6.20 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I congratulate the SNP on securing this debate. Attempts were made to get it on the Order Paper earlier, but important worldwide events obviously squeezed it out.

I also congratulate the Government on having, in one fell swoop, cheesed off every region and nation of the UK. Some 300 workers in Middlesbrough and 400 in Stockton South, the constituency represented by the northern powerhouse Minister, will be affected by these closures. The Middlesbrough and Stockton offices will close in 2018 and 2019. This follows the loss of 2,200 jobs at Sahaviriya Steel Industries, as well as of 1,000 contractor jobs and more than 6,000 in the supply chain. We also had 800 workers sent home when construction stopped at Air Products and, on the same day this announcement was snuck out, 700 redundancies at the Boulby potash mine. I have never known such a tidal wave of job losses, and for the Government to rub salt into Teesside’s wound at this time shows a callous disregard for the fortunes of Teessiders.

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Chris Stephens: I extend the solidarity of my constituents to those of the hon. Gentleman. This is an insult to his constituency, given the pressures it is already under. Is it not extraordinary to hear Government Members say that this is about modernisation and people filling out tax returns online, given we were told only a fortnight ago that a trade union member could not use online balloting?

Andy McDonald: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is interesting how that rationale is adopted for certain arguments, but not universally spread.

It was a disgrace how the announcement was made. It was not made at the Dispatch Box by a Minister answerable to Members, but was snuck out on the internet during the recess. It was disrespectful to the people losing their jobs and to the House. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. I rang the chief executive and said, “What on earth are you playing at?”, and I asked whether a socioeconomic assessment had been done. The Minister is not interested in the impact on people’s lives, but Opposition Members are. I am sick to death of hearing Government Members say, “I feel your pain,” and “We’re doing everything to help.” I was told that about Teesside staff. Well, it is a funny way to look after staff—to say, “By the way, your job’s going.” It is ridiculous.

Ministers say that more than half of staff will retire in situ, so that is okay: they will not suffer because they can stay until they retire. Those jobs will disappear. There will be no continuity or benefit for future generations. Every time we have this consolidation in the north-east of England, it is always Teesside that loses out, and the jobs go north. On this occasion, we are talking, in the first instance, about consolidation at Waterview Park in Sunderland. It is only 30 miles away, but it is two hours 25 minutes by bus. It will add five hours to people’s working day. How on earth will people go to their school open evenings, attend to their elderly parents, or run the girl guides, or whatever it might be? What sort of quality of life is that? There is never any regard for these things.

These jobs will not come back, and there is no way people can maintain a decent pattern of life. This will simply mean more pain for Teesside. The Government must stop these closures, on which there has been no proper consultation, and use the comprehensive spending review tomorrow to provide targeted assistance to help Teesside attract the high-quality, well-paid work that is so urgently needed.

6.24 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): It is clear today that the Government have simply failed to make the case for these changes. They have failed to make the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Here, there are just a few loyal, new Tory MPs keen to curry favour by saying what a wonderful thing the proposal is, alongside some hard-working constituency MPs who have talked about the damage that it will do to their constituency—all credit to them for doing so.

More importantly, the Government have not made the case for these changes to the 8,000 staff who will lose their jobs and their livelihoods, or to the many businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises that are the so-called lifeblood of our economy,

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that are deeply concerned about the changes. The Government have not even made the case to the chartered accountants who deal with the tax offices and do such a good job to ensure that tax affairs are in order.

HMRC has failed to provide an acceptable service level to customers. We know that from the Public Accounts Committee report earlier this year, which pointed out that it takes an average of 14 minutes and 22 seconds to answer a call. We should think about what that means to a hard-working chartered accountant or a small business. Sometimes these people have a great need for advice about the future of their business. How can the Government possibly argue that cutting 8,000 jobs will make this poor performance, which is already not good enough, any better?

One Conservative Member said that there are many things that humans cannot do, but if we speak to these small businesses and chartered accountants, we find that what they think is lacking is the ability to talk to people when they need advice because they are not sure of something. Things are already not good enough, so getting rid of more people with local knowledge who are able to assist and advise is simply madness. In this case, humans are essential, and it is short-sighted thinking to deny it.

My constituent Stephen Oliver, a chartered accountant, is one such person who has advised people in my constituency. He has been telling me for years about the inadequacies of dealing with the tax office. He is one of the many people who are deeply concerned that these changes will make the situation worse. There is widespread opposition from the accountancy sector—surely something that this Government should take seriously, but currently do not. These entrepreneurs and SMEs are people who not only contribute to the economy, but want to stay on the right side of the law. They want to fulfil their tax obligations and contribute to society. Can Ministers confirm that they have done an analysis of the cost to the economy? There will be such a cost arising from lost productivity as a result of the increases in the time taken to answer the phone.

Finally, in the limited time available, let me say that in response to my written questions on how many staff will be reassigned from individual offices to regional centres, Ministers have confirmed that that has not yet been finalised. In my constituency, Peter Bennett house in West Park is being closed, which is regrettable for the employees. Will Ministers confirm that this move will be planned in such a way that it will have the least impact on staff and their families? That is something that they have not yet done. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, the Government have not made the case in any of the four nations. They really should think again and properly consult all those affected.

6.28 pm

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): I align myself with comments made by Members across the House, and particularly those from my region, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who made a persuasive and common-sense argument that I want to build on.

In reply to my question last week about HMRC and about meeting Bradford MPs, the Prime Minister’s response was welcome, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet

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the Minister to discuss my concerns. However, the second part of the Prime Minister’s response was, quite frankly, unacceptable. His reply with statistics about the falling claimant count in Bradford completely misses the point. In any case, the count is falling in Bradford not because we suddenly have lots of a good new jobs, but because of sanctions, dubious self-employment and low-wage zero-hour contracts. We need a proper industrial strategy that will address that shortfall, and will help to bring high-quality, well-paid jobs to the city.

The decision to close HMRC offices in Bradford will mean the loss of more than 2,000 jobs which are precisely the type of jobs that we need. Regardless of the number of jobs that are transferred, that will have a devastating effect on our local economy.

Andy McDonald: Does my hon. Friend agree with what was said by his near neighbour the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the costs that will be incurred by the transfer of the service to Leeds, an area with significantly higher rental values, to a property that does not exist? How on earth will that save money? Does my hon. Friend agree that this is just a false argument?

Imran Hussain: I entirely agree. As I said in an intervention, this decision has been ill thought out, and no economic or social case has been made against Bradford and the surrounding region. The decision has come as something of a hammer blow to Bradford, as there is a clear case for siting the office there: a case that makes clear the positive reasons for doing so, as well as the danger of a negative economic impact if work is pulled out of the city. We have a talented and young workforce who are crying out for opportunities such as this, and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Shipley, we have an identified site next door to the transport interchange. As well as being close to four top universities, we have the internationally renowned Bradford University School of Management.

Nor can I find any good reason for moving the entire operation to Leeds. The Public and Commercial Services Union—the civil servants’ union—has already complained about the lack of consultation and the fact that no one has had a chance to see, let alone scrutinise, the figures that have been used to come up with this plan.

Philip Davies: Is there not every indication that Leeds does not want the hub to be based there, because it could attract private sector investment to any of the sites involved? Have the Government not effectively, and unnecessarily, crowded out private sector investment in Leeds?

Imran Hussain: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. This could have a detrimental effect on Leeds, and on the private sector in particular.

As I stand here representing Bradford, let me make clear my demand to see the figures and the argument for the move to Leeds. Such an important decision must be made openly, and in the full glare of public scrutiny, if we are to be persuaded that the move is not taking place for the convenience of London-based civil servants. Bradford has struggled for years to overcome the effects of de-industrialisation, and has had to tackle many problems. If HMRC relocated to Bradford, it would be

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a great help and a step on the road to the city’s way forward. It is just starting to show signs of recovery and a return of confidence, but the removal of these jobs will be a bitter blow.

I urge the Government to ask HMRC to reconsider its decision and look seriously at the compelling case for Bradford, and I ask them to be bold enough to change their minds.

6.33 pm

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): The debate has been very enlightening, and I thank every Member who has participated in it. I was going to begin by saying that the House was clearly divided on the matter, but I shall have to change that to “clearly not divided”, given the many fine contributions that we have heard from Conservative Members.

I was reminded that, many years ago, a sociologist called Georg Simmel had said that the most worrying thing was not people debating or arguing, because at least they were motivated enough to address the issue in question; the biggest problem arose, he said, when there was apathy and people did not participate. We have heard some tremendous contributions today, and witnessed some tremendous engagement. There is certainly no apathy in the House of Commons when it comes to this important issue. I remain of the view that the UK Government have made a serious error with their closure plans, and I think that the majority of those who have contributed to the debate would agree with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) pointed out that although some £34 billion was being lost through inefficient tax collection, the Government’s great idea was to close offices and make redundant the very staff we need to collect those taxes. She shone a light on a range of shortcomings in the Government’s plans, including the scale of office and personnel cuts.

In my summing up, I want to refer to everyone who has made a contribution today, as all the contributions have been important. I shall start with the Minister, who, with his usual calm and attempted reason, gave us a fine tour de force. I would like to pick him up on one or two points, however. I was particularly aggrieved when he used the Scottish Government as an example, saying, “Look at what they have done by bringing all those colleges together”, as though that were an example of the downsizing of an entire estate in Scotland. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me give the Minister an example. There is now only one college in Ayrshire—Ayrshire college—but it retains not only its Ayrshire college campus but the campus that was James Watt college in Kilwinning. It has also retained the campus that was Kilmarnock college, and the Scottish Government are now investing £50 million to expand that campus.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): I have met representatives of businesses in Ayrshire, and they have been nothing but complimentary about the courses at Ayrshire college and the students that come out of it. The college has just won three categories in the Scottish Qualifications Authority awards last week.

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Roger Mullin: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are many hon. Members on these Benches who could say similar things about their colleges and the way in which they are served.

The Minister claimed that part of the reason for the proposed changes was to create greater efficiency. Well, that would be clever! As many Members have said, we currently have a rather inefficient way of gathering taxes. There are telephone calls that cannot be answered and letters that sometimes cannot even be opened, let alone responded to, yet the way we are supposed to solve this problem is to cut, cut and cut again. That does not make any sense.

The Minister also indicated that some of the closures would happen in such a way that it would be viable for the people affected to move from their current location to a new one.

Drew Hendry: Try that in Inverness!

Roger Mullin: My hon. Friend has just stolen my line. I was about to say, “Try that in Aberdeen.”

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): I might add, “Try that in Enniskillen.” People would have to go to Belfast, or even perhaps even across the Irish sea to Glasgow.

Roger Mullin: I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely. I know Enniskillen and many other places in Northern Ireland very well. I am sure he would agree that many people, particularly in communities on the fringes near the border, might feel vulnerable and fear having to go to the big city of Belfast to have their needs met. A number of Members from Northern Ireland have pointed out the specialist nature of the needs of people there, because of cross-border issues and the like.

I have happily crossed swords with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) on a number of occasions. He made one of his typically thoughtful and detailed speeches, and we are grateful for that. He will forgive me if I cannot cover all the points he made, but one thing that struck me about his contribution was his comment that of course there is a need to have new technology and the best new ways of working, but that does not mean we need to deny the right of people to have human contact and get advice and guidance that can be provided only by human beings. We are not luddites opposing the Government—

Chris Law: Or robots!

Roger Mullin: Or robots. We are people who want to see a balanced way of providing a service to the people in this important area. The hon. Gentleman also talked about things he has rehearsed in other places, such as the problems of the tax gap and the great need to have people with real expertise to tackle different forms of tax evasion. He gave many helpful quotes from many different professional groups that are with us in opposing what the Government are planning.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) gave an especially fine analysis of the situation in his local area. I particularly enjoyed his comment that HMRC was proposing a cack-handed approach to finding locations to site its offices. He provided a compelling critique of

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the regional positioning that is taking place, and I thank him for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) pointed out that his city, undergoing a £1 billion expansion in so many ways, is now to be denied a tax centre for the many thriving and developing small businesses and individuals in that great city of Dundee—what a ridiculous proposition. He also said that the Scottish Government have a policy of “no compulsory redundancies”, but we have not heard those words trip off the tongue of any Minister in this debate.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) focused well on the issues of customer service that need addressing, giving a balanced critique of the Government yet cleverly still finding some areas to support—I pay tribute to her for being so adept at that. The hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) gave a fine, reasoned analysis, particularly of the human contact needed and the disrespect that has been shown in the way in which this announcement has been given to the public. He was the first to raise that point, but he will doubtless realise it was mirrored in what was said in many subsequent contributions. I want the Government to say something about that in a contrite manner when we hear from them shortly. Like others, the hon. Gentleman raised the need for impact assessments, including equality impact assessments. I have found no effective assessment of any sort connected with this major initiative, and that is completely ridiculous.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) made another compelling case about location, even if it was surprisingly positive about the economic strategy being pursued by the Government. In the context of this debate, I will dwell on the fact that he, too, lent his voice to the critique that even people who believed in this type of policy would not choose the locations that have been chosen to enact it. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) pointed out how the significant, large and well-respected tax office in Cumbernauld is to be thrown to the wind, along with so many other offices in Scotland. He called, as have others, for much greater scrutiny of the Government’s proposals in this regard.

The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) offered a paean to her Government, claiming that they were pursuing a policy of common sense, yet she, too, still managed to give a critique of the locations being chosen by the Government. Listening to almost all the contributions from Tory Members, it appears that they liked the policy but just did not agree with any one of the locations that have been chosen to enact it.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) talked about the appalling way in which this matter has been announced and pursued. He said that it showed disrespect to the House. I particularly liked his deep analysis of the situation, when he said “They don’t know their backside from their elbow.”

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) gave the most loyal of speeches, but I have to say that I disagreed with almost every word of it. I could steal a line from someone else and say, “He had all the right words, but just in the wrong order.”

The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) mentioned the importance of the Welsh language and the need for an impact assessment. Something that was missing was the lack of concern about what is

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happening in the highlands and islands and the Gaelic-speaking communities in Scotland. We need to have proper impact analysis and proper care for the people in our communities.

The hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) called for effective care and support for the workers involved, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), who made that point in at least six interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) pointed out the way in which three offices in her constituency are again being cast to the winds without any real and effective consideration. [Interruption.] I think that I am being encouraged to wind up.

Let me quickly mention the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) were all stunning in their analysis.

6.46 pm

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds): I am not quite sure how to follow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin).

Protecting the country’s tax revenues is of course a vital part of our long-term economic plan. It is particularly important given the contributions that we expect the tax system to make to delivering an overall surplus in 2019-20. As an integral part of that, we strengthened HM Revenue and Customs’ ability to carry out its job as effectively and as efficiently as possible.

In 2009-10, the tax gap stood at 7.3%. By 2013-14, it had fallen to 6.4%, and that represents an additional £14.5 billion in cumulative tax collected. Over the past Parliament, HMRC has secured around £100 billion in additional compliance yield, including more than £38 billion from big businesses and £1.2 billion from the UK’s richest 6,000 people. Our investments, including £800 million in the summer Budget, helping HMRC to recover an additional £7.2 billion, have been vital to achieving that success. As well as that, it is clearly important that the structure and organisation of HMRC are fully fit for the 21st century, and that is what these changes are all about.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Damian Hinds: I will not just at the moment, if that is all right with my hon. Friend.

The primary objective is for HMRC to bring its workforce closer together in regional centres so that they can collaborate better, providing more opportunities for economies of scale and of scope and for individuals’ career progression. That will allow them to deliver higher quality public services at a lower cost to the taxpayer. It is simply not efficient to have HMRC’s 58,000 employees spread throughout 170 offices across the UK.

Andy McDonald: While the Minister is on the subject, does he want to tell the House what assessment he has made in socio-economic terms of the damage that will be caused by those tax offices and workers withdrawing from those very communities?

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Damian Hinds: As the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, this is about moving into more efficient and more effective regional centres in which, in those places, jobs will be created. The great majority of people are within travel time of those centres and will be able to move.

Mrs Hodgson: Will the Exchequer Secretary give way?

Damian Hinds: I will not for the moment. I want to see how things go and to try to cover as many as possible of the points that have been raised during the debate.

The consolidation has been ongoing since the formation of HMRC in 2005, when it had more than 570 offices. Most recently, in 2014, it announced the closure of 135 older-style walk-in centres, to which vulnerable customers had to make the effort to travel. HMRC replaced them with a dedicated “needs extra support” service, whereby officials go to meet the customers in their own home or at a convenient location. I have met and spoken to HMRC staff who have made the change from the old service model to the new one, and have heard about how much more effective it is in supporting those who need most help.

Peter Dowd rose

Damian Hinds: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way.

Keeping HMRC’s valued employees fully engaged has been a central part of the transformation programme. The proposals were initially announced internally 18 months ago. Since then, HMRC has held about 2,000 events across the country, talking to and consulting colleagues on the changes.

Philip Davies: This is a really lazy reorganisation by HMRC, which appears to have picked either the biggest place in a region or the one that is easiest for the London staff to get to by train. Will the Exchequer Secretary consider what has been said in this debate and go away and look at the issues from a properly local perspective?

Damian Hinds: I assure my hon. Friend that that is not the way in which the process to identify the locations has been conducted. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary mentioned earlier the combination of site and location-specific criteria. Critically, the process has also involved mapping out where HMRC staff live, in order to calculate reasonable travel distances and the locations to which those individuals can reasonably travel. In the case of HMRC staff employed in Leeds and Bradford, 130 live a more reasonable distance from Leeds than they do from Bradford.

Peter Dowd: What does the Exchequer Secretary have to say to my constituents who have been connected to the civil service for half a century? What does he have to say to the town that will be devastated when those 2,500 jobs move out?

Damian Hinds: There are a great number of job opportunities in Liverpool, near the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. This will be a different type of operation, with more disciplines co-located in the same building,

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so there will be more opportunities for collaborative and efficient working and for career progression and development. Everyone working for HMRC will have the opportunity to discuss their personal circumstances with their manager ahead of any office closures or moves, including any issues that need to be taken into account when making decisions.

Andy McDonald: Will the Exchequer Secretary give way?

Damian Hinds: Not at the moment. As I have said, HMRC has mapped the geographical location of all of its employees, to work out which locations work best for most people. We envisage that the new office structure will give more people more opportunities, which is good for them as well as for the organisations as a whole.

I have not given way as much as I might have done, because I wanted to respond to as many as possible of the points that have been raised during the debate. The questions were many and the minutes available are few, but I shall do my best. If I omit anything crucial that has been raised, I will write to the hon. Member concerned.

The official Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris), rightly raised the question of the Mapeley leases. It is precisely because of the expiration date of those leases, which account for about two thirds of the estate, at the end of the private finance initiative contract in 2021 that this is a one-off opportunity to make this change to the estate footprint. If the opportunity is missed, there will not be another one like it for some 15 years.

I have been asked a number of times, quite rightly, about the number of compulsory redundancies. Of 58,000 staff in total, 4,000 are expected not to be in reasonable travel time of a regional centre, but that is not the same as saying that there will be 4,000 compulsory redundancies. Every year, many people retire or move away from organisations, including HMRC.

Andy McDonald: What counts as reasonable travel time?

Damian Hinds: I will in a moment come to the point that the hon. Gentleman is shouting out from his seat. The average age of employees in the organisation is late 40s or early 50s, and this is a 10-year plan, so compulsory redundancy should be a last resort.

What counts as reasonable travel time will depend on the circumstances of the individual and will include consideration of factors such as caring responsibilities, which is one reason for providing the opportunity of one-to-one discussions, quite rightly, with all employees. Typically, reasonable travel time is taken to mean around an hour, but that does not mean that that is correct for everybody in every circumstance in every location.

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and for Bootle (Peter Dowd), my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), complained about the manner in which the announcement came out. I make no apology for the fact that the staff were told first. On the day of the announcement, the entire HMRC senior team was out in the field at those office locations to carry out face-to-face discussions with staff. The direction of

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travel had been shared with staff 18 months earlier, and in the intervening time some 2,000 events had been held up and down the country to discuss the changes. In terms of contact with MPs, I can confirm that HMRC will be happy to discuss the situation with them.

Ian C. Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Damian Hinds: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, because of the time.

I want to respond to the specific points that hon. Members have rightly raised about their constituencies. On Shipley and Bradford, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has agreed to meet Bradford MPs, as they know. The chief executives of HMRC and of Bradford’s local authority are also due to meet to discuss the issue. We have heard about Chatham and Chelmsford. I should explain that they are both two-stage programmes with a transitional arrangement in place for three or four years at Maidstone and Southend respectively. The hon. Member for Bootle raised the question of not knowing exactly where in Liverpool the regional centre would be. This programme stretches over a number of years, and it is right that as an organisation goes into a commercial negotiation over premises, it does not identify the exact location it has in mind because, as was mentioned in the debate, that would put up the price that was asked.

I want to reassure the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) that HMRC is very conscious of the importance of the Welsh language service and intends there to be no denigration of service to Welsh speakers as a result of these changes. I want also to reassure colleagues from Northern Ireland that we expect the number of staff in Northern Ireland to go up at the end of this period, rather than down. HMRC absolutely recognises the unique issues in the Province.

The Scotland-specific proposals will see the opening of two regional centres, in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In addition, a specialist crime centre will be maintained in Gartcosh. Although discussions with individual employees are ongoing, HMRC’s presence in Scotland will remain consistent, at 12% of its total workforce as against only 8% of the UK’s population. To respond to the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), the 600 jobs at Sidlaw House will move to the Department for Work and Pensions, while we will do everything to find alternative options working one-to-one with those at Caledonian House who are outside reasonable travel times for the new regional centre.

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 154, Noes 301.

Division No. 132]


6.59 pm


Ahmed-Sheikh, Ms Tasmina

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Arkless, Richard

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bardell, Hannah

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Boswell, Philip

Brake, rh Tom

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Butler, Dawn

Cameron, Dr Lisa

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Chapman, Douglas

Cherry, Joanna

Cowan, Ronnie

Crausby, Mr David

Crawley, Angela

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Day, Martyn

Docherty, Martin John

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donaldson, Stuart Blair

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Tom

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farron, Tim

Ferrier, Margaret

Flynn, Paul

Gardiner, Barry

Goodman, Helen

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Griffith, Nia

Haigh, Louise

Hanson, rh Mr David

Hayman, Sue

Hendry, Drew

Hermon, Lady

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollern, Kate

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jones, Graham

Jones, Susan Elan

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Kinahan, Danny

Lavery, Ian

Law, Chris

Lewis, Clive

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Malhotra, Seema

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

Mc Nally, John

McCabe, Steve

McCaig, Callum

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonald, Andy

McDonald, Stewart Malcolm

McDonald, Stuart C.

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McGarry, Natalie

McLaughlin, Anne

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Mulholland, Greg

Mullin, Roger

Murray, Ian

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Onn, Melanie

Oswald, Kirsten

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Paterson, Steven

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pugh, John

Reed, Mr Jamie

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, rh Angus

Robinson, Gavin

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shannon, Jim

Sheppard, Tommy

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, Cat

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stephens, Chris

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thewliss, Alison

Thornberry, Emily

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Vaz, rh Keith

Weir, Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Corri

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Marion Fellows


Owen Thompson


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kennedy, Seema

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Tellers for the Noes:

Simon Kirby


Sarah Newton

Question accordingly negatived.

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1302

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1303

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1304

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1305

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you are aware that cinema distributors in this country have refused to carry an advertisement for the Lord’s prayer by the Church of England, despite the fact that it has been approved by the British Board of Film Classification and by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. What action do you think I might take to draw this to the attention of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who might do something about this fundamental attack on free speech?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a point of order, but the good thing is that you have raised it on the Floor of the House, it is now on the record, and I am sure that, quite rightly, people will look at it closely. I hope that at some point people will come back to you on the point you raise.

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1306

Iran: Nuclear Issues

[Relevant documents: 3rd Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2015-16, HC 342-iii, Chapter 5; 8th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2015-16, HC 342-viii, Chapter 1.]

7.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the following unnumbered European Union Documents concerning restrictive measures against Iran: a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1050 of 30 June 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1099 of 7 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1130 of 10 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1148 of 14 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1336 of 31 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1327 of 31 July 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1337 of 31 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1328 of 31 July 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1863 of 18 October 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1861 of 18 October 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, and a Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/1862 of 18 October 2015 implementing Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012; supports the Government’s view that, had the suspension of certain EU restrictive measures against Iran not been extended in the final stages of negotiations, the prospects for reaching an agreement would have been significantly diminished; and agrees that the amendments to EU legislation to meet the obligations set out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action contribute to ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.

Over four months have passed since the E3+3 and Iran reached agreement on the joint comprehensive plan of action and the historic deal that now imposes strict limits and inspections on Iran’s nuclear programme. During that time, there have been a number of important developments. In recent weeks, crucial steps have been taken to begin implementation of the agreement. Earlier, in the summer, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary marked another diplomatic breakthrough with Iran when he travelled to Tehran to reopen our embassy there. This is therefore a welcome opportunity to discuss the nuclear agreement with Iran. I am grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee for its recommendation that the House debate these matters and for its work in examining the many EU measures that relate to the negotiation and implementation of the deal.

The past few months have not been easy. The review processes in Washington and Tehran saw tough and impassioned debate. Opponents of the deal, on all sides, will continue to challenge it.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Has Washington actually approved the deal—by “Washington”, I mean the Senate and Congress?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If I may, I will come on to the developments in the region and the wider E3+3 context later.

Crucially, we remain on track for successful implementation. The deal was adopted as planned on 18 October. Adoption day was an important landmark. It means that the deal is now in force and Iran is

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1307

beginning to take the required steps to limit its nuclear programme. We are therefore on track towards implementation day.

Let us be in no doubt about the significance of successful implementation. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would constitute a major threat to national, regional and global security. Full implementation of the agreement will remove that threat. Iran will grant the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access so that it can verify compliance with the strict limits placed on Iran’s nuclear programme. Those limits mean that Iran’s break-out time to acquiring sufficient fissile material for a weapon will be at least one year for at least 10 years.

The UK, along with its E3+3 partners, played a crucial role in more than a decade of negotiations to resolve this most challenging of issues. The UK is committed to playing its part in ensuring that a nuclear weapon will remain beyond Iran’s reach. I hope that the Government continue to enjoy support from both sides of the House in our efforts.

In recommending that this debate be held, the European Scrutiny Committee referred a number of different documents to the House. Given the time constraints, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I give only a general description of them. Broadly speaking, they fall into three different categories. I will give an overview of each in turn.

When, in November 2014, the E3+3 and Iran agreed to continue negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, the interim agreement—the joint comprehensive plan of action—was extended until 30 June 2015. This provided for the continuation of voluntary measures by Iran to freeze the most concerning aspects of its nuclear programme in exchange for limited US and EU sanctions relief. As the negotiations reached the end game, all parties felt that an agreement was indeed within reach, but was unlikely to be secured by the 30 June deadline. As such, the first group of documents extended the suspension of EU sanctions for a few days at a time, as the negotiations edged towards the key date of 14 July. I cannot stress enough how sensitive the negotiations were at that stage. Had the limited sanctions relief lapsed, the prospects for keeping Iran at the negotiating table would have diminished, if not disappeared completely.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Did the sensitivity of the circumstances that the Minister describes lead to the delay in debating this matter, given that so much time has since passed?

Mr Ellwood: There were of course delays, but, as I have articulated, had we not taken the measures, and introduced and pursued the documents we are now discussing, we would not have kept Iran at the negotiating table, which it was important to do to get the result we now have.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am not entirely clear about my hon. Friend’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). Were there sensitivities prior to the agreement

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1308

on 14 July, or did they come afterwards and therefore contribute to the delay in having the debate in this House?

Mr Ellwood: I do not believe that there was a delay in debating the matter in this House. I am delighted to be here today. I will certainly look at the detail of the point that my hon. Friend raises. I am articulating why there were delays and, indeed, extensions in the discussions and in the requirements for the documents to be in place in order to secure agreement with Iran.

Following the agreement of the joint comprehensive plan of action on 14 July, the second set of documents extended the limited sanctions relief, this time for a longer period. That created a window to allow Iran to take the required steps to limit its nuclear programme and to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to confirm that those steps had been taken ahead of full sanctions relief. Had the limited sanctions relief not been extended, the incentive for Iran to complete those actions would have been greatly diminished.

The final set of documents deals with the crucial matter of the implementation of EU commitments under the deal by providing the legal framework for the termination of the nuclear-related economic and financial EU sanctions on Iran. Those measures were passed on adoption day, 18 October, as was required by the joint comprehensive plan of action. In adopting those measures, we and our partners demonstrated our intention to honour our commitments fully and in good faith. Iran still has plenty of work to do to live up to its commitments. That is why the sanctions relief will come into effect only on implementation day, when the IAEA verifies that Iran has completed the crucial steps in its nuclear programme.

To conclude, I will emphasise three crucial points that are illustrated by the documents and their adoption. First, the documents highlight the importance of close engagement with our diplomatic partners. The success of the negotiations was based on strong co-operation among the E3+3. Maintaining the pressure and the effect of EU sanctions was vital to bring Iran to the negotiating table. That required the co-operation of all 28 member states. The smooth implementation of the agreement and robust enforcement of the sanctions that remain in place will require a similarly united effort in the coming months and years.

Secondly, by providing the opportunity, through sanctions relief, for Iran to re-engage with the world economically, this deal and these documents are allowing the Iranian people to feel the tangible benefits of international co-operation.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): The point that the Minister is making is a strong one. Although the deal focuses on nuclear issues, it sets a framework for bringing up other issues that we have concerns about in Iran, not least the continuing persecution of Christians.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Yes, Iran has come to the table and we have an agreement in place. That allows us to have a dialogue, through the opening of our embassy and so forth, with a country that has a long way to go on human rights, the introduction of justice systems and so forth. The strength of our relationship will allow us to be far more frank on the issues that he rightly raises.

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1309

There are opportunities for the United Kingdom. The Government are determined that British businesses should be well placed to benefit when the sanctions are lifted. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Trade and Investment have visited Tehran with UK delegations that included representatives of the engineering, infrastructure, banking and oil and gas sectors. Together, they are beginning to build the crucial links that will allow British businesses to take advantage of the opportunities in Iran.

Finally, the documents show that we are ready to implement the deal fully and robustly. As we enter the implementation process, our aim will be same as it was throughout the negotiations: to give the international community confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is and will remain exclusively peaceful. That is why we could accept a deal only if it shut off all possible routes to an Iranian bomb, and why the sanctions relief will not take effect until the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken the agreed steps to limit its nuclear programme.

Mr Jim Cunningham: To return to my original question, has the American Senate gone along with this agreement? I am sure the Minister remembers that the Republican party was not that happy about the deal.

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman is right. There were extensive negotiations in America and concerns were raised, as they were in this House, but I understand that the Senate has now confirmed American support for this deal.

Sir William Cash rose

Mr Ellwood: In conclusion, the IAEA will have unprecedented access to verify that Iran continues to honour its obligations. The Government were grateful for support that they received from across the House throughout the negotiation process. As our attention turns towards a robust interpretation of this historic agreement, we look forward to enjoying similar support as we ensure that the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb never materialises.

7.25 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The nuclear deal that was agreed in July between the E3+3 and Iran was the culmination of many years of intense diplomatic efforts. At its heart is a simple concept, but it nevertheless took a huge amount of work to reach a robust and verifiable agreement. The simple concept is that Iran will desist from its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that have had a major impact on its economy over many years.

I pay tribute to the efforts of all those involved in those intense diplomatic efforts, and particularly Baroness Ashton of Upholland who played such an important role during her five years as the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs, and Jack Straw who was important in getting the process started and who remained an unstinting supporter of it during the last Parliament. Such diplomacy is not easy. Trust was in short supply, for understandable reasons, and there were—and remain—many who said that the deal could not work. Agreement is one thing, but its implementation matters even more.

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1310

The European Union played an important co-ordinating role in the talks, and all parties have testified to the value and importance of that role. The agreement is a good example of what can be achieved when the UK works with others and uses the EU to increase its leverage when patient but determined diplomacy is used. There must have been many times when it all seemed too difficult, but the thing that concentrated the minds of negotiators—this should also give pause for thought to critics of the deal—was the consequence of having no deal or of allowing negotiations to fail. What would that have meant for nuclear proliferation? What would it have meant for the middle east or for other situations—such as those now at the forefront of our minds—in which Iran is involved, if we did not have the increase in trust that has come about as a result of this agreement? That does not mean that all our issues with Iran are over, but the agreement has helped to build trust. If it is implemented properly, that trust will increase.

This debate focuses on how the sanctions regime is to be lifted, and on the snapback mechanism incorporated into the deal should it be judged that Iran is not implementing its commitments properly. The lifting of sanctions is linked to the implementation of the agreement, and that must be verified by the IAEA. A positive report by that agency will trigger the lifting of sanctions. The Deputy for Legal and International Affairs at Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Abbas Araghchi, told reporters in Vienna in the last couple of days that he expects the deal to be implemented in January next year. That follows approval of the deal by the Iranian Parliament last month. We welcome that aim. It shows momentum behind the agreement, although it will, of course, be important that the claim of implementation is properly tested and verified by the IAEA.

The European Union has already begun preparing for the lifting of sanctions. Last month the EU High Representative, Ms Mogherini, said that the EU had

“adopted the legislative framework for the lifting of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions”.

That decision will, of course, only take effect when the agreement is implemented. The Government, in keeping to this timetable, exercised an override of the normal scrutiny procedures on some of the measures. That is never ideal, but in the circumstances, given the combined international efforts to get the deal implemented, I believe it is understandable. For our part—the Minister put the question to me—we remain supporters of the agreement as long as it is fully and properly implemented, and as long as the IAEA is given full and proper access to all the facilities it needs to inspect to satisfy the international community that both the spirit and the letter of the agreement are being adhered to.

Mr Rees-Mogg: The European Scrutiny Committee did not object to the scrutiny override in these circumstances. Its objection has been to the delay in scheduling this debate, which was asked for in September. Here we are in November and we have finally got it. It is the slowness that is the source of complaint.

Mr McFadden: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will know the point he raises is something of a recurring theme in examining these issues. It is good that he clarifies that it is not the override that was

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1311

objected to. I am glad he agrees with me that, while it is never ideal when dealing with something like this, it is sometimes understandable.

In conclusion, at a time when there are many grave international issues before us, this diplomatic achievement should give us cause for some cautious hope and optimism. I appreciate that some have doubts and some still lack trust in this, but the best way to answer those doubts is to have a full, proper and strictly verified implementation of the deal. If we have that, we can move forward both to progress on non-proliferation and to the building of trust that can be of wider benefit in the region.

7.32 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am sorry the Minister thought it unnecessary to give way to me towards the end of his speech. I always take these things in good part, but I did want to ask him a question.

There is an enormous crisis in the middle east, with ISIS/Daesh and the other factors at play—not to mention the Russians—and the interaction between all that and the peace and stability we all earnestly wish for. The reality is that this kind of document—in fact, it is not just one document; I have counted them and I think there are 14 in all—and the deal being done must have some bearing on the current situation. It would be unthinkable that there would not be such interaction at a diplomatic level, given the importance of Iran in the whole middle east crisis we are experiencing at the moment—all the documents, the involvement of the United Nations Security Council, which endorsed it on 20 July, and the interaction with not only our own Prime Minister but the President of France and Chancellor Merkel, who put out a statement in September 2015. That is not unimportant to say the least in relation to the events taking place at this time.

My main message is this: given the importance of the diplomatic interaction, and bearing in mind the fact the matter relates to nuclear issues and potential nuclear threats and their relationship to Israel, not to debate this subject at the right time really did not give the House of Commons an opportunity to discuss it when it really should have been discussed. That is the main point I want to make. I am so grateful that the Minister has now decided to come to the Dispatch Box.

Mr Ellwood: I thank my hon. Friend for his courtesy in allowing me to intervene, despite my being discourteous to him, for which I apologise—I thought we were going to go round in circles on the issue of the date. On his first point, as soon as the deal was made, the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House, but given Government business, this was the first date we were given for coming to the House. On the second point, I am pleased that Iran is now participating in the Vienna talks. He is absolutely right that this is the first indication of what I hope will be a more responsible attitude from Iran towards regional security.

Sir William Cash: I do not intend to go into the complexities of the foreign policy implications, because that would warrant a much longer debate and involve not only the Minister for Europe but the Foreign Secretary —with respect to this Minister’s pay grade. This is vital

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1312

to our security. One needed only to witness the discussions as they unfolded in Switzerland, at which the Foreign Secretary was present, the to-ing and fro-ing and the analysis that was brought to bear to realise the importance of this issue. That was the point I wanted to make about the timing. It is important, when we say a European document is of legal or political importance, that the matter is debated on the Floor of the House in the appropriate manner and at the right time. The UN Security Council voted to adopt resolution 2231 on 20 July, and these documents have been pouring out ever since. There is a more recent document, dated 18 October, which is getting nearer to now, but we are at the end of November. But I have made my point clearly enough.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): I know that the hon. Gentleman, in his capacity as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, agrees that all major European matters, even those which we might eventually agree or give a cautious welcome to, deserve the full scrutiny of the House. As he points out, these documents were considered on 9 September, and the Committee recommended that they be brought to the Floor of the House as soon as possible after the October recess. It is seven weeks later. Has he had an explanation from the Government about why it took so long, and has he been given cause to believe that the remaining 21 scrutiny documents will be brought forward for debate, either here or in Committee, within a reasonable timeframe?

Sir William Cash: This is the first opportunity we have had to put the point about the timing to the Minister. It is because we recommended it for debate that we can raise the question in this context. On the logjam of documents, to which the hon. Gentleman, who sits on my Committee, rightly refers, it is the constant and persistent determination of the Committee to get issues debated as early as possible, as he knows. I will not go down that route now—it is for another occasion—but I take very seriously what he says.

Because this is such a controversial matter, others have made observations on it, and I would like to quote what Roger Boyes, the diplomatic editor of The Times, said on 15 July. The Minister might think that circumstances have improved since then in terms of bringing Iran and Russia nearer to the negotiations and getting a better result in respect of ISIS/Daesh, but I will quote what he said anyway, because it is of some interest. He says:

“There is nothing game-changing about teaming up with a wobbly Iran. The accord with Tehran can then only be judged narrowly as to whether it is a success as a piece of arms control statecraft—and whether the release of sanctioned funds makes Iran more or less menacing. Consider what would happen without a nuclear deal, President Obama said yesterday: no limits on the nuclear programme, on centrifuges, on the plutonium reactor. But the president has to consider this too: how does one maintain leverage on Iran once the sanctions have been lifted? Denied access to a suspicious nuclear site, inspectors will be able to appeal to a joint commission that includes delegates from Iran, Russia and China. Delays are thus built into the verification system and the idea that sanctions can come crashing quickly down again is over-optimistic. Parts of the deal read like a cheater’s charter; there is too much wriggle room.”

I put that forward not in my own name, but because I think it important for the House to hear the views of an experienced diplomatic editor such as Roger Boyes. He continues:

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1313

“What happens in ten to 15 years when the deal has run its course, restraints are lifted and a wealthy Iran which has retained its nuclear expertise, which has grown in zealous confidence, decides to remind a small Gulf state who is boss? The deal is an open invitation to Sunni princelings to invest in their own nuclear deterrent. In the meantime Tehran will have the money to throw into the subversion of its neighbours and expand its arms exporting business.”

On the other hand, to illustrate the controversy and importance of all this, Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Tehran who obviously knows a lot about it, argued that there were good reasons to believe that it will stick, including

“the ‘snap-back’ provisions to restore sanctions in the event of violations”

and the fact that

“Iran will not want to risk a military attack, which would grow more likely if the deal fell through; no viable better agreement available and no international support for more sanctions if the US were seen to have vetoed the deal”.

Then there would be an Iran, he says, that

“is tired of being punished for something that it has not intended to do since the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s ban on nuclear weapons, which dates from 2003, the year Saddam Hussein was toppled.”

He goes on to say that Iran

“has recognised that it cannot develop sustainably as a nation without allaying international concerns.”

It also “values its reputation”, and

“reneging on its commitment not to build nuclear weapons, or withdrawing its agreement to the utmost transparency, either during or after the agreed 15-year limits on its enrichment activities”


“demolish that reputation, with no appreciable gain to its security because of the retaliation and regional arms race that would follow.”

That just gives an indication and a flavour of the complexity and controversy that lies behind all this.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am glad my hon. Friend has brought this sort of politics into the debate. All this reminds me very much of the darkest days of the cold war, a policy of containment and the fact that the then Soviet Union had different factions—modernisers and hardliners. Can we not hope that a policy of containment in the case of Iran might lead eventually to the emergence of a modernisers’ victory, albeit slowly and perhaps over decades?

Sir William Cash: One must indeed hope so. In the extremely complex and dangerous world that we now inhabit, we must also hope that some sensible diplomatic and useful solution—I would not call it a compromise—can be found.

To conclude my remarks, in September 2015, our own Prime Minister, the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany were saying:

“Iran will have strong incentives not to cheat”—

the opposite, I think, of what Roger Boyes was saying—

“The near certainty of getting caught and the consequences that would follow would make this a losing option.”

The first moment of truth is due to come at the end of this year, which I think the Minister understands very well, when the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to report on whether Iran has fulfilled the commitments that will enable international and thus

24 Nov 2015 : Column 1314

EU sanctions to be substantially lifted, which is not the same as the fact, as many people seem to think, that they have been lifted already. This is a process, and this is what will transpire towards the end of the year.

Mr Ellwood rose

Sir William Cash: I think the Minister will confirm that.

Mr Ellwood: I can confirm that, but let me add that we shall have another yardstick to examine in February, when elections will be held for the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament. The type of candidate who will be allowed to stand will give the world the first indication of whether Iran is moving in a new direction. We hope that moderate candidates will step forward and will be allowed to stand, given that they have been denied that opportunity in the past.

Sir William Cash: I remind the House of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). We need to deal with the substance, and that is what the European Scrutiny Committee is there to do. It is there to go beyond the purely textual confusion that can arise from our having to debate a number of different documents—14 of which have not been fully set out—within a fairly limited time span. We need to get to the heart of what this is all about.

I am glad that the Minister said what he said just now. We want to be positive, but we also want to hold him and the Government to account. This is a hugely serious matter, and it is essential for it to be debated in good time. We could have debated it earlier, and, while we understand the position, we regret and deeply deplore the fact that it has not been debated until now.

Given what the Minister has said, I have nothing further to add, other than to express the hope that the Foreign Affairs Committee will note the significance of what is going on here—I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, already does—so we can start to have a proper discussion that it is properly timed, not only in the context of the IAEA and the end of the year, but in the context of the February discussions in Iran to which the Minister referred.

7.46 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I welcome the debate. It is right for us to have an opportunity to debate the nuclear deal with Iran, and the means of its implementation, on the Floor of the House. I recognise that there have been debates in Westminster Hall, and that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House following the agreement of the deal back in July, but the European Scrutiny Committee is right to exercise its power to call for serious matters to be brought to the Chamber. I know from my work on the Procedure Committee that the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) will continue to push for more opportunities for his Committee’s concerns to be debated here. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) has expressed similar concerns.

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At the same time, I have some sympathy with the Government’s position. I recognise the need to move quickly in response to the Lausanne accord and the subsequent agreement, which was, of course, concluded very shortly before the summer recess.

The Scottish National party has been fully supportive of the joint comprehensive plan of action that was agreed by the E3+3 and Iran. I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) about the considerable amount of work done on that agreement by members of many different parties and Governments. I also agree with him that this was one of the significant achievements of the European Union, and an example of the benefits of co-operation through the EU.

As we have heard, the aim of the deal is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful, and Iran has guaranteed that it will never seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons. In return, the EU and the US will lift related sanctions. The documents incorporating that sanction relief into European law are the subject of this debate. The SNP hopes and believes that the disarming of Iran will aid long-term stability and peace in the region. Indeed, there is a clear and present need to extend the work that is being done in order to ensure that no country in the region possesses nuclear weapons. During one of the debates in Westminster Hall earlier in the year, I made the point—as others have done—that if Iran can be seen to choose a peaceful path, others in the region could follow suit. We know that the wider middle east region is sorely in need of paths to peace and stability.

We spent a long time today debating the renewal of the UK’s nuclear capability. Weapons of mass destruction are a threat to humanity, regardless of where they are located, so any agreement that works towards non-proliferation and, ultimately, disarmament is to be welcomed.

The Scottish National party supports the lifting of EU sanctions in relation to Iran’s nuclear programme, but we continue to support the retention of the asset freezes and travel bans for human rights violations. In 2014 alone, Iran is believed to have executed over 700 people—many in secret—including children under the age of 18 and political dissenters. This is unacceptable and inhumane. Continued international pressure needs to be brought to bear to protect human rights in that country. However, we welcome the reopening of the UK embassy in Tehran and the work that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has begun in building trade links between the UK and Iran. Re-establishing those formal links will go a great way towards facilitating the process of re-establishing significant trade links between our countries.

The current sanctions regime is extensive and complex, and has clearly and deliberately suppressed trade over the last decades. The sanctions have worked insofar as they have brought Iran to the negotiating table, but their implementation has had an impact on its oil exports and the value of its currency, resulting in lost revenues. When implementation day arrives, the majority of the United Nations Security Council measures will be removed, along with the totality of European Union sanctions, including the embargo on Iranian oil and

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prohibitions on energy investment. This will present a significant boost to the Iranian economy and open up significant trade and investment opportunities.

However, the SNP believes that, over and above re-establishing trade links, the UK Government need to ensure that cultural, educational and economic links with Iran are strengthened to rebuild our bilateral relationship. This should include work to review the visas available to Iranian students studying at UK higher education institutions and the post-study work visa, as well as making a commitment to grow UK trade with Iran.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) noted on the day of the statement that Iran’s President Rouhani was a distinguished graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University, which is in the constituency neighbouring mine; he received his doctorate in 1999. We pay particular tribute to his role in the thawing of relations between Iran and the west. Dr Rouhani is the President of a young, growing country with huge economic potential, and the removal of sanctions will signify a commitment to peace on all sides. It presents an opportunity to build peace through strong trade, educational and cultural links between the west and Iran. We Scottish National party Members welcome that opportunity and any moves that will take us towards a more just and peaceful world.

7.52 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Many Members on both sides of the House continue to have concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal. We have debated the issue on several occasions in Westminster Hall, and I remain disappointed that the opportunity to debate the full deal in Government time has never been afforded to the House. Back in June, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), said:

“I would certainly ask the Backbench Business Committee to make time for it to be debated on the Floor of the House as well as in Westminster Hall.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 21WH.]

Unfortunately, that has not occurred. The Secretary of State did make a statement to the House in July, but limited time prevented a debate on the merits of agreeing to the deal. I do not intend to open up that discussion again, but I want to ask the Minister to clarify what the Government are seeking to achieve through this evening’s motion, and what the possible impacts might be on the middle east region.

The motion tonight is rather convoluted and requires the casual observer to undertake some research to determine what each of the EU Council decisions and subsequent amendments refer to. In the round, they seek to remove sanctions on transactions regarding foodstuffs, healthcare, medical equipment, equipment for agricultural or humanitarian purposes below €1 million, as well as transfers of personal remittances below €400,000. In addition, the motion is about suspending restrictive measures concerning the prohibition on the provision of insurance, reinsurance and transport for Iranian crude oil; the prohibition on the import, purchase or transport of Iranian petrochemical products and on the provision of related services; and the prohibition on trade in gold and precious metals with the Government of Iran, its public bodies and the Central Bank of Iran, or persons and entities acting on their behalf.

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It is fair and rational to ask who will be the main beneficiary of the lifting of these sanctions. Surprisingly, it might not be the Iranian Government themselves but one individual, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, through his direct control of one of the most powerful and secretive organisations in Iran, the Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam, or Setad.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organisations in Iran, although many Iranians, and indeed many in the wider world, know little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming. The organisation’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts, but Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about £60 billion, according to Reuters. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran stock exchange and company websites, and information from the US Treasury Department.

The motion seeks to remove secondary sanctions on Setad and about 40 firms it owns or has a stake in, which will have a huge impact on events in the middle east. The de-listing of Setad has no direct connection to Iran’s nuclear programme, but its significance is in the company’s relationship to Iran’s ruling elite. The company has interests in almost every sector of Iran’s economy. It built its corporation on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to religious minorities, business people and Iranians living abroad—we have seen that in the history. Iranians who said their family properties were seized by Setad described in interviews in 2013 how men showed up and threatened to use violence against them if the owners did not leave the premises at once. Although there may be no evidence that Khamenei is personally enriched by Setad’s assets, it is through Setad that Khamenei has access to resources that allow him to bypass rivals and other branches of government.

The nuclear deal, reached in Vienna in July, allows the conglomerate to open bank accounts abroad and procure financing for partnerships. Secondary sanctions have previously prevented foreign banks that wish to operate in the United States and the UK from dealing with Setad. Although most of Setad’s holdings are in Iran, it has some global reach. The Setad-linked entities being removed from US and UK secondary sanctions include firms based in South Africa and Germany. Already, one Setad firm appears to be moving to take advantage of the changes; the Ghadir Investment Company, which the US Treasury identified as a Setad-linked firm, signed a €500 million contract with the engineering unit of Finmeccanica in Italy, as a spokesman confirmed in August.

The even more troubling aspect of the motion is who operates Setad and the other companies that will benefit from sanctions relief. Some have said that the people of Iran will benefit from that relief, but I disagree. It has been claimed in the media that the Iranian revolutionary guard corps, a branch of Iran’s military accused of funnelling arms and other support to Hezbollah and President Assad of Syria, has placed top commanders at the heart of more than 200 Iranian companies. Backers of the nuclear deal have argued that sanctions relief and renewed access to $150 billion in frozen assets will not benefit the revolutionary guard in its support of

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terrorist organisations in the region because restrictions remain in place against Hezbollah and Hamas. Such a view is not shared by others, including me.

A US think-tank, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, says that some 229 Iranian companies have board members or shareholders belonging to the revolutionary guard, which also has links to President Assad. The FDD claims that the revolutionary guard either controls or holds shares in 14 companies listed on the Iranian stock exchange, with a combined economic worth of $17 billion. That is in addition to other companies, such as the construction corporation Khatam al-Anbiya, which has secured more than $20 billion in Government contracts and is believed to be the biggest private-sector company in Iran.

Earlier this month, Barack Obama said that the nuclear deal would result in more funding for the Iranian revolutionary guard, but that the alternative was war. He said:

“We have no illusions about the Iranian government or the significance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force. Iran supports terrorist organisations like Hezbollah. It supports proxy groups that threaten our interests and the interests of our allies—including proxy groups who killed our troops in Iraq.”

We all agree with the words of the Prime Minister in the House only yesterday, when he made the following clear and concise point:

“In ensuring our national security, we will also protect our economic security.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1049.]

He meant here in this country. The Prime Minister is absolutely right that by protecting the United Kingdom’s economic security we can protect our country. It is my belief that by maintaining sanctions on the Iranian economy, we can prevent resources being fed into the conflict in Syria and other countries in the middle east. I urge the Minister tonight to follow the money ansd see where it takes him.

7.59 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I commend the Minister for what he has put forward. In his introduction, he used some terminology that I shall refer to, but I put it on the record that I do so not to attack him, but to illustrate my point.

I have spoken on this matter before, Mr Deputy Speaker, so you will know what issues I wish to address. Interestingly, every Member who has spoken tonight has talked about human rights, and about the persecution of religious minorities in Iran. I have this question: is it not perhaps a wee bit premature to agree to the suspension of sanctions? I wish to make it clear that I am not against the idea of a suspension, but I am against the principle if we have not seen the changes that we want to see.

On whether it is premature to agree to a suspension, I wish to refer specifically to human rights and religious beliefs. Other Members have given some stats on this matter, and it is important that we do so. This year, Iran has put to death almost 800 people—that is compared with 700 people last year—and it could rise to 1,000 by the end of the year. As Members have said, a number of those people, some of whom were children, were executed for their beliefs and some for minor reasons.

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May I make a particular plea for the Baha’i faith in Iran? In the past year, 108 Baha’i people have been arrested, and some 200 Baha’i-owned businesses have been shut down or threatened. More than 7,000 pieces of anti-Baha’i propaganda have been disseminated in the Iranian media during this Administration. Whenever I hear about sanctions being weakened, I ask myself where the evidence of change is in Iran when it comes to human rights and those who have a religious belief.

Article 13 of the constitution of Iran denies recognition of the Baha’is as a religious minority in Iran. It strips them of the constitutional protections—such as they are—that are afforded to other religious communities. Baha’is are denied due process and equality before the law, which greatly concerns me. Some 780 incidents of economic persecution against Iranian Baha’is have been documented by the international community, including shop and factory closures. We did not hear that at the world conference that was held in New York in September. There has been the denial or the non-renewal of businesses and licences, and dismissals from private business after the application of Government pressure. Such attacks on those who pursue the Baha’i faith have been almost continuous.

When we consider the reduction of sanctions, I therefore ask where we have seen evidence that we should do that, especially when we consider the human rights abuses and the persecution of members of the Baha’i faith? The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) referred to this as controversial matter, and I believe that he is right, especially when I think about how Christians have been persecuted because of their belief. They have been specifically targeted, and thrown into prison. Some of them are still there despite illness and bad health. The number of Christians in Iran has been reduced by 300,000. Why is that? It is because they have relatives overseas and want to join them. It is because they are persecuted in Iran, and to survive and to worship their God as they wish to do and as they should, they have to leave Iran.

When it comes to the reduction of sanctions, I think about the Christians who have had to leave Iran. They would go back if they could and if they had the right to worship. Christians are discriminated against when it comes to jobs and education. They are abused and kidnapped. Some young girls are put into arranged marriages, and there have been acid attacks on young Christian girls in Iran, which are well documented in this House. Given that evidence, why should we reduce the nuclear sanctions?

Kevin Foster: Like me, the hon. Gentleman is passionate about reducing the persecution of those who profess our shared faith. Does he agree that this is not about removing all sanctions on Iran, but about the start of a process in exchange for a specific agreement on nuclear issues? That will allow a framework for the future and enable us to further engage with Iran and deal with the many issues of domestic policy on which we strongly disagree.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman has the same interest as I do in reducing the persecution of Christians and those of all religious beliefs around the world. I have the same passion as you.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Not me.

Jim Shannon: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. I meant the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), although I know you share our interest.

Everyone in this House wants to see change in Iran—how could we not?—but I have to see evidence of changes on human rights. Under article 13 of the constitution of Iran, it is impossible for those of the Baha’i faith and other religious beliefs to enjoy such rights The Minister says that he wants “smooth implementation of the agreement.” I am a friend and supporter of Israel, for many reasons. I am a Christian and believe that Israel is the land of God’s chosen people. That is my opinion and belief. At the same time, I understand that that does not give them the right to do everything they want. I think of Israelis trying to protect themselves. Some of those in Iran who are part of the process of changing the sanctions have said that they want to see the destruction of the state of Israel. That does not mean firing a couple of bombs—it means no Israel. Given such statements, where is the “smooth implementation of the agreement” when it comes to Israel? Last Saturday I attended an event in support of Israel at the Parliament buildings at Stormont in Belfast, and the speakers there were very aware of what we were trying to say. When it comes to agreed steps to reduce the nuclear programme, where is the evidence of change among the Iranians we are talking to?

Many see Iran as part of the axis of evil in the middle east. Sometimes we have to jump into bed with people we are not terribly happy to jump into bed with, but it happens. Sometimes we have to make agreements with people who are a wee bit unpalatable. I understand that, but I would love to see the evidence that the issues of human rights and religious belief are being addressed. I want an agreement as much as anybody else in this House, including the Minister and the right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in this debate, but I want an agreement that safeguards religious beliefs for all in Iran and that addresses the situation of those who are persecuted because of their beliefs, those whose human rights are abused and those who are under threat.

I respect the Minister greatly and know that he is genuinely trying to achieve something we can all get behind and support, but I want to know what is happening with human rights and religious beliefs. What is happening with regard to those who need help? They do not have a voice in Iran, so let us in this House be their voice.

8.9 pm

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who always makes interesting and important points, none more important than those he was making today about the persecution of Christians.

I want to cover initially the question of the scheduling of this debate, which has been raised in interventions both by me and by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) because the scrutiny of European Union decisions by this House is important. It is a fundamental democratic right that this House is able to scrutinise the decisions made by the Government, and that needs to be done in a timely fashion. This debate was asked for

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in September; we are now two months on. It is worth bearing it in mind that the longest outstanding demand for a debate was one first made nearly two years ago. The second anniversary will come up in January, and if we have not had the debate by then I shall no doubt hold a birthday party for it. It is quite improper of Her Majesty’s Government to treat the House of Commons in that fashion. When debates are asked for, if the Government do not want to give them, there is a procedure under Standing Orders to put a motion before the House to refuse the debate.

Mr Ellwood: I say in all politeness and courtesy to my hon. Friend that we are now spending a lot of time discussing when the debate should happen. It is happening now. With respect to the European Scrutiny Committee, we have made it very clear that this is the earliest I have been requested to come to the House. I would have been delighted to come earlier. I make it clear that we have had other debates. Now that we are here, I suggest that we focus on the issues.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We do not want to get into a debate about when we should have the debate. I know that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) wants to get back to the issue and is going to bring us back to it now.

Mr Rees-Mogg: I must finish my point on this crucial issue because it is appalling of the Government to take this high-handed line with scrutiny in the House of Commons. It may be that the Minister did not know that this debate was asked for, but if he cared to read, daily, the daily agenda and the requirements for debates, he would have seen that this debate appeared day in, day out. If the Minister has not heard that from his officials, or read it for himself or been told it by the Whips, that is not the fault of the European Scrutiny Committee; it is that the Government are deliberately obstructing debate in this House. They always have time.

I will finish on this point shortly, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is so important because we need to have these debates scheduled properly and quickly. The time that we have now is outside the normal sitting hours, so the argument that there was no day previously when it could have been held is false. We could have an extra 90-minute debate on any day since the request was made by the European Scrutiny Committee two months ago. And that is not the worst of the Government’s treatment of debate in the House. It is quite wrong that the Government should shy away from democratic accountability. I shall say no more on that today, but it is a subject that I will come back to if the Government do not treat the Chamber of the House of Commons properly.

To come on to the documents, I am afraid that I am going to change tack because the Government find me in support of what they are trying to do and, indeed, accepting of the override of scrutiny. When it comes to sanctions on individuals and the lifting of those sanctions, they cannot necessarily go through the full scrutiny process prior to the decision being reported to the House because, particularly when sanctions are being imposed, people would have the opportunity to avoid them in advance. There is a natural understanding of

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the confidentiality in relation to imposing and lifting sanctions and of the sensitivity with which this was being discussed with Iran. That is completely reasonable.

The second point that is worth making is that most of this was agreed under article 29 of the treaties on the European Union, which operates under unanimity. That is relevant because it shows that the European Union can work on a unanimous basis without any sacrifice of sovereignty by the individual member states. That is a model for future European activity—that we should take action when everybody is agreed because it is then much more powerful.

That is the next point: what has been done has succeeded and what was being aimed for was of the greatest importance. Trying to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear state in the broad perspective of global security must have been a pre-eminent interest. It is worth noting that the most rogue of rogue states, which I think is North Korea, is secure in its wrongdoing and its internal oppression and is cocking a snook at the rest of the world because Kim Jong-un has a nuclear weapon. Those of us who wish to see a sensible world order want a limit on the number of states with nuclear weapons, and want to try to stop states that are on the margins of the international order getting hold of nuclear weapons. This is a successful policy that has had great advantages for security, but in the process that the Government have undertaken with other states and with the United Nations an important step has been taken in bringing Iran back into the global community. I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I think it is a great advantage that Iran is back in the community of nations.

It has long been the case that the best way of achieving international security is dealing with nation states, but all nation states have an inherent interest in their own stability. They wish to maintain law and order within their own nation because it threatens their rule if they do not do so. That makes most nation states in most circumstances the enemy of the terrorist. The terrorist is a greater threat to the United Kingdom than the rogue nation state is likely to be. Equally, the rogue nation state is easier to deal with, because it has a structure that can be attacked from outside if fundamental national interests are offended. Terrorists cannot be attacked in that way, because they are harder to pin down.

We have come to the point in British foreign policy—and, perhaps more importantly, US foreign policy—at which Iran is being brought back into the family of nations. That could be a significant boost to our ability to ensure security in the middle east but also more broadly because it goes back to a fundamental principle that has generally been accepted by most countries since the peace treaty of Westphalia in 1648: the principle that it is the nation state that underpins that security. It is what went wrong from the late 1990s onwards, when it was thought better to interfere in the internal activities of nation states to make them better nation states. That policy turned out to be fundamentally wrong-headed.

We have gained three very good things from the suspension of sanctions. First, it has been shown that the EU can work on the basis of unanimity. Secondly, it has reduced the likelihood of Iran having a nuclear bomb, and, thirdly—this is overwhelmingly the most

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important—there has been a change of attitude back to treating the nation state as the building block of global security. I very much hope that the Government will apply that in other cases.

8.17 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I congratulate the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and all its members on securing this important debate on the Floor of the House and on their contributions.

I am particularly pleased to have a brief opportunity to take up where my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) left off. I regard the deal with Iran as a positive development. I also regard the regime in Iran as thoroughly undesirable and potentially dangerous, but thoroughly capable of modernisation and reform if handled correctly by the international community. I entirely concur with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), a fellow member of the Select Committee on Defence whose presence I greatly value, on the terrible way in which Christians in particular, Baha’i faith members and other minorities are treated. The behaviour of such a regime, awful though it is, is no more awful than the behaviour of Stalinist Russia. In fact, Stalinist Russia was responsible for innumerable deaths, yet did not produce world war three, which might easily have happened in the nuclear age or, even if nuclear weapons had not been invented, might perhaps have been more likely to happen in the aftermath of world war two.

Where am I leading with this line of argument? It will soon become apparent, because some of us on the Conservative Benches are, according to reports in the paper, being exhorted—I have not been exhorted on the subject myself—in relation to the dilemmas of the middle east, to be more like Churchill than Chamberlain. While I was listening to earlier contributions, a memory stirred and I took the opportunity to check. The memory was correct. When Winston Churchill wrote his multi-volume history of the second world war, volume 3 was entitled “The Grand Alliance”.

What was the grand alliance? It was the coming together of three very different powers, at least one of which was utterly incompatible on normal criteria with the other two. The three powers were, of course, the British Empire, as it still was, the United States of America and Soviet Russia. Churchill was the prime example of someone who knew how to do what one must do in an imperfect, evil and dangerous world when a conflict breaks out. He knew how to choose in an undesirable dilemma which was the lesser of two evils.

I will take the liberty of trying the patience of the House by pointing out something that we have probably heard many times before: when Churchill decided to speak up for Joe Stalin and Soviet Russia, he was reminded of his long-standing aversion to the Soviet system and his claim that Bolshevism should have been strangled at birth. His instant response was, “If Hitler invaded hell, I would have at least a good word to say for the devil in the House of Commons.”

How does that relate to the sort of societies we are looking at in the middle east? Once upon a time, this House had a choice about how to behave towards those

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societies. In particular, very much in the afterglow of the ending of the cold war, we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. My party was in opposition. We believed what we were told, but there was another reason too why people like me spoke and voted in favour of the removal of a particular dictator, Saddam Hussein—we hoped that what would emerge from the removal of such a dictator would be some form of modernisation and democracy. What actually re-emerged was the thousand-year-old hatred between Sunni and Shi’a, particularly between those who line up with Iran and those who line up with the Sunnis.

Churchill’s grand alliance meant that he had to line up with Stalin in order to avoid the greater threat posed by Hitlerism. By happy coincidence, we have found ourselves with two debates in the same Chamber on the same day about the two concepts to which, above all, in my personal opinion, we owe the fact that we did not end up with world war three. The first concept is deterrence, and the second is the one to which I referred in my intervention on the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—that is, containment.

I look at the various societies in the middle east, because I no longer think that by bringing down dictators we will get pluralistic democracies; and I no longer think, therefore, that if we bring down Assad, we will get a better result than when we brought down Saddam Hussein or Muammar al-Gaddafi. When I look at the recommendation that we heard from the Defence Secretary in answering a Defence question only yesterday—that our aim, by bombing, will be to get rid both of Assad and of the Islamist danger of ISIL—I ask myself how this is different from the generalship of the first world war which could perhaps have been excused for the Somme but certainly could not have been excused for Passchendaele the following year.

If one does the same thing over and over again and expects to get a different result, then one is insane, and if one does something that worked in the past, then one might get a better result. For Russia, what worked in the past was a combination of deterrence and containment. I look at Iran and say to myself, “Here is a prime candidate for containment”, because Iran is an authoritarian society, and parts of it may be described as totalitarian, but certainly the impression I get from people who talk about it and know about it is that it is far short of the sort of extremist totalitarianism that features in the concept that underlies ISIL or, I must say, the reality that underlies the society of Saudi Arabia, which is supposed to be our ally.

When I look at these different societies, I ask myself which are the most likely, if we can contain them, or keep the lid on them, to develop and evolve—just as our own society, over 500 years or more, developed and evolved—in a modernising direction. I think that Iran is a strong candidate for a society which, if contained and prevented from doing something too terrible, has the prospect of developing in precisely the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, such that it comes back into the comity of nations and does not go further and further into extremism that is exported. The extremist Islamist creed is a fascist, totalitarian creed. Iran, like the Stalinists, has the potential for being held in check and allowing a modernising trend to emerge.

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I was interested in what the Chairman of the Committee said when he cited a former ambassador to Iran as evidently someone who thought that there was hope of positive development. On Syria, I have been in close touch with Mr Peter Ford, a former ambassador to Syria who likewise sees the regime there as brutal, or perhaps worse than brutal, but as authoritarian rather than totalitarian. In a choice between freedom, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, we all choose freedom, but sometimes the choice is only between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. The Government want us to choose neither. That is not Churchillian. Churchill knew the difference, and faced with totalitarianism or authoritarianism, I know which choice I would make.

8.28 pm

Mr Ellwood: With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will respond to the debate. Let me first say that I did not realise how hugely anticipated it was; now I certainly realise. I am grateful to be able to respond to some of the important contributions that have been made.

I am grateful to the Labour spokesman, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), for his support and that of his party. He is right to pay tribute not just to the EU and the work that has been done with Federica Mogherini, but to Baroness Ashton. I certainly join him in that.

The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), articulated the balanced arguments on how we move forward in taking advantage of the opportunities but deal with the huge challenges that remain.

I would point out that there is an irony in spending 30 minutes of a 90-minute debate on discussing its timing. I suggest that if we want to continue to scrutinise what is happening on this important issue, the Backbench Business Committee should be approached. In response to one remark, I should make it clear that I have no power over that, but I look forward to further scrutiny of this matter.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) made an important remark on the links between Glasgow and the current President of Iran. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the importance, as we embark on a new relationship with Iran, of establishing cultural and educational ties. We are certainly trying to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) made a detailed speech that covered a large number of issues and concerns. I very much appreciate that he has concerns about companies linked to the IRGC. I can confirm that sanctions will remain on individuals listed for terrorism and abuses of human rights reasons, and many companies listed as linked to IRGC members are not due to be considered for delisting for eight years. I hope that that will reassure him.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a passionate speech. He is now recognised in the House for his passion and commitment on human rights. He was absolutely right to raise such matters from the very start. The Iran nuclear deal is out of the way, but we must use the new links at every opportunity, whether through the Foreign Secretary speaking to Foreign Minister Zarif or the visits that will now take place with parliamentarians going to Tehran. Indeed,

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I raised these very matters when I met the deputy Foreign Minister during his recent visit to the United Kingdom only three weeks ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) reminds us that other nations are seeking to procure nuclear weapons, and there is also North Korea. I absolutely agree with him that we need to prevent those on the margins of international order from gaining a nuclear weapon. I would add that there are also non-state actors about which we need to be concerned.

We may possibly hear again the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on Thursday. I certainly agree with him that this is an opportunity for reform, but one that needs to be handled absolutely correctly.

The nuclear agreement reached in July was certainly a major achievement. The deal will ensure that for the next 10 years, even if Iran reneges on the deal, it would take it at least 12 months to acquire even the necessary fissile material for a single nuclear weapon. Iran’s enrichment capacity will be reduced by more than two thirds of the current level. For 15 years, it will enrich uranium only to the level of 3.67%, which is way below the 90% level required for a nuclear bomb. Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced to just 300 kg, down from more than 8 tonnes.

There will be no nuclear material, uranium enrichment or enrichment research and development for 15 years at the underground Fordow site, which will be converted into a nuclear physics and technology centre. Iran’s research and development will be limited, and it will not be able to enrich with advanced centrifuges for 10 years. The Arak heavy water reactor will be redesigned and rebuilt, so it will no longer be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Both the uranium and plutonium routes to a bomb will therefore be cut off. With the passing of adoption day last month and the agreement of the official document for the Arak project last week, Iran has begun to take the actions necessary to bring its nuclear programme within the limits I have outlined.

The deal and the restrictions are now very much in force, but I make it very clear that we are not starry-eyed. This is an agreement based not on trust, but on transparency and verification. Iran will grant the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access to verify Iran’s actions to give us confidence that it is complying with its commitments. Some of the monitoring commitments, such as the implementation of the additional protocol, will last indefinitely. Put simply, if Iran did renege on its commitments and attempted to break-out for a bomb, we would know and have time to respond.

Looking ahead, allowing Iran to receive significant economic and financial benefits through the gradual lifting of sanctions will be vital to ensuring that it continues to abide by its commitments. We want Iran to feel the benefits of the deal. By adopting these measures, we have kept our side of the deal. It is now up to Iran to take the required actions on its nuclear programme. Only when those actions have been taken and the IAEA has verified that they are complete will the nuclear- related financial and economic sanctions be lifted. If at any stage we suspect Iran to be in breach of its commitments, all previous UN, EU and US sanctions can be re-imposed.

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To conclude, the past year has been one of the most momentous for British relations with Iran, but we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. Iran’s interference in regional affairs and its support for terrorist groups remain sources of deep concern. We will continue our robust support for the security of our allies in the region. However, not capitalising on the momentum that has been created by the nuclear deal and refusing to re-engage with Iran would be a perverse response to the progress that we have made.

If mutual trust and confidence can, gradually, be built, there is an opportunity for Iran to realign its approach to regional and global affairs. This opportunity, if embraced, offers Iran a route towards playing a constructive role in the region and feeling the economic benefits that re-engagement with the world will bring. We want to see signs that Iran is willing to move in the right direction. That is not just what we want, but, I believe, what the people of Iran want.

We, too, have a burden of responsibility to live up to our side of the deal. Iran must feel the benefit of sanctions relief if it is to continue to abide by the terms of the agreement in the long term. As such, the UK is working to encourage British businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise once sanctions are lifted. With the embassy in Tehran open again, British diplomats can engage with Iran fully to find a way to work together in the struggle against ISIL, to speak candidly about human rights, and to build a trade and investment relationship that brings benefits to both our countries.

We are going into this deal with our eyes open. We remain optimistic about what can be achieved, but realistic about the challenges we face.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the following unnumbered European Union Documents concerning restrictive measures against Iran: a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1050 of 30 June 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1099 of 7 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1130 of 10 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1148 of 14 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1336 of 31 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1327 of 31 July 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1337 of 31 July 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1328 of 31 July 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, a Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1863 of 18 October 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP, a Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1861 of 18 October 2015 amending Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012, and a Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/1862 of 18 October 2015 implementing Regulation (EU) No. 267/2012; supports the Government’s view that, had the suspension of certain EU restrictive measures against Iran not been extended in the final stages of negotiations, the prospects for reaching an agreement would have been significantly diminished; and agrees that the amendments to EU legislation to meet the obligations set out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action contribute to ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.

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Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Legal Aid and Advice

That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria and Information about Financial Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 22 October, be approved.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Design of the Energy Market

That this House takes note of European Union Document No.11018/15 and Addendum, a Commission Communication: launching the public consultation process on a new energy market design; and supports the Government’s approach of welcoming the Commission’s consultation which addresses the challenges that decarbonisation creates for Member States’ electricity systems and the effective functioning of the internal energy market, while working to ensure that any future legislative proposals preserve an appropriate balance of competence between the Member States and the Commission.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House


That, at the sitting on Tuesday 1 December, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of the motion in the name of Secretary Patrick McLoughlin relating to High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill: Instruction (No. 5) not later than 60 minutes after the start of proceedings on that motion; such questions shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Delegated Legislation (Committees)


That the Motion in the name of Chris Grayling relating to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instrument be approved.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)


Wheelchair access to railway stations

8.38 pm

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I am delighted to present this petition. One of the privileges of being a Member of Parliament is the people one meets. I was privileged to meet a young lady from my constituency called Emma Donaldson, who is a vociferous and tenacious campaigner for disabled rights.

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Emma has a great social life, despite being in a wheelchair, and has many friends not only in my constituency, but all over Nottinghamshire. To see some of those friends, she wants to get on a train at Hucknall in my constituency and get off at Kirkby-in-Ashfield in the neighbouring constituency of Ashfield. To her frustration, she is unable to do so because the train station at Kirkby-in-Ashfield does not have disabled access. That means that she has to go on to Mansfield and get a bus or taxi back to visit her friends.

Many of the constituents of Sherwood, when we put this matter to them, found it amazing that in 2015 there are railway stations at which disabled access is very poor. In addition to this petition, there are 500 signatures on another petition that we have collated for Nottinghamshire County Council and Network Rail to draw attention to the fact that the disabled access at Kirkby-in-Ashfield station, in particular, is very poor.

The petition states:

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to put measures in place to ensure that the platform at Kirkby-in-Ashfield train station is accessible to wheelchair users.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The petition of residents of the Sherwood constituency,

Declares that the platform at Kirkby-in-Ashfield train station is not accessible to wheelchair users; further that this is discriminatory and adversely affects the quality of life of those who require a wheelchair to get around as it prevents them from being able to travel in a dignified and independent fashion; further that the platform at Kirkby-in-Ashfield train station should be fully accessible to all train users; and further that another local petition on this matter was signed by 472 individuals.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to put measures in place to ensure that the platform at Kirkby-in-Ashfield train station is accessible to wheelchair users.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


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Mobile Telecommunications Market: Contracts

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

8.40 pm

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): We have a very intimate relationship with them; many of us sleep next to them; they are often the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night before we go to bed; we rarely let them out of our sight, and when we do we panic for a second; if we accidentally leave them at home, we will invariably go back for them; we get nervous when anybody else touches them. I am talking, of course, about our mobile phones, because those devices are completely embedded in our day-to-day lives. We use them to communicate with loved ones, to conduct business, to buy and sell things, and to entertain, educate and inform. We love our mobile phones, but we do not always love the mobile phone operators or the prices that come with them.

About 95% of UK adults have a mobile phone, and we have one of the highest smartphone adoption rates in the world at 75%. According to consumer group, Which?, just 35% of consumers trust their mobile phone operators, and of the top 100 brands for customer service in the UK, only one of those operators is in the top 50—Three comes in at No. 42, and the other companies came in at Nos. 67, 95 and 96. As a category, that is even below the banks. Also according to Which?, more than 70% of consumers are on the wrong contract for their needs, and that is costing the British public up to £5.4 billion a year more than necessary. In other words, the average UK household could save around £160 a year by choosing a more suitable tariff.

We rarely change our mobile phone company or our tariffs. More than half the UK population have never changed their carrier, and only 6% change carriers or switch each year—that figure is down from 9% a couple of years ago. It is therefore hard to square the general level of dissatisfaction with mobile phone operators and the phenomenon of paying more than we need to, with that incredibly low switching level.

Anyone who has ever tried to switch from one mobile phone operator to another knows that it is a difficult task. The current process requires consumers to almost simultaneously contact their existing provider to terminate their current contract, while getting their desired provider to activate their new one. That is time-consuming, and it often involves conversations about a porting authorisation code—the PAC—or unlocking devices. That is so confusing that many people simply give up and do not bother. No wonder that switching is at that miserably low level of just 6%.

To work out whether it may be worth switching, people need to know what else is on offer, although that is not always easy. Only a third of price comparison sites contain the best available deals. When someone calls their current provider and informs them that they are thinking of switching, they are often put through to something called a retention department where—as if by magic—all of a sudden a better deal appears. That prompts the question of why, if a transparently better offer was available, it had not already been communicated to the consumer.

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Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that transparency is particularly important for the elderly? People are often encouraged to get a mobile phone by their children or grandchildren in case of an emergency, but they are not always technologically savvy enough to know what kind of tariff or package is right for them. They are at high risk of being hugely over-charged when their contract comes to an end, particularly as they get older.

Nigel Huddleston: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Research by Which?, and others, has shown that as we go through the age brackets, the number of people switching goes down. Many more people in the elderly age groups are on the wrong contract, and many more do not really know what the process of switching involves. I know that Age UK campaigns on that issue.

What can be done about this issue? The good news is that some progress has already been made. In July, Ofcom launched a consultation on consumer switching, seeking views on a range of mobile switching options. I await the results with interest. The Government have a strong record on consumer affairs, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills recently set out six specific proposals, or principles, on switching intended to cover a range of industries including not only the mobile sector but broadband, banking and energy. In these, the Government recognised that consumers should be able to switch quickly, at an agreed date, for free, with access to data in a format that can be easily understood and that the switching process should be gainer-led, eliminating the need to contact both losing and gaining operators. I believe we are unique in Europe in still having a loser-led system for switching.

Things are moving in the right direction. I am aware that some operators themselves are keen on the gainer-led system, including Three. In many ways, I feel I am pushing at an open door on switching. I am confident about progress on switching, but further work is needed on contract transparency and tariffs.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I liked the hon. Gentleman’s introduction. I remember my first mobile phone: it was the size of a red brick and I used to carry it everywhere. It filled my hand and two pockets. Mobile phones are a part of life, more so today than ever. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the advantages consumers have is that competition in the market has pushed the price down? Companies want to hold on to their customers as if with glue and they will not let them go. Companies are very reluctant to let go of businesses in particular, because they see their commercial value. Does he think more needs to be done for companies involved in industry and commerce?

Nigel Huddleston: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The debate is focused on the consumer, but the same principles absolutely apply to business: the same discussions and concerns about the customer service of some operators apply equally to business.

When I received my electricity bill the other day, I was very pleased to see a note at the bottom of the bill that said:

“Good news—you’re already on our cheapest overall tariff. We’ll let you know once a year if this changes.”

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Would it not be great if there was something similar in the mobile space? Instead, we are paying £5.4 billion more than we have to. Even if that figure is exaggerated and even if it is not correct or just a fraction of that, we are still talking about a significant sum. There are three key reasons why we are significantly overpaying for our mobile services. First, some consumers are paying for services they never use, with 58% generally going under their minutes allocated and 63% under on their text limit.

Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. On consumers paying for services they do not use, does he agree that it is even worse if consumers are paying for a service they cannot use? They enter into a contract in good faith, but are then trapped into a service that does not provide mobile signal at home, on the commute into work, or at work.

Nigel Huddleston: I completely agree. I am focusing on the contract side of things today, but it is absolutely the case that when consumers consider moving operators they look at maps of coverage and whether they can get a 3G or 4G service. That is one of the points to consider. Often they are then persuaded that an alternative operator will fulfil their needs, only to find out when they open the phone at home that that is not the case. There are no repercussions to that and no compensation. That is a major concern that needs to be addressed.

Nusrat Ghani: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the design of mobile phone plans. Does he support encouraging mobile operators to have flexible plans that allow people to pay for a combination of data, calls and texts that reflects their needs, instead of their having to pay more for a plan with unnecessary extra minutes, just because they want more data?

Nigel Huddleston: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that touches on the whole purpose of this discussion. Many people are either on plans with services they never use, in which case more flexibility would be appreciated, or paying a penal rate for services they did not anticipate using but ended up using. That is costing consumers hundreds of millions of pounds a year—I think that £885 million a year is spent on out-of-tariff charges, for example.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): I am on the Labour Benches because I want to give the impression that Labour Members are also interested in this important consumer issue. In fact, I should be sitting beside my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman is meant to be making a short intervention, not trying to score political points, in what is actually an Adjournment debate. I am sure that hon. Members want to hear from the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), so I want a short intervention.

Gavin Robinson: It was only a quip, Mr Deputy Speaker.