2 July 2015 : Column 539WH

2 July 2015 : Column 539WH

Westminster Hall

Thursday 2 July 2015

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Sustainable Development Goals (Education)

1.30 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House has considered education and the sustainable development goals.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about education and the sustainable development goals and financing global education, hot on the heels of the recent debate initiated by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who I am glad to see here in the Chamber. I am glad to see the Minister, too. I speak today as co-chair of the all-party group on global education for all. I believe that we cannot raise these matters too often, not least because the sustainable development goals will be finalised at the United Nations meeting in September.

I praise the great Send My Friend to School campaign, which many hon. Members will be aware of in their constituencies. Last week, I was delighted to welcome to the Jubilee Room representatives from schools across the country, including schools in the constituency of the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who with impeccable timing has just arrived in the Chamber, along with young ambassadors who represented the UK in Ghana. I have visited schools in my constituency, as many hon. Members do, most recently—last Friday— St Padarn’s school in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, where I met children from years 2, 3, and 4 who have been engaged in the cause of getting the 58 million children across the world who are out of school into education.

The World Vision group has declared that the success of the post-2015 framework that replaces the millennium development goals must be measured by its ability to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the hardest places to live. Trips I have undertaken with the all-party group to Nigeria and Tanzania in the past two and a half years have convinced me that any new goals on promoting global education will not be delivered by simply doing more of what we are already doing.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in improving the state of the world’s education systems, with the number of children out of school dropping by 48 million since the MDGs were agreed in 2000. However, 58 million children of primary school age still remain out of school; 59 million adolescents are out of secondary school; and, critically, 250 million children—I say this as a former primary school teacher—are in school but failing to learn the most basic of basics. UNESCO has described this as a “global learning crisis”. Adult literacy levels globally have barely improved: between 2000 and 2011 there was a decline of just 1% in the number of illiterate adults. I cite those figures because the majority of the world’s out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan

2 July 2015 : Column 540WH

Africa, where many of the Department for International Development’s target programmes—commendable projects—are located.

Education remains the key to successful development, and in that context this year is critical. Last year, the UN’s open working group on sustainable development set 17 goals and a total of 169 targets, to be identified and prioritised in September, which will carry on the work of the MDGs. Education rightly has its own stand-alone goal—goal 4—to

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

The long list of targets covers universal primary and secondary education; pre-primary, technical, vocational and tertiary education; skills for employment; universal literacy and numeracy; and enabling targets on school infrastructure and supply of qualified teachers. In short, goal 4 of the proposed SDGs is about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education.

Underpinning the new goals and targets, the current Government and the previous one have led calls for a framework that leaves no one behind, ensuring that

“no target is considered met, unless met for all social groups—with progress on targets disaggregated by wealth, disability and gender.”

In May, the declaration made at the World Education Forum in Korea reaffirmed education as a human right, a public good, and main driver of development in achieving the other proposed SDGs. It set financial targets of 4% to 6% of GDP and contained positive language on access, equity and marginalised groups. There is a strong commitment to teachers who are

“empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported”.

The Global Partnership for Education was specifically acknowledged and recognised in the document, with a recommendation that it be part of the future 2030 education agenda.

This is all very positive, but there is concern that with so many goals and targets, laudable though each and every one is, Governments will in a position to pick and choose the ones they work on, and people will be left behind. Will the Minister update us on the outcomes of the separate negotiations on education for all that took place in Korea, and the broader SDG framework? Do the Government regard the two frameworks—the SDGs and education for all—as consistent, or is there risk of mismatch and duplication? We need to clarify that we are moving beyond MDG 2—getting more children into primary school—and doing so in an achievable manner that provides a good-quality education. How is DFID ensuring that the “no target is met unless met for all” principle is underpinning all discussions about the SDGs?

Turning to funding, DFID has a good record of supporting 10 million children in primary and lower secondary education, and particularly in prioritising the most marginalised children in hard-to-reach places, such as children with disabilities and those in conflict areas. I commend in particular the work it has undertaken on the girls’ education challenge, a programme that aims to support an additional 1 million of the world’s poorest girls into school and learning. I have seen at first hand in Nigeria how that works and how it draws young girls into schools, despite the many pressures on them to do otherwise.

2 July 2015 : Column 541WH

I reiterate plaudits for the UK’s pledge of up to £300 million over four years for the Global Partnership for Education. I am sorry to have missed the Welsh-born chair of GPE, Julia Gillard, who was in my constituency on Tuesday getting an honorary degree from Aberystwyth University—a well deserved award.

On a visit to Tanzania with the all-party group, I saw GPE’s work at first hand. Its ethos—being a partnership of Governments, civil society, international organisations, students, teachers, foundations and the private sector, all working together—is the correct one: it is genuinely about partnership. However, despite the UK making the largest pledge by a donor, GPE fell well short of its funding target, with $2.1 billion pledged of a target of $3.5 billion. The UK’s pledge is contingent on the UK making up no more than 15% of total donor contributions, and there is concern—perhaps the Minister can reassure me—that the UK is placing more conditionality on the pledge, potentially reducing further the amount of money to be delivered to GPE.

I am told that the £300 million target, which is conditional on other countries’ pledges, amounts in reality to £210 million—not an insignificant sum, but some way short of £300 million, and it is, of course, consequential on the Government’s getting other countries on board. What success has the Minister and his Department had in getting other countries on board and making pledges and increasing them? In that spirit, I encourage the Government to use their strong position at the third international conference on financing for development in Ethiopia—the hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned this during business questions in the House today—to ensure that more finances are available to make the SDGs work.

Last December, my noble Friend Lady Northover, then a Minister in the Department, launched the disability framework, which I welcome. I know that work is ongoing, but the framework is an important pledge that the UK will prioritise disability more systematically in overseas aid. The need is clear. There are 93 million disabled children globally, and in most countries they are more likely than any other group to be out of school. In some countries, being disabled more than doubles the chance of a child never going to school, and disabled children are less likely to remain in school.

For far too long, this has been a niche area of development policy. With 80% of disabled people living in developing countries, it is staggering to think that disability was not even mentioned in the millennium development goals of 2000. Disability is a cause and a consequence of poverty. The UN has called the disabled the world’s largest minority, yet in the schools I have visited overseas, there is little evidence of provision for the disabled or any differentiation in treatment or special provision in any guise. The issue needs to be addressed.

Critically, DFID has said that it will work with the GPE, UNICEF and UNESCO and others to improve data on disabled children, and will also share learning and good practice on inclusivity from its programmes in Pakistan, Tanzania and Rwanda, and the girls’ education challenge. What progress has been made in the six months since the launch of the disability framework? If the framework is to be updated and republished annually—an important principle—will the Department

2 July 2015 : Column 542WH

consider further commitments on education, such as, for example, ensuring that UK-funded teacher training programmes include inclusive education, if they are not already doing so?

Early childhood development was the subject of a visit to Tanzania by the all-party group and Results UK, the charity that supports the group, at the end of 2013. We produced a report, “You can’t study if you’re hungry”, with which the Department may be familiar. Its central message was that nutrition and early years learning are intrinsically linked. The World Bank has estimated that 200 million children in developing countries under the age of five will not reach their potential. Research and practice are increasingly highlighting the importance of better integration across development policy areas from health and nutrition, education and social protection to water, sanitation and hygiene. The concept of early childhood development and that holistic approach should therefore be a central component of the new SDGs. We were mindful of that in our visits to Tanzania and Zanzibar. Is the early childhood development approach being reflected in DFID’s programmes? How does that work at country level?

Of the 58 million children of primary school age who are out of school, about half—28.5 million—live in conflict areas. A new generation of children hit by emergencies and protracted crises are being deprived of education. As we speak, that is affecting 65 million children in 35 countries, yet last year only 1% of the overall humanitarian aid and 2% of the money from humanitarian appeals went to supporting education in those settings.

Education does not just equip children for the future; it protects them in the present. Children in school are less likely to be trafficked, forced into early marriage or exploited as child soldiers, and they stand a better chance of escaping poverty. More than 30 countries around the world have been affected by widespread attacks on schools. Last year, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published new international guidelines to reduce the military use of schools and universities during armed conflict and to minimise the negative impact that armed conflict has on student safety and education. What consideration has the Minister’s Department given to signing up to the guidelines to prevent schools from attack and military use?

This is a vast subject, and I am grateful for the House’s indulgence on a hot Thursday afternoon in allowing me a full 15 minutes or thereabouts to make my case. The size of the subject presents DFID and the international community with huge challenges. The case for education is unquestionable, but it is important that the new goals and the plethora of work towards them are achievable. It is important that the SDGs on education clearly address the case for inclusivity in relation to gender and disability and the issue of conflict areas. Sheer numbers are crucial, and I do not in any way minimise the achievements over the past 15 years, but so too is the standard of education being delivered. We need to measure success and improvement.

One particular group concerns me—the unseen, uncounted and invisible children. That point was brought home to me graphically at the end of 2013, when I visited a street project in Dar es Salaam with the former Labour MP Cathy Jamieson. She did excellent work on this issue when she was in the House. The project was

2 July 2015 : Column 543WH

for teenage boys who had a talent for dance. It was located in a deprived district of Dar es Salaam, and the boys performed for us, showing their breakdancing skills. Mercifully, neither Cathy nor I were asked to participate. In that naïve politician’s way, I said to one of the boys, who was probably 15 or 16, “If you are ever in London, come look me up. Come to the Houses of Parliament.” He was intelligent, inspirational and had a dynamic personality, and he responded—not in a hostile way—by saying, “How can I, sir? I have no identity, no birth certificate and no passport. I don’t exist.” That graphically brought home to me the challenge of invisibility and the scale of the problem, but it also brought home to me the potential.

1.47 pm

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): It is an honour to serve under your excellent chairmanship, Mr Walker.

Send My Friend to School was brought to my attention by two very articulate youngsters—Lauren and Aiden, from Bishop Vaughan school in my constituency. So involved were they with that wonderful project that they came to Westminster last week to a reception hosted by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams),whom I congratulate on securing this important debate.

I will re-read the list of statistics that the hon. Gentleman has already shared with us, because they are important. In 2012, 58 million children of primary school age were out of school, half of them in conflict-affected countries; the number had decreased from 100 million in 2000. Some 63 million young adolescents around the world are not enrolled in primary or secondary school. More than four out of 10 out-of-school children will never enter a classroom. Some 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. An additional 1.6 million new teachers need to be recruited to achieve universal primary education by 2015. In a third of countries, fewer than 75% of primary school teachers are adequately trained.

Those figures caught the imagination of the young people in my constituency. They get up every morning to go to school. They understand the benefits of education, and even when issues hinder them from attending school, such as illness or caring responsibilities, there are mechanisms to help them to receive an education. For the pupils of Bishop Vaughan, the statistics I just read were a shocking reflection of the fact that life in other parts of the world is very different from theirs. That stark reality check led to their involvement with the Send My Friend to School campaign, which works tirelessly to do just that—send young people across the globe to school. We talk about helping and supporting countries with fewer resources and less wealth than ours, but the basis of that support should be about doing all we can to help young people have an education. There is yet another statistic about lack of education: 774 million illiterate adults—a decline of just 1% since 2000. Almost two thirds of those people are women.

The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors for basic education, and the largest contributor to the Global Partnership for Education. In June 2014, developing country partner Governments pledged a $26 billion increase in domestic financing for education. Donor countries pledged $2.1 billion of support for the GPE, but we still need to do more.

2 July 2015 : Column 544WH

Last Friday, I visited Bishop Vaughan school and was welcomed by a class of year 7 students who, although not yet old enough to start their GCSE courses, are already acutely aware that the lack of global education is causing great disadvantages. They had each made a cardboard figure that represented a world leader, and each spoke as if they were world leaders. The speech from each leader had different words but the same message: let us get all kids into education.

I promised the class two things. First, I would deliver their message today and ask their question: when will world leaders be able to ensure that every child has access to and the opportunity for an education? Secondly, I promised that I would ask the Minister whether he would meet them to receive their cardboard world leaders—at a convenient time, of course.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way in the middle of a very good speech, and I also thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for introducing the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a great deal of hope in these parents, governors, school teachers and children—such as the year 6 pupils at Garth primary school who have sent me their information—because, on a deep, human, personal level, they understand the importance of reaching out? If we could convey that message to many of our constituents on their doorsteps, that would be a great cause for optimism.

Carolyn Harris: I entirely agree. We could indeed learn great lessons from the children of our country.

Members present know that reality and principle can be very different. On principle, we would all wish for children globally to be educated. The young people at Bishop Vaughan, as well as at the other schools involved in the project, have a valid point. As politicians, it is our duty to ensure that we provide them with an answer that shows that we share their maturity in acknowledging and understanding the issues. We must do more—everything that we can—to ensure that their principle is a global reality.

1.52 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I declare an interest, as I did at the start of my debate on the sustainable development goals a couple of weeks ago: until the election I was employed by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, and I was a member of the Scottish working group on the sustainable development goals, so I have a considerable personal and professional interest in this subject area.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on bringing this issue back to the House so soon and for giving us the chance to explore in more detail the education aspect of the sustainable development goals. He made a very thoughtful contribution, and I agreed with a lot of what he said, especially on financing, to which I will return; on the importance of data disaggregation for monitoring the goals’ impact, particularly disaggregation by age for education; and on the importance of nutrition in schools to enable children to learn effectively.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on highlighting the fantastic Send My Friend to School initiative. One of the first

2 July 2015 : Column 545WH

pieces of mail I received as an MP was from St Charles primary school in Kelvinside in my constituency; it included pictures of the world leaders who young people throughout the country—indeed, around the world—want to see act on their behalf to make progress on global education. The point made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) about solidarity among young people is a lesson for us all.

As I said, I have some personal interest in and experience of this matter. Between 2004 and 2005, I had the great privilege of living in Malawi, where I worked as a teacher in St Peter’s secondary school in the capital of Malawi’s northern region, Mzuzu. The school was founded by Father Nazarius Mgungwe, who has become a very good friend of mine, and it has gone from strength to strength over the 10-plus years during which I have been connected to it. The school has sister schools in Scotland—perhaps later I will say a little more about the connections between school communities and how they affect the education of children both overseas and at home. I probably learned more from the pupils and my colleagues in the school than any of them did from me, but if anything my experience brought home the absolute value and importance of education in tackling global poverty.

Education is fundamental to development and ending poverty, as we can see from our own histories. In Scotland, we are very proud of the historic enlightenment that our country went through and the establishment of free education, as a matter of principle, from parish schools through to university level. That has led to some of the inventions and contributions of which we in Scotland are rightly proud. Ahead of the debate, I saw some analysis that described the educational systems in many developing countries as being a least 100 years behind ours. In some ways, we can see that that is the case, but we must not wait 100 years for international developing education systems to be brought up to the level that we expect and appreciate in this country.

It is worth touching on the importance of education for girls. There is no silver bullet when it comes to eradicating world poverty, but if there is something close it is investing in education for girls. As more young women receive a formal education, that has knock-on effects across the whole spectrum of development indicators. It leads to healthier, longer, more productive and more fruitful lives—not only for the individual concerned, but for their families and whole communities. Educating girls must be a key priority in the sustainable development goals for education. I should say that I know some very valuable projects in Malawi with just that focus—one is run by my very good friend Janet Chesney, who runs a school in the north of the country. It would be remiss of me if she found out that I was speaking on education and did not mention that.

The fact that there has been progress in education— 80 million more children are in education than before the millennium development goals were established—is testament to the success and importance of the MDG framework. Nevertheless, as we have heard from the statistics and as the Global Partnership for Education said, there is “no chance whatsoever” of meeting the goal of achieving universal primary education in time for the MDG deadline. That is why it is so vital that that

2 July 2015 : Column 546WH

goal is not only retained but enhanced in the successor framework. In the sustainable development goals we have the opportunity to get it right and to go further by extending the right to education to include secondary school education and by focusing on quality.

In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Ceredigion was absolutely right that funding for education is going to be crucial, so I will repeat to the Minister the question I asked the Leader of the House this morning: when can we expect to hear from the Government who will represent the United Kingdom at the financing for development summit starting on 13 July? I appreciate that we are very close to the Budget statement and there is a lot of pressure on the Chancellor’s time, but the UK’s global leadership, of which the Government are proud, will be enhanced if a senior figure from the Treasury team can join international development colleagues at the summit and show the global leadership that is needed.

Finance is going to be vital. One example from my experience in Malawi is that when the country became a multi-party democracy in 1994, one of the first things it did was to introduce free primary education for all. That was a hugely significant and important move, and it has made a big difference. However, the school system really struggled, and continues to struggle, to cope with the number of pupils. The secondary education system is still fee-based, which limits access, even for talented pupils.

I mentioned the Scottish Government’s work on the sustainable development goals. A very positive working group of the Scottish Government, DFID officials, NGOs and academics is looking at the negotiation and implementation process of the sustainable development goals—including how to fund appropriate programmes, perhaps including education. The group is also considering the domestic aspect of the sustainable development goals and a universal framework. There is a responsibility for us at home to consider how we make progress on these issues. One of the important ways of doing that in education lies in the roll-out and improvement of global citizenship education in our schools, whether they are under a devolved Administration or not, as was discussed in the main Chamber earlier.

The Send My Friend to School campaign that we discussed earlier is a good example of development education in action. In Scotland, there is a fantastic network of development education centres. I do not know whether there is a similar network south of the border, but this one gives schools and pupils the tools and opportunity to access resources. Pupils learn about the experiences of international development, which helps to bring issues alive and promotes understanding.

I spoke briefly about the community links that exist in Scotland between many different communities—schools, parishes and community groups—and our counterparts in Malawi. Again, that builds a sense of solidarity and helps to promote education.

When I was involved in student politics, we used to chant that education was a right, not a privilege. That is as true for a young girl in a developing country as it is for a teenager looking at university courses or a wannabe student politician with their placard. Education is a right and if we can get it right, we will be well on the way to achieving sustainable development goals and building the fairer and more just world that so many of us want to see.

2 July 2015 : Column 547WH

2.1 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing today’s debate. I think he said he was co-chair of the all-party group on global education for all, and it is clear that he has great expertise in this area, so I am pleased that he led the debate today. It was also a pleasure to hear such excellent contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).

Access to education is a fundamental human right. Although in countries such as the UK we may take our education systems for granted, the same is not true the world over. We may understand the potential of education to drive prosperity, create tolerant and inclusive societies and tackle inequality, but the sad truth is that a decent education is still not available for far too many people in far too many countries across the world. I want to talk today about the huge potential that education offers, the progress that has been made to date and the challenges that still exist. I want to suggest to the Minister that the actions of our Government and the international community must be focused on ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised see significant gains in their access to decent education over the next 15 years and that we use the sustainable development goals to make the world a more equal place, reducing the gap between the richest and poorest.

Some people may think that this debate interests only experts in international development and education policy makers, or those who work for international aid charities. My experience tells me something very different. Strange as it may seem, I recall conversations on the doorstep at the election in my constituency of Lewisham East where I ended up talking about the need to improve education in the developing world. I will take a couple of minutes to explain how that came about.

When asked about our spending on foreign aid, I would say that it was surely right to help children in developing countries to go to school. When asked about immigration, I would say that while our world remains so unequal, people will always aspire to move from one country to another to improve their lot in life. I would do it, the Minister would do it, and unless education can drive economic development and prosperity in the developing world, this will remain the case. Unless education can give women information about their own bodies and reproductive rights, we will continue to see enormous population growth in parts of the world that will struggle to deal with it. Unless future generations are educated about the peace and tolerance that lie at the true heart of our big global religions, extremism and radicalisation will be allowed to flourish. It has been said before, but it is worth saying again: education is the most effective vaccine against extremism.

It may sound sensationalist, but education really can be a matter of life and death. Educated societies are less likely to see violence and conflict as the way to resolve problems and differences. On a fundamental indicator such as child mortality, education has a dramatic effect. A recent Lancet study, for example, found that around half the reduction witnessed in under-five mortality every year—4.2 million deaths in total—can be attributed

2 July 2015 : Column 548WH

to improved levels of education. It is clear that the advantages of a decent education are vast and unequivocal.

However, the potential of education to deliver change is determined by two key factors. The first is the extent to which education can be accessed by the poorest and most marginalised. If gender, caste, race, disability, religion or sexuality—all characteristics determined at birth—are the same attributes that determine access to education, schooling becomes a further driver in a vicious cycle of prejudice and inequality. The second factor is the quality of education received. Again, if learning outcomes are determined by the wealth of a person’s parents or the community in which they live, education will perpetuate and reinforce pre-existing inequalities.

Although great gains were undoubtedly achieved with the millennium development goals, we can see that we have fallen far short. Although the number of children out of primary education has almost halved in a generation, 58 million children across the world remain outside any schooling system. Of these, nearly half have never once seen the inside of a classroom. We will clearly miss the second millennium development goal’s target of achieving universal primary education by 2015. Perhaps more worrying is that any signs of progress have seemingly stalled: the number of children not in school has remained constant for more than five years. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion has already said, experts are also warning of a learning crisis in the quality of education: children who do attend school are being let down by the standard of learning that they are exposed to.

An estimated 250 million children worldwide are not able to read, write or perform basic arithmetic. That is four in every 10 children of primary school age whose future is frustrated from the very start, and it is the most marginalised children who continue to miss out. Children from poorer families remain five times more likely to be out of school than children from more wealthy families. In west and central Africa, the gap is even wider. In Guinea, two thirds of children from the poorest households will never enter school, and alarming gaps persist in learning outcomes between children from richer and poorer households.

Although overall levels of girls’ education have improved, in many countries the gender gap remains large. In some places—eastern and southern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean—these gaps have not only endured, but widened. Significant gender disparities also persist in children’s learning performance. As has already been said, children with disabilities are not only less likely to be in school, but are more likely to drop out, as their needs fail to be catered for.

Finally, the percentage of children outside the schooling system in conflict-affected states has increased. The image of Syrian children in refugee camps should haunt us all on a daily basis. The legacy of failure will affect future generations. The global education agenda has been the subject of many ambitious summits and global accords—not only the millennium development goals, but the Dakar framework for action and now the SDGs, which is the subject of today’s debate. The Government’s action on that agenda must be welcomed.

Having said that, I am aware of continued issues with the Department for International Development’s delivery of educational programmes in Nigeria. The most recent

2 July 2015 : Column 549WH

annual review, for the third phase of the girls’ education project, which has £103 million to support more than 1 million girls to complete basic education, notes fundamental uncertainty about the ability of the in-country partner to deliver that crucial project. That is a full two years after deep and pervasive concerns were revealed in a review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Furthermore, I also share ICAI’s concern that DFID’s withdrawal from India could be happening too fast. In a country where more than 1 million children remain out of school, is it right that all funding should come to an end by March of next year and that all technical advice should be withdrawn only a few months later? I will welcome the Minister’s thoughts on those two specific issues.

Despite that, it must be recognised that the Department for International Development has consistently increased the level of funding that it invests in education. The continued focus on the importance of girls’ learning must also be welcomed, but now is not the time for complacency. The scale of the challenge we face is only projected to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, already the region with the largest number of children not in schooling, UNICEF estimates that 444 million children will be in need of basic education by 2030, which is nearly three times the number enrolled in schools today. If we are to achieve the transformative change that we all want to see, we must understand the scale and the nature of the challenge we face, learn from past mistakes and ensure concerted global action to deliver decent education for all.

To that end, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that tackling inequality is embedded in his Department’s work in this crucial area? What will he be doing to ensure that children in the most marginalised communities are targeted first, under the sustainable development goals agenda, and that those children and their families are given the necessary support not only to enter school, but to excel in it? Increased funding alone will not achieve that. Instead, smarter and more targeted resources, coupled with disaggregated data to measure outcomes, will be needed to ensure that the SDGs achieve their full potential and that no child is left behind. What will the Government be doing to ensure that that happens and how will we galvanise the global action that such a crucial issue deserves?

I mentioned earlier that this debate will be of interest not only to policy makers and students of international development, but to people up and down the country. The Send My Friend to School campaign has already achieved a couple of mentions in the debate, but I want to inform Members about my visit to Rathfern primary school last week. When I turned up in the playground, a long line of pupils queued up, each to give me a paper puppet they had made, setting out what they would do if they were a world leader. I have brought a puppet for the Minister—I noticed earlier that it is a female world leader, which was not intentional, but I am quite pleased that is the case. I have plenty more in my office, if the Minister wants to pop by later and collect them.

In the assembly afterwards, I was asked by a 10-year-old child why the UK spends more money on our Army—tanks and guns—than we do on helping children in poorer countries to go to school. Explaining that to a 10-year-old

2 July 2015 : Column 550WH

is probably an experience that all Members of the House should go through. The pupils in my constituency instinctively knew that education for everyone is the right thing to do. I look forward to the day when those pupils are our world leaders and when all children, irrespective of their country of birth, the colour of their skin, their gender or the wealth of the parents, receive the sort of education that we in the UK would want for our own.

2.14 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for calling this timely debate. We are well served in this Parliament by such an active all-party group, and I look forward to working with it to advance the agenda at such an important time. I will say a little more about that shortly.

Every Member who has spoken has mentioned the fantastic Send My Friend to School initiative. I recall that when I was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, at this time of year I was continually ferrying those cardboard cut-outs to No. 10 Downing Street, and I was always impressed not only by the amount of physical work that had gone into them, but by the effort pupils had made to understand the problem and to advocate a solution. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said, that is a guarantee of enthusiasm for our future.

I receive a great deal of correspondence from my constituents complaining about the level of international development aid and how much we are spending, so it is excellent that children in our schools are alive to the very reasons why we need such spending. I look forward to the time when they have more influence on their parents in getting that message across, and as they grow up and change the attitude of society generally. I have said in several forums that one of my ambitions for this Parliament is that, by the end of it, instead of being curmudgeonly about the amount that we spend on international development aid, my constituents will be proud of what we are doing and achieving.

I said that the debate was timely. I acknowledge entirely the concern of the hon. Member for Ceredigion that we have 16 goals and 169 targets. Where does sustainable development goal 4 and the seven targets that underpin it fit into that? I acknowledge the problem. Our ambition was for a smaller number of goals and of targets. The United Kingdom Government, with all their sophistication, measure our economic and social progress across about 60 targets, so I wonder how a Minister in Burkina Faso will be held to account on performance against 169 targets.

Our ambition was for something smaller, and we were prepared to expend a considerable amount of political and diplomatic capital on reopening the question and driving the numbers down to something more manageable. Frankly, our allies did not have the will to come with us, perhaps for understandable reasons. There was a genuine feeling that we had got a good set of goals and we were pleased with them, and any attempt to reopen the question and to narrow the numbers down, perhaps by combining some items—a

2 July 2015 : Column 551WH

whole process of reopening negotiations—might lead to a loss of some of the gains made. So we are where we are.

The important debate on much of what the hon. Gentleman discussed begins now. There is a continuing conversation to be had with him and the all-party group about how we should proceed. I extend to him an invitation to meet and continue the discussion with my fellow Minister of State at the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who will be dealing with the matter. What underpins the targets are the indicators—the indicators that will be measured to see whether the targets have been achieved—and that discussion will get under way more substantially and be agreed in March next year, so this is a good time for the all-party group and for the Government to consider what the indicators should be and what we believe needs to be counted.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East is right to draw attention to the huge question about the statistics and how we are to disaggregate them in order to be able to measure the very things that we need to measure. For example, we need to know how many disabled children there are and the nature of their disabilities. We have to be able to disaggregate and break down all the statistics to measure properly. We are ahead of the game—indeed, the British Government have been driving the agenda forward—but we all know the political reality: if we cannot count it, it will not count. It is vital that we get the metrics right in order to hold Governments to account for whether they have met the targets.

We have seen what was millennium development goal 1 morph into sustainable development goal 4. The hon. Member for Ceredigion was quite right to express a measure of disappointment about our achievements in relation to the original aim of getting all children into primary education by this year. That will not be achieved. We can say that 90% of children have at least got some sort of education, and he was right to draw attention to the fact that whereas there were 100 million children out of school, that figure is now 58 million—notwithstanding an increase in population, which could mean that the measure is better than it would appear on the surface—but the hon. Gentleman was right indeed to draw attention to the fact that, under those headline figures, there are some real worries, particularly with regard to sub-Saharan Africa and girls’ education. On the latter, if we take the headline figure for those at school, the balance is about 50-50, but there are places where the education of girls is greatly lacking. That has to be dealt with. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is absolutely right that if we are looking for an investment to reduce poverty, the best thing to do to have the greatest impact is secure education for girls.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to suggest that we focused too much on enrolment rather than on the quality of education. As the hon. Member for Lewisham East pointed out, it is all very well to have 250 million children in school for four years, but if they come out unable to read, write or count, the whole enterprise will have been a waste of time. It is a question not just of access but of outcomes. It is worth repeating the sustainable development goal:

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

2 July 2015 : Column 552WH

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that half of the expenditure on our relevant multilateral programmes is on teacher training. Concentrating on quality is key. I know one of his particular concerns is the need to get away from chalk and talk and to have much more engaging education for children. I entirely support that agenda.

Mr Mark Williams: The Minister is right—that is a great interest of mine. Is he satisfied that DFID-promoted teacher training programmes are moving away from chalk and talk and more into diagnostic methods of teaching? That is particularly important for inclusivity with regard to disability. When one travels to schools—something he has done far more than I—one can see the great omission in that respect.

Mr Swayne: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. Those are the key issues. I share his concerns about the way we teach. I was a teacher myself once; I used a great deal of chalk and talk, and I regret it.

On disability, we have imposed a framework on our Department, after a great deal of thought and a huge amount of consultation, especially with disability groups and their advocates, on the grounds that there should be no decision made about them without them. An enormous effort went into the framework, and it is a living document, to be continually updated and reviewed and republished annually. We have doubled the number of staff working on disability and appointed a champion to take forward the agenda, which will inform absolutely every project that we undertake. Every DFID project must now consider disability on the principle of “nobody left behind”. The hon. Gentleman asked whether our teacher training work takes disability into account. Clearly, the answer ought to be yes, absolutely, because that requirement is now a condition on which the whole Department has to operate.

We are stepping up to the plate. We are spending about £800 million a year on our education effort—a figure that has risen since last year by £180 million. Generally speaking, ICAI’s follow-up report gave us pretty good marks for how we are dealing with education. Our target is that by the end of this year we will have trained 190,000 teachers and educated 11 million children through primary and early secondary school, and I am confident we will meet that target. The manifesto commitment of the new Government is to do that for another 11 million children by 2020.

The principle on which DFID works in delivering our education effort is to combine learning with equity. By learning, we mean that all boys and girls are to gain a foundation in skills to further their education and employment and realise their potential. That means a quality education that delivers what it is supposed to. As I say, that is done on the basis of equity. The hon. Members for Ceredigion, for Glasgow North and for Lewisham East all rightly drew attention to that agenda. It is the key principle.

On disability, the principle of “nobody left behind” must underpin the delivery of our efforts. It is how we will measure whether the goal and the targets have been achieved, and we are making enormous strides on that agenda. For example, any school we fund has to be accessible by disabled people. However, we do not want

2 July 2015 : Column 553WH

simply to make things accessible—it is no good children getting into a school if they are not actually learning anything when they are in there. Disabled children must have the same access to education, which is why we have invested heavily in specific projects dealing with the needs of disabled people—for example, providing Braille resources for 10,000 blind children in Ethiopia and for the Ghana Blind Union. We must be much more alive to this issue in the design of our future projects if we are to meet the targets.

The hon. Members for Glasgow North and for Lewisham East both talked about children in conflict areas, Syria in particular. We have put enormous effort into ensuring not just that no child is left behind but that there should be no lost generation. We have invested a huge amount of resource into ensuring that in both Jordan and Lebanon refugee children can be enrolled, through having two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon; there are also enrolment targets.

We are also funding the education Ministries. A new funding model is required for these emergencies. It is no good stumping up money and saying, “Here’s our commitment of £50 million” or £100 million, or whatever it is. Ministers who are delivering education in Lebanon and Jordan need to be assured that the finance will be there next year and the year after if they are to have plans. Therefore, part of our effort has been driving forward the agenda of delivering education over the longer term. That will be part of our agenda in Oslo and Addis: to make sure that finance is available not just as a one-off donation, but on the basis of a commitment on which Governments and Ministers can plan to provide for the educational needs as required.

As for the systems that underpin the principles of learning and equity, I have drawn attention to the fact that we need to address a whole series of statistics and metrics—things that we need to be able to measure—in order to ensure that data are used properly to deliver the outcome that we require.

The new SDG is a considerable expansion beyond the primary objective of the MDG. That raises all sorts of questions about finance, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to consider whether we can provide the finance to deliver the goal. I think that we have to take a step back and consider policy and what we can do to address the needs of lifelong learning in a way that goes well beyond the emphasis on primary education. We are already active in that area. We have been supplying early years education for 150,000 children in Burma, and through the organisation BRAC in Bangladesh we have supplied 2.7 million children with pre-primary education, but we also have to address the needs of tertiary education. We are certainly active in technical and vocational education, but we need to consider particularly the concerns of further education beyond that. Most of our fellow donors deal with that through scholarships, but there is a weakness with scholarships in that all the expenditure is carried out in the donor country. It does not actually get out beyond that to the nations that are developing and that require it. How we deliver such things will have to be considered in more detail than perhaps it has been hitherto. There is a great policy decision to be made.

2 July 2015 : Column 554WH

My view remains that primary education is of key importance in building foundations for development. It is one of the things that delivers huge improvements in delivery of other goals. Education is not only a goal in itself, but the door to other SDGs in terms of health outcomes and economic development. If education has not been delivered on, it will not be possible to deliver economic growth and the healthcare benefits that accrue as a consequence of having educated girls, which leads to later marriage and fewer problems with maternal health. All sort of things are transformed because of education. An additional year of education can increase a worker’s income by 10%, with all the effects that that has.

I would go further and say that the huge benefit of an educated population is that it delivers a stable, well governed country that provides for development—for the golden thread of economic development. Countries are poor because their elites choose to keep their people poor, because it suits them to do so and there is not an educated, active, civil society able to hold them to account. Education will deliver so much more than just the delivery of educational results in themselves.

2.35 pm

Mr Mark Williams: I am grateful to all the hon. Members who have taken part this afternoon. I look forward to facilitating, on behalf of the all-party group on global education for all, the opportunity to see the Minister’s colleague, the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps). Yes, education is the great key to individual prosperity and economic growth, and as people of all political persuasions have said in the Chamber this afternoon, it is the key to global and community cohesion as well.

I am genuinely grateful to hon. Members who have taken part. There has been consensus across the House that although the period from 2000 to 2015 has been one of achievement, it has been one of some disappointment as well. It is incumbent on all of us, in all parties in this House, to carry on making the case, particularly in the weeks and months ahead of the discussions in September, so that the SDGs really are meaningful. I would not want anybody to think that my concern about the multiplicity of targets and sub-targets in any way diminishes the need for them. Those targets have emerged for good reason. My intention in raising this issue is to say that if those goals, however many there are, are not achievable, we will be failing many people around the world.

Finally, the Minister alluded to community engagement. One of the great DFID projects that I visited in Lagos was a system of school-based management committees engaging not only children and their parents in education, but the whole community in the value of education. It was an admirable project, and projects such as that need to be encouraged and developed in the future.

Thank you very much, Mr Walker, and I am very grateful to everybody for participating this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered education and the sustainable development goals.

2.37 pm

Sitting suspended.

2 July 2015 : Column 555WH

Iranian Nuclear Programme

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

3 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Iranian nuclear programme.

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess; it is great to see you in the Chair this afternoon. I am grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means for giving us this opportunity. I have been raising concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions ever since I became a Member of Parliament: I have raised this issue with four Foreign Secretaries over the past 10 years. I applied for the debate in the hope of getting it this week because of the negotiations currently taking place in Vienna.

It is worth recalling how we got here and why Iran’s claims that it does not want a bomb have no credibility whatever. Iran has been caught lying time and again. In 2002, Iranian opposition groups disclosed details of major secret nuclear sites that Iran had kept hidden. Those sites included a large underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water production plant and reactor at Arak that could produce weapons-grade plutonium, neither of which are necessary for civilian power. In 2009, Britain, France and the US exposed another secret enrichment facility under a mountain at Fordow that is too small for civilian fuel but big enough to produce weapons-grade uranium.

The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report in November 2011 with detailed evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, which included a structured programme until 2003 and suspected activities since. In defiance of binding UN Security Council resolutions, Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity over recent years, reducing the time needed to reach one bomb’s worth of enriched uranium to two to three months. Iran has repeatedly refused the IAEA access to the Parchin military base, which is suspected to have been working on nuclear triggers, and has been working to cleanse the site of all evidence. Iran already has missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and our Prime Minister warned in 2012 that Iran is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Iranians say that they are enriching uranium for nuclear energy, despite not having the capacity to make nuclear fuel rods and not having a nuclear power station that can use the fuel. Iran has only one nuclear power plant, which was built by the Russians, and it is contractually bound to use only Russian fuel rods in that plant. Experts have likened the situation to someone buying a gallon of petrol from a petrol station every day for 12 years despite not having a car. All those activities have been in direct breach of Iran’s non-proliferation treaty commitments and numerous binding UN Security Council resolutions.

I will talk a little about the nature of the current proposed deal and the concerns that it raises. The framework announced in Lausanne in April 2015 has created much concern. Henry Kissinger and George Shultz put it well in their article for The Wall Street Journal:

“Nuclear talks with Iran began as an international effort, buttressed by six U.N. resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option. They are now an essentially

2 July 2015 : Column 556WH

bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability… The impact of this approach will be to move from preventing proliferation to managing it.”

It was welcome to hear President Obama say earlier this week that he will

“walk away…if it’s a bad deal”.

At times we have heard from the US that the only alternative to the deal would be war. The impression has therefore been given that the US is more concerned than the Iranians about the consequences of not reaching a deal. Yet it is surely the case in any negotiation that, unless we are willing to walk away and unless we have an alternative to an agreement, we are negotiating from a point of weakness, which will be exploited by the other side. Even at this late stage, and given what the P5+1 have already conceded, we need to get a deal on the best terms possible to meet our basic concerns. That means not accepting a deal at any price.

The red lines tweeted by Supreme Leader Khamenei last week are clearly not consistent with an acceptable deal for the UK and our P5+1 partners. What is our plan B if the Iranians do not budge from those red lines? Will our Government press our P5+1 partners to keep negotiating for an acceptable deal? Will the UK consider calling for a further extension of the current joint plan of action to allow more time, if needed? Meanwhile, this week the Iranian President threatened that, if there is no deal, Iran

“will go back to the old path, stronger than what they can imagine.”

Will the Minister confirm that we will not be moved by such threats? If Iran does not agree to our minimum terms, walks out on the talks and carries out its threat to resume its stockpiling of enriched uranium and centrifuges, will there be a robust and effective response to dissuade it from that path?

I will now turn to the details of the deal under discussion. I am waiting to see exactly what emerges from Vienna. If an agreement is reached, we already know from the framework that it will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. The framework says that Iran will scale back its enrichment capabilities for 10 to 15 years, but most of the restrictions on the enrichment and stockpiling of uranium will then expire. President Obama has said that the

“fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

As the framework will ultimately allow Iran to be within touching distance of nuclear weapons, and as Iran cannot be trusted, there are two critical concerns. The first is about knowing exactly what is going on inside Iran’s nuclear programme, and I have some specific questions about that.

First, is it a condition of the deal, and of the lifting of sanctions, that Iran answers all the IAEA’s questions about its suspected nuclear weapons research? Will the Minister confirm that, as his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), told the House last month, it is essential that the IAEA

“is able to verify all of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments, including through access to relevant locations”?

2 July 2015 : Column 557WH

How will the Government ensure that the IAEA can conduct intrusive and robust short-notice inspections of any site, including military locations, when Khamenei declared just a few days ago, while negotiations were taking place in Vienna, that such inspections will be limited? On research and development, will he confirm that the development of advanced centrifuges will be strictly limited to prevent the rapid technical upgrade and expansion of enrichment after the initial 10 years? Can he confirm that the remaining enriched uranium in Iran that is above the limits agreed in the framework will be irreversibly converted into a harmless form?

My second concern is that real and credible deterrents are needed in case Iran attempts to break out for a bomb either in the next 10 to 15 years or beyond that. Again, I have some specific questions. First, what discussions have the Government had with our American and European allies about how we would respond to Iranian violations? What planning will take place with our allies to deter Iran from making a dash to a bomb when its breakout time is, in the words of President Obama, “almost down to zero”?

How can the Government prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons when the agreement is over? How will they ensure that the breakout time does not reduce to zero? How will the Government ensure that Iran does not continue to develop military aspects of its nuclear programme given that it has not come clean on past activities, has violated protocols signed in the past and has failed to comply with its commitments to the IAEA to answer questions posed by the nuclear watchdog?

How will the Government and our international partners deal with violations of the agreement? Does the Minister believe that a joint committee mechanism of which Iran is a member will be reliable for dealing with such violations? What mechanisms will be in place to quickly reimpose, or snap back, biting sanctions if necessary? What would be the threshold for snapping back EU sanctions? Is there a threshold, or would one follow political negotiation? Will the Government reaffirm that all options ultimately remain on the table to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, should it try to do so in the future? Finally on the deal itself, every nuclear arms control agreement has included measures to control the means of delivery, so why does the current proposal lack a clause that deals with the issue?

I now want to raise some points about what will happen after the deal. We appear set to enter an agreement that, within 10 to 15 years, will allow Iran to reduce its breakout time to almost zero, according to President Obama. As the sanctions fall away, Iran will receive a huge economic and political boost, greatly empowering it in its ambitions to dominate the region. It is not surprising that that has united Israel and some Arab states in deep concern.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Of course the question has to be seen in the American, as well as the Israeli, geopolitical context. Does he agree, however, that the supreme leader, along with President Rouhani, would be better served by looking at Iran’s history? Great leaders from Persian history, such as King Darius

2 July 2015 : Column 558WH

and King Cyrus, supported the return of Jews from Persia to Jerusalem and helped to pay for the building of the Temple. That is real leadership, and it shows how to live in peace with Israel, rather than threaten it.

Ian Austin: I think Iran’s leaders would be better served by doing lots of things differently. I hesitate to use the words “wishful thinking”, but I am not sure how much confidence we can have that Iran’s present leadership will embark on the course of action that the hon. Gentleman has set out.

There is real concern right across the region that others—first and foremost, Saudi Arabia—will use the next 10 to 15 years to catch up with Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal said recently:

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

What will the UK and its allies do to reassure states in the region that they will deter Iran from breaking out to a bomb and, therefore, dissuade others from trying to match Iranian capabilities, creating a cascade of proliferation across the region?

There is also real concern that Iran will use its strengthened economic and political position to expand its existing destabilising activities. The country is shipping rockets to Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza strip and paying them to fire those rockets at Israel. It is also shipping rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which now has 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel. In addition, it is shipping weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen, propping up Assad in Syria and expanding its attempt to dominate a Shi’a-controlled Iraq. It is worth recalling that Hezbollah, which answers to the Iranian regime, is also guilty of murderous attacks on European soil. Just this week, a Hezbollah operative was convicted in Cyprus and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for planning an attack against Israeli targets there.

Will the Minister tell us what discussions the Government are having with our US and EU allies and with friends in the region, including the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, about how to contain an Iran that will be unbound by this deal? How does the UK plan to work with its allies to deter Iran from pursuing more destabilising behaviour? In the short term, the deal is likely to grant Iran an immediate bonus, which could amount to up to $50 billion, as a result of the lifting of sanctions. How will the Government ensure that that money is not used to increase Iranian insurgent activities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen or to continue supporting and arming Hezbollah and Hamas? What conditions will the agreement place on the use of those assets?

It is particularly disgraceful that Iranian leaders have repeated open calls for the destruction of Israel. That includes the supreme leader, in November last year, tweeting a nine-point plan for Israel’s elimination. Will the Minister assure us that the tone of relations between this country and Iran will reflect the deep distaste we have for such rhetoric and for Iran’s general approach to the region? Finally, will he give a commitment that the UK will continue to enhance its strategic co-operation with Israel against shared threats, including Iranian behaviour?

I have put lots of questions to the Minister, and I appreciate that the debate taking place in the main Chamber means that he is having to deal with a policy

2 July 2015 : Column 559WH

area for which he is not personally and directly responsible, but I would be grateful if he could answer my questions either in the debate or, subsequently, in writing. If he would prefer, I would also be happy to table them as written questions.

3.15 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing the debate. He made some important points, and I agree with everything he said. I also want to put on record my support for some of the questions he put to the Minister.

Iran has a distasteful track record of supporting states that have supported acts of terrorism. The supreme leader also has an unacceptable track record in terms of his behaviour towards the state of Israel. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight Iran’s lack of transparency, its obfuscation and its intransigence on its nuclear programme. He was also right to highlight the fact that the supreme leader’s attitude has become more hard-line in recent months. Similarly, he was right to highlight the fact that a deal for a deal’s sake is no good for the middle east or the world as a whole. It is also no good in terms of the precedent it would set regarding attitudes in this country and more broadly, including in the United Nations, towards other extremist and potentially dangerous states in the middle east and elsewhere.

It is therefore important that Britain continues to support the right deal, and we had reassurances on that in the debate a few weeks ago from the Minister with responsibility for the middle east. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is responding to the debate today, because he always speaks wisely and with great experience and knowledge of issues not only in Europe, but more broadly. I am sure he will be able to give us further reassurances that the Government will ensure that the right deal is sought and that Iran is held properly to account, so that it will want to show greater transparency in dealing with its nuclear programme in future. That should be an absolute precondition of a deal.

It is important to look at some of the background to not only the debate, but the behaviour that Iran has exhibited on nuclear weapons over the past few years. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany put together a provisional package of outline measures, through which a future deal on Iran’s nuclear programme should be looked at. The deadline for coming to an agreement was 30 June. It would be interesting to get an update from the Minister on what has taken place on putting together a firmer deal on the basis of the outline in principle that was put in place earlier this year.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are long-standing UN concerns about ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is legitimately peaceful and for civilian purposes before the country can be considered a normal non-nuclear-weapons state. In June, the EU said no deal should be put in place with Iran without a proper UN probe into the country’s nuclear capabilities. We have already heard from the hon. Member for Dudley North that the IAEA has long suspected Iran of conducting

2 July 2015 : Column 560WH

nuclear tests with the strong possibility of military intentions. In November 2014, Mr Amano, its director general, called on Iran to increase its co-operation with the IAEA and to provide timely, appropriate and transparent access to documentation, sites, materials and all other aspects of its nuclear programme. However, Iran has repeatedly refused to allow inspectors access to key nuclear sites. That is a matter of continuing concern, which undoubtedly led to today’s debate. I hope that the Minister will talk about that.

The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), has said, in explaining the Government’s position, that they will not do a bad deal with Iran, and will only do a deal that provides assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran’s programme. Previous assurances have been welcome, but what can my right hon. Friend the Minister of State add today, particularly in view of an escalation in Iran’s behaviour in the past few weeks?

I have several points to make about that and in particular about Iran’s intransigent behaviour in June. Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, said in June 2015:

“Inspection of our military sites is out of the question and is one of our red lines”.

He also said in May:

“No inspection of any military site and interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed. The enemies should know that the Iranian nation and officials will by no means give in to excessive demands and bullying.”

There has, furthermore, been escalation through the Iranian Parliament. In June 2015, Iranian lawmakers passed legislation to deny IAEA inspectors crucial access to military sites to verify the country’s nuclear activities. In particular, the legislation sets out criteria that any nuclear deal must meet, and I want to mention two points. First, it states:

“Access to all documents, scientists and military/security sites...is forbidden under any pretext”.

Secondly, it states:

“No limit will be accepted on Iran acquiring peaceful nuclear knowledge and technology and the materials required for research and development”.

Those are clearly worrying developments, which have happened only in the past few weeks. I should be grateful for the Minister’s thoughts about the impact they will have on any future agreement and for his reassurance that we will not push for a deal for a deal’s sake—that we will ensure that any deal is the right one for the middle east and for world stability.

It is worth highlighting the UK’s role, which is to the credit of the Government. It is right that, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the UK has played a leading role in the international community’s handling of the Iranian nuclear issue. The UK has tirelessly pressed Iran to respond to international concerns about its nuclear activities, even unilaterally imposing an unprecedented series of sanctions against Iran for its continued non-compliance. The British Government now stand to play a decisive part, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, in shaping the terms of a final nuclear agreement with Iran. They must, however, ensure that it is the right one. I look forward to hearing the Minister reassure the House on that.

2 July 2015 : Column 561WH

I want to pick up two points from the outline principles of agreement set out earlier in the year. They relate in particular to research and development capacity, which is vital, given the rapid progress of science and technology research in the past few years in all areas, including nuclear. The pace of change is rapidly increasing, and when we do not have enough transparency now—inspectors are not allowed access to documentation, military sites or scientists, so it is difficult to get a proper understanding of the current research base in Iran and the current state of affairs—it is all the more important to have more transparency, to inform any future, firm agreement with Iran, and to ensure that the agreement is future-proofed, not set in stone. If there are future developments in research and technology and in capability using centrifuges or other nuclear research areas, future-proofing would allow proper inspections and transparency, and action to be taken if behaviour or research supported military rather than civilian purposes in any way. I hope that the Minister will reassure me and the House that such future-proofing will be a key component of any final deal.

I hope I have made some important points about how the Iranian Parliament’s legislative proposals and the supreme leader’s attitude escalate matters, and about the need to future-proof against scientific and technological advances if any deal is to work. Further reassurance is needed about vital issues. I look forward to the Minister’s reassurance that the UK Government will take a robust line on the escalation in Iranian rhetoric and continue in their right course of holding Iran to account for failing to enter into meaningful negotiations. I hope he will also reassure us that, given the lack of transparency and the IAEA not being allowed access to documents, scientists and military sites, we can future-proof any agreement, particularly with regard to science and technological development as it affects nuclear technology, including centrifuges, that could be used for military purposes.

3.26 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for obtaining the debate.

The Prime Minister said of Iran in 2012:

“The Regime’s claim that its nuclear programme is intended purely for civilian purposes is not remotely credible.”

I am not convinced that too much has changed since. The Iranians still do not allow IAEA inspectors to see sites or to see what centrifuges there are. How many do they have? What are their intentions? It is a simplistic thing to say, but if their intentions are honourable and they have nothing to hide, why do they not let the inspectors in to see exactly what they are doing? I do not make any apologies for that simple question.

I agreed entirely with what the hon. Member for Dudley North said about claims that the only alternative to an agreement is war. He rightly said that is nonsense, and I would turn it around. If we—the international community—sign a flawed agreement with Iran, that will most definitely lead to war, for the simple reason that Iran will produce a nuclear weapon. Many of the

2 July 2015 : Column 562WH

states in the middle east—not just Israel—will want to follow suit, and all that we will have will be a huge proliferation of nuclear weapons in the middle east. Are we all, including the Americans, going to sit back and let that happen, when the Iranian President still will not recognise the state of Israel, and would prefer it to be written off the face of the map? What sort of language is that, and what sort of world are we living in?

I said in a Westminster Hall debate last week—on 16 June, at column 14WH—that it is dangerous when a US President is coming to the end of his second term of office and is looking for a legacy. It may be simple to sign up to a legacy of having reached an agreement with Iran, but if that is not worth the paper it is written on—and it probably will not be—the approach is wrong. I have great respect for the Minister, for our British Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and for all the work that we do around the world, but we must keep our eyes absolutely open. Iran has form on this issue, going all the way back to 2004. While Iran was busy negotiating an agreement with the EU, that allowed it more time to carry on producing more enriched uranium. That is the whole game, and it is why this debate is timely.

We must pause until we can be certain that we have an agreement under which we can go in and see the facilities, completely unfettered. It is absolutely right, if Iran wants to further its nuclear power, that it should be allowed to do so—I would be the first to say so—but I find it difficult to believe that that much uranium is being enriched just for a nuclear programme. That is where we are all being far too naive. I look forward to hearing the Minister and the shadow Minister sum up this debate; I do not think there will be many political differences between them. In my view, we must not have any political differences on this issue. If we are to be taken seriously by the Iranians and sort out the situation, we must present a united front to them.

Before any agreement is signed, we need to get into Iran to see what is being produced and ensure that it is being used for civilian purposes and nuclear power, not weapons. I repeat what I said at the beginning: if we do not get this right, we will regret it, because it will lead to huge problems and action will have to be taken. We in the international community must decide whether to sign a flawed agreement, brush everything under the carpet and allow Iran to increase its amount of enriched uranium—which will lead eventually, in however many years, to a nuclear weapon—or take more action now, however uncomfortable it might be, to sort out the situation so that we do not find ourselves in that position further down the road.

We must also be careful about ISIL, those dreadful people who are committing huge acts of terrorism and atrocities across the region. Again, whatever co-operation with the Iranians there may or may not be, we must not let that cloud the issue or the need to take firm action. I have every faith in our Minister. I am sure that he can sort out the whole situation, and I look forward to hearing him sum up.

3.33 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on

2 July 2015 : Column 563WH

securing this debate, which recognises the importance of the issue. This is the second time it has been debated in Westminster Hall in recent weeks.

I agree with a certain amount of what has been said. Of course we deplore the baiting of Israel by the Supreme Leader of Iran or any attempt to destabilise the region in whatever form, but I would strike a slightly less hawkish tone than we have heard so far. Developments, however small, are welcome. It is a live, ongoing negotiation process, and there is rhetoric on both sides while detailed negotiations go on. Some progress is probably better than no progress at all.

Diplomatic relations between Iran and the west have thawed in recent years, and this is a manifestation of it, starting most recently with the Lausanne agreement and the ongoing talks. We can see the election of President Rouhani, who spent considerable time in Glasgow, completing his doctorate there, as a demonstration of willingness to make at least some kind of progress. Iran has also indicated it might accept the additional protocol of the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which again suggests a certain willingness to engage.

The issue has important consequences for the wider region. If a peaceful agreement can be achieved between Iran and the western powers, that could well represent a model for future agreements elsewhere in the region. If Iran is respected and demonstrates that it can be trusted, where appropriate, we might see more peaceful and democratic negotiations and transitions in the region. The negotiation process represents an important opportunity to get things right, and perhaps to help not just the region but the whole world make progress on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament—issues close to the heart of the Scottish National party.

We must consider the wider context of getting our own house in order when it comes to the messages that we send out from the United Kingdom with the decisions we make. The SNP is not ashamed to oppose the renewal of Trident and the existence of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde or anywhere else in these islands. We are rightly opposed on moral and ethical grounds, because the destructive power of nuclear weapons and their ability to cause devastation and loss of life on an unimaginable scale is reason enough to scrap them wherever they exist. We are also opposed on the grounds of the cost and investment at this time of austerity. There is a consensus in Scotland that nuclear weapons should not be possessed by any country in the world: 57, not 56, of Scotland’s MPs agree. We will see where the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland goes when his party whips him on that.

There is also the question of nuclear power. Most people suggest that countries have a right to develop a peaceful civilian programme. Perhaps that is true—we would not have air conditioning today if it were not for a base-load provided by nuclear power stations—but the trend in this part of the world has been away from nuclear generation and towards renewables and so on. If we do not want other countries to develop civilian nuclear programmes, maybe we need to provide them with support for alternatives. Solar power is certainly not lacking in the parts of the world that we are debating. Perhaps that is a small example, but it goes to my wider point: as is so often the case, we must get our own house in order. The United Kingdom must lead by

2 July 2015 : Column 564WH

example. What right, moral or political, do we have to dictate terms to other countries if we are not prepared to apply the same standards to ourselves?

In welcoming the progress made diplomatically, I look forward to an update on where the negotiations are, and I encourage the Government to lead by example—not just in the negotiations as part of the western grouping, but in considering the impact of their domestic decisions in the areas of nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Ian Austin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Patrick Grady: No, I am just finishing. I encourage the Government to work ultimately towards a world that is both peaceful and nuclear-free.

3.38 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Thank you for your chairmanship, Sir David, as we debate a hot topic on a hot day. I pay tribute to my parliamentary neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing this debate. I know that he cares deeply about the middle east and international stability and is hugely concerned about the issue. I also thank the hon. Members for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) for their contributions.

The House debated this matter just a couple of weeks ago. I think that this debate might have been intended to reflect on an agreement that had been reached, having been secured before we knew that the deadline for agreement would be put back for a further week from 30 June. The timing of the negotiations may also be affected by deadlines in the United States, because if an agreement is not reached before 10 July the period for Congress to review and debate such an agreement lengthens considerably. I hope the Minister agrees that it is important that negotiation on substance is not sacrificed to timetables set elsewhere.

Before discussing the detail of any agreement, I ask the Minister to outline in his response the basic purpose of such an agreement from the Government’s point of view. The whole point of this process when it began was to test the thesis that Iran has advanced for the past decade or more—namely, that it is pursuing a civil nuclear programme. It denied that it wanted to develop a nuclear bomb. Is the point of the agreement with Iran still based on that notion—that it should facilitate a civil nuclear programme, but prevent a military one?

The Minister may be aware that The Washington Post said recently that

“a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capability.”

If the ground has been moved in such a fundamental way, that is important. Is the purpose of the agreement to stop the development of military nuclear capability in Iran or merely to suspend and restrict it for a number of years? In other words, is the purpose of the agreement to keep Iran as a nuclear threshold power for the period the agreement lasts? That is the first point I want to address.

2 July 2015 : Column 565WH

Then, of course, there are key issues of detail between the parties. We keep hearing the phrase that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and it is on the key measures that a judgment will be made. There is a lot of detail in the agreement; the Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not want to ask about every part of it. However, there are a few key issues to consider.

First, there is the issue of inspection and verification; whatever is agreed, those elements are absolutely vital. The purpose of agreement on them is that commitments can be verified and that there can be no covert breaking of the terms of the deal. We understand that the International Atomic Energy Agency will be granted access to nuclear sites in Iran, but there is still the important question of military and other sites. Iran has argued that the request for unfettered access to those sites would be a breach of sovereignty that no state would tolerate, but trust is absolutely crucial on this point. On what basis, if any, will inspections of non-nuclear sites be allowed? It is important that the House is aware of the Government’s position on this issue.

Secondly, there is a range of issues around capability, including centrifuges, research and development, and the quantity and quality of enriched uranium. This House can often become very focused when we discuss issues such as the number of centrifuges, but once again the agreement seems to have moved around on this point. There seems to have been an escalation in the number of centrifuges that Iran will be allowed to keep. We have heard figures of 1,500, 2,000, 5,000 and even 6,000.

The fundamental point, however, is not only the number of centrifuges but what it tells us about capability. What will happen to the centrifuges that Iran is allowed to keep in the future? There are centrifuges that Iran currently possesses that will not be included in the agreement, so how will they be monitored? How will we continue to monitor the capability that Iran will have after whatever number of centrifuges is agreed?

On research and development, the agreement seeks to freeze nuclear capacity for 10 years. If the goal is to stop Iran from becoming a military nuclear power, why only 10 years? Why not longer? Is there not a logical flaw in placing a time limit on a capability that Iran denies wanting to have in the first place?

There is also the issue of the enriched uranium that has already been developed. What will happen to it, and how will that be monitored? Also on capability, what of the heavy water plant at Arak, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North referred to, or the other facilities whose existence has only reluctantly and sometimes belatedly been acknowledged by Iran? How will we ensure that the capacity in these facilities to produce plutonium for potential military uses is permanently decommissioned? Can the Minister tell the House what is intended to happen to this capacity under the agreement and how we can ensure that it will be followed through?

The capability issues come together in the concept of breakout time, which my hon. Friend also referred to. That is the time needed for Iran to develop a weapon in the event of the failure of the agreement, and the withdrawal of inspection and monitoring facilities. Can the Minister tell the House what the view of the P5+1 is

2 July 2015 : Column 566WH

on the issue of breakout time? Is breakout time a matter of capability, or a matter of time? Have we put a time on it? There has been talk of six months, or a year. My hon. Friend quoted President Obama, who said the period could be even shorter. The issue of breakout time is absolutely crucial to the future of the agreement.

Finally, on the agreement itself there is the issue of sanctions. Iran is at the negotiating table because it wants sanctions to be lifted. Throughout this process, facilities have been discovered whose existence had not been previously admitted; uranium has been enriched beyond the levels needed for civilian use; and Iran has continued to sponsor client groups in the region, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as my hon. Friend pointed out. It is little wonder that in this environment trust is in short supply. Does the Minister agree that calls by Iran for sanctions to be lifted as soon as an agreement is signed should be resisted? If an agreement is reached, would it not be much more appropriate for there to be a phased lifting of sanctions alongside verifiable compliance by Iran with the commitments it has made under the agreement?

Of course, there are advantages for the world if Iran co-operates with the rest of the world, but that co-operation cannot simply be taken on trust. Trust has to be built and earned, and that means a phased rather than an immediate lifting of sanctions. On the sanctions point, of course, there is the concept of “snapback”, as President Obama has put it. What arrangements will be put in place for sanctions to be restored quickly if Iran does not adhere to the commitments it has made?

A good agreement with Iran, which prevents an escalation to nuclear military capability and brings it more into the international community, would be a good thing. But a bad agreement, which was either not capable of being properly enforced or which simply delayed capability for a few years as a trade-off for the lifting of sanctions, would be a bad deal for the P5+1, the region and the world.

I would like the Minister to tell the House what the process will be here in Parliament to examine an agreement, if one is reached. We debate here—Westminster Hall is not exactly crowded today—but this issue is fundamental for our security. What will be the parliamentary process for considering an agreement if one is reached in the coming days?

To conclude, it is impossible to discuss this matter without considering it in the context of Iran’s wider role in the middle east. What are the implications of an agreement for the sponsorship of proxies, which Iran continues to engage in, and for Iran’s wider regional struggle with Saudi Arabia? The Minister will be aware of the statement from Prince Turki al-Faisal, which was quoted by my hon. Friend. The prince said:

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

If that is the case, what would this agreement mean for nuclear capability in the rest of the region and, equally importantly, what would be the implications of a failure to reach agreement? If the west is to lift sanctions as a result of the agreement, how do we also influence Iran’s wider role in the region? How do we give assurance to other allies in the middle east, who fear a more assertive Iran and that the agreement will not constrain and influence Iran but simply empower it through the lifting of sanctions?

2 July 2015 : Column 567WH

This discussion is not only about the technicalities of centrifuges, inspections and quantities of yellowcake; it is also about whether Iran is really serious about adopting a different role in the region, and a wider role than the one it has pursued in recent years. The rhetoric that comes from the top of the regime continues to be belligerent, to call for the annihilation of the state of Israel and to cause huge concern, even among our non-Israeli allies in the region. If we get an agreement, it is important not only that it is the right one in terms of security, but that it has a positive effect on the wider issues in the middle east.

3.49 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Amess. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing this debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) for their contributions, and the two Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen for theirs.

It will be no surprise that I am unable to speculate about quite a few details, because negotiations are continuing in Vienna today. Although all questions asked during the debate were perfectly reasonable, many can only be answered if and when there is a final agreement between the E3+3 and Iran. At present, there is an interim agreement—the so-called Lausanne parameters—and ongoing negotiations. The Foreign Secretary is in Vienna today to take forward conversations with the Iranian negotiators, having met his five counterparts a few days ago.

I can tell the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) that throughout this process, which it is fair to say has commanded broadly bipartisan support under successive Governments, Foreign Office Ministers have sought to keep Parliament informed about negotiations, and we will certainly continue to do so. I expect that, in the event of a final agreement being reached, a statement to Parliament will be made by the Foreign Secretary or another Minister, so that Members have the chance to see the detail of what was agreed.

When we and our E3+3 partners and Iran agreed the key parameters for a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme on 2 April, we set ourselves a deadline for reaching a final deal. That deadline passed on Tuesday, as hon. Members mentioned, without an agreement being reached, but that does not mean that the process has definitively ended in failure. It demonstrates our resolve not to be hurried into an unsatisfactory agreement on the substance, including on the vital technical details—I accept what Members from all parties said about consideration of the technical details being essential to any judgment about the nature of a final deal, should one be secured. It is important that all sides have the assurances they need and that we get those details right. We have to be confident that any deal is verifiable, durable and addresses our concerns fully. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: substance is the key to this, not any particular question of timing.

All parties remain committed to achieving a deal. Nobody wants another long extension, so the interim agreement—the joint plan of action—has been extended for seven days to allow negotiations to continue.

2 July 2015 : Column 568WH

Just over two weeks ago, the House debated these issues, and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), replied on behalf of the Government. I have picked up from this debate, as I did from the record of the previous one, that hon. Members in various political parties are concerned about the detail and worry that Iran might be granted too many concessions.

Although I cannot give a running commentary on the detail of the negotiations, I reiterate my strongest possible assurance on behalf of the whole Government that we will not do a bad deal. Any deal must achieve the Government’s prime objective of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. That means more than just a verbal or written commitment: it means the inclusion of detailed undertakings by Iran that are sufficient to give us confidence that their nuclear programme will be entirely peaceful. Anything less is completely unacceptable.

We have an historic opportunity to find a solution to a long-standing source of tension, instability and global concern that, if unresolved, will undoubtedly threaten our security and that of our partners. In a week when we have seen tragic violence and bloodshed in the wider region, we should reflect on how much progress we have made towards reaching a solution through peaceful, diplomatic and negotiated means. A great deal is at stake—for this country, for our partners and for the people of Iran.

Let me give a bit more detail on the parameters within which we hope to agree a deal and its implications for Iran, for the region, and for the UK. In addressing the Lausanne parameters, I hope that I will answer at least some of the questions and concerns raised during this debate.

The parameters for a deal agreed in Lausanne are a sound basis for what could be a very good deal that is durable, verifiable and addresses our concerns about proliferation. Under the Lausanne interim agreement, Iran’s enrichment capacity, enrichment level and enriched uranium stockpile would all be limited, and the facility at Natanz would be Iran’s sole location for enrichment.

Hon. Members mentioned research and development capability. Iran’s research and development on centrifuges will be carried out under the Lausanne parameters, based on mutually agreed details relating to scope and schedule. When I say “mutually agreed”, I mean agreed not just by Iran, but by Iran and the six international partners with whom it is negotiating. The Lausanne deal also requires the Arak heavy water research reactor to be redesigned and modernised to exclude production of weapons-grade plutonium. Taken together, these measures will ensure that Iran’s break-out time—the time taken to produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear device, should Iran ever attempt to do so—will be extended to at least 12 months.

A robust and credible regime for monitoring compliance by Iran will be put in place under the Lausanne parameters. Iran would need to implement the modified code 3.1 and the additional protocol to the comprehensive safeguards agreement. The International Atomic Energy Agency must be able to use the best modern monitoring technologies and have enhanced access to sites to make sure that if

2 July 2015 : Column 569WH

Iran ever tried to break out towards a nuclear weapon, the international community would be alerted and have sufficient time to respond.

Neil Parish: What faith have we that this agreement, which should deal with enhanced access to nuclear sites in Iran, will happen? We have had agreements like this before, but still have not had access to the sites.

Mr Lidington: I want to say a little bit more about access in a few moments, but to answer my hon. Friend directly, questions about access and verification lie at the heart of the detailed negotiations going on today. Unless we and our partners are satisfied that the IAEA will have the access that it believes it needs, there will not be a final agreement.

Dr Poulter: My right hon. Friend’s considered, helpful response is shedding perhaps greater light on the issues than we had in the previous debate. On access, is it not difficult to understand what is being negotiated if there has not been transparency about exactly what the situation is on the ground and what access there is to the scientists? Should there not be some level of access first, before the final details of the negotiation are put to bed?

Mr Lidington: I promise my hon. Friend that I will come to the point he raised on access to scientists a little later in my remarks. All the questions about access and the sequencing of access are precisely the subject of the negotiations that Foreign Ministers are pursuing this afternoon in Vienna.

So far as sanctions are concerned, the position under Lausanne is that once the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all the agreed actions on its nuclear programme—and only at that point—Iran will receive phased sanctions relief, including comprehensive relief from economic and financial sanctions. The interim plan provides for proliferation-related measures to remain in place until the international community has confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s programme. Importantly, Iran will remain bound by its non-proliferation treaty obligations both during and after a deal. We will not hesitate to take action, including through the re-imposition of sanctions, if Iran at any time violates its obligations under a comprehensive deal. To respond to the shadow Minister, one thing we and our partners are discussing is how to devise the mechanism for the snapback of sanctions in the event that Iran breaks from the terms of a deal that it has agreed. Obviously any final agreement will contain far more detail than I am able to set out today, but we are confident that a deal within the Lausanne framework will achieve what we set out to do.

Turning to some of the questions raised in the debate, the hon. Member for Dudley North asked about the joint committee. The joint committee mechanism would be set up only in the wake of a deal. It would be a format within which issues relating to the implementation of the agreement could be discussed by all parties together. It would be a deliberative forum. The political reality is that Iran would be present along with the six negotiating partners. One may want to be very pessimistic and say that the six will not be able to maintain solidarity. So far, there has been a very good working relationship

2 July 2015 : Column 570WH

among the three EU members, the United States, Russia and China, but were something to go wrong, it would remain the reality that the three European countries and the United States would constitute a majority on the joint committee.

On access, it is essential that the IAEA is able as part of any agreement to verify all of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments, including through access to relevant locations. That must include robust monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities and how it implements the additional protocol, which it will need to sign up to once again as part of any agreement. Under a comprehensive agreement, Iran, by implementing the additional protocol to the NPT, will provide the IAEA with substantial access to its declared nuclear facilities. Also, under the additional protocol the IAEA can request access to any location in Iran that it chooses, including non-declared and military sites. For a comprehensive agreement to be credible, we will need to ensure that the IAEA can obtain that access. It needs to be more than just words on paper. The detail of how we can ensure confidence in the IAEA having the access it believes it needs is central to the ongoing negotiations.

If Iran implements the additional protocol, the IAEA will have additional rights to information on and access to the entire Iranian fuel cycle, including uranium mines and some parts of the centrifuge production process. That will clearly give the IAEA a better understanding of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and make the diversion of nuclear materials more difficult than it has been.

The question on access to scientists, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, relates to what is sometimes termed the possible military dimension of Iran’s programme. The IAEA is keen to see that addressed. The six and Iran agree that the resolution of outstanding issues remains essential, particularly those related to the possible military dimensions, or PMD, of the Iranian nuclear programme. The completion of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns over PMD will constitute one of the set of “key nuclear-related actions” that Iran must complete following agreement at Lausanne of the joint comprehensive plan of action. The IAEA director-general has been careful to separate the talks taking place under the framework for co-operation signed by the IAEA and Iran on 11 November 2013 from the E3+3 process. He has said that he hoped they would be mutually beneficial, and we continue to share that view.

Iran will need to address the IAEA’s concerns about the possible military dimensions of its programme, regardless of the outcome of the E3+3 talks and any joint comprehensive plan of action. We note and are disappointed by the extremely limited progress on PMD reported by the IAEA in its board report of 29 May. We continue to give our full support to the IAEA, which has continued to engage with Iran at short notice and has tried to demonstrate maximum flexibility on what it sees as the essential need to get to the bottom of the PMD question.

Concerns were expressed about whether a time-limited agreement could be a problem, because Iran might just massively expand its nuclear programme once the period of the agreement expired. The key point to make is that a comprehensive deal would lead to significantly increased transparency, in particular through the implementation of the additional protocol and modified code 3.1, and

2 July 2015 : Column 571WH

those measures do not expire at the end of any deal; they are permanent and will ensure that Iran’s programme remains transparent and subject to verification by the IAEA, providing reassurance to the international community about the peaceful nature of that programme. Iran remains bound by its NPT obligations during and after any deal. The deal is attractive to Iran because of the huge economic benefits it would bring, and that gives it a significant incentive to keep its nuclear programme exclusively peaceful. I said that we will not hesitate to take action, including through the reimposition of sanctions, if Iran violates its NPT obligations at any time. Our hope is that the implementation of a comprehensive agreement, with all the benefits that that would bring to the people of Iran, would mean that the Iranian Government would not wish to take such a step.

A nuclear deal would also make a significant contribution to regional stability. It goes without saying that the alternatives to a diplomatic settlement are a nuclear-armed Iran or a military confrontation aimed at stopping its nuclear programmes. Those would be terrible outcomes for the region at large. If Iran had or was believed to have nuclear weapons, the risk of a nuclear arms race in the middle east would be serious indeed. By contrast, a deal that ensured that the Iranian programme was exclusively peaceful would have a significant positive regional impact. Improved trust and confidence could go a long way in easing the tensions of a volatile and dangerous region.

At the same time, we completely understand that Israel and our partners in the Gulf have concerns. To them we say, as we have said consistently: we do not want and will not do a bad deal. We will only do a deal that provides assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran’s programme. Securing such a deal, if it is indeed attainable, is inherently better than the alternatives.

Our relationships with our partners in the region—our commitment to talking to them and keeping them up to date with our views and the progress of the talks—will remain. We will not turn a blind eye to Iran’s destabilising actions in the region, but we will work with both our partners and Iran to support and encourage in the Iranian Government a more constructive regional attitude. By reaching a nuclear deal, Iran can start to show willing, and it can show us that it is willing to work towards solutions to regional challenges.

On the bilateral relationship, a comprehensive deal would bring potential benefits to the UK as well as to Iran. If—I say “if”—Iran not only strikes a deal but adheres to its commitments and so sanctions are lifted, the Government will help British business in whatever way they can to take advantage of the resulting opportunities and to promote trade and investment between the two countries. A functioning British embassy in Tehran would be an important part of the Government’s role. We have been clear from the start that the reopening of our embassy is not dependent on a nuclear agreement, and we remain committed to reopening it as soon as we have resolved some outstanding issues relating to the practical functioning of the mission.

Sending our diplomats back to Tehran would not, however, mean setting aside all differences with Iran. We continue to disagree on a number of core topics, not least Iran’s record on human rights and approach to regional stability. Nevertheless, an embassy in Tehran

2 July 2015 : Column 572WH

would allow us to engage the Government and people of Iran on a full spectrum of issues, just as we do in many other countries around the world with whose Governments we also have profound disagreements. Increased dialogue is in our mutual interests and the only way to move forward.

We have the opportunity to settle one of the most complex foreign policy problems of our time. To have got even this far is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the dedication, perseverance and creativity of diplomats and officials from all sides, including Iran. It demonstrates what can be achieved when we allow the time and space to settle differences through diplomatic means. There is an historic opportunity for Iran, the region and the international community, but we cannot and will not make a deal at any price. An agreement is worth having only if it delivers our key objective of ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme can only ever be peaceful, and it must deliver that outcome in a credible, verifiable way.

We face some difficult discussions in the coming hours and days, and, whatever the outcome in Vienna, we will continue to have our differences with Iran on regional issues and human rights. However, a deal within the parameters agreed in Lausanne remains the best way to secure the assurances we seek on Iran’s nuclear programme—the best way for Britain, the region and the global community.

4.13 pm

Ian Austin: I apologise to you, Sir David, for getting your title wrong at the beginning of the debate.

I am grateful to all the Members who have taken part today. The Minister was presented with a lot of questions and I am grateful to him for the answers he gave. I particularly welcome his assurances that we will not do a bad deal, that we will not make a deal at any price and that we will not turn a blind eye to Iran’s destabilising of the region. I am grateful for the contributions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), and by the hon. Members for Tiverton and Honiton, for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).

That said, I want to make one point, which was the reason why I tried to intervene on the hon. Member for Glasgow North right at the end of his speech. I do not accept at all the argument that there is some sort of moral equivalence between us in the west and the Iranian leadership, nor do I accept his argument about getting our own house in order before we can comment on what the Iranians are trying to do. The truth is that Britain’s nuclear stance has not changed for 50 years. We are not promoting a radical anti-western ideology. We are not threatening to destroy other states. The issue is Iran, which, uniquely, signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, broke all its provisions with a secret nuclear weapons programme, and was caught red-handed on two occasions.

I must also say that we are not an autocratic dictatorship—1,200 people have been executed under Rouhani’s supposedly moderate leadership. We do not arrest journalists, bloggers and political activists and lock them up for years on end and we do not threaten to wipe other countries off the face of the Earth. It is

2 July 2015 : Column 573WH

utterly ludicrous to compare the Iranian regime with western democracies and say that we have to get our house in order before we can comment.

Question put and agreed to.

2 July 2015 : Column 574WH


That this House has considered the Iranian nuclear programme.

4.15 pm

Sitting adjourned.