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House of Commons

Tuesday 22 January 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]


Business Before Questions

Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Thursday 31 January at Two o’clock.

Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Thursday 31 January at Two o’clock.

Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Thursday 31 January at Two o’clock.

Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)

Motion made, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Lords amendments to be considered on Thursday 31 January at Two o’clock.

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 29 January (Standing Order No. 20).


Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Burma

1. Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): What recent reports he has received on the security situation in Rakhine state, Burma; and if he will make a statement. [138331]

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I visited Rakhine state in December. I visited five camps for displaced people and spoke to local community and political leaders. The security situation appears to have stabilised, though I stressed to Burmese Ministers the importance of a long-term solution that will not leave communities permanently displaced.

Jonathan Ashworth: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and pleased that he has visited the camps in Rakhine state. I am sure that he will have seen reports in recent days that Rohingya refugees crossing the Andaman sea to Thailand have been captured by Thai officials and sold on to human traffickers. What urgent representations is he making to the Thai authorities on that matter, and will he give us an update on the situation?

Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman follows these matters closely, and he is referring to the 949 Rohingya in southern Thailand who were allegedly waiting for their escort to smuggle them across the border. It is worth saying that the embassy in Bangkok has raised the issue of the Rohingya with the appropriate Thai authorities, both bilaterally and through the European Commission, and that it continues to follow the issue closely, including in close conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): My right hon. Friend is well aware of the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Will he update the House on the specific steps that the Government are taking, with the Burmese and Bangladeshi Governments, to ensure a permanent, stable future for those people?

Mr Swire: My hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. My response can be divided quite neatly into two parts. First, in the short term, humanitarian access, co-ordination and security must be improved for the Rohingya people in Rakhine. I have seen that for myself and I am satisfied that that is happening. Secondly, in the longer term, those responsible for the violence must be held publicly to account for what they have done. Ultimately, the Burmese have to deal with the issue of citizenship, and that matter is being reviewed at the moment. The Bangladeshis need to play a better part in helping out those Rohingya who are on that side of the border.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The continued suppression of minority ethnic groups in Burma is clearly incompatible with the development of a proper democracy there. We all wish to see such a democracy developing, but what are the Government doing through their contact with the Burmese to stress that we cannot continue to support democratic development and the development of trade without the Burmese addressing those important issues?

Mr Swire: The situation in Burma is complex, as the hon. Lady will accept. The country is coming out of a period of military rule. We believe that the President has embarked on the right journey, although he could move more quickly to deliver some of the reforms. The solution to 10 out of the 11 outbreaks of violence has been a ceasefire, but we have not yet seen that happen in

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Kachin state. This Government are helping out, through the Department for International Development, by being the largest bilateral donor of aid. We have also had many exchanges involving Burmese parliamentarians coming here to Westminster. The more engagement that British parliamentarians have with the Burmese authorities to show them how we do things here, the better. Perhaps that might include you, Mr Speaker, if you were able to find time in your diary to show the Burmese what we do here at Westminster and show them what a true democracy can look like.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Staying with Burma, is the Minister aware that the ceasefire in Kachin state has been breached, and that a village with 100 houses in it was burned today? Can he say what representations he is making to the Burmese Government to ask them to continue the ceasefire?

Mr Swire: Yes I can. Indeed, not too long ago I made a statement about the situation in Kachin. We welcome what the President said about Kachin when he reiterated the Burmese Government’s stated commitment to a nationwide ceasefire and to peace building, although we do not recognise one or two other things he has said. It is important that there is a ceasefire in Kachin state and that the military in the area adheres to what the President is saying. It is also important, as I stressed when I was in Burma in December, that humanitarian aid gets to the people in Kachin.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the Minister has noted the urgent and troubling situation in Kachin state, with the three civilian deaths reported last week and the military breaking a very short-lived ceasefire at the weekend. Will he tell us what discussions the Government have had not just with the Burmese authorities on the urgent need for peace talks but with the EU and the United Nations on his assessment of whether the resumed attacks bring into doubt the Burmese Government’s commitment to a ceasefire and their control over the military?

Mr Swire: The hon. Lady raises a good point. There is a genuine question about control over the Burmese military; and until the Burmese military is brought under control, the peace process in Burma and the journey on which the President has embarked will be under serious question. We are anxious to help with what is going on in Kachin: we have increased our humanitarian aid, which now totals £3.5 million—as far as I am aware, the biggest donation in that area from any country. We are also one of the three bilateral members of the peace donor support group, which represents most of the major donors in Burma and is working closely with the Government to move from the ceasefire arrangements to political dialogue with all Burma’s ethnic groups.

Women's Health and Education (Afghanistan and Pakistan)

2. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): What assistance he is providing to ensure access to education and health for women in Afghanistan. [138332]

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3. Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): What guidance his Department is giving to heads of mission on the steps that should be taken to ensure continuing support for education and health care for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [138333]

5. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What guidance his Department is giving to heads of mission on the steps that should be taken to ensure continuing support for education and health care for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [138335]

7. Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): What guidance his Department is giving to heads of mission on the steps that should be taken to ensure continuing support for education and health care for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [138337]

13. Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): What guidance is being given to heads of mission by his Department regarding the steps that should be taken to ensure continuing support for education and health care for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [138343]

16. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What guidance is being given to heads of mission by his Department regarding the steps that should be taken to ensure continuing support for education and health care for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [138346]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): Supporting access to welfare, including education and health for women and girls in Pakistan, remains a key priority for the UK Government. Despite some fragility, we believe real progress has been made in these areas in these states over recent years. I expect to be able to give more details in answer to questions in the next few minutes.

Mr Hanson: I am grateful for the Minister’s response. Does he accept that one of the real benefits of intervention by international countries in Afghanistan has been the progress made for women? What steps will he take to ensure that, for neighbouring countries as well as areas in Afghanistan, such progress is not reversed?

Alistair Burt: The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to specific progress. In 2002, fewer than 9% of women in Afghanistan had access to any health care, whereas some 57% now have access to it within an hour, whether they walk or use other means of travel. It is important for that progress to continue. To that extent, the Tokyo mutual accountability framework agreed by a number of nations sets some indicators for Afghanistan in return for future financial support post-2015. Support for women, including measures such as the Act on the elimination of violence against women, is a key part of that and we would like to see it implemented as part of that agreement.

Gemma Doyle: Al-Jazeera has just reported a 22% increase in crimes of violence against women in Afghanistan. Despite the progress made, the truth is that many Afghan women cannot access education or health care for fears about their own safety. Will the Minister ensure that Afghan women are involved in

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planning for the 2014 London summit on Afghanistan’s future? Crucially, will he seek to guarantee women at least a 30% representation at that summit?

Alistair Burt: Yes, it has been vital that women have played an increasing part in political participation. Some 25% of members of Parliament in Afghanistan are women, and there are nine women members on the High Peace Council. Access to education remains key for the future. Some 2.3 million girls are now in education in Afghanistan compared with hardly any when the Taliban were in control. To ensure that that remains the case and in order to improve the chances of resisting violence against women—clearly, a serious issue in Afghanistan—it is crucial to keep that progress going.

John Robertson: As the Minister knows, security is fundamental to the delivery of education and health for women. What discussions has he had with the international security assistance force, his partners in Afghanistan, about the achievement of that security?

Alistair Burt: In many parts of Afghanistan, the security situation is very different from the situation that we sometimes see portrayed in areas such as Helmand and Kandahar. Bamyam province is governed by a woman, for example. Security issues are very different in different places. We have regular contact with ISAF and our own forces about the need to support the civil authorities that are promoting the rule of law in order to ensure that laws prohibiting violence against women are enforced, and our development work will, of course, continue after 2014.

Fiona O’Donnell: We all want to see improvements in access to health and education for women and girls in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. How is the Foreign Office working with the Department for International Development to achieve that?

Alistair Burt: Very closely. Progress in both countries is being handled almost on a mutual basis: many meetings take place at which FCO and DFID officials are present in post together. I have already provided some details relating to Afghanistan, but progress is being made in Pakistan as well. Because 50% of women in Pakistan currently give birth at home and some 12,000 die in childbirth or for related reasons, we have so far contributed to the support of some 17,000 community midwives there. Work of that kind can be done only with the support of the FCO, working with the Pakistan Government, and the good work of DFID and the non-governmental organisations that work with it to provide care on the ground.

Karl Turner: What is the Minister’s assessment of the contribution of women’s education to the long-term stability and development of Afghanistan?

Alistair Burt: It is utterly crucial. There is no recorded instance of a society in which women have been involved and engaged being in a worse position than before. That involvement and engagement is vital to progress.

We are supporting projects including Afghan Women In Business and the promotion of entrepreneurship for women in Afghanistan. The number of women who are engaged in business remains incredibly small, and the

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female literacy rate is only about 12%. Our work must involve a combination of involving women in education, helping them to become involved in business, and, of course, continuing to support their political participation.

Chris Evans: As the Minister said earlier, more than 2 million Afghan girls have returned to school since the fall of the Taliban, but, according to press reports, hundreds of schools are closing all the time. As military operations are scaled down in Afghanistan, what action are the Government taking to ensure that the education of girls is maintained there?

Alistair Burt: When we talk of the scaling down of military activity, we should bear in mind that that refers to the withdrawal of international and United Kingdom forces from combat roles. In their place will be 330,000 Afghan security forces who know that part of their role will be providing domestic security to ensure that the progress that has been made—such as girls going to school—can continue, and that they will be protected in so doing. The example of Malala, the young woman in Pakistan who was threatened by people very similar to those who are threatening girls in Afghanistan, demonstrates the importance of that.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): If women are to gain access to health and education, they must enjoy the same freedoms in the public space as men. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, and on putting that initiative on the G8 agenda. How will it be implemented in Afghanistan, where it is clearly much needed?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and his initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, which has been warmly welcomed by Members in all parts of the House and internationally. The G8 summit in April will consider the best way of implementing it, which will involve not just national Governments but non-governmental organisations and human rights monitors. They will be vital to ensuring that women are protected locally, and that those who perpetuate violence towards them are accountable for their actions.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of supporting education and health care for women in Afghanistan will be a successful transition in 2014? Will he update the House on how the talks in Doha are going? Is there any sign that the United States Administration are prepared to get involved in them?

Mr Speaker: Specifically and exclusively with reference to education and health for women in Afghanistan—nothing else. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knew that.

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a successful transition is the most likely foundation for the continuation of the progress we have seen on women’s issues in recent years. Consultations are continuing with all parties, including in Doha, but perhaps the most successful line of conversation recently has been in the increased relationship between the Governments

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of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United Kingdom has been closely involved in those arrangements to ensure that those Governments are working more closely together in isolating the extremists and finding the moderate politicians who will guarantee the future of Afghanistan.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): The Minister mentioned brave Malala Yousafzai. Does he agree that when such girls have the courage to defy the Taliban in search of an education, the rest of the world has a responsibility to support them and to support education for women in the region?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. The whole world was shocked by the attack on Malala, but what was remarkable was the response in Pakistan from women who felt horrified on her behalf. The fact that she has made such a stand is incredibly important. She is a source of joy to all of us with her recovery. She is a source of pride for us because she came to the United Kingdom to get the best health care in the world for her recovery. And she is a source of inspiration to everyone all over the world, youngsters and parents alike, because of her commitment to education.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): One of the major health care issues facing Pakistan is population growth and a lack of family planning. For example, 80% of maternal deaths there could be prevented. What assistance is being given to Pakistan to address those issues?

Alistair Burt: Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely to the point. We support programmes that will encourage women to take more control of situations in relation to pregnancy and child birth, and programmes are designed to assist that. The more control that women have over those situations in societies such as Pakistan, the better it will be for their general well-being and all-round health care issues.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): Afghan and Pakistani women are not just victims; they are often the most effective and vocal in calling for their right to access services. However, like Malala, they face intimidation and abuse, and often grave sexual violence. What do the Government plan to do to support and protect these women and human rights defenders, especially in the context of the preventing sexual violence initiative?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend asks a highly pertinent question. These non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders, with their local knowledge, are often those closest to circumstances where people can be identified and protected. It is the intention of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to raise this issue at the G8 summit in April, where we hope the international community will also recognise their importance and ensure that the protocol provides protection for human rights defenders and others who will do so much to ensure the implementation of the Foreign Secretary’s initiative.

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Occupied Palestinian Territories

4. Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What recent reports he has received on the political situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. [138334]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We continue to monitor the protests in the west bank as well as reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. We are particularly concerned about the impact on the Palestinian Authority of Israel’s withholding of revenues. We call on Israel to release those revenues in accordance with its obligations under the Paris protocol.

Mr Love: Last month, the Foreign Secretary told the House that he would discuss the diplomatic options with his European Union partners if recent settlement activity was not reversed. Given the likely outcome of the Israeli general election, that looks more distant now than ever. He recently said that he would discuss the

“incentives and disincentives for both sides to return to negotiations.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 709.]

What discussions has he had with his EU partners about those?

Mr Hague: We have many such discussions. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, I made my remarks in the context of the support we can give for what I hope will be a major effort by the United States on the middle east peace process—the greatest effort since the Oslo peace accords, as I have put it. Of course that awaits the outcome of the Israeli elections and the transition of personnel in the re-elected Obama Administration. I will be discussing this with the United States in Washington next week.

17.[138347] Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a significant barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the continued supply of weapons and funding to Hamas in Gaza? What action are the Government taking to try to stop that funding and weapons supply?

Mr Hague: Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The behaviour of Hamas and the continued supply of weaponry to Hamas are a major problem in bringing about a two-state solution and peace in the middle east. We call on all states through which such weapons might pass to interdict such weapons and prevent their passage.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): If, as the Foreign Secretary has said, 2013 is to be the year of peace for Palestinians and Israelis, we urgently need both sides to begin meaningful peace talks. On his recent visit to the UK, did the secretary-general of the Arab League give any indication that its members would host urgent peace talks?

Mr Hague: I discussed that with Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary-general of the Arab League, when he was here two weeks ago. The Arab League, like us, looks to the United States to launch a major initiative and looks to be able to give its support to it in the same way that we in the European Union will be able to contribute, as I

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have said before, and as has been quoted, with “incentives and disincentives”. When the Israeli elections are completed and a new Israeli Government have taken office, it is important that that Israeli Government should be ready to enter such negotiations. It is also important that Palestinians should be ready to do so without preconditions and that the United States should be ready to launch a major new initiative.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): My right hon. Friend will recall that it has been the policy of successive British Governments for decades that there should be a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. In the light of the political situation in Israel and the potential situation after the election, will he give the House his objective assessment of the possibility of ever achieving a solution based on two states and the 1967 boundaries?

Mr Hague: My right hon. and learned Friend accurately describes the position of successive Governments. I have said before in this House that changing facts on the ground, principally the construction of settlements on occupied land, mean that the two-state solution is slipping away. The chances of bringing it about are not yet at an end, but it is very urgent. I do not want to speculate, of course, about the outcome of the election taking place at the moment in Israel, but I hope that whatever Israeli Government emerge will recognise that we are approaching the last chance of bringing about such a solution.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): Let me pick up where the last question left off. In a speech to the House in November, the Foreign Secretary said:

“If progress on negotiations is not made next year, the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 227.]

Today, he talked again of the greatest efforts since Oslo. In the light of today’s Israeli elections and yesterday’s US presidential inauguration, can he offer the House a little more detail on the substance of the major American initiative of which he has spoken? What other initiatives will be possible in the course of 2013 if we are not to see the end of the two-state solution, as he puts it?

Mr Hague: The short answer on the details of the initiative is no, because it requires the United States to take the lead. That is not because other countries like us are not willing to play our own active part, but because the United States is in a unique position in the world to help bring Israel into a two-state solution. I will be going to Washington next week and discussing the question with the United States. The Secretary of State has changed and there have been many other changes of personnel in the US Administration, and I have put it to them that this should be the single highest priority for new momentum in American foreign policy, even with all the other challenges we face in the world today.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): For five and a half years now, the Quartet has followed a largely economic policy in the west bank, personified by the work of Tony Blair, presumably to try to help lay better conditions for a political settlement. That strategy has comprehensively failed as the possibility of a political settlement is much

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further away now than it was then. Is it not now time for the Quartet to focus heavily on the politics rather than the economics?

Mr Hague: It is very important that the Quartet does everything that it can to recognise the urgency of what we are speaking about on both sides of the House. At the same time it is very important that we do everything we can to support a Palestinian economy that is in a serious condition. As my hon. Friend knows, we provide £30 million a year in budget support to the Palestinian Authority, and the Department for International Development has provided £349 million in support of Palestinian development in the current four-year spending programme. However, the conditions are difficult, and other nations need to do more. It is important that the Israelis release the revenues that are owed to the Palestinians.

Safety of Women (India)

6. Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations he has made to the Government of India on the safety of women and the rule of law. [138336]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): We regularly discuss human rights issues with India, including the protection of women, both bilaterally and through the EU/India human rights dialogue. Women’s rights are on the agenda for the next instalment of the dialogue. I welcome the fact that the Indian Government continue to take steps to promote the rights of women and hope they will continue their efforts in this regard.

Stella Creasy: One in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime in this world. Whether the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, the events in Steubenville in Ohio, what is happening in Congo, or even what is happening on our own streets and towns in Britain, the scale of violence against women and girls is overwhelming. The One Billion Rising campaign is leading campaigners in 188 countries to call for that issue to be a priority for all Governments to eliminate. Will the Foreign Secretary join us in supporting that campaign, and say so today, and will he do all that he can to encourage the Leader of the House to make sure that on 14 February we can debate these matters in a One Billion Rising debate?

Mr Swire: This Government will stop at nothing in trying to stamp out violence of any sort against women, wherever it takes place. Unfortunately, there is too much violence against women even in our own country. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), is taking forward an international campaign to end violence against women, and will represent the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which will focus on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. I would also say to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) that we are using Britain’s presidency of the G8 to run a year-long campaign, led by the Foreign Secretary, on preventing sexual violence in armed conflicts.

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Mr Speaker: The Minister of State has ably demonstrated that there is plenty of scope for a full day’s debate, and to that we look forward with eager anticipation.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): It is estimated that a rape takes place every 21 minutes in India. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the UK should offer specialist advice and training to the Indian police to help rape victims and to protect women from these horrific crimes?

Mr Swire: I share my hon. Friend’s horror at the recent events, not least the rape of the 23-year-old medical student in Delhi. We welcome the steps that the Indian Government have taken to promote the rights of women, including laws on sex-selective abortions and action against human trafficking. We will work, if asked, with the Indian Government, but it is an internal Indian matter, which we shall certainly continue to raise with them.

18. [138348] Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): The brutal rape and murder of the young 23-year-old woman was perhaps the starkest example of the brutality faced by many young girls growing up in India. The risk is that all the good intentions sound like impotent hand-wringing. Will the Minister perhaps be more specific about the steps in bilateral discussion with the Indian authorities that he seeks to achieve?

Mr Swire: The right hon. Lady needs to acknowledge that India has a liberal constitution and a strong political framework, and that women hold high-ranking positions in politics and civil society, so we are sure that the Indian Government can continue those efforts. More specifically, DFID is working with the Indian Government, for instance, in Bihar, to help 60,000 more girls to stay in secondary school and give 3 million more women access to wider choices in family planning, health, nutrition, micro-finance, and skills for jobs. It is about enabling women and raising their status in Indian society, and we continue to do that in conjunction with the Indian Government themselves.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the advice that is being given to British nationals planning to travel to India, as they will be concerned about their personal safety following these awful events?

Mr Swire: I have reviewed the advice that we gave this morning to travellers going to India. We have not changed our advice. Clearly, we urge women, wherever they are travelling, to take care, particularly if travelling at night in unfamiliar places, and ideally to travel in conjunction with others. People should always look at the Foreign Office website before they travel anywhere in the world, because our advice is kept constantly under review.

Tensions in the East and South China Seas

8. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): What reports he has received on the effect of rising tension in the East and South China seas; and what discussions he has had with countries in that region. [138338]

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12. David Wright (Telford) (Lab): What reports he has received on the effect of rising tension in the East and South China seas; and what discussions he has had with countries in that region.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I receive regular updates from our embassies on both these situations and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) was in the region last week. We regard these maritime disputes as regional issues and are encouraging all parties involved to pursue a peaceful resolution in line with international law. On the South China sea we encourage progress on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China code of conduct.

Ian Lavery: Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the dispute—the protests—in the East and South China seas have been raised with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and does he believe that the tensions will be resolved both peacefully and swiftly?

Mr Hague: Yes, of course we have discussed this with ASEAN and bilaterally with many of the countries involved. We do not take a view on the strength of the various claims, but we encourage a peaceful resolution to these disputes in line with international law. ASEAN specifically has been working on a code of conduct, and we judge the code to be the best immediate prospect of managing the disputes, so we encourage all parties to work with that.

David Wright: I accept what the Foreign Secretary says about this being a regional conflict, but stability in that area of the world is incredibly important for UK trade. In Telford we have a large number of Japanese companies and companies from the region. What discussions has he had with the Japanese Government on stability in that area?

Mr Hague: I discussed this with the then Japanese Foreign Minister in October, Foreign Minister Genba, during our strategic dialogue. The hon. Gentleman is right—the UK has clear interests in the region, including preserving freedom of navigation and ensuring the safety of UK oil and gas companies operating in the region, but I am sure it is very much the right approach to encourage all parties to pursue a peaceful resolution, rather than for the United Kingdom to take a position on the strength of the various claims.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dispute about the Senkaku islands cannot be regarded as just a regional issue, because of the United States’ commitment to defend both Japan and Taiwan, although the legal position of the islands is not so clear? As it is reported that the Chinese are massing missiles on the coast of the East China sea capable of hitting Japan, we could be facing a very dangerous international situation. As we are friends of all the disputants and their allies on this issue, this is an opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to show his statesmanship.

Mr Hague: When I say that it is a regional issue, I do not mean that the rest of the world is not concerned about it. It is a matter to be resolved by the countries in

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the region. That is the important point. Of course we have been talking to the parties involved and have urged them to seek peaceful and co-operative solutions in accordance with international law, including in accordance with the United Nations convention on the law of the sea, so we will continue to take that role.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The rising economic importance of Asia is widely acknowledged, as well as the importance of those sea lanes, not only to the Asian economy but to the European and the wider world economy. I concur with the right hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell)—this cannot be just a matter of regional importance, especially with the increasing level of defence equipment expenditure taking place in that region. Can we therefore look at ensuring that the disputes are resolved through international law and not through military action?

Mr Hague: The latter point is very important and absolutely right, but the best role that the United Kingdom can play in order to contribute to that is to do the sorts of things that I described. I do not think that the United Kingdom taking a position on the strength of various claims would serve very well our objective of trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of that.

Settlement Building (West Bank)

9. Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): What recent representations his Department has made to persuade the Israeli Government to cease settlement expansion in the west bank. [138339]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I condemn recent Israeli decisions to expand settlements. I speak regularly to Israeli leaders, stressing our profound concern that Israel’s settlement policy is losing it the support of the international community and will make a two-state solution impossible. We will continue to press the next Israeli Government to cease settlement building.

Gregg McClymont: The Secretary of State will be aware that the political process is critical if the peace process is to begin again. I know that the UK Government decided to abstain from the vote on whether to grant Palestine non-member observer status at the UN, but does he believe that the success of the vote was a positive or negative step on the road to a peaceful solution to the conflict?

Mr Hague: Following that vote, there have of course been additional complications, including Israeli announcements on unfreezing settlement applications in the E1 area and the withholding of revenues for the Palestinian Authority, to which I referred a few minutes ago. That has meant Israel taking a step back, and that was one of the things we feared about going to the United Nations General Assembly in November. Nevertheless, it has happened. It is important for both sides to make progress. That will be our message to the next Israeli Government, and it continues to be our message to the Palestinians; both sides should be prepared to enter into negotiations without preconditions.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Clearly the election taking place today will have a significant effect on what happens to the next Israeli Government. What will my right hon. Friend do about the settlement activity to ensure that there is a just and peaceful solution to this long-standing problem?

Mr Hague: This raises our whole approach to the middle east peace process. As other right hon. and hon. Members have quoted in the past half hour, I attach enormous importance to this in the year 2013, particularly as there will be a new or re-elected Israeli Government, and with the US Administration beginning their second term. If we do not make progress in the coming year, people will increasingly conclude that a two-state solution has become impossible.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week Israeli soldiers murdered four innocent Palestinians on the west bank, including a 17-year-old boy? Taking that into account, along with the fact that Netanyahu said this week that, if re-elected, he will not negotiate on the 1967 borders, what specific action will the Government take to get the Israelis to see that their future survival depends on a two-state solution?

Mr Hague: We will of course continue to put that case very strongly. It is very much in the long-term strategic interests of Israel and peace in the whole region to embrace a two-state solution, because all the alternatives will be more problematic, particularly for the Israelis. I think that many people in Israel strongly hold that view—clearly, views in Israel are divided—and it is certainly our view and that of almost all other nations of the world. The role of the United States will be crucial, which is why that will be top of my agenda when I visit Washington next week.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I draw attention to my entry in the register. Last month I and hon. Members from both sides of the House saw for ourselves measures to segregate Israeli settlements around East Jerusalem and the E1 area, which is bigger still, from the rest of the west bank. What does the Foreign Secretary think would be the consequences for the prospects for peace talks were the Israeli Government to proceed with extending the security barrier around the E1 area?

Mr Hague: Such extensions, and any prospect of building in the E1 area, would of course be extremely damaging to the prospect for a successful peace process. That is why it is so urgent. Now that the planning process for the E1 area has been unfrozen, a clock is ticking, with potentially disastrous consequences for the peace process.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Israeli Government’s response to Britain’s abstention at the UN was, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, “taking a step back”. Therefore, will he please discuss urgently with our European partners the co-ordinated response to the present situation on the ground and use the wish for Israeli to develop stronger trading relations with the European Union as a means of achieving progress in the middle east?

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Mr Hague: To be clear, the Israeli response is to the passing of the Palestinian resolution, not to the UK abstention; the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood the motivation behind Israel’s policy, which clearly relates to the passing of the resolution.

As to the implications for future relations with the EU, provided that there is a major initiative on the peace process, in particular from Washington, we will all have to work out the “incentives and disincentives” that we can create to support that. But of course that is work to be done over the coming weeks and months.

Jaffna University Students

10. Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): What assessment he has made of reported clashes between Sri Lankan security forces and Jaffna university students and the situation of those who have been arrested and detained. [138340]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): We are concerned about the attacks on students at Jaffna university in November last year. Our high commissioner has expressed those concerns to the authorities in Sri Lanka, and we continue to monitor the detention of those students. We take every opportunity to raise human rights concerns with the Government of Sri Lanka, and I will raise those concerns, including this case, when I visit Sri Lanka fairly shortly.

Mark Durkan: I thank the Minister for his answer and his personal engagement. The attacks and arrests took place on the day after Tamil remembrance day. The region is highly militarised and even this week the Sri Lankan Parliament is looking at legislation to extend detention without warrant. When the Minister visits Sri Lanka next week, will he tell the regime there that he will not be persuaded by the language of reconciliation that it offers the diplomatic community, given that it offers only an arsenal of repression to the Tamil community?

Alistair Burt: The hon. Gentleman puts his case well. I expect to have straightforward private conversations with the Sri Lankan authorities. I will make the point that if reconciliation is to mean anything, a straightforward gesture such as converting the current triumphal expressions following the end of the war into a day of national reconciliation, as recommended by the lessons learned and reconciliation committee, would be a good step forward and perhaps start to defuse the tension, an increase of which would be very unwelcome.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Commonwealth Heads of Government are due to meet in Sri Lanka this November, with Australia in the chair. Have concerns about human rights been raised in the Minister’s preparatory conversations with the secretary-general and the Australian and Sri Lankan Governments?

Alistair Burt: Yes, concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka are raised among those who have the interests of all Sri Lankans at heart. The United Kingdom has made no decision yet as to the level of its attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

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Latin America

11. Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s relations with countries in Latin America. [138341]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We are striving to broaden and deepen our relations in Latin America—after years of neglect, I have to say. There were 23 ministerial visits to the region in 2012. We have opened new posts in El Salvador and Recife, Brazil, and will do so in Paraguay this year. We will host the first UK-Brazil strategic dialogue in London on 4 February.

Nic Dakin: Now that the Falkland Islands Government have announced a date and wording for the referendum, what discussion have the Government had with Argentina and its South American neighbours about respecting the Falkland Islanders’ right of self-determination and the outcome of that referendum?

Mr Hague: Of course, we regularly discuss with countries all around Latin America the importance of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders and our absolute commitment to that. I believe that one of the most effective impacts on public opinion and Governments in Latin America in recent months has been the fact that Falkland Islanders themselves have been going to many countries and explaining the history of their islands and their attachment to self-determination.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I note the excellent work of our ambassador and embassy in Chile. Does the Secretary of State agree that our relationship with Chile is particularly important, particularly when it comes to our situation with the Falklands and also Antarctica?

Mr Hague: Yes, it is a very good and important relationship and we have built it up further. For instance, the UK is now the top destination for Chilean students receiving Government grants. The links between our countries are growing, and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), is heading to Chile tomorrow.

Mr Speaker: We now come to topical questions. Demand always exceeds supply, so I remind colleagues that questions and answers should be very brief.

Topical Questions

T1. [138356] Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We remain focused on the terrible events and tragic loss of life in Algeria and are now working to ensure that the identification and repatriation of the deceased takes place as quickly as possible. Our work on countering terrorism with Algeria and other countries in the region has been increased in recent times, and that work will be further intensified in the weeks ahead.

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Mrs Ellman: The Bulgarian authorities have confirmed that Hezbollah was responsible for the terrorist attack on tourists in Burgas airport last July. Will the Foreign Secretary renew his efforts to persuade Europe to proscribe Hezbollah?

Mr Hague: Yes. This is of course an important development. I have discussed the aftermath of that terrible bombing several times with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister. It is certainly our view that we need to act against the military wing of Hezbollah, and we will be pursuing that over the coming days.

T4. [138359] Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): While progress is slow in Somalia but things are improving considerably, what does the Foreign Secretary feel about the impact of the London conference almost a year ago?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): My hon. Friend is right to raise the progress that has been made in Somalia. She will be aware, I hope, that we are planning a second conference in May this year that will be hosted jointly by the UK Government and the Somalian Government. It will prioritise the security sector, the justice sector, and building governance in the Somali Government so that they can provide services for their people.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will remember that in October 2011 he and I stood shoulder to shoulder in the same Lobby opposing a motion for an in/out referendum on Europe. He said at the time:

“It would create additional economic uncertainty in this country at a difficult economic time.”

I have not changed my mind—why has he?

Mr Hague: Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will have to await the Prime Minister’s speech about this. Talking of changing minds, I understand now from the position taken by the Leader of the Opposition that he is not ruling out having such a referendum in future in any case. Talking of changing minds, the right hon. Gentleman and Labour Members did not support our referendum lock legislation, and I understand now that they have no wish to repeal it, which we welcome. Talking of changing minds, I believe that the Leader of the Opposition said that if he were Prime Minister for long enough he might take Britain into the euro, while now he says that he would not but will still not rule out backing euro membership for the future. No minds change more often on this subject than those of Opposition Front Benchers.

Mr Alexander: Many words, Mr Speaker, but not quite as many answers. Perhaps I can try the Foreign Secretary on this one: if he believes that an immediate in/out referendum will cause uncertainty, why would an in/out referendum many years from now not cause uncertainty?

Mr Hague: As I say, I do not want to anticipate the Prime Minister’s speech. However, I think it is clear from my analysis of the policy of the Opposition that nothing could create more uncertainty than the adoption of their positions, and constant changing of their positions, either in this Parliament or the next.

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T8. [138363] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In a recently discovered TV interview from 2010, Mohamed Morsi, who is now the President of Egypt, is seen referring to Zionists as “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs”. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of those remarks and of the potential role that Mohamed Morsi might play in helping to arrive at a middle east peace settlement?

Mr Hague: Of course, we absolutely do not agree with any such remarks. My hon. Friend is quite right to give the date, because those remarks were made well before the President of Egypt took office as President. We welcome, since he took office, his maintenance of the peace treaty with Israel and the work that Egypt has done, including engaging with Israel, to try to succeed in bringing about a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict that we saw a few weeks ago. We will continue to judge the President by his actions in office.

T2. [138357] Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): At the global conference that the Foreign Secretary was good enough to host last week in the Locarno rooms, Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, made it clear that a settlement in 2015 would as much reflect national legislation as define it. What steps is his Department taking in bilateral arrangements with other countries to promote that national legislation?

Mr Hague: We do a great deal of that in our bilateral relations. This work was started under the previous Government—I pay tribute to that—and it continues in the current Government. I think we are foremost among Foreign Ministries in promoting the recognition of climate change and the need to act on it within other countries around the world. We have done a lot of that in China and do a lot of it in Brazil and many other emerging economies, so that work has the continued energy that we have all put into it over the past few years.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): As a warm Commonwealth friend and ally to Pakistan, what is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s assessment of the present political difficulties in that very important country in the region?

Mr Hague: Pakistan has many political controversies and difficulties, even by our own standards, but it is approaching an election with the prospect of this being the first democratically elected Parliament and Government in the history of Pakistan that can be succeeded by another democratically elected Parliament and Government. That will be an important milestone in the history of Pakistan, so although many controversies swirl around, we must maintain our robust support for the institutions of a democratic Pakistan. We always make that very clear.

T3. [138358] Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Colombia’s FARC has just ended its two-month unilateral ceasefire while peace talks took place in Cuba. The Colombian Government refused to agree to a bilateral ceasefire and have now returned to a state of war, but FARC is willing to offer another ceasefire if the Government enter a bilateral truce. Will the UK Government use their influence with the Colombian Government to press for such a bilateral truce as a basis for further peace talks and an end to the war?

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Yes, indeed we will. The hon. Gentleman will know that the official peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia started in October in Norway. It announced a universal ceasefire for two months, and the Colombian Government and FARC jointly announced a mechanism for civil society participation in the peace negotiations, and those negotiations continue. The British Government stand by—many hon. Members have written to me about this—ready to work with the authorities in Colombia to ensure long-lasting peace in the country.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Given the likely change in the political make-up of the Israeli Government following today’s elections, may I urge the Government to redouble their efforts to dissuade the Israelis from a pre-emptive strike against Iran, an act that would be illegal, that would reinforce the position of hardliners in Iran and that could lead to regional war?

Mr Hague: We have made our position on that clear to Israel and we will continue to do so. We believe in a twin-track process, endorsed in this House, of negotiations and sanctions, so we are not in favour, in those circumstances, of a military strike. However, as my hon. Friend knows—he does not agree with this, but it is our policy—we have taken no option off the table for the future. We are now exploring the possibility of returning to negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme, but that will require a readiness by Iran to enter into realistic negotiations.

T5. [138360] Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Given recent reports from eastern Congo and news of non-governmental organisations not being able to reach communities, particularly children, with food and medical treatment, what discussions has the UK had with the United Nations about plans and, crucially, a time scale for the comprehensive political framework for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo?

Mark Simmonds: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this important issue. I will travel tomorrow to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where one of my main priorities will be to encourage regional countries to sign the memorandum of understanding, which will go into some of the detail that she has mentioned. There are two elements: one is to resolve short-term issues that involve the M23—talks are taking place in Kampala—and the other is to put in place longer-term strategies that will enable the aid and assistance to get in for long-term sustainable solutions in that troubled area.

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Last March this House unanimously voted for a UK-equivalent to the US Sergei Magnitsky law. Ministers undertook to take that up if the US Bill became law. It now has, so when will the Government produce legislative proposals of their own so that we can ban those with blood on their hands from waltzing into Britain?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): In this country we operate on the basis of making a judgment, not on speculation about applications, but on actual

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applications for visas. We have a presumption that someone against whom there is evidence of human rights abuses will not be admitted to the United Kingdom, and that is the policy that we intend to continue.

T6. [138361] Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Relations between Britain and Yemen are very good, so when can we restore direct flights between Sana’a and London, and allow Yemenis to apply in Sana’a for a visa to come to Britain, rather than have to go to Abu Dhabi or Cairo?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): The right hon. Gentleman is correct that relations between Yemen and ourselves are extremely good, and we continue to be in contact about its national dialogue and progress towards further elections in a couple of years. The security situation remains the most important condition on whether direct flights are reintroduced. The scanners are now in place, but a decision on direct flights depends on training and the overall security situation.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): My former constituent Lindsay Sandiford was sentenced to death in Indonesia this morning for drug trafficking. Whatever our abhorrence of that evil trade, does the Foreign Secretary agree that this is out of keeping with Indonesia’s historic progress towards democracy and human rights? Will he ensure that Mrs Sandiford, who has struggled with legal representation, receives the best possible consular support?

Mr Swire: We are aware that Lindsay Sandiford is facing the death penalty in Indonesia. We strongly object to the death penalty and continue to provide consular assistance to Lindsay and her family during this difficult time. We have made repeated representations to the Indonesian authorities, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised Lindsay Sandiford’s case with Dr Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, during the November state visit of the Indonesian President. We understand that under Indonesian law, Lindsay has at least two further avenues of appeal through the courts, as well as an opportunity to apply for presidential clemency should they be unsuccessful.

T7. [138362] Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): The Europe chief executive of Ford cars has said that to

“discuss leaving a trading partner where 50% of your exports go…would be devastating for the UK economy.”

Ian Robertson of BMW has said:

“To think about the UK being outside of Europe doesn’t make sense.”

When will the Conservative party start putting the UK national interest above another bout of ideological self-indulgence?

Mr Lidington: It is precisely because the Government see the advantages to our national interest of active involvement in changing the European Union in the right way that we have succeeded in winning free trade agreements at European level with Singapore and Korea and are successfully pushing for the further deepening of the single market.

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James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the recent elections in Ghana?

Mark Simmonds: I was fortunate enough to attend the inauguration of President Mahama in Accra about two weeks ago, and I can say to my hon. Friend that the elections were free, fair and credible. The election observers uniformly came up with that view. The Ghanaian people and body politic need significant credit for five or six free and fair elections that have enabled the free transfer of powers to take place.

T9. [138365] Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the devolved Administration in Scotland on the implications and additional costs of a separate Scottish state establishing new foreign embassies and consulates in the event of a yes vote in the pending independence referendum?

Mr Hague: I am not aware of the Scottish Government asking for the costings on establishing a diplomatic network around the world, but clearly the costs would be very substantial. Scots benefit, as all of us in the UK do, from having one of the largest diplomatic networks in the world and a Foreign Office that is one of the most capable in the world at providing consular support to its citizens. It would, of course, be very expensive to replicate that.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): With E3 plus 3 negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme effectively stalled as a result of Iranian prevarication, will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that the British Government are still absolutely committed to sustaining and deepening sanctions against Iran?

Mr Hague: Yes, we are very much committed to that. Indeed, the sanctions that were decided on in the European Union in October are coming into effect in stages now and over the coming weeks. We continue to encourage other countries to adopt similar sanctions, and I warmly welcomed Australia’s adoption last week of sanctions that closely match those of the United States and the EU. Unless Iran takes a more constructive approach to negotiations, sanctions will only intensify.

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Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Will the Minister update the House on the progress made in negotiating the multiannual financial framework?

Mr Lidington: We continue to work closely with other EU member states to try to achieve a settlement, which would be agreed on the basis of a significant further cut from the figures that the Commission currently proposes, and to maintain and protect the United Kingdom’s rebate and so deliver a better deal than our predecessors achieved last time the negotiations took place.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Rising global food prices are a major cause of instability in developing countries, including those in north Africa. The UN has recently described the practice of converting agricultural land to biogas as a crime against humanity. What more can the Government do to persuade the EU and the US to stop subsidising that practice?

Mark Simmonds: The Government are significantly engaged in multilateral discussions aimed at precisely that point and to address high and volatile global food prices, notably at the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the G20’s Agricultural Market Information System.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): What contact are the Government having with the Government of Iran, and what are they doing to ensure that the aspiration of a middle east nuclear weapon free zone conference takes place, given that the one due in Helsinki was postponed?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): As co-sponsor of the conference, we are determined to see it progress. It was not possible to hold it by the end of last year, but I remain in contact with Minister Laavaja, the facilitator, to see whether it can make progress. It is the United Kingdom’s intention to continue to press for this.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. To meet demand for Foreign Office questions would probably require a repeat performance on a daily basis, for which diaries sadly do not allow. I hope colleagues will understand that I could not accommodate any more. We must now move on.


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Armed Forces Redundancies

12.36 pm

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make an urgent statement on today’s news on Army redundancies.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): As the House will be aware, the Government announced the process and outline timetable for the armed forces redundancy programme on 1 March 2011—the need for the programme being born out of the strategic defence and security review and subsequent activity to balance the books in the Ministry of Defence. Although in an ideal world we would not need to run a redundancy programme, the Ministry of Defence—like all areas of Government—must live within its means.

Today’s announcement represents the start of the third tranche of that programme and affects only Army personnel. Announcements about who has been selected will be made on 18 June 2013. Applicants will be given six months’ notice, and non-applicants 12 months’ notice, before they leave the service. Although we need to make up to 5,300 Army personnel redundant, the programme will not adversely affect operations in Afghanistan. As with previous tranches there are a number of important exclusions from the programme. Critically, those preparing for, deployed on or recovering from operations on 18 June will be exempt from this tranche. Similarly, personnel who are below the necessary medical standard for continued service will be ineligible for redundancy and will be handled, if necessary, through the standard medical process already in place.

The House will wish to note that because of the draw-down in Afghanistan already announced, a final decision on those who will deploy there in autumn this year will not be made until April 2013. As a result, the final decision on personnel who are excluded as a result of the “preparing for operations” category will not be made until then. We expect at that stage that there will be a further tranche of redundancies in 2014. That is likely to affect Army personnel and a small number of medical and dental officers from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Throughout the process, the Army will seek to maximise the number of applicants for redundancy. At the same time, we have cut back on recruiting as far as is safe to do so, but as the House will recognise, the services recruit from the bottom up, and therefore a steady inflow of Army recruits will continue to be required.

It is worth highlighting that the majority of those leaving the services as a result of tranches 1 and 2 have already enjoyed success in moving to civilian jobs. All those being made redundant, whether applicants or non-applicants, will enjoy the benefits of the career transition programme. The CTP includes career transition workshops, up to 35 days of paid resettlement, and training and financial support for education and training for up to 10 years after leaving. The programme has historically proved successful in assisting service leavers to find work outside the armed forces, and 93% of those who look for work via the CTP are in full-time employment within six months of leaving the services, rising to 97% after 12 months. To that end, 91% of tranche 1 applicants—more

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than 1,500 in total—have already found employment. That is testament to, and a reflection of, the training and quality that we, as a nation, continue to find in our service personnel.

Mr Murphy: I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and the Minister for his reply in the absence of the Secretary of State from the Chamber. It is important to say at the beginning that, on issues of national security and respect for our forces, there should always be bipartisanship.

On the human impact of today’s announcement, will any of those who apply for redundancy as a consequence be refused it? Will any of those who have no intention of leaving be forced to leave? What is the total number of people in the pool who are liable for redundancy? It seems that, as a consequence of what the Minister has said today, those currently serving in Afghanistan will not be exempt from the next round of Army redundancies.

All that has created enormous uncertainty for those who are forced to look for other work or who face mortgage problems. In opposition, Labour has convinced many large private sector employers to guarantee job interviews to unemployed veterans. Will the Ministry of Defence now finally agree to try to do the same with public sector employers? Will the Minister work with mortgage providers to support those who are losing their jobs?

The gaps in the regular Army capability are to be filled by a doubling of the reserves, yet progress is concerning. A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses worryingly showed that one in three employers said that nothing would encourage them to employ a reservist, while nine out of 10 said that they had never heard of the MOD’s employer awareness events. Will the Minister therefore confirm how the Territorial Army has performed against its 2012 recruitment target, and, in the light of the enormous increase in demands on the hoped-for thousands of new reservists, will he agree to consider legislation to protect reservists’ employment rights so that they do not face discrimination in the workplace?

The Government’s defence review committed the UK to an Army of 95,000, but it did not mention Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria or even Libya. The threats have increased, and yet the Army is being cut to just 82,000, which is well below the previous promise. Will the Minister therefore finally agree to reopen the defence review, which once again has had its flaws exposed by world events?

The Prime Minister rightly spoke yesterday of the urgency concerning the Islamist terror threat to the UK from north Africa, but in a “carry on regardless” strategy, the very next day the MOD has announced 5,000 Army redundancies. Unless Ministers have answers, there will be a growing sense in the country that they are unprepared for the emerging threats in north Africa and beyond.

Mr Francois: The shadow Secretary of State asks a number of questions. I will do my best to take them in turn—I might not stick to the precise order, but I will try to get to them.

First, the right hon. Gentleman says that this should not be a subject for partisan argument—the whole House realises that this is an important matter. I will try

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to respect that spirit, but I cannot escape from pointing out that, although I hear what he says, the reason we are having to conduct a redundancy programme is, ultimately, the size of the defence deficit that this Government inherited. The scale of downsizing required in the Army is a consequence of that. Nothing he can say today can hide that.

That said, let me see whether I can take the right hon. Gentleman’s questions in turn—he asked quite a lot. He asked me to define the size of the pool in tranche 3. The pool is up to 5,300 personnel; it will be limited in tranche 3 to personnel drawn from the Army. It might not reach 5,300. That, in a sense, is the upper number.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we would make redundant people who did not want to be made redundant. We will do everything we can to maximise the number of applicants for redundancy. From memory, in tranche 1—when, effectively, exactly the same process and rules were applied—just over 60% of those made redundant were applicants for redundancy. Again from memory, in tranche 2, just over 70% were applicants for redundancy. We will do everything we practically can to maximise the number of applicants in tranche 3. I cannot, in all honesty, give him a guarantee at the Dispatch Box today that we will achieve 100%, but I hope he will understand that, in spirit, we will try to make that number as high as we can.

On exclusions, I set out my reply a few minutes ago. They are effectively the same as for tranches 1 and 2, and details are provided in the written ministerial statement. I have said that there will be a further tranche, tranche 4, at some point later next year. The exclusions that would apply on that date in 2014 should, in principle, be exactly the same exclusions that apply at the moment for this tranche.

On reserves, the right hon. Gentleman expressed scepticism on whether we would be able to meet the target. I believe that on the radio this morning he said:

“I think over time, reducing the size of the armed forces, as long as you put something in its place with a professional reservist force, then there’s a logic to it.”

I agree with him. The question is: can we get to that number? I hope I am in a position to give a reasonably authoritative comment on this, as I served in the reserve forces as an infantry officer in the 1980s. In those days, the Territorial Army, which, as he knows, may be renamed the Army Reserve, had a trained strength of 75,000 men. [Interruption.] He asked me a question; he must let me answer it. We are now aiming to get to 30,000 by 2018. I have to believe that if we got to 75,000 at that time, we can get to 30,000 now.

Our consultation on this matter closed last week. We have had more than 2,500 responses, many from reservists themselves, which is very encouraging. We will publish a White Paper announcing the way forward in spring. As I said in Defence questions last week, we will publish the White Paper, which in military terminology is our plan of attack. We will then cross the start line and get on with it. We are going to succeed.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I, sadly, had to make four officers on operations redundant. Two of them were volunteers, and two were not. It is very sad that we are now having to force people to take redundancy who might otherwise not be made redundant, because

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other people on operations cannot be made redundant. Will people who volunteer for redundancy, despite being on operations, be allowed to take it?

Mr Francois: In answering my hon. Friend’s question, I pay tribute to his considerable experience in these matters, as the whole House knows. The exclusions apply to people if they do not wish to apply for redundancy and would not be made redundant. If they wish to apply for redundancy voluntarily from within those fields, they are allowed to do so. In essence, they are excluded if they do not want to apply, but allowed to apply voluntarily should they wish to do so. I hope that answers his question.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. As Members can see for themselves, a large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate the level of interest. If I am to have any chance of doing so, however, my ritual exhortation to brevity takes on a particular importance.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I think we will come to regret the cuts to our capability. My question relates specifically to medical staff. Can the Minister say exactly how many medics will be made redundant as a result of the plans he has announced today? What impact will they have on medics cross-service, particularly on operations and in places such as the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, and on the expertise and experience in the medical division of our armed forces?

Mr Francois: Mr Speaker, I know you have asked for brevity, but as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the military-managed ward at the Queen Elizabeth hospital it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the wonderful people who work there and the marvellous service they provide to our wounded and injured personnel. Bless you, Mr Speaker.

There may be some small reductions to the number of Army medics in this tranche, and some small reductions in naval and RAF medics and dentists in tranche 4. The details are still being worked through, but the hon. Gentleman, who has done this job, will understand that if we are downsizing the regular forces, it makes sense to downsize concomitantly the size of the medical division—but no more than that.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Minister for his blessing, which is considerably more than either of us offered the other when first we met in September 1983.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Can we have an assurance that those selected for redundancy will not include any of those who have specialist skills, such as intelligence gathering, that would assist in the achievement of the ambitious agenda announced by the Prime Minister yesterday?

Mr Francois: I would say to my right hon. and learned Friend that in rebalancing the regular Army for its new, smaller size, we need to ensure that we have the correct balance of skills in our armed forces, and we will attempt to do that, including for intelligence personnel.

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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Service personnel numbers in Scotland are at a record low of 11,000. Will the Minister confirm whether that will go down yet further? Only last year the Ministry of Defence said that between 6,500 and 7,000 troops would return from Germany, that a new barracks would be built at Kirknewton and that there would be new training areas in the borders. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are going back on all those commitments?

Mr Francois: For the purposes of this process, Scottish personnel will be treated in much the same way as personnel throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe the House thinks that is right; so do I.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Some of us who have served question the wisdom of cutting regular battalions before knowing for sure that the reservists can fill the large gap that will be left behind. We live in an uncertain world. What objective measures exist for Parliament to gauge progress on this issue?

Mr Francois: As my hon. Friend may recall, he raised this matter with me at Defence questions last week. At the risk of being repetitious, I pointed out to him that we are delighted that recent tri-service and Army recruiting campaigns have already produced a 25% increase in TA inquiries, while regular Army engagements are up 3% against a three-year rolling average. I have taken a close personal interest in the plan to increase the size of the reserves. I understand what lies behind his question, but I genuinely believe that we can do it.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), may I ask the Minister whether he will be accepting voluntary applications for redundancy from pinch-point trades? If so, what assessment has been made of the cost of replacing that essential operational capability?

Mr Francois: I understand the question and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s service in the regular armed forces. We have to wait and see exactly who does and does not apply. We will not know until March who exactly is in the pool of applicants, so it is difficult for me to answer his question now. However, we need to achieve a fully balanced Army at the end of this process, and that will clearly be an important factor in our thinking when looking at individuals.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that we are actively seeking to take the people who are accepting redundancy —or being forced to take it—into the reserve forces? Obviously we need to maintain expertise and experience wherever possible, so if we are doing that, will he also ensure that the transitional period is as efficient and speedy as possible, which, as he and I know, has not always been the case?

Mr Francois: The in-principle answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, of course we are trying to encourage members leaving the regular forces to join the reserves. He is right that there have been some blockages in the recruiting pipeline in the reserves. I have paid close attention to that. I believe that we have cleared those

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blockages—I know exactly what he is talking about—and, because of that, that we can make the system of joining the reserves much more smooth and effective in future.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): What advice did the Minister take on the impact of his statement on morale and, therefore, the effectiveness of the Army?

Mr Francois: As I have already said, I do not believe that this will affect current operations in Afghanistan. We have of course consulted the service chiefs and—particularly on this tranche—members from the Army personnel branch. I am very conscious that behind every person who may be affected there is not just a service number, but a serviceman or woman and potentially a family. We realise that, which is why we are trying to do this as fairly and practically as possible, given that we understand that it is a difficult process.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): Will the Minister confirm that the painful decisions taken in and since the strategic defence and security review aim to balance savings across manpower, equipment and support? Is it not incumbent on anyone opposing this round of redundancies to say where else they would make the savings in defence or come up with an additional defence budget?

Mr Francois: Yes and yes.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I remind the Minister that he is responsible for the double-dip recession—he should not blame the previous Government. More importantly, how many civilian jobs will go as a result of today’s decision?

Mr Francois: I should say that this process not only affects our regular armed forces. Civilians in the Ministry of Defence are affected by a parallel programme—I think that by 2015 we will have reduced our number of civilians by approximately 33%. It would be unfair to say that our regular forces are bearing the brunt of the process while our civil service work force are not, because they are being affected in parallel.

Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In conducting this wretchedly painful exercise—for reasons that we all understand—which is often heartbreaking at unit level, will the Minister confirm that his duty is to the future shape of the armed forces, that they have the best possible collection of experience and ability to shape manpower and that this will mean making people redundant who do not apply for it? That is a necessary difficulty that, if he is to exercise his duty, we have to face up to.

Mr Francois: I thank my hon. Friend for the spirit of his question. In the Ministry of Defence we are ultimately responsible for the defence of the realm, but as I hope he and the House will accept, I fully appreciate as someone who has served in uniform the difficult side of what we are having to do today. We completely understand that. We are therefore doing our best to proceed as sympathetically and fairly as possible; but we must configure our armed forces for the defence of our country and achieve the target set out in Future Force 2020.

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Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Darlington has a long and proud history of service in the armed forces, particularly the TA. I commend the Minister for his prior service, but as he will have picked up, there is a lot of concern in the House about levels of recruitment to the TA. Will he help us by identifying exactly what level of recruitment to the TA is required and how far we are from achieving it?

Mr Francois: The target is for the Territorial Army—probably to be renamed the Army Reserve—to have 30,000 trained reservists by 2018. By the way, we also want to increase the maritime reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but they are already nearer their targets. We have looked carefully at the recruiting process. The White Paper, which we will publish in the spring, will lay out our plan of action. We will then move forward rapidly to execute that plan of action. I assure the hon. Lady and the House that I am keeping a laser-like focus on this, because I served in the reserves and I want to see them do well.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the defence of our country is a Government’s top priority? If he does agree, how are we to meet all our commitments, with threats growing almost daily, if we continue to cut our armed services?

Mr Francois: I should also acknowledge my hon. Friend’s service in the Household Division. The defence of the realm is our priority in the Ministry of Defence. It is a priority for any Government, but we are reconfiguring our armed forces to comply with the SDSR. As I hope I have made plain to the House, although we are reducing the number of regulars over time, we are increasing the number of reservists, and I believe we can achieve that new balance in good time.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Let me tell the Minister that I have never served in the armed forces, but I come from a family of soldiers and I think I have every right to comment today and ask him this. Does he not realise that what he has said today—yet more cuts to our capacity to defend this country—and what the Prime Minister will probably say about Europe tomorrow really means that we will look back on these few days in our history as the end of our country as a significant player in the world peace movement?

Mr Francois: I do not agree with that last assertion. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will not comment on the Prime Minister’s speech tomorrow; there will be no shortage of comments on that anyway. Coming back to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier question of whether we understood that this was a difficult process: yes, of course we do. Do we believe that it is necessary for the reasons that we have outlined? Yes, we do. Will we do it as fairly and equitably as possible? Yes, we will.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I support this announcement, painful as it is for many individuals and their families who have given so much service. My right hon. Friend has shown commendable support for building the reserves, but will he confirm that our target for reserves is proportionately the smallest of any country in the English-speaking world?

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Mr Francois: My hon. Friend is probably the greatest living expert in the House on the reserve forces, so I shall not contradict him here and now. I pay tribute to his work on the reserves commission and to all the preparatory work that he and others, including the vice-chief of the defence staff, undertook in order to put us in the position of having £1.8 billion of resources over 10 years to grow our reserves and to make that a practical reality. I thank him for all that he has done on that.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister for his reassurance about retraining for those who have life after military service. This is not just about the value of military redundancies and the reallocation of housing, however; it is also about mortgages for new houses and how best those people should use their redundancy packages. What monetary advice will the Minister give to those who receive redundancy packages?

Mr Francois: We provide financial advice to members of the armed forces at various stages of their careers. When applicants—and non-applicants—go through the redundancy process, the career transition partnership provides them with considerable assistance. I believe that discussions on their financial situation, and on what jobs they might apply for, form part of that process.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The shadow Secretary of State said on Radio 5 Live that there was a logic to making these painful cuts to our armed forces, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no logic to the Opposition’s assertion that the SDSR should be reopened and rewritten?

Mr Francois: The Opposition cannot will the reopening of the SDSR unless they are prepared to will the additional means to do so. My understanding of their current position is that they wish to will it in spirit but admit that they do not have the money.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): In 2012, did the TA hit or miss its recruitment target, and if it missed it, by how much?

Mr Francois: I have already accepted that there were some blockages in the recruitment pipeline. I was aware that there had been difficulties, but I can assure the House that I investigated the problem at close range, as some generals can testify. I believe that those blockages have now been cleared, and that our recruitment and retention—which is also critical—will now improve.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I do not support cutting the British Army to its smallest size since the battle of Waterloo. The Minister is aware of the two-faced approach taken by the Ministry of Defence to those with broken service who volunteered for redundancy in the last tranche. Will he give the House an assurance that no soldier will be treated so shabbily this time?

Mr Francois: I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in all matters military, not least because of Colchester garrison in his constituency, but I do not believe that we have been “two-faced”, as he put it. I do

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not accept that assertion, but if he wants to write to me with details of any particular case, I will of course look into them.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I am sure that, like me, the Minister is delighted by the safe return to our nation of His Royal Highness Prince Harry and his colleagues. Our nation is of course grateful for their service.

With regard to the Minister’s answers today, will he provide a briefing to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on this issue? The Committee has opened an investigation into how the military covenant and redundancies will impact on service personnel in Ulster.

Mr Francois: I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the service of His Royal Highness in theatre in Afghanistan. Captain Wales, as I understand he prefers to be known in the Army, has done well for his country and his service, and we commend him for that.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I am aware of the military contribution that has come from Northern Ireland down the years, and I hope to visit Northern Ireland in the next few months. With regard to my appearing before the Select Committee, I shall take advice on the matter but, in principle, if it asks me to come, I will be there.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): If I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, there will be not much more than a month’s gap between the announcement later this year on who is to be deployed to Afghanistan and the date on which the redundancies will be announced. How will that affect those who might or might not be deployed, including the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, the Staffords?

Mr Francois: My hon. Friend has listened carefully to what has been said, and he is right to suggest that, because of the draw-down of our forces profile in Afghanistan, it will be only in April 2013 that we decide exactly which units will be going there. Clearly, it will then be a priority to look at anyone who might no longer be excluded from redundancy, but in effect, most of those who are in fields that are eligible for redundancy at the moment will have been notified by the chain of command this morning, in parallel with the process of notifying the House.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Hull has always been a strong recruiting ground for the armed forces, but alongside these redundancies, pay and pensions are being cut and many will be affected by the strivers’ tax and the bedroom tax. As I understand it, the cuts that have already been announced will mean that the entire British Army will fit into Wembley stadium by 2020. Will the Minister tell me whether the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday about being able to fight a decades-long campaign against global terrorism was realistic?

Mr Francois: I understand it, once we have our reserves at full strength, the British Army will not be able to fit inside Wembley stadium.

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Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this announcement will not have an impact on the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines, which have already seen a reduction in their numbers? Will he also keep me in touch with the impact that the redundancies will have on the Army units attached to 3 Commando Brigade, and especially to 29 Commando, based at the Royal Citadel in Plymouth?

Mr Francois: Yes, I will attempt to keep my hon. Friend in touch, as he requests. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were affected in tranches 1 and 2. Tranche 3 relates solely to the Army.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): How many additional special forces does the Minister foresee being needed in the light of yesterday’s statement by the Prime Minister?

Mr Francois: We are normally slightly circumspect about commenting in the House of Commons on special forces, and particularly on special forces operations, for reasons that the House will understand very well. In principle, however, as we look to rebalance the size of the armed forces—both regular and reserve—we will clearly look at our special forces requirements in the light of that exercise.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Last week’s Bury Times reported on the final closure of the town’s Army careers office, and quoted the commander for regional recruiting, Lieutenant Colonel Leanda Pitt, as saying:

“The Army is still recruiting in Bury and there are jobs available now”.

Will the Minister confirm that, if the planned disbandment of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers proceeds, any Fusiliers likely to be made redundant will, as far as possible, be retrained to fill any vacancies?

Mr Francois: That was, in a sense, several questions in one. With regard to recruitment offices, the armed forces, like many other organisations, have had to be aware of the way in which the world has changed. Many people who apply to join the armed forces now do so initially online, rather than walking into a recruiting office in the traditional way. Nevertheless, a number of people still use recruiting offices, so we have rearranged the profile of our offices around the country to try to adjust to life in the 21st century. My hon. Friend also asked about people in the regular armed forces who might be made redundant. Of course, one opportunity would be for them to rejoin as a member of the reserve forces, and we would encourage them to do that wherever possible.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): On 31 December, I wrote to the Minister on behalf of a cross-party group of Members to request a meeting with him about the significant financial losses faced by Army officers who are made redundant shortly before their immediate pension point. Given the responsibility shouldered by those officers during their careers, will the Minister now agree to have that meeting?

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Mr Francois: I will consider that request very carefully. I have discussed the matter with representatives of the Army Families Federation and I can assure the hon. Lady that I have looked at the question extremely carefully. I have spent quite a bit of time with officials—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will allow me, I will continue. I have spent quite a bit of time looking at this with officials; it is a very difficult issue. Wherever we draw the line, there will always be some people who are just on the other side of it, and therefore there are always likely to be some people who will miss out. However, if someone leaves the service close to their pension point but not at it, we increase the compensation payment they receive in order to take account of that. Having checked, I found that those payments are, on average, in the order of £70,000 tax-free, and for some higher ranks they could be as much as £100,000 or more—again, untaxed. We have tried to look at the issue sympathetically.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): From my experience as a private sector employer, I know that ex-service personnel can make excellent and productive employees. Will my right hon. Friend give to the House information held by the MOD about the employability and job prospects of those who previously served in our armed forces?

Mr Francois: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Ex-armed forces personnel are inherently highly employable, as testified by the fact, as I said earlier, that over 90% of those who go through the career transition partnership have found a job within six months. People often want to employ ex-members of the armed forces because they are a quality product. We will do everything we can through the CTP to support applicants or non-applicants who leave the forces to ensure that as many of them as possible find new careers.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Historically, many areas with the highest recruitment and employment in the armed forces are also those areas with the highest levels of joblessness, such as the south Wales valleys. On the basis that many of those facing redundancy will return to communities with high levels of joblessness, what additional support will be focused on those areas that have also traditionally had the highest levels of recruitment?

Mr Francois: I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s question on behalf of his constituents. As I understand it, however, the figures I was given on what might be called re-employability apply across the UK, so they also apply to Wales. I believe we are doing well in getting new jobs for people in Wales. It is a UK average, but if there is a particular issue regarding Wales, I will look into it and come back to him.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): At a time when all the headlines are concerned with reductions in the strength of our armed forces, how will the Minister convey the message to potential recruits that the Army is still recruiting?

Mr Francois: It is. Some suggestions have been made that because of the redundancy programme we should end recruiting—[Interruption.] Hang on. Past experience

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shows that if we turn off the recruiting pipeline for a few years, we end up with a black hole in our armed forces structure some years on, which will subsequently be difficult to fill. As I have said, we have reduced the recruitment of regulars as far as we think we practically can, but there comes a point beyond which it is not safe to reduce recruiting efforts for the regulars. We have been mindful of that in going forward. We still want people to join the regular Army.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) about those service personnel made redundant, who are calling themselves the “unpensionables”. Given his concerns about the difficulty of setting a cut-off point for those payments, will he consider a gradually accrued entitlement approach to the issue?

Mr Francois: My hon. Friend has obviously looked at this. If he is referring to what some call the taper model, then we have looked at it, but we do not think it works practically. There is then the further difficult problem about the legacy issue of what to do about tranches 1 and 2. It is not as straightforward as it sometimes looks. I can assure the House that I have tried to look at the issue very carefully, but I am not sure, for some of the reasons I have outlined, that we can change the position. We know it is a difficult subject, but wherever we draw the line, there will always be someone just on the other side of it.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that armed personnel who have suffered significant injuries will not be subject to these redundancies?

Mr Francois: They will not. We have special provisions and procedures in place for dealing with people who have been seriously wounded in the service of their country. In essence, the policy is that they do not leave the service until it is in their interest and in the interest of the service for them to do so. If anyone is in any doubt about the dedication we provide to our seriously wounded, I would advise them to visit Headley Court, as they would be massively impressed by what they saw.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is very encouraging and not surprising that, because of their professionalism, skills, training and tremendous work ethic, 97% of armed forces personnel who are made redundant find alternative employment within 12 months. Because of the individual example they can set for our young people, we need more ex-service personnel in our schools. What discussions is the Minister having with the Department for Education to make sure that we get large numbers of our former troops changing into teachers?

Mr Francois: Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s service, particularly in respect of the reserve forces. He may know of the troops to teachers programme, which is run in accordance with the Department for Education to encourage ex-servicemen to go into a teaching career, as they often provide experienced authority figures, particularly in areas where some children come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds. We also have

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a programme to expand cadet units in schools, particularly in state schools. We have a target of 100 new cadet units in state schools by 2015. So far, we have had expressions of interest from some 70 schools, and some new cadet units have already opened. The programme is well on track.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that these redundancies will take place pro rata across all ranks, and that nothing in the statement will cause a drift towards a top-heavy Army?

Mr Francois: We had a separate review of senior posts in the Ministry of Defence. We have already reduced the rank, as it were, of some appointments, so it would be unfair to say that senior officers are being completely excluded from changes in the structure of our armed forces. They are not. We are mindful of trying to deliver this in as balanced a way as possible. I hope that, if nothing else, I have managed to convince the House that we have thought about this matter. While this is a very difficult process, we are attempting to do it as sympathetically and fairly as practically possible. We are not magicians, but we are genuinely doing our best.

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Unduly Lenient Sentences (Right of Appeal)

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

1.17 pm

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the powers of prosecuting authorities to appeal against unduly lenient sentences imposed in the criminal courts.

This Bill aims to correct a fundamental flaw that exists in our criminal justice system. It is currently the case that the defence is able to appeal as of right against any sentence imposed at the magistrates or youth courts, and it may also appeal through leave of a judge against any sentence imposed in the Crown courts. Yet the prosecution has no ability whatsoever to appeal against a sentence imposed at the magistrates or youth courts and only in a few cases at the Crown court. This is the case no matter how insufficient the sentence.

It is simply wrong for the defence to be able to appeal against a sentence if it is too harsh, but not the prosecution if it is too lenient. I do not seek to reduce or change the rights of the defence to appeal. It is right that it can appeal against sentences that are manifestly wrong, but what is right for one side is surely right for the other. I have worked in the criminal justice system for over 20 years. I do not seek to lay blame at the door of the magistracy or judiciary. My quarrel is with the system in which we in this House ask them to operate. We must have a criminal justice system where the scales of justice balance, not one where—in the case of sentencing, at least—the offender is favoured over the victim of crime.

I have met both the Justice Secretary and the Attorney-General to discuss this issue, and had very positive meetings with them. Through you, Mr Speaker, I thank them for the time they gave me. I concede that the Bill involves a cost element and that an extra burden would be placed on the Attorney-General’s office, but that burden would be fully justified in the minds of the public, who are tired of feeling that the system favours not the law-keeper but only the law-breaker.

Let me explain why I believe the Bill is necessary. If, for instance, someone burgles a person’s home, violates his very household, is caught by the police, and is given less than a slap on the wrist, the public rightly look to the system and the House to provide a solution, but currently there is none. That burglar can be let off without the possibility of appeal from the prosecution, but if the court sentence goes too high the defence can appeal, and that is simply not right. We should ensure that courts never feel that they can be as lenient as they like without consequences but cannot sentence too robustly, which is the danger under the current system.

Let me give the House an even more frightening example. Let us suppose that the burglar whom I mentioned ransacked an occupied home at night, drove away in the owner’s car in a careless manner and killed someone by his careless driving, maliciously wounded a police officer when apprehended, caused an affray, in the process of his arrest was found to be in possession of a knife, drugs and child pornography, and later intimidated the witnesses to the offence. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that the prosecution could do if he were let off with, say, a £50 fine.

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That is simply not right. The law needs to change to amend a ludicrous and, indeed, dangerous situation that makes me wonder why we have our current system. Why is there such an obvious imbalance in the judicial process? Surely no one believes that our courts are incapable of making a mistake. Courts do make mistakes, and we therefore need a mechanism to right the wrongs that will inevitably occur in any judicial system.

We also need younger people to have confidence in our judicial system. The fact that only the defence can appeal against a sentence imposed in the youth court creates a huge danger that young people, as victims of crime, will feel that the system simply does not care about them. The youth court deals with some extremely serious cases, including cases involving the offence of rape. Great efforts have been made in the House of Commons and the other place, by the police, and by the wider public to encourage rape victims to report the crimes in question. How does that square with the fact that the prosecution cannot appeal against an unduly lenient sentence imposed on a rapist in the youth court, while the rapist can appeal if the court has been too tough on him? How does that encourage more rape victims to come forward? The simple fact is that it does not.

There is a gaping hole in our criminal justice system when it comes to sentencing; a hole that has been overlooked, ignored or pushed aside for far too long. It is time that we allowed the prosecution to have the same access to sentencing appeals as the defence. It is time that we adopted a common-sense approach to sentencing that is balanced and fair and treats both sides equally. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, so that victims of crime can be put back at the heart of our criminal justice system.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Gareth Johnson, Jim Shannon, Alec Shelbrooke, Henry Smith, Mr Dominic Raab, Mr Robert Buckland, Stephen McPartland, Mr Marcus Jones, Nick de Bois, Gavin Williamson and Karl McCartney present the Bill.

Gareth Johnson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March and to be printed (Bill 122).

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I won’t be talking that one out.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) is very grateful for that assurance, which will be noted in the record. I do not think that it is very likely to be repeated.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It would be disorderly to talk the Bill out.

Mr Speaker: It would no doubt be disorderly, as has helpfully been indicated from a sedentary position, in a disorderly way, by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

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Succession to the Crown Bill (Allocation of Time)

Mr Speaker: Before I call the Minister to move the motion, I should inform the House that the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) have been selected.

1.26 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Miss Chloe Smith): I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Succession to the Crown Bill—

Timetable

1.–(1) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee, any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

(2) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee shall be completed at today’s sitting.

(3) Proceedings on Second Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(4) Proceedings in Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(5) Any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed on the second day.

(6) Any proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the second day.

(7) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3. On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply— (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

6. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

7. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

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Consideration of Lords Amendments

8.–(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

9.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 8.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment; or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments that are moved by a Minister of the Crown and are relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

10.–(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

11.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 10.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

12.–(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chair.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

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(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3), the Chair shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.

Miscellaneous

13. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

14.–(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

15. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

16.–(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17.–(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

18. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

19.–(1) This paragraph applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

20. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.