Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 1st September 2014.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on this weekend’s European Council, and on the measures we are taking to defeat extremism and keep our country safe.
First, on the Council, we agreed that Poland’s Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, should serve as the next Council President, and Italian Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini, should become the next High Representative for foreign and security policy. Donald Tusk made clear in his acceptance speech that he places a high priority on addressing Britain’s concerns over the EU, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.
The Council spent most of its time focusing on the big international issues that have concerned us all this summer—the situations in Ukraine, Gaza, and the growing threat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. I want to discuss each.
The presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil is completely unjustified and unacceptable. I met President Poroshenko before the Council on Saturday, and with our support he was invited to address the Council. The real cause of this conflict is Russia’s refusal to recognise Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. Decisions on Ukraine’s political and economic relationships should be for the people of Ukraine and no one else, but Russia appears to be trying to force Ukraine to abandon its democratic choices at the barrel of a gun. In the last two weeks we have seen a dramatic stepping up of Russian military support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troops fighting on the ground. We know from European history the grave danger of a nation state being threatened and undermined in that way, so the European Council agreed that the economic costs it has already imposed on Russia must be stepped up if Moscow persists with those indefensible actions.
The Council was clear that new sanctions measures will be drawn up within a week. I do not accept the suggestion that sanctions are not having an impact. Capital has flown out of Russia, banks are short of finance, and the Russian stock market and rouble have fallen significantly. We have to show real resilience and resolve. Russia needs to understand that if it continues on the current path, its relationship with the rest of the world will be radically different in the future.
On Israel and Gaza, we have all been deeply saddened by the violence there and the dreadful civilian suffering it has caused, particularly to innocent children. The Government have worked hard with our international partners to help bring about a sustainable ceasefire, and we warmly welcome the agreement reached in Cairo. The loss of life this summer has been truly appalling and the number of civilian casualties completely unacceptable—the life of a Palestinian child is worth the same as that of a child of any one of our nations—but support for a lasting settlement that includes a Palestinian state does not mean we should ever support the terrorist tactics of Hamas, which has rained down rockets on Israel and continually refused to accept ceasefires.
We will continue to support Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself, but that does not mean we support every decision the Israeli Government take. Most recently, the appropriation of nearly 1,000 acres of land in the west bank near Bethlehem is utterly deplorable. Settlements are illegal under international law and will do nothing to create the kind of peace process we all want, and we urge the Israeli Government to reverse this decision.
While I understand the many strong emotions around this tragic conflict, I am deeply concerned by growing reports of anti-Semitism on our streets in Britain. Let me be clear: we must not tolerate this in our country. There can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism, and no disagreements on politics or policy should ever be allowed to justify racism, prejudice or extremism in any form.
On the terrorist threat that we face in the UK, we have all been shocked and sickened by the barbarism that has been witnessed in Iraq this summer: the widespread slaughter of Muslims by fellow Muslims; the vicious persecution of religious minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis; the enslavement and raping of women; and, of course, the beheading of American journalist James Foley, with the voice of what seems to be a British terrorist recorded on that video.
The European Council conclusions could not be clearer:
“The European Council believes that the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and the Islamist-extremist export of terrorism on which it is based, is a direct threat to” every European country. On Friday, the independent joint terrorism analysis centre increased the threat level in the UK from substantial to severe, and we now believe that at least 500 people have travelled from Britain to fight in the region, in addition to 700 from France, 400 from Germany and hundreds more from countries including America, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia.
The Council agreed to co-ordinate action in cracking down on those travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq and ensuring that all European countries are taking the necessary steps to tackle this problem of radicalisation. We should be clear about the root cause of this threat: a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that believes in using the most brutal forms of terrorism to force people to accept a warped world view and to live in a mediaeval state. And we should be clear that this has nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by more than a billion people and one that inspires countless acts of kindness every day.
To confront the threat of Islamist extremism, we need a tough, intelligent, patient and comprehensive approach to defeat the terrorist threat at source. We must use all the resources at our disposal—our aid, diplomacy and military—and we need a firm security response, whether that means military action to go after the terrorists, international co-operation on intelligence or uncompromising action against terrorists at home. Britain is already providing equipment directly to the Kurdish forces. We support US military air strikes against ISIL in Iraq, and we have secured a United Nations Security Council resolution to disrupt the flows of finance to ISIL, to sanction those seeking to recruit to ISIL and to encourage countries to do all they can to prevent foreign fighters from joining the extremist cause.
Alongside a tough security response, however, there must also be the right political response. We know that terrorist organisations thrive where there is political instability and weak or dysfunctional institutions, so we must support the building blocks of free and open societies. In Syria, that means a political transition and an end to Assad’s brutality, which has allowed ISIL to flourish. In Iraq, that must begin with a new and genuinely inclusive Government capable of uniting all Iraqis—Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, Christian and others—against the shared threat.
The NATO summit in Wales this week will provide an opportunity for us to review the effectiveness of the international response so far and to discuss what more we should do to help the region overcome the ISIL threat. Britain will continue to consider what further role is in our national interests, including any further diplomatic, humanitarian or, indeed, military measures we might take.
Let me turn to how we address the terrorist threat at home. We have already taken a wide range of measures, including stopping suspects from travelling to the region by seizing passports, barring foreign nationals from re-entering the United Kingdom, legislating so that we can prosecute people for all terrorist activity, even where that activity takes place overseas, and bringing forward emergency legislation, for instance to safeguard our use of communications data. We have also stepped up our operational response, with a fivefold increase in Syria-related arrests and the removal of 28,000 pieces of extremist material from the internet this year alone, including 46 ISIL- related videos.
But I have said all along that there should not be a knee-jerk reaction or the introduction of sweeping new blanket powers that would ultimately be ineffective. That is not what those who work so hard to keep us safe actually want. They want a targeted approach that reflects a forensic focus on the threat we face and that protects their operational independence and decision making. To achieve this, there are two key areas where we need to strengthen our powers to fill specific gaps in our armoury: preventing suspects from travelling; and dealing decisively with those already here who pose a risk. I want to mention both briefly.
First, on stopping people travelling in the first place, passports are not an automatic right. The Home Secretary already has the discretion to issue, revoke and refuse passports under the royal prerogative if there is reason to believe that people are planning to take part in terrorist-related activity. When police suspect a traveller at the border, however, they are not currently able to apply for the royal prerogative and so have only limited stop-and-search powers. To fill that gap, we will introduce specific and targeted legislation providing the police with a temporary power to seize a passport at the border, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned. This power will include appropriate safeguards and, of course, oversight arrangements.
The House should also be aware that our current royal prerogative powers are being challenged in the courts. I want to be clear: if there is any judgment that threatens the operation of our existing powers, we will introduce primary legislation immediately so that Parliament, not the courts, can determine whether it is right that we have this power. I can announce today that we will start preparing the primary legislation and consult Parliament on the draft clauses.
As well as stopping people going, we must also keep out foreign fighters who would pose a threat to the UK. We already have important powers to block return: we can deprive dual nationals of their citizenship to stop them returning; we can bar foreign nationals on the basis of the threat they pose; and we legislated, in the Immigration Act 2014, to allow stronger powers to strip citizenship from naturalised Britons. But, of course, these powers do not apply to those who are solely British nationals, who could be rendered stateless if deprived of citizenship.
Some have said that we should deal with this gap by criminalising travel to certain individual countries or fundamentally changing our criminal burden of proof. The Government are clear that it would be wrong to deal with the gap by fundamentally changing core principles of our criminal justice system. But it is abhorrent that people who declare their allegiance elsewhere can return to the United Kingdom and pose a threat to our national security. We are clear in principle that what we need is a targeted, discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals from the UK. We will work up proposals on this basis with our agencies, in line with our international obligations, and discuss the details on a cross-party basis. We are also putting our long-standing arrangements on aviation security around the world on a statutory footing. Airlines will have to comply with our no-fly list arrangements, give us information on passenger lists and comply with our security screening requirements. If they do not do so, their flights will not be able to land in Britain.
Secondly, we need stronger powers to manage the risk posed by suspected extremists who are already in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary can already impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures on security grounds, including overnight residence requirements and internet restrictions, but the intelligence agencies and the police believe they need stronger powers to impose further restrictions, and the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, David Anderson, agrees. So we will introduce new powers to add to our existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures, including stronger locational constraints on suspects under TPIMs, either through enhanced use of exclusion zones or though relocation powers.
Dealing with the terrorist threat is about not just new powers but how we combat extremism in all its forms. That is why we have a new approach to tackling radicalisation, focusing on all types of extremism, not just violent extremism. This has included stopping the funding of organisations that promote extremism, banning hate preachers and ensuring that every part of government, from schools and universities to prisons, is focused on beating the scourge of extremism. As part of this, we are now putting our de-radicalisation programme, Channel, on a statutory footing. Anyone subject to our strengthened terrorism prevention and investigation measures will be required to engage with the Prevent programme.
We are proud to be an open, free and tolerant nation, but that tolerance must never be confused with a passive acceptance of cultures living separate lives or of people behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice; it is a duty for all those who live in these islands. So we will stand up for our values; we will, in the end, defeat this extremism; and we will secure our way of life for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
This summer of international instability has demonstrated the need for Britain to be engaged and build alliances across continents to tackle the problems that the world is facing, learning lessons from the past.
On the EU summit, let me take the opportunity provided by the appointment of a new High Representative and Council President, which we welcome, to commend the excellent work of Cathy Ashton over the last five years, particularly in helping to mediate an inclusive settlement in Kosovo and in leading the efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear programme. She has served with distinction.
On Ukraine, before the summer we were all appalled by the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, and we need to face the reality that we have seen no let-up in Russian aggression and incursions into Ukrainian territory. If anything, the situation has got worse, not better. This continued Russian aggression must be met with a robust co-ordinated and united international response, which sends a clear signal to President Putin. Does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time for the EU to consider further sectoral sanctions, including in key areas such as defence, energy and financial services? Will he also tell us what plans will be put forward at the NATO summit to provide support to Ukraine?
On the situation in Gaza, we deeply regret the appalling loss of life of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many children, and of Israeli soldiers and civilians. We unequivocally condemn Hamas’s dreadful and murderous rocket attacks and defend Israel’s right to defend itself. In our view, however, the nature of Israel’s response in this crisis cannot be justified, and I agree that today’s annexation of Palestinian land is, in the words of the Prime Minister, “deplorable”. The truth is that history tells us that this appalling cycle of violence will continue unless there are meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution. Will the Prime Minister tell us what steps he and the EU will be taking to be an insistent advocate for those negotiations? I join the Prime Minister, too, in saying that whatever our views on this conflict, nothing can excuse anti-Semitism wherever we find it, at home and abroad.
On Iraq and Syria, ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque acts of violence have shocked people across the country. ISIL presents a particular type of threat that cannot be ignored because of our sense of conscience in relation to those who immediately face its terror; because it threatens the democratic Iraqi state and seeks to redraw borders to establish a repressive and brutal state of its own; and because of the danger of the export of this ideology.
At the same time, we must learn lessons from the events of the past decade, including the 2003 war in Iraq, and proceed with the requisite humility. That means being clear about our objectives and the means to achieve them, and always being conscious of the need to build legitimacy and alliances well beyond Britain and the United States. We support the US airstrikes that are protecting innocent people at risk from ISIL, and we believe it is right to provide crucial support to the Kurds’ military effort. However, as President Obama has said, defeating ISIL cannot be achieved by military means alone, so may I ask the Prime Minister some questions about that?
First, I agree with the Prime Minister that there can be no defeat of ISIL without tackling the sources of its support in Iraq. Therefore, what role is the EU playing in ensuring that the new Iraqi Government promote a new settlement that does indeed end the years of exclusion of Sunni minorities?
Secondly, ISIL would not be the force it is if other countries in the region had not overtly and covertly provided succour for its ideology, as well as financial and other support. Therefore, what discussions has the Prime Minister had, or will he have, with countries in the region, including our traditional allies, to make clear the stand that needs to be taken against ISIL and its ideology. What further steps does he think can be taken to encourage neighbouring countries, including Turkey, to tighten their borders to slow the flow of arms and fighters to Syria and Iraq?
Thirdly, does the Prime Minister agree that any strategy to tackle ISIL needs the active engagement of neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran? I agree with what he says about the need for a political transition in Syria. Can he say how he believes that can be achieved? Given the need for the multilateral approach I have talked about, can he say how he plans to use our chairmanship of the UN Security Council to build the alliances that are necessary?
Our approach to defeating ISIL at home must have the same determination as we show overseas and proceed on the basis of the evidence. Just as we were shocked by the actions of ISIL, so people throughout Britain are appalled that British citizens are part of ISIL’s murderous activity. Our country’s streets have seen before the horror that happens when extremist ideology turns to acts of violence. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to make it easier for police and border authorities to seize the passports of those participating in the conflict, and we will study and scrutinise his proposals. On his discretionary powers to exclude British nationals from the country, it is unclear what he is proposing. I am happy to engage in cross-party conversations but can he give the House a bit more information at this stage about what his proposals might consist of?
With regard to the most serious, high-risk cases—where convictions in the courts cannot be achieved—I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition that the independent reviewer on terrorism has made clear the inadequacies of TPIMs, in particular, the inability to relocate suspects away from their communities. Relocation was indeed a central part of control orders, and it was a mistake to get rid of them in the first place. Does the Prime Minister also agree that we need a mandatory and comprehensive programme of deradicalisation not just for those who will be under TPIMs but for those who have been on the fringes of extremism in Iraq and Syria? Further, does he agree that we need to stop young people being recruited to ISIL in the first place? Can I therefore urge him to overhaul the Prevent programme, which has become over-focused on the police response to extremism and needs to do far more with parents and communities?
As we tackle the domestic consequences of ISIL, we will work with the Government to tackle the threat we face here at home. The events of the summer have underlined how turning our back on the complexities and instability of our world is not an option. We must also show that Britain has learnt the lessons of our history with an approach based on genuine multilateralism. In responding in that way, the Government will have our full support.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the points he made and the tone in which he made them. There is widespread, all-party support for most of the issues that we are discussing today. He is right to praise Cathy Ashton. Let me add my voice to his. She has done an excellent job. Of course, that job is not yet complete: she is still involved in some important negotiations, not least with Iran, and we wish her well.
On Ukraine and sanctions, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether we were looking at further sectoral sanctions. Yes we are. The conclusions of the EU Council set that out. It is important that we fill in some of the gaps that have been left. For example, on financial sanctions, we need to ensure that we press home on things such as syndicated loans, which others have opposed and we have been prepared to support.
We give financial and technical support to Ukraine. There is obviously a partnership between Ukraine and NATO, and NATO will undertake some exercises in the western part of Ukraine. I do not believe, however, that the right approach would be to arm the Ukrainian rebels. We should focus the support in the areas that I have identified. The best thing we can do to help Ukraine is to build the alliance across Europe and America for strong sanctions to demonstrate to Russia that the relationship with the rest of the world will be fundamentally changed.
On Gaza, the right hon. Gentleman asked what we were doing to get meaningful negotiations under way. Let me mention one of the things we do: we are one of the most important funders of the Palestinian Authority. We want to encourage them to restore their authority in Gaza and that could be a stepping stone towards further negotiations.
On ISIS, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says—there is no military solution. We should work with partners and countries in the region. We should learn the lessons from the past. I welcome his backing for what we are doing to help resupply and support the Kurds. We should continue to do that. He then asked a series of questions. In terms of pressure on the Iraqi Government to reach out to all parts of Iraq, we are part of the solid international pressure to ensure that that happens. On talking to powers in the region to ensure that financial support is cut off for extremism, those are conversations I have had with many over the summer and will continue to have. On Turkey, we are working more closely with Turkey than perhaps ever before on security, intelligence and other co-operation.
On measures at home, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is going to support our measures for seizing passports, although of course we are happy to discuss that on an all-party basis as we introduce this legislation. Again, I welcome what he says about all-party discussions on other discretionary powers to make sure that we correct the problems that we have in a proper way.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s last two points, it is important that Prevent is focused on counter-radicalisation. In the past, some money was spent on organisations that were perhaps part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I believe it is very important that we target not just violent extremism but the extremist narrative from which the men and women of violence draw succour. I think that is important.
Finally, on terrorism prevention orders and control orders, let me quote to the right hon. Gentleman what David Anderson, our terrorism adviser, who he quoted, said in his most recent report:
“There is no need to put the clock back. The majority of the changes introduced by the TPIMs Act have civilised the control order system without making it less effective.”
That is why we should take TPIMs as the basis and amend them as necessary.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that one of the reasons why there are misguided British jihadists fighting in Arabia is the folly of those in the Gulf and in the west who first encouraged and then supported a Sunni rebellion against the Syrian Alawites? We must avoid, under the banner of democracy, intervening in a religious civil war that has already lasted for 1,300 years.
I always listen very carefully to the Father of the House but on this occasion I am not sure I agree with him. I would argue that the rise of Islamic State—of ISIS—has had two principal causes: one is the brutality that Assad has shown to his own people, and the second is the failure of the Government in Iraq to represent all of its people. We need to recognise that it is those two issues that have been the principal cause of this problem, together with, as I have said, the real problem, which is the Islamist extremist narrative that finds any broken state, any source of conflict, any sign of weakness, and exploits it.
In an article that the Prime Minister wrote in The Daily Telegraph on
I greatly respect the right hon. Gentleman, and I know he has considerable experience of dealing with Iran, not least from when he was Foreign Secretary. As I have said here before, we are cautiously re-engaging with Iran—he knows about the steps already taken—and that will lead over time, I am sure, to the reopening of embassies and all the rest of it, but we should do so very cautiously, knowing Iran’s history and what it has done, including support for terrorist organisations. Clearly, what is most required in Iraq is an Iraqi Government who represent all of its people, and those that have been most excluded recently have been the Sunni population, but we need, of course, the assistance of Iraq and other countries in making sure this comes about.
May I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend’s statement was rather more nuanced than some of the reports have suggested over the weekend? May I take him directly to the question of the exclusion of United Kingdom nationals from the United Kingdom? Is he aware that there is very substantial doubt as to whether that would be legal, not least, of course, because of our international obligations in treaties and conventions? In addition, hardly anything has been said about the practicality of such a proposal. Who would decide, would any such suspension be without limit of time, and, indeed, would any appeal be appropriate? In those circumstances, a great deal of work needs to be done on the proposal he has outlined.
I respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the point he makes, and he is absolutely right: we should not be tearing up international obligations in order to bring this about. The point I am making is that, as we stand today, we are able to deal with foreign nationals who want to return to Britain—they can be excluded—and we can deal with dual-nationals because we can take away their British passport without rendering them stateless, but we have the example, for instance, of someone today, a British citizen, who says that he wants to come back to Britain in order to wreak havoc in our country and who has pledged allegiance to another state. So therefore there is a gap that needs to be properly discussed, properly identified and properly dealt with.
I support air strikes on ISIS to stop its genocidal attacks in the region, particularly against Shi’a Muslims and Kurds and minorities, but there should be no question of British troops on the ground. However, we do need to support the Kurds particularly, in providing the equipment they need. In addition, neighbouring nations need to take ownership of this fight and the solution to it. Could the Prime Minister, therefore, press our close ally, the Saudis, to stop funding mediaeval barbarism by ISIS, and could he get Iran and Turkey to engage as well? Finally, could he schedule a full day’s debate in prime Government time on foreign policy? The world is a very dangerous place at the moment, including between Russia and Ukraine, and we need to have a proper debate, welcome though statements are.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about a fuller debate, we are looking at that: the House authorities are looking at it and I think it would be extremely worth while if time can be found. I very much agree with the tenor of what he says, which is that we should be looking to ask how we can best help those on the ground—the Iraqi Government, the Kurdish forces—who are doing their best to prevent humanitarian catastrophes and to make sure that Islamic State is properly addressed in Iraq? We should be asking how we can help, rather than thinking the west can somehow lead and overtake an intervention, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there should be no question of British combat troops on the ground.
I very much agree with the Prime Minister over the nature of the extremist threat we face, but during the summer recess there have been repeated calls for a coalition of the willing. He will have seen reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out air attacks on the militia in Libya. Is there any sign that Arab states and the west will join together militarily to co-operate in combating ISIS?
My right hon. Friend’s contribution is along the same lines as that of Mr Hain: that we should be there to help those on the ground who want to get the right outcome, rather than thinking that we can magic a solution on our own. When we look at the attitude of the Jordanians and others, we see that they recognise the huge threat that Islamic State poses to them, but it also threatens us. Therefore, I think our approach should be about helping the Kurds, helping the Jordanians, helping the Iraqi Government—helping all those who, working together, can address this threat.
Last July Dr Lewis and I came to the Prime Minister’s tackling radicalisation taskforce and we asked for two things: first, for further action to expose the poisonous ideology of these extremists; secondly, for more support for Muslim communities themselves to be able to challenge these messages so the next generation of young people does not end up in the hands of the extremists. I am disappointed that today’s statement has very little to say about either of those issues. I am sure the Prime Minister has further proposals—practical, concrete, patient, measured and effective—and I would very much like to see them, as I am sure would most Members of this House.
I am disappointed that the right hon. Lady is disappointed, because when it comes to the issue of countering the extremist narrative, there are few people in any part of the House with whom I agree more. When we look at what the extremism taskforce achieved in terms of countering radicalisation in prisons, on campuses, in schools and, indeed, by working with Muslim organisations that want to deal with this problem—for instance by giving them legal assistance in throwing the extremists out of mosques or community centres—we see all those things are happening, but I will look to see what more can be done.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the broad thrust of his statement? But I have to say that I share the concern that has been expressed about the suggestion that British nationals, however horribly they may be alleged to have behaved, should be prevented from returning to this country. That would offend not only principles of international law, but basic principles of our own common law. I recommend to him that the best course must be to bring these individuals to justice, and he may wish to confirm to the House that we have actually been quite successful in doing just that over the past nine months.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that our first approach should be trying to prosecute and convict people in our country. As he says, the courts—and the police and intelligence services—have been successful on that. The most important thing is to make sure, in listening to the intelligence services and the police, that any gaps in the armoury are properly addressed. That is why we are looking at the terrorism prevention and investigation measures and introducing this passport confiscation measure, but it is important that we discuss the issue of returnees as well.
If the current UK security profile is as dire as we are led to believe by the Government, will the Prime Minister today give us all some comfort by reversing the 4,500 job cut plan in the Border Agency?
This Government have prioritised resources into those agencies most at risk when it comes to combating terrorism; the funding settlement for the security agencies has been generous compared with that for other organisations. I am very happy, with the pressures we face, to look again at the resources, and if more is needed, I am sure that more can be found, because nothing matters more than this. But let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I know there are always suspicions when politicians stand up and talk about the threats we face to our nation. The joint terrorism analysis centre is the body that independently decides the level of threat facing this country. It decided, because of what is happening in Iraq and Syria—not just ISIL, but the other al-Qaeda offshoots—and because of the number of people travelling to that region from Britain and elsewhere, that it was right to raise the level from substantial to severe. It is its decision, not mine.
What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with other leaders about stopping the sale and purchase of ISIL oil on the black market, which is one means by which ISIL sustains itself? What discussions has he had about stopping financial flows through the international banking system to ISIL? In what circumstances would the United Kingdom decide to join, rather than simply support, US air strikes on ISIL military positions?
On my right hon. Friend’s first points, he is absolutely right to say that those are things we should pursue. I also believe we should publicise more the fact that ISIL makes a lot of money from selling oil to President Assad—that demonstrates the character of these people. On our engagement in the efforts that are being made, we have brought to bear diplomatic, political and other tools in our armoury. We have also used our military. They have been delivering aid in Iraq, and providing surveillance and other capabilities that are helping the Americans. We support the American air strikes; we think they are right. That has been our approach to date, and I think it is right, as I say, to keep asking the question: how can we, in Britain, best pursue our national interest—keeping our country safe—and help those people on the ground who are doing the most to combat ISIL?
The Prime Minister has pledged that we will stand up for our values, and I hope we will. So can he explain how it is compatible with our values, and indeed how it helps tackle Islamist extremism, to continue to sell arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which regularly beheads its own people and which is one of the most significant sources of funding to extremist groups worldwide?
We have some of the toughest rules on arms exports of any country anywhere in the world. Those rules are subject to the rule of law, and we have to make sure that they are. We would of course take a very different view on many of the domestic rules and regulations in Saudi Arabia, but I think it is true to say that the Saudi authorities have changed their approach on radicalisation around the world, and it is worth while that they do so.
On the matter of statelessness and preventing British terrorist jihadists from returning to the United Kingdom, has my right hon. Friend been briefed that, under article 8 of the United Nations convention on statelessness, domestic legislation in certain countries may render a person stateless where he has acted inconsistently with his duty of loyalty, has behaved in a way prejudicial to the interests of the state or has declared allegiance to another state and shown evidence of repudiation of allegiance? Does he not accept that that is exactly where we are now, and that it would be extremely important to get that right so that the Leader of the Opposition understands that the matter can be made clear?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which shows exactly why we need to discuss and examine this issue further. The reason why everyone will want us to examine this is that it absolutely sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad, make all sorts of plans to start doing us damage and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state. That is the problem that we need to address, and my hon. Friend will be useful in doing so.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when he made his previous statement on Gaza, I said that the Israelis could kill but they could not win. Seven weeks later, 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, have been killed by the Israelis and an enormous amount of physical damage has been inflicted that makes life in the Gaza strip next to impossible. What will the Government do to prevent another such attack, which will come at some time or another if not stopped, and will he now impose an arms ban on Israel?
What we must do is convince everyone that it is worth while getting round the table to find a negotiated solution to the fundamental underlying issue of the need for a Palestinian state. To do that, we must persuade the Israelis to make it a greater priority and to understand that that would be the true route to security. We also need to persuade the Palestinians and those who have supported Hamas that terrorist attacks and rocket attacks on Israel will not bring Palestinian statehood closer.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to protect the United Kingdom against the threat that it faces, but the most immediate threat in the region is faced by those states around ISIS which find their borders being dissolved and which first bear the brunt of the need to protect innocent civilians. We can help, and there are those who are bearing a burden even now. Has my right hon. Friend received a specific request for arms from the Kurdish Peshmerga, either directly or through the EU? If he has, how are we responding? If he has not yet received that request, how will the Government respond?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. So far we have received requests from the Kurds to facilitate the transfer and transport of arms and ammunition from Jordan and Albania to the Kurdish regional authorities. We have done that, and it is absolutely right that we have. I am not aware of a specific request directly from the Kurdish regional authorities for arms and military support, but as I have said before, we would look very favourably on such a request. They are our allies and friends, and we believe that they are helping to put the pressure on ISIL and to defend communities. We very much want them to be part of a future Iraq rather than anything else. With those provisos, we take a very positive view.
Further to the previous question, German Chancellor Merkel has decided that it is in Germany’s national interest to provide the Kurds with arms. Will the Prime Minister tell me when he thinks that it would not be in Britain’s national interest to do so, or what he would require to make him change his mind?
With respect, I do not think that there is any difference in what the German Chancellor is saying and what I am saying about this. If the Kurds were to make a specific request, we would look on it very favourably because we think that they should be properly armed and equipped to deal with the threat that they face.
Is not the truth that the European Union has so far failed adequately to respond to Russia’s increasingly flagrant aggression in Ukraine, not even stopping the imminent delivery of French amphibious assault ships to Russia? Does not next week’s NATO summit need to send a much stronger signal and perhaps even offer to buy those amphibious assault ships for NATO not Russia?
That is a very interesting suggestion that I can take on board. It is not easy to get to 28 countries around a table to agree on sanctions and to try to do that at the same time as the United States of America, but I would argue that by and large in recent weeks and months that is what we have done. Although of course I want sanctions to go further and to have a greater effect—as I said in my statement, they are having an effect and have brought pressure to bear—we need to signal not when more Russians appear on Ukrainian soil that we will somehow back off or give up, but that we will turn the ratchet and that Russia will suffer permanently from the increasing economic isolation that follows.
The Prime Minister will be aware that a number of individuals from Cardiff, including two from my constituency, have travelled to join and fight with IS in Iraq and Syria. Will he explain to me how a young man believed to be at risk has apparently been able to obtain and use a UK passport to travel using commercial means from the UK through the EU to fight for IS? Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in Her Majesty’s Passport Office and the UK Border Force and will he assure us that there have been no serious lapses in their existing checking procedures, particularly given the numbers that we have seen going to fight?
I will certainly look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman produces. We could not have given clearer instructions to the agencies concerned about confiscating passports and preventing travel. A number of passports have been confiscated and a number of people have been prosecuted, but we obviously need to do all we can and more to stop this happening.
Given the situation in Ukraine, when will the Prime Minister investigate committing towards pre-positioning equipment in the Baltic and ensuring that there is a British battalion under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe to be deployed in rapid reaction and that we make a binding, statutory, long-term commitment to 2% of GDP for defence?
I welcome this question and congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to head up the important Select Committee on Defence in this House. Many of his suggestions will be directly addressed at the NATO conference. I think it is very important that when Russia looks at countries like Estonia, Latvia or Poland, it sees not just Estonian, Latvian and Polish soldiers but French, German and British soldiers, too. We need to make real our article 5 commitments, and that is very important. We have already taken steps to help with Baltic air patrolling, for instance, which has been gratefully received by the countries concerned.
As for defence spending, I am proud of the fact that we are one of the very few countries in Europe—two at the last count, I think—to meet the 2% figure for defence spending, and we should use the conference in Cardiff to urge others to do the same.
Is the Prime Minister aware that his words would be much more credible if his view and reading of history were as good as all the stuff—the garbage—he trots out? Namely, 12 months ago this Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box and tried to get the House of Commons to join him to help and arm the ISIL guerrillas against Assad. Had it not been for the Labour party, he would have been trapped on this hook. He wants to get on his hands and knees and thank the Labour party for not taking Britain down that route.
My memory of the discussions we had a year ago is that they were about the use of chemical weapons. My reading of history is that the use of chemical weapons is wrong and we should not turn away from it.
I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating the Prime Minister on his robust stance in pointing out the poisonous nature of the IS ideology, but will he go further, in accordance with a suggestion from my right hon. Friend Dr Fox? ISIL represents a substantial threat to the continued integrity of Iraq, and American airstrikes have been successful in halting its further advance. Would it not be better for the Royal Air Force to join in that measure? As far as Ukraine is concerned, may I repeat my plea for the Prime Minister to use this weekend’s NATO conference to get a NATO maritime force to position itself in the Black sea to deter Putin from engaging in an attack on Odessa?
First, we support the action the Americans have taken to assist the Iraqi authorities and Kurdish authorities in beating back ISIL; that has been the right approach. We have also assisted in our own way through the humanitarian aid we have delivered and the intelligence and other support that we have given to the Americans. That is the position.
On Ukraine, I do not think that the approach my hon. Friend suggests is the right one. We should be demonstrating that NATO stands behind all its members, as I have just said. We should be demonstrating that NATO has important partnerships with countries such as Ukraine. Indeed, that should not stop us having exercises in Ukraine, as we will do later this year. However, I do not believe that the solution to the problems in Ukraine is a military solution. We want a de-escalation of the military situation and an escalation of the political solution, recognising that, at heart, the Ukrainian people must be able to choose their future. It is that that Russia is trying to deny.
When did the Prime Minister realise that the Iraqi army could not deal with ISIL, and does he believe the Iraqi army will be in any position soon to defeat ISIL?
The weakness of the Iraqi army was based not on its equipment or even on its training, but on the fact that it was seen as a force that represented only one part of Iraq. That demonstrates the importance of focusing on politics as well as on military issues. What is required—I think the Iraqi army will not succeed until this happens—is a Government of Iraq who represent all of Iraq, and Iraqi security forces that can make the same claim.
Do not recent events show the need for us to control our own borders? Should not that be central to our new relationship with the EU, so that its weakest border is not our border?
Of course, we are not members of Schengen, so we are able to police our borders independently, which we do. Indeed, it is at our borders that we can restrict people coming in, and after the legislation, as well as the royal prerogative of taking away people’s passports, we will be able to take them away at the border too.
I hope the Prime Minister accepts that no one in the House is more opposed to terrorism than I am—my constituency was subject to the Tavistock Square and Russell Square bombings. Does he agree that to be a British citizen is very precious, and that we need to be very careful about interfering with the rights of British citizens? If the security services know enough to finger people and say that they cannot come into the country, why can we not arrest and prosecute them and subject them to our general laws? If we do not subject all British citizens to our general laws, is there not a possibility that other countries may not attach enough significance to British citizenship?
I very much respect the right hon. Gentleman’s views. Of course I agree with him that the best outcome when we are faced with a terrorist threat is to ensure that we can gather evidence, prosecute and convict those who threaten our country. That is the first option, but successive Governments have found that, when we are facing an existential terrorist threat, that is not enough. That is why, in the past, we had control orders, and why we now have terrorism prevention and investigation measures. It is why, sometimes, we have to take extraordinary measures, such as using the royal prerogative to take passports away. I would argue that stripping someone of their nationality is not sacrosanct—that is what we do in the case of dual nationals today. That is why we must address any potential gap in our armoury so that we can keep our country safe.
I commend the Prime Minister for his diplomatic, security and humanitarian efforts to help the people of Kurdistan against the threat of ISIL. When I was there, I was told that ISIL was issuing passports and visas. We should recommend that any British citizen who pledges allegiance to ISIL should get that passport, not a British one, and that the British one should be withdrawn immediately.
It is worth listening to my hon. Friend. I am grateful for the travel he undertook to the Kurdish regional authority, and for the work he is doing to build our relationship with President Barzani. It is hugely helpful. I listened carefully to the other point he has made.
Will the Prime Minister explain why the British Government did not support the call made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for an investigation of war crimes in Gaza, and why Britain and the other European nations abstained on that vote? Of course, the inquiry is going ahead. In the meantime, the Prime Minister has continued an armed relationship with Israel, despite 2,000 people dying in Gaza. Does he not think it is time to suspend arms deals with Israel because of the appalling loss of civilian life in Gaza, the continued occupation of the west bank, and the continued theft of Palestinian land by the Israeli occupying forces?
It is right that these claims and points are properly investigated. The reason for not voting for the specific motion was that it was unbalanced, and that was the view that many other countries took. With regard to arms exports, the Government have reviewed all existing export licences to Israel. The vast majority were not for items that could in any way be used by Israeli forces in operations in Gaza. Twelve licences were identified for components that could be part of equipment used by the Israeli defence force in Gaza, and no new licences for military equipment were issued for use by the Israeli defence force during that review period. That is the approach that we have taken, which has been sensible and balanced.
Donald Tusk has indicated that he is ready to support my right hon. Friend’s plans to introduce new limits on welfare payments to migrant workers from other EU states, and has made it clear that the European Union needs to find solutions to meet the UK’s legitimate concerns about EU membership. Does not that demonstrate that it is possible for the UK, under my right hon. Friend’s leadership, to negotiate real and positive changes in our relationship with the EU?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. May I say, in respect of his announcement today that he will not be standing at the next election, how much his wise counsel will be missed in the House and in our party?
Donald Tusk said:
“The European Union and I personally will surely respond to concerns signalled by Great Britain…I talked about it to David Cameron and I also understand many of his attempts and proposals of reforms and I think that they can be accepted by sensible politicians in Europe…also regarding the search for a compromise aiming to eliminate abuses in the free flow of labour.”
This is a positive statement, and as I said, I am looking forward to working with him in the future.
The Prime Minister has said that there are Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine, which gives the lie to what President Putin has been saying for the last week. Since President Putin’s Russia is behaving like an international terrorist organisation in itself, following the question that I asked the Prime Minister in July on the Magnitsky case, on the basis of which he sent me a letter over the summer, can he not now, unambiguously, finally say, without any element of uncertainty, that those who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption that he unveiled are not welcome in this country? Just a straightforward “They are not welcome”—end of story.
I am afraid that I do not have the letter in front of me, but I do not really have anything to add to the letter I sent to the hon. Gentleman. But he is absolutely right that it is quite clear that the Russian authorities have not told the truth about the situation in Ukraine.
I thank my right hon. Friend for not urging upon us, despite provocations—no doubt from many—a slew of new legislation, and not taking up a desire to re-write old legislation as though it were new legislation, but targeting his thoughts on one or two specific areas. Will he make sure that the deliberations on the new legislation that he is suggesting are as wide as possible and that we take time to get it right rather than rush it through to achieve a quick result?
I heard my hon. and learned Friend’s calming tones on the radio this morning, which set the tone for my whole mood today. He is right. I do not believe in knee-jerk responses. We are a country under the law, we have very firm rules in this area and what are required are some changes at the margin to fill in the gaps that we have identified. We should not spend too long debating and discussing those gaps, because if there are gaps they need to be filled quite urgently.
Why is the Prime Minister still sending weapons to the Netanyahu Government in Israel while being so slow to arm the Kurds and refusing to arm the legitimate Government of Ukraine?
We are operating the legislation that in part was put forward by the Government of whom he was a member.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the main reasons why NATO successfully deterred and contained the then Soviet Union from 1949 to 1989 was that the rulers in the Kremlin were in no doubt at all that an attack on one NATO country would inevitably mean war with all the rest? For that reason, at the NATO summit will he bear in mind the fact that NATO membership, however hard-hearted this may seem, must never be offered to a country unless we are prepared to go to war to defend that country?
My hon. Friend speaks very good sense about this. Article 5 obligations are deadly serious and we would have to meet them if a NATO member was invaded by another country, so the point he makes is a good one.
In Kiev over the summer the Ukrainian Prime Minister said forcefully to me that, whereas the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are fully and adequately armed by Russia, his own state Ukrainian forces do not have all the matériel they need. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what military advice and assistance we are giving to the Government of Ukraine?
As I have said, the assistance we have given Ukraine to date has been in technical, financial and governmental areas. We stand open, of course, to having discussions with it on a military-to-military basis, but providing arms has not been part of our plans.
The policy of talking loudly but carrying a small stick is often found wanting quite quickly. Does the Prime
Minister concede that cutting 20,000 front-line troops risks sending the wrong message not only to our potential adversaries, but to our NATO partners as he rightly prepares to encourage them to increase their defence spending?
I am afraid I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for this reason: we have had to make difficult decisions in order to deal with the deficit, but no one can describe a £33 billion defence budget—one of the top five budgets anywhere in the world—as a small stick. Because we have taken difficult decisions, we have got a new aircraft carrier, with another to follow, the Type 45 destroyers, the Astute submarines, the best-equipped Army that I think we have had for many years and, of course, a whole new range of aircraft for the RAF. You can only have that size and sort of stick if you take the difficult decisions elsewhere in your budgets.
The decision to water down control orders was the wrong policy taken for the wrong reasons, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s at least partial U-turn today on the relocation element.
On the international dimension, it is right to learn the lessons from the past, but it is wrong to be imprisoned by the past, particularly by the decision on the Iraq war or last year’s decision on military intervention in Syria. In the light of what has happened in recent months, will the Prime Minister consider seeking a new mandate from Parliament which begins not by ruling options out or by looking over our shoulders, but by exercising leadership and confronting the threat we face here and now?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we of course need to learn the lessons of the past but must not be imprisoned by decisions that were taken in the past. I think the whole tone of the debate today is that, yes, it is for those in the region—principally the Iraqi Government and the Kurds and neighbours—to lead the charge against squeezing this appalling organisation ISIL, but Britain, America, France and others should use all the tools in our toolkit to help them to do that. We have to make a judgment about how we best help those on the ground, and to date that judgment has been to provide aid and political support and to help with certain military aspects. The Americans have gone further and provided air strikes. I think that is the right way to approach this problem.
On the issue of control orders, let me quote again what the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation said:
“There is no need to put the clock back. The majority of changes introduced by the TPIMs Act have civilised the control order system without making it less effective.”
We have to understand that control orders were permanently being run ragged in the courts. We needed a new system and now we can improve it.
Does the Prime Minister share Henry Kissinger’s analysis that to address the utterly appalling consequences of the collapse of central state authority in much of the middle east and north Africa, we are going to have to get competing nation states to co-operate? That means that Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia are going to have to be got in a place where they can co-operate with the United States and the European Union. It will involve ugly ethical compromises, which we have already made over Egypt. Will the Prime Minister set his Government the policy objective of getting those nations in the same place to have a policy that can begin to address this disaster?
I agree with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of getting nations that have not previously co-operated to co-operate with each other. I agree that we should get them to step up to the plate and do more to deal with the problems in their own area. However, as the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Mr McFadden, has just said, there are also times when we have to look to our responsibilities, and we should do that at the same time.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to place the Channel programme on a statutory footing, which is a long-standing recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee? He is right to focus on the obligation to return. The obligation to return resulted in Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed coming back from Somalia—he is now, of course, at large—and in Michael Adebolajo being brought back from Kenya, with tragic consequences. The details may therefore have to be worked out, but the principle of looking at this is extremely important. May I urge the Prime Minister to please make sure that there is engagement with the community itself on domestic terrorism—not just the mosques and organisations, but a direct approach to the communities?
I very much agree with both points made by the right hon. Gentleman. It has been very noticeable in recent days how many in the British Muslim communities have come forward to condemn ISIL in incredibly strong terms, and that is hugely welcome. I also take the point about the Home Affairs Committee recommendation about the Channel programme that we are putting in place.
If Islamic terrorism is the greatest threat we face, as we must all accept, surely our best policy is to maximise the coalition of the willing in the world, not to fight a two-front war. Given that Islamic terrorism is also an existential threat to the Russian state in Chechnya, does my right hon. Friend think there is a role for a British Prime Minister who is not parti pris in the ancient disputes in this area to try to broker a deal based on any move of Ukraine to the EU or NATO being balanced by similar moves to Russia and a federal solution for eastern Ukraine?
I do not agree with my hon. Friend about that. Where he is right is of course that Russia faces a threat from Islamist extremism, but so far I have seen insufficient evidence that it wants to work with international partners to follow that through in other theatres—most recently in Syria, where it is perfectly obvious to me that Assad’s brutality and the lack of support for the responsible opposition has helped foment the ISIL problem, which is something on which Vladimir Putin and I would take completely different sides.
Does the Prime Minister accept that young Muslims are increasingly radicalised not in the mosque or the madrassah, but online in their own bedrooms? I welcome his commitment to revisit the communications data legislation, but does he agree that we need to go even further with close international partners in bringing communications service providers to a realisation that they bear a responsibility for their platforms being used for illegal purposes?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that. There is no doubt that a lot of radicalisation is taking place online—by people watching videos or watching preachers, or what have you—often on the other side of the world. We have worked very closely with internet service providers on the issue of child pornography, and they have agreed in that theatre, as it were, to take some pretty radical action, including banning altogether particular search terms. They are taking some action in terms of extremism and the material we are taking down, but I think that there is probably more we can do by working with them and saying, “This is not a threat to free speech, but it is appalling to have some of the videos that are now shown on the internet.”
What recent discussions have the Prime Minister and his Ministers had with the leaders of mainstream Muslim organisations in this country to ensure that they are taking as robust a stance as possible in combating radicalisation and extremism?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has taken a lead on that issue. Along with others and with the support of Members from all parts of the House, he has encouraged faith leaders of all faiths to condemn the outrages that we have seen. I think that the difference can be seen. The response of the community to the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby spoke volumes about how the overwhelming majority of British Asians and British Muslims abhor such appalling behaviour.
Is the Prime Minister aware that it would be inconceivable for us not to have an early debate on this subject, given the interest that has been shown in the House today? Perhaps next Monday would be an appropriate day. Is he also aware that much of the discontent among young Asians in my constituency is due to our perceived weakness over Gaza and our reluctance to distance ourselves from Israel?
Will the Prime Minister think again about how we combat this dreadful bully from Russia? Our country’s history reminds us that if bullies are not faced up to, they continue to bully. If President Putin looks at our remarks and the remarks of the Prime Minister today, he will not exactly be terrified, will he?
On the issue of the debate, I am sure that the authorities will have listened to the hon. Gentleman and that we can find a way to have a proper debate, whether this week or next week. I am sure that that would be worth while.
On Putin and Russia, as I have said before, what we have to do is to make the fact that Russia needs Europe and America more than Europe and America need Russia count. I am not promising that a set of sanctions will suddenly lead to a radical change of mind in the Kremlin, but if the Russians see that they are opting for a completely different and much, much colder relationship between the west and Russia, it might make them pause to think that they are making the wrong decision in not allowing the Ukrainians to make their own decisions about their own country.
Does the Prime Minister agree that removing passports from terrorists who return from Syria and Iraq, barring dangerous foreign nationals from Britain and legislating to prosecute all types of terrorist activity are not a knee-jerk response, but a sensible and prudent approach to keep Britain safe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The first response should be to gather evidence, prosecute and convict. However, we have learned in this age of the appalling threat of Islamist extremist violence, which is different from some of the treats that we have faced in the past, not least because the people who carry it out not only do not care whether they survive, but seek what they see as martyrdom, that we have to up our response. We have lots of very effective laws and rules. We do not need to overhaul them, but we do, in some circumstances, need to enhance them.
I welcome what the Prime Minister said, particularly about blocking foreign fighters entering the UK. However, as he pointed out, there have been 700 from France, 400 from Germany and hundreds more from other European and western countries, many of them travelling on EU passports. Is he confident that the data and intelligence sharing arrangements that are in place are comprehensive and robust, so that such people can be identified as they travel to the UK or to anywhere else?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely sensible point. The data sharing is good, but it could be a lot better. At the European Council, we looked specifically at the issue of passenger name records. The directive on that issue has so far been held up by a number of countries, including Germany. We need to make progress on that because the sharing of passenger names and records is vital in keeping us safe.
I recently organised a meeting between local Somali community representatives and Home Office officials to discuss their deep concerns about the potential radicalisation of their young people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that more can and must be done to support, engage and work with local communities, such as the Somalis, so that they can be part of the battle against extremism? After all, they know their young people far better than anyone else.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. I believe that the cause of what we face is the cancer of Islamist extremism, but we should use everything that we have, including the many interventions that we make in the world, to help predominantly Muslim societies to demonstrate what a compassionate, tolerant, open and generous country Britain is. Britain has done a huge amount to help mend Somalia. Britain is one of the principal aid donors to people in Syria. We need to ensure that in all the communities of this country, those facts and figures and the outlook of successive British Governments are properly understood.
A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister and the Government hosted an important conference on the sexual exploitation of women in war. Will he now tell me exactly what we are doing as far as the Yazidi women are concerned? More than 3,000 of them are being treated abominably by ISIS; they are being sold as sex slaves to the brothels of the middle east. What exactly are we doing to help those women? There was rightly a big public outcry over the 700 Nigerian schoolgirls, but what about the 3,000-plus Yazidi women who are being treated in that way? If they are released, they will find it very difficult to return to their own communities because of their experiences. Will the Prime Minister consider offering asylum to some of them, as France has done?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the case of the Yazidi people, who are being persecuted by these dreadful, barbaric thugs from ISIL. We have helped directly by funding some of the refugee camps and making sure that they are properly built and prepared in northern Iraq. We were also prepared, over the summer, to take part if necessary in a huge humanitarian airlift operation, which was ready to go when those people were stuck on Mount Sinjar. Fundamentally, the best way to help the Yazidi people will be to ensure that there is an Iraqi Government who are able to confront ISIL and to restore to that country a sense that minorities are to be looked after and not persecuted.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Anglian Regiment. At that time, it had four regular battalions and three territorial ones. Now, it has only two regular battalions and just one reserve battalion. Does the Prime Minister accept that, in an increasingly dangerous world, both here and overseas, it is not in Britain’s defence interests to cut the size of the British Army to what it was at the time of Waterloo 200 years ago?
I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for this reason: it is in Britain’s interests to make sure that we spend our £33 billion defence budget on the assets that we actually need when facing the conflicts that we face today. So we have state-of-the-art Tornadoes that are able to fly over Iraq and Syria to gather intelligence, and we have brand-new Rivet Joint aircraft that can do similar things. The investment in those platforms, and in the brand-new class of submarines that are able to do similar things, is absolutely vital for our country. Yes, there are difficult decisions involved in changing the size and laydown of our armed forces, but unless we make those decisions, we will not have the assets that we need in conflicts such as these.
Will the Newport declaration that follows the Wales NATO summit contain strengthened guarantees to the other small nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to protect them from Putin land grabs?
May I first say how delighted I am that the NATO conference is coming to Newport? I know that the hon. Gentleman and others in Newport will give the many different delegations and world leaders a warm welcome. One of the most important things at the NATO conference will be to send a clear signal that we take our article V obligations very seriously; all NATO members should be aware of that. As I said in answer to earlier questions, we should see more troops from the different nations in the countries of NATO to demonstrate that.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to article V, but I am unclear as to whether he feels that that extends to the situation in Ukraine. I hear what he says about sanctions, but he will understand that many people question their value. Is it not therefore essential that NATO should make it absolutely clear to President Putin this weekend that Ukraine must not fall under his dominion, that this is down to the Ukrainian people and that NATO is prepared to ensure that this is the case?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should make it absolutely clear that it is unacceptable for Russia to behave in this way, but we should also be clear about how we are going to respond. I do not believe that we are contemplating—or would contemplate —a military response to the situation in Ukraine, so it would be wrong to threaten that. Instead, we should be threatening something that we can and, in my view, will do, which is to impose a permanent sanctions regime that gets tighter all the time if Russia continues down this path. That would totally reset the relationship that Russia has with the rest of the world.
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is important that our responses to international crises should be based on clear values. May I invite him to agree with me that those values should be applied consistently? He said that the biggest land grab in the west bank in the past 30 years is “utterly deplorable”, and I agree with him. He also said that what appears to be a land grab by President Putin in Ukraine must be met with “economic costs” on Russia being “stepped up”. He said that sanctions work, which is particularly important when a small nation is threatened or undermined by a more powerful one. May I invite him to apply that same logic to Israel’s actions in the west bank?
We can draw these parallels, but of course there are differences between the circumstances of Israel and Palestine and what is happening in Ukraine, not least because Ukraine is an independent, sovereign, recognised country today. But I do think we should make very clear our reaction to this totally unacceptable land grab by Israel.
Having served in Operation Warden in the 1990s—the no-fly zone over northern Iraq—and having met Kurdish students at Huddersfield university during the summer, I support targeted air strikes by the UK to support the US in checking the advance of the evil ISIL. Will the Prime Minister take account of the comments of those Kurdish students that the UK taking part in those air strikes would be not only militarily expedient but symbolic of our support for the Kurdish people?
I think we should listen very carefully to our Kurdish friends and allies, because they are in the front line against this ISIL monster. The action that they have taken has been effective and brave, and we support the air strikes that the Americans have undertaken. So far, our action has been about supplying them with weapons, support, non-lethal equipment, body armour and suchlike, and as I have said, we are prepared to go further.
The Prime Minister talked about learning the lessons of history. A previous Conservative Prime Minister, 23 years ago, was prepared to use British air power in a military exercise to save the Kurds. Why should we just leave it to the United States, particularly when the Kurdistan regional government have called for the whole of NATO to express solidarity and provide weaponry to them and air power to fight this genocidal caliphate?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As I have said, the question we should be asking ourselves in this House—I am interested in the reactions of colleagues today—is what we can best do to help those on the ground who are doing the vital work in combating ISIL. Up to now our approach has been some military support, some support through intelligence and weaponry and some support through humanitarian aid, but we should continually ask ourselves how we can assist them in a way that also helps to keep us safe back here in the UK.
I was appalled to learn that the British terrorist interviewed on “Newsnight” came from Wycombe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this man has disgracefully betrayed the community that I represent? Given what was said, can he reassure me that if that man presents in the UK, he will face the full force of the law?
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend says. This individual is in no way representative of the many hard-working British Asians who live in his constituency and contribute enormously to our country. It is shocking to read someone born and raised in Britain, and schooled in our country, saying, “The only reason I want to come back to Britain is to bomb, maim and kill”. Of course we should ensure that we have laws—we do have such laws—so that people who say and do these things can be prosecuted, but the reason for asking what more is required is that sometimes, these cases do not come up to a level of criminal proof, yet these people threaten our country. That is why there were control orders in the past and there are now terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and that is why we are taking steps to strip people of passports or prevent people from coming into our country. Where there are gaps, it is worth asking whether they can be addressed.
The Prime Minister’s responses to previous questions imply that he is open to the idea of direct military participation in the current air strikes to protect the Kurds. If that is the case, will he just say so clearly now?
I have described the approach we have taken to date, and said that we support American air strikes. I do not think that we should rule anything out. We should act, and a British Government should act, to promote the British national interest and to help keep our people safe. We should consider everything in the light of that. In particular, as I have said, we should ask ourselves how we best help those people on the ground who are doing vital work in countering ISIL. On these issues, I always believe that it is vital to consult, talk with and listen to the House of Commons at every stage.
The House will be reassured to know, however, that if there was a direct threat to British national interests, or if, as in the case of Libya, we had to act very rapidly to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the British Government must reserve the right to act immediately and inform the House of Commons afterwards. It is important to set that out, but the House has seen what the British Government have done to date, and I am listening carefully to the views of hon. Members in this debate.
Tragically, the only way to defeat people who are determined to carry out appalling acts, despite reason, politics, economic sanctions or whatever, is to defeat them on the battlefield. The only way that can be done against ISIS is for someone to go in there and do it. It does not look as if it will be us or the Americans, and it will probably not be the Kurds; the people who seem most likely to be able to do it are the Iraqi Government and their armed forces. Despite it being somewhat distasteful, can we give as much support as possible to the Iraqi armed forces so that they can do the job that no one else seems able to do?
My hon. Friend is fundamentally right that, at the end of the day, responsibility for a unified Iraq without the presence of ISIL, and without this extremism and terrorism, is with the Iraqi Government. To do that, an Iraqi Government is needed that includes Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd. We should not see support for the Kurds and support for the Iraqi Government as alternatives. To get rid of the cancer in their midst, we need an Iraqi Government who work with the Kurds.
The Prime Minister has set out his arguments for the withdrawal of UK passports. Given the strong evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza—we have heard about 500 children being killed under a terrible bombardment—will British citizens fighting in the Israel defence forces be treated in the same way as those returning from Syria and Iraq?
I really do not think that is a fair or reasonable way of describing the situation. As I said, the loss of civilian life was unacceptable, and it is right that these matters are properly investigated. We must remember, however, that the conflict was started by Hamas rockets raining down on Israel, and Israel has a right to defend itself. I think that the hon. Gentleman, when he looks at his words, will come to regret drawing a comparison between a soldier fighting in the Israel defence forces and a terrorist returning from Syria.
In the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, 70% of the Israeli population lived within range of the 4,500 rockets fired from Gaza, and 2,000 Palestinians were killed in response. Given that Britain is one of the biggest donors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza strip, will the Prime Minister work with others such as the United States, Egypt and the Arab League, to demilitarise the Gaza strip so that construction materials and steel can be imported into it and used to rebuild the civilian infrastructure, rather than being ploughed by Hamas into developing a new terror tunnel network?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. In short, we need to see the rockets out, the Palestinian Authority in, and the borders and posts open so that that part of Palestine can be properly regenerated.
Many of the controls being proposed will be effective only if they also apply to the Republic of Ireland, because of course people could enter the United Kingdom by coming in through ports of entry in the Republic of Ireland and across the land boundary into Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Government of the Irish Republic on the proposals? Is it intended that intelligence will be shared with the authorities in the Republic, or will the proposals apply only to ports of entry in Great Britain, hence creating travel restrictions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The relationship, including on policing, security and borders, between the British and Irish Governments is probably stronger than it has been for many years, and we should build on that by discussing these measures with them and working together.
On three different occasions and in three separate locations, weapons and rockets belonging to Hamas were found in UNRWA schools in Gaza. Given that siting missiles and rockets amid a civilian population is a war crime in itself and will inevitably lead to the loss of civilian lives, and given that lobbing those same rockets into Israel, killing other civilians, is also a war crime, does the Prime Minister agree that Hamas is now guilty of two war crimes?
There can be little doubt that Hamas uses people to try and protect its rockets, which is absolutely despicable. As I have said, we need an end to the rocket attacks, a continuation of the ceasefire and political talks that could lead to a better solution.
Will the Prime Minister condemn Hamas for violating and rejecting 11 ceasefires? If those ceasefires had taken place, the deaths of hundreds, and potentially thousands, of people could have been prevented. Does he agree that the only way to secure peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is first to ensure that Hamas accepts Israel’s right to exist?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. On several occasions during this conflict, a ceasefire was either agreed or implemented, but Hamas broke it with unilateral rocket attacks into Israel. These were attacks directed, we believe, by the leader of Hamas, who of course was nowhere near Gaza at the time. I believe that Hamas bears primary responsibility for what has happened.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has not ruled out air strikes against ISIL positions, but may I ask him what needs to happen that has not happened thus far before he approves such targeted air strikes with the Americans?
So far, the Americans have been leading on the air strikes and have not requested assistance from us, while we have been focused on those areas—aid, diplomacy, military assistance to some of the parties—where we can most add value, but, as I say, we should continually ask ourselves: what is in the national interest, how can we best help those on the ground and how can we not just work with our partners such as America, but help ensure that the Iraqi Government, the Kurdish Regional Government and neighbouring countries take the lead, rather than the west feeling it has to impose a solution.
I was the Opposition spokesperson on the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill. The Government’s two principal objections to control orders concerned the use of exclusion zones and relocation powers—the two things the Prime Minister now says that the security bodies need. To be fair to him, the deal on TPIMs was a sop to the Liberal Democrats, but will he ensure that the security bodies get the powers they require?
Although the hon. Gentleman clearly spent a lot of time on the Bill, he seems to have ignored one crucial point, which is that TPIMs include exclusion zones; I think it is the relocation powers he is referring to.
I commend the Prime Minister on his statement. Will he give a little more information on when airlines will be required to introduce more stringent checks on suspects and foreign terrorists to block them from entering ports such as Gatwick and others around the UK?
I can quite understand, given my hon. Friend’s constituency interest, why he asks this question. At the moment, we have good security co-operation, but on a non-statutory basis, with countries flying into the UK. These measures will put it on a statutory basis that if they do not have proper passenger checks, share information in a timely way or have proper security checks, we can legally prevent a plane from taking off from or landing in the UK. These are the sorts of arrangements that the Americans already have in place. It is time for us to have them too.
Russia is invading Ukraine by stealth. I accept that EU sanctions will bite in the mid term and longer term, but in the meantime Putin is quite happy to let his troops carry on and take eastern Ukraine. Will the Prime Minister look seriously at arming the Ukrainians, because otherwise the state will not exist as we know it today?
As I said, I think what is required is a military de-escalation, rather than a military escalation. What we saw, if we go back over recent weeks, was huge advances by the Ukrainian military, almost closing out the rebels from some of the cities in eastern Ukraine, and now we have seen this military response. That only goes to demonstrate that more military assets being provided in either case will simply lead to an escalation, rather than what is required, which is a proper political discussion about how to have a permanent ceasefire and a peaceful resolution that allows the Ukrainian people to make their own choices.
Church leaders and others in my constituency have raised with me the plight of the Christian Church in many parts of the middle east. Will the Prime Minister reassure them that the Government are doing all that can be done to help those persecuted Christians?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should of course ensure that we protect Christians, but we should also ensure that we protect other minorities. The Yazidi people—where we were prepared to undertake a substantial airlift operation—is a case in point. This is absolutely at the heart of our foreign policy—protecting minorities, protecting religious freedom and protecting the rights of Christians and others to practise their faiths.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right: de-radicalisation is critical, but so too is community cohesion. What specific proposals does he have to ensure that no community in our country feels that it is being marginalised or brutalised, or under attack or constant suspicion?
The hon. Gentleman puts it well. We need to be intolerant of intolerance and very clear that supporting extremism that falls short of violence, as well as supporting violence, is not acceptable. At the same time, we need to take people with us, because among the most effective groups, organisations and people are those from Muslim communities themselves who want to confront the problems—perhaps in a local mosque or a community centre, but more commonly online or in other forums. We need them to help us do this job.
A number of innocent British nationals of Syrian descent have already faced problems, including frozen and closed bank accounts, when returning from supporting humanitarian efforts in and around Syria. How will the Prime Minister ensure that innocent British nationals returning to the UK are not labelled as suspected terrorists?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I have to say that I think the first piece of advice we should give to any British national thinking of travelling to Syria to help on a humanitarian basis is that there is an enormous amount of good humanitarian work being done that they can help to support and fund without leaving the United Kingdom. I think that should be the first port of call. Obviously, in terms of returnees, we need to make sure that what we do is targeted at those who are intent on causing trouble.
Murder, rape and abduction have been used against women in Iraq by ISIS and across Syria. Britain hosted a conference on ending sexual violence against women. We have also signed UN resolution 1325. What women need is a place at the table when discussions take place about peace and the resolution of conflict. Will the Prime Minister commit to ensuring that Britain does its utmost to make sure that women have a place at the conference table, that women are represented and that women are part of the British delegation to the UN conference in Newport?
Leading the delegation from Britain will be the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend
Will my right hon. Friend please confirm the exact steps that Russia needs to take over the next week in order to avoid further sanctions? If sanctions are required, will he please confirm that they will be tough and substantial and that Mr Putin will notice this time?
The steps that need to be taken are to stop supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine with men and material, and also to release hostages and get out of the border posts that are part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Those steps, I think, would signal a change of heart from Russia and would result in an easing rather than a growing of the pressure. I do not accept that what has been done so far has not been noticed, but we have to show resolve in permanently turning up the dial if Russia continues in the wrong direction.
The Prime Minister knows—indeed, he has acknowledged in response to my hon. Friends—that young Muslims at risk of radicalisation are more likely to listen to peers and people in their own community than they are to police officers or representatives of the Government who they believe has failed to protect the people of Gaza. Why, then, has he cut £15 million from the Prevent communities budget and will he take the opportunity today to say that he will put that money back into that sort of voluntary community-based action that will persuade these young people away from radicalisation?
We do work through Muslim and other organisations, and we should do so. We did make changes to Prevent, not least because, when we reviewed it, we believed that some of the funded organisations were not confronting the problems of extremism. That needed to change.
I was in Kiev on Saturday and heard at first hand about some of the challenges that Ukraine faces. Villagers there are banding together to buy body armour and helmets for soldiers going east. I ask the Prime Minister to look again at whether we can supply equipment to the Government of Ukraine and, specifically and urgently, to look at what we can do to help by sharing military intelligence data, which I am told is so badly needed in the fight for democracy on Europe’s borders.
Let me reassure my hon. Friend, who makes a very good point—I am glad that he was able to travel to Kiev to listen to the views of people there—that we are supplying non-lethal equipment. Body armour and things like that will help the Ukrainian army, and I think it is right to give those things, but as I said and for the reasons I gave, I do not think we should supply it with arms.
Instead of having an intimate weekend meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, who I see is not in his place, would it not have been more productive for the Prime Minister to see the Home Secretary and speak to her about replacing the lost passport control officers’ jobs and to work with the security services to ensure that they have control over those leaving and returning, which would enable us to gather real intelligence about what is going on and how we can stop some of the radicalisation that is taking place?
Let me first reassure the hon. Gentleman that I had a very good meeting with the Home Secretary on Friday, when we discussed these issues. On checks for those applying for passports, there has not been a reduction in the level of scrutiny. In all these organisations, of course, we have to seek efficiency and make sure that we use all the modern technology to get the job done.
If at some date in the future my right hon. Friend were minded to engage in military action—punitive military action—against what we know to be the mediaeval barbarism of ISIL, would he be minded to consult this House?
I always believe in consulting this House. I did so over Syria and over Libya. What I—as well as the Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary—will try to do is to keep the House permanently updated. As I said in answer to a previous question, that is the right approach and it has been taken by successive Governments. If, however, something needed to be done urgently to protect a particular British national interest or to prevent some humanitarian catastrophe, it might be necessary to act and then come to Parliament. I have said nothing new in that, but it is important for people to understand the situations we face.
I very much welcome what the Prime Minister said about the importance of tackling the extremist narrative. Is he aware, however, that his parliamentary candidate in Dudley North told The Independent on Sunday:
“Jihadist narrative answers the questions that these young people ask”,
“IS provides an opportunity to do something real, exciting and spiritually nourishing.”?
Those comments are preposterous; what does the Prime Minister propose to do about them?
I will check the context of those comments, as I expect the candidate went on to say how wrong that is, which I know is his view. It is unreasonable to cite what I suspect is a partial quote rather than the whole thing.
On tackling extremism and radicalisation, I welcome the fact that more than 1,000 individuals have been diverted from entering extremism and jihadism through the Government Channel programme. As someone from the Muslim community whose father was an imam, I would like to ask what further steps the Government are taking to engage with the Muslim community to tackle the evil of radicalisation and extremism affecting some young Muslim men in our society. Linked to that, I note that the extremism taskforce has made its recommendations. Will the Government be appointing a specific individual to monitor the implementation of those recommendations across Government Departments and to recommend further specific action?
On my hon. Friend’s latter point, the extremism taskforce came up with a number of recommendations, most of which have been put in place or are being put in place. They concern banning hate preachers and ensuring that we confront extremism and root it out at places such as universities and, I am ashamed to say, our prisons, where there have been problems. On his questions about what more we can do, the Channel programme is successful. There is a programme of engagement to divert young people from this cancerous organisation. As I said earlier, one element of that is to demonstrate some of the things that the British Government do throughout the world to support minorities, stand up for human rights and help Muslims in a variety of ways in a variety of countries.
At the end of this summer we are seeing relations between the west and Russia at their worst level for three decades, 2,000 innocent people killed in Gaza and genocide in Kurdistan. The Prime Minister said this is the most serious threat that we have ever faced, yet he chose not to recall Parliament. Can he explain why he thought we should not have our say in a proper debate so that hon. Members on both sides of the House could make their comments? Last year, it was decided within 48 hours to recall the House to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who presided over a Government who watched Saddam Hussein kill innocent Iraqis by the thousands.
Last year we recalled Parliament because there was a particular issue that needed to be addressed: the role that Britain would or would not play in combating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This year I do not think that it was necessary to recall Parliament. To have done so at certain stages might have almost shown that somehow we were reacting to individual terrorist events, ghastly as they were. Now Parliament is back, there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have debates.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement that Israel was right to defend itself against the missile barrage from Hamas. Does he agree that the difference between Hamas and ISIS is one of degrees? Does he also agree that Iran remains a serious security threat and that our enemy’s enemy is not our friend?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. If one saw the shocking pictures of Hamas lining people up and shooting them in a firing squad, one could see the nature of the organisation with which one is dealing. It is an important issue. I support a Palestinian state. I want the Palestinians to achieve that goal, but Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It believes in targeting innocent people and murdering them to pursue its objectives. It does not even recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist. Therefore, we have to start our discussions with a recognition of the true nature of the organisation that we are dealing with. He is right about that.
People throughout Britain have been absolutely appalled by the scenes in Gaza, Iraq and Syria this summer. What impact have all the Foreign Office resignations and the removal of the Foreign Secretary, at an incredibly difficult time for the Foreign Office, had on the British Government’s capacity to respond?
The new Foreign Secretary has had a full in-tray but he has handled these issues and discussions with huge calmness and ability. People have seen that over the summer. Obviously, it is a matter of regret that Baroness Warsi decided to resign. On the other change in the Foreign Office, we have a new Minister for Africa, who I know will bring a lot to that job. Overall, we have a very strong team of Ministers who are more than capable of tackling these issues.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I apologise for leaving the Chamber; I had to go to a statutory instrument Committee. I heard a question earlier about how much money we are spending on defence. Will the Prime Minister consider, bearing in mind what is going on in the world, that 2% is simply not enough?
Order. It is very candid of the hon. Gentleman to inform me, and some hundreds of other people, that he absented himself from the Chamber for a period. It was a fact of which I was unaware, but full marks for 100% candour.
I think it is important that we meet the 2% figure. Greece is the only other European member state to meet that figure. What matters even more than that is the capability of what we are buying. We have made some very difficult decisions, including the reduction in the size of the regular Army, but that is so that we can invest in the modern equipment and modern capabilities that our armed forces need. When we consider that it is one of the top five military budgets anywhere in the world, with some staggeringly good equipment being produced even as we speak, I think that we get very good value for money.
Over and above the Prime Minister’s very welcome words of condemnation regarding the annexation of yet more lands around Bethlehem, what practical steps does he intend to take so that Israel reverses this latest, and counter-productive, land grab and commits properly to a two-state solution?
We will continue to work with our allies to condemn this action and to make that clear in international forums. We will continue with our action to support and fund the Palestinian Authority. But at the end of the day, we need talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We cannot decide these issues for them; they need to sit down and talk with each other.
The Prime Minister rightly said that ISIL activities are deplored by the vast majority of British Muslims, but, none the less, various events and reports this summer have led to a growing unease about the role of Islam in our country. The battle that is harder than the one for air supremacy on the Iraqi border is therefore the one for community cohesion here in the UK. I believe the time has come for a charter, which would be a public commitment by community and faith leaders, especially including mosque committees, against extremism and for our values to help to prevent citizens from acting against our country. This could be done locally—I would happily lead on it Gloucester—but does my right hon. Friend agree that a single national charter implemented across the country could have the real benefit of bringing our communities together, which is our best defence against extremism of all kinds?
I think my hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. I would say that these initiatives have far greater power if they are generated by the communities themselves. It has been noticeable how many leaders of Britain’s Muslim communities—mosques, community groups and others—have come out and condemned what ISIL stands for and the other things that we have seen. So if there was going to be such a charter, I would want to see it generated from within that community rather than imposed on it.
The Prime Minister has made very brief reference to the sanctions against Russia. Will he give us more detail on what additional sanctions he pushed for and what additional sanctions have been agreed by the EU states?
What I pushed for was further so-called tier 3 sanctions, which are real economic sanctions in the areas of finance, energy and defence. We have tasked the European Commission, within a week, to come up with a set of new proposals. What I pushed for specifically was to make sure that we start filling in some of the gaps that have been left in previous financial energy and defence sanctions. I mentioned the case of syndicated loans, where the action that has been taken on the financial front has seen the Russian stock market fall and the rouble fall, and Russia’s growth rate has now been downgraded to, I think, zero or below. So further measures on that level—which will affect Britain, but we should be prepared to take that pain—would be good.
The Prime Minister spoke of a humanitarian catastrophe prompting further military action, so how would he describe what has happened to the Syrian Christians and the Yazidis facing genocide? How much worse can it get for mothers who have been forced to throw their children off a mountainside rather than have them suffer at the hands of jihadists—suffer a fate worse than death? Will he justify why we are not using all necessary military action, including air strikes, to repel genocide?
Let me take, for instance, the case of the Yazidi people, where there was military action by the Kurds, supported by us, and, indeed, some military action contemplated by the Americans that would have been supported, and potentially facilitated, by us. Of course, the role we were prepared to play was to take part in a humanitarian evacuation. That would have involved British transport planes and helicopters and, indeed, British troops in the Kurdish areas of Iraq to support, maintain and look after those helicopters. So I do not accept that we will not intervene where there is a potential humanitarian crisis; we would, we will, we have in the past, but we should, as I say, ask ourselves the question, “What is in our national interest, what is the best way to proceed?”
The suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, not just in this most recent conflict but over many years, continues to be a source of great distress and concern in my constituency, and this latest land grab will of course have further infected the situation. What recent—very recent—discussions has the Prime Minister had with the Americans in relation to this matter, since it is widely perceived that any lasting solution will depend on their influence with Israel and there is real concern that, with so many other international conflicts, their eye, and our eye, may be taken off the ball in Gaza as we deal with other threats?
I did discuss this issue with President Obama when we spoke during August, and to be fair to him he has taken a tough line over the need for a ceasefire and was very clear with the Israeli Prime Minister, as was I, about the need for a ceasefire and about the frankly unacceptable level of civilian casualties. Now we have the ceasefire, it should be about trying to get Gaza up and running again. That means the Palestinian Authority taking control, the rockets being taken out and the important restrictions being lifted so that that place can function properly.
The people of Jordan and Lebanon have shown immense hospitality to refugees from Syria and elsewhere and yet are under incredible pressure from the crimes perpetrated by President Assad, ISIL and others in that region. What support is the United Kingdom Government giving to those two countries which find themselves in this position?
Perhaps the best assistance we can give, which we have been giving, is assistance with their humanitarian aid programmes for the refugees who are inside the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, and I have seen some of that work at first hand. We should also continue to think about what else we can do, in terms not just of humanitarian aid, but also political, diplomatic and even potentially some military support, to help those countries.
On the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, can the Prime Minister set out what he believes to be achievable at the meeting of the contact group that is taking place in Belarus literally as we speak? Will he also set out to the House some of the actions he will be prepared to countenance— we have heard plenty of what he is not prepared to countenance—should there not be adequate progress towards a ceasefire?
First, in terms of what Britain has been prepared to do, I would say that at the last few European Councils Britain has been perhaps the leading voice for taking tough sanctions measures. That has been something Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, and I have worked on very closely with our colleagues from the Baltic states. Britain, which frankly has quite a lot to lose in terms of financial services, has been at the absolute front end of arguing for those changes, of which I am proud, and we will continue to do that. In terms of the steps that need to be taken, President Poroshenko has set out a peace plan that involves respecting the rights of Russians and other minorities, and what we need is for the Russians to go along with that peace plan and to start to de-escalate the situation.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how far he and the Government are willing to go to protect the Christians in northern Iraq, as there are many who believe that the very existence of Christianity in the middle east is under threat?
With others, we should be working to protect these minorities, including the Christians in northern Iraq, and I set out to my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes the sort of steps we would be prepared to contemplate. We should not rule out future measures; we should use all those things that we have at our disposal, while recognising that there is not some unique military solution that can be put in place.
On a number of occasions this afternoon the Prime Minister has repeated his welcome condemnation of the Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land, but does he recognise that over many years words alone have failed to move the Israeli policy of illegal occupation and that now is the time for concerted action to force the Israeli Government to shift their policy?
To be fair, the reason I have repeated myself is that I have been on my feet for about two hours so there is bound to be some repetition—and even hesitation and deviation at moments. The point I make is that we have in the past been prepared to back up our actions, as we did with other EU partners over the issue of research grants to Israel. However, as I said, the first step is to make absolutely clear our condemnation of this, and I will work with others to make sure it is reversed.
One reason why so many young people of a south Asian heritage, be they men or women, are put on the conveyor belt towards extremism is that they often have the baggage of a dual cultural heritage. I have been on this journey so I know that the pressures placed on them by extended family and their own community groups are acute and powerful, but within the vacuum there is often a lack of British identity. May I impress on my right hon. Friend the fact that it is crucial we have a debate that propagates the view that someone can have a traditional view of Islam, which stresses justice, faith and truth, but within that they can essentially be British, and that to do that in a pragmatic way is quintessentially British?
My hon. Friend has put it extremely well. It is perfectly possible for people to come to this country and integrate in our way of life while maintaining their own religion and faith and the traditions that go with them. Over the years, Muslims, Hindus and Jews have all managed to do that in Britain, but perhaps we need to do more to help it to happen. That is where the debate goes into how we teach in schools, how we try to integrate communities and how we promote the use of English. All those things are important steps on that journey.
Four weeks ago, I led a multi-faith delegation from Oldham in presenting a petition to the Prime Minister asking for Parliament to be recalled in order to have a debate on how we can support sustainable peace in Gaza and Israel. Two weeks later, I wrote asking what progress had been made on the recall and whether we could also debate the ongoing crisis in Iraq. I am not still clear why the Prime Minister decided not to recall Parliament, as surely these matters deserved our attention during recess.
I always look at the arguments people make for the recall of Parliament and think about it carefully. What I said while Parliament was in recess was that I did not rule it out and we should keep it under review, but I did not think it was necessary, because there was not a specific decision that Parliament was being asked to make. It is good that we are now back and we can debate these issues.
I welcome the ramping up of sanctions by the European Union, but does the Prime Minister agree that what is happening in Ukraine is naked Russian aggression? Is it not time for the west, led by NATO and the US, to honour its obligations to Ukraine and face down this threat?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is relatively clear what is happening: Russian troops with Russian equipment are on Ukrainian soil. The evidence for that now is overwhelming, and I think our response should be very clear about how unacceptable that is. We should be making use of the great strength we have, which is that Russia needs America and Europe more than America and Europe need Russia. We need to make that relationship pay and play so that the Russians change their approach, but it will not be an easy step to take. I do not think it would be right to try to find some military response to this, but if we make our influence and our power felt, Russia will see the consequences.
Those of us who have lived under the actual activity of terrorism for most of our adult lives will welcome any statement or action by this Government, or indeed any Government, to protect citizens, our citizenship and our land and property. I therefore welcome the steps that have been outlined today by the Prime Minister, but could he go further? If a person arrives at a British port internally with their passport and the officer decides to hold that passport, will the individual also be detained? If not, would the Prime Minister consider detaining those heading to the airport who are going to have their passports seized or those returning, in an internment-like situation?
The point of taking away the passport at the border post as we are proposing is that we are then able to investigate the individual and to give ourselves some time to do that, but I will look at the other suggestions that the hon. Gentleman makes.
The Prime Minister presented two options for terrorism prevention and investigation measures. May I strongly urge him not to go down the route of internal exile without trial, which is not consistent with the British values we are trying to defend, but to make use of exclusion measures that are already in the legislation?
Of course I listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I also listen carefully to the police, the intelligence services and those who work around the clock to keep us safe. Their point of view is not that we need some wide-ranging piece of legislation, but that they have identified some specific problems that need to be dealt with. My responsibility as Prime Minister whose most important task is to do everything possible to keep our people safe is to listen to them, to bring the ideas based on those concerns to this Parliament, to debate them and then to put them in place.
The Prime Minister has stressed the need to counter the extremist narrative. Clearly, he recognises that there are those who are sowing alienation, radicalisation, extremism and subversion, but does he also recognise the danger of helping to fertilise what they are trying to propagate? I am talking about when Governments appear to adopt double standards and inconsistency in relation to clear violations of international law, not least in respect of Gaza, and then in domestic law appear to create a twilight zone around the very basic concept of citizenship.
I do not accept that we are operating any sort of double standards. I have set out the situation very clearly with respect to Israel and Gaza, and also the problems that we face with ISIL. It will be for hon. Members to decide whether or not they want to support that.