Mr Hammond: I thank the right hon. Gentleman, particularly for his comment on the commitment of UK forces to their task. This will be the first meeting of Finance Ministers in the Security Council, and I think that sends a very clear signal about the importance with which we regard the issue. It does not mean that no steps have been taken; many measures have been taken already. Financial sanctions are in place, and a financial flows working group, led by Bahrain, has been operating for a year now, but the fact that Finance Ministers of the key countries in the world are going to New York tomorrow to sit in the forum of the Security Council to pass further sanctions measures is an important symbol of our commitment to shutting down this channel of Daesh’s lifeblood. We regard it as extremely important.

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We saw, in relation to sanctions on Iran, that getting the financial sanctions right was at least as important as getting the sanctions on flows of physical goods right.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the communications cell. The operation of the cell necessarily encroaches into the area of the secret intelligence agencies’ work, so I cannot give him details of the resources available to it or of the number of people deployed in it, but I can tell him that it is already having a visible and measurable effect on Daesh’s communication channels. He also asked me about deaths resulting from coalition action. Of course, any civilian death is deeply regrettable. I was referring to deaths attributable to RAF action, and I believe that while the House will obviously be concerned about civilian deaths more widely, it will be on the question of RAF-caused civilian casualties that hon. Members will want to focus, and I intend to ensure that the House remains updated if the situation changes in respect of any reports of any RAF-caused civilian casualties.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about the protocols for investigating civilian casualty reports as the campaign moves on. NATO has well-established protocols for investigating any incidents where CIVCAS are estimated to have occurred or where imagery suggests that there could have been collateral damage to civilian buildings, and it routinely publishes the outcome of those investigations.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Recent discussions with Government officials on a visit to countries in the region confirmed that key questions remain unanswered about the Government’s strategy on combating Daesh, which remains the best-funded terrorist group in history. On the non-military side, why are hard questions not being asked of regional allies about the funding of donations to Daesh from within those countries? When it comes to oil, why are we not asking our regional allies not only to disrupt the flow of stolen oil heading north but to combat the end customers of that oil? Without a market, there can be no cash flow.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right. We are focusing on all channels of funding to Daesh. He asserts again that it is receiving funding from within the region, and of course I cannot be certain that there are no channels of funding remaining open to Daesh from the region, but I am confident that none of the Governments in the region either contribute to or condone any such funding. On the question of the flow of oil, he well knows that that oil is being sold into a black market, and I am afraid that black markets are an inevitable consequence of any kind of embargo on the sale of goods. We are doing everything we can to interdict and disrupt the flow of oil and indeed to disrupt the flow of the proceeds of the sale of that oil. He will know that the scale of that production is small and that the means of transport are crude and sometimes even primitive, so it is difficult to disrupt that process to the extent that we would like. Bombing the wellheads so that the stuff cannot be produced in the first place is likely to be the most efficient way to do it.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Following on from the comments of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), is not the crucial difference that the

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RAF goes out of its way to avoid civilian casualties, while Daesh goes out of its way to destroy, kill and maim as many innocent civilians as it possibly can? As well as commending the professionalism and dedication of the RAF staff on the mission in the field, will the House also remember their families back home at RAF Marham, and at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, who will be without their loved ones this Christmas?

Mr Hammond: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. The training and doctrine of the RAF and other NATO air forces are built around minimising the risk of civilian casualties. I am afraid that that is not the case with all air forces in the world and it is certainly not the case with Daesh.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I warmly welcome the broad-spectrum initiatives that the Foreign Secretary has announced, all of which are designed to degrade and eventually destroy Daesh. Outstanding among them is the Saudi Arabian initiative relating to an Islamic military coalition, which seems to me to be the basis for a very good ground force for the future. It is quite right that we should not be involved in that in any shape or form, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we have some capabilities to offer, perhaps in the form of command and control, training or other things which would not involve British troops being on the ground in Syria but which could none the less make a useful military contribution to the success of that coalition?

Mr Hammond: We have ruled out the use of UK combat forces in Syria, and indeed in Iraq, but we have not ruled out the provision of UK capabilities in support of combat forces provided by others. UK command and control, logistics, surveillance, and intelligence gathering and analysis could all provide a very substantial reinforcement to any troops that were deployed on the ground.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday, I met people from the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques to discuss Daesh. They share the concern to tackle the threat it poses, but do have questions about the strategy. The Secretary of State said that failure was not an option, but will he set out for my constituents a bit more about what he means by either failure or success in our operations in Syria?

Mr Hammond: For me, success is the destruction of Daesh. As I have said many times in this House, I do not delude myself into thinking that destroying Daesh will end the threat of Islamist extremism, but this particular iteration of it as a military force occupying territory has to be ended. The struggle to defeat the perversion of Islam that the Daesh ideology—the extremism Islamist ideology—represents will take much longer. It will be the struggle of a generation, and it is a struggle that must be led by Muslims themselves, reclaiming their religion from the extremists.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s briefing and look forward to similar such briefings in the new year. As chairman of the all-party group on Kurdistan, I was wondering

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what feedback or briefings the Foreign Secretary has had, and what effect there has been on the morale and military capability of Kurdish peshmerga forces following these targeted UK airstrikes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Mr Hammond: The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) was in Kurdistan yesterday and he reports that our action has boosted morale among Kurdish forces, as we would expect. In particular, what has been happening around Sinjar has considerably boosted morale and the strategic position of Kurdish forces. They are extremely delighted—there is no other word for it—about the decision this House made two weeks ago.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): In his statement, the Secretary of State said, “The majority of Russian air strikes continue to target Syrian opposition forces rather than Daesh.” Is it not clear that Russia’s priority is to protect the Assad regime? Does it remain the position of the British Government that Assad cannot be part of any solution to the Syrian crisis?

Mr Hammond: I long since gave up using the word “clear” to describe anything about Russian policy, because it is anything but clear—it is always opaque. We simply do not know what the Russian strategy is. We do not know what Russia’s objectives are, and my assessment is that most people in the Russian system do not either; perhaps Mr Putin has in his head an idea about what the end game is. What I do know is that some 75% of Russian airstrikes are being conducted against people whom we believe have to be part of the solution to the Syrian problem, not against Daesh, which we are very clear is the enemy.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome the emphasis on a political solution and possible ceasefire in Syria. Given the growing strength of Daesh in Libya, can my right hon. Friend tell us how we might get political progress in Libya? Are there military consequences of that growing concentration?

Mr Hammond: As they say, I am glad that my right hon. Friend asked me that question, because it just so happens that a signing ceremony is planned for tomorrow in Morocco, at which it is hoped by the UN special representative, Mr Martin Kobler, that a majority of the House of Representatives and a significant number of members of the General National Congress will sign an agreement creating a Government of national accord. If that happens tomorrow, the western countries and the Gulf countries will swing behind that Government of national accord and will look to build their capability as soon and as quickly as possible, so that we can start to work in Libya to contain the threat that Daesh now clearly represents in that country.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): With the escalation of the UK’s role in the conflict, the Department for International Development should form a central part of the planning processes to ensure that the humanitarian situation in Syria does not deteriorate. How will the Government

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ensure that coalition military operations do not worsen the conditions faced by civilians in Syria or negatively affect DFID’s capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance?

Mr Hammond: DFID does do precisely what the hon. Lady has suggested, but of course the lion’s share of DFID work is concentrated in supporting refugees who have left the country. We face issues associated with getting supplies into Syria to support refugees, and one crucial strategic area is the relatively small corridor along the Turkey-Syria border that still remains open to international traffic. Securing that and making sure it remains open is a key objective of coalition forces, for humanitarian reasons.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): May I warmly applaud the new impetus that has been given to the diplomatic approach and say how delighted I am that the UK is playing such a prominent role, led by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to boot? The role being played by Saudi Arabia is also to be welcomed. In his statement, he set out the details of the strikes by the RAF that have taken place in Iraq, but he did not mention what has happened in Syria. Given that the application of the dual mode Brimstone was such a key difference between us and other coalition partners, can he set out how many strikes have taken place in Syria with the dual mode Brimstone or give us more detail on other strikes that have taken place?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend well knows, those are operational details that I cannot give more detail on. As I said in response to the Opposition spokesman, the UK forces are committed to the combined air operations centre, which tasks aircraft from coalition countries with whatever task is in hand. The analysis of strikes carried out by the coalition is done by CAOC and in due course—in the new year, I believe—it will release those figures.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State ever tune in to the Airwars website? If he does, he will see its estimate of between 660 and 970 civilian casualties in the last 15 months of operation in Iraq and Syria. Will he please send an official from the Foreign Office to discuss with people from that website the definition of a “non-combatant”—a civilian—casualty and work that out, so that this House may know the truth about how many civilians are dying in Iraq and Syria as a result of our actions?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman put a slight caveat in his question in the last few words when he said “as a result of our actions”. Of course he is absolutely right to say that civilians are dying in Iraq—they are dying at the hands of Daesh and they are dying as a result of ongoing conflict across the country. Our commitment is to ensure that civilian casualties arising from the operations of the RAF are minimised or, ideally, avoided altogether, and I am sure that we are doing an excellent job.

Mr Allen: Will you send an official?

Mr Hammond: I do not know the website that the hon. Gentleman is talking about and I cannot commit a Foreign Office official to go to talk to a website. We have to use proper, official definitions of civilian casualties, co-ordinated through CAOC.

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Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the 34-nation coalition formed by Saudi Arabia to defeat terrorism. Will he urge all middle east states, whether Shi’a or Sunni, to get behind this military Islamic alliance to defeat Daesh, because stability in the region also requires bold but much-needed steps towards a Sunni and Shi’a reconciliation?

Mr Hammond: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on that. The Sunni-Shi’a division in the middle east, which is a relatively new phenomenon to the politics of the region, is unhelpful and, ultimately, destabilising. I am assured by my Saudi Arabian counterpart that the initial 34 nations that have announced their membership of this coalition is not an exclusive list and that other countries are considering joining. I very much hope that further countries will join, giving it the broadest base and the greatest legitimacy possible.

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): I remain deeply concerned about the lack of progress on civilian protection inside Syria, much of which is being perpetrated by the Assad regime. Does the Secretary of State agree that ending Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs is a key confidence-building measure that should be prioritised alongside efforts towards a formal ceasefire? Should a ceasefire not be delivered on Friday, may I urge him to look again at other measures to protect civilians, including putting in place no-bombing zones. Will he also reconfirm the Government’s unequivocal commitment not to have truck with anyone—including the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—who says that working with Assad’s forces is a compromise that we should be willing to make? That would be not only morally wrong, but counter-productive given that Assad is Daesh’s biggest recruiting sergeant.

Mr Hammond: As I said in my statement, the US Secretary of State aspires to deliver a ceasefire as an outcome of Friday’s meeting, but even he recognises that that is ambitious. We are also very focused on confidence-building measures, which do not go as far as a ceasefire, but are likely to be more readily achievable. They include an end to the use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas, an end to the bombing of hospitals and medical facilities and a guarantee of humanitarian access to besieged areas on both sides of the conflict. The hon. Lady asked me whether we would consider alternative methods of protecting the civilian population, with specific emphasis on no-bomb zones. We have looked extensively at that, and much military effort has gone into analysing what is and what is not possible. I am afraid that the analysis is that it will not be something that is practical to deliver in the absence of forces on the ground, and, as she knows, we have no intention of committing forces on the ground.

I want to pick up on the point that the hon. Lady made about Assad. The reason why we say that Assad can play no part in the future is not just to do with a sense of moral outrage about what he has done. We all want to end the killing and, despite what has happened in the past, if I thought that that would bring an end to the killing more quickly, I would look at it, but it will not. We will not get a ceasefire, an end to the civil war and all the guns in Syria turned on Daesh until Assad has gone.

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Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that when one sups with Vladimir Putin, one needs a very long spoon? It is very dangerous for some of our European colleagues to say that his involvement in this battle is somehow helpful and that we should reconsider sanctions against him. Will he confirm that that is not the view of the Government?

Mr Hammond: The Government have been clear that anyone who genuinely wants to take part in the fight against Daesh is welcome to join the coalition and to do so, but what the Russians have done so far is, at best, ambiguous. Yes, they have bombed Daesh positions. Although the percentage of Russian airstrikes targeting Daesh has increased since the loss of the Russian aircraft over Sinai—which was almost certainly to a Daesh-inspired or planned bomb attack—they are still only about 25% of the total of their airstrikes. The remainder are targeted at the moderate opposition, and that is, to put it mildly, deeply unhelpful.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Minister referred in his statement to a coalition of 70,000 troops to defeat Daesh. The coalition is very diverse, with groups having different goals, ambitions and strategies. Will he update the House on how that coalition army is coming together? Who will lead it? How is its training going, and has it got the crucial equipment?

Mr Hammond: As we covered quite extensively in the debate two weeks ago, this is not a single army; of course it is not. There are diverse groups fighting the opposition. We have identified approximately 70,000 fighters whom we regard as within the pale in the sense that they have objectives with which we can broadly associate and that they are people with whom we are broadly prepared to work. As I set out in my speech closing that debate two weeks ago, the way we envisage this working is through an end to the civil war, thus creating a legitimate Government in Syria, which the international community can support with training, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, weapons, ammunition and command and control support. The Syrian army, thus legitimised, will work alongside these various other militias going after Daesh to finish the job of reclaiming the territory of Syria. That is the outcome that we seek.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Daesh is on the back foot in Iraq. Sinjar has been liberated and, as we speak, Iraqi forces are fighting street by street in the liberation of Ramadi. There have been some very good and positive outcomes with the return of the Sunnis to Tikrit, but there have been some greater challenges around Diyala, and there is a real need for a strong political push for post-conflict co-ordination in that country. We have a strong ambassador who is respected by all parties. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to us taking a lead on that post-conflict co-ordination in Iraq to safeguard the Sunni return?

Mr Hammond: We have been doing just that. As my hon. Friend says, we have considerable influence in both Baghdad and Irbil. The problem is that some of the steps that need to be taken to create an environment in which the Sunni population in Iraq feels comfortable and as if they are fully fledged citizens of the country are blocked in the Iraqi Parliament. They are being

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blocked for a variety of reasons, some of which are to do with the basis of power politics rather than issues of high principle.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Vladimir Putin must choose whether he wants his country to remain a respected member of the UN Security Council, or whether he wants to continue down the road towards being an international pariah and rogue state? If Russia chooses the latter path, do the UK and coalition partners have the steel to ensure that it does not profit in any way from its flagrant abuses in the region?

Mr Hammond: I want to answer that question carefully. I have said before in this House that, while I deplore many things that the Russians do, I do not believe that Russia is soft on Daesh. Russia and President Putin recognise a threat from Daesh to Russia, which is at least as great as the threat from Daesh to the west. Russia has 13 million Sunni Muslims living inside the borders of the Russian Federation. What we disagree about is methodology. Mr Putin would say, if he were here to answer the question, that he is going about defeating Daesh in the way that he believes will be most effective. We fundamentally disagree with him for the reason that I explained to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), which is that unless and until Assad is gone, we will not get a reconciliation in the Syrian civil war and we will not get all Syrians turning their guns on Daesh.

Mr Speaker: The fellow may have some difficulty securing election in a UK constituency by the recognisably democratic methods that we favour, but I know what the Foreign Secretary was saying. I call Mr David Tredinnick.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): My right hon. Friend has referred at some length to the challenges presented by Russia, but does he not agree that there are now also huge opportunities? A very good example is the co-operation we saw yesterday with Tim Peake going into space. Does he recall that, 24 years ago, another British cosmonaut, Helen Sharman—she was known as the woman from Mars, because she worked for the Mars confectionery company—went up in space, and the former Member for the Western Isles, Calum MacDonald, and I were there to see it at the Baikonur cosmodrome? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that, overall, it is now in the British national interest to have better relations with Russia, and that if he wants more co-operation at the UN, it would be a good idea to look again at the Russian-Ukrainian situation?

Mr Hammond: Yes, clearly those are two separate situations, and we are not trading them off. Russia must comply with its international obligations in relation to Ukraine. It must remove its troops from the territory and comply with its obligations under the Minsk agreement. It must also decide whether it wants to be part of the international coalition against Daesh, or whether it is pursuing other objectives by its own methods.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): It is right that the Foreign Secretary has come to the House to make his statement today, and it is right that hon.

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Members across the House pay tribute to the inspiring commitment of our armed forces and their families; but on the subject of commitment, does he think it a little strange that we keep hearing the Government berate other countries for their lack of commitment on aid for Syria, when our commitment to refugees has been so very poor? Does he think that it would improve our diplomatic commitment if we gave a little more sanctuary to just a few more people?

Mr Hammond: No. As I have said before, we are clear that the best way to support most refugees is by providing the aid that they need for the food programmes, healthcare, shelter and education for their children, to enable them to remain in the region until the conflict is over and then to return to their homes to rebuild their country and be part of Syria’s future. We have said we will accept for resettlement those who are especially vulnerable, as defined by the UN. They are the most vulnerable refugees, requiring extensive support once they arrive here, and we are proud to have resettled 1,000 of them by Christmas.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): My right hon. Friend has reassured us that President Assad cannot be part of the long-term solution. Will he advise us whether all necessary parties, including the Assad regime, are co-operating with the political process, which is so important alongside military action?

Mr Hammond: The Assad regime has said that it has selected its negotiating team and is ready to meet the Syrian opposition on a no-preconditions basis. Of course that assertion remains to be tested, but the regime has indicated that it is willing to engage in those discussions. As in many things around the conflict, in the end the attendance of the Syrian team at the talks will depend, I am sure, crucially on a phone call from Moscow.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I was going to call the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), but I wish to be assured that he did not leave the Chamber at any stage.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): I just nipped to the gentleman’s—

Mr Speaker: Very well; I will not inquire further into the hon. Gentleman’s domestic arrangements.

Graham Jones: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for a welcome statement. He talks about defeating Daesh and, of course, all the financial implications, but as we see in Afghanistan, ISIS is now recruiting in 24 of the 39 states. It is transferring money clearly from the oilfields of Syria and Iraq to fund that campaign and paying some of its soldiers—the foreign fighters— $600 a month, and it has now got trained divisions in Afghanistan and has declared war on the Taliban. What is the Government’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, and what does he think ought to be done to defeat Daesh?

Mr Hammond: Whatever the hon. Gentleman’s issues, after the 11-and-a-half-hour Syria debate, it is not a problem that any of us think you share, Mr Speaker.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. There is evidence of Daesh penetration in many countries, including Afghanistan. What we have to do in Afghanistan is to continue to support the Government, as we and the international coalition have done, to fund the Afghan national police and the Afghan national army to resist the attempt to create a new caliphate, and we will find that happening elsewhere. We need to be clear about this; it will pop up in other countries as well, and we need to be ready to respond to it, wherever it arises.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the remarks about humanitarian support and his answer on humanitarian corridors. Can he tell the House any more about the ongoing discussions on securing access across Syria for humanitarian support and whether there has been any progress in meeting the resolution?

Mr Hammond: That will be one of the issues on the table on Friday. I mentioned earlier an end to the indiscriminate use of weapons in civilian areas and to the bombing of medical facilities and humanitarian access to besieged areas—the three early confidence-building measures that the UK in particular is promoting and will be promoting at the conference on Friday.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): The Prime Minister has been clear in telling us that there have been no civilian casualties as a result of our actions in Iraq or Syria, and the Foreign Secretary has clarified today that there have been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of RAF action, so I was surprised to read yesterday that, when asked how many people had been killed by UK airstrikes, the Ministry of Defence responded, “What do you mean by ‘people’?” Will he clarify what the Ministry of Defence means by “people”?

Mr Hammond: No; that is a question for the Ministry of Defence. Clearly, people will have been killed as a result of airstrikes, but we have no reports of civilian casualties. I cannot, I am afraid, tell the hon. Lady anything further than that.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I very much commend the update and briefing that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has given us. I was privileged last month to visit the Kirkuk region and meet the peshmerga, who were extremely grateful for the RAF air support that we have been giving; Daesh has been curtailed in more than a third of the territory that it once held in the region. May I have assurances that we will continue to work directly with the Kurds, both in the autonomous region of Iraq and in Syria, to ensure that we press the fight further to Daesh?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend is well aware from his visit, we are providing direct support, training and mentoring to Kurdish forces in Iraq. At present, we do not carry out that kind of activity with the Kurdish forces in Syria. Frankly, Kurdish forces in Syria have demonstrated their fighting capabilities and the adequacy of their supply lines and training arrangements.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary not concerned that the further involvement of tribal groups and others such as the

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Muslim Brotherhood and some al-Qaeda groups will lead to further conflict, as we have already seen in Libya? Is not the best way forward to engage with the 34-member group that Saudi Arabia is putting together, with our coalition, to have the people and troops to deal with this problem properly and realistically, rather than by using wishful thinking?

Mr Hammond: I do not think that the two are mutually exclusive. It may be possible in the future, once we have established a transitional Government in Syria, to rally diverse opposition forces against Daesh, alongside what is left of the Syrian army—possibly supported by specialist interventions from members of 34 Muslim nation coalition, special forces, logistics, targeters, military intelligence analysts and so forth. That is probably the most effective model that we can put together.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement to the House today and his ongoing commitment to continue to make such statements. The crisis in Syria has truly become a regional conflict, not just because of the impact of Islamic State, but because of the increasingly concerning refugee crisis. Does he agree that we must continue to support the authorities in Jordan and Lebanon, which have been so greatly impacted by the influx of refugees from Syria?

Mr Hammond: Yes. We are working with all three countries—Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey—but particularly closely with Jordan, in trying to produce an innovative scheme that will allow refugees in Jordan to access the labour market and to support the Jordanian economy in a way that allows them to engage with that programme.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): In parallel with military action against Daesh—I support such action—the UK Government must work harder to support Syrian refugees. Will the Foreign Secretary set out the UK Government’s position on the private sponsorship of vulnerable refugees? Such sponsorship, which is supported by a range of organisations from Churches to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, would allow more vulnerable refugees, beyond the 20,000 already agreed by the Government, to find sanctuary in the UK. Will the UK Government support that?

Mr Hammond: The right hon. Gentleman has asked that question of the Prime Minister. While being clear that we think that our position is right on admitting 20,000 vulnerable refugees, the Prime Minister has said that he will look further at the question of orphaned children, and I will remind him of that commitment.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): I join other Members in welcoming the statement. I welcome the news that Ministers have been urging the UN special envoy to involve Syrian women’s groups in the peace process. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the response to those representations?

Mr Hammond: I am afraid there is not such great news to report on that front. The gender balance at the Riyadh meeting was disappointing. Given that it was

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happening around the time that Saudi Arabia itself was taking a historic step forward in women’s participation in its political system, that is disappointing. We have fed back our concern about that, and the UN special representative, as my hon. Friend said, is particularly focused on this issue.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Should we ponder with some scepticism the apparently ever more pivotal role that is accruing to Saudi Arabia, not just because of the provenance of some of the issues now being faced in this conflict and the Saudi role in Yemen, but because the precepts and principles which the Foreign Secretary quoted that were brokered by Saudi Arabia for the opposition negotiating commission are broken every day for Saudi Arabian citizens? Will the UK Government and others be trying to shepherd the opposition contribution to the negotiations planned for January, or will they leave that shepherding role to Saudi Arabia?

Mr Hammond: As I have already said, we have provided support to the Syrian opposition in logistical terms in trying to prepare its role as a negotiating convention, and we will continue to do so. Nobody should underestimate the power that Saudi Arabia has because of the position of the King of Saudi Arabia as the custodian of the two holy mosques. That creates a unique convening power which allows Saudi Arabia to bring together people who do not particularly want to sit in a room together and force them to engage with each other. Frankly, in a storm we need to work with partners who have the capabilities that we need, and Saudi Arabia has that capability.

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): Syria needs political stability so, although we may have to deal with the Assad regime in the short term, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Assad regime cannot be part of the long-term solution, even if other regional partners support his continued dictatorship?

Mr Hammond: Yes, as I have already said, our position is that for both moral and practical purposes we will not get a solution that involves Assad as a long-term part of the political structure in Syria.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): I welcome the early reporting on this subject, which is very important to many in the House. I welcome all the political and diplomatic efforts that the Government are clearly undertaking, and I agree that in those diplomatic efforts the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world is crucial. There are two points that we have to acknowledge, the first being that many of those Muslim countries themselves are under attack from Daesh or other terrorists. Secondly, many Muslims across those countries in the Muslim world do not acknowledge the Daesh ideology as being anywhere near Islam, and we have to stress that point. I urge the Government to continue those conversations, because if Daesh is to be defeated properly, we must defeat not only the body known as Daesh, but the evil ideology. That is where Muslim world co-operation will be necessary. On the important issue of civilian deaths, tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives in Iraq and in Afghanistan. What assurances can the Foreign Secretary give me that the same will not happen in Syria?

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Mr Hammond: Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in Syria and people are continuing to lose their lives in Syria, both as a result of Daesh’s systematic murder and as a result of Assad’s indiscriminate barrel bombing and chemical attacks on civilian populations, so I am afraid I can give the hon. Gentleman no assurance whatsoever that we will not see similar levels of casualties in Syria. The only way we can seek to prevent them is to bring the bloody civil war to an end and then bring the rule of Daesh over a third of Syria’s territory to an end as quickly as possible.

On the first part of his question, the hon. Gentleman is right. This group of 34 countries is, of course, committed to the challenge of defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria, but it is at its heart a self-help group—34 countries coming together, recognising that any one of them can be attacked by Daesh or Daesh-affiliated groups, and allowing them to call on each other to provide mutual assistance in responding to such an attack. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that we have to destroy not only the manifestations of this organisation, but the underpinning ideology. That will be a much longer task and I do not expect it to be completed in my lifetime.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): I am pleased that we are finally targeting the oilfields in an attempt to cut off Daesh’s illicit funds, but can my right hon. Friend tell the House why it is only now that we have joined the coalition for airstrikes that we are hitting these oilfields and trying to cut off that source of income? Are there any other places that we should be hitting which form a greater part of our overall strategy?

Mr Hammond: Maybe I missed something in my hon. Friend’s question. The simple answer is that it is because they are in Syria and until 14 days ago we were not authorised to strike at targets in Syria. A crucial part of our argument was that we needed to take the fight to Daesh in Syria—its command and control headquarters, its supply lines and its sources of economic support.

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): In the debate just two weeks ago we were told that Daesh in Raqqa represented the head of the snake, and that Daesh posed a real and imminent threat to the security of the United Kingdom. Given that, can the Foreign Secretary tell us what action has been taken by the RAF to diminish Daesh in Raqqa? If no action has been taken by the RAF in Raqqa, why not?

Mr Hammond: As I made clear earlier, I cannot talk about individual targets and individual attacks. The hon. Gentleman is right. That focus in the debate was on the command and control headquarters in Raqqa and that has to be the target if we are to destroy Daesh, but we have to go about that deliberately. Rushing to strike Daesh in its headquarters is not necessarily the best way to go about the task. I am not a military strategist and I do not think it would be sensible for politicians, least of all in open session, to try to set the military plan. What I do know is that targeting the leadership of Daesh in a heavily populated city such as Raqqa will require extremely careful planning, the acquisition of a great deal of intelligence and surveillance data, and the proper analysis of those data.

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Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s continued commitment to a political solution and to further peace talks, but does he agree that it is important to include and involve as wide a range of countries as possible, including Iran, in order to ensure that all parties get round the table in Syria?

Mr Hammond: Yes, and one of the great achievements of the Vienna process is that Iran, along with Saudi Arabia, is engaged, so two countries that have not been conspicuous by their ability to talk each other are now talking to each other across a table in Vienna or this week in New York. That is a positive achievement.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I hear what the Foreign Secretary says about civilian casualties, but the effect of bombing—any bombing—is to maintain the flow of refugees, including into Europe. What are the Government doing to get the UNHCR into camps from Lesbos to Calais? Will they offer refugee status to refugees in those camps whose primary family connection is with Britain?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman has asked a specific and detailed question. I would be chancing my arm to give him a precise answer. If I may, I will write to him and place a copy of my letter in the Library. I will want to talk to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the International Development Secretary before answering.

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): This week the Financial Times reported that even in Daesh-controlled Syria and Iraq two certainties of life exist: death and taxes. Given that the collection of the zakat is now reported to equal the sale of oil revenue, what impact are our airstrikes having on Daesh’s continued worrying economic growth, which has been built on the backs of the rural poor of Iraq and Syria?

Mr Hammond: I suspect that those two eternal inevitabilities, death and taxes, are rather more immediately unavoidable in Daesh-controlled territory than they are in most other places. There are some signals—this was set out in the debate two weeks ago—that Daesh is facing some financial stress. Stipends paid to fighters have been cut. There are many reports of fighters being unpaid and payments to fighters being delayed. This is still a very well-funded organisation, but the huge one-off bonanza that it acquired in the early days of its surge into Iraq, where it was capturing hundreds of millions of dollars in cash in banks and simply taking it away, has ended. I think it is facing a little more pressure financially than it was then, and we intend to keep tightening the screw.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State say more about what is being done in relation to the position of the Iraqi Government on the Sunni community, who are a mainstay of Daesh in that area and are enabling it to run an effective economy and to pay wages to civil servants, soldiers and others because of the technical expertise of many of the people who have gone from Iraq into the area? If we are going to

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deal with Daesh in the long run, what pressure can be put on the Iraqi Government to deal with that fundamental problem?

Mr Hammond: We are working very closely with the Iraqi Government, and we are supporting Prime Minister al-Abadi, who remains committed to the programme of outreach to the Sunni community in Iraq but is facing significant challenges in delivering it. His immediate predecessor is opposed, and a significant bloc in Parliament is making it impossible to progress with two key pieces of legislation: on the creation of a national guard, which would see regionally based forces composed of groups that reflected the ethnicity and the confessional allegiance of the regions; and on repealing the de-Ba’athification legislation passed in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, which has driven many capable Iraqis who were associated with the Ba’ath regime into the arms of ISIL. Many of the military brains behind ISIL’s initial success were former Ba’athist military officials from the Iraqi regime.

Stuart Blair Donaldson (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (SNP): If use of the Brimstone missile was such a key part of the Government’s argument for extending the bombing campaign to Syria, does the Secretary of State not think he should inform the House of how many Brimstone missiles have been used in operations over Syria, and will he commit to doing so in future statements?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces tells me that there is a certain amount of operational information available on the website on a daily basis, and the hon. Gentleman may find information there that at least partly answers his question.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), the Foreign Secretary set out the complexities of establishing a civilian safe haven on the ground in Syria. Notwithstanding that, given the intensification of the civil war and our own battles against Daesh, will he enter into dialogue with Syria’s neighbours to see whether they or the Islamic military coalition that he described would be willing to provide the ground support that is needed to create that safe haven for civilians?

Mr Hammond: I regularly talk to my Turkish colleagues, in particular. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Turks have long promoted the idea of creating safe havens in the north along the border with Turkey. However, all such previous proposals have foundered on the question of who will provide the defensive air cover, given the presence of a very sophisticated Syrian air defence system, and now the presence of Russian air-to-air offensive capability in the area.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): The MOD has confirmed that the RAF Typhoons operating in Syria have, on occasion, not only carried air-to-surface missiles for attacking targets on the ground but have been armed with air-to-air missiles designed to shoot down enemy aircraft. The Government have said that the only enemy we have in Syria is Daesh. There is no indication

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whatsoever that Daesh has any aircraft. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us which specific countries’ aircraft the RAF thinks it might have to shoot down in the skies over Syria?

Mr Hammond: The posture that we adopt to protect our aircraft is a matter of operational security and I cannot comment on it in the House.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), is not the reason we have not attacked Raqqa, the so-called head of the snake, that, as I have said, the snake is instead a hydra? We read in the weekend papers that the Government are now giving serious consideration to stretching their operation against Daesh into Libya, which will inevitably lead to our doing so in other parts of the region and in north Africa. We have a plan to attack Daesh, not a plan to defeat it. When will the Foreign Secretary get round to giving us a proper plan for dealing with the problem in the context in which it actually exists?

Mr Hammond: First, I would say to the hon. Gentleman, do not believe everything you read in the papers, especially at the weekends. As I have said before, this is a complex military task that requires careful planning and careful execution. I am sorry if it does not suit him that we have a debate and 14 days later he has not seen the level of attack in a particular spot that he, as a military strategist, would like to see, but I have to defer to the military strategists in the Ministry of Defence and in the combined air operations centres and let them execute the objectives that this House has clearly endorsed.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): The Foreign Secretary was right to highlight the importance of Syria’s neighbours, particularly Arab states. I am sure that he will be aware of this comment by the US Defence Secretary:

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states joined the air campaign in the early days but have since been preoccupied by the conflict in Yemen.”

Is he concerned by that, and has there been a decrease in sorties by Arab allies?

Mr Hammond: Yes, there has been a decrease in air sorties by Arab allies. Of course, we recognise the challenges of the conflict on their southern border. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear, and I am sure the House will be pleased to hear, that talks are currently going on between the two sides in the Yemeni civil war. A ceasefire of sorts has been in place over the past couple of days, and although there have been violations, I understand that it is broadly holding. We are therefore hopeful that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the military phase of the conflict in Yemen.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): In his previous statement the Prime Minister mentioned the memorandum of understanding regarding communication between the coalition and Russia, which is hugely important. We need only look at the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey to see how crucial it is that those communications are going on daily at an operational level. The House has heard loud and clear about the difficulties in dealing diplomatically with Russia, and we must continue to

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endeavour to be more successful in doing that. How well is the memorandum of understanding working, given that it is for the safety of our troops as well as Russia’s that it is working?

Mr Hammond: This is about de-confliction. It is about ensuring that we are not flying our aircraft in the same bit of airspace where, inadvertently or by accident, they might come into conflict with others. That has been working well. In fact, coalition aircraft and Russian aircraft are generally operating in different areas. Of course, the situation with regard to Turkey is different. The Turkish aircraft in question in the incident that the hon. Gentleman refers to, which tragically led to the death of a Russian lieutenant colonel, the pilot, were defending Turkish airspace. It was a routine air defence patrol of the type that we fly in the UK, and we would be in the same position if our airspace was threatened or challenged. The de-confliction of airspace for operations between the coalition and Russia is working well, but the conflict—the tension—remains along the border, where Turkish aircraft are flying in their airspace and Russian aircraft are flying in Syrian airspace. We are all extremely keen to see any risks in that area de-escalating, and we are working hard to achieve that.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): The Foreign Secretary says that a minimum of £1 billion has been put aside for reconstruction. Is that a blank cheque, and, if so, what alternatives is it at the expense of? What needs analysis is that figure based on? What plans exist for spending it, and over what timescale?

Mr Hammond: I do not think it is a blank cheque: it says on the top line, “People of Syria”, and on the next line, “£1 billion”, so it is clearly not a blank cheque. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we are going to remain committed to the Syrian people through this conflict, through the formation of a transitional Government and in the rebuilding of their country after the creation of that transitional Government and the end of the conflict. He made it very clear in the debate two weeks ago that £1 billion is not the limit of our support for the Syrian people; it is a first instalment to which we have committed.

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Points of Order

2.40 pm

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: A veritable feast of points of order.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am starting to panic. You will recall that on 2 December the Prime Minister, in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

“I am very happy to look at that issue again”—

the issue being the 3,000 unaccompanied children—

“to see whether Britain can do more to fulfil our moral responsibilities.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 339.]

The Prime Minister has been silent on the matter ever since. Can you, Mr Speaker, clarify whether the rules of the House require, when matters of moral responsibility are in play, the Prime Minister to return to this Chamber urgently to set out how he intends to fulfil those moral responsibilities?

Mr Speaker: The matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises is certainly important, but I am bound to tell him that it is treated of neither in “Erskine May”, which, of course, is the bible of parliamentary precedent and procedure, nor in Standing Orders. Therefore, although it may seem imperative in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, in that of his leader that the Prime Minister should return to the House to satisfy them on this matter before the Christmas recess, there is no procedural imperative to that effect.

Tom Brake: Shame.

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman mutters “Shame” from a sedentary position, and I feel sure that it is a matter to which he will return, quite possibly before the Christmas recess. We shall wait to see.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD) rose

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP) rose—

Mr Speaker: I think we shall have a change of party for a moment, but we will return to the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland).

Hannah Bardell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is my first point of order, just in time for Christmas. On a very serious point, it has come to my attention recently that the Department for Work and Pensions plans to operate “business as usual”, as it did for the first time last year, in the run-up to Christmas. That basically means that people will be sanctioned up until and on Christmas eve. How can I hold the Secretary of State to account on this matter and have it dealt with, hopefully positively, so that we do not have a Scrooge-like approach in the run-up to Christmas?

Mr Speaker: I think the hon. Lady has just done it, although there is one further parliamentary day. Of course, the scheduled debates for tomorrow are what they are and I am not at all sure that either of them would facilitate her in that respect, but there are other opportunities on every parliamentary day and she will

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have to use her ingenuity, which is not inconsiderable, to see if she can refer to the matter again and extract some sort of ministerial response in the Chamber.

Greg Mulholland rose

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP) rose—

Mr Speaker: I think the hon. Member for Leeds North West is going to think he is always left until last if I do not call him now. Members do develop persecution complexes from time to time. We will come to the hon. Gentleman, who is a hardy fellow and will not mind waiting.

Patrick Grady: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last question at today’s Department for International Development Question Time was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). It concerned a very serious matter regarding reports that two men from Malawi—Cuthbert Kulemela and Kelvin Gonani—have been arrested in the capital city for having consensual sex together. Essentially, it appears that they have been arrested for being gay. This is probably as much of an issue for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as it is for DFID, so I am glad that there are FCO Ministers present. I hope the Government will respond in the same way as the Secretary of State for International Development did by condemning the action.

My point of order is that the question asked by my hon. Friend could barely be heard because of the noise that always rises in the prelude to Prime Minister’s questions. What advice can you give to Members, Mr Speaker, about noise levels during Question Time, and what opportunities are there for us to ask the Government to look at rotating the questions and when they are heard?

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The news that he reports on a very serious matter is, frankly, horrifying—it is absolutely horrifying news indeed. Of course, there is a direct locus for the Secretary of State and the Department for International Development in view of our continuing commitment to Malawi, with which country I know the hon. Gentleman, from his personal experience, is intensely familiar, so, I think probably on behalf of the House, I can empathise with what he has said.

The noise at Question Time is very disturbing. I do often say to the House that we are dealing with extremely important matters. In some cases they are important matters not only from our point of view, but to people elsewhere in the world who are in very much more vulnerable situations than we are, so common courtesy would dictate that there should be a civilised atmosphere and that questions and answers should be heard. The hon. Gentleman knows, to be fair, that it is ordinarily not a calculated insult; it is that colleagues are very excited and animated about the upcoming Prime Minister’s questions and are engaging in often protracted and noisy private conversations. I can only exhort colleagues to remember their responsibilities to each other and to people whose concerns we are discussing.

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More widely, the hon. Gentleman makes quite an important point about possible rotation. There is no procedural bar to rotation. If there is a significant body of Members who feel that it is wrong that one Department should have to occupy that very difficult slot for an extended period, they can make representations—I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman; I cannot solve the problem overnight—to the Leader of the House and, indeed, if I may say so, to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who is, in my experience, unfailingly helpful to, and courteous in his dealings with, Members of the House.

Greg Mulholland: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not at all mind waiting to seek your advice or to share some very good news. I know that you will be delighted, as will the House, with today’s news that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has approved the drug Vimizim for sufferers of Morquio disease. That is life-changing news for the 88 people and their families, and it is the result of a large campaign.

I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, because this is a hugely important matter that has exercised considerable time and a number of questions in this House. Given that there will be no pre-recess Adjournment debate tomorrow, and given the very limited time available for a statement from the Department of Health—which would be very welcome, particularly because it is such good news—I seek your advice on how the issue might be raised in the time remaining to us, considering not only its importance, but the importance of the ultra-rare diseases that have not received this news, such as tuberous sclerosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Mr Speaker: There are two points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. First, I am absolutely delighted to hear that excellent news. Although the hon. Gentleman was too modest to draw direct attention to his own work on the subject, I think Members across the whole House know just how indefatigable he has been in his efforts on behalf of those very vulnerable people, so I would like to congratulate him and other Members on their persistence. It is absolutely magnificent news. We are here to serve other people and this is a very good example of where that has been done, not least due to the prodigious efforts of Back Benchers such as himself and a number of his colleagues.

Secondly, there is every opportunity for statements to be made tomorrow. Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Whether a Minister wishes to come to announce and elaborate on the good news, and potentially to answer queries about other categories of people who might also be helped, I do not know. The hon. Gentleman also knows that, whether or not a statement is offered, there is an opportunity for Members to submit urgent questions. The hon. Gentleman has done it many times himself, sometimes with success. I cannot possibly give a commitment in advance, because we do not deal with the matter in that way. One thing the hon. Gentleman knows is that if he does not extract a commitment by a Minister to make an oral statement tomorrow and he chooses to submit an urgent question, I will see that question and read it in full, and it will be considered and adjudicated on at the morning meeting at 8.45 am tomorrow. I hope that that is helpful to him and, indeed, to other Members of the House.

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Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In that context, have you received any indication from the Government that a Minister intends to make a statement tomorrow about the outcome of their consultation on cutting the solar feed-in tariff, which I understand they will announce tomorrow. This is a matter of huge public and industrial concern, with 37,000 jobs—87% of the jobs in the solar industry—at risk if the Government do not change their proposals. It would be completely unacceptable for this announcement to be sneaked out on the last sitting Thursday before Christmas when, with a one-line Whip, many Members will not be in Parliament. I hope that you will take up that matter with the Government on our behalf.

Mr Speaker: I am not aware of any intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement on that subject tomorrow, although I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is extremely experienced in the House, that the fact that I am not aware of any such intention at this point is itself unexceptional. There is no particular reason why I would have been notified. I have not been notified, but that does not mean that the Government are not planning to make a statement. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that is little comfort to him. There might be an oral statement or there might not be. It is perfectly possible that there might be a written statement, which I suspect would satisfy him even less.

I cannot do anything about the point we have reached in the timetable. Tomorrow is the last day and some Members may not be present. That is unfortunate, but I can do nothing about it. However, just as I said to the hon. Member for Leeds North West that there is the opportunity of an urgent question for him and for other Members on matters of concern to them, it is perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman to submit an urgent question. I simply inform colleagues that on a Thursday such applications must be in by 8.15 am. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman are both eager beavers and early birds.

If there are no further points of order—the appetite has been satisfied, at least for today—we come now to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) has been so patiently waiting.

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Representation of the People (Proportional Representation) (House of Commons)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.52 pm

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Acts to provide for the introduction of proportional representation as a method for electing a certain number of Members of the House of Commons; to make provision about changing existing constituencies and reducing their number; and for connected purposes.

It is said that in 1830, the Duke of Wellington, as Prime Minister, declared himself opposed to any reform of Parliament on the basis that the state of the representation of the people had been designed by providence and therefore “cannot be improved”. He was of course deeply wrong, as just two years later the Great Reform Act of 1832 was passed. However, that attitude—that the means of representing the people at Westminster cannot be improved—is one that has lived on and remains strong to this day. Indeed, many Members of the House can find no reason to question a system that has had the infinite wisdom to elect each and every one of us who sits in the House today.

I put it to the House that the means of electing the House of Commons—namely, the first-past-the-post electoral system—is no longer fit for purpose. It has led to a narrow and unrepresentative politics, increasingly poor decision making, poorly conducted elections and, at times, poor government. Moreover, it now threatens the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and the cohesion of the constituent nations of the UK, by failing to produce representation that truly reflects the diversity of political views contained therein.

My Bill, which is modestly entitled a representation of the people Bill, seeks to correct these failings by introducing for the House of Commons the same electoral system used in Scotland and Wales, and in Germany—the additional member system. I believe that that system delivers the best of both worlds: a local MP with a constituency link, and a representative election that successfully reflects the intentions of the electorate. There would still be constituency MPs, but there would also be representative elections. There would still be strong one-party Governments if the public wanted them, but not if they did not.

I will set out why I believe the change to be so desirable. I believe our current voting system is bad for politics in the UK. It forces the major parties to devote their resources overwhelmingly to just a handful of constituencies that they regard as swing or marginal seats. Doing so fails to treat voters equally, regardless of where they live, which creates a two-tier system of political engagement. As we all know, in some parts of the country the opposition parties put up nothing more than a token effort at election time. Most worryingly, it creates false electoral deserts, where whole regions of the country are dominated by one party despite its opponents recording substantial numbers of votes.

First past the post has been a huge contributing factor in how remote people feel from politics. As vote share for the major two parties has declined, it is a fact

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that our general elections have become less and less representative. If winning an argument with the British public becomes a different task from that of winning the votes required to form a Government, something has gone terribly wrong. It should be a source of national concern that there have been three general elections in history in which the party with the most votes has actually lost the general election. If that were to happen in the modern day, we would legitimately face a constitutional crisis.

I wish to stress that none of this is a means to dispute the formation of the new Conservative Government. No electoral system would have produced a Labour Government in 2015, because people simply did not trust Labour sufficiently. However, the result of the last election should concern anyone with an interest in democracy, or simply a desire for national unity. In the south-east, the Tories got 51% of the vote, but took 93% of the seats. In the south-west, they got 47% of the vote, but took 94% of the seats. In the north-east, the situation was reversed: Labour took 47% of the vote, but won 90% of the MPs. In Scotland, the SNP won an impressive 50% of the vote, but a thoroughly disproportionate 95% of the seats. The Lib Dems actually got 1 million more votes than the SNP, but are treated as though they got less. Four million people voted for the UK Independence party to get just one MP. That is simply not conducive to a representative Parliament.

As much as I wish the whole country would simply elect Labour MPs like me, if they do not do so, they should—as best we can deliver—get the MPs they did vote for. Moreover, the electoral system should not write off large parts of the country to one party or another, because that forces those parties to behave rationally and devote their scarce resources to areas where they are competitive. That then creates a perpetual cycle of disengagement, rather than the challenging and robust competition of views on which democracy thrives.

Because of the unrepresentative nature of modern elections, the Governments that are formed after them are prone to make poor decisions or to govern inequitably. At times, the British people have given a clear, decisive mandate for change—1905, 1945, 1979 and 1997—but that has not been their verdict at other times, when they have been unwilling or reluctant to hand one party exclusive access to Downing Street. If that is the British people’s verdict, there should be coalition or minority Governments. Using the electoral system to create an artificial mandate for one-party rule is not conducive to good government. The argument that proportional voting unfairly empowers smaller parties does not stand up when one considers that exactly the same charge could be levelled at the recent functioning of first past the post, be that the coalition Government in the last Parliament, the Lib-Lab pact in the 1970s, Sir John Major’s deal with the Democratic Unionist party, or the historical example of the Irish nationalists. The status quo does of course produce absurdities. During the last Parliament, a coalition Government in Westminster were elected under first past the post, and a one-party majority Government were elected in Holyrood under the proportional system that I am proposing we introduce via this Bill.

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I know that some people will say to me that they do not wish to change the voting system for fear of seeing more UKIP or other minority parties elected. I share their disdain for some of those parties, but I would say to them that if people vote for those parties, that is surely what they should get. Parties defeat their political opponents by debate and campaigning, not by rigging the rules in their favour. Ultimately, the alienation caused by rigging the rules in their favour will create the resentment that means those minority parties actually win under first past the post, as we saw just over a decade ago when the British National party won substantial numbers of council seats in the north-west.

I may be this Parliament’s pre-eminent Jonny, but I am no Jonny-come-lately to this cause. In fact, I am prepared to admit to the House that, as a young man, I travelled the long journey from Sunderland all the way to Newcastle to hear the late Roy Jenkins address a public meeting as part of his Jenkins commission. However, I believe that the issue has now assumed a much greater urgency. That has been produced not just by the declining vote share of the two major parties, but by the consequences of further constitutional change in Scotland, be it in the form of independence, as the SNP would like, or the much greater devolution that the Unionist parties favour. Such developments have profound implications for the rest of the Union.

I do not believe that the cohesion of England can be maintained by retaining the first-past-the-post electoral system. In all honesty, Labour Members ignored the consequences of devolution for England for far too long, simply because we did not want to admit that, under first past the post, Labour has historically rarely won a majority in England alone. A fairer and more competitive system would be better for everyone, because it would render such narrow calculations redundant and create a one nation political system for a country that sorely needs it.

I am extremely grateful for the cross-party support I have achieved for the Bill, which includes support from hon. Members from political parties, such as the Greens and the Lib Dems, that have positions in favour of a different type of electoral reform, such as the single transferable vote. However, we are as one on the need for change. If there is one thing that my time as a Member of this House has genuinely taught me, it is that the stereotypes of different political parties and the people who represent them in this place are unhelpful and unfair. The basis exists for us all to work together in the national interest and it would be better if we were part of a political system that placed on us an obligation to do so. Therefore, I make a plea today for not just a proportional voting system, but a patriotic voting system, in which all parts of the country and all shades of opinion are treated equally and fairly, and the functioning of which brings the whole country together. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.1 pm

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I am slightly surprised to be congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—and he is a friend—on his honesty in admitting that he once sat at the feet of Roy Jenkins. That is not something to which people are normally prepared to admit.

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I find it astonishing that, in a month when the Front National in France has made considerable advances, someone in this House should argue for changing the electoral system. I do not want to detain the House for too long, so I will not go into detail about how damaging this proposal would be to effective government; how it would transfer power away from constituents and local parties to party leaders, kitchen Cabinets and bureaucrats; how it would empower fringe parties at the expense of parties that are fit for government; how it would damage the direct link between many MPs and a constituency; and how, interestingly enough, countries that have such systems always have to amend them as those problems start to come through.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Germany?

Mr Spellar: Germany has changed the system. It has introduced thresholds and it regularly changes the thresholds to deal with exactly the problems I am describing.

The proposal flies in the face of British public opinion, which was made absolutely clear in the referendum by more than two to one. In fact, 68% of people voted no and 32% voted yes. Of the 440 counting areas, only 10 recorded yes votes: the inner-London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Camden, Hackney, Haringey and Islington—all those boroughs that used to feature in national headlines in the days of the loony left councils; Oxford, which has a great university and was described once as the city of lost causes; Cambridge; and Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvin, which I think—SNP colleagues will correct me if I am wrong—are the seats of the universities in those two cities. Interestingly, in the seat of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, the borough of Tameside voted more than two to one against, with 72% against and 28% for. To my chagrin, that was a bigger margin than in my borough of Sandwell, which managed a mere 71% against to 29% for.

I merely ask those who are considering voting for this proposition a simple question: what part of “no” is it that you don’t understand?

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

The House divided:

Ayes 27, Noes 164.

Division No. 152]


3.4 pm


Allen, Mr Graham

Barron, rh Kevin

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Burden, Richard

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Davies, Geraint

Dowd, Jim

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Flynn, Paul

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Lamb, rh Norman

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Mulholland, Greg

Reynolds, Jonathan

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Saville Roberts, Liz

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Streeting, Wes

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Williams, Mr Mark

Tellers for the Ayes:

Helen Goodman


Daniel Zeichner


Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baron, Mr John

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, James

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Borwick, Victoria

Bridgen, Andrew

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Cash, Sir William

Chalk, Alex

Churchill, Jo

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Costa, Alberto

Cryer, John

Danczuk, Simon

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davis, rh Mr David

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Evans, Chris

Evans, Mr Nigel

Farrelly, Paul

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Mark

Ghani, Nusrat

Glindon, Mary

Grant, Mrs Helen

Green, Chris

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hanson, rh Mr David

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Herbert, rh Nick

Hoare, Simon

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Johnson, Boris

Jones, Graham

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Lee, Dr Phillip

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Ian C.

Mackinlay, Craig

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Marris, Rob

Matheson, Christian

Mathias, Dr Tania

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McDonagh, Siobhain

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Paisley, Ian

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pow, Rebecca

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Rimmer, Marie

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, Royston

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Stuart, Graham

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Twigg, Derek

Vickers, Martin

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Whately, Helen

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Peter Bone


Mr Philip Hollobone

Question accordingly negatived.

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1598

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1599

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I have now to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to petroleum. The Ayes were 298 and the Noes were 261, so the Question was agreed to.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

Armed Forces Bill (Programme) (No. 2)


That the Order of 15 October 2015 (Armed Forces Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4), (5) and (6) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House on re-committal shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.

(3) Any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken in one day in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

(4) Any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement on that day.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on that day.—(Mark Lancaster.)

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1600

Armed Forces Bill

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill on 18 November 2015, HC 618, and Proceedings of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill on 24 November 2015.]

Considered in Committee

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Clause 1

Duration of Armed Forces Act 2006

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mark Lancaster): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the continuation in force of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which would otherwise expire at the end of 2016. Clause 1 provides for continuation of that Act for a year from the date on which the Bill receives Royal Assent. Thereafter it allows further renewal by Order in Council for up to a year at a time, but not beyond the end of 2021.

The 2006 Act provides nearly all the provisions for an armed forces system of command, discipline and justice. Crucially, it confers powers and sets out procedures to enforce the duty of members of the armed forces to obey lawful commands. The central effect of the expiry of the 2006 Act would be to end the powers and provisions to maintain the armed forces as disciplined bodies.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I think this is my third Armed Forces Bill, and it is a minnow compared, for example, with the 2006 Act. However, it covers important issues that affect not only the operation of Her Majesty’s armed forces, but the discipline needed to ensure their effectiveness. As the Minister has outlined, it is an important constitutional Bill because it reaffirms the need for a standing Army to protect the freedoms that we have all come to rely on in this country. I look forward to the progress of the Bill and of the amendments in my name.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): The SNP fully supports the Bill. We appreciate the requirement that Parliament’s consent is given to maintain an Army, as well as the significant contribution made by members of our armed forces. As such, one of the Bill’s most important functions is to provide the legal basis for the armed forces to continue to exist as a disciplined force, and we must continue to develop and support our armed forces as they undertake their difficult jobs. We support progressive change such as that found in the amendment that calls for a review into compensation for veterans who are suffering from mesothelioma, and that on the publication of statistics on sexual assault and rape. We want robust legislation that is fit for our dedicated armed forces.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1601

Clause 2

Commanding officer’s power to require preliminary alcohol and drugs tests

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mark Lancaster: Currently, a commanding officer may only require a member of the armed forces, or a civilian subject to service discipline, to co-operate with a preliminary test for drugs or alcohol on suspicion of a relevant offence. Clause 2 extends the circumstances in which a commanding officer may require co-operation with such a test. It provides for post-accident preliminary testing without the need for suspicion that the person to be tested may have committed an offence. The new powers to require co-operation with such tests apply only after accidents involving aircraft or ships, or after other serious accidents.

The powers will apply in the event of any maritime or aviation accident and other serious accidents that result in, or have created the risk of death, serious injury to any person, serious damage to any property, or serious environmental harm involving prescribed or other safety critical functions. The results of preliminary tests can be used in support of any type of investigation arising from the accident. The new powers are similar to those provided to the civilian police by the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 in relation to aviation and maritime accidents, and the Road Traffic Act 1998 in relation to road traffic accidents, but apply to a wider range of accidents.

Mr Kevan Jones: We support clause 2. As the Minister has outlined, it brings into line the legislation that covers our armed forces and gives commanding officers the tools to investigate accidents in which drugs or alcohol may have played a part.

Kirsten Oswald: It is appropriate to enable commanding officers to require testing for drugs and/or alcohol after incidents associated with personnel carrying out safety critical duties. We support the ability of the commanding officer to deal with these matters. It is for them to consider and to proceed with the most appropriate action in relation to the requirement for testing.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Duty of service policeman following investigation

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 4 and 5.

Mark Lancaster: Clauses 3 to 5 relate to investigations and charging. They make a number of changes to provisions in part 5 of the 2006 Act, which deal with the process of deciding whether a person is to be charged with a service offence under that Act. The changes simplify the process. For example, currently some cases that cannot be dealt with by the commanding officer must none the less be referred by the investigating service police to the commanding officer and then from the CO to the Director of Service Prosecutions for a decision on the charge and prosecution.

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1602

Clause 3 provides that where the service policy consider there is sufficient evidence to charge an offence that the commanding officer cannot try summarily, the case must be sent to the Service Prosecuting Authority for a decision on charging. The Director of Service Prosecutions is responsible for decisions on the charge and prosecution in all cases that cannot be dealt with by the commanding officer. However, currently some of those cases have to be referred by the investigating service police to the commanding officer, and then, as I have said, from the commanding officer to the Director of Service Prosecutions. This adds unnecessary delay and bureaucracy to the process, which the clause seeks to remove.

The other main change made by clause 3 intends to deal with the problem that the 2006 Act currently requires some cases to be sent to a commanding officer to deal with, although they are closely connected with a case that must be sent to the director, for example where separate offences occurred during the same incident. This can result in separate decisions on whether to prosecute, and separate trials. Clause 3 amends the 2006 Act so that the service police will also be able to refer a case to the Director of Service Prosecutions if, after consultation with the director, they consider it appropriate to do so because of a connection with another case that has been referred to the director.

Clause 4 makes a minor technical clarification to the procedure for the referral of linked cases from the commanding officer to the Director of Service Prosecutions. Currently, if the commanding officer is required to transfer a linked case to the director, the transfer is deemed to take place. Under clause 4, the commanding officer will actually have to make the transfer.

Clause 5 provides for the Director of Service Prosecutions to bring charges himself. Currently, where the director decides that a charge should be brought in a case, he cannot bring the charge directly but must direct the suspect’s commanding officer to bring the charge, and the commanding officer must then bring the charge.

The changes have the support of the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Judge Advocate General. No change is proposed to the circumstances in which the commanding officer is under duty to ensure that the service police are aware of an allegation.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): Just to clarify, we are debating clauses 3, 4 and 5 together if any Member wants to speak on them.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Bone, for clarifying the process. I have put this all together, if the Minister could just bear with me.

The Minister referred to investigation and charging in relation to clauses 3 to 5 and I just wanted to ask a question about that. We see a simplification of the process relating to service personnel charged with offences. I assume the Minister is saying that that will be achieved by reducing the number of stages required for the decision to bring charges. Not only will the provision make it easier to bring charges where appropriate, and ensure discipline and order are maintained in our armed forces, it will streamline the process and reduce bureaucracy so that commanding officers are free to go about other duties essential to the smooth running of all aspects of our armed services. Will the Minister clarify the role of the commanding officer in an investigation?

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If the Minister will bear with me, clause 2 related to alcohol and drugs. As we are talking about investigation, I want to comment on that. The new rules on drug and alcohol testing are similar, but not identical, to the provisions under the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. The 2003 Act provides for an alcohol and drug testing regime that is applicable to both the maritime and aviation environments, but the armed forces have Crown exemption. Will the Minister clarify this matter in relation to the new rules on drug and alcohol testing and investigations?

The Bill will remedy that and strengthen the approach to alcohol or drug misuse within the armed forces, as well as being more specific about what grounds justify a drug or alcohol test. It will make it easier for those in charge of an investigation to order a drug or alcohol test when needed, which is something that can only make our armed forces safer and more secure, while simplifying the process to make it easier for commanding officers to secure a drug or alcohol test.

The new statutory framework for immunity from prosecution will give the Director of Service Prosecutions and service courts powers that may assist investigators and prosecutors in cases where it may otherwise be difficult to persuade service personnel to co-operate with the service police and to give evidence. The Minister will be aware of a specific case in Northern Ireland where investigations are ongoing. I believe the provisions are a positive development that will improve transparency across our armed forces and improve the security of individuals. Of course, this could be particularly important to Northern Ireland where there have been continuous attempts, through spurious allegations, to drag the names of former soldiers through the mud. We must never let the legitimate forces of law and order be equated with cold-blooded murderous terrorists. I hope that this aspect of the Bill can ensure that the brave service personnel who fought terrorism in Northern Ireland will never be dragged through the courts by those who terrorised our state, or by their sympathisers and supporters. On investigation and prosecution in relation to this particular issue, what role will the Minister play? I am sure we are keen to put in place a transparent method of investigation and prosecution. There has to be protection for our brave service personnel. Where we can, we should give them immunity, but we must always give them our full and unreserved legal support and aid, should they need it.

I hope that was clear for the Minister. I have raised several issues about investigation that have to be addressed.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): Because it is coming towards Christmas, we let the hon. Gentleman go back slightly to clause 2. [Hon. Members: “And forward!”]. And forward, yes. But we have been moving rapidly, and he was seeking advice as he went.

Mr Kevan Jones: Thank you, Mr Bone. I will aim not to go backwards or forwards.

We support these common sense and proportionate clauses. As the 2006 Act beds in, they will improve the investigation and charging system by making it as efficient as possible.

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3.30 pm

Mark Lancaster: Thank you, Mr Bone, for allowing me to go back, very briefly, to clause 2.

The new powers in clause 2 reflect the range of duties undertaken in the military environment—for example, diving, driving and commanding a mechanically propelled vehicle—not covered by road transport legislation. The use of firearms would not be covered either, and neither would other duties considered to be safety critical, such as running adventurous training. So there are some extra duties not covered by other legislation, which is why these provisions go slightly further.

On clause 3 and the question of whether we are effectively reducing the powers of the CO, the change to the procedure followed by the service police after an investigation relates only to cases where the CO does not have jurisdiction over the recommended charge. Such a case could still be referred back to the CO by the Director of Service Prosecutions if an alternative charge within his powers was considered appropriate. The uncertain power of the CO to wait and see and do nothing will be removed, but it is, in any event, vulnerable to attack, particularly given that it applies to serious cases in relation to which the service police have determined there is sufficient evidence to charge an individual with an offence that can be tried only by court martial. The change to the process of charging means that the DSP will have the power to bring a charge, whereas currently only the CO has the power, although he might be directed by the DSP to do it. I realise it sounds complicated, but actually it simplifies the process to avoid having to refer cases to the CO over which he has no power anyway. In more than 90% of cases, the CO will still be involved.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will remain in his place for the duration of the Committee, so I will deal with the other points he raised when we get to those clauses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Period for which sentence of service detention may be suspended

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mark Lancaster: The clause increases from 12 to 24 months the maximum period for which the sentence of service detention may be suspended by a court martial. The civilian courts and courts martial can already suspend sentences of imprisonment for up to 24 months, but service detention is a unique military system offering greater rehabilitation arrangements. This measure would provide a court martial with greater flexibility in appropriate circumstances. Guidance on sentencing in a court martial sets out the relevant factors for the award of suspended sentences: whether the offender can retrieve his or her good name without undergoing a committed sentence—for example, if there has been a significant delay between the offence and trial, during which period the offender has performed

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1605

his or her duties well and effectively rehabilitated him or herself; whether the offender has shown genuine remorse and voluntarily made reparation for any damage caused; whether the offender is young and inexperienced and it is clear that the offence is an isolated occurrence; whether the offence does not involve serious violence or violence towards a superior officer; and whether the offender is required for more important operational duties.

Mr Kevan Jones: Again, I think these are sensible proposals that give courts martial the flexibility to award suspended sentences where appropriate. It is a tidying-up exercise in terms of the 2006 Act.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Immunity from prosecution

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone):With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 8 to 12 stand part.

Mark Lancaster: Thank you, Mr Bone.

For the convenience of the Committee, I shall discuss together clauses 7 to 12, which deal with offenders assisting investigations. In overview, clauses 7 and 8 allow the Director of Service Prosecutions, in return for assistance provided by a person to an investigation or prosecution, to enter into an agreement with the person giving them immunity from prosecution or an undertaking that information will not be used against them in proceedings. Clauses 9 to 12 make provision with respect to reduced sentences for those who provide such assistance.

The provisions closely follow those in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which apply to civilian prosecutors and courts. Under these provisions, an immunity notice or restricted use undertaking must be in writing and will normally include conditions, breach of which would lead to the immunity or undertaking being revoked.

The Director of Service Prosecutions will, as a matter of good practice, consult the Attorney General in relation to any offer of immunity. The DSP will engage with the Director of Public Prosecutions and devolved Administrations in the event of concurrent jurisdiction. Immunity notices and restricted use undertakings can be provided only if DSP considers it appropriate in relation to the investigation or prosecution of a criminal conduct service offence, where the equivalent civilian offence is capable of being tried in the Crown Court, or a disciplinary offence for which the maximum sentence is more than two years imprisonment.

Jim Shannon: I have one quick question for the Minister. He mentioned contacting the devolved Administrations, and I am wondering what credence is given to those Administrations in respect of decisions made by Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. In other words, if there is a disagreement between the devolved Administrations and the Ministry, which takes precedence?

John Howell (Henley) (Con): As a member of the Select Committee, let me add that when we looked into these provisions and interviewed the relevant official, I was impressed with two things. The first was the need to

16 Dec 2015 : Column 1606

refer to the Attorney General. The link between the DSP and the Attorney General is a good one. I have to say that I have forgotten what the second one was, but let the first point stand as the major point I wanted to make.

Mr Kevan Jones: With the assurance that the Attorney General will be consulted only in very rare cases—I am not sure that the provisions will need to be used on many occasions—we support the clauses, which bring service law into line with best practice in civilian law.

Mark Lancaster: I agree with the hon. Gentleman; it is anticipated that the provisions will be used only on very rare occasions and in the most serious cases. In response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the process has not yet been tried, but it is hoped that there will not be any conflict between the various jurisdictions. If I may, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with further detail in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

AFA 2006: Isle of Man and British overseas territories

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone):With this it will be convenient to consider the schedule to the Bill.

Mark Lancaster: The clause and schedule provide for the Armed Forces Act 2006, as it currently has effect in the United Kingdom, to come into force in the Isle of Man and the British overseas territories, except Gibraltar, although we are consulting the Government of Gibraltar about extending the provisions of the 2006 Act to that territory. I should make clear at this point that, as a matter of UK law, the 2006 Act will continue to apply to service personnel wherever in the world they are serving.We have consulted the Isle of Man and the British overseas territories, and they are content with our approach. We are discussing with Gibraltar whether it would be best to provide for the 2006 Act and the Bill to extend to it as well, and if Gibraltar considers that to be the case, we will introduce an amendment to that effect.

Jim Shannon: I welcome the Minister’s commitment to ensuring that the 2006 Act will come into force in the Isle of Man and the British overseas territories, with the exception of Gibraltar, and that there will be the option of extending it to the Channel Islands. We too often forget those from the overseas territories and those who serve there. I am pleased to note that this is a truly British Bill which recognises our devoted armed services throughout the globe. This move is, I believe, long overdue.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, will he give us some idea what is meant by “the option of extending it to the Channel Islands”? Secondly, is he able to give a commitment—I am not sure whether he is—that, as I hope sincerely to be the case, the exemption of Gibraltar is not due to any Spanish intrusion or interference? The sovereignty of Gibraltar is down to its

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people, and we should firmly uphold their right to remain British, no matter what actions or words may come from Madrid.

Mr Kevan Jones: We support clause 13 and the accompanying schedule. It makes sense to extend the Act to the overseas territories.

May I ask the Minister what the timescale is for the negotiations with Gibraltar? I realise that the elections there may have interfered with the process. May I also ask what mechanism would operate if Gibraltar accepted that the legislation should extend to it? Would we have to wait for the next Armed Forces Bill to introduce any changes that were necessary?

Mark Lancaster: Let me deal first with the question of Gibraltar. I can tell the hon. Member for Strangford that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Spanish. In 2005 Gibraltar received a new constitution, which gives it wider legislative responsibilities. As I have said, we are discussing with its Government whether it would be best to provide for that through the 2006 Act or through its own legislation.

As the hon. Member for North Durham said, there has been a delay. That is simply because, as the House knows, Gibraltar was holding elections, which have now ended. I am keen to conclude the matter with Gibraltar as quickly as possible, and, if it wished to be included in the provisions of the Bill, the intention would be to introduce amendments in the other place at that point.

On the wider impact, the fact that the 2006 Act has not been in force in the British overseas territories—including the Isle of Man—since 2011 has not, to our knowledge, created any difficulties. The rationale for extending the Act to those jurisdictions includes ensuring that actions that might be taken by members of our armed forces would be lawful there, not only as a matter of United Kingdom law but as a matter of their own law. For example, service police would have powers of arrest, entry and search in those jurisdictions as well. Equally, the civilian authorities in those jurisdictions can do things that they might not otherwise have powers to do under the law there. Including them in the Act gives them extra powers as well.

All in all, we feel, having consulted, that this is a positive step.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Powers of Ministry of Defence fire-fighters in an emergency

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 15 stand part.

3.45 pm

Mark Lancaster: These clauses give MOD firefighters the same powers to act in emergencies as employees of civilian fire and rescue authorities. Those powers include powers to enter premises by force if necessary, to close

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roads and to regulate traffic. Clause 14 also makes it an offence to obstruct an MOD firefighter who is acting in an emergency.

Clause 15 gives MOD firefighters the same exemptions from provisions in certain Acts—for example, rules on drivers’ hours—as employees of fire and rescue authorities.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I ask the Minister for clarification? If an MOD firefighter is on a base and sees a farm, say, afire, can they go straight to that and deal with it, or do they have to wait for civilian firefighters to come, if it is off the base?

Mark Lancaster: I will come to that, but protocols are in place between MOD firefighters and local fire authorities and there have been occasions when MOD firefighters have supported local authority fire and rescue services. However, it is important that that is done in a combined and controlled way.

The Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation provides fire and rescue operational services and support across defence at airfields, specified domestic establishments and deployed locations in the UK and overseas. DFRMO falls outside the ambit of the primary legislation that governs local fire and rescue authorities in the UK. Contractors providing fire and rescue services for defence are also present at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, QinetiQ, Babcock and Serco. They operate at sites such as Aldermaston, Burghfield and Boscombe Down. DFRMO currently has 320 fire and rescue service contractors, out of a total strength of more than 2,000 personnel. Contractor firefighters, now and in future, should also be able to deal with an emergency in the same way as MOD firefighters. We are not aware of local fire and rescue authorities using or planning to use contractor firefighters. However, there are other private and specialised fire and rescue services at other sites such as ports and airports, power stations, industrial sites and some state properties.

The clauses constitute a simple, sensible change which gives MOD firefighters the same legal protections as their civilian counterparts.

Jim Shannon: The Minister referred to the legal protections that are provided. Is insurance protection provided as well? I am conscious that with firefighters’ extra responsibilities come the possibility of someone being hurt as a result. I would like to check that point.

Kirsten Oswald: We appreciate the work of MOD and other firefighters. It is important that we have in mind some of the concerns that the Fire Brigades Union has raised about the potential unintended consequences of the Bill. It has concerns about the impact of deploying MOD firefighters at fires and other incidents normally dealt with by local authority firefighters. However, there is clearly a need to deal with the issue that is at hand today and to streamline things. That is dealt with by the clause. We agree that it is important that we take the action suggested to close this loophole, as the clause does.

Mr Kevan Jones: Again, this is a practical and sensible measure that closes a loophole that exists at present. Again, I pay tribute to MOD firefighters for the job that they do. I hope that these changes will ensure that they have the full protection of the law.

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Mark Lancaster: Simply to answer the question from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we will of course ensure that all our firefighters have appropriate protection.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Meaning of “AFA 2006”

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Temporary Chair: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 17 stand part.

Clause 18 stand part.

Government amendment 1.

Clause 19 stand part.

Clause 20 stand part.

Government new clause 1—War pensions committees and armed and reserve forces compensation schemes.

Government amendment 2.

Mark Lancaster: I am delighted to be able to speak to these amendments today. New clause 1 acknowledges the importance that the Government place on the work of the veterans advisory and pensions committees in supporting our armed forces community. The new clause would amend section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989 to allow the Secretary of State to make regulations enabling the VAPCs to provide advice and deal with complaints in relation to the armed forces compensation scheme 2005 and future compensation schemes enacted under the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004.

The VAPCs already have certain functions and procedures, as described in section 25 of the 1989 Act and the war pensions committees regulations. This amendment would expand that remit, providing a legislative basis to underpin their broader role and functions. I should, however, say a bit more about the committees.

The committees were first established as the war pensions committees in 1921. Generally, we now refer to them as the VAPCs. There are 13 such committees whose members I, as Minister responsible for defence personnel and veterans, appoint. There are about 223 members, all unpaid volunteers working within their regional committees to help ex-service personnel and their families, in particular those who are vulnerable. In exercising their statutory functions, the committees carry out a range of activities principally in relation to the war pensions scheme which until 2005 was the main scheme for payment of compensation to members of the armed forces and their spouses and dependants for injuries or death caused by service. These functions include providing local consultation with the MOD on issues concerning war pensioners and war widows or widowers; raising awareness of the war pensions scheme and the veterans welfare service; supporting and monitoring the work of the veterans welfare scheme to ensure the best possible service to war pensioners and war widows

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and widowers; and helping individuals in representing their difficulties or in making a complaint in relation to the war pensions or war widowers application or review process.

However, there are new armed forces compensation schemes which were not in existence when section 25 was enacted. These include the armed forces compensation scheme and further compensation schemes which have been enacted under the 2004 Act. The new clause, with its proposed amendment to section 25 of the 1989 Act, will enable the committees to be given comparable functions relating to those new schemes too. We want the good work of these committees to continue, helping to enhance the local services delivered by ex-service personnel and their families, giving local support in promoting the armed forces covenant and the development of local community covenants, providing independent opinion on policy changes that may affect veterans, and championing individual cases. New clause 1 proposed by the Government today is for the benefit of our veterans and their families. They deserve the best.

While discussing this new clause, I should also mention amendments 1 and 2, because they make small changes that are consequential to the new clause. Amendment 1 provides that the new clause does not extend to the Isle of Man or the British overseas territories. Section 25 of the 1989 Act, which would be amended by the new clause, extends only to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and this will remain the case. Amendment 2 simply changes the long title of this Bill to include reference to the new provisions for the war pensions committees. These amendments would give the VAPCs, as the war pensions committees are known now, a statutory basis to continue their good work. With the consent of Parliament, our intention would be to make regulations to set out their new statutory functions at the earliest opportunity.

Kirsten Oswald: We welcome all progress in supporting our military veterans, and we are supportive of this measure and how it moves things forward. It is important that we do all we can to uphold our obligations under the military covenant and to consider how we can continually facilitate the development of services for our ex-service personnel and their families.

John Howell: I do not want to intervene on the substance of this debate, but since this is the last grouping of such amendments, it is appropriate to offer my appreciation—I am sure the Minister would agree with me on this—to my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who chaired the Select Committee that looked at this Bill, and did so in an excellent fashion. The Select Committee showed a tremendous degree of cross-party agreement on the Bill, and I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his involvement. The Bill is a direct result of that process.

Jim Shannon: I commend the comments that the Minister has made on this subject. I am keen to see the full implementation of the military covenant and the council community covenants across the whole of Northern Ireland, from county to county and council to council, with everyone getting involved. I am also keen to hear the Minister’s ideas on how to ensure that that happens in its totality in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Kevan Jones: I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) about the work of the Chair of the Committee.

The new clauses contain sensible proposals. When I was a Minister, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the individuals involved in the war pensions committee, and the Minister is quite right to pay tribute to the work that they do. They do not get paid for it, but they are committed to ensuring that the veterans get advice and, on occasions, to highlighting issues that might not have been relevant when legislation was being passed but that came to light afterwards, and ensuring that practical action is taken. They provide an important mechanism for supporting veterans. Perhaps I should not say this, but I am sure that the Minister is already aware that many of them have already given advice on other compensation schemes, so it is sensible to make what they are doing legal, in effect. We will be supporting the new clause.

Mark Lancaster: The hon. Member for North Durham is right, as he so often is. I am well aware that those people are already offering advice, but it would not be for me to condone from the Dispatch Box any activity that was technically illegal in any shape or form. However, they do fantastic work.

I also echo the comments of other hon. Members who have thanked my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke for his chairmanship of the Committee. We have not quite reached the end of these discussions, however, and I would not want to take it for granted that consensus is breaking out just yet. We still have a few more new clauses and amendments to go, but I hope that we will continue in the vein in which we have started.

In response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), of course we want to see the military covenant progressed in Northern Ireland in the best possible way. Major progress has been made in recent months, not least when the first two local authorities signed the community covenant. I am looking forward to going to Northern Ireland shortly to do what I can to promote the covenant in the Province. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that these provisions are a major step in the right direction.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 17 and 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Extent in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and British overseas territories

Amendment made: 1, page 17, line 1, after “5(3),” insert—

“(War pensions committees and armed and reserve forces compensation schemes),”—(Mark Lancaster.)

This amendment provides that NC1 does not extend to the Isle of Man or the British overseas territories. Like section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989, NC1 is to extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (see clause 18).

Clause 19, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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New Clause 1

War pensions committees and armed and reserve forces compensation schemes

‘(1) Section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989 (establishment and functions of war pensions committees) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) The regulations may give the committees functions relating to one or more of the following—

(a) war pensions;

(b) war pensioners;

(c) AFCS benefits;

(d) AFCS benefit recipients.”

(3) In subsection (2)—

(a) omit the words from the beginning to the second “and”,

(b) for “it shall be their function” substitute “it is a function of a committee”,

(c) n paragraph (a), for “connected with war pensions or affecting war pensioners in their area and, where they think” substitute “connected with war pensions or AFCS benefits or affecting people in its area who are war pensioners or AFCS benefit recipients and, where it thinks”,

(d) in paragraph (b), for “to them by persons receiving or claiming war pensions and, if they think” substitute “to it by people receiving or claiming war pensions or AFCS benefits and, if it thinks”,

(e) in paragraph (c)—

(i) for “them” substitute “it”, and

(ii) for “they” substitute “it”, and

(f) in paragraph (d), for “war pensioners in their area” substitute “people in its area who are war pensioners or AFCS benefit recipients”.

(4) After subsection (3) insert—

“(3A) The regulations may provide for the committees to have names specified in the regulations (as well as being known as war pensions committees).”

(5) In subsection (4), before the definition of “war pension” insert—

““AFCS benefit” means a benefit payable under an armed and reserve forces compensation scheme established by order under section 1(2) of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004;

“AFCS benefit recipient” means a person in receipt of an AFCS benefit, in the person’s capacity as such;”.”—(Mark Lancaster.)

War pensions committees established under section 25 of the Social Security Act 1989 may be given functions by the Secretary of State by regulations. This new clause provides that the functions include functions relating to armed and reserve forces compensation schemes established under the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Voluntary discharge of under-18s

‘(1) The Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 329 (Terms and conditions of enlistment and service), after subsection (3) there is inserted—

“(3A) The regulations shall make provision that any person under the age of 18 shall be entitled to end their service with a regular force by giving not less than 14 days’ notice in writing to their commanding officer, and shall ensure that any person enlisting under the age of 18 is informed of this right when they enlist.”” —(Liz Saville Roberts.)

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This amendment ensures that those under 18 years of age are to discharge themselves from the Armed Forces should they so wish.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Liz Saville Roberts (Gwynfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 3—Enlistment of minors

‘(1) The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 328(2) (c) (Enlistment) the words “without the consent of prescribed persons” are omitted.”

This amendment ensures that only those above 18 years of age are able to enlist in the Armed Forces.

Liz Saville Roberts: I rise to speak to new clauses 2 and 3, which stand in my name and those of several hon. Members from various parties across the House. First, I wish to say that these are probing provisions and I do not intend to press them to a Division. Although the Bill does not contain provisions on the recruitment age, it is entirely appropriate that we consider this important issue within the context of this Bill. I should state at the outset that I am a great supporter of the work that the women and men who serve in the armed forces do daily, and that their honour and sacrifice knows no bounds; they are a credit to the communities they serve. Before turning to the new clauses, I would like to put on record my respect for the sterling work they do.

4 pm

What I am concerned about, as are others from across the House, given the signatories to the new clauses, is the UK’s continued policy of recruiting children to the armed forces. As politicians, we have a duty of care to those we ask to serve on our behalf. The UK is one of only 19 countries in the world that recruit minors to the armed forces. It is the only member of the UN Security Council, the only member of NATO and the only European country that recruits children, and the policy needs to be changed to bring the UK into the modern world. I note that, to the UK Government’s great shame, even countries such as Zimbabwe, Iran and North Korea do not enlist minors.

While we are rightly saddened and repulsed by examples of child soldier recruitment in far-flung countries, some of which have experienced decades of civil war and economic turmoil and strife, we often forget that the UK’s whistle is not entirely clean when we inspect to see whether our own house is in order.

I am grateful to predecessors in all parts of the House who have campaigned on this issue down the years, seeking to get successive Governments of all colours to change policy on the recruitment of minors. Those with a keen eye and knowledge of this matter will probably recognise that these new clauses are not all that new and have been tabled before under various guises down the years. I am grateful to Members of the House past and present who have pressed this matter in years gone by, and I acknowledge their efforts. This a matter of a wren rising from the wings of eagles.