the debate and on his continued interest in this matter. We had a good debate last November, and I hope there will be further opportunities to discuss the issue. Through you, Mr Hollobone, I would certainly ask the Backbench Business Committee to make time for it to be debated on the Floor of the House as well as in Westminster Hall.

For more than a decade, the Iranian nuclear issue has posed one of the most intractable and persistent threats to international security and stability. The prospect of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran carries severe consequences for the security of the UK, the region and, indeed, the world. The Government have always been clear that the best solution lies in finding a peaceful, diplomatic and negotiated settlement. The process has been long and challenging, and we are grateful to both sides of the House for their support.

Our discussion today comes at a crucial moment. The joint plan of action agreed by the E3 plus 3 and Iran in November 2013, and extended in July and November 2014, froze the most concerning elements of Iran’s nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief. When the interim deal was extended in November, we, our E3 plus 3 partners—China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—and Iran set ourselves a deadline of 30 June to reach a final comprehensive deal.

The UK played a leading role in diplomatic efforts that secured agreement on the key parameters of a deal in Lausanne on 2 April. That marked an important

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milestone in the ongoing negotiations, but as has been made clear today, those negotiations are not complete. Since April, UK diplomats and experts, and E3 plus 3 colleagues, have been working intensely to secure a comprehensive agreement by the 30 June deadline. That agreement, which has been questioned in the debate, must satisfy the Government’s objectives, which have remained consistent throughout this process: preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability, while recognising its right to access nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We have always been clear that we will not agree to a deal that fails to address our proliferation concerns.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be present for the talks in Vienna in the coming weeks, where he will maintain a laser-sharp focus on our key UK objectives. As the deadline draws ever nearer, it is crucial that Iran should appreciate what is at stake. Significant economic advantages and political benefits await if Iran agrees to a robust nuclear deal. Right hon. and hon. Members must forgive me for not going into the detail of the deal, but I will try to outline answers to some of the questions.

Neil Parish: Is the Minister certain that if a deal is reached Iran will stick to it?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is right to raise that question: what assurances do we have that Iran would maintain the deal? I shall certainly try to answer the questions that have been asked. I am, to the horror of my team, going to abandon the speech that they have carefully prepared for me, and do my best to answer the questions from the debate. I offer my apologies if I do not manage to answer all the detailed questions. I shall read Hansard—not because I like reading what I have said, but because it is important that I read what Members have said and reply in writing, if I may, to keep dialogue going.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy asked whether the agreement was intended to be a non-proliferation or arms control treaty. It is a mixture, as I have made clear. It important for us to be able to maintain that, because there are breakout weapons systems that we are concerned about in addition to what Iran is doing on the nuclear side. He mentioned Iran’s foreign policy objectives, for itself and the wider region, which I want to touch on in relation to other concerns. Iran’s role, and where it sees itself in the region, is a major issue. It has a responsibility not just to itself but in the wider region and we look to it to act responsibly.

My hon. Friend mentioned the United States foreign policy aspects of the matter, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) raised the question whether there was a legacy issue. I have never heard the line before that a President is most dangerous in his second term. It could be argued both ways; a President in that case is not tied by anything and therefore can be more robust in some of the measures that he or she is willing to pursue.

I want to go through the eight major headings of the deal, which may help the House to understand where the conversation and agreement are going, leading up to 30 June. First there is the question of a durable and verifiable deal. The first heading is enrichment, which

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covers Iran’s capacity and its enriched stockpile. The number of centrifuges is obviously part of that. Many figures have been given in the debate, but the number is less significant than the breakout time—how quickly a weapon could be procured if it was decided to close the doors and prevent IAEA from carrying out inspections. We have set that as a year. Whatever the experts are saying, that leads to the number of centrifuges that we would consider acceptable. We are less focused on the actual numbers at the moment, and more on the breakout time.

The second area heading is research and development, covering types of centrifuges, and leading to a mutually agreed scope and schedule. Thirdly, the Arak plutonium reactor has been mentioned. There will be a redesign to cut off the plutonium route to a nuclear device. Fourthly, Fordow, which has also been mentioned, will no longer be a site for the enrichment of uranium. The fifth area is duration. There are programme restrictions in a number of areas. A period of 10 years for the agreement has been mentioned. It could well be that parts of it will last longer, and parts might even be shorter. That is some of the detail being worked out.

The sixth heading is the possible military dimensions, which I have touched on. That covers the measures that Iran must address: the IAEA’s concerns about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme. If there is one area that is of concern in the discussions at the moment, that is probably the most difficult. The seventh area is sanctions: relief from the comprehensive EU and US economic and financial sanctions in return for IAEA-verified actions on Iran’s programme; an agreement on the termination of UN sanctions, with limiting transfers of sensitive technologies and activities; and other issues relating to conventional arms and ballistic missiles. The eighth and final area is transparency and verification, which many hon. Members have mentioned. That covers the ability to make sure that nothing is being done behind our backs, and a robust and credible monitoring programme including the implementation of various protocols to give the IAEA greater oversight of Iran’s activities.

Dr Fox: Does my hon. Friend accept that any verification process that does not entail unfettered access will fail to meet its basic objective?

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend is right; we must have such access. I am pleased that the IAEA has confirmed that it currently has the access it needs. Were that to be closed down, those would be the consequences—it would be about whether sanctions would be brought back. I acknowledge my right hon. Friend’s understanding of and interest in the matter. He spoke about the Iranians as a proxy power elsewhere in the area. If Iran is looking for a more responsible role, as he mentioned and encouraged, it must be seen to take greater responsibility in events in places such as Syria. It is propping up Assad, so no space is being given to moderate Sunnis. They are then pushed, or encouraged, to join ISIS. Iran could easily assist the international community in

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progressing with a political solution for Syria, and could help immensely with what is happening in Anbar and Nineveh province in Iraq. General Soleimani is pushing across with the Hashed militias and causing sectarian friction in Iraq; that is unhelpful in the long term. Likewise in Yemen, weapons systems coming by boat and the provision of weapons for the Houthis, further complicate an already difficult and complex issue.

There are ways for Iran to show its initiative and greater responsibility in the region, and I think that many hon. Members would like to see that. It is not happening now and we are concerned about that. I am conscious of the time; I will write to hon. Members with more details. The debate has been extremely good. I simply want to make it clear that we are working hard for the deal, but, as has been explained, we need to make sure we reach the correct one. Without the correct deal, we have no deal.

10.57 pm

Guto Bebb: The reason we needed this debate in Westminster Hall was timing. The issue is live and is reaching a conclusion. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and for his generous offer to write to right hon. and hon. Members on points raised in the debate. I fully understand that the complexity and extent of questions made it a challenge for him to respond in full in the 12 minutes allocated. I pay tribute to the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), for his final Front-Bench speech. He said he disagreed with my viewpoint, but few disagreements came to light from his comments. I wish him well on the Back Benches.

The debate has made it clear that there is interest, certainly on the Conservative side, in this important issue. The Backbench Business Committee has not yet been convened, so Westminster Hall was our only option for getting this debated in the House. Given that the Foreign Secretary will go to Vienna, and in view of the interest shown in the Chamber, a statement should perhaps be made after the visit—and there should certainly be one if an agreement is reached.

Mr Ellwood: A statement will absolutely be made, and there will be an opportunity for Members to comment. Perhaps I may suggest that when the Backbench Business Committee is formed, if an opportunity is not provided by the Government, a full debate should be held in the House in the aftermath of 30 June.

Guto Bebb: I thank the Minister, and I am sure that there will be a delegation to the Committee.

Despite the fact that most of the Members who spoke were Conservatives, we were pleased to have some opposition, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) for his comments, which showed that this was a debate, not a one-sided discussion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Iran and the proposed nuclear agreement.

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Isle of Sheppey (Prisons)

11 am

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered prisons on the Isle of Sheppey.

It is good to see you in the Chair for my first Westminster Hall debate of this Parliament, Mr Hollobone.

My constituency has three prisons: Elmley, which is a category C prison; Standford Hill, which is a category D prison; and Swaleside, which is a category B prison. Combined, those three prisons house almost 3,000 inmates —one of the largest concentrations of prisoners in the country. I would like to pay tribute to the fantastic men and women who work on the island’s prisons. They are dedicated and hard-working professionals of whom I am immensely proud. They work in an extremely challenging environment, facing the threat of violence on an almost daily basis with few complaints and a great deal of courage.

The threat of violence is growing. I have been associated with Sheppey’s prisons for almost 30 years and I now live in the village of Eastchurch, where all three prisons are located. Over those years, I have visited the prisons on a number of occasions—first, as the Swale borough councillor for the area, and then as Kent county councillor. Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in 2010, I have visited the prisons every three months to meet local representatives of the Prison Officers Association. In addition to those meetings, I have been privileged to tour the prisons on a regular basis and have been able to chat with the staff and with the inmates, occasionally in their cells.

Last year, I was taken on a tour of Elmley, which is a regional prison, by the local POA representative, Mike Rolfe. For the first time in all my years of visiting, I felt a tangible air of intimidation on the wings, which was emanating from some of the inmates who were noticeably hostile. I have to admit that I was happy and pleased to have Mike Rolfe looking after me that day.

In Swaleside over the past three months, the special accommodation cells have been used for a total of 340 hours as a result of violent behaviour by prisoners towards staff, other prisoners and, on one occasion, self-harm. The latter incident is an example of the increase in mental health problems among inmates. In the same period, violent incidents have accounted for 23 planned control and restraint interventions and 42 spontaneous control and restraint interventions.

There are several reasons for the increase in intimidation and violence in Sheppey’s prisons. One is the increased use of drugs and so-called legal highs that have been smuggled into prisons—the latter are an increasing problem. There is consumption of illicit alcohol, which is often distilled from fruit stolen from the kitchens. Indeed, that was the alleged cause of a disturbance at Swaleside last year, which led to a prison officer being stabbed in the head.

There is an increased gang culture in prisons. Not only are there gangs from south London and Liverpool competing in Sheppey’s prisons, but foreign prisoners—particularly in Swaleside, which has a high percentage of foreign prisoners—who are forming their own national gangs. That is causing huge problems in our prisons.

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Violence is caused by retribution for the non-payment of debts owed by prisoners for the supply of things such as mobile phones. These days, people can buy a mobile phone from Tesco for a tenner. Smuggled into a prison, that phone can be worth £300 to £400, causing a lot of illicit trade. Violence is also generated by the recovery of stolen contraband, such as mobile phones. Increasingly, frustration is caused by a reduction in recreation time because of a shortage of prison officers. I am particularly concerned about that problem because, unless something is done soon to increase staffing in Sheppey’s prisons, all the other problems I mentioned will simply get worse.

Let me again use Swaleside as an example. The target staffing level for the prison is 178 officers. However, 153 officers are currently in post. The lack of staff puts pressure on those officers who remain in post. Recruitment and retention are immensely challenging and are influenced by a number of factors. Morale is low, which is hardly surprising considering the environment in which prison officers have to work. The police are dealing with people all day, every day, but many of those people are either victims of crime or people suspected of a crime who turn out to be innocent. The people with whom prison officers have to deal, day in, day out, have all been found guilty of a crime—many of them violent crimes.

Prison officers feel undervalued compared with the police. If a police officer is attacked and injured, the perpetrators are tracked down, prosecuted and, if found guilty, sent to prison for a lengthy sentence. If a prison officer is attacked by a prisoner, too often the only punishment meted out is a withdrawal of privileges.

Let me give an example of the type of violence that prison officers face. Last year a prison officer, whom I know well and who works in Swaleside, was attacked by an inmate. The prisoner threw a kettle of boiling water at the officer. Such casual violence is not an isolated case; it happens on a daily basis. Thankfully, my prison officer friend’s reactions were quick—he ducked out of the way and the boiling water missed him—but he could have been severely burned. The police took no action against that prisoner. That cannot be right. If a prisoner attacks a prison officer or, indeed, another prisoner, that person should be tried and, if found guilty, given as harsh a sentence as if the crime had been committed outside prison. That sentence should then be added to the sentence that that prisoner is already serving.

Another factor in the difficulty of retaining and recruiting prison officers on Sheppey is the relatively low unemployment in our area, as in the rest of the south-east. Last year, UK Border Force ran a successful recruitment campaign that led to a number of my local prison officers leaving to join it. I acknowledge that the Ministry of Justice has done its best to get more staff into Sheppey’s prisons, including the temporary attachment of staff from as far away as North Yorkshire. I welcome those initiatives, but a long-term solution is needed. The canteen at Swaleside is operated by the private company, DHL, which pays its staff a better salary than a new entrant prison officer. That is the nub of the problem.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I know that he feels passionately about the three prisons in his constituency. I have had the fortune of spending some time—I hasten to add in a professional capacity—at one of those

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prisons, Elmley. Impressive and constructive work was available for prisoners at Elmley prison, ensuring that their time was spent fruitfully. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that the prison does not use its unique circumstances to undercut local businesses in any way and, thereby, increase unemployment in his constituency and in the surrounding areas?

Gordon Henderson: Yes. It is delightful that among the small number of MPs present for the debate are three Kent MPs. That is probably unique. I do agree with my hon. Friend, but there is another factor. That employment in Elmley and Swaleside is good for the prisoners and their rehabilitation, but it cannot take place unless there are sufficient staff to manage it, and that is one of the problems that we face. I believe that we need a proper review of the working conditions and pay structure for prison officers, including, perhaps, consideration again of regionalised pay that recognises the higher cost of living in the south-east of England and the difficulty of attracting people into a job with so many challenges when there are better employment opportunities elsewhere.

I also believe that the Government need to re-examine their policy on the retirement age of prison officers. It is simply unfair that police officers and firefighters can retire at 60, whereas prison officers are expected to work until they are 68, despite their work being just as physically demanding.

What goes on in our prisons is rarely something that resonates with the public, so the Prison Service never receives from the Government the priority that it deserves. It is the Cinderella service and prison officers are the forgotten public servants. In many ways, they are as much a captive of their penal environment as the inmates whose incarceration they are charged with supervising. I believe that the Prison Service needs both financial help and moral support. In the climate of austerity in which the public sector currently operates, it is perhaps naive of me to ask for help and support for the prison officers in my constituency. However, I am very concerned that, without action, we are building up a penal powder keg on Sheppey that could explode with very serious consequences. For that reason, I believe that the Prison Service in general, and my prison officers in particular, should be made a special case.

11.12 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing the debate. He has rightly raised very important issues. He started by talking about the fantastic men and women of our Prison Service. I echo those comments completely. It gives me enormous pleasure to take every opportunity that I have in the House to say how much the work of our prison officers up and down the country is valued. As he said, it is often unseen, but it is incredibly important. Our prison officers are the last stop in our justice system. They are essential, and we must protect and support them.

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Let me say how important the Government believe that the issues that my hon. Friend has raised are. Staffing and safety are central to everything that we are seeking to achieve in prisons. The challenges facing managers at the three prisons on the Isle of Sheppey are particularly acute, which shows the need for managers and local trade unions to work closely together to secure positive outcomes in the future. I welcome this debate to discuss the steps that the Government are taking to maintain safe, decent and secure prisons, to tackle violence and serious incidents and to reduce staff vacancies.

For those not familiar with the region, let me explain that on Sheppey there are three prisons, collectively referred to as the Sheppey cluster. HMP Elmley is a category B local prison serving all courts in Kent. That establishment opened in 1992 and includes a category C unit of up to 240 prisoners added in 1997. With an operational capacity of 1,252, Elmley is the largest of the three prisons in the group. HMP Swaleside opened in 1988 and holds 1,112 prisoners. That establishment is a category B training prison holding long-term prisoners, including those serving life and other indeterminate sentences. HMP Standford Hill is a category D open prison with an operational capacity of 464.

My hon. Friend rightly referred to staffing levels in the Sheppey cluster. I acknowledge that last year a significant number of prisons across England and Wales experienced acute staffing vacancies. With an unexpected rise in the prison population, economic recovery in a number of regions made recruitment more competitive and challenging for prisons in some areas. Those dynamics, combined with short-term retention and sickness issues, increased pressure on the prison system. I have not sought to underplay those difficulties and I am grateful for the resilience and professionalism that staff have shown in maintaining delivery in challenging circumstances.

In the past few years, there has been significant change across our prisons and the wider offender management system. The National Offender Management Service has delivered savings of almost £900 million for the taxpayer, while fundamentally reforming the way it works both in the community and in prisons.

A significant contribution to the savings was made by the benchmarking programme in public sector prisons. The benchmark applies consistent staffing models and routines to prisons of the same type, removing historical and unjustified variations in the running costs of similar establishments. It also provided a refreshed approach to the prison regime, increasing the time for which prisoners can undertake appropriate and meaningful work, training and education to enable them to obtain employment on release to their home areas, which is particularly important.

Gordon Henderson: Will my hon. Friend the Minister accept, with regard to benchmarking, that the prison officers on Sheppey showed a lead and embraced it enthusiastically?

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I do accept that. The benchmarking was worked out with the help of the Prison Officers Association and, as he will hear in a second, has had some benefit for two of the prisons in his constituency.

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The impact of benchmarking on the number of staff posts has varied from prison to prison, depending on their starting points, but overall it has reduced the number of staff posts and been a driver of financial savings across the system as a whole. For example, the benchmark reduced officer posts at Elmley while it will increase officer posts at Standford Hill and Swaleside. In the past five years, overall numbers of uniformed prison officers have reduced. However, the benchmark also changes the way people are deployed and work, by setting the resource according to the work required.

Nationally, the staffing picture has improved significantly following 12 months of accelerated recruitment. National recruitment delivered 1,700 new prison officer recruits into the service between January 2014 and March 2015. In the coming year, the National Offender Management Service will focus activity on recruiting greater numbers to priority regions—those geographical areas, such as London and the south-east, including the Sheppey cluster, where recruitment under the accelerated scheme has not yet matched demand.

Recruitment and retention of staff is one of the most significant challenges facing the three prisons on the Isle of Sheppey. The pressure has been felt most acutely in the number of prison officers available, but increasingly also in relation to other front-line staff. Staff numbers fell significantly despite recruitment during 2014. By the end of March 2015, the number of officer vacancies had fallen to 550 across the whole estate. At the same point, the three prisons on Sheppey cumulatively had 70 officer vacancies.

In the shorter term, the Prison Service has a number of other ways by which it can support prisons with shortfalls in staffing levels on Sheppey. Those include the ability to offer staff additional working hours, some at premium rates under a scheme known as payment plus. The service has also deployed prison officers from other parts of the country to work at sites with more acute staffing issues on a detached duty arrangement.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about officer pay and pension age. Pay rates are set at comparable levels for similarly weighted jobs in the same area. The National Offender Management Service reassesses that every year to ensure that rates remain competitive and to see whether any change is needed. Since April 2015, starting pay has increased significantly, and we will assess what impact that has on recruitment of staff. However, we are aware that certain establishments are having difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, and a review is now being undertaken of the pay offered in the relevant areas. That includes the Sheppey cluster, and the review will conclude shortly. I point out, however, that ultimately rates of pay and local allowances are determined by the independent Prison Service Pay Review Body after receiving evidence from both the National Offender Management Service and the trade unions.

The Prison Officers Association is discussing retirement age with the Government and the Cabinet Office. We will consider any information submitted to us. Regardless of age, it is important that prison officers are fit, healthy and able to perform their role, to safeguard their colleagues and those within their care.

We are under no illusion about the scale of the problem of assaults in prison. The number of assaults increased by 10%, from 14,664 in 2013 to 16,196 in 2014. Although the increase is partly due to improvements

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in reporting of assaults following changes in data assurance processes, those improvements do not account for the whole increase. Serious assaults, including on staff rather than on other prisoners, have risen even more, to 2,145 in 2014 from 1,588 in 2013—an increase of 35%.

Deaths in prison custody have risen over time, alongside an overall ageing of the population, which includes an increasing number of elderly prisoners. Around two thirds of deaths in prison custody are from natural causes. Self-inflicted deaths are a serious cause for concern. In 2014-15, there were 76; although lower than the 88 in 2013-14, that figure is higher than the level over the previous five years.

Some incident categories in the Sheppey cluster have also increased, although not all. Assaults on staff have increased significantly, and we have also seen an increase in self-inflicted deaths at Elmley prison, although not at the other sites. However, assaults on prisoners have reduced year on year since 2011 and self-harm decreased between 2013 and 2014.

Although we do not downplay the significance of each and every incident—and I wish to make clear again my commitment to reducing violence further—the statistics show that violence is a complex issue that is influenced by a number of behavioural and situational factors. There is strong evidence that an increase in the illicit trade and misuse of synthetic drugs and new psychoactive substances is linked to the recent increase in violence across the prison estate. The problem is increasingly prominent in the community at large, and my hon. Friend will be aware of the Government’s intention to legislate to control such substances. We are also developing a range of responses to the challenge within our prisons, including training of drug detection dogs and the deployment of urine testing capability.

In addition, the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced two new offences that will help combat violence in prisons. One is being in possession of a knife or other offensive weapon within a prison—I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is amazing that that was not an offence before the 2015 Act—the other is throwing items over a prison wall, which is a common way of introducing contraband, including new psychoactive substances and other drugs, into a prison. Both offences carry a penalty on conviction of imprisonment, a fine or both, depending on the circumstances of the offence.

The National Offender Management Service has established a violence reduction project to gain a better understanding of the causes of the current levels of violence in prisons and to ensure that both prevention of and response to violence are strengthened. A range of action is being taken across the prison estate as part of that programme, including issuing new guidance to governors to support the development of local violence reduction strategies. We are also piloting the use of body-worn cameras across 24 establishments, including 42 cameras at Elmley and 34 at Swaleside.

We have introduced a joint protocol between the National Offender Management Service, the police service and the Crown Prosecution Service on the handling of crimes in prison, to address precisely the issue that my hon. Friend raised. I assure him and the prison officers he represents that I take that issue extremely seriously. Where there should be a prosecution I absolutely want to see one, with a due penalty. We have also introduced the development of more rigorous case management of

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individuals with a greater propensity to violence. HMP Swaleside is delivering a case management pilot as part of its work with personality-disordered offenders. Although distinct from the main programme at this stage, it will ultimately contribute towards learning to inform our future violence reduction work. We are also investing £2 million in increasing closed circuit television coverage during 2015-16.

A programme of work to address the rise in self-inflicted deaths is being taken forward. Last summer, new regional leads were put in place in each public sector prison’s region, as well as in Wales, to support staff in prisons and share best practice. Additional staff were provided to certain high-risk establishments, and national learning days on deaths in custody were held last year. Regular communications have been sent to governors and staff to share learning from deaths in custody and promote learning from independent bodies such as the prison and probation ombudsman.

I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s concerns about the prisons in his constituency. I do not underestimate for a moment the challenges faced by staff at those three prisons, and the significant challenges we face serve only to emphasise the achievements of those staff. I hope that I have reassured him that I take the issues seriously and that we will continue to do everything we can to address them.

Question put and agreed to.

11.26 am

Sitting suspended.

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Drugs: Ultra-rare Diseases

[Mr David Crausbyin the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy recently recommended the use of regular digital public discussion forums to inform debates held in Westminster Hall. A digital debate has taken place on Twitter ahead of today’s debate on access to drugs for ultra-rare diseases. For this reason, Mr Speaker has agreed that for this debate members of the public can use hand-held electronic devices in the Public Gallery. Photos, however, must not be taken. I encourage Members who wish to refer to the Twitter debate to call it the rare diseases Twitter debate, rather than using people’s individual Twitter names.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House has considered access to drugs for ultra-rare diseases.

I am delighted to have the chance to speak on this important topic today. I was also delighted to lead and take part in the historic Twitter debate yesterday, which was a great success. On top of the very strong show of support from Members of all parties, the fact that nearly 1 million people took part in the debate yesterday shows how important the issue is.

I got involved in the issue because Katy and Simon, the parents of Sam Brown, a six-year-old boy in my constituency, came to see me. In 2009, when Sam was 16 months old, he was diagnosed with Morquio syndrome, an ultra-rare disease that 88 people in the United Kingdom have. It is a degenerative life-limiting condition with a typical life expectancy of around 25 years. It limits considerably what those suffering from it can do. All of us here can only imagine what it must feel like as a parent to receive the devastating news that your child will deteriorate before your eyes, not live to an old age, and may not even see much, if any, of their adulthood. Imagine how it feels when a nurse rings up and says, “There might be a treatment, but it is only a trial.” Of course, on hearing such news, what parent would not want to sign up for a trial for the drug Vimizim, supplied by the drug company BioMarin? That is exactly what Katy and Simon did: they signed up Sam to the trial without hesitating.

For the past three years, Sam has been doing a 100-mile trip from Otley to Manchester every Thursday to get Vimizim, his enzyme replacement therapy. Without it, Sam would see his growth stunted more than it already is, with further skeletal deformities and possible heart and vision problems. With Vimizim, Sam’s parents, and, even more importantly, Sam’s medical team, say that he is clearly physically more capable and stronger, with more stamina than ever before. To quote Katy, his mother:

“The drug has given him the freedom to be a child again.”

I ask right hon. and hon. Members to take the opportunity to share the single, “There is a Boy”, produced by the Keep Sam Smiling campaign and produced at his primary school, the Whartons in Otley, where they have shown huge support to an ordinary

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little lad who wants to be an ordinary boy and an ordinary man. The video for the single shows Sam being a fireman, a doctor and an astronaut, the kinds of things that he has the right to hope one day to be, but he can have that hope only if he gets treatment and is able to continue to take Vimizim.

We are here today because, after three and a half years, in just nine days’ time, Sam’s access to Vimizim looks set to be cut off.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman knows that I represent the grandmother of Sam Brown. This debate is important. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the mother has already testified to how Sam is stronger and fitter as a result of taking the medication. NICE has said that it is

“likely to provide valuable clinical benefits for certain aspects of the condition”.

Even if it does not provide a full cure, how can the treatment for that wonderful young boy be axed?

Greg Mulholland: The recommendation from NICE is strange—I will come on to that—given that, clearly, the drug is effective.

Sam and other children and adults with Morquio disease are not the only people being let down. There are other conditions. I have been working with Members and organisations on the mutation of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and tuberous sclerosis. We have come together to campaign as one to say that we need a better way of approving drugs for ultra-rare conditions. At the moment we have a system in this country where people with ultra-rare diseases are discriminated against, and that must stop.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done and for securing this debate. On other rare conditions, I have a very sick two-year-old in my constituency who suffers from neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that only 100 children suffer from each year. It is difficult to accept that my constituent has to raise money and travel to the United States to get treatment. We should ensure that children or anyone suffering from rare conditions, such as Ruby Young and those in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, get the treatment they need at the first port of call in their own country.

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Gentleman is right to say there are other such conditions. I will not be able to mention them all today, but other Members may wish to do so. I will concentrate on the three conditions that I have been working on: Morquio, Duchenne and tuberous sclerosis. Some 180 people suffer from those conditions. I am sorry to say that all those people and their families have been hugely let down by the repeated failure of process by NHS England and by the thick wall of bureaucracy and utter lack of accountability.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Like the hon. Gentleman, I have been involved in the issue of Morquio. The correspondence that we have had seems to want to blame the company; the company says it has not had the information; and patients suffer. This matter has been drawn out, and we now have the news from NICE.

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Greg Mulholland: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It has been a pleasure working with him and others. We must continue to do so. That leads me on to the fiasco of the decision-making process. The leadership of NHS England should hang their heads in shame over the way they have handled this. There is also a responsibility on the shoulders of the Minister, who I know cares about this, but he needs to get a grip of NHS England and the way that it has failed families. Part of the problem goes back to the passing of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which led to the disbanding of the advisory group for national specialised services in April 2013. That advisory group was the expert body that advised on specialist treatments and services, and it was respected by many rare disease charities.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. There are muscular dystrophy treatments in Europe that have suddenly been halted in this country. I hope the Minister can give us a good answer on that because people are suffering while there are delays. In some instances, it could shorten their lives.

Greg Mulholland: I hope that we get answers today and a real promise of intervention from the Minister.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work on this issue. I joined this campaign because of Archie Hill, a constituent of mine aged 10 who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. No matter what the Minister says about drugs such as Translarna and the process that the hon. Gentleman is about to outline, which has been disgraceful, that drug is available in other European countries and we have still not cleared it for patients in the UK.

Greg Mulholland: Indeed. It was a pleasure to meet the right hon. Lady’s constituent, Archie, and his parents. These young people are inspiring us to campaign. She is absolutely right. We are debating the European Union Referendum Bill today in the Chamber. Other EU countries, and some non-EU countries, regard these treatments as effective and affordable, yet we do not.

I will fast-forward from the scrapping of the previous body to October 2014, when NHS England came out with the scorecard system. That is despite one of the clinicians involved, Dr Chris Hendriksz, saying on 22 October in an email:

“I would suggest the scoring is not used at all for decision making this round and I would rather have people acknowledging that they are making random decisions than to try and give some credibility to a process that was deeply flawed.”

That is from one of the senior clinicians.

NHS England none the less went ahead with the scorecard system to decide which funding should be prioritised. Suzanne Mallah and her 10-year-old boy Kamal, who has Morquio and is another inspiring young person whom I have been delighted to meet, saw that that was not only haphazard but discriminatory. With the help of the MPS Society, they threatened legal action on 28 November against NHS England on the basis that the scorecard was clearly discriminatory, that there was no policy explaining it and that there had been no public consultation on its use. Just one week

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after that, on 2 December, NHS England announced that it was suspending use of the scorecard because the MPS Society and Kamal were right and it was wrong.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes a good case. Is it not also the case that clinicians have not been listened to all the way through this, in the same way that they were not listened to when the Health and Social Care Act went through? That is what has led us to where we are. I have been the chairman of the all-party group on muscular dystrophy for 10 years. We had a very good working relationship with the specialised commissioning groups, which were effective in getting medication of this type to people, but the bureaucracy created by the Act was against clinicians’ wishes, which is why we are here today. NHS England has a lot to answer for. The Government’s decision to ignore the voice of professionals has put us in this position.

Greg Mulholland: It has been a pleasure to work with the hon. Gentleman and the APPG on muscular dystrophy on the Translarna part of the campaign. He is absolutely right. We want not only an acknowledgment from the Minister that the current processes are not fit for purpose and not fair on those with ultra-rare diseases, but a drive to overhaul them.

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that one of the best ways to help people suffering from ultra-rare diseases is Muscular Dystrophy UK’s suggestion of a fund to ring-fence money for these rare diseases?

Greg Mulholland: That is a powerful suggestion, as is using the surplus from the tariffs that drug companies are expected to pay to form part of a fund. There certainly needs to be an overhaul.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Greg Mulholland: I will give way, but I am conscious that I have not gone through the process yet.

Sir Gerald Howarth: We are all extremely grateful that the hon. Gentleman has been so generous in giving way. Like him, I was at Downing Street last week, supporting my constituent Harry Barnley, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The headquarters of the Batten Disease Family Association are in Farnborough in my constituency. The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) referred to ring fencing. Part of the problem is that there is a very small number of these cases and they are very expensive to treat. I wonder whether we should either ring-fence some funding or introduce a surcharge on prescription charges generally paid by the public, so that the funding issue is taken out of it. There are two issues: the clinical issue and the funding. If we remove the funding issue, we can concentrate on the clinical issue.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I am sure the Minister will want to consider that in his drive for an appropriate system.

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After NHS England suspended the use of the scorecard on 2 December, a meeting of the NHS England clinical priorities advisory group on 15 December was called off. That is when we started campaigning for an interim process while NHS England went back to the drawing board. NHS England refused to do that, which I am sorry to say left all these families in the dark, with no idea what would happen next or in what timescale. NHS England then launched a consultation on 27 January, with a new process for deciding which drugs to fund that closed on 27 April. We still have not heard the decision. We have been told that there may be a decision on 25 June, although that has not been confirmed in writing. I hope that the Minister will give confirmation today.

Linked to that are the recent NICE recommendations, and particularly those on Vimizim. Even though we were clearly told by NHS England that its decision on 25 June would not be dependent on NICE, it now says that it will not approve Vimizim because NICE will not do so in the short term. The whole thing is a fiasco and an embarrassment. I understand the Minister’s argument that we cannot have political interference. However, the Secretary of State for Health made clear when he appeared before the Public Administration Committee in the previous Parliament that he accepts that the buck stops with him. When things are wrong and when bureaucrats are failing, it comes to his desk and to the Life Sciences Minister’s desk. I urge the Minister to take that up.

I pay tribute to the MPS Society for its amazing campaigning, and particularly to the chief executive Christine Lavery, whose son Simon had Morquio and died in 1982 aged just seven. Her passion and her colleagues’ passion have inspired me and others, and we will continue to work with them. The enzyme replacement therapy produced by BioMarin, Vimizim, is currently supplied on a free trial by BioMarin to 34 patients around the country out of a total of 88 patients, so more people with Morquio are not getting Vimizim than are.

The list price for Vimizim is £395,000 per person per year. In October, BioMarin proposed a fixed-term arrangement with NHS England to supply the drug at a lower price for a number of years. After BioMarin’s offer in October, NHS England did not even reply, despite repeated follow-ups, forcing BioMarin to announce in February that it would cease to supply the drug after 11 May; that date was then extended to 25 June. Having heard nothing, BioMarin said that it would have to withdraw the drug.

Mark Tami: Gracie Mellalieu in my constituency, fortunately being in Wales, will get the drug until October, but there is still that cut-off point. Is the hon. Gentleman amazed, as I was, at the total lack of engagement from NHS England, even when that offer was made?

Greg Mulholland: It is absolutely disgraceful and I urge the Minister to properly take that up. We have not had answers or justifications, although there can be no justification for NHS England behaving in that way. NICE’s decision not to recommend approving Vimizim in the short term has already been deemed to be flawed by those involved, including the MPS Society and clinicians, because it fails to consider BioMarin’s offer and has assumed that the cost of the drug will be the original

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£395,000. How has that happened? NICE also took months to put together the interim guidance, but has given only until next Tuesday to receive the extra evidence that it has asked for. Surely that is an unfair timeline for response.

As of 28 April 2015—which, incidentally, is a year after Vimizim was approved by the European Medicines Agency, meaning that it is approved in 20 European countries, including France, Germany and the Czech Republic—the drug was still not available in the UK, because NHS England has failed to put in place arrangements for funding it. Does the Minister not share the sense of frustration, anger and disbelief that the NHS refuses to fund the drug when so many of our neighbours do? More fundamentally, Earl Howe gave patients an assurance that their access to the drugs that they need would not depend on the cost per quality-adjusted life year measure. Can the Minister tell us why his Department has gone back on that assurance? That is exactly what it appears to have done.

I appreciate that the Minister has taken the time to meet us, but I remind him of the 11-page letter that he asked the organisations to send him some 11 weeks ago. We expected him to respond to that, as it was a complaint about NHS England’s handling of the matter, yet he simply passed it on for NHS England to respond to. That is not what we asked him to do, and the response does not address the points that we made to him, at his request, about how NHS England has failed people. I ask him again to reply directly and properly, and to investigate the mishandling of the situation by NHS England.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy has been mentioned. Again, I highlight the campaigning of organisations such as Muscular Dystrophy UK, Joining Jack, Action Duchenne, the Duchenne Family Support Group, the Duchenne Children’s Trust, Alex’s Wish and the Harrisons Fund. Those groups share the MPS Society’s frustration at the process. As many hon. Members know, Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a condition affecting only boys, and numerous potential treatments are in late clinical trial. Translarna, in particular, received conditional approval funding in the EU in August 2014. This clearly effective drug is being funded in a number of countries, including Greece, even given its economic situation, yet we are still no closer to hearing whether it will be funded here. I hope to hear positive news on that drug today.

I pay tribute to the Tuberous Sclerosis Association and the work of Jayne Spink and her colleagues. For those who do not know, tuberous sclerosis is a condition that causes the growth of tumours in organs, including the brain, eyes, heart, kidneys, skin and lungs, and a range of associated health problems, including epilepsy, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. The drug everolimus has been found to be effective in shrinking the tumours, extending life and improving quality of life, but although it was licensed for use in patients with tuberous sclerosis in February 2013, NHS England has failed to draw up a prescribing policy. At least two people have already died since the drug was licensed; Chris Kingswood, a consultant nephrologist, said that Julie Brooker’s death in January 2013 was “absolutely preventable” if she had been given access to everolimus.

Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): My constituent William needs that drug. The issue for his family is the timeline, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. They

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have waited two years and been told that it may be another year, but they have said to me that William might not have that much time and that, like the woman the hon. Gentleman just mentioned, he might no longer be with them by then. Those parents are fighting for their son.

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Lady is right: none of these children or families has time. All those conditions deteriorate irreversibly. She is right that it has been 28 months since the drug was approved, yet patients are no closer to accessing it. What will the Minister do to speed up a commissioning policy for everolimus?

I turn to Batten disease, another condition already mentioned. I pay tribute to the Batten Disease Family Association. Batten disease is another condition that I had not heard of until I was approached by my constituents Duncan and Lynsey Brownnutt. I have been pleased to join Duncan to support some of his amazing fundraising efforts. This summer, he is off on a wonderful cycling trip to the Arctic Circle with his friend Rod to raise money, but the day after the general election, his six-year-old daughter Ellie Mae passed away from Batten disease.

Batten disease is another condition currently without any cure. It includes increasing visual impairment, complex epilepsy with severe seizures, decline of speech, language and swallowing skills, deterioration of motor skills resulting in loss of mobility and ultimately death. Potential treatment for Batten disease is not even being considered for 25 June. If the situation of the other conditions is still unclear and their drugs have been turned down, when will action be taken on treatment for Batten disease?

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): May I just point out that BioMarin is also developing a treatment to alleviate some of the symptoms of Batten disease?

Greg Mulholland: The Batten Disease Family Association explained that to me when I met with representatives, but unfortunately that is not even in the consideration for 25 June. That is why we need an overhaul.

We have a five-year Parliament. I hope that the Minister will serve as the Life Sciences Minister for a considerable time, if not for the whole Parliament. His challenge as the Life Sciences Minister, as well as dealing with the accountability deficit that clearly exists in NHS England’s decision making, must now be to initiate a proper process for the approval of drugs for rare conditions. Of course there are cost implications, and of course drugs must be effective, but the situation is that there are effective drugs that this country is not funding, while other countries with less strong economies are finding the money in their health services to fund them.

Rehman Chishti: The hon. Gentleman talks about funding, but one aspect that precedes funding is awareness of such diseases. For example, the Government’s “Be Clear on Cancer” campaign does not take into account rare conditions and cancers such as neuroblastoma, from which my constituent, who is near death, is suffering. The Government must ensure that rare conditions are part of the bigger campaign, so that the people suffering from them get the help that they need as well.

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Greg Mulholland: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am afraid to say that politically, particularly at election time, there is not enough focus on rare conditions and too much focus on more common conditions in order to appeal to a broader group of people. We cannot allow that to lead to discrimination against people with ultra-rare conditions.

I will finish with two quotes. The first is from the framework agreement with NHS England, which clearly lays out that the Minister and the Secretary of State can and should intervene. Paragraph 4.11.3 says:

“If the Secretary of State considers that NHS England is significantly failing in its duties and functions, he is able to intervene and issue directions to NHS England. This also applies where he or she considers NHS England has failed to act in the interests of the health service.”

Clearly, that is what NHS England has done, and he must now act and get a grip of this process.

I will leave the final word today to Katy Brown, the amazingly courageous mother of six-year-old Sam, because we can imagine the devastation that she felt after the flawed NICE decision not to recommend approving the drug for the time being, knowing full well that NHS England will just use that decision as its cue to say no on or before 25 June. Katy has said that, if that is the case,

“Sam is being handed a death sentence…He is being denied his freedom, his independence and his future.”

That is not something that any of us should allow when we have a drug that is affordable if we have a system such as that in other European nations and that is clearly clinically effective. We need major change and, Minister, we need it quickly.

3.1 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

I am pleased to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) on securing this important debate. I also pay tribute to him for the enormous amount of work he has done on Morquio syndrome, which he has raised many times in the House and in Westminster Hall. He has also held numerous meetings and led delegations to Downing Street. He has worked assiduously on behalf of his constituent, Sam Brown, and, as we have heard this afternoon, he has worked on not only Morquio syndrome, but a range of ultra-rare diseases. He has done an excellent job today of highlighting the problems, the delays in funding and the amount of time it has taken simply to get these drugs through the approval process.

Rather than focusing on those aspects, I will talk about the human cost of these diseases, highlighting the case of my constituent, Jagger Curtis, who is just seven years old—he will be eight in August—and a pupil at Romsey Abbey primary school in my constituency.

Last Wednesday, Jagger was one of the brave boys who walked up Downing Street to hand-deliver his letter to the Prime Minister, which was an incredible experience for him and his parents. It was a really important part of their campaign to highlight the need for funding and approval of Translarna, because Jagger suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

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Of course, Translarna is a relatively new drug. I say “relatively”, because it has been used in European countries since last year; it received conditional approval from the European Commission in August 2014. Yet here in the UK, as the hon. Gentleman has said, we are still waiting.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a very serious condition that affects about 2,500 people in the UK, almost all of them boys. It causes muscle weakness, leading to a dramatic loss of muscle function. Typically, patients will lose the ability to walk in their early teens; they will require respiratory support by their mid teens, and they are likely to die either of heart failure or respiratory failure before they reach 30. I cannot emphasise enough what a devastating condition it is and how brave families are when they have to face up to and deal with the reality of a Duchenne diagnosis.

Currently, the only treatments available address the symptoms, rather than the cause of Duchenne. They include the prescription of steroids, which of course have some very severe side effects, including sudden and dramatic weight gain, mood swings, which can be particularly difficult to contend with in teenage boys, and thinning bones.

As has been said this afternoon, Duchenne is a rare condition, with very few sufferers in the UK, and only about 10% to 15% of them have what is referred to as “the nonsense mutation”, which makes them eligible for treatment with Translarna. In some respects, Jagger is very lucky, because he is one of the boys with the nonsense mutation and is therefore eligible for Translarna. Currently, he is still mobile, which is absolutely critical when the use of Translarna is being considered, because it cannot be prescribed after a patient has lost their mobility. Translarna has the best chance of having a beneficial effect while the boys can still move around. Once they have lost their ambulation, it is too late and the opportunity has been missed.

Jagger’s parents, Julie and James, were told late last year that he was a suitable candidate for Translarna, and they genuinely believed that they were within a few weeks of going to the hospital and picking up a prescription for the one drug that they had been told could make a difference to their son. In November 2014, they had no idea that they would still be waiting for the drug now and that it still would not have finished going through the administrative process by the end of June. We are now seven months on from the day that they had expected to go and collect a prescription, but there has still not been a decision and they simply do not know what the outcome of this process will be.

During that time, of course, Julie and James have watched their son lose some of his mobility; his muscles have wasted away further. More than anything else, they desperately want an extension of the time in which Jagger is able to move around by himself, without the need for a wheelchair.

In his letter to the Prime Minister last week, Jagger wrote that he wanted to keep on playing football forever, just like his friends. He is an enormous Saints fan, and one of his proudest moments was going on to the pitch at St Mary’s to lead the team out. There is a fantastic photograph that he included in his letter to the Prime Minister, showing him shaking hands with the Saints manager, Ronald Koeman. In every other way, Jagger is a lively, lovely, normal little boy, who has a massive love for football, but, and it is a huge but, unlike most

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seven-year-olds Jagger has already been fitted for a wheelchair. His parents have had to make the necessary preparations—it was difficult, even heartbreaking, but they had to do it—to ensure that when Jagger’s mobility is more restricted a wheelchair will be ready and waiting for him so that he can still get around.

For Jagger and every other boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who has the nonsense mutation, the clock is ticking. In fact, it has been ticking since last August, when Jagger’s parents and others had their hopes raised that there was a treatment that was about to become available on the market. That treatment could give boys such as Jagger the chance to see out their time at primary school without needing a wheelchair, so that, as Jagger himself puts it, he can run around with his friends and be like any other normal little boy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West—I should refer to him as the hon. Gentleman now, but old habits die hard, and on this subject he has been a great friend and a great campaigner; I pay tribute to him for that—along with Muscular Dystropy UK and Action Duchenne, has done great work to highlight the problems that people have faced in getting approval for Translarna in the UK. We expect a decision on Translarna at the end of June, and the company that manufactures it, PTC Therapeutics, indicated last week that it was ready to go, had stocks available and could supply it as and when it was needed.

If that drug is given the green light at the end of June, it will be distributed here, but the boys I have mentioned today have already waited for far too long, and this drug is the only one that is giving them any hope. I know the Minister has been most diligent for some months; he has listened to all we have had to say in this Chamber, in the House, on Twitter and indeed in the media. However, as we have heard, there are real concerns about how long the approval process has taken and about how complicated it has been, as well as about some of the inconsistencies and contradictions about when the drug might be made available. I hope that the Minister will make some comment on that.

I am conscious that there are many Members here in Westminster Hall this afternoon who want to contribute, so I have deliberately kept my remarks short. I will conclude with the words of Jules Geary, because I do not think anyone else could better summarise how her family feels:

“It is hard enough watching your child have to go through losing their muscles. For the drug to work, Jagger still needs to be mobile, so we simply don’t have time to wait. We have been given hope through this drug. We just can’t let it be taken away again.”

3.8 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration. Westminster Hall is well filled today because we all have constituents who are suffering and do not have access to the drugs needed to combat these rare diseases. I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his hard work on this issue, for which he is well renowned; we have all said that, but it is the truth, and we all want him to know that we know it.

I am glad this debate has occurred, because it is on a subject that affects many people in my constituency. We have heard some stories and we will hear more before this debate is over.