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Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Prime Minister has said that Britain will take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years, but he has paradoxically said that we will not accept them as refugees—they will not be given refugee status. He said they would be given status as being under humanitarian protection. As he knows, that is a discretionary leave to remain that does not entitle them to settlement. These are people who desperately need security and stability in their lives. How is he going to reconcile that with the status that he is proposing to give them?

The Prime Minister: That is a very good question. There are two reasons for taking this approach. One is that by granting people the humanitarian passport, as it were, they do not formally have to go through asylum procedures to prove that they are refugees; we are taking them once they have met the criteria, and then they have the right to stay. Of course, at the end of those five years some may choose to return to Syria, but many will want to stay here and apply for settlement rights, which of course they will be able to do.

Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): The acting Leader of the Opposition rightly referred to the contributions that refugees have made to this country throughout history and the hopes for the children whom we are to welcome, but ultimately Syria will need its best and its brightest. Is it not right that by investing in refugee camps in the region we will help—I hope—Syria to rebuild itself in future as well as look after people in the immediate vicinity?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I repeat the figure of about 11 million people taken out of their homes. All our interests are in those people going back to their homes. That obviously needs a solution to the Syrian crisis, but it is the right answer rather than an even bigger movement of people.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): We welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, but when he talks about 11 million people in the camps in Syria and the impossibility of moving them and investing in them, does that not suggest that the policy should be the opposite—to help with the crisis of the people who are on the streets in Europe and fund the camps to protect and keep the people on the border and in the region of Syria?

The Prime Minister: We are funding the camps in Jordan, in Lebanon and in Turkey. The point I am trying to make about the 11 million is that, given that so far only 3% of the 11 million have moved to Europe, we have to be careful not to create an incentive so that that 3% becomes 10% or 20%, because that would completely overwhelm the capacity of even the most generous state, such as Germany, to receive people. That is why investing in the refugee camps and not just helping those in the camps outside Syria but working with UN agencies about how to help people inside Syria, which I was discussing with Stephen O’Brien this morning, is so important in trying not only to stop the scale of the movement but to save lives at the same time.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on both parts of his statement and the agencies on the intelligence-led operation

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of 21 August. Does he agree that the mark of a truly altruistic and compassionate society is measured not in the tens of thousands of fit and able young men it accommodates, but in the number of people who are truly vulnerable—women and children, the elderly and the sick?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are working with the UNHCR on the categories of people we will be taking from the camps.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I remind the Prime Minister that many of us in the Chamber are quite closely linked through our ancestry to migrants and refugees? In my case, my Huguenot Protestant ancestors were hounded out of France by the Catholics. Most of us in the Chamber will come from that sort of background. Should we not build on the generosity of spirit that has been shown by the British people? I do not think that the Prime Minister has yet gone far enough. I hope that he will go further. All of us must realise that none of us has clean hands and many of us are so responsible for the instability in the middle east that caused this problem in the first place.

The Prime Minister: Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that the British public are very generous and want to see us resettle refugees. They do not see any conflict—neither do I—between resettling refugees and playing our humanitarian part while having a well- managed and well-controlled immigration system. They want both things and we must deliver both things.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The facts of the matter are that those refugees who have made it into the EU are already safe and we cannot make them any safer. Not all those coming in are genuine refugees. We are already taking hundreds of thousands of migrants into the UK every year and we are struggling to cope with them. I have not heard anybody ask that they should be distributed around the rest of the EU through a quota system. May I therefore urge the Prime Minister to have regard to the silent majority in this country and base his decisions on common sense and being practical, not on the affliction of so many other politicians, which is some kind of emotional craving to be seen as compassionate, irrespective of the practicalities of the situation?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He makes an important point about those who have already made it to Europe being, to some degree or other, far safer and less at risk than those still stuck in Syria or in very precarious positions in refugee camps or on the borders. It is right that we consider that in our response.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): It is ironic that it has taken a photograph of one little boy washed up on a beach to focus world attention. This has been going on for months if not years: thousands of people have already drowned, but that one little boy has certainly focused attention. Our response, while welcome, is insufficient. One person in my constituency rang up today as I was driving up in the car and said, “I’ve got places for 20 families.” My local authority, which is

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a poor local authority, has already offered places for 20 families. That little boy came from Kobane, which was liberated by Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, not by us, and that little boy’s father has gone back to Kobane. We owe such people something more. It is this country’s individuals who have shown the way, and I would hope that the Government will follow.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the connection between what happens in Kobane, with the liberation of that town by Kurdish forces, and the opportunity for people to return. There is a connection between what happens on the ground in Syria militarily and this refugee crisis.

The second point I would make is that Britain’s generosity on this issue did not start five minutes, five days or five weeks ago. Our generosity started with our decision to pursue 0.7% of GDP for aid, even at a time of austerity, and our decision to be the second largest bilateral aid donor to those Syrian refugee camps—beaten only by the United States of America. We give more than Germany, more than France and many times more than most other major European countries. This money is a measure of our compassion and sympathy, because it has saved many, many lives.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): For clarification, is my right hon. Friend saying that in the event of the destruction of Daesh the flow of refugees from Syria is unlikely to recede unless we also see the end of Assad’s regime?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is difficult to get precise figures, but a number of people have left Syria because of Assad’s brutality and a number of people have left because of ISIL’s brutality. That is why the movement of refugees has been so great and why it is wrong to say that we need to choose between two evils. We need to get rid of both of them.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree that our priority in relation to Syria should be to work with other Arab countries and Iran, Russia, France and Germany to find a coherent response to the fighting in the region, and that we should not repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war—a war opposed by the Liberal Democrats—by following the US Government into bombing and then occupying an Arab country?

The Prime Minister: We should work with other countries in accordance with international law, but that should not stop us getting on and doing the necessary things that we have done, including the counter-terrorism action that I referred to earlier.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking a proportionate, measured approach in the national interest. It is a shame that Her Majesty’s Opposition did not take a similar approach when Syria was debated on a substantive motion two years ago, when their behaviour was duplicitous, and that is being charitable. May I take him back to the tragedy within this humanitarian disaster that is the systematic persecution of Christians over many years? Notwithstanding his earlier answers, in designing the

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mechanics of the refugee settlement regime, will he take into account the systematic persecution of Christians that has existed for many years?

The Prime Minister: We will certainly look at that. As I have said, we should look at vulnerable groups. That can include Yazidis, Christians and others who are vulnerable not just in Syria right now but, potentially, in the situations in which they find themselves outside Syria.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): There can be no starker contrast than that between the overwhelming majority of young people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who utterly condemn the activities of Daesh, and the actions of Reyaad Khan and the two individuals from my constituency who regrettably associated with him and also travelled to fight in Syria. Clearly, the Prime Minister and his Ministers have difficult decisions to take when there is a threat to this country. Will he meet me and my hon. Friend to discuss the circumstances and the nature of what happened and, most importantly, to discuss what we can do better together to tackle the extremists who are trying to recruit individuals from our shores in order to prevent further young people from getting involved with this barbarous organisation?

The Prime Minister: It is certainly a matter of huge regret when young people from our constituencies get involved in extremism and violence, and when they travel to Syria or Iraq and take part in these dreadful events. I will consult the Defence Secretary to see whether he can host a meeting with MPs who have particular concerns to raise.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): My constituents will warmly welcome what the Prime Minister has said today. They do care that we are generous and I know that they will do their bit if they can. He spoke about causes. There is no question but that the exodus from Syria is down to the chaos that reigns in that country. There has been a lot of talk of moral obligations in my postbag over the past few weeks. Does this country have a moral obligation to join the military coalition that is operating in Syria?

The Prime Minister: I think that we have an obligation to act in a way that will reduce the pressure on these people and that will further our national interests and make us more safe. We therefore have to debate and discuss in this House not only how many refugees we should take and what we are doing in terms of humanitarian aid, but what we can do to help degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. There is no doubt that the ISIL fanatics are dedicated to doing us harm. Therefore, what we are doing in Iraq is right, it is right that we support the action that others are taking in Syria, and we need a debate about whether we should do more to help with that.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): In January the Prime Minister committed us to taking 500 refugees from Syria under the vulnerable persons relocation programme. Why are only 217 people here, despite 150,000 people going from Turkey to western Europe, as he described?

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The Prime Minister: Of course, in total we have given refuge to about 5,000 Syrians. We have also had a resettlement programme for many years that resettles about 1,000 people a year, including Syrians. In addition to that, there is the specific vulnerable persons programme, which we will be massively expanding.

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Some time ago, my great-grandparents made a long journey over land and sea and became refugees in England, so I understand as much as anybody the importance of Britain giving refugees a home. Once we have welcomed those who need to come here, we must ensure that they have the tools to lead a decent life, integrated in our communities. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the investment we are making for the long-term future of these refugees will be sufficient?

The Prime Minister: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. Giving someone asylum and refugee status is not an act that is just completed with a piece of paper; it has to be completed with a warm welcome. We have to say to these people, “You will be welcome in our communities. Your children will be welcome at our schools. You will be welcome to use our hospitals.” These people will be able to take jobs in Britain. They will have all those rights. It is very important we make sure that the welcome is warm and well organised, which is why I think the scale we are looking at is about right.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister must be aware that there has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK and Europe. Will he, as Prime Minister of this country, assure me that religion will not be a criterion to grant humanitarian relief? Will he resist the temptation to use the term “Islamic terrorism”? It is not Islamic. It is just pure terrorism.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we should not take people on the basis of their faith, but on the basis of whether they are being persecuted. I describe it as “extremist Islamist terrorism” because I think simply to say that what we are facing from ISIL and others is terrorism is not a proper description of what we are facing. The religion of Islam is a religion of peace. The overwhelming majority of Muslims want to condemn—and do daily condemn—these fanatics, but the fact is that the fanatics themselves self-identify as Muslims. That is why it is so important that British Muslim communities—as they do—stand up and condemn them and say, “You are not acting in the name of our great religion. You are perverting it.” But simply pretending the problem does not exist by just calling it terrorism will not work.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The Prime Minister defended the recent action against ISIL on the basis of specific intelligence and specific targeting. When it comes to the debate we are going to have on bombing Syria, may I commend that approach? I think many of us want to be reassured that we have a specific intelligence-based approach, not just a generalised one of bombing our enemies’ enemy.

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a difficult balance to explain the information we have without endangering national security or operations that may be under way. All I would say is that we will always try to provide the best and most up-to-date intelligence information in a format that people can find reliable, but, as Prime Ministers have found before, this is very, very difficult water to go through.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Our country has a long and honourable tradition of providing asylum and we warmly welcome those who will come to our shores—to Birmingham as they did to Berlin. Leadership is key at this time of the greatest refugee crisis since the war, and so, too, is the tone that that leadership sets. Will the Prime Minister therefore assure the House that there will be no more talk of swarms of marauding migrants, when there are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives?

The Prime Minister: I think what matters is the action we take to demonstrate the humanity and moral conscience of Britain. That is what we are doing today.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): ISIL does not recognise the boundaries of Syria and any Russian intervention would be to support the Assad regime alone. On that basis, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will carry on supporting the countries that surround Syria, such as Lebanon and Jordan, which are taking in the refugees?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give that assurance. The scale of movement of people into Lebanon, for instance, now accounts for about a quarter of its population. We give a lot of money to that country to help with refugees and we should continue to do so. It is better for people to stay and be looked after there, and in time to return to Syria, than to take the perilous journey to Europe.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): The city of Liverpool has a very proud tradition of welcoming those fleeing from oppression and we stand ready to welcome refugees from Syria. From the hundreds of pieces of correspondence I have received in recent weeks from my constituents, I know that they, like me, will be bitterly disappointed by the lack of ambition from the Prime Minister today. How quickly, after the statement from the Home Secretary next week, can we expect the British programme to start?

The Prime Minister: The British programme can get under way straightaway. We need to talk to UNHCR to make sure it can process the people out of the camps, but I think that 20,000 Syrian refugees is a generous and correct approach for Britain to take.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): For what it is worth, I think the military event in August was both lawful and right. The refugee and terrorism crisis the Prime Minister has described suggests we need not just a diplomatic and an aid solution but a defence solution. Will he please urge the strategic defence and security review to look carefully at increasing our defence budget over the next year or so, because we are surely going to need it?

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The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point about the defence budget. That is why we have recommitted to 2% throughout this decade, meaning a real-terms increase in our defence budget, and I believe that an important part of that must be making sure we have these counter-terrorism capabilities, such as the one we used in August.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Prime Minister rightly said that he did not want people making these dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean. The Swedish academic Professor Hans Rosling has identified an EU aviation directive that is forcing such crossings to happen, at four times the cost of flying, helping criminal gangs to grow and creating the risk of drowning, as we saw with that young boy last week. Will the Prime Minister consider the possibility at the EU level of suspending that directive for a while on the routes people are using so that they do not have to risk their lives making these crossings?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at that suggestion and the academic the hon. Gentleman quotes.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Given that at least part of the humanitarian crisis derives from regional instability caused by the Iraq war, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, because we bear a particular responsibility for it. Does he agree that the US, which contributes only half as much as the UK in Syrian aid as a proportion of GDP, and which has accepted scarcely any asylum seekers at all, should now also respond and do more, and will he ask the US Administration to do so?

The Prime Minister: I obviously look forward to discussing this matter with President Obama, but let us be fair, the US is the largest aid donor to Syria, and I am sure we will go on encouraging it and others to do more, just as we have kept our promise about the 0.7%.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I welcome what the Prime Minister has said today, but he will know that when Turkey invaded Cyprus, we took 50,000 Cypriots; that during Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda, we took 30,000 Asian Ugandans; and that we took more than 20,000 Vietnamese boat people in a short space of time. Why has he limited his help for Syrians to 4,000 a year?

The Prime Minister: We have said 20,000 refugees, which I think is the right response for Britain. We want to make sure we have the capacity to give these people a home and a welcome. Obviously, every year Britain takes asylum seekers from right around the world—I think last year we had some 25,000 applications. We have a large number of people from Eritrea and other countries trying to make their way to Britain and claim asylum. Our record on asylum claims over a 10 to 20-year period shows that we are a generous country which operates the system properly, and I think that 20,000 Syrian refugees is about right.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The children of Syria are the victims of dictators, terrorists and traffickers. They are certainly not the victims of UK immigration

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policy, and therefore I commend and support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement today. What discussions have been had with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states on providing greater aid, taking refugees and supporting refugee camps around Syria?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have had those discussions and will continue to do so. The Arab world has provided some generous funding for refugee camps, but I am sure we will have further conversations with them.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The British people are indeed, as the Prime Minister said, a generous people, and they will find his proposal for taking 4,000 Syrian refugees a year derisory, but above all, long after this refugee crisis is no longer on the front pages, there will be a need for a sustainable, Europe-wide strategy. It cannot be right for Greece and Italy to be left alone to deal with incoming migrants from across the Mediterranean. It cannot be right that we refuse to take our quota. Syrian refugees are not the only issue; migrants from the horn of Africa and north Africa are drowning in the Mediterranean every day. The Prime Minister needs to look to a more sustainable strategy that is more genuinely about working closely with our European neighbours, because hundreds of thousands of lives depend on it.

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I think 20,000 Syrian refugees is the right response for Britain. While I agree that we need a co-ordinated European response, I do not believe it should be Britain giving up our borders and joining the Schengen no-borders arrangement. That lies behind what the hon. Lady and others are suggesting—[Interruption.] If that is not the case, the Labour party needs to be clear about it. I think we can have a comprehensive approach that helps the Schengen countries with their external borders, but maintains our borders and recognises that we benefit from having them.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): My right hon. Friend’s decision to spread the 20,000 refugees over the lifetime of this Parliament seems to me a sensible one, but it does not come without risks—namely, the opportunity for those who wish our country ill to infiltrate the camps to see if they, too, can get themselves to the UK under this programme. Will the Prime Minister assure the House and the country that robust but sensitive vetting and security procedures, where appropriate, will be in place from day one until the end?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give that assurance. It is important to select people who are genuinely vulnerable and need to be saved. We will be careful not to accept people who might support extremist or terrorist views.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Constraints mean that I will have to park questions about the deployment of lethal force against a UK citizen in order to address the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister talked about supporting these refugees in their hour of need, but how does that

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rhetoric chime with admitting only 20,000 over the course of five years, with overtones of disqualification for those who have already made perilous journeys and perhaps lost loved ones? Will the Prime Minister go further than merely have his Ministers having disparate conversations with First Ministers and will he, along with the Irish Government, convene a special meeting of the British-Irish Council properly to co-ordinate the response for refugees across all the Administrations of these islands, taking account of their different service models, and to offer good partnership to international agencies and domestic charities that want to help?

The Prime Minister: I will look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously, what the Republic of Ireland does is a matter for the Republic of Ireland, if it wants to opt in to the relocation system. I am pretty confident that 20,000 refugees coming into Britain is, and will be seen to be by other European countries, a generous and compassionate offer that will help to take the pressure off other European countries.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s willingness to use the aid budget for exactly what it was intended to achieve—helping people in crisis right now. Will he ensure that as the aid budget, thanks to our strong economy, continues to grow, he retains the flexibility to use it for similar crises in the future?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The aid budget is there to help the most vulnerable, the weak and the poorest in our world, and that should include the first-year costs of people to whom our country is giving refuge and asylum. Yes, we will go on making sure—this will be part of the spending review—that the aid budget addresses some of the causes of instability and insecurity in our world, because that is a way of stopping some of these problems before they happen.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): In a few weeks’ time, it will be the first anniversary of the murder of my constituent, Alan Henning, by ISIL. Alan gave his life to get vital aid through to Syrian children, but as we saw last week, Syrian children are still in desperate need of refuge and support. It is in respect of the scale and lack of immediacy of the Government’s response today that my constituents in Eccles and Worsley will be disappointed. They want to see a more immediate response and a more generous offer to Syrian refugees. Will the Prime Minister think again?

The Prime Minister: This response is immediate, and it is generous. We will start straightaway, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, taking people into our country—as we have up to now—and giving them a warm welcome.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I welcome the increase in the number of refugees, but may I raise the issue of timing? Given that only 216 vulnerable Syrian refugees have been relocated via the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, can the Prime Minister assure me that the expanded programme will happen more

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quickly, so that it will not be desperately too late for those thousands of refugees over the course of this Parliament?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): In the 1990s, families in Darlington welcomed Bosnian refugees into their homes, and it is a credit to them that they are willing to welcome refugees again. Our voluntary sector is already collecting toys and clothes. Those people know what to do, and the local authority is on board. What they do not know—they are trying to plan, and the success of the scheme will be greatly assisted by an ability to plan properly—is when this is going to happen. They have no idea when it will happen. The Prime Minister said “straightaway”, but we need more than “straightaway”. We need to know whether the Prime Minister is talking about days or weeks. What does he mean?

The Prime Minister: As I have said, the Home Secretary will make a statement next week, setting out more detail about how the scheme will work and how we will work with local councils to deliver it.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Prime Minister is absolutely right to focus on long-term solutions to this problem, but does he agree that we must face the reality that, in order to solve it, we shall need to consider more concerted military action across Iraq and Syria, working with our allies, and that we shall not be able to avoid having that debate and arriving at a resolution?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. In order to solve the problem, we need to see an end to ISIL in Iraq and Syria. This is a terrorist state: it is a state that terrorises its people, that throws gay people off buildings, that terrorises women. No wonder people are fleeing from it. It is unthinkable, in my view, that we will ever see a solution to the problems in Syria and Iraq while ISIL still exists. The role that we are playing at the moment is that of helping those who are taking direct military action, while providing military action in Iraq, but of course we must discuss and debate in the House whether we are to go further.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In recent days, a number of people have been in touch with me asking how they personally can extend accommodation, support and friendship to refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria. What consideration have the Government given to how they will harness the tremendous generosity of individuals, churches and community groups, so that we can take advantage of that massive generosity in respect of which the Government have been so tardy?

The Prime Minister: I think that, apart from the last bit, the hon. Lady has made a very good point. We will ensure—for instance, through the devolved Administrations—that the scheme that we come up with with local councils enables voluntary groups and others who want to volunteer to try to harness their enthusiasm.

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Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. What more can be done to encourage Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to play a greater role? Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the Kurdistan Regional Government, who are currently supporting 1.8 million Syrian refugees and other displaced people who are currently in northern Iraq, in various refugee camps?

The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising the KRG for the work that they are doing, not only looking after people but combating ISIL. We will go on talking to Saudi Arabia and other countries about the support that we can all give, together, to those in refugee camps.

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): At present, even an 18-year-old Syrian girl isolated in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey would not normally be eligible, under family reunion rules, to join her refugee parents in the United Kingdom, which would potentially push her towards people smugglers. Will the Prime Minister undertake to look again, urgently, at the scope of the family reunion rules, and also at ways of overcoming the difficulties—highlighted by organisations such as the Red Cross—that many people face in attempting to make applications at British embassies in the region?

The Prime Minister: I will ask the Home Secretary to look specifically at the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and to write to him.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister refer again to the huge contribution of Britain, not just over the last few weeks but over several years, in helping to ease the burden of the Syrian refugees. Can he elaborate on whether discussions are going on with our European counterparts on how, jointly, we can tackle and stop these murderous people-traffickers at source?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. We are working with European partners, particularly through the operation centre in Sicily, where we are bringing to bear our expertise in combating the people traffickers. European action, of which we are part, is under way.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that there are great advantages to both local communities and refugees if they are located evenly and proportionately throughout the kingdom? Does he know that in the fine city of Newport, we successfully host 459 asylum seekers and Cardiff has more than 900, but the constituency of the Chancellor has only two, the Home Secretary has only five and the Prime Minister has none? How many of the 20,000 will be located to his constituency?

The Prime Minister: That will be for the discussions chaired by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary. We want to make sure that the whole country can come together to welcome these people.

Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): There has been a lot of debate this afternoon about the numbers, and rightly so because, to maintain the good

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will we have all spoken about in our communities, that number has to be right. I am interested in the how and the when. How can we feed in ideas from our constituents? For example, in South Cambridgeshire we have an empty, fully functioning barracks in Bassingbourn, and many of my constituents think it could be a good idea to use it. How do we feed this in?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion. The point of the committee chaired by the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary will be to take into account what local authorities can do and what voluntary bodies and charities can do, but also to listen to the suggestions of hon. Members.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): During the summer I visited the British Red Cross office in Glasgow. A constituent who is a Syrian refugee, has a brother in Athens with kidney failure. He needed to go to Athens and the Home Office granted asylum after representations from me. That serves to highlight the fact that in this crisis there will be issues of family reunion and instances when a relative will have to go to another part of Europe for reasons of organ donation. May I ask the Prime Minister to look at such issues very sensitively?

The Prime Minister: One of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues raised the issue of family reunion, which we obviously look at in this context. The rules we have are there for a good reason, but I know that the Minister for Immigration has taken careful note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the remarks of former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who has pointed out that the UN camps have hardly any Christians in them because the Islamists have driven them out? Will my right hon. Friend take special steps to address the issue of Christians who are not in the UN camps?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is why I pointed out earlier that we will take people who are vulnerable and that could include Yazidis or Christians, who, because of their religious beliefs, have not only been persecuted in Syria but have sometimes found life difficult in the camps as well.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): This afternoon the Prime Minister has unhelpfully conflated membership and signing up to the Schengen agreement with taking a proactive part in a proper co-ordinated pan-European response. Why does he continue to unhelpfully muddy these waters, and will he now give a clear explanation as to why, beyond the opinions of his rabid Eurosceptic Back Benchers, he is not engaging properly with our partners in Europe?

The Prime Minister: We are engaging. Our decision to take 20,000 people and our immense funding of the refugee camps will take the pressure off other European countries. I am not conflating those two things. Those who are part of Schengen have taken away all their

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internal border controls across Europe and they maintain their external border, so obviously the Schengen countries have to come together to work out what they are going to do about this migration crisis. We can be part of that—we help to fund Frontex and to secure the external border, and we are helping to break up the criminal gangs —but we have not decided to take our borders down, as they have, so we are not in the same position. I am not conflating the two; this is a really important point.

Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con): I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the operators and those who endure what we ask them to in order to execute these strikes? Does the Prime Minister agree that we now have to win the argument about dealing with ISIS? We have seen the tragic events over the past few months, and we must now use that momentum to push ahead, win this debate and deal with the core cause of this: ISIS and President Assad.

The Prime Minister: I commend my hon. Friend for what he has written and said about this, and I thank him for what he says now.

I believe that we will benefit if ISIL is degraded in Iraq and Syria. We are taking an active part in Iraq and helping in Syria; the question is, should we go further? I feel that one of the problems of the last debate was that many colleagues on both sides of the House said to me, “I simply felt I couldn’t vote for this action against Assad and chemical weapons because of what happened over Iraq.” I totally understand that, but we have now got to get over that and recognise that it is in our interests as a country for ISIL to be degraded and ultimately destroyed. We are playing a proud part, but I would like us to do more. Let us separate this from the issue of the Iraq war and act in our national interest now, with partners, to get rid of this dreadful terrorist organisation.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Over the past 10 years Hull has taken many refugees under the Home Office’s Gateway programme, and they have been successfully resettled. At the Freedom festival over the weekend, nearly 1,200 people signed the petition established by Sue Hubbard to get more support for Syrian refugees. A few months ago Hull offered to help by taking in more Syrians, but the Home Office dragged its feet and nothing happened. What assurance can the Prime Minister give me that the Government will now take up Hull’s very good offer?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. The Gateway programme, which she talks about, and other schemes effectively resettle about 1,000 people in Britain every year. In addition there are successful asylum applications—I think there were 11,000 last year—and we will now be taking 20,000 Syrian refugees. I think that is a generous, compassionate country in action, and we look forward to working with Hull City Council on that basis.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): There is widespread support for the Prime Minister’s generous decision to take 20,000 refugees, but last year alone we took 183,000 economic migrants from the

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European Union. I wonder whether that is proportionate, or whether we could not be more generous to refugees if we were less obsessed with the free movement of people.

The Prime Minister: The ability to move in Europe and take a job is something that many of our own citizens enjoy by going to live in another country. What we should be addressing is the additional pull factor of our welfare system, which can give people some €12,000 or €13,000 in their first year after coming to Britain. That would ensure that free movement works, which is important, but is not artificially inflated by our own welfare system.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): The Prime Minister has mentioned the five-year protection visa. Will he give assurances that people who have that visa will be allowed to work and travel, and that there will be an automatic assumption of the extension of proper resettlement rights to them if they so wish?

The Prime Minister: The basic answer to all those questions is yes.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): The International Chamber of Shipping, the UK Chamber of Shipping and their respective members are doing their best to assist with the rescue of refugees and migrants at sea. However, there is a pressing need for the UK and the other EU countries to work with those in Africa and the middle east to deal directly with people smugglers. My right hon. Friend outlined in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) the work that is being done in that regard, but may I urge him to leave no stone unturned in eliminating that wicked and cruel practice?

The Prime Minister: I certainly take on board what my hon. Friend says. At the heart of the situation is the problem of people smugglers and criminal gangs, and we must crack them.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): The Prime Minister stated that today’s decision to accept 20,000 refugees in the UK over five years was made with both the head and the heart. My head says that is only six refugees per constituency per year, or a total of 30 per constituency over five years. In the past month I have had literally dozens of offers from constituents in Dundee West, and I am sure I echo Members throughout the Chamber who have had the same experience. Why do we need to wait five years? We have a crisis on our hands. Can we not get on with it now, and act urgently and compassionately?

The Prime Minister: We are getting on with it now, and in the letter that the First Minister of Scotland wrote to me, she said that Scotland would be willing to take 1,000 refugees. She will have to reassess that, because now that we are taking 20,000 as a country I will be able to write back and say that Scotland will be able to do more.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): By announcing that their borders are open to all the migrants who can get to them, Germany and Sweden have inadvertently increased the demand for migration

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across a continent and increased the human misery. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the UK will not make that mistake and that we will not do the wrong thing, even if it is for the right reasons?

The Prime Minister: As I have said, we must act with head and heart, and that is why we think it is right to take people from the refugee camps.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I keep spotting people who I did not think were here at the start of the statement, but they are all people of the very highest integrity, so I will leave people to self-regulate, if I can put it that way. If they were here at the start, they are welcome to take part, and if they were not, they are not.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): When the Prime Minister started speaking, I felt really proud that Britain was going to take 20,000, but then we were told that it would be over five years and I have to say that my heart sank. The local council in my constituency of Bridgend has said that, despite £50 million in cuts over five years, it will take in 10 families. Many of these families cannot wait five years for us to offer them a home. Their need is now. Why cannot we move the 20,000, start taking people now and have a regular statement from the Prime Minister telling us how many have come so that we can get a sense of movement and take our 20,000, certainly before five years is up?

The Prime Minister: We are getting on with it.

Mr Speaker: I say very gently to the House that the Prime Minister is giving very succinct replies and I think it is not unreasonable that we should have succinct questions to which he can respond.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): What steps are being taken to warn President Putin about the implications of his plans further to support the Assad regime, which will only lead to the expansion of Islamic terrorism? It is bad news for the middle east, for the UK and for Russia.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to continue discussions with the Russians. As I have said, in the long run the growth of Islamist extremist violence is bad for Russia, just as it is bad for the United Kingdom.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is worrying that the Prime Minister is using a crisis situation to announce a major reshaping of aid policy, which many people would say should meet humanitarian need rather than a narrow definition of national interest. In confirming that the use of aid will meet current OECD guidelines, will he also tell us what thought he has already given to providing support outside of the aid budget and beyond the first 12 months of resettlement?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, we will start with the use of the aid budget, which covers the first year, and then the committee, to be chaired by the Home Secretary

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and the Communities Secretary, will look at what more needs to be done to make sure that these people can be properly looked after.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): May I warmly thank the Prime Minister for his decision and will he join me in thanking, alongside the Kurdish Regional Government, the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and other countries that have taken in millions, supported by the UK and other countries, over the past four years?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise those countries. They have borne a huge burden in terms of the people they have taken in and looked after. We must go on supporting them and the work they do.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): What criteria has the Prime Minister used to arrive at a figure of just six refugees per constituency per year? In the light of the compassionate acts of constituents, will he review that figure?

The Prime Minister: I believe that 20,000 Syrian refugees is a generous and correct figure for Britain. What we should do now is get on with it and move as rapidly as we can to process those people. It takes time because we have to work with the UNHCR to go through those in the camps and find suitable people to come here. It also takes time to work with local councils. I do not want to make a pledge that we then cannot deliver properly on the ground, and I believe that this 20,000 pledge can be delivered properly.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a dispersal centre for asylum seekers. When he knows what the figures are, will he let Plymouth MPs and Plymouth City Council know how many people they will have to help? Will he also make sure that there will be health screening so that we can sort out whether or not people have TB, which is an important issue in my patch?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that all those issues will be looked at by the Home Secretary’s committee.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): In the 1840s and 1850s, the Yorkshire solicitor Thomas Constable was estimated to have saved the lives of 500 refugees fleeing the appalling humanitarian disaster of An Gorta Mór. Now that the Prime Minister has properly recognised the present situation as a refugee crisis, will he give us an assurance that he and all his Ministers in the Government will give the necessary leadership to ensure that we keep the nation together in our actions to deal with it, and that they will not allow anyone to use it to divide us for political gain?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can certainly give that assurance. The whole country will recognise, as should political leaders, that this is a good approach that we can all work with.

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Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement, and I am sure that the whole House welcomes the £1 billion of British taxpayers’ money that is being committed to humanitarian aid in and around Syria. Does he agree that the French and the Germans need to match that commitment, and more? Does he also agree that Germany’s open-door policy gives a green light to the human traffickers who are directly responsible for so much human tragedy in the Mediterranean?

The Prime Minister: Every country must take its own approach, and justify it to its Parliament and its people. I do think that the money we spend in Syrian refugee camps is hugely important, because it not only saves lives but gives people the chance of security and safety without having to make a perilous journey.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): The mark of a civilised society is the way in which it deals with a humanitarian crisis. All of us have had full postbags over the past few weeks as people have reflected on the human misery and suffering that have taken place, and people in my constituency will reflect on the paucity of the response from the United Kingdom. When we see Germany taking in 10,000 refugees a day, talking about taking 20,000 people over five years is inexcusable. This Government should be ashamed of themselves. We have talked about the capacity to take people in. What is this country’s capacity to take real action to deal with this humanitarian crisis?

The Prime Minister: As I said, I think taking 20,000 people is the right response for the United Kingdom, and I think we should come together and work out how best our local councils and local voluntary groups can give those people a warm welcome.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Prime Minister said that the thinking on safe havens was the “right sort of thinking”. On 28 November 2011, I asked the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether we could have safe havens in Syria for the protection of civilians. He replied that there was no “imminent plan” for such safe havens. Why did we not push harder for safe havens at that time? Which countries objected to them? And what is the timeline for the present plan for safe havens that would allow people to be protected on their doorstep from Assad and from Daesh?

The Prime Minister: Let me be clear about what I was saying; I do not want to mislead anybody. I said that the thinking about safe havens was the “right sort of thinking”, because it is addressed at trying to help people in the region, rather than encouraging them to travel. The problem with safe havens up to now—it is still a problem—is that if we are going to declare somewhere a safe haven, it must be safe. Our experience in Bosnia and elsewhere is very relevant here. To make the haven safe, we would have to commit a lot of troops and, potentially, air support to take out Syrian air defences. A whole series of steps would have to be taken, and we are a long way away from that. The only point I was trying to make

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was to show some sympathy with those people who are pursuing the idea of safe havens, because they are at least trying to help people in the region, rather than encouraging this trade in people.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Prime Minister has set out the action that he intends to take in and around Syria, and also here at home. He has been very clear about not becoming involved in the EU quota system. Given that, and given the very real pressures faced by the countries on the frontline—particularly Greece and Italy—is there any assistance that the United Kingdom can give those countries with the processing of the applications and with the refugees?

The Prime Minister: Yes, we can and we do. We help them with their capacity in terms of fingerprinting and sorting people. Part of the problem with the Schengen system is that people who come to Greece and Italy then transit onwards, rather than doing what they ought to do, which is to provide their details so that they can make their asylum applications in the first country they arrive in. We are helping with that, as it is part of the problem that Schengen is coping with at the moment.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on the generosity of the British people through the aid budget. It is extremely welcome that, as the second biggest donor, we are finally getting recognised for the efforts that we have made alongside the Turks, the Lebanese, the Jordanians and the Iraqis. May I urge him to work with our regional NATO partners in the area to enable them to do more, not only financially but militarily? They are capable, and they have the necessary troops and weapons to do more.

The Prime Minister: I certainly look carefully at what my hon. Friend says. I think that today we are talking about the humanitarian response; the issues he raises are perhaps for later.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): It is worth reminding the House that we are not talking about migrants; we are talking about refugees and, for that matter, human beings. Why did it take the tragic and gut-wrenching image of poor, wee Alan Kurdi to shame the Prime Minister into finally taking the action that he has announced today? It is very limited action and my constituents demand more.

The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Gentleman the action that this country and this Government have taken: meeting the 0.7% of GDP for our aid budget when no other major country in the world has done it. That has saved countless lives and this country can be proud of it. Before we listen to all these lectures about acting too late, we should recall that it was this Government who put the money into the refugee camps and sorted out the 0.7% of GDP, and it is this Government who are now saying we should take 20,000 Syrian refugees.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s move today, and the generous spirit shown by my constituents and others around the country. I wonder whether he has considered the other part of our humanitarian recent history from this House, which

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is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and its measures against transport and trafficking. Does he think links can be made here?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point; that is a key part of our work against these criminal gangs, and an increasing number of countries are looking at the legislation passed here to see whether they can imitate it.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is exactly a month since I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman’s Minister to ask why the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was failing for refugees from Syria and why it had not been extended to Iraq, but I have had no reply. I hope the Prime Minister’s statement today will begin to answer the first part, but what about the second? Given his conflation of the military threat from Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, what difference is there between refugees fleeing from Daesh in Syria and in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: The difference is that, of course, in Iraq there is at least a Government who govern part of that country, and there are safe spaces to go in that country, whereas in Syria people are caught between the horrors of ISIL and the terrors of Assad.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What assurances can my right hon. Friend give the British people that Islamic State terrorists posing as refugees will not be inadvertently permitted into our country? What assessment has been made of that risk?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, we will take great care over this issue and make sure there is proper security screening of people who are coming.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): Would the Prime Minister concede that perhaps the Government have been a little slow out of the traps in responding to this crisis, perhaps because Ministers are a bit befuddled by an artificial debate that conflates economic migrants with refugees, and indeed that conflates economic migrants with the European Union debate that Conservative Members are having? Would he also care to comment on the editorial policy of newspapers that deliberately include provocative articles by deliberately provocative writers saying it is absolutely fine to send gunboats to stop refugees, and change their position straightaway when there are pictures of dead little boys washed up on the beach?

The Prime Minister: The Government were right to reach 0.7% and right to be the leading aid donor in Europe to the Syrian refugee camps, and are now right to take 20,000 Syrian refugees.

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I welcome the compassion and safe harbour afforded by this Government to Syrian refugees. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the isolated military action taken by this Government. Does he agree that while the UK remains at risk from dissident terrorists, our constituents would not forgive us if we failed in our ultimate duty to keep them safe, no matter how difficult the circumstances?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; keeping the country safe is the first duty of Government.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): The Prime Minister has made repeated reference to how much effort this country has put into dealing with the refugee crisis over the past months, but back in June my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) tabled an early-day motion on Operation Mare Nostrum. That operation was estimated to have saved the lives of half a million refugees in the Mediterranean area, but the Government cancelled it, saying that it was a pull factor. Does the Prime Minister regret cancelling it? Is it time to reinstate it?

The Prime Minister: Twenty-eight member states made that decision about Mare Nostrum, but what we then did in response to the growing number of people who were still coming across the Mediterranean was deploy the flagship of the Royal Navy. Again, this was Britain acting rapidly and saving 6,700 lives.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): May I commend the Prime Minister on his proportionate, humane and timely response to this crisis, which has escalated at a rapid pace? Before I came to this place, I defended the Home Secretary in asylum and immigration cases in court, and I saw at first hand how considerable progress was made in dealing with the asylum backlog. We inherited more than 100,000 asylum cases from the previous Labour Administration. What measures and resources have been put in place in the Home Office to deal with the additional burden, so that robust and legitimate decision-making is ensured?

The Prime Minister: I look forward to the House gaining the benefit of my hon. Friend’s wisdom from pursuing all those cases. It means that when she speaks in these debates, she has real knowledge of what these cases are like. It is very important that the Syrian refugees are given humanitarian passports, so that they do not have to go through the lengthy asylum process, which is why we are taking that approach.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): In a reply to me last month, the Minister for Immigration said that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was designed to focus on need, rather than meeting a quota. Is the Prime Minister now imposing a quota of 20,000 on that scheme? What will he say to the 20,001st person who has a provable and legitimate need?

The Prime Minister: The first thing to do is to get on and deliver the 20,000.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that the downside of the Opposition’s suggestion of taking refugees from mainland Europe is that it gives a green light to people smugglers and encourages exploitation? We have a good record in this country, thanks to this Government, of tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, and it would be wrong at this stage to turn our back on the genuine progress that we have made.

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The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. As we are not part of Schengen, we had a choice over how to design our programme. We have taken the decision that it is better to take people from the camps. That is a good and humane decision, it will help others to be able to use those camps, and it will not encourage people to make that perilous journey.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Prime Minister’s statement completely fails to realise either the scale or the urgency of the humanitarian crisis that faces us. It also fails to recognise the huge well of generosity in our country at the moment. People in every one of our constituencies are desperate to help. If the Prime Minister wants a moment for his big society, this is it. Will he come back to this House tomorrow with a statement that recognises not only the scale of the catastrophe that faces the Syrian people, but the huge desire in our constituencies to help them? Let us do more to help these people and have a statement of which to be proud.

The Prime Minister: I think people will respond very positively to the idea of giving a warm and thorough welcome to 20,000 people coming to our country. We should now get into the business of implementing the scheme rapidly. We need to get local councils and local groups on side, and make sure that everyone works together. Let us find a warm and really good welcome for these 20,000 people.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the vast majority of refugees are in camps near Syria, and I welcome his long-term commitment to substantial aid for these people. Will he advise us on whether a share of that aid can be used to help refugees develop the skills that will be needed to rebuild Syria in due course, as everything possible needs to be done to bring about a durable peace when, eventually, military conflict ends?

The Prime Minister: Absolutely, that can happen. We can use aid money for building capacity in those countries. Once people are able to return to their homes, it can be used to do just that.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): Most fair-minded people in this country will not regard the Prime Minister’s proposal as a proper response to the situation. Taking in and giving sanctuary to 4,000 people a year over the next five years when we are in the midst of the largest global refugee crisis since the second world war is woefully inadequate. We should be ashamed that we are not doing more. Furthermore, the distinction between people in the refugee camps and those already in Europe is quite spurious. There have been references to the little boy who was washed up on the shores of Turkey. What if that little boy had not drowned, and his parents had applied to this country for refuge and sanctuary? Would we have said that our doors were closed to them?

The Prime Minister: First, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that 20,000 is the right response; it is a good response that everyone can now get behind and work with. Those people who have made it already

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to Europe are in many cases in a far better and much safer situation than the people still stuck in Syria or stuck in the refugee camps, which is why it is those people whom our effort will be directed towards.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): I commend the Prime Minister for giving children, especially orphans, priority in today’s statement. We have had heart-rending pictures and stories of children, and I have been contacted by many of my constituents, all reiterating that we must be humanitarian, as children are our future. Will the Prime Minister please reiterate his assurances that we will do our very best for those orphans and children?

The Prime Minister: We certainly will. We will be looking specifically for orphans and vulnerable children among the people we take from the camps. They will require a particular amount of care and attention, as they are coming miles away to a strange country, as regards ensuring that they have all the care and love they need as they grow up.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I have also been inundated with offers of support from constituents in Oldham and Saddleworth. How will the Prime Minister speed up the asylum process? It can take many months, if not years, and many refugees have specific skills that are in short supply in the country; I have a family of engineers from Syria who want to work and have been in the country for a few years.

Will the Prime Minister also confirm whether he will publish the Attorney General’s guidance on the legal basis for the killing of a UK citizen, so that this House can scrutinise the decision making?

The Prime Minister: On the second issue, we do not publish the advice of the Attorney General. No Government have done that. What we did with Libya was describe the legal case, and I am happy to do that, and to describe the legal advice, which is based on self-defence, as I set out in my statement.

On the asylum system, of course we want to speed it up; we have sped it up, and that is why we have dealt with so much of the backlog and have introduced measures such as the suspension of appeals, so that people can continue to appeal once they have been returned to the country they have come from. We will continue to do that, but let me stress that these 20,000 Syrians will not have to go through some lengthy asylum process. They will be helped from those camps to a life in Britain. Let us say today that we will give them a warm, friendly and joyous welcome.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister, the party leaders who questioned him and the 102 Back Benchers who have also done so.

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Refugee Crisis in Europe

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

5.47 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): In the light of the Prime Minister’s statement, I rise to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely the refugee crisis in Europe.

The number of people standing to ask questions has, I think, shown the strength of feeling and interest in the House. Most Members have welcomed the Government’s decision to take more refugees directly from the camps near Syria and the Government’s aid to the region, where they are ahead of every other country and are making an extremely important contribution. The Prime Minister is right, too, that the issues in the camps are serious, with a lack of schooling for thousands of people and a cut in rations meaning that the conditions are desperate and we should help.

The response in the Chamber today has raised two significant concerns about the Prime Minister’s response. The first is about the scale of the response— the 20,000 people he will help over five years—and the second is about the lack of help for refugees who have already fled into Europe. Interior Ministers are meeting on the 14th and the crisis is still escalating. This is not just about the tragic scenes we have seen of Alan Kurdi and others who have drowned or the families who are ready to walk from Hungary to Austria to find a safe home. This is also about our chance to discuss the number of people the Prime Minister has offered to help: 20,000 over five years could mean 4,000 a year, whereas the Kindertransport took 10,000 children in the space of nine months. I would urge the Prime Minister to reconsider and to see what more we can do with councils and communities across the country that have come forward asking to help and to do more. He has rightly changed his mind already in response to public concern. I ask for the House to have the opportunity to persuade him to do so again, given the urgent need to provide help.

I ask the Prime Minister to consider again helping those refugees who are already in Europe and who need help. He says that he does not want to encourage people to travel. I say to him that they are travelling already. They are not waiting for a response from the British Government. The refugees in Greece need particular help and humanitarian aid. Many are already being helped through Hungary and Austria, but in Greece there are thousands who are desperate for help. We could do more. We have a chance to work with other European countries, putting pressure on them to do more.

The Prime Minister has responded in part to what is now the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. I urge him to do so again. I ask that we have the chance to debate this tomorrow and then again on Wednesday.

Mr Speaker: I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Member and am satisfied that the matter she raises is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Member the leave of the House?

Application agreed to.

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Mr Speaker: The right hon. Member has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 8 September, as the first item of public business. The debate will last for up to three hours and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Member’s application.

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Points of Order

5.52 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will accept my prioritising age before—well, age before something. Let us hear a point of order from the Father of the House, the right hon. Sir Gerald Kaufman.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order on the contempt shown towards this House by the Home Office, as evidenced by its treatment of a case that I wrote to the Home Secretary about last month. It relates to a constituent who came to see me and told me that she had moved into my constituency. She gave me her old address and her new address. I immediately wrote to the Home Secretary, on 17 August. I did not expect a reply from her, because in five years she has sent me only one letter, but I thought that my letter might be passed to a junior Minister. Instead, I received an undated letter from UK Visas and Immigration. The email date on the letter was 25 August. It stated:

“According to our records, Ms Smith is currently residing at 25 Thruxton Close…Therefore Ms Smith is not residing in your constituency.”

She is residing in my constituency. I wrote to the person who sent the email, J. Hughes, stating that if he did not reply to me by last week I would raise the matter in the House. He has still not replied to me. I will not be treated like dirt by the Home Office. More importantly, I will not allow my constituents to be treated like dirt. What can be done about it?

Mr Speaker: May I say to the Father of the House that I think he is almost always, including today, the means of his own salvation? There were occasions in the previous Parliament when the right hon. Gentleman had occasion to bring to my attention his dissatisfaction with not having received a reply from a Minister, and I think that on more than one occasion he received a reply from someone who did not exist—the name on the letter was that of someone who did not exist.

Look, these are not matters in which the Chair ordinarily becomes involved, but I have the highest regard for the courtesy that the Home Secretary has always shown to me, and which ordinarily she has always shown to the House. I think that it is much easier to respect the traditions and courtesies of the House and to err on the side of speed of response and, if I may say so, also on the side of acknowledging a very senior and long-serving Member who has made an approach.

I do not think that there will be a division of the House, or even any great objection from the right hon. Gentleman, if I say that he is not always the easiest colleague to please, but he has a right to represent his constituents and to be treated with the utmost courtesy. I am sorry if he feels that he has not been. I know that the Home Secretary will do her best with her ministerial team to accommodate his various requests and, periodically,

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his demands.




She says from a sedentary position that she does. Let us leave it there for today. The right hon. Gentleman has not been in the House for 45 years for no reason.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. After those words, I must be very careful what I say. Earlier today you quite rightly amended the business for Wednesday to allow for special recognition of Her Majesty’s becoming our longest-serving monarch. Unfortunately, one consequence of that is that questions to the Secretary of State for Wales moves to the following week and questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which we would have considered on that day, sadly fall. As these are dark and desperate days in Northern Ireland, and as it is very important that the House debate these, matters and questions Ministers, is there any mechanism whereby the timetable can be further amended so that we can have Northern Ireland questions before the conference recess?

Mr Speaker: Not readily, no. However, there are various means by which Members can secure the presence of Ministers if important matters arise on which those Members wish to probe. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced denizen of this House and will be well familiar with those mechanisms. He might even, from time to time, abuse them.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I will come to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I have been saving up the precious commodity of Mr Pete Wishart. Let us hear from the hon. Gentleman.

Pete Wishart: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that we are all grateful that we will have an extra three hours to debate the refugee crisis, but the Labour party knew that the Scottish National party was giving our Opposition day to discuss the crisis, and it knew that because it requested us to make the whole day about the crisis. It is such an important issue that we must not play party politics with it. [Interruption.] It must not be a feature of the Labour leadership contest. The House deserves much better than that. [Interruption.] Will you make a ruling, Mr Speaker, that our debate will still stand—

Mr Speaker: Order. There is a lot of commotion and I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. I need to hear what he is saying.

Pete Wishart: Mr Speaker, will you confirm that on Wednesday it will still be in order for the Scottish National party to table a cross-party motion to agree to debate the refugee crisis on a substantive issue, and that we should stop playing games with something so important, because it is more important than any feature of the Labour leadership contest?

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and appreciate his patience in waiting to be called. It will be entirely orderly for the hon. Gentleman or his party so to table. As Speaker, my responsibility is simply to hear an application and judge whether it has

7 Sep 2015 : Column 70

merit, rather than to become embroiled in what might be considered to be competitions between parties. He has asked me a straight question—will it be orderly?—and the answer is yes. That seems to satisfy not only the hon. Gentleman, but, very importantly—and I mean this—the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to boot.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Can we boot the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)?

Mr Speaker: No.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am saddened by the SNP’s response, as I think it important that all of us who want to debate this subject should be able to do so tomorrow and on Wednesday as well. On Wednesday, we will have the opportunity to discuss a motion and an opportunity to vote; that will be immensely important. I would just urge SNP Members to pause for a second to remember the gravity of the issue that we are discussing, and to make sure that all of us in this House are able to unite around helping thousands of people, rather than debate the timing of the motions.

Mr Speaker: Notwithstanding what has just been said, one thing I can say which will command agreement, because it has the advantage of being factually true, is that there will be a debate under Standing Order No. 24 tomorrow, as a result of the successful application by the shadow Home Secretary, and there will be a debate on these matters in terms it chooses led by the Scottish National party on Wednesday. That is the factual position, and I thank colleagues for what they said.

Now, the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has been waiting very patiently to make his point of order.

Mr Dodds: Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), Mr Speaker. I support entirely what the hon. Gentleman said. Given the grave events in Northern Ireland, it is the wrong time for Northern Ireland questions not to happen. Have you had any communication from a Minister indicating that Government time will be provided to allow some sort of debate on the situation in Northern Ireland in these two weeks when Parliament is sitting? It will be too late when we come back in October.

Mr Speaker: There may well be such an opportunity for a number of reasons, although I cannot guarantee it. First, it is possible that, having heard the right hon. Gentleman speaking with the authority of his office, and having heard what was said by the hon. Member for Ealing North, the Government may choose to provide such a debate. That is one possibility; another is a debate courtesy of the Backbench Business Committee; and a third—depending on the nature of the circumstances, and their urgency or otherwise—is a debate under Standing Order No. 24. So there are opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman is very experienced and I know he will keep an eye on the situation. I will be very sensitive to the legitimate claims that colleagues might have in these circumstances. I hope that that is fair. If a Minister wants to say anything, he is most welcome. No, not on this occasion.

7 Sep 2015 : Column 71

European Union Referendum Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 9 June 2015 (European Union Referendum Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (5) and (6) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(3) The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the application to the referendum of section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 or to the subject matter of that section

Two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the subject matter of clause 2; amendments to clause 2; amendments to clause 2; remaining proceedings on Consideration

Five hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration

(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.—(Mr Lidington.)

6.2 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP) rose—

Mr Speaker: Mr Salmond, are you seeking to catch my eye?

Alex Salmond: I am seeking to oppose the programme motion.

Mr Speaker: Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to make a speech, or simply to vote against?

Alex Salmond: Make a speech.

Mr Speaker: Funny that, turning up in the House of Commons to make a speech. [Laughter.] It will be a pleasure to hear the right hon. Gentleman.

Alex Salmond: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I always think that it is marginally to my advantage to speak when I am trying to persuade hon. Members to support my cause. Many people have argued to the contrary —that silence could be golden in the circumstances—but looking at the programme motion, I do not think the Government should succeed. Only six weeks have passed since we were here discussing the European Referendum Bill. Of course I understand the Government’s anxiety to progress the business while the Labour party is concerned about other matters, but the motion on the Order Paper strikes me as hardly adequate for reasonable discussion.

7 Sep 2015 : Column 72

Those of us who were present during the Committee stage will remember, among many other events, a last-minute starred amendment allowed relating to the timing of the referendum; the Government facing defeat on the issue of purdah; and the absolute confidence with which the Leader of the House and the Minister told us that the question to be put in the referendum was already more or less accepted by the Electoral Commission and that we did not have to worry about that process.

Now we come to Report stage, and we find that we are to have two and a half hours to debate the issue of purdah. We also find that a Government amendment—new clause 10—was tabled so late that you, Mr Speaker, have allowed a manuscript amendment to that new clause. I have absolutely no idea what the Government were doing during the six weeks of recess that they were only able to table a new clause so late as to allow a manuscript amendment to it. That will cause considerable controversy, and I imagine that debating it will take up the full two and a half hours.

That brings us to the second two and a half hours allowed to us, in which we have to discuss the

“Entitlement to vote, impartiality of broadcasters, party spending limits, the referendum…campaigning…financial controls…further provisions about the referendum”

and, crucially,

“the question on the ballot paper”.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): If we do not pass this amendment to the timetable, we finish at 10 o’clock, so we would have less time than is currently proposed. If we support the right hon. Gentleman, we cut our nose off to spite our face.

Alex Salmond: The hon. Gentleman will be able to exercise his best judgment on whether to support the motion, but I think it is reasonable to state the inadequacy of the time allowed. There is little or no chance that all these matters will be adequately and properly discussed, and the hon. Member—the right hon. Member—knows it.

Mr Rees-Mogg indicated dissent.

Alex Salmond: I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. These things take time. A few years ago, if someone had said that I would be a right hon. Member, I would have shaken my head as well, but who knows what will happen to him.

It is perfectly proper and reasonable to state that this is an inadequate timetable and to appeal to the best judgment of the Foreign Secretary to tell us that he has been persuaded by this eloquent speech to allow a proper length of time for discussion of these hugely important matters.

To facilitate the House finishing before midnight, Mr Speaker, I shall leave matters there—[Interruption.] Well, I could move past my introduction to say a few things more, but I shall say only that this is not a proper way to discuss a matter of such import. The Government have lost control of the timing of the referendum, they have lost control of the conduct of the referendum and they have been overturned on the referendum question, all in the space of the last few weeks. Their attempt to rush the Bill through this House has not served them well, and even at this last ditch, I think they would do

7 Sep 2015 : Column 73

well to consider coming back with a more adequate timetable. The Government might thereby serve the interests of the House, and probably their own interests, rather better than they have been doing.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 517, Noes 59.

Division No. 54]


6.8 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Mr Graham

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Anderson, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Argar, Edward

Ashworth, Jonathan

Atkins, Victoria

Austin, Ian

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barron, rh Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blackwood, Nicola

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bruce, Fiona

Bryant, Chris

Buckland, Robert

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

De Piero, Gloria

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Dromey, Jack

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Elliott, Tom

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Esterson, Bill

Eustice, George

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farrelly, Paul

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Foster, Kevin

Fovargue, Yvonne

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Foxcroft, Vicky

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glass, Pat

Glen, John

Glindon, Mary

Goodman, Helen

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Haigh, Louise

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harpham, Harry

Harris, Carolyn

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Helen

Hayes, rh Mr John

Hayman, Sue

Heald, Sir Oliver

Healey, rh John

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollern, Kate

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hurd, Mr Nick

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Jarvis, Dan

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Diana

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kawczynski, Daniel

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kennedy, Seema

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinahan, Danny

Kinnock, Stephen

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kyle, Peter

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Ian C.

Lumley, Karen

Lynch, Holly

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malhotra, Seema

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miliband, rh Edward

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, Grahame M.

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Ian

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Osamor, Kate

Osborne, rh Mr George

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Pearce, Teresa

Penning, rh Mike

Pennycook, Matthew

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Jess

Phillips, Stephen

Phillipson, Bridget

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Pow, Rebecca

Powell, Lucy

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Qureshi, Yasmin

Rayner, Angela

Redwood, rh John

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Simpson, David

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Royston

Smyth, Karin

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Starmer, Keir

Stevens, Jo

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Streeting, Wes

Stride, Mel

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stuart, Graham

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Throup, Maggie

Timms, rh Stephen

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Trickett, Jon

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turley, Anna

Turner, Mr Andrew

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

West, Catherine

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittaker, Craig

Williams, Craig

Williams, Mr Mark

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

George Hollingbery


Margot James


Ahmed-Sheikh, Ms Tasmina

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Boswell, Philip

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Cameron, Dr Lisa

Chapman, Douglas

Cherry, Joanna

Cowan, Ronnie

Crawley, Angela

Docherty, Martin John

Donaldson, Stuart

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Ferrier, Margaret

Flynn, Paul

Gethins, Stephen

Gibson, Patricia

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Hendry, Drew

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Law, Chris

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mc Nally, John

McCaig, Callum

McDonald, Stewart

McDonald, Stuart C.

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McGarry, Natalie

McLaughlin, Anne

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Mullin, Roger

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Oswald, Kirsten

Paterson, Steven

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Salmond, rh Alex

Saville Roberts, Liz

Sheppard, Tommy

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Stephens, Chris

Thewliss, Alison

Weir, Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Corri

Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Noes:

Owen Thompson


Marion Fellows

Question accordingly agreed to.

7 Sep 2015 : Column 74

7 Sep 2015 : Column 75

7 Sep 2015 : Column 76

7 Sep 2015 : Column 77

7 Sep 2015 : Column 78

European Union Referendum Bill

[Relevant document: oral and written evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, on EU Referendum Bill, part one: Purdah and impartiality, HC 319.]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee

New Clause 10

Power to modify section 125 of the 2000 Act

‘(1) In this section—

(a) “section 125” means section 125 of the 2000 Act (restriction on publication etc of promotional material by central and local government etc), as modified by paragraph 26 of Schedule 1, and

(b) “section 125(2)” means subsection (2) of section 125 (which prevents material to which section 125 applies from being published by or on behalf of certain persons and bodies during the 28 days ending with the date of the poll).

(2) The Minister may by regulations make provision modifying section 125, for the purposes of the referendum, so as to exclude from section 125(2) cases where—

(a) material is published—

(i) in a prescribed way, or

(ii) by a communication of a prescribed kind, and

(b) such other conditions as may be prescribed are met.

(3) The communications that may be prescribed under subsection (2)(a)(ii) include, in particular, oral communications and communications with the media.

(4) Before making any regulations under this section, the Minister must consult the Electoral Commission.

(5) Consultation carried out before the commencement of this section is as effective for the purposes of subsection (4) as consultation carried out after that commencement.

(6) In this section—

“prescribed” means prescribed by the regulations;

“publish” has the same meaning as in section 125.

(7) This section does not affect the generality of section 4(1)(c).’. —(Mr Lidington.)

This new clause enables the Minister, by regulations, to modify section 125 of the 2000 Act to exclude material published in a way, or by a kind of communication, specified in the regulations, subject to any conditions in the regulations. Any regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.27 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Manuscript amendment (a) to Government new clause 10, after subsection 5 insert—

‘(5A) Any regulations under subsection (2) must be made not less than four months before the date of the referendum.’.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the “purdah” arrangements that governministerial and official announcements, visits and publicity are made at least four months beforethe date of the referendum.

New clause 5—Restriction on publication etc. of promotional material by central and local government etc.—

‘(1) This section applies to any material which—

(a) provides general information about the referendum;

(b) deals with any of the issues raised by the question on which the referendum is being held;

7 Sep 2015 : Column 79

(c) puts any arguments for or against the proposition that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union; or

(d) is designed to encourage voting at the referendum.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), no material to which this section applies shall be published during the relevant period by or on behalf of—

(a) any Minister of the Crown, government department or local authority; or

(b) any other person or body whose expenses are defrayed wholly or mainly out of public funds or by any local authority.

(3) Subsection (2) does not apply to—

(a) material made available to persons in response to specific requests for information or to persons specifically seeking access to it;

(b) anything done by or on behalf of the Electoral Commission or a person or body designated under section 108 (designation of organisations to whom assistance is available) of the 2000 Act;

(c) the publication of information relating to the holding of the poll; or

(d) the issue of press notices;

and subsection (2)(b) shall not be taken as applying to the British Broadcasting Corporation or Sianel Pedwar Cymru.

(4) In this section—

(a) publish” means make available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means (and “publication” shall be construed accordingly);

(b) “the relevant period”, in relation to the referendum, means the period of 28 days ending with the date of the poll.’.

This new clause replicates section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and applies it directly to the EU Referendum. It is supplemented by New Clause 6 on Exemptions to prohibition on publication of promotional material by central and local government etc. (No.2). Amendment 4 removes from the Bill the disapplication of section 125 of the 2000 Act.

New clause 6—Exemptions to prohibition on publication of promotional material by central and local government etc. (No.2)—

‘(1) For the purposes of the referendum the Secretary of State may, by regulations, specify materials that he or she intends or expects to publish in the relevant period to be exempted from the prohibitions on the publication of materials under section (Restriction on publication etc. of promotional material by central and local government etc.).

(2) Any materials listed in regulations made under this section will not be subject to the prohibitions on publication under section 125 of the 2000 Act.

(3) In this section “the relevant period”, in relation to the referendum, means the period of 28 days ending with the date of the poll.’.

This gender-neutral new clause permits the Government to specify material that they intend or expect to publish in the “purdah” period for the referendum that would be exempted from the prohibition on publication of promotional material contained in section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which Amendment 4 would apply to the EU Referendum. The material would have to be specified in regulations exercisable by statutory instrument, which under clause 6 of this bill must be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

Amendment (a) to new clause 6, at end add—

‘(4) Before laying any regulations under subsection (1) the Government shall seek the advice of the Electoral Commission on the subject of the proposed regulation.

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(5) Any advice given by the Electoral Commission under this section shall be published by the time the regulation is laid.

(6) Any regulations under subsection (1) must be made not less than four months before the date of the referendum.’.

The Electoral Commission gives advice to the Government about proposed referendums. Theproposed subsections (4) and (5) would reinforce this role in respect of regulations made underthis section. Subsection (6) sets a time limit to ensure stable “purdah” arrangements are in placein advance of the start of referendum campaign.

Amendment 11, in clause 10, page 5, line 28, at end insert—

‘(1A) (a) Section 1 will come into effect after a resolution has been passed by both Houses approving arrangements for a purdah period covering a period of five weeks before the referendum date.

(b) arrangements for a purdah period will include—

(i) restrictions on material that can be published by the government, public bodies and the EU institutions; and

(ii) measures to determine breaches of purdah and penalties for such a breach.’

The referendum provision of the Bill could only come into effect after arrangements for purdah had been approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Government amendment 53.

Amendment 78, in schedule 1, page 19, line 23, leave out paragraph 26 and insert—

‘26 (1) Section 125 of the 2000 Act (restriction of publication etc of promotional material by central and local government etc) applies in relation to the referendum during the referendum period with the following modification.

(2) Section 125 (2) (a) of the 2000 Act has effect for the purposes of the referendum as if, after “Crown”, there were inserted “including ministers in the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and Her Majesty‘s Government of Gibraltar”.’

The purpose of the amendment is to apply the “purdah” arrangements that govern ministerial and official announcements, visits and publicity during general elections to the campaign period before the referendum.

Amendment 4, page 19, line 23, leave out paragraph 26.

The purpose of the amendment is to apply the “purdah” arrangements that govern ministerial and official announcements, visits and publicity during general elections to the campaign period before the referendum. The amendment should be read in conjunction with New Clause 5 (Restriction on publication etc of promotional material by central and local government etc) and New Clause 6 (Exemptions to prohibition on publication of promotional material by central and local government etc (No.2)).

Mr Lidington: In Committee, I promised to reflect on the concerns that were raised about the Government’s proposal to disapply, for the purposes of the EU referendum, section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Government accept completely the importance of the referendum being conducted in a way that is both fair and seen to be fair by the partisans on both sides of the debate. In particular, that means that the conduct of both Ministers and civil servants must be beyond reproach. We are therefore bringing to the House today proposals that we believe provide the rigorous safeguards wanted by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I reiterate what the Foreign Secretary and I have both said before, namely that the Government will not undertake activities during the final 28 days of the campaign that would be seen as the province of the lead campaign organisations. In particular, there should be no question of the Government undertaking any paid

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advertising or promotion, such as billboards, door drops, leafleting, or newspaper or digital advertising during that period.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): What is the exact meaning of what the Minister is saying? My letter to him on behalf of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in July made clear the Committee’s view that section 125 should remain unimpaired and that

“the Government should not be allowed to use the machinery of Government (i.e. the resources of the Government) for campaigning purposes during the purdah period, as is already implied in the Civil Service Code.”

Do the Government accept that position?

Mr Lidington: I was going to say that, having studied my hon. Friend’s letter and listened to the views expressed by him and many other hon. Members, we are bringing forward amendments that have three effects. First, we are proposing to reinstate section 125 of the 2000 Act and remove the blanket disapplication that is currently in the Bill. Secondly, we propose a narrow and limited exemption to permit the Government to carry out EU business as usual during the final 28 days of the campaign. Thirdly, we propose a power for exemptions to be made to the general prohibition in section 125, subject to an affirmative resolution being passed by both Houses.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

Mr Lidington: If I may finish this point, I will then give way.

In addition, those areas of Government activity that are permitted by Parliament will be subject to guidance from the Prime Minister to Ministers and from the Cabinet Secretary to civil servants based on the purdah guidance issued before previous referendum campaigns. The Cabinet Secretary said in evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that civil servants would not under any circumstances be permitted to support Ministers in doing things that Ministers were prohibited by statute from taking part in.

Mrs Gillan: Why is it necessary for the Government to make any amendment to section 125? The Electoral Commission has carried out statutory reviews of the referendums since 2004 and has not identified any significant concerns from the Government or any other party about the application of section 125. Why are the Government changing the playing field and insisting on modifications to something that has worked well and that they have used in the past?

Mr Lidington: We are bringing forward limited exemptions from section 125 because we believe—we have received firm legal advice on this—that if left completely unamended, it would pose genuine difficulties. I will go on to speak in some detail about this matter to respond to the concerns that my right hon. Friend and other colleagues have expressed. Before doing so, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).

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Sir William Cash: Of course my right hon. Friend has received legal advice, but legal advice can cut both ways. Indeed, Speaker’s Counsel has made it clear that he does not think there is much of a problem in respect of the issues the Minister has just been describing. Not only have the Electoral Commission and Speaker’s Counsel been clear on these points, but if regulations are introduced, they will come in by way of the affirmative procedure after the Bill has been enacted and there will be no opportunity to amend them, because regulations, being statutory instruments, can only be accepted or rejected in their entirety. Does my right hon. Friend not agree?

Mr Lidington: In answer to my hon. Friend’s last point, if the House is dissatisfied with any regulation that the Government put before Parliament, it can reject the statutory instrument. In that case, the default position under the package that I am proposing to the House would be to revert to section 125 without the exemptions being made by regulation. There is, therefore, the safeguard that Parliament will have the final say.

I hope that my hon. Friend will listen when I address the concerns in more detail, but I say to him first that I have been present at a number of debates in the House when he has said that a legal opinion that he has received is of weight and importance. I think that the Government are entitled to take seriously the arguments that Treasury counsel have put to them.

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I realise that I should not be interrupting the flow of people to whom the Government are only too anxious to make any concession that is demanded and who are obviously quite clear about what result they want from the referendum—indeed, they are rather more concerned about the result than the process—but will the Minister confirm that, whatever further concessions he is now making, it will still be possible for Ministers to give a clear and authoritative opinion on whether, according to the constitutional Government of the country, it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom in respect of its political future in the world and its economic prospects to be in or out of the European Union, and that little things like being allowed to take advice on the factual accuracy of what they are saying on behalf—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. [Interruption.] Order! The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that interventions have to be short. We cannot have speeches at this stage. [Interruption.] I will make the decision. I am sure that the Minister will want to reply. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman needs to intervene again, he may do so, but we cannot have speeches or long interventions.

Mr Clarke: I do apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I sense, looking around, that I am grossly outnumbered in the Conservative party, given my views, by a certain section of my hon. and right hon. colleagues. They wish to silence Ministers. I do realise that I—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to sit down for a moment. He is well known as the big beast and I am certain that he has never worried about the number of people around him who may not be on the same side.

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Mr Lidington: The answer to my right hon. and learned Friend’s question is that the Government will, of course, express their view very clearly at the conclusion of the negotiations and make their recommendation to the country, giving their reasons for so doing. One aspect of the debate about which we have concerns is how the Government, who will have called the referendum and made a recommendation to the British people, should be able to express their view and answer questions in the final four weeks, as he described. The debate about so-called purdah and section 125 relates specifically to the final 28 days of the campaign.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend comment briefly on the comments that were sent out at just gone half-past 12 today by Michael Carpenter, the Speaker’s Counsel, in which he said:

“I commented about all this in my earlier note to the Committee. Mr Lidington seems simply to repeat the unsound arguments advanced before.”

For those of us who have concerns, that is a very worrying statement from such learned counsel.

Mr Lidington: If my hon. Friend had received the legal advice that I have had, she might take a rather different view.

Many hon. Members have said that the purdah rules that apply during elections have worked well and I agree. Of course, those rules are based entirely on guidance and convention. They allow for common sense and involve no legal risk. Section 125 of the 2000 Act is very different, since it is a statutory restriction. Given that the EU referendum debate will, I think we would all accept, involve people on both sides of the argument with deep personal pockets and passionate views on the subject, the risk of legal challenges during the campaign is real. The Government are seeking, through the amendments, to manage that legal risk.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): With respect, I think that this is legalistic claptrap. I do not remember the Prime Minister being particularly constrained in arguing his case during the general election. What is important is that the process is considered to be fair. Why can we not just cut to the chase and accept amendment 4, which was tabled by the Opposition, under which we would have full purdah and do what we do in general elections, so that everybody thinks it is fair?

Mr Lidington: As I have just said to the House, what the Government can and cannot do in general elections is governed by guidance and convention, and not by statute, which brings the risk that a dispute could end up before the courts. The situation as regards the EU referendum is different, because there is law on the statute book, dating from 2000, so discretion and common sense cannot be applied in the way that is possible during elections, when we rely on guidance.

On amendment 53, we believe that section 125, as drafted in the 2000 Act, would create legal risk and uncertainty in what I might describe as ongoing normal EU business during the final weeks before the referendum. One of the problems with the original subsection 1(b) is the breadth of the wording that describes and defines the material that would be caught. It imposes a very wide-ranging prohibition on Government activity. It bans public bodies and persons

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“whose expenses are defrayed wholly or mainly out of public funds”

from publishing material that

“deals with any of the issues raised by”

the referendum question.

Unlike the recent cases of the Scottish or alternative vote referendums, the subject matter of the EU referendum cannot simply be avoided in Government communications during the last 28 days. The subject of EU membership is broad. A Government statement in Brussels on an EU issue under negotiation could be said to be dealing with an issue raised by the question of our membership, and therefore be caught by the restrictions in section 125. Let me provide an example.

There are ongoing negotiations between the EU and the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It is perfectly conceivable that, at some stage during the last month of our referendum campaign, those negotiations could reach a stage at which there would be a discussion between the institutions of the EU and member states of the EU. The British Government would have a view on the right outcome and might want to circulate papers to lobby, using the sort of materials that would be captured by the section 125 definition of publication. If the section remains unamended, my concern is that there is a risk that that will be challenged in court, because it could be said to be raised by the referendum campaign. It is certainly conceivable that one or other or both of the campaign organisations could pray in aid that particular issue as indicating why we should or should not remain a member of the EU. Once that happened, it would certainly be classed as raised by the referendum campaign.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is, as usual, helpful in explaining his case. In reality, however, if that situation arose the discussions would not happen in the 28 days when this country was making up its mind whether it wanted to be part of the European Union. That just would not happen. The EU is very good at putting things off and the idea that that example is a reason for changing the law is fanciful.

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend does not understand the extent to which we simply do not know. One member state can control the timing of items on the agenda. The timing depends on which particular illustration one is looking at, but the country holding the rotating presidency of the European Union will decide which items of business appear on the agenda of Council and COREPER meetings. The Commission will decide when to publish new proposals for, or amendments to, legislation. The European Parliament is a law unto itself. Its sessions will continue during our referendum campaign and the British Government are likely to want to circulate published material, under the terms of the 2000 Act, to try to influence decisions of MEPs in a way that favours our national interest.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): Can I just get this right? The Minister’s case is that some nefarious other Government will seize the opportunity of the 28-day period to rush something through the European Union. If so, that will be the fastest bout of decision-making in the EU’s history!

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6.45 pm

Mr Lidington: I am saying that the European Union is a constant process of negotiation on a whole range of issues involving Ministers and officials from many different Departments. In the course of that work to champion our national interests, Ministers and their officials have to produce materials that I believe could be classed, under section 125, as published material and material the content of which would deal with an issue raised by the referendum question. As well as covering a wide range of content, the 2000 Act gives a very broad definition of the term “publish”. It defines it as making it

“available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means”.

That would therefore cover printed material and electronic communications.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: Yes, I will, but I am conscious that other Members want to speak.

Philip Davies: May I give the Minister an example of what I fear? What I envisage is if, two weeks before the date of the referendum, the leave campaign is 10 points ahead in the poll—I hope it will be further ahead, but for argument’s sake let us just say it will be 10 points ahead—I am not sure that the Minister’s amendment will deal with the prospect of the Government, the European Commission and the German Chancellor all in a mad panic, like the clumsy intervention in the Scottish vow, standing up and saying, “We hear what you are saying and if you vote to stay in we promise to address some of these issues.” Will the Minister give a commitment now that the Government will not engage in that kind of activity?

Mr Lidington: What my hon. Friend describes would not be permitted under the amendment.

Let me give some examples of the types of business I believe would be caught under section 125. We often table minute statements during Council meetings, for example to set out the UK position on the limits of powers conferred on the EU under the treaty. They are an important point of reference to have on the record, and we make them public and publish them. We circulate papers to other Governments and to the institutions to advocate particular policy outcomes. We did that with some success recently in relation to the digital single market. If appropriate, we would want to do that with other EU business if it happened to fall within the final 28 days of the campaign.

Sir Edward Leigh: As a Minister I sat on Telecommunication Councils and it is incredibly detailed stuff. Surely we could wait 28 days to publish such material. That would be perfectly possible. I do not know what hack in the Foreign Office is writing the Minister’s speech, but the reality is that it just does not add up.