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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 October 2015

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked

Mass Migration

1. Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con): What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. [901647]

11. Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): What (a) assessment he has made and (b) discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. [901657]

15. Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): What assessment he has made of the likely long-term effects of the current refugee crisis on efforts to address mass migration into and within the EU. [901661]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): I discussed the migration crisis with my counterparts at the EU Foreign Affairs Council earlier this month. There is rising recognition among EU member states that Europe cannot continue indefinitely to absorb very large numbers of migrants and that a comprehensive approach is needed, with much greater focus on tackling the root causes of migration as the UK has long advocated. On the issue of mass migration within the EU, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are focused on reforming migrant access to welfare to reduce the artificial pull factors that draw migrants to the UK.

Rishi Sunak: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the best long-term solution to tackling the migration crisis is to improve the living conditions of people in major source countries and that this Government’s commitment on international aid is a tangible example of our leadership in that area?

Mr Hammond: I agree with my hon. Friend. There are two distinct groups. There are those who are displaced by war and conflict, and for the period of their displacement we have to ensure they have the resources they need, usually through the United Nations, to feed themselves and to be able to educate their children and to access

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healthcare. Then there are those who are coming from countries where, frankly, life is very hard, and we have to work with those countries of origin to ensure economic development that gives everybody a chance to do something that gives them an incentive and a reason to want to stay.

Sir Simon Burns: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, important as it is to address the long-term causes of mass migration from outside the EU, it is equally critical to address the problems of mass migration within the EU caused by the artificial pull factor of our welfare system?

Mr Hammond: I agree. As I said in my opening response, that is where we are focused—dealing with the very generous access to benefits and public services that acts as a distortion in the labour market, and which encourages people to come to the UK in anticipation of net earnings far higher than the wages they could otherwise earn.

Wendy Morton: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK’s position outside the Schengen area is a great advantage in addressing the causes and consequences of the ongoing migration crisis?

Mr Hammond: Again, I agree. Being outside the Schengen area has allowed us to stand back from the immediate pressure of this migration crisis and take a slightly more detached view, where we have focused on helping in the upstream areas with very generous humanitarian support to the Syrian region. It is not only being outside the Schengen area; it is having the justice and home affairs opt-out that allows us to say very clearly that we will not share in any compulsory reallocation of migrants within the EU.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): How will the Government ensure that the 20,000 refugees they have agreed to take from the region include some of the most vulnerable—children, disabled people, women who may have faced sexual violence—and how many of those refugees does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be here by Christmas?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. This is exactly the Prime Minister’s point: many of the people we see on our television screens walking down railway lines are fit young men coming to Europe to look for work—and that’s fine—but there are also many extraordinarily vulnerable individuals in displaced persons camps who are simply not able to try to make that difficult and dangerous crossing into Europe, and we will take those people, asking the UN to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Some of those fit young men are fleeing the conscription of Assad’s regime because they do not want to kill their own people. Turkey and Lebanon cannot continue indefinitely to absorb the millions of refugees from Syria’s crisis. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do to respond with compassion and competence in the European Union? Will he reconsider his decision not to participate in the resettlement from within the EU, as Ireland and Denmark have done?

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Mr Hammond: No, we will not reconsider that decision. We judge that the best contribution we can make is to take some of the most vulnerable. I am not saying that the fit young men do not have a reason for fleeing. I am saying that we must focus on the most vulnerable people, who do not have the option to flee. While I am on my feet, I would like to pay tribute to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, who have borne an extraordinary burden over many years, absorbing refugees and displaced people from Syria.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): Why do the Secretary of State and the Government continue to conflate those important but separate issues? The refugee crisis—it is not a migrant crisis—is an exceptional circumstance. Those individuals and families are fleeing the region first and foremost for their own safety, but they want to go home. Does he not agree that a humanitarian plan for long-term peace in Syria would do far more to address the crisis than these short-term measures, which appear to have been designed to curry favour with the right-wing press?

Mr Hammond: I do not know where the hon. Lady has got that from. Of course we agree that addressing the upstream problem by getting a political settlement in Syria and defeating ISIL so that it cannot carry out its barbarous activities is the right way to go. I also agree with her that, when we come to build the new Syria, post-Assad, we will need those engineers, doctors and teachers who are now being encouraged to resettle in Europe. We have a responsibility to ensure that the new Syria has access to those qualified and educated people.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the first robust piece of research undertaken among refugees in Germany, which shows that 70% of them blame Assad and his barrel bombs for their predicament? The rest blame the murderous ISIL group. Only 8% of them want to remain in Europe, with 92% wanting to return home, which speaks directly to this Government’s policy of focusing on the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and helping people to stay there before they return to their country.

Mr Hammond: There has been a lot of focus on ISIL, but it is important to remember that it is Assad’s persistent indiscriminate attacks on his own civilian population with chlorine gas and barrel bombs that have been the principal driver of this mass migration.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister said in his conference speech that the problem with the EU was that it was “too big” and “too bossy”. Looking at the refugee crisis, however, we can see that his rhetoric was simply wrong. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the problem for the refugee crisis has not been a European Union that is too strong and overbearing, but rather one that has been too weak, too unco-ordinated and too ready to fall back into the old habit of nationalism? Do not the desperate scenes that we have witnessed all summer demand more co-operation between states rather than a retreat into the use of barbed wire and nationalism and a failure of collective, co-ordinated leadership precisely when it is needed most?

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Mr Hammond: I am happy to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that co-operation between states is the right answer. Unfortunately, however, that is not what happens when competences are ceded to the EU, which results in dictation to states by the European Union. That is a distinction that he would be well advised to study.

Paris Climate Change Conference

2. Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): If the Government will invite a Minister of the Scottish Government to join the UK delegation to the Paris climate change conference in December 2015. [901648]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Yes, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change wrote to all three devolved Administrations last month to invite the relevant Ministers to join the UK delegation in Paris.

Patrick Grady: That is welcome news, as it will give the Scottish Government Minister a chance to speak about Scotland’s ambition to tackle climate change. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is particularly important, given the criticisms that the UK Government are facing today from the United Nations environment programme, which has stated that their cuts to renewables are completely at odds with the pledges being made by 150 other countries ahead of the Paris summit?

Mr Lidington: I obviously welcome the participation of Scottish and other devolved Ministers in the UK delegation, but I really think that the hon. Gentleman should do a bit of homework and remind himself that the UK is well on track to achieve its emissions reduction targets by 2020, en route to the 80% reduction by 2050. And I am sorry that he did not even mention the Prime Minister’s commitment of a further nearly £6 billion in additional climate finance to help the poorest countries to adapt to the challenge of climate change.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that if the devolved Assemblies are being represented at the conference in Paris, the British overseas territories should also be given representation? They are not part of the British Isles and could therefore be affected by climate change in lots of ways. Surely they should also have a voice at this important conference.

Mr Lidington: The Foreign Office will, of course, be very much involved in the UK delegation at the Paris climate change conference, and every Foreign Office Minister always keeps the interests of the British overseas territories closely in mind. We know that my hon. Friend will always make sure that we continue to do so.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): At this rate, it will not matter who gets on the plane to Paris, because when they get there the UK will be a laughing stock as a result of this Government’s lack of commitment to tackling climate change. We are haemorrhaging jobs in the solar industry and in the insulation sector, and all because of a lack of Government policy. How can Foreign Office Ministers do their job if we are not taking the right action at home?

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Mr Lidington: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not revise his question after hearing my previous answer. I remind him that not only are we on track to meet the climate change targets we have set, but we are setting a lead by committing large sums of additional British taxpayers’ money to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change. This country is the world’s sixth largest green exporter, and the record is one of which we can be proud.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Perhaps the Minister would like to revise his answer, given that Al Gore has said:

“It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris”.

It appears the Prime Minister may have lost interest in the subject, and the solar industry is in crisis domestically.

Mr Lidington: First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench?

For the reasons I have already given, I think that this Government continue to have a good record on climate change, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister takes a very close interest in this in all the international discussions. This was a major item he discussed with President Hollande during the President’s recent visit to Chequers. We are very committed to helping the French Government to deliver an ambitious outcome at Paris which commits all countries to significant emissions reductions, and to targets binding in international law and help for the poorest countries, which will struggle most to make the change.

India (Outstanding Payments to British Companies)

3. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Government of India on outstanding payments due to British companies for work carried out during the 2010 Commonwealth games. [901649]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): In the case of SIS Live, the British high commission in New Delhi has provided consistent support to the company and urged the Government of India to resolve the dispute over payment. I personally raised this issue with the Indian high commissioner just yesterday, and we will continue to press for a satisfactory settlement.

Mr Robertson: I thank the Minister for that response and for the work he has carried out on this issue. SIS Live is a perfectly respectable British company which fully delivered on its commitments in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games. Does he agree that the outstanding debt of £29 million should be paid to SIS Live in advance of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to this country later this year?

Mr Swire: Yes, we very much hope this will be resolved before Prime Minister Modi comes here shortly. The visit will be an opportunity for us to discuss a wide range of issues. Bilateral trade with India is extremely good, but what is important is the signal this matter sends to other potential British companies looking to invest in India, so we do want it resolved.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): While of course accepting the need for British companies to be paid and for Indian companies to be paid by British companies with which they are doing business, may I join the Minister in welcoming the visit of Narendra Modi, which has caused huge excitement among the British Indian community in places such as London and Leicester? Will it enable the Government to send out a message that it is not just learning Chinese that is important but that a bit of Hindi will go down well in our bilateral relations?

Mr Swire: I very much hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to test me on my Hindi now. Of course we are all looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister Modi. Quite apart from the Government-arranged events, there is going to be a huge diaspora event, in which the Prime Minister will be able to speak—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is closely involved in organising it. Clearly, we want more British students to study in India, but the opportunities for the provision of English language teaching in India are the ones on which we should concentrate.

Mr Speaker: Of course the Indian Prime Minister is the representative of a great democracy.

Japanese Foreign Policy

4. Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): What discussions he has had with his Japanese counterpart on that country’s constitutional constraints on foreign policy initiatives. [901650]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): I have congratulated the Japanese Diet on passing security legislation that will allow Japan to play a greater role in maintaining international peace and security. When I visited Tokyo in August, I discussed with Foreign Minister Kishida how the UK and Japan can work together to uphold the rules-based international system, once these changes have been introduced.

Paul Scully: Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in New York that the UK will make a greater contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should encourage Japan to use its special defence forces to contribute to UN peacekeeping as well?

Mr Hammond: Yes, I do. By passing this legislation, the Japanese have allowed themselves more freedom to co-operate with international partners in preserving international peace, and we are very keen that that includes more Japanese peacekeepers on UN peacekeeping operations as well as Japanese logistic support to other operations carried out by partners and allies around the world.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Some of the concerns of the Japanese have centred around the activity of the People’s Republic of China in the East China sea and the South China sea regions, particularly the recent dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands. When the Foreign Secretary is in discussions with the Japanese and the Chinese, will he try to build

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some sense of peace and stability in that region to try to allay the concerns not just of Japan but of other countries in the region?

Mr Hammond: First, let me congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his very good pronunciation of those particular islands. Our position on this is clear: we do not take a position on the different claims to sovereignty over disputed territory in the East China or the South China seas. What we are clear about is two things: first, these disputes must be resolved in accordance with international law and peacefully; and secondly, the international right to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight must be preserved. That is the position that we consistently take and that we consistently make to Japanese, Chinese and other south-east Asian interlocutors.

European Union Reform (Negotiations)

5. Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations to reform (a) the EU and (b) the UK’s relationship with the EU. [901651]

14. Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con): What assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations to reform (a) the EU and (b) the UK’s relationship with the EU. [901660]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): We are making good progress in our discussions on reform of the EU at both a political and technical level. We will continue discussions with our EU colleagues as well as with the European Parliament and Commission ahead of the December European Council. As the Prime Minister said last week, he will also be writing to the president of the European Council in early November to set out the areas of change that we wish to achieve.

Chris Davies: Does the Minister share my concern that economic and monetary union states could force new legislation on non-EMU states by commanding a majority in the EU? What measures can be put in place to ensure that a country not in the eurozone, as Britain is proud to be, can guarantee that their voice is heard in the EU as loudly as those inside the eurozone, particularly on policy relating to the single market?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right to point out that concern. It is the case that the eurozone states will have a qualified majority between them in due course. That is why part of this negotiation is about putting in place a framework to govern relationships and decision making between eurozone and non-eurozone states so that the interests of the non-eurozone states are protected as the eurozone proceeds with the closer integration that—in our judgment—will be necessary to ensure that the euro is a successful currency. That is something that is greatly in the interests of the United Kingdom.

Andrea Jenkyns: For the past two years, the residents of Morley and Outwood have been telling me of their concerns about EU migration, free movement of people and access to our NHS benefits and other services. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give them that those concerns will be addressed in the renegotiations?

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Mr Hammond: I can assure my hon. Friend that those issues are right up there at the front of our renegotiation strategy. Whether they like it or not, our partners across Europe understand that those are the primary concerns that the British people are expressing in opinion poll after opinion poll and during the recent general election campaign. If Britain is to be able to embrace a reformed European Union, those issues will have to be addressed in the settlement.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): If progress is made in all of the four areas that the Prime Minister has put forward, is the Foreign Secretary minded to vote for our EU membership?

Mr Hammond: Clearly, what I seek is a package of reform that will allow me and the British people to embrace enthusiastically Britain’s future in the European Union. The British people will, however, approach this process with a sceptical frame of mind. They will be looking for real and substantial reform, which is binding and enforceable and irreversible in the future. That is what we are seeking.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): What legal advice has the Foreign Secretary had that would give him reason to believe that he can get these substantial changes that would allow non-euro countries fair representation within the architecture without treaty changes being required?

Mr Hammond: We expect that some of the changes that we are seeking—by no means all, but some—will require treaty change. We are exploring in technical discussions with the Commission’s lawyers how we might enter into binding arrangements ahead of treaty change that will have the effect of binding our partners into the agreements they have made.

17. [901663] Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that apart from some technical changes relating to the right of EU citizens to claim welfare payments, the basic principle of free movement of people is not going to change in the renegotiations?

Mr Hammond: The basic principle of freedom of movement to work is not being challenged, but I disagree with my hon. Friend that changes to access to welfare are merely technical. The point was made very well that access to extraordinarily generous in-work benefits effectively distorts the labour market and creates a pull factor towards working in the UK that we need to reverse.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that any changes will require treaty change. Can he tell us one member state that backs treaty change?

Mr Hammond: To be clear, I did not say that any changes will require treaty change; I said that we expect that some of the changes we are seeking will require treaty change. It is perfectly true—I do not know why the hon. Gentleman finds it so amusing, and I have said it in this House many times before—that none of our partners welcomes the idea of treaty change, but all of them accept that this is something we have to do if we are going to carry the British people with us.

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21. [901667] Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): What progress is being made to ensure that this Parliament, by itself if necessary, can say no to any unwanted EU directives, tax or regulations?

Mr Hammond: Part of our reform strategy is to look for a greater role for national Parliaments working together to block unwanted legislation so that we, the people of Europe, cannot have imposed on us by the Commission something that the majority of us do not want. But my hon. Friend knows that it is completely unrealistic to seek an individual national veto in all areas. A European Union of 28 member states with individual national vetoes simply would not work.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Foreign Secretary comment on the solid progress being made on one of the five principles for the Prime Minister’s vision for a new European Union—that is, the competitiveness agenda and specifically, for instance, delivery charges for items posted within the EU, or trade deals with the US?

Mr Hammond: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is privy to some information that I am not, but last time I checked with the Prime Minister he had four categories in which he was pursuing the negotiation. On competitiveness, it is true that the mood in the European Union has changed. Since the financial and economic crisis, more and more member states are focused on the need for Europe to be able to compete in the global economy, and the Juncker Commission is focused on an agenda. We think it could go further; we would like it to be more ambitious, but it is pointing in the right direction. Our challenge is to institutionalise that change and make sure that the European Union is firmly pointed in that direction as a matter of institutional structure, not of individual Commission choice.

23. [901669] Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary said that our renegotiation will require a treaty change. Does he see that occurring before or after the proposed EU referendum, and will that treaty change trigger a second referendum?

Mr Hammond: We are exploring with the Commission legal services and others the possibility of binding legal commitments like the protocols that were entered into by Denmark and Ireland that will be incorporated into the treaties at the next available treaty change. That will give us what the British people need, which is assurance that the agreements that have been entered into will be complied with by the other member states.

Somalia

6. Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to promote peace and security in Somalia. [901652]

16. Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to promote peace and security in Somalia. [901662]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Grant Shapps): As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the UN General Assembly

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last month, we are deploying up to 70 UK military personnel to assist the UN Support Office for AMISOM—the African Union Mission to Somalia.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Much of the rebuilding work in Somalia has been undertaken by Britain and led by the British Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that economic and infrastructure development in Somalia goes hand in hand with peace and security?

Grant Shapps: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was in Mogadishu in July and saw some of that work taking place. Britain’s influence there should not be underestimated. America has its embassy in Nairobi, and no other EU state has a presence in Somalia, so Britain is the only EU country with an embassy in Mogadishu. From there we give technical, logistical and planning assistance, which the Government there very much welcome.

Jeremy Lefroy: May I pay tribute to the work of the African Union peacekeeping forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, who have lost more than 1,000 lives in returning Mogadishu and much of the rest of Somalia to a form of peace? What does the United Kingdom propose to do to continue to support these brave men and women?

Grant Shapps: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The brave troops of the AMISOM command have been doing an incredible job, and I pay tribute to all the countries he mentioned for their involvement. When our military personnel turn up, they will be helping with engineering and logistical support. I have discussed that with our embassy and with UNSOA, the co-ordination force on the ground. It is absolutely right to pay tribute to the very brave work being done by all involved.

Israel and Palestine

7. Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. [901653]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): We are deeply concerned by the recent violence and terrorist attacks across the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. Our immediate focus is on urging all sides to encourage calm, take steps to de-escalate and avoid any measures that could further inflame the situation.

Oliver Dowden: Does the Minister agree that there can be no justification whatsoever for random terror attacks on Israelis in the streets of Israel? They are just like us: normal people trying to go about their ordinary lives. We should be absolutely clear in condemning that sort of activity.

Mr Ellwood: I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend and condemn the violence that has taken place across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. There is no place for the sorts of terrorist attacks we have seen, and the effect they are having on innocent civilians’ sense of safety is appalling.

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Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Are not the deaths of an Eritrean immigrant who was just murdered in Beersheba by Israeli thugs, the deaths of seven Israelis and the deaths of 40 Palestinians the direct consequence of Netanyahu’s refusal to grant freedom to Palestine, the illegal wall, the illegal settlements, the 500 check points and the persistent desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli settlers? Will the Government take action to get Netanyahu to the conference table?

Mr Ellwood: We recognise that there are frustrations due to the lack of progress towards peace, and we share those frustrations. The peace process was launched more than two decades ago, yet we still have not achieved the two-state solution that was envisaged, but there is absolutely no justification for the sorts of attacks we have seen.

25. [901671] Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister agree that it certainly does not help that the Palestinian Authority encourages incitement against Israel?

Mr Ellwood: President Abbas has condemned the use of violence and reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to reaching a political solution by peaceful means. We have seen tensions spike in the past, but it does seem different this time, with young people seemingly unafraid of death and brandishing knives, knowing what the consequences will be. The pattern so far has been one of lone wolf, low-tech attacks, but the escalation and the tensions are certainly worrying.

13. [901659] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What discussions has the Minister had with the Israeli Prime Minister regarding the Gaza reconstruction mechanism? One hundred thousand people have been displaced, and no homes have been built since July. What are we doing about that?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Prime Minister Netanyahu visited recently. We have been making every effort to promote calm. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to key regional leaders over the recent weeks, and British officials have been pressing both sides to take steps to de-escalate the situation.

22. [901668] John Howell (Henley) (Con): What assessment has the Minister made about the significant damage to the holy site of Joseph’s tomb at Nablus, which was destroyed by up to 100 Palestinian rioters?

Mr Ellwood: I strongly condemn the burning of the tomb of Joseph in Nablus. The basic right of freedom to worship in safety and security should be protected for all. We have called for a swift and transparent investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): As Israeli civilians are being stabbed and murdered by Palestinians on virtually a daily basis, a Rafah cleric, in his sermon on 9 October, brandished a knife and called for Palestinians to slaughter Jews in a holy war. Is it not

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time that the nature of this incitement was recognised and combated if there is ever going to be hope for peace and justice?

Mr Ellwood: As I say, the Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas last week. We are encouraging him to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We are also aware that the US is looking at the situation very closely, and Secretary Kerry is ready to visit the region when appropriate.

20. [901666] Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Earlier this month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas proclaimed:

“We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem…With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.”

Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary share my concern that such provocative remarks have fuelled the recent wave of deadly attacks on Israel? What more can we do to help?

Mr Ellwood: There has been too much provocation on both sides. The current violence underlines the fact that a lasting resolution that ends the occupation and delivers peace for Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue. We have been round this buoy many times. The Oslo accords seem in the far distant past, and the tensions are ratcheting up again. We call on both sides to come together.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that all murders and attacks on civilians are unacceptable? That includes knife attacks on Israeli civilians and also settler attacks on Palestinian civilians that have been running into the hundreds for several years now. Will he join Amnesty International, Israeli human rights organisations and the United Nations in expressing concern at the increasing use of live ammunition by Israeli troops and police, even when life and limb are not immediately under threat, because that fuels a lot of the tension that we are seeing now?

Mr Ellwood: We can recall what has happened in the past when the violence has ratcheted up to the levels that we are seeing today. That is why we are urging all sides to come together to avoid what we have seen in the past.

Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recall the words of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech to the Knesset last year? He said:

“I will always stand up for the right of Israel to defend its citizens. A right enshrined in international law, in natural justice and fundamental morality”

Does my hon. Friend believe that it is now time for us to review our relationship with the Palestinian authorities? Would it not be better to pay directly to the projects themselves rather than through the Palestinian authorities so that British taxpayers could have a better assurance that the money is going to Palestinians rather than being siphoned off as a stipend to terrorists?

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend articulates the strength of the tensions and the need for us to come together. As I say, peace has eluded that country and

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the Palestinian authorities for years now. It is important that we take advantage of John Kerry’s offer to visit the region in the very near future.

Libya

8. Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen) (Con): What diplomatic steps his Department is taking to secure a stable Government in Libya. [901654]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): On 8 October, UN special representative Bernardino León announced details of the political settlement in Libya, urging Libyan parties to agree the deal before 21 October. Yesterday I attended a meeting of international partners hosted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss robust support for a Government of national accord.

Royston Smith: Everyone in this Chamber will welcome the progress towards a new national Government in Libya. However, we have been here before, so will the Minister commit to reviewing our approach to Libya in the event that the timeline for a national Government is breached?

Mr Ellwood: If I may correct my hon. Friend, we have not quite been at this point before. We are on the eve of signing a peace document to get a Government of unity, but we are not there yet. That will happen next week. If it does not happen, the difficulties faced by Libya—including not only the current migration patterns, but, most importantly, ISIL developing a foothold there—will continue.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister used to be so proud of this country’s intervention in Libya. Surely we should be seen as taking a much stronger role in trying to bring all the parties together so that Libya can have some sort of future and its people can live in peace.

Mr Ellwood: I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s question, because we have been at the forefront of engaging with the parties in the very difficult aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall. We offered to assist back in 2012 and 2013. We were invited to leave the country, along with other UN organisations. We have encouraged, through the UN and working with Bernardino León and the Prime Minister’s envoy, Jonathan Powell, the bringing of the parties together. No country could have done more.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Although I would not dare to try to emulate Sir Peter Tapsell, does my hon. Friend recall that originally Libya was made up of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica? Does he not believe that if the worst comes to the worst, it may be necessary, because they are two very different peoples, to divide Libya?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is correct, although he misses out a third region, namely Fezzan, and it was the Italians who brought the country together. As well as those three regions, there are more than 135 tribes, including 35 main tribes. They have been sat on by a

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dictator for 40 years, and lifting the lid off that results in society trying to flex its muscles. That is the difficulty and challenge we face.

Refugee Camps (Syria-Turkey Border)

9. Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): What support his Department is providing for refugees in camps along the Syria-Turkey border. [901655]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): We have pledged more than £1.1 billion for humanitarian relief in Syria and neighbouring countries. Roughly half of that sum goes towards helping people inside Syria, and the other half is provided to refugees in the neighbouring countries in the region.

Kirsten Oswald: Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister’s commitment that the UK will take 1,000 refugees before Christmas—which equates roughly to two refugees per constituency—is simply not good enough and represents a missed opportunity to do the right thing?

Mr Lidington: No, I do not. The hon. Lady underestimates the important fact that we shall be offering a home to people who are among the most vulnerable and traumatised as a result of the conflict. We need to ensure that they are given a proper reception and the full package of support from the national health service and, in many cases, local authority social services. They have to be properly provided for.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): Given the increased terrorist activity in Turkey, what assurances can the Minister give on the support the British Government are specifically giving Turkey with respect to the migrant question?

Mr Lidington: We have made it very clear to the Turkish Government that we stand with them in resisting terrorism. We have a history of good counter-terrorist co-operation with the Turkish authorities, and we have told Turkey that we are willing to explore how we can further strengthen that.

Second Gulf War

10. Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on establishing an authoritative figure for the number of people killed in the second Gulf war and its aftermath; and if he will make a statement. [901656]

Mr Ellwood: I frequently discuss Iraq with my international counterparts. The Government have not produced any estimate for the number of Iraqis killed as a result of terrorism and war-related violence since 2003, although we are aware that others do so. Our focus today is on supporting the Government of Iraq in their efforts to build a more stable and secure future for their people.

Mr Allen: It is amazing that the British Government do not have a clue how many people have been killed by the British and American forces’ adventure in Iraq; I hope the Minister will find an accurate figure for Parliament. Does he regard the invasion of Iraq as a success?

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Mr Ellwood: I did say that there are others, including the Iraqis themselves, who have put together those numbers, and I am more than happy to share those with the hon. Gentleman if he wants to see them. With regard to the decision to invade Iraq, lessons have certainly been learned. We await the Chilcot inquiry, but I recall that after the invasion a diktat went around the Department for International Development saying that the war was illegal, so in Basra we went from being liberators to occupiers. That is not the way to do it. There are lessons to be learned, and we are learning such lessons and applying them in Iraq today.

Syria

12. Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the situation in Syria. [901658]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): Syria is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the continued assault by the Assad regime on the civilian population and the brutal occupation of a significant part of the country by ISIL. The Russian intervention—purportedly to join the fight against ISIL, but in fact targeting principally non-ISIL opposition positions—is complicating the situation and risks driving much of the opposition into the arms of ISIL.

Graham Jones: The Financial Times reported on Thursday that ISIS is making $1.5 million a day, plus racketeering, plus ransom money, plus proceeds stolen from the banks. It is a $1 billion organisation now. Where is that money going? It is not kept in shoeboxes under beds. What are the British Government doing to pursue the financial interests of ISIS?

Mr Hammond: The UK is heavily involved in that particular strand of coalition activity—intercepting financial streams—and, of course, the coalition is also taking kinetic action to try to disrupt ISIL’s revenue-generating activities. However, because we target cautiously, to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties, there is a limit to the kinetic action that we can take.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): While the Russian intervention has complicated the military situation, might the actuality of Russian and Iranian practical military support for the regime somewhat simplify the politics of this situation? They now need a solution; otherwise they will be in an indefinite war supporting the regime. Is this not now the moment to invest in a serious diplomatic effort to bring all the parties together?

Mr Hammond: It is probably too early to judge whether or not my hon. Friend’s point is valid. Let me say again that the British Government believe that we must have political engagement to find a solution to the Syrian civil war, while we certainly need a military solution to the challenge of ISIL. We are ready to engage with anyone who is willing to talk about what that political transition in Syria might look like, but we are very clear that, from our point of view, it must at some point involve the departure of Bashar al-Assad.

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Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): The Foreign Secretary clearly has his itchy fingers on the trigger of military intervention, as indeed do the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister. With 12 other countries already bombing in Syria, what analysis has been done of what additionality or what further sorties would be flown by RAF Tornadoes, and what possible difference could they make to the military situation?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has already made it clear—I remember saying the same, when I performed that role, more than a year ago—that the point is one of military efficiency. We are already flying reconnaissance missions over Syria, but our Reapers now have to fly over Syria unarmed looking for situations, which they then relay back to call in other allies to carry out strikes. That is not the most efficient way to carry out operations.

Alex Salmond: We could drop a few bombs from our reconnaissance aircraft, but what difference would that make to the military situation? Why does the Foreign Secretary not listen to his own Back Benchers? As a non-combatant nation, there are certain advantages in being able to make diplomatic initiatives. Given that the Prime Minister is meeting the President of China—another non-combatant nation and a permanent member of the Security Council—why not discuss a joint diplomatic initiative, instead of just thinking that additional bombing is the answer?

Mr Hammond: I have discussed the situation in Syria with my Chinese counterparts on several occasions. At the moment, I judge that the Chinese are not willing to take a diplomatic initiative that would separate them from the Russians. Let me be clear that we are part of coalition activities in Syria. We are not carrying out kinetic actions, but we are flying reconnaissance and surveillance missions and feeding back the output of those missions to the coalition.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Russia’s military intervention has certainly changed things, but one thing that remains unchanged is the suffering and agony of the Syrian people. Given that we can now expect more people to flee their homes, and recognising, as we heard earlier, that the neighbouring countries are almost at bursting point, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what discussions he has had with Foreign Ministers about the possibility of establishing safe zones for people in Syria?

Mr Hammond: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there have been extensive discussions about safe zones, which were originally a Turkish idea, over many months. At the moment, we judge the creation of safe zones to be impractical and impossible to enforce. We are acutely conscious that if we create something called a safe zone, it must be safe. There must be someone who is willing to enforce the safety of that zone. We judge that that means boots on the ground, and we and the United States are certainly not prepared to put boots on the ground in northern Syria.

Hilary Benn: I take the point that the Foreign Secretary makes, but that does not mean that we should not try. The boots could be those of neighbouring countries.

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Something that there is widespread agreement on, as we have just heard, is the threat from ISIL/Daesh, with over 60 countries now being part of the coalition that opposes it. What steps are the Government taking to secure a UN Security Council resolution to authorise effective action to end the threat from this murderous organisation, including disrupting the huge flow of funds from its oil extraction and trading operations, which was revealed by the Financial Times last week and referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) today?

Mr Hammond: In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s response to my comments, I say that it is easy to volunteer others to put boots on the ground, but it is pretty difficult to tell people to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves.

UN Security Council resolutions are already in place and we will continue to test the appetite of the permanent five for going further, but the Russian intervention in Syria complicates matters not only on the ground, but in the Security Council.

Topical Questions

T1. [901637] James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): The Foreign Office is focused on protecting Britain’s security, promoting Britain’s prosperity and projecting Britain’s values around the world. My priorities remain the struggle against violent extremist Islamism in all its forms, the containment of Russian actions that threaten the international rules-based system, and the renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

James Cleverly: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. The Chancellor is right to say that China is vital to our future, but in the light of its recent economic slowdown, what are the Government doing to enhance our trading relationships with the high growth-potential economies of our Commonwealth partners?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We very much welcome the state visit by the President of China and Madame Peng, which starts today. Of course, China is hugely important to us in terms of bilateral trade, but so is the Commonwealth.

This Government have unashamedly put the Commonwealth back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have reinvigorated our network within the Commonwealth and look forward to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta. We are an early investor in the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Trade between two Commonwealth countries is much cheaper than trade by one Commonwealth country outside the Commonwealth. This is an area that we are concentrating on and we want to see far greater trade within the Commonwealth.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): It was reported yesterday that 14 cleaners who work at the FCO were called to an investigatory meeting by the Department’s

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contractor, Interserve, because they had the temerity to write to the Foreign Secretary to congratulate him on his reappointment and ask to discuss the living wage. Given that a basic freedom is the right of any individual to contact us as elected representatives, without fear or favour, will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning this attempt to intimidate staff for having exercised that right?

Mr Philip Hammond: The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me about that matter last night and I have investigated it. I have confirmation from Interserve that although a review meeting was held, no disciplinary action was taken against any cleaner as a result of their writing that letter. It has been reported that some of the people involved in writing the letter were the subjects of redundancies. Redundancies were unfortunately necessary because the Foreign Office is surrendering the Old Admiralty building as part of the campaign to reduce the estate footprint of Government Departments and save the taxpayer money. He will be pleased to know that all the redundancies announced by Interserve in connection with the Foreign Office contract were carried out in consultation with the Public and Commercial Services Union.

Hilary Benn: I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary did not feel able even to condemn the calling of those cleaners to a meeting—it seems to me that people should be able to write to whoever they want. One cleaner who works full time said that they want to be paid the living wage for cleaning offices in the right hon. Gentleman’s Department because they cannot afford to pay their rent without claiming housing benefit. The letter states:

“I really don’t want to receive any benefits, but at the moment I have no choice.”

Given that other Whitehall Departments currently pay the London living wage of £9.15 an hour, why are staff cleaning the offices of the right hon. Gentleman paid so much less?

Mr Hammond: The good news is that from next April all cleaners working for Interserve, including those on the Foreign Office contract, will receive the national living wage when it is introduced.

T2. [901638] James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka achieved an historic opportunity for justice for the victims of grave human rights abuses in that country? Will his Department continue to scrutinise the implementation of that resolution?

Mr Swire: Yes we will. We see the resolution as the start of a process, not as its end, and we withstood criticism from the Opposition Benches on our whole policy towards Sri Lanka. We have been at the forefront of getting this resolution, and we are in the right place. I met Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera a couple of weeks ago in New York, and Prince Zeid more recently in London. We stand ready to help and assist in the implementation of this resolution.

T3. [901639] Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): Turkey is currently hosting 2.5 million refugees, including 2.2 million Syrians, and organisations

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based in Turkey are struggling to alleviate the rank poverty and conditions affecting those refugees. Does the Secretary of State agree that the UK should play its part in helping to co-ordinate a new response to take appropriate action to help those affected?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Yes, I do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I raised that matter with our European counterparts, and we urged other countries to commit themselves to the levels of support that the United Kingdom has already led in providing.

T5. [901641] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the best way of bringing a long-term solution to the migration crisis is to work with our partners to ensure good governance and economic growth in the middle east?

Mr Philip Hammond: Yes. Not only in the middle east but in all countries of origin, the long-term solution is to improve conditions and seek stability, security, good governance, the rule of law and economic growth.

T4. [901640] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): When was the last time that the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Russians about the situation—particularly the military situation—in Syria?

Mr Hammond: I spoke informally to the Russian Foreign Minister when we were together in New York for the UN General Assembly at the end of last month. That was the last time that I discussed the situation with the Russians.

T6. [901643] Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): Since September there has been a worrying resurgence in intercommunal fighting in the Central African Republic after the reported beheading of a young Muslim taxi driver. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands displaced, and there is now genuine concern that the conflict will descend into genocide, and worse. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the British Government are providing political and humanitarian support to the President of the Central African Republic?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Grant Shapps): My hon. Friend is right and we fully support President Catherine Samba-Panza and her interim Government. It is striking to note that a country the size of France has a population of just 4.6 million, meaning that there is little infrastructure and almost no state outside the capital. None the less, the UK is leading with £58 million of contributions to date.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): May I draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the worrying situation of my constituent Rebecca Prosser? She was working in the Strait of Malacca on a documentary about piracy for Wall to Wall productions. She had the right visa for Singapore and Malaysia, but it had not yet been authorised for Indonesia. She was arrested in May and has been detained there ever since. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet the Minister and I have met the Indonesian ambassador, but my constituent is on trial right now. She is a hard-working, law-abiding young

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woman who has committed a visa breach. Will the Foreign Office do everything it can to support her, and at least have a consular presence in the courtroom where she is on trial?

Mr Swire: The right hon. and learned Lady came to see me about this matter, and quite rightly so. I personally raised their case with the Indonesian Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly in September. She knows that immigration offences are taken very seriously in Indonesia. The trial is progressing at the moment. As I said to her at the time, their lawyers judge that a low media profile is the best way of bringing this immigration case to a conclusion, so it is probably better not to say more than that at the moment.

T7. [901644] Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Minister update the House on progress on the issue of the letttori in Italy, following the recent Pontignano conference?

Mr Lidington: I discussed this issue in the margins of the Pontignano conference, and we continue to press Italian Ministers to take action to remedy this injustice that has persisted for far too long.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Can the Minister guarantee that in the EU negotiations there will be no dilution of employment laws?

Mr Philip Hammond: In the negotiations, we are seeking to ensure that the EU is focused on greater competitiveness, but we also recognise the EU’s important role in protecting employment rights.

T8. [901645] Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary outline how many ISIL fighters remain in Iraq, and what would be required to remove that murderous organisation from that country?

Mr Hammond: It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 13,000 active ISIL fighters in Iraq. We always said, at the beginning of the intervention last summer, that it would probably take three years to defeat ISIL militarily. I spoke to General John Allen, the US President’s special envoy on this subject, just a few weeks ago. His view is that that remains correct, and we still have another two years to go to a military solution in Iraq.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the case of Karl Andree and what representations have been made since the cancellation of the Saudi prison contract last week; and perhaps also on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, about whom the Leader of the Opposition has again written to the Prime Minister?

Mr Hammond: As I have said on many occasions previously when I have been asked to comment in the House on these judicial matters in Saudi Arabia, our judgment is that we achieve most by speaking privately but regularly to our Saudi interlocutors. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not expect Mr Andree to receive the lashings that he has been sentenced to, and I do not expect Mr al-Nimr to be executed.

T9. [901646] Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What representations have been made by Ministers to the Government of China and to the Chinese ambassador

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in London on the human rights situation there, particularly with regard to the recent arrest and detention of a substantial number of lawyers and rights campaigners?

Mr Hammond: The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), met human rights defenders last week to discuss these specific issues. We raise human rights issues regularly in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts. We also have a formal UK-China human rights dialogue—twice a year, with formal meetings—committed to nothing but the discussion of human rights issues of concern.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Vice is an online news service based in Shoreditch. Recently, three of its journalists were arrested in Turkey. Thanks partly to the intervention of the Foreign Office, the two British citizens were released from jail, but Mohammed Rasool, an Iraqi citizen, is still in jail 50 days later. Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to take this matter up with the Turkish Government, and, generally, the press freedom needed in that country?

Mr Lidington: We do, as the hon. Lady knows, regularly discuss with Turkish Ministers concerns about human rights, including freedom of the press. She will also know that we, like other countries, do not lobby on behalf of citizens who are nationals of other states. It is for their Governments to take the lead in doing that.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): We have today seen the well-worn exchange of differing opinions on Israel and Palestine. Whatever the tit-for-tat arguments might be, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the fundamental moral principle beneath all this is that Israel’s annexation of its neighbours’ land through settlement building is illegal, and that there is no place, either in this argument or in this House, for those who will not publicly admit to that principle?

Mr Philip Hammond: I am not going to define who can and who cannot take part in the argument, but we believe that settlement building breaches international law and that it is essential that we do not allow the facts on the ground to make impossible a two-state solution, which we all fervently hope will be the ultimate solution to the Palestine question.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): As part of ongoing discussions and negotiations with the European Commission, will the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary

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of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ensure that the European maritime and fisheries fund is approved as quickly as possible in order to underpin fishing communities throughout the UK?

Mr Lidington: I know how important this issue is to the hon. Lady’s constituents, and I shall make sure I discuss it with my opposite number in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that we can continue to make those representations.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Given the momentum for Turkish accession to the EU, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the reunification of Cyprus will be a significant condition? Amid all the other challenges, this one is surmountable, given the increasing confidence and wider benefits, not just for Cyprus but for the wider region.

Mr Philip Hammond: I visited Cyprus a couple of months ago, and I am committed to going there again next month. I have been keeping in touch with both the Greek Cypriots and Mr Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, whom I spoke to a couple of weeks ago. I am cautiously optimistic that we are seeing an alignment in Cyprus that may make a settlement possible—I do not want to over-enthuse about this, but many people think we now have a chance, the like of which we have not seen for decades.

Mr Speaker: Last, but not least, I call Mr Hendrick.

Mr Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Foreign Secretary give us his assessment of the current strength, effectiveness and numbers of the Free Syrian Army, a subject on which he has been very quiet recently? We want to get rid of ISIL and Assad, but there has been no mention of the FSA.

Mr Hammond: There are many groups, running into the thousands, operating in Syria, and they form together in various alliances and umbrella organisations. The non-ISIL, non-al-Nusra part of the opposition probably has a fighting strength of about 80,000 soldiers deployed across the country. That is my latest estimate.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but as usual demand has outstripped supply.

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Steel Industry

12.37 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab) (Urgent Question):To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make a statement on the action the Government are taking to secure the future of the steel industry.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade (Sajid Javid): The steel industry across Europe and around the world is facing challenges on a scale unprecedented in recent history, and today we have had further devastating news of redundancies, this time at Tata. So let me begin by saying something to the people of Scunthorpe and Redcar and anyone else living in a community where the local economy is built on steel. I know that the current situation is unbearably difficult and that you are deeply worried about your future and the future of your families, but I assure you that the Government are doing and will continue to do everything within their power to support you in the weeks, months and years ahead. For decades, the United Kingdom has prospered on the back of your industry. We will not abandon you now, in your time of greatest need.

There is no straightforward solution to any of the complex issues involved, but the Government have no intention of simply standing by. We have already announced a package worth up to £80 million to support people who have lost their jobs as a result of SSI’s liquidation and to mitigate the impacts on the local economy; we have asked Amanda Skelton, chief executive of Redcar and Cleveland Council, to chair a local taskforce; we have ensured that money reaches workers’ pockets quickly via the redundancy payments service; we have brought workers and opportunities together at a jobs fair at which more than 1,000 vacancies were showcased by more than 50 local employers; we have provided additional flexibilities to local further education colleges to allow people to take up training to enhance their job prospects; and we have set aside money to fund those proposals from the taskforce that will make an immediate and lasting impact on the local economy.

We will do what we can to soften the blow of any further redundancies among steelworkers—including, of course, those in Scunthorpe. Jobcentre Plus and rapid response support will naturally be available, and we are setting up a taskforce that Liz Redfern of North Lincolnshire council has agreed to chair. I will carefully consider what the taskforce proposes by way of additional support that may be necessary.

Alongside our immediate help for individuals who are laid off, we are taking steps to ensure a future for Britain’s steel industry in an exceptionally difficult market. Excess capacity in global steel is enormous—more than 570 million tonnes last year, almost 50 times the UK’s annual production. The price of steel slab has halved in the past year alone. In the three years since SSI restarted production at Redcar, the plant has lost more than £600 million.

There are limits to what the Government can do in response. No Government can change the price of steel in the global market; no Government can dictate foreign exchange rates; and no Government can simply disregard

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international regulations on free trade and state aid—regulations that are regularly used to protect British workers and British industry.

To identify where progress can be made, I hosted on Friday a top-level summit with key players from the UK steel industry. Bringing together industry leaders, trade unions, Members of Parliament and senior figures from government, the summit created a framework for action that will help us to support steelworkers now and in the future.

First, we will drive up the number of public procurement contracts won by UK steel manufacturers and their partners through fair and open competition. This Government are committed to a major programme of infrastructure spending. I am determined that the UK steel industry should play a central role in its delivery. The new public contracts regulations give us more scope to offer greater flexibility around how we include social and environmental considerations in our procurement activities. We intend to help other departments and business to take full advantage of these flexibilities, building on what we learned from projects such as Crossrail.

Secondly, we will consider what lessons can be learned from other countries in the EU and beyond. This will include the resilience of the steel sector in competitor countries and market share of national manufacturers.

Thirdly, we will look at what government can do to boost productivity and cut production costs. This includes addressing energy and environmental costs, regulation, skills and training. An extensive review of business rates is already under way, and the Government will look very closely at all proposals.

These steps will come on top of the action we have already taken. For example, we have paid out more than £50 million in compensation to energy-intensive industries in the steel sector. We also plan to offer further compensation in respect of feed-in tariffs and the renewables obligation. This constitutes state aid, which must be approved by the European Commission. The approval process is under way, but it is taking longer than anticipated, and longer than I would like. My Department is working closely with the Commission to answer its concerns and impress upon it the importance of prompt approval. I also plan to meet European Commissioners next week to reinforce our concerns about unfair trade issues and gain their support for urgent action. We have already voted to support extensions of duties on wire rod. We will demand action wherever there is evidence of unfair trade.

Since Victorian times, British steel has helped to make Britain great. In 2015, it is vital that all of Britain comes together to forge a stronger future for the men and women to whom this country owes so much.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Before we proceed, let me gently say to the Secretary of State that although on a one-to-one basis I always think him a very civil fellow, it is a considerable discourtesy or incompetence—or both—for a Secretary of State to take twice the length of time allocated for answering an urgent question. If the right hon. Gentleman judges that he has more material that he wishes to share with the House, which of itself could

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be very helpful, that is fine—but the implication of that is blindingly obvious: the right hon. Gentleman should offer to deliver an oral statement of up to 10 minutes. What he should not do is fail to communicate with me in advance, ignore the convention and greatly exceed his allotted time. It is, I am afraid, discourteous and incompetent—and it must not happen again.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): We would have welcomed a statement from the Secretary of State. Today he has brought more devastating news for British steelworkers at Cambuslang, Motherwell and Scunthorpe and concerns for workers employed by Caparo, following the devastating news of the hard closure of the Redcar plant last week. May I, on behalf of the Opposition, convey our solidarity with those who have been affected—the individuals concerned, their trade unions, their families and their communities—and ask the Government to do all they can to work with every agency and jurisdiction to support them?

Let me say first to the Secretary of State that it does not help him to continue the spin about the £80 million. The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise admitted last week that it was £50 million, and even that is questionable. Spinning does not help the workers one little bit.

Let me further say to the Secretary of State that all Opposition Members understand the real and difficult problems facing the steel industry. Some of us have worked in the industry ourselves, or have family members involved in it. We know about the heat of the steel plant and the whiff of the coke ovens. We understand all too well that the industry faces huge challenges, not least as a result of not being allowed to operate on a level playing field. No one is trying to minimise those challenges. What we cannot understand is why Ministers do not appear even to have a view on what represents a minimum credible steelmaking capacity in Britain’s long-term strategic interests.

The overwhelming impression given by the Secretary of State and his colleagues is that, despite their high-flown rhetoric about northern powerhouses and the march of the makers, they seem content to allow Britain’s entire steelmaking capacity to disappear in the face of blatant Chinese dumping. Will the Secretary of State tell the House—and we need a direct answer to this, so I hope the Minister will stop chuntering—whether he believes that the price of the Chinese steel that is being dumped on our shores reflects the true cost of producing it? If not, what is he doing about it? Even if the workers producing steel plate at Scunthorpe offered to work for nothing, that Chinese price could not be matched.

While the Chinese President is riding down the Mall in a gilded state coach, British workers are being laid off because our Government are not standing up for them. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure a level playing field so that the British steel industry can have a future? Will he immediately carry out the five emergency actions for which the industry called at the steel summit? He mentioned three actions in his statement, but I fear that they may be too little, too late. Why has he so far been so reluctant to defend the British steel industry during this crisis, when it is so important to our strategic national interests? Will he tell us now whether the

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Government even have a position on what represents the minimum credible steelmaking capacity in Britain’s strategic interests? If they do, what is it?

Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s well-advertised laissez-faire views, will he now reverse his refusal even to accept that the Government need an industrial strategy, and stand up for Britain?

Sajid Javid: It is a shame that the shadow Minister has taken this attitude. He has decided that he wants to play politics with a very, very serious situation, and that is a real shame. I could stand here and talk about the massive job losses—thousands—during Labour’s time in government. I could talk about the decline in manufacturing. But that would be wrong, because now is a time when people in the industry—producers, manufacturers, trade unions and others—want to see politicians come together and deal with long-standing challenges to the industry.

The shadow Minister asked a number of questions. First, he asked whether we would do everything we could for the workers and their families who are affected. Of course we will. We have already announced a support package for the workers in Redcar, and I have talked about the taskforce that is being set up in Scunthorpe. We will listen to local people and locally led taskforces who come forward with proposals and ideas about what more we can do to support those areas, and any other area that may be affected.

The shadow Minister talked about China, and I referred to overcapacity. China is obviously one of the main countries with overcapacity in the market, but there are others. A recession in Brazil is leading to more steel in the market and there is overcapacity in Russia, Turkey and many other countries. The problem goes much wider than just China and requires EU-wide action. We have already voted for action and we will do so again whenever we are presented with evidence. As I said earlier, next week I will go to Brussels to meet the relevant Commissioners and push for much quicker urgent action. I am sure that the shadow Minister supports that.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the industry’s suggested actions. UK Steel has five key suggestions and when we had the summit on Friday with many members of the industry—producers, manufacturers, trade unions, Members of Parliament, local leaders and others—we went through each of the actions one by one and set out exactly what we can do. I hope that the shadow Minister can take the same attitude that people took in the summit and understand that although there are some things that the British Government can do, and that where we can we are doing them right away, there are other things, such as action against unfair trade, state aid issues and so on, on which we must work with our partners in the EU. We cannot be a country that sets out to break the rules. I know that the shadow Minister is not suggesting that we break international obligations and rules, but I hope that he has had an opportunity to reflect on his attitude so that he can work much more constructively.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What consideration is my right hon. Friend giving to the creation of jobs in areas that have been struck by the closure of steelworks? In particular, I am thinking of the creation of new

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enterprise zones with capital allowances such as the Teesside advanced manufacturing park, which could create 2,000 new jobs near Redcar.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly the kind of response that can help with the impact on the ground in the affected areas. Part of the support package for Redcar is about ensuring that there are funds available to help local businesses that come forward with plans to create jobs.

Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): It is absolutely disgraceful that the Secretary of State did not mention Dalzell works or Clydebridge in his opening remarks as steelmaking is iconic in Lanarkshire, but I will move on.

Today’s news is not unexpected, but the announcement by Tata will affect people across my constituency, not just the steelworkers but the local newsagents, crane drivers, lorry drivers, caterers and cleaners. Although Lanarkshire has seen grave blows to steelmaking over the years, I must tell the House that we are not finished yet. The Scottish Government have already set up a taskforce to help and the First Minister has pledged to leave no stone unturned in her efforts to keep these plants open. We need more action from the UK Government. Will the Secretary of State please speak to the Prime Minister, especially after the summit on Friday attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), and ask him to speak to China and to address energy prices now, not in April? Will he ask the Prime Minister why he did not address the issue of steel with the European Council? Finally, to echo what has already been said, when will we have an industrial strategy to move things forward?

Sajid Javid: I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that, as the Prime Minister confirmed in the House yesterday, we will raise the question of steel with Chinese counterparts during the state visit. Understandably, she talked about the impact in Scotland of the job losses and concerns about the industry. She is right to do so. She will know that these issues are UK-wide, including high energy costs and unfair trade, and we will work with the Scottish Government on any of those issues if they come forward with proposals or ideas. She rightly refers to the taskforce being set up in Scotland, which is very good, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has offered to join it, which could be a step forward.

Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that although restrictive EU state aid rules prevent the Government from intervening directly in the steel industry, the Government’s efforts to support communities such as Redcar at this difficult time represent strong and decisive action?

Sajid Javid: Yes. My hon. Friend will be aware of the action we have announced to help workers and their families in Redcar with the job losses that have been announced. If there are any more, we will look into taking similar supportive action.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Caparo Industries’ entering administration is another major blow for the steel industry on top of the blow after blow it has

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sustained daily. That will be particularly felt in Hartlepool, where 200 people are employed by the company, which pumps millions of pounds into the local economy. Yesterday, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise launched the metals strategy with the vision of increasing gross value added by 50% and making the steel industry the principal supplier to the UK’s infrastructure projects by 2030. What is the Secretary of State doing to bridge the gap between the short-term existential threat to the industry, with companies, skills and jobs dropping like ninepins day after day, and that long-term vision? Frankly, if he does not take urgent action now—within days—there will not be a British steel industry left by the end of the year, let alone 2030.

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to mention Caparo Industries and the news that came out in the past 24 hours about its administration. That could clearly have a significant impact on communities in West Bromwich, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. As for having a longer term focus, the metals strategy—I believe that the hon. Gentleman was at the launch yesterday—is just one of our responses. We are ensuring that we listen to industry, work with the relevant sector councils and get full support not only for the large companies but for companies all the way down the supply chain as regards steel and other British manufactured products.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): This morning, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change website, the price of electricity for large industrial users in the UK was 9p per kWh. In France and Germany, that price is 4p per kWh. That differential is such that the blast furnaces in France and Germany are not under the same pressure as those in this country. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must breach that gap and will he further agree that Labour needs to consider the fact that at every vote on differential energy prices in the last Parliament it was on the wrong side of the argument?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend highlights that there have been some long-running challenges not just for the steel industry but for industries that are large users of electricity. The challenge has happened under successive Governments, but he is absolutely right to raise the question of competitiveness. He will know that £50 million of compensation has already been paid directly to such industries as a result of some of the action we have taken, and once we get EU approval, which I hope will be very soon, we can pay for a lot more compensation and help.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his warm words of support for the steelworkers and their families in my constituency who are coming to grips with this dreadful news today. However, we have been having warm words from this Government for more than four years while we have been saying that action is needed. We need action from the Government now on business rates, on energy costs, as the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) has just pointed out, and on Chinese dumping. Will the Secretary of State act? By requesting urgent action, I mean action before Christmas.

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Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for joining the summit on Friday. By being there, I hope he now realises that there are areas where action can be, and is being, taken, but I hope he will appreciate that some of the areas we have talked about today, such as further energy compensation and unfair trade, require working with our EU partners. I know he understands that and I am more than happy to reassure him, and will continue to show him directly, just how seriously we are taking this issue by making sure we respond as quickly as possible.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I echo the words of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). The news this morning is a hammer blow to the economy of northern Lincolnshire and many of my constituents will be affected by it. Can the Secretary of State elaborate a little more on the taskforce that has been established under North Lincolnshire council’s leadership? What Government resources will be made available to it? Echoing the earlier words about enterprise zones, an application, sponsored by both North and North East Lincolnshire councils and the LEP, is already in for enterprise zones in the area. An early decision would be helpful.

Sajid Javid: I will speak to my colleagues and push for an early decision, as my hon. Friend has suggested. On the taskforce, as he will appreciate, it has just been set up. The chair has been appointed. I want to make sure we listen to the taskforce and local leaders about what is required and how we can help. I understand that the first taskforce meeting is taking place tomorrow, so no time is being lost. We will be represented on that taskforce and listening carefully.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has referred on a number of occasions to the state aid situation. I do not understand why, as a BIS official admitted at the steel summit on Friday, this was not a top priority for UK state aid clearance with the European Commission. The official also admitted that it would not make any difference now because we were so close to getting a decision. Why was it not at the top of our priorities, and why does the Secretary of State not get on a train to Brussels and stand over officials until they approve it and get the money out to the industry that needs it?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about state aid, but he knows as well as anyone else that this process is not under the complete control of the UK Government. We of course made it a priority, and we made that clear in the summit. It is a priority, it remains a priority and we are making progress, but I am the first to admit that the process is too slow. We are doing everything we can to speed it up, including meeting commissioners directly.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): In a world of excess supply, it is understandable that there is real concern about dumping and other restrictive practices. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that those practices do not become endemic in this market?

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Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise this. We have already taken a lead on this in the European Union. In recent votes we have voted for action wherever evidence has come forward, and I am glad that action has been taken, but clearly there is more to do. That is one reason why I will be visiting commissioners in Brussels next week to push for that action much more promptly.

Anna Turley (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op): One of the many insults the Redcar workforce have had to endure recently is the theft of their pension payments. Following action by the Community union, I understand that the issue of missing employee pension contributions is being tackled. What are the Government doing to ensure that the workers receive the missing employer contributions, and will the Secretary of State promise me here today that this will not be yet another entitlement that is disgracefully pinched from the £80 million support package, like the redundancy payments?

Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Lady for her question, for taking part in the steel summit on Friday, and for the constructive way in which she has helped workers in her constituency and highlighted wider issues around the steel sector.

I know the hon. Lady welcomes the support we have already provided. I am happy to repeat that at the moment the advice is that the £80 million of support for Redcar workers and their families who are affected by this will go a long way to help the local community and local economy, but if more is required and the taskforce comes forward with a proposal, we will look at that.

On employer contributions to pension plans, we are happy to try to help in any way we can. I know the hon. Lady has provided some information on this and I think there is more coming. We will take a close look at that.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the efforts he is making along with the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. Can he give us an idea of the size and scale of Government procurement of UK steel over the coming months and how rapidly that will be rolled out?

Sajid Javid: The Government have already identified in their national infrastructure pipeline over 500 major infrastructure projects, some of them very large, such as HS2. We are the first country in the EU to change the rules on procurement to allow us to take social and environmental issues into account, which I think ultimately gives us more flexibility. We can start to take immediate advantage of that, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General will help to take that forward.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): My heart goes out to the steelworkers and their families both north and south of the border impacted by this announcement. I welcome the establishment of the Scottish steel taskforce this morning to address these issues, but it is a disgrace that the Business Secretary did not once mention Scotland in his reply to the urgent question.

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May I ask the Business Secretary why the Prime Minister did not raise the steel issue at the European Council last week? The Business Secretary did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). Would the Prime Minister not be better served working with our partners in Europe to save jobs, rather than falling out with them to save his own?

Sajid Javid: I am sure the hon. Gentleman has heard me talk about the challenges facing the industry; these are UK-wide challenges and of course that includes Scotland. When it comes to us—whether the Prime Minister, me or other Ministers—talking to our EU partners, we have had a number of conversations and taken action, for example by voting in the EU and the relevant EU Councils for action on unfair trade. We will, of course, continue working with the EU, because that is what is required, and when the EU does take action, it will be a lot more meaningful than if individual countries try to take action.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): We need a steel industry in this country not least because it is imperative for our national security and I am grateful to Ministers for the interest they have shown in this issue. At the steel summit the Secretary of State committed to setting up three working groups. When will those groups first meet and how quickly will they report? On the additional energy compensation to which he referred, I urge him to shoot first and ask questions later.

Sajid Javid: I thank my hon. Friend for taking part in the steel summit and his contributions. These working groups have already been set up and each and every one of them has begun work. In fact, I can announce which Ministers will be chairing and leading the work for each group: it is the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on public procurement, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise on international comparisons, and the Commercial Secretary on competitiveness and productivity. All these working groups will have their first meetings later this week.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is good to see the Secretary of State here on this occasion. Has he initiated an anti-dumping investigation pursuant to the World Trade Organisation agreement, and if so, what stage is it at? If he has not, why not, and when is he going to start to stand up for Britain?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have already started taking action. As I have said, we have voted for action at the EU. We have in fact led the way on certain products. He will also know that the process is EU-led in terms of investigations. We have provided evidence where we found it. If he is aware of any stakeholders that have evidence that he thinks we may not have, I would like to see it.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on their prompt and compassionate action on this problem and on dealing

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with this challenge. What consideration has he given to potentially pre-ordering steel for infrastructure projects, particularly on issues of national security?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. As part of our approach to procurement, that is exactly what we are looking at. One thing that came out of the summit was that the industry understandably wants certainty about future demand. There is a commitment from the Government on major infrastructure projects involving HS2, aviation capacity, civil nuclear power and Trident, and if that kind of commitment could be more cross-party, it would help to provide that certainty.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The crisis in the steel industry has been caused not only by the fall in world demand but by the increase in the costs imposed on producers in the UK because of green energy policies that have put electricity prices up by twice those of our competitors. Can the Minister really justify fiscal policies such as the carbon floor price, which are designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions, while we are exporting jobs to countries that are more interested in the health of their economy than in King Canute’s attempts to change the world’s climate?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter, which goes to the heart of one of the competitiveness issues facing the industry—namely, the relatively high energy costs. Some of those costs are imposed here domestically, and some are imposed directly through EU policies. Where we can take action, such as through the compensation package, we are doing so. I hope I can assure him that we want to pay more of the compensation that we have already announced as quickly as possible. That is why we want to get EU approval as quickly as possible.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I really do not think that this is a party political issue, as illustrated by the fact that we have had a Backbench Business Committee debate on the matter, which led to the steel summit in Rotherham. Will the Secretary of State answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove)? He urged him to shoot first and ask questions later. Let us put in place what we think is right, and worry about whether the EU agrees with it afterwards. We need to do this now; otherwise, there might not be a steel industry left to worry about.

Sajid Javid: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but he will know that the rules on state aid, unfair trade and compensation exist to protect British industry as well. Indeed, British industry, including steel manufacturers, would be the first to complain if other countries were violating those rules. Frankly, if we are going to complain about others violating the rules, we need to have clean hands ourselves.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): If the Secretary of State really believed what he was saying today, he would have made an oral statement instead of having to be dragged here yet again to answer an urgent question from the Opposition Benches. Why is he again raising the issue of £80 million for Redcar? It is not £80 million, as he knows all too well, because his own Prime Minister has blocked access

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for the entire sector to get hold of EU globalisation adjustment funding, of which £5 million could have been accessed by the sector to help the 5,200 workers who are directly affected. More than that, the Secretary of State knows that our EU and US allies have personally taken action against Chinese dumping. Act now, or we might not have an industry left!

Sajid Javid: I hope that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed the written ministerial statement that we issued today. Coming to the House to respond to this urgent question gives us a further opportunity to debate the matter, as we have done here before. What matters most, however, is action, as he suggests. [Interruption.] When it comes to action, he will know that for the first time ever, a British Government have taken action in terms of supporting duties by the EU. As I have said, we will take further action, and we will not hesitate to do so once the evidence is there.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): The steel industry is a vital national interest. It is also vital for many of our communities around the country, and I encourage the Secretary of State to maintain a laser-like focus on it throughout the coming years. Will he also look at another issue that the steel industry has raised—namely, the quality of the steel, particularly structural steel? There is no point in buying cheap steel and putting it into buildings, only for them to develop problems in 20 years’ time. Let us buy British steel of the right quality.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. I agree with him wholeheartedly about the importance of the steel industry to the economy as a whole and to our manufacturing base. It is without question a vital national asset, as he says. The important issue of quality must be considered alongside the question of markings and of ensuring that the quality is properly tested. Those issues came up in the taskforce, and we will be looking at them very closely.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I welcome today’s announcement of the £100 million Chinese investment by SinoFortone in the London Paramount theme park, but our Chinese partners need to know that this country is more than just a theme park. We need a steel industry and a manufacturing strategy. Will the Secretary of State explain what talks he is having this week with visiting Chinese officials on dumping, on state aid and on environmental regulation? When will he stand up for Britain?

Sajid Javid: This week, there will also be announcements on further incoming business from China to Britain, and on opportunities for British companies to export to China, worth a total of more than £25 billion to the British economy. That will help to sustain thousands and thousands of jobs throughout the country, including in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. The Prime Minister said yesterday that, when he sits down with Chinese Ministers, officials and others, the issue of unfair trade will be discussed.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As a former steelworker of 31 years’ standing, may I say that Chinese dumping and Government neglect are killing the British

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steel industry while the Government are simultaneously gifting future nuclear jobs to China? Is not the posture of this Government towards China today that of a supplicant fawning spaniel licking the hand that beats it?

Sajid Javid: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be reassured that we will bring up the issue of unfair trade with China. We will do so.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is not the Minister one of the people who, at the general election a few months ago, campaigned as a representative of the workers? Well, now he has got a job and he has to prove that. The closures are spreading like wildfire across the United Kingdom. It started at Redcar and we thought it was a little disturbance, but over the past 10 days more and more closures have been forecast. He is now in the Government, and it is his job either to stop this carnage or to give way to someone who can make a fist of it.

Sajid Javid: I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman was sitting on these Benches supporting a Labour Government, he made similar noises about the halving of our manufacturing base. I hope that it was made clear in the statement today, and in my answers to other questions, that we are taking action where we can and that we will not hesitate to do so.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is many things, but he has never been accused of being what might be called a silent lamb. I think we are clear about that.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Steel is one of our foundation industries, and it can still be saved. Will the Minister examine the European material from the North East of England Member of the European Parliament, Judith Kirton-Darling, to see just how the state can properly intervene? Will he do that before Teesside and other parts of the UK follow the same path to ruin as Ravenscraig in central Scotland, where the community has still not recovered, 25 years later?

Sajid Javid: That is a good suggestion, and we would be quite happy to meet her.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): It is with a sad heart that I have to stand here today and talk about possible closures at the Clydebridge works in my constituency and the Dalzell works in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). My thoughts are with all the steelworkers throughout the UK. We must do everything we can for the workers. There is never a good time for job losses; that is especially true so close to Christmas. We welcome the Scottish Government’s action to set up a Scottish steel taskforce, but we need to know what the UK Government are going to do. For months on end, MPs on both sides of the Chamber have been asking for action to save the steel industry in the UK. I am glad to hear that the three working groups are up and running, but what are the Government going to do about the dumping and about the high energy costs? When are they going to start listening to the Members in this Chamber?

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Sajid Javid: May I thank the hon. Lady for taking part in the steel summit on Friday? She will know that one thing we talked about was support for workers, and I welcome the creation of a taskforce in Scotland. As I said, we will support that and help in any way we can. She is absolutely right to emphasise that we must do everything we can for the workers who have been affected and their families, and that is certainly the way that we will move forward.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Clearly, urgent action is needed to stem the flow of job losses in the steel industry, and what the Business Secretary has had to say today is woefully inadequate. What is even more inexplicable is his refusal to commit to a long-term strategy for the future of the industry. Elsewhere in government there has been a commitment to a 25-year strategy to secure the future of food and farming, so why can he not do the same for steel?

Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Lady for joining the steel summit on Friday. We collectively discussed the issue of strategies, procurement and pipeline, and the whole supply chain. I hope she will be reassured that since that meeting we have already, for example, set out a metal strategy, which has steel as a very important part of it.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): The Minister has used many words about action, getting things done and taskforces, but from my constituents’ point of view this does not look like action at all—it looks like disinterest. Five asks came out of the steel summit. Does he even know what they were? What is his response to those asks?

Sajid Javid: This is an opportunity to remind the hon. Lady of action that has already been taken—for example, the compensation of more than £50 million already provided to the steel industry for higher energy costs, and our becoming the first of all 28 EU member states to adopt new procurement rules, which will give us the kind of flexibility that I know she wants to see.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that the hard closure of the Redcar steelworks will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to secure the assets that are there, and the continued bad news on closures will cost hundreds of millions of pounds more, potentially running into billions. Has he shared this information with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Does the Chancellor understand the impact this will have on his much vaunted deficit reduction plans?

Sajid Javid: Of course the sad closure of the steelworks—the coking facilities—at Redcar is well known and understood throughout the Government, and every Department that needs to be involved in providing support and help is involved.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The steel industry is a key strategic sector for the Welsh economy—indeed, Tata Steel is considered by the Welsh Government to be an anchor company. What representations has the Secretary of State received from

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Welsh Ministers on the current crisis? What discussions are planned to co-ordinate Government action to ensure that all levers are used to preserve Welsh jobs?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and steel is obviously hugely important to Wales in so many ways. Edwina Hart, the Minister from the Welsh Government, was at the steel summit and played a very constructive role, and she will be working with us going forward.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he is doing to map out the problems facing the companies in the supply chain? Does he know who they are, where they are and how many people they employ? What more can he do to help them out?

Sajid Javid: On this issue, a number of very good suggestions were made by the industry, trade unions and others at the taskforce. One related to certain industries that are now, thankfully, going through a huge growth phase, such as the automotive industry, which is a big user of British metals, including steel. We will be working closely with each of those industries to see how we can hard-wire the requirement for British products and British steel into their products.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Caparo Wire in Wrexham is one of the businesses threatened by the news of the past 24 hours. If the Secretary of State really believes that the UK needs a strategically based steel industry for our defence purposes, how big should that industry be? Will he identify where and how he is going to retain capacity within the industry, which is under immediate threat?

Sajid Javid: On capacity for the British steel industry, we have, unfortunately, seen a steady decline under successive Governments. What we need now is to provide more certainty to steel producers, be it in relation to energy costs, their concerns about unfair trade or the supply chain, so that they can build their plans for the future. That is what we will be helping them to do.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The first thoughts of those of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches are of course with those affected by this devastating news. I must bring to the attention of the Secretary of State his predecessor’s comments in last week’s Standard, where he said that it is clear where the focus of Government attention is when all the focus during the Chinese visit is on currency convertability, to help the banking sector and not on dealing with this problem of the dumping of Chinese steel, which is affecting British manufacturing. Will he give an assurance now that the Prime Minister will raise this specifically with the Chinese premier today?

Sajid Javid: First, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that alongside the Chinese visit this week we will have an announcement of more than £20 billion of business deals which will support jobs throughout the country, including in his constituency—I know he will welcome that. On his specific question about whether the Prime Minister will raise the issue of steel with the Chinese, the answer is yes, he will.

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Paramilitary Groups (Northern Ireland)

1.26 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the assessment of the structure, roles and purpose of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, which I am publishing today and copies of which I am placing in the Library. Before I turn to the assessment, it is worth reminding the House of the phenomenal progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years. We have moved on from a time when terrorism was an almost daily fact of life to one where the overwhelming majority have completely rejected violence as a means of trying to secure political ends. The political settlement, which sees people who were once enemies working together for the good of the whole community, has transformed life for the better. However, as the murders of Gerard Davison and Kevin McGuigan have highlighted, there are still serious legacy issues that need to be addressed, and they include the structure, role and purpose of paramilitary groups.

I commissioned an assessment of those matters following the statement in August by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that a line of inquiry in relation to the murder of Kevin McGuigan was the involvement of members of the Provisional IRA. The assessment has been jointly drafted by the PSNI and MI5, drawing on current intelligence, and has been reviewed by three independent figures, Lord Carlile, QC, Rosalie Flanagan and Stephen Shaw, QC. The three reviewers have confirmed today that the PSNI and MI5 engaged fully with them, consistent with their duties and constraints, and that the assessments are, in their words, “fair and balanced”, “evidence based” and “credible”. They state that they are

“satisfied that the assessments meet all the requirements placed upon us”.

I wish to thank the PSNI, MI5, and the independent reviewers for carrying out this important work within the timeframe I gave them.

I would first like to set out the Government’s position on paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland: paramilitary organisations have no place in a democratic society. They were never justified in the past, they are not justified today and they should disband. These organisations brought misery and suffering throughout the 30 years of the troubles. Together, they were responsible for more than 3,000 murders, and thousands more have been injured. Only last week a service was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the IRA murder of that great champion of freedom and democracy, Ian Gow. Today the thoughts of the House should be with all those who suffered directly at the hands of paramilitary organisations. We should also be mindful of the fact that, thanks in large part to the efforts of the police and our armed forces, along with the determination of the overwhelming majority of people across these islands, the future of Northern Ireland will only ever be determined by democracy and consent.

The assessment sets out the position in respect of those organisations that declared ceasefires in order to support and facilitate the political process. It does not cover in any detail the threat posed by dissident republican groupings, which is the subject of separate, regular

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reports that I make to this House. The assessment does, though, confirm that dissident republicans remain a severe threat and that, at any given time, a terrorist attack from them is highly likely. For our part, the Government will always give the police and security services the fullest possible backing in their efforts to keep the people in Northern Ireland safe and secure.

The assessment confirms that all the main paramilitary groups operating during the troubles are still in existence, including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando, the Ulster Defence Association, the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army.

On structures, the assessment finds that

“the majority of paramilitary organisations in this report still have leadership structures”

and

“organise themselves along militaristic lines.”

It goes on to say:

“These labels make the groups look more prepared for a campaign of violence than they are”

and that

“in the highly unlikely event that the groups are minded to return to terrorism, we judge they would be unable to resurrect the capability demonstrated at their peak.”

On the role of these groups, the assessment concludes that

“none of these groups is planning or conducting terrorist attacks”,

although some INLA members have provided help to dissident republican terrorists.

The report also states that

“members of these paramilitary groups continue to engage in violent activity, both directed by local leadership and conducted without sanction.”

It says that

“members of all groups have carried out murders since the 1998 Belfast Agreement.”

In addition, the assessment makes it clear that

“members of these paramilitary groups, to different degrees, are also involved in other serious criminal activity.”

That includes:

“large scale smuggling operations, fuel laundering, drug dealing and extortion.”

On weapons, the report says that

“although the majority of paramilitary weapons were decommissioned, some were not.”

On the purpose of these groups, it concludes that

“it is our firm assessment that the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups are committed to peaceful means to achieve their political objectives”

but that

“we judge that individual members of paramilitary groups with a legacy of violent activity still represent a threat to national security.”

The report is in no doubt that these groups

“cause serious harm to the communities in which they are embedded and undermine support for policing.”

On the individual groups, the assessment confirms that the

“structures of the UVF remain in existence and that there are some indications of recruitment.”

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It states that

“the UVF’s leadership has attempted to steer its membership towards peaceful initiatives and to carve out a new constructive role in representing the loyalist community.”

However, the assessment goes on to confirm that

“a larger number of members, including some senior figures, are extensively involved in organised crime.”

UVF members are also involved in paramilitary assaults.

In respect of the UDA, the assessment concludes that while its structures remain in existence they have “become increasingly fragmented” and are split into “discrete geographical areas” that “act almost completely autonomously.”

The assessment states that

“with the support of some leadership figures there are UDA members who have continued attempts to steer the group into positive community based activism.”

Others, however, remain engaged in criminality and violence with individual members and some senior figures involved in organised crime, including

“drug dealing, robbery, extortion, and the distribution of counterfeit and contraband goods.”

There is also involvement in paramilitary style assaults, street disorder and violent protest.

In respect of the Provisional IRA, the assessment says:

“The structures of PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form”

including

“a senior leadership, the ‘Provisional Army Council’ and some ‘departments’.”

The authors of the report do not believe that the group is actively recruiting. They state that, although decommissioning took place between 2001 and 2005, PIRA continues to have access to some weapons. However, the assessment judges

“that PIRA has not conducted organised procurement of new weaponry in the period since the last IMC report of 2011.”

While the assessment states that

“PIRA members believe that the PAC oversees both PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy”,

it judges that

“this has a wholly political focus.”

The report points out that

“individual PIRA members remain involved in criminal activity, such as large scale smuggling, and there have been isolated incidents of violence, including murders.”

In conclusion, the report says:

“The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall. It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means. The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state.”

That is a direct quote from the assessment.

I will not seek to hide from the House that much of the assessment makes uncomfortable reading. These organisations should never have existed in the first place and, 21 years after the first ceasefires, it is clearly unacceptable that they still exist today.

For all that the assessment judges the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups to be committed to peaceful

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means, such groupings have no place in a democratic society. Members of those groups continue to exert a malign influence, which, as the assessment puts it

“harms communities and damages the financial prosperity and reputation of Northern Ireland.”

Inevitably, a document of this kind does not provide all the answers, but I hope that it will assist in identifying the nature and scale of the problem and in framing the debate about the way forward. Working with the main political parties, and society more broadly, we need a strategy to lead us to the point where these organisations no longer exist and their influence is removed from Northern Ireland once and for all. That is one of the two main goals of the talks that I am chairing at Stormont and it is an outcome to which all parties say they are committed.

The other goal is to secure the implementation of the Stormont House agreement. I believe that those talks represent the best chance of making progress on both these vital issues and of finding a way forward that builds a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland. We all now need to engage intensively in the talks in the days ahead, and I commend this statement to the House.