9 Sep 2015 : Column 387

House of Commons

Wednesday 9 September 2015

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Her Majesty the Queen

Mr Speaker: We begin today with speeches to mark Her Majesty the Queen becoming our longest serving monarch.

11.34 am

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): Today, Her Majesty the Queen becomes the country’s longest reigning monarch. It is of course typical of her selfless sense of service that she would have us treat this day just like any other. While I rarely advocate disobeying Her Majesty, least of all in her own Parliament, I do think that it is right that today we should stop and take a moment as a nation to mark this historic milestone and to thank Her Majesty for the extraordinary service that she has given to our country over more than six decades.

Her Majesty the Queen inspires us all with her incredible service, her dignified leadership and the extraordinary grace with which she carries out her duties, and I would like to say a word about each.

On her 21st birthday, in a radio broadcast from Cape Town, over fours years before she would accede to the throne, the then Princess dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth. She said:

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

It is one thing for a 21 year old to utter those inspiring words, and another to live by them for more than 60 years. For all of us in this Chamber who seek to play our part in public service, it is truly humbling to comprehend the scale of service that Her Majesty the Queen has given to this country.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth has been a golden thread running through three post-war generations. She has presided over more than two thirds of our history as a full democracy with everyone being able to vote. When I was born, Her Majesty had already been reigning for 14 years. When the Father of this House—our longest-serving Member—was first elected to this Chamber, Her Majesty had already been Queen for 18 years.

In 63 years and 216 days, she has worked with 12 Prime Ministers, six Archbishops of Canterbury and nine Cabinet Secretaries. She has answered 3.5 million pieces of correspondence, sent more than 100,000 telegrams to centenarians across the Commonwealth and met more people than any other monarch in history. And yet whether it is something we suspect that she enjoys, such as the Highland games, or something we suspect that she might be less keen on, such as spending new year’s eve in the millennium dome, she never, ever falters. Her selfless sense of service and duty have earned her unparalleled respect and admiration not only in Britain, but around the world.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 388

Turning to her leadership, Her Majesty exemplifies the unique combination of tradition and progress that has come to define us as a nation. She has been a rock of stability in an era in which our country has changed so much, providing an enduring focal point for all her people. She has also recognised the need to embrace change. As she said in an address to both Houses of Parliament back on her golden jubilee in 2002:

“For if a jubilee becomes a moment to define an age, then for me we must speak of change...Change has become a constant; managing it has become an expanding discipline. The way we embrace it defines our future.”

Her Majesty’s contribution to shaping the future of the Commonwealth has been particularly extraordinary. Some doubted whether this organisation would succeed, but she has assiduously supported it, growing it from just seven members in 1952 to 53 today. She has played the leading role in building a unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population. As a diplomat and an ambassador for Britain, it is hard to overstate what she has done for our country. She has represented us on 265 official visits to 116 different countries, including making 22 visits to Canada alone. From her post-apartheid visit to South Africa to her state visit to Ireland, we have seen time and again how the presence and judicious words of Her Majesty can build partnership and progress like no other. Her Majesty is held in deep affection by leaders around the world, and even ardent republicans fall under her spell.

As we commemorate this historic milestone, I know that Her Majesty would want us to pay a particular tribute to the service and support of her whole family, not least the Duke of Edinburgh who has stood by her side every day of her reign. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Throughout her long service, the Queen has carried herself with an extraordinary grace and presence. She has led a gentle evolution of our monarchy, bringing it closer to the people while maintaining its dignity. She pioneered the first televised Christmas day message more than 30 years before we allowed cameras into this House. She opened up the royal collection and palaces, and she invented the royal walkabout, so that she could meet more people on her visits. People who meet the Queen often talk about it for the rest of their lives, and I am sure that I speak for all of my 11 predecessors when I say that going to see the Queen to form a Government and then meeting her once a week is one of the most enjoyable, inspiring and humbling honours of this office.

When I joined Her Majesty for her state visit to Germany earlier this year, I learnt that there are many female sovereigns that the Germans call “die Königin” but there is only one they call “die Queen”. In fact the German dictionary, the Duden, provides as its example sentence “the Queen is coming on a state visit to Berlin” and then offers one key grammatical prescript: there is no plural.

The Queen is our Queen and we could not be more proud of her. She has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency, and long may she continue to do so.

11.40 am

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the Prime Minister’s tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. As he did, I want to start with her words when she was 21 years old:

9 Sep 2015 : Column 389

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

Those words, remarkable from such a young woman, were a solemn vow to this country that she has kept through the 63 years and 218 days of her reign. She had not expected to succeed to the throne, but even before she was crowned she was clear that her life would be dedicated to the service of her country.

There can be no doubt about the commitment that she has made and the public service she has given and continues to give. Even today, at the age of 89, she is undertaking a public engagement. Her life has been a great sweep of British history—the second world war, the cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall—and she has presided over the transition from empire to Commonwealth. Her reign spans profound changes in all respects: in work life, family life, our communities and technology. She has gone from sending telegrams to sending tweets. At a time of so much change, her reign is the reassurance of continuity, a defining feature of this country both at home and abroad. At home, she has done thousands of official engagements, including visits, walkabouts, meeting and greeting the public and welcoming thousands to Buckingham Palace every year. In the one year of her golden jubilee, she visited 70 cities and towns across the country. There is a great commitment to her in every part of this country.

Abroad, she has been tireless in her international engagements, and in her long reign she has made official visits to more than 116 countries. It is no exaggeration to say that she is admired by billions of people all around the world, particularly in the Commonwealth, including those who come to live here in the UK, like many in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. People respect the fact that she has stayed fastidiously neutral and above politics, yet at times she has played a significant role in key political moments, such as the extraordinary personal generosity she displayed during the peace process in Northern Ireland.

She is now on her 12th Prime Minister, although we on the Opposition Benches had hoped that she would now be on her 13th. She reigns over more than 140 million people, a huge number, nearly as large as the number of registered Labour party supporters. It is entirely characteristic of her that she has let it be known that she does not want a fuss to be made about today, but we are making a fuss, and deservedly so. We send her our warmest congratulations, our appreciation and, above all, our thanks.

11.43 am

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I contribute to this tribute to Her Majesty with some trepidation, but as the Member responsible for the home of the British Army I hope that I might be allowed to say just a few words.

Her Majesty has been an absolute inspiration to our armed forces and her leadership and commitment to her duty has served our armed forces well. I endorse everything that the Prime Minister said, as I am sure we all do. She has been the embodiment of duty. When I look at my own diary, as I am sure we all do, and find that I have an invitation to that great event in the Aldershot constituency social calendar, the Farnborough

9 Sep 2015 : Column 390

donkey derby on bank holiday Monday, and when I consult Lady Howarth and ask whether we should go to the donkey derby, and she says, “But we went there last year,” I say, “And Her Majesty does all sorts of things every single year.” Her Majesty has done a fantastic service to this nation.

Every coin of the realm proclaims that Her Majesty is Queen, but there are two other letters and most of our people do not know what those two letters mean. They are FD. She may be the First Lord of the Treasury above my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but they do not stand for finance director. They stand for Fidei Defensor—Defender of the Faith. I think Her Majesty has lived up to her coronation oath more faithfully than any former sovereign of this realm, and she has been an inspiration to us in her faith.

All of us sit down at Christmas time and enjoy Her Majesty’s Christmas message not just to us and our constituents, but to the entire Commonwealth and the world. It is her faith which shines through unequivocally but quietly in her Christmas message, and it is her faith which has given her the strength to do all that she has done for our country. We should be a very grateful nation indeed to be served by a sovereign of such faith and commitment as Elizabeth II.

11.45 am

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I well remember the day when King George VI died and the Queen flew back from east Africa, where she was undertaking a visit. She left this country as a Princess and she came back as a Queen, and her reign over this country ever since then has been exemplary not simply to our own country, but to all the world.

The Queen manages to combine stately behaviour with thorough hard work. She maintains this country as a democracy in a way that no President could conceivably do. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is not simply that she is impartial, but she is beyond politics. She makes it possible for us to have a stable, democratic Government. I am not saying that she makes it possible to have an admirable Government, but that the great quality of Her Majesty is that we do not know what she thinks of the Government. She simply maintains it in a way that makes this country the greatest democracy in the world.

Not only does the Queen do her job carrying out public engagements, as she is doing today, but she works hard at carrying out those jobs. Recently she came to my constituency and visited Gorton monastery, a majestic building which had fallen into dereliction but which had been brought back to fruition as a public venue. She made herself available to people, she met people and she lunched with the people who had come, but what struck me most was the fact that she knew everything about the renovation of Gorton monastery and was able to discuss with those people who had brought it back into use the most minute facts about how that had happened. She is a wonderful Queen, she is an upholder of democracy, she is a hard worker, and we send our heartfelt wishes to her on this day.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. It might be for the convenience of the House to know that there are a further eight colleagues seeking to catch my eye, so consideration for each other will help.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 391

11.49 am

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the speeches that have already been made. I would like to state my gratitude to Her Majesty for a remarkable ongoing life of service and duty. Throughout her reign, she has served our country and our constituents with great grace and dignity.

I am one of only two MPs who represent Her Majesty’s private estates; in my case, Sandringham in west Norfolk. Under her passionate guidance, Sandringham has been transformed from a sleepy agricultural estate to one of the most thriving and diversified estates in Britain. Sixty years ago, the vast majority of its income would have come from agricultural rents. Today, the majority comes from tourism, leisure, museums, public access and property rents, all overseen by Her Majesty’s incredible eye for detail. Of course, there is still a very successful home farm, which sits alongside a world-class thoroughbred stud, where Her Majesty has meticulously built up numerous famous bloodstock lines.

Although Sandringham is very much a private retreat, the affairs of state are never too far away, with the relentless stream of red boxes. However, during her two or three visits a year, Her Majesty always finds time to attend a number of local events. For example, in recent years she has visited local schools, museums, charitable and other voluntary groups, and businesses. I have noticed that on these occasions, after she has talked with the mayor and the MP, she invariably wants to meet real people. As a result, there are probably more people in King’s Lynn and west Norfolk who have met Her Majesty than in any other part of the country.

On behalf of my constituency and the local community, I would like to put on the record my deep gratitude to Her Majesty for enhancing the lives of so many people and bringing joy to so many families. Long may she reign over us.

11.51 am

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It is a pleasure to take part in these commemorative proceedings on this important day on behalf of the Scottish National party. We have seen many remarkable landmarks over Her Majesty’s long reign, during which there has been a transition from empire, with the independence of scores of nations, many of which have retained Her Majesty as Head of State, or which have a close connection through the Commonwealth.

Among all the statistics that I have seen, there is one exact figure that is missing—perhaps it is because no one could possibly keep tabs—and that relates to the literally millions of people the Queen has personally met. She has travelled the length and breadth of this kingdom over decades, performing her public duties and meeting people. She has regularly travelled to the 16 other states where she is Head of State, meeting people. She has visited 128 different countries during her 63-year-and-seven-month tenure. Since ascending to the throne in 1952, she has made 270 state and Commonwealth visits. Literally millions of people at home and overseas—over 4 million, by one account—have met her personally, and even more mind-boggling numbers have seen her on her visits and engagements.

Those of us who have had that honour will attest to her personal interest, attention, kindness and amazing ability to put people at their ease. That was evident the

9 Sep 2015 : Column 392

first time I had the honour to meet her. On learning that I was the Member of Parliament for Moray, she inquired whether I listened to Mr Wogan on the radio. I must confess that I was totally stumped, because I could not think of any obvious connection between Moray and Terry Wogan’s Radio 2 show. She saved me from my discomfort by explaining that Terry Wogan appeared to delight in the regularity of weather and traffic reports, which confirmed that the first road in the UK to close due to snow—probably in the autumn—was between Tomintoul in Moray and Cock Bridge, which is close to Balmoral.

Her Majesty, as we know, has a particular affinity with Scotland. She is known to delight in her stays at Balmoral, which is in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson). It is fitting that her record-long reign surpasses that of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who also had a tremendous affinity with Scotland in general, and with Balmoral in particular.

Today Her Majesty marks this landmark by being in Scotland, with the Duke of Edinburgh and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at the opening of the Scottish borders railway. It is the biggest rail project in more than a century, and perhaps since the reign of Queen Victoria. That the Queen is in Scotland on this special day, and working as usual, is much appreciated and totally in keeping with her remarkable record of public service.

Next year Her Majesty will celebrate her 90th birthday, and come 6 February 2022 she will become the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee. We look forward to that, wish her and her husband well for the future and share the appreciation for their public service over 63 years.

11.54 am

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): On behalf of the Church of England, I would like to pay tribute in this House to the Queen as head of the Church for the faithful and inspiring leadership she has provided to the Church, regularly speaking about the importance of her faith in her personal life and in her role—not just in the Christmas broadcast but all through the year. In the House of Lords, the Bishop of Peterborough will be placing a tribute, and up and down the country churches will be celebrating her long reign with services and other events. We wish her many more happy years to reign.

11.55 am

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): We as one today in this House pay tribute to Her Majesty. Her example of service, dedication and duty is now as unmatched as the length of her glorious reign. The Queen has, as the Prime Minister said, seen many Prime Ministers, archbishops and others, and indeed nine Speakers, come and go—and I am sure there are more to come.

We admire the steadfast way in which she has reigned over us. We respect the deep faith that has helped her to do so. Perhaps today we should remember

9 Sep 2015 : Column 393

the personal sacrifice involved. As has been mentioned, on her 18th birthday, in South Africa, the Queen swore, no matter how long or short her life, to devote it to the nation and to the Commonwealth. She has done so magnificently, with the enormous support of the Duke of Edinburgh. But her reign began sooner than she could ever have wished, as her beloved father, King George VI, who bore the crown in the darkest days of war, was taken from her and from us far too soon. That Her Majesty, in the face of such early sorrow, has never wavered is tribute to the strength of character we as a people have been so fortunate to enjoy in our wonderful monarch. We—her kingdoms, her subjects—are united in her, in love, loyalty and respect. Long live the Queen.

11.57 am

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): It is a great honour to be able to pay tribute to Her Majesty on this very important day. I have only managed to meet Her Majesty on two occasions; obviously in the years to come I expect an audience more regularly. On the first occasion I met her, she gave me advice on how to cope with casework. On the second occasion, on her visit to Kendal in Westmoreland, there was very nearly an incident when a very well-meaning local councillor, Councillor Walker, decided to—I can only say—lunge across a crowd of 30 or 40 people carrying a bar of Kendal mint cake to offer to Her Majesty, which she accepted with great grace, looking forward, I am sure, to enjoying it. I have to say that the security services were less excited—or rather very excited—by that lunge. I also thank Her Majesty for the occasion of her silver jubilee in 1977, when she gave me my first, and so far only, experience of being able to dance around a maypole.

We are, as a civilisation, very keen to categorise ourselves by our generations. Are we baby boomers; are we Thatcher’s children; are we generation X? The fact is that all of us here are New Elizabethans. We have all lived through that age—those 63 years and 216 days —when Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over us all. The values that she has embodied, which stand for all of us here, are about decency, about service, about civilisation, about stability, and about family. They are things that underpin our civilisation. It is all the more important that we recognise that Her Majesty occupies the most senior position in our society—indeed, the most privileged position in our society—but her conduct is marked by humility and service, not claiming the grandeur of office. On this great day, on behalf of my party and my county, I pay tribute to her service and her humility. Long live the Queen.

11.59 am

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): May I add the thanks of everybody involved in all the voluntary organisations and charities to which the Queen has given leadership and inspiration over the years?

Mr Speaker: A great speech—possibly the hon. Gentleman’s greatest ever!

9 Sep 2015 : Column 394

Oral Answers to Questions

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [901196] Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 September.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Julian Knight: I echo the sentiments expressed earlier by the Prime Minister and all in this place in relation to Her Majesty the Queen.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating parents of children who will attend the newly announced Solihull alternative provision academy, which will provide vital places for those with complex behavioural needs? Does he agree that Opposition Members who would scrap free schools would deny parents choice and children opportunity?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The free schools movement is bringing what we need in this country, which is more good and outstanding school places. More than 250 such schools are already in existence and we want to see 500 set up over this Parliament. So far a quarter of free schools are classed as outstanding. [Interruption.] We have heard Labour’s Education spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), speak out today. Perhaps he should praise the fact that a quarter of free schools are outstanding schools. They are not just what he has called, rather condescendingly, schools for “yummy mummies”; they are providing special schools and alternative provision schools. They are enhancing education provision in our country and we should be proud of the people who set them up.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): May I ask the Prime Minister about the refugee crisis? This is the largest movement of people across Europe since the second world war with, in just one month, more than 50,000 refugees arriving in Greece and thousands more setting off on foot to go from Hungary to Austria. The Prime Minister committed on Monday that we would accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, but for these people 2020 must seem a lifetime away. Can he tell the House how many will be allowed to come to the UK by the end of this year?

The Prime Minister: First, before I answer the right hon. and learned Lady’s question, I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to her 28 years of Front Bench service as it potentially comes to an end this week. She has served with distinction in both Opposition and Government. Twice she has stepped into the breach as her party’s acting leader, which is

9 Sep 2015 : Column 395

never an easy job, but she has carried it out with total assurance. She has always been a robust adversary across these Dispatch Boxes and a fierce champion for a range of issues, most notably women’s rights, where she has often led the way in changing attitudes in our country for the better. Although we have not always seen eye to eye, she has served her constituents, her party and this House with distinction from the Front Bench, and I wish her well as she continues to serve this House and our country from the Back Benches.

Turning to the specific issue the right hon. and learned Lady has raised, she is absolutely right: this is the biggest crisis facing Europe. We have to act on all of the areas she mentions. We have to use our head and our heart. We have committed to taking 20,000 people. I want us to get on with that. There is no limit on the number of people who could come in the first year. Let us get on with it, but let us recognise that we have to go to the camps, find the people, make sure they can be housed, find schools for their children, and work with local councils and local voluntary bodies to make sure that when these people come they get a warm welcome from Britain.

Ms Harman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous words about my time on the Front Bench. It has been an absolute honour and a privilege to play my part in leading this great party.

We have to do all those things the Prime Minister has set out in relation to the refugees, but we still need to know, and we need a commitment, about the number we will take this year. This is an urgent crisis. If he cannot give us a number today, can he at least commit to go away and consult local authorities and throughout Government, and voluntary organisations and charities, and come back in a month and say how many this country will take this year?

It is welcome that the Prime Minister has said that we will take in Syrian refugees from the camps in the region, but he has ruled out taking in those who have made it to southern Europe. We understand his argument is that he does not want more people to put themselves in danger, but we have to deal with the reality. The reality is that thousands of people, including thousands of children without their parents, have already arrived in Europe. Save the Children has proposed that we take 3,000 of them into this country. Surely we should be playing our part to help those most vulnerable of children, even if they are already in Europe. Will he reconsider this?

The Prime Minister: On the number that we can achieve over the coming year, we have the first meeting on Friday of the committee that will be chaired jointly by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We will invite representatives of the Local Government Association and possibly some voluntary bodies to that meeting to make sure that we can plan. It is one thing to give a commitment to a number, whether it is the 20,000 that I think is right or something else; it is another thing to make sure that we can find these people, get them here and give them a warm welcome. I hope that the whole country can now come together in making sure that we deliver this effort properly.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 396

The second point that the right hon. and learned Lady raised was about Europe. She talked about the reality in Europe. There is also a bigger reality, which is that 11 million Syrians have been pushed out of their homes and only 3% of them have so far decided to come to Europe. It is in the interests of the Syrian people and, indeed, all of us that we do everything we can to make sure that as many people as possible stay in the neighbouring countries and the refugee camps in preparation for one day returning to Syria. That is why Britain has led the way in funding the refugee camps, funding Lebanon and funding Jordan, and we will continue to do just that.

To answer the right hon. and learned Lady’s point about children, we will go on listening to Save the Children, which has done excellent work. A number of other expert organisations warn about the dangers of taking children further from their parents. The overall point I would make is that those who have already arrived in Europe are at least safe. If we can help the ones in the refugee camps—the ones in Lebanon and Jordan—it will discourage more people from making the perilous journey. All I can say is that from the conversations I have had so far with the leaders of, for instance, France and Germany, it is clear that they can see Britain playing her role, funding the refugee camps, meeting the target of 0.7% of GDP and welcoming 20,000 Syrians into our homes.

Ms Harman: All that is very important indeed and we support it, but what about the thousands of children who are already many, many miles from their homes—those who are already in Europe but who have no home? Surely we can play our part in helping some of those children too. I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider.

Of course planning has to be done for receiving refugees from the camps. It is right that the Prime Minister should meet local government, but when he has developed the plans, he should come back to the House. A month is enough time to be able to come back to the House and say how many we will take this year. This is urgent.

May I ask about the situation of the child refugees from the camps who the Prime Minister has said will be allowed to come here? They need sanctuary and security. We must not leave them living with the threat of deportation hanging over them. Will he assure us that they will not automatically be liable for deportation when they turn 18?

The Prime Minister: I can absolutely give that assurance. The reason for resettling people with the five-year humanitarian visas is that it means we do not have to go through the normal asylum process. At the end of that, if people want to stay, they can make an application to do so and the assumption is that they will be able to stay. Some may want to go back to Syria, particularly if there is a settlement in Syria between now and then.

Let me answer the right hon. and learned Lady’s other questions. Obviously I will come back to the House on a weekly basis to answer questions, as well as making statements and appearing in front of the Liaison Committee. I will commit to ensuring that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government regularly update the House, because this is an enormous national exercise to ensure

9 Sep 2015 : Column 397

that we give a warm welcome to these 20,000 people. I am happy for them to do that. I know that Members of the House want to feed into the process with offers and ideas from their local councils.

Coming back to the point about children, yes we will be taking vulnerable children, including orphans, from camps in the region, as we have already. All the while, we will listen to the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who advises caution on relocating unaccompanied children and applies that to the children who have already come to Europe as well.

Ms Harman: But the UNHCR does not tell us not to take children who are in those camps in Europe without their parents. I do welcome what the Prime Minister has said about not having a threat of deportation for those Syrian children who do come here. As the number of those fleeing to Europe via Turkey and Greece grows, it is right that we do not lose sight of those who are still making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Libya. Our Navy has rescued thousands of them already, and it is important that this level of search and rescue is maintained. Can he update the House on that?

The Prime Minister: The update I can give is that so far, I believe, we have rescued 6,700 children. First it was done with HMS Bulwark, the flagship of the Royal Navy, which was then replaced by HMS Enterprise, which has continued this very good work. We will continue doing this work with allies and others as long as is necessary; we are also using the two Border Force cutters. But I think we should all be honest with ourselves and recognise that, particularly in the case of economic migrants leaving on the African route, we have to break the link between those people getting on a boat and getting settlement in Europe. All the evidence from these sorts of migration crises in the past, particularly the example of Spain and the Canary Islands, shows that you do need a way of returning to Africa people who are not fleeing for their lives but are leaving for a better life, because if you cannot break that link, an increasing number of people will still want to make that perilous journey.

Ms Harman: Of course, we do need to find ways of returning people where that is right, but we also have to make sure that we stop them drowning at sea when they are fleeing as refugees—I know the Prime Minister agrees with that. The EU must have a robust and realistic plan, and today the European Commission has announced further steps. The Prime Minister said he would look at whether there was a need for a special summit of EU leaders. We know there is one scheduled for October, but if there ever was a need for a summit of EU leaders that time is now. Will he call for one?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to keep this under review, and I discussed it with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in the last couple of days. The meeting of the Home Affairs and Justice Ministers will be taking place in just a couple of days’ time. The British approach will be very clear: this must be a comprehensive approach. If all the focus is on redistributing quotas of refugees around Europe, that will not solve the problem; it actually sends a message to people that it is a good idea to get on a boat and make that perilous

9 Sep 2015 : Column 398

journey. That is not just my view; the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who is absolutely right about this, has said:

“The answer is not quotas. All quotas will do is play into the hands of those who exploit vulnerable refugees.”—[Official Report, 1 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 332.]

Of course Europe has to reach its own answers for those countries that are part of Schengen. Britain has its own borders and we have the ability to make our own sovereign decisions about this, and our approach is to say, “Yes, we are a humanitarian nation with a moral conscience, we will take 20,000 Syrians. But we want a comprehensive approach that puts money into the camps, that meets our aid commitments, that solves the problems in Syria, that has a return path to Africa and that sees a new Government in Libya.” We have to address all those issues, and Britain, as a sovereign nation with its own borders, will do just that.

Ms Harman: But this is not about Schengen and it is not just about us as a sovereign nation doing what we can and should; it is about us working together with other countries. The refugee crisis presents a daunting problem that we are all striving to tackle, but we also have to address the underlying causes, which are conflict, global inequality and poverty. There are no simple answers, but we can address those only by working with other countries. The responsibilities we share, as well as the threats that we face, reach across borders in this globalised age. To be British is not to be narrow, inward-looking and fearful of the outside world, but to be strong, confident and proud to reach out and engage with the rest of the world. The Government should rise to this challenge of our time, and I urge the Prime Minister to do so.

The Prime Minister: I agree with every word that the right hon. and learned Lady has just said. I would say that Britain, uniquely among countries in the world, meets its 2% NATO spending target—so we can play a role in terms of defence and helping to secure these countries—and reaches its target of spending 0.7% of GDP on aid. No other major country in the world meets those two targets, and I am proud that we do.

The right hon. and learned Lady talks about going to the causes of these crises, and she is absolutely right about that. We have to be frank: the eastern Mediterranean crisis, in particular, is because Assad has butchered his own people and because ISIL has, in its own way, butchered others, and millions have fled Syria. We can do all we can, as a moral, humanitarian nation, to take people, spend money on aid and help in refugee camps, but we have to be part of the international alliance that says, “We need an approach in Syria that will mean we have a Government that can look after their people.” Assad has to go, ISIL has to go, and some of that will require not just spending money, not just aid, not just diplomacy—it will, on occasion, require hard military force.

Q2. [901197] Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The last exchange is the most important: with other countries, we have moral and practical responsibilities. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that we are presently the only country meeting the commitment to the world’s poorest and on military

9 Sep 2015 : Column 399

spending, and it would be helpful if he could explain how each helps us to deal with the situation in Syria and the surrounding areas.

The Prime Minister: The point I would make to my hon. Friend is that the spending on aid is vital, because 11 million people have been forced out of their homes. Some of them remain in Syria and they need support, and some of them are in refugee camps and they need support. Many are being looked after in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and those countries need our help. The aid budget has always been a controversial issue in our country, but people can now see the connection between the money we spend, the lives we save and the national security that we help to enforce back in the UK. The point I am making is not to change the debate now about what happens next in Syria, but we have to keep thinking about the fact that in the end nothing will make ISIL go away other than a confrontation, which we are seeing in Iraq and in Syria. We should be clear that ISIL being degraded, destroyed and ultimately defeated is in not just this country’s interests, but the interests of civilisation more broadly.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The threat level from terrorism is listed as “severe” in the UK, and there are many challenging decisions for the Prime Minister to take in protecting public safety and for Parliament to consider. It has taken four months to re-establish the Intelligence and Security Committee. Can the Prime Minister explain what role he hopes that Committee will fulfil?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the current level of threat is “severe”; that means that we believe that an attack is highly likely. These levels are set independently of Government. The Intelligence and Security Committee does very important work and there is a motion on the Order Paper today to see its re-establishment. I very much hope that he will be part of that Committee and will be able to be briefed in the way that other members of that Committee are briefed.

Is there a role for the Intelligence and Security Committee, which we have already expanded, to do even more to scrutinise the actions of the intelligence services and the Government? That may well be the case. As I announced on Monday, what we have done in terms of the strike against a British citizen in a country against which we are not currently at war is a new departure, and it is important that these things are properly scrutinised. I would argue that the first way to scrutinise them is for the Prime Minister to come to the House and for the House to question him—that is accountability. But is there a role for the ISC to look at these things—although not current operations? I am happy to discuss that with the new Chair of the ISC, who I hope will be appointed in the coming days.

Angus Robertson: The Prime Minister talked about the importance of the Intelligence and Security Committee and parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. We learnt this week of a new UK policy of drone strikes against terrorist suspects in regions where there is not parliamentary approval for general military action. Will the Prime Minister provide all relevant information to the Intelligence and Security Committee, so that it can conduct a review?

9 Sep 2015 : Column 400

The Prime Minister: As I have just said, I am happy to discuss that with the Chairman of the Committee when they are elected—I said appointed, but I meant to say elected by the members of that Committee, because that is what rightly happens. I am happy to do that, with the only proviso that the Intelligence and Security Committee cannot be responsible for overseeing current operations. The responsibility for current operations must lie with the Government, who have to come to the House of Commons to explain that. I am not going to contract out our counter-terrorism policy to someone else: I take responsibility for it. But it is important that after these events have taken place, the ISC is able to make investigations.

Q3. [901198] Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): A slight change of tack. Over past weeks, I have met farmers across Taunton Deane facing severe difficulties owing to falling commodity prices in many sectors—lamb, beef, arable and dairy. These industries are the lifeblood of my constituency. Will the Prime Minister please give assurances that all efforts are being made to help these industries through this particularly tricky time? Farmers have campaigned on the streets recently to highlight their straits.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this, because low commodity prices are causing problems for farmers not only here in the UK but also right across the European Union. Yesterday, in the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels, we led calls for urgent action, and there will be a €500 million package of measures to help farmers. Here in the UK, we have obviously taken steps to help, which include introducing the Groceries Code Adjudicator to make sure we get a fair deal with the supermarkets; steps to make sure we do more on public procurement, to make sure that, where possible, public authorities are buying British food, because it is of such high quality; and also, as the Chancellor said in the Budget, to make sure we look at the tax treatment of farmers to try to give them a better deal at this difficult time.

Q4. [901199] Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Two weeks ago, the Work and Pensions Secretary’s Department not only admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets, but published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefit, which showed that they are four times more likely to die than the general population. That was after the Secretary of State told the House that these data did not exist. Given that, and his offensive remarks earlier this week —referring to people without disabilities as “normal” —when will the Prime Minister take control and respond to my call for the Work and Pensions Secretary to be investigated for breaching the ministerial code?

The Prime Minister: First, let me deal very directly with the publication of this data. This data was published because I promised at this Dispatch Box that it would be published, in a way that it was never published under any Labour Government. That is the first point.

I also think we should be clear about what this data shows. It does not show people being wrongly assessed as fit to work. It does not show people dying as a result of their benefits being taken away. If you listen to the organisation Full Fact, it has said—[Interruption.] I have

9 Sep 2015 : Column 401

to say to hon. Gentlemen shouting that two newspapers have printed that and had to retract it, so I think that people should actually look at the facts. A fact-checking organisation says:

“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits. This is wrong.”

Perhaps the hon. Lady should read that before asking her next question.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In 2011, the Prime Minister quite rightly confirmed to the House that the Wilson doctrine, the prohibition on the electronic monitoring of Members of Parliament, was still in force. Unfortunately, on 24 July this year, the Government’s own lawyer, Mr James Eadie, QC, stated in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, in answer to a complaint from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), that the Wilson doctrine is not legally binding, cannot work properly and accordingly places no obligations on the intelligence agencies. This is clearly inconsistent with the Prime Minister’s previous statement. Can he clarify the status of the doctrine for the House today and confirm that it has real meaning?

The Prime Minister: I have got nothing to add to comments I have made about this issue before, but I am very happy to write to my right hon. Friend and set out the position.

Q5. [901200] Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The ongoing harrowing refugee crisis is fuelled by conflict, which in turn is powered in part by the global arms trade. The UK has supplied the weapons being used in many areas from which people are now fleeing, including Yemen and Libya. In the week that London will once again host the largest arms fair in the world, is it not time for the Government to recognise the link between arms sales and the terrible tragedy that we see unfolding around us?

The Prime Minister: First, we have some of the strictest rules anywhere in the world for selling arms to other countries. If the hon. Lady thinks that the reason why so many people are fleeing Syria is something to do with the arms trade, the fact is that it is because Assad is butchering his own people and because we have an Islamist extremist, terrorist organisation running a large part of two countries—Iraq and Syria. Those are the problems that we have to confront, rather than pretending it is about something else.

Q6. [901201] Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con): TopicUK is a social enterprise in my constituency that is expanding into South Yorkshire and London. The northern powerhouse and devolution should be about developing growth and prosperity right across the north of England. When does the Prime Minister hope to see a metro mayor in our area, and how will devolution stimulate growth for businesses like this in the region?

The Prime Minister: There is a real opportunity in this Parliament to make some decisive steps towards rebalancing our economy and building the northern powerhouse that we have spoken about. A big part of

9 Sep 2015 : Column 402

that is devolving power to local government and, specifically, to mayors who can be accountable to their local communities and have new powers and new resources to drive economic growth in their areas. We have already had over 30 areas, as well as city regions, making proposals. This is a very exciting development for genuine decentralisation in our country. I very much hope West Yorkshire will be in the vanguard.

Q7. [901202] Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am sure the Prime Minister will be aware that more than 900 people at the Young’s fish processing factory in my constituency in Fraserburgh currently face the threat of redundancy. There is a perception across the industry that the UK Government have been encouraging and supporting the company to relocate many of those jobs to Grimsby. What is the Prime Minister going to do to support the workers in Fraserburgh?

The Prime Minister: I am aware of this issue, not least because the local Members of Parliament in the Grimsby area have come to see me to talk about this industry. What matters is that we go on being an economy that wants to attract businesses, growth and jobs. That means keeping our inflation down, keeping our taxes down, keeping our corporate taxes down and, I would also argue, keeping our country together.

Q8. [901203] Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As MP for the faithful city, may I associate my constituents with the tributes paid earlier to Her Majesty the Queen? Worcester’s guildhall, which she visited on her diamond jubilee, will next week be hosting a jobs fair at which over 130 employers will be recruiting. In Worcester, we have seen unemployment at its lowest level ever and youth unemployment down by two thirds. Will my right hon. Friend update us on his plans and his determination to finish the job by eliminating youth unemployment?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful for what my hon. Friend is doing and for what is happening in Worcester. We have seen employment rise by nearly 2 million and the unemployment rate fall for 25 consecutive months. But we have to be frank: the job is now going to get harder as we dig down into those people who have been out of the labour market for a long time and who have challenges in getting jobs. We need to work really hard to make sure the apprenticeships, training and help is there, and that is why what is happening in Worcester is so important.

Q9. [901204] Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether he thinks he has led public opinion on the refugee crisis or followed it?

The Prime Minister: I would simply argue that this Government are doing the right thing, and that we have done it consistently. To be frank, public opinion has not always supported the 0.7% of GDP that we give to aid. Even in the most difficult of economic circumstances, it was this Government, led by a Conservative Prime Minister, that kept the promises we made to the world’s poorest.

Q10. [901205] Peter Heaton-Jones (North Devon) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the Chancellor’s announcement of funding to kick-start

9 Sep 2015 : Column 403

improvements to the north Devon link road, and does he agree with me that this is a vital project if we are to continue with the economic growth and jobs that his economic policies are already delivering?

The Prime Minister: One of the things that struck me on the many visits I made to my hon. Friend’s constituency in the run-up to the last election is that the communities and coastal towns in North Devon are completely reliant on the north Devon link road. It is an absolutely vital artery and that is why it is so good that there is this £3 million of funding to develop the business case for improvements. We will keep on this, because we know just how vital this road is.

Q11. [901206] Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): Every year, thousands of people have medical emergencies outside of hospitals. When it is a cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR—cardiopulmonary resuscitation—or defibrillation reduces survival chances by 7% to 10%. First aid is a true life skill. The majority of teachers and parents support the teaching of emergency first aid in schools. Will the Prime Minister look closely at my private Member’s Bill, which aims to do that and make every child a lifesaver?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look closely at the hon. Lady’s private Member’s Bill, because this is a real lifesaver. The availability of CPR equipment, whether in village halls, pubs, schools or sports clubs, can save many, many lives. That is why there was £1 million in the Budget for buying defibrillators for public spaces and schools and for training. I am sure that many schools will want to take advantage of this.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that the new owners of Eggborough power station in my constituency are consulting on the closure of a station that provides 4% of the country’s electricity. This comes on top of the announcement that Ferrybridge power station, adjacent to my constituency, is to close, as well as Longannet in Scotland. Drax power station is taking legal action against the Government over changes to the tax regime. These power stations are being taxed out of existence, and we are potentially walking into power capacity issues next year. Will he meet me to discuss a way forward for the station and the industry and for the hundreds of people in my constituency whose jobs are under threat?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. I have discussed this issue with him before. I believe we have sufficient capacity in our energy market, but I have regular meetings with Ofgem and Energy Ministers to make sure that is still the case. We have this difficult situation of wanting to see, over time, a phasing out of unabated coal, which needs to happen if we are to meet our carbon emissions targets, and when it comes to replacing coal in these power stations with renewable technologies, of needing to make it affordable. We have to make a judgment about how much we are prepared to add to consumers’ bills, because, in the end, this has to be paid for.

Q12. [901207] Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The UK steel industry is currently facing huge challenges. In Scunthorpe, 25,000 people rely on steel. Will the Prime

9 Sep 2015 : Column 404

Minister call a steel summit to show that his Government will stand up for steel and take the action necessary to secure its future?

The Prime Minister: I have discussed this issue with the hon. Gentleman before, and I am sure we will meet and discuss it again. The Government can help the energy-intensive industries with their energy bills, and we have put £35 million towards that. We have also set out, in our infrastructure plan, the infrastructure needs of the country so that steel producers can plan how much needs to be produced. We will go on doing everything we can to support this vital industry.

Q13. [901208] Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): The rail stations of Glossop and Hadfield in my constituency are the third and fifth busiest in Derbyshire. The constituents who use those stations have just been advised of a change in the available rolling stock. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the successful bidders for the new franchise can continue to offer as good a service as is available now, and perhaps even better?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. The whole point about the process for the new northern franchise is to see an improvement in services. We have already spoken about getting rid of the Pacer trains, which I know will be very popular in the north of England, and we will be adding an extra 1,500 services a day. We want to increase the morning peak capacity by one third and, as I said, see those outdated Pacer trains retired. That is a good programme and one we hope to secure through this franchise.

Q14. [901209] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Experts say that delivery of the electrification of the main line between Paddington and Swansea is slipping. How will the Prime Minister get this project back on track and budget by the delivery date of 2018?

The Prime Minister: We are committed to this electrification all the way to Swansea, and we are making record investments in our railway line. Many of us, including Opposition Members, were privileged to be at Newton Aycliffe for the opening of the Hitachi factory that will be providing the state-of-the-art trains—trains built not in Japan, but here in Britain, bringing 700 new jobs to the north-east of England.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the debate about Syria two years ago there were voices around this Chamber arguing that the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere were nothing to do with us and should not involve us? Is it not clear that the failure of western security strategy in the middle east and elsewhere is the main driver of this migration crisis, and may I endorse his requirement for a full-spectrum response to ISIS? Will he consider setting that out in a comprehensive White Paper in order to lead world opinion?

The Prime Minister: First, we should be very clear about who is responsible for the refugee crisis in Syria. I would lay it firmly at the door of Bashar al-Assad, who assaulted his own people, and ISIL, who, even today, are throwing gay people off buildings, raping women,

9 Sep 2015 : Column 405

terrorising communities and driving people to take to the road and leave their country. They are the ones responsible. But my hon. Friend makes an important point: when we do not involve ourselves in these issues and take difficult decisions, that is a decision in itself, and it has consequences. That is what I hope we can debate and discuss in the coming months. He talked about White Papers and so on. There are many different ways of presenting this information. I think we need to look at all the arguments for what he and I would call a comprehensive approach to these issues.

Q15. [901210] Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): Our sixth-form colleges do a great job, but they are not protected by the education ring fence. That means a sixth-former in my constituency has lost almost 20% of their funding over the last five years—in some places, almost 30%. What has the Prime Minister got against sixth-form colleges?

The Prime Minister: I am fully in favour of sixth-form colleges. That is why actually, unlike previous Governments, we have gone quite a long way to equalise the funding between sixth forms in secondary schools and sixth forms in colleges. We have made a lot of progress.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): We are just days away from the start in England of the world’s third largest sporting event—the rugby world cup. In addition to wishing luck to all the home nations, will the Prime Minister agree that this represents a great economic opportunity to my town, as we welcome visitors from around the world to the birthplace of the game?

The Prime Minister: I certainly look forward to the warm welcome that Britain will give to rugby fans from around the world, and I am happy to wish luck to all the home nations in what is going to be a compelling contest. It is always worth noting that this Dispatch Box was the gift to the House of Commons of the people of New Zealand. While we are very grateful for their gift, we want one of the home nations to win this tournament.

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, Mr Nigel Dodds.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 406

The Prime Minister will be aware that the situation in Northern Ireland, already grave, following the IRA murder in August in Belfast, has escalated to new heights, with the arrest today of the chairman of Sinn Féin in connection with that incident—and, indeed, other leading members of Sinn Féin. We warned about this earlier this week. We have now reached the tipping point. Indeed, in my view, we have gone beyond the tipping point. The Prime Minister is aware that the First Minister has met the Secretary of State this morning. He has put a proposal to her. Does the Prime Minister now accept that unless he and others take action, we are in a very grave state as far as devolution is concerned? We want to see government, but only those committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means can be in government. The people of Northern Ireland cannot be punished; it is Sinn Féin who should be dealt with. Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister: First, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are in a very difficult phase of these discussions in Northern Ireland. I obviously cannot comment on the police operations that have taken place, but let me say this. There is no justification for paramilitary organisations and structures in Northern Ireland—or, indeed, anywhere else in our country. They are a blight on our society; they are not wanted; they should be disbanded on every occasion and on every side.

I would, however, make an appeal in this respect to Democratic Unionist Members, Ulster Unionist Members, Social and Democratic Labour Party Members and the Sinn Féin Members, who do not take their seats in this House. As someone who sat on the Opposition Benches and watched while the peace process was put together and the power-sharing arrangements were put in place, it was one of the most inspiring things that I have seen as a human being and a politician to see politicians put aside their differences, put aside concerns about appalling things that had happened in the past, and decide to work together. The appeal I would make to all of you is, please have that spirit in mind. It was an amazing thing you all did in Northern Ireland when you formed that Administration and that Assembly. We will do everything we can to help you, but let us think of the nobler processes and the great noble principles that were put in place in the past—and let’s do it again.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 407

Points of Order

12.39 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Monday, during questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) asked a question about the return to work of people with disabilities. The Secretary of State responded that

“the most important point is that we are looking to get that up to the level of normal, non-disabled people who are back in work.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 6.]

I am sure I do not need to point out to the House just how offensive and inappropriate that sort of language is.

We have worked hard to achieve non-discriminatory language, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on whether that sort of language is in order in the context of what is said in the House, and on whether, alternatively, you yourself could offer guidance to Front Benchers in order to avoid such offensive and discriminatory language in the future.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to him is that the language used was not disorderly—there was nothing out of order about it—and it therefore did not necessitate any intervention from the Chair. Everyone who speaks in this place must take responsibility for what he or she says. It is extremely important that we express ourselves with sensitivity, and in a way that will be viewed as such not just within the House, but beyond it.

I do not think I can go beyond that today. I recognise the upset that the hon. Gentleman and, perhaps, others feel. I do not think that I can say more than I have just said, but I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said, and what I have said in response, will be noted in the appropriate quarters. I hope that it will not be necessary to return to this theme.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 408

Food Waste (Reduction)

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

12.41 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make provision for a scheme to establish incentives to implement and encourage observance of the food waste reduction hierarchy; to encourage individuals, businesses and public bodies to reduce the amount of food they waste; to require large supermarkets, manufacturers and distributors to reduce their food waste by no less than 30 per cent by 2025 and to enter into formal agreements with food redistribution organisations; to require large supermarkets and food manufacturers to disclose levels of food waste in their supply chain; and for connected purposes.

Three years ago, I made my first attempt to introduce a food waste Bill. I am now returning to that topic, very aptly, in zero waste week. Although some progress has been made during the past three years—and, indeed, before that—we could do so much better if the Government were firmly in the driving seat.

I am not the only one who is saying this. In January, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called for DEFRA to appoint a food security co-ordinator to spur a step change in the redistribution of surplus food to those in need, and, in its excellent report “Feeding Britain”, the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty suggested that redistributing and using surplus food would be

“the next big breakthrough… in eliminating hunger”

in the United Kingdom—although, as Mark Goodway, the founder of the inspiring Matthew Tree Project in Bristol, has said, the problem of food poverty is not lack of food:

“The lack of food is an indication that something else has gone wrong and this is what needs to be addressed.”

That, however, is a topic—a big topic—for another day.

It is estimated that about a third of the food produced globally is wasted. That puts pressure on scarce land and resources, contributes to deforestation, and needlessly adds to global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the US and China. The sheer waste of our planet’s scarce resources is bad enough, but it is truly shocking that so much good food is going to waste when so many people on our planet are dying from hunger and malnutrition, and so many are living in food poverty here in the UK.

We hear much about the future challenge of feeding a growing population from a shrinking agricultural base, but we are already producing enough food: if we cut food waste by just a quarter, there would be enough to feed everyone on the planet. It is a scandal that we are not doing so. In the UK, we produce about 15 million tonnes of food waste annually, and about 400,000 tonnes of that is fit for human consumption. It cannot be right that good, edible food is thrown away, or turned into compost or energy, when people are going to bed hungry, skipping meals, or cannot afford to give their children a nutritious evening meal. I want to make it clear that this Bill is not primarily about household food waste, on which the public focus tends to be. More than half the food wasted is wasted by the food industry across the supply chain, and that is my focus today.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 409

In the UK we redistribute only 2% of our fit-for-consumption surplus food. France redistributes 20 times more, so we could do an awful lot better. On Monday I visited FareShare’s London depot to hear how it is supporting more than 200 organisations, including domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters, hostels, food banks, pensioners’ lunch clubs, and breakfast and after-school clubs. According to FareShare, if we redistributed 25% of our surplus food, it would save the voluntary sector up to £250 million a year. This would make surplus food the second largest supporter of charity after the Big Lottery.

Let me turn now to specific measures in the Bill. It calls for supermarkets to be required to enter into formal agreements with food redistribution organisations to donate to them unsold in-date food. That is based on a recent French legislative proposal and Belgian law. It would address the so-called back-of-store and retail depot waste—food that has already made it into the store. However, that accounts for only about 2% of the food wasted. Waste in the supermarket supply chain is a much bigger issue.

Waste in the supermarket supply chain is generated because of things such as poor demand forecasting, over-ordering or cosmetic requirements—the need for fruit and vegetables to be free from visual imperfections. An estimated 20% to 40% of perfectly edible UK fruit and veg is rejected by supermarkets before it even reaches the shops. So my Bill also calls on large supermarkets and manufacturers to be transparent and to disclose the levels of food waste in their supply chain and reduce their own food waste by at least 30% by 2025. That is in line with the European Commission target of reducing all food waste by at least 30% between 2017 and 2025, which I hope will make its way into its circular economy strategy later this year, and in line with the sustainable development goal of halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level—which is easiest to tackle—by 2030.

The Bill also asks the Government to look at possible incentives to encourage observance of the food waste hierarchy, so that ideally food waste is prevented from occurring in the first place, but if it does occur it is donated for human consumption if possible, or then for livestock feed, or then for anaerobic digestion, rather than going to landfill. At the moment it is cheaper and more convenient for supermarkets to send their surplus to AD or for livestock feed than donate it to charities.

In its “Counting the Cost of Food Waste” report last year the Lords European Union Committee recommended that the UK Government

“undertake their own assessment of how they might further promote the redistribution of food to humans by way of fiscal measures. Particular attention should be given to encouraging the redistribution of fresh, nutritious food.”

The report highlighted fiscal measures, from VAT exemptions to tax deductions and tax breaks, which

“could help align economic incentives more effectively with the food use hierarchy.”

The Government response to this was disappointing, and I hope my Bill will encourage further consideration of what measures could be adopted.

It is also worth noting that the AD industry receives Government subsidies as well as, for example, interest- free loans from the Green Investment Bank, yet food

9 Sep 2015 : Column 410

redistribution receives no subsidies or support. The Government are effectively subsidising a food waste management system lower down the waste hierarchy, but are, as yet, providing no support for a more resource-efficient one.

Finally, my Bill calls on the Government to encourage all individuals, businesses and public bodies to reduce the amount of food they waste. We can all play a role. As the director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, José Graziano da Silva, has said:

“We can do a lot from the local to the global levels, from producers to consumers, from personal choices to policy decisions that create an enabling environment to reduce food waste and loss.”

I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in his place today and thank him once again for attending the launch of my Bill yesterday. Were he able to speak today, he would no doubt point to progress that has been made on a voluntary basis. Household food waste has reduced by 21% since 2007, partly due to the efforts of the Waste and Resources Action Programme and its “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign. WRAP needs to be properly resourced to carry on its valuable work.

Some supermarkets have started to rise to the challenge. Tesco, in a brave move, decided not only to publish its levels of back-of-store food waste, but to audit some of its best-selling products across the whole supply chain. It has developed an app that notifies charities what surplus food is available for collection from its stores each day. I saw a demonstration of that on Monday, and it really simplifies the process and makes it much easier for charities to know what food is available to them.

However, not all supermarkets are rising to the challenge, and they should be. Indeed, at the recent Stockholm food forum, some companies said that they would prefer to be legally obliged to deliver the UN food waste target, so that there is a level playing field, where not just the good guys are rising to the challenge, but everyone else is required to do so too.

The Minister would, no doubt, point to the Courtauld commitment, but it is a purely voluntary agreement; it does not cover large amounts of waste higher up the supply chain and its targets are unambitious. Indeed, 80% of progress on its previous targets came from tackling household food waste. I hope that the fourth phase, Courtauld 2025, will be much more ambitious than previous iterations.

As I began by saying, I do not believe that voluntary action alone can drive the change that is needed. The current approach of nudging us along the way, with a few good initiatives, some education and some encouragement, is not enough when the imperative for action is so great. We have an example of what Government action could achieve: the last Labour Government’s landfill tax was one of the most successful waste policies ever for driving behavioural change and for creating markets in more environmental forms of disposal such as anaerobic digestion.

We can do the same for food waste, moving up the waste hierarchy, pushing for prevention and much more donation, and that is why I urge the Minister to support the Bill and politely ask him to have a word with his Whips to allow it to be considered in Committee, so

9 Sep 2015 : Column 411

that we can work together on this, drive forward the agenda in a really ambitious way and respond to the huge level of public support out there for action on this issue.

Question put and agreed to.


That Kerry McCarthy, Caroline Lucas, Zac Goldsmith, Margaret Ferrier, Huw Irranca-Davies, Seema Malhotra, Frank Field, Steve Rotheram, Dr Alan Whitehead, Daniel Zeichner and Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck present the Bill.

Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January 2016, and to be printed (Bill 67).

9 Sep 2015 : Column 412

Opposition Day

[6th allotted day]

Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

[Relevant document: E-petition, entitled Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK, https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991]

12.52 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House recognises the funding the Government has committed to the humanitarian initiatives to provide sanctuary in camps for refugees across the Middle East; calls for a greater international effort through the United Nations to secure the position of such displaced people; recognises that the Government has committed to accepting 20,000 vulnerable people from camps in Syria over the next five years but calls for a Government report to be laid before the House by 12 October 2015 detailing how that number can be increased, encompassing refugees already in Europe and including a plan for the remainder of this year to reflect the overwhelming urgency of this humanitarian crisis; further notes that refugees arriving in European Union territory also have a moral and legal right to be treated properly; and, given the pressure on Southern European countries, further calls for the UK to play its full and proper role, in conjunction with European partners, in providing sanctuary to our fellow human beings.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to move this cross-party motion in today’s Scottish National party Opposition day debate. I urge all Members to look very closely at the Order Paper—I know that that does not always happen—to read the text of the motion and to note a very unusual sight. The motion is co-sponsored by the leaders of six parliamentary parties: the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Green party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, as well as the independent Unionist MP, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon).

Although I welcome the Secretary of State for International Development and her Government colleagues to the Treasury Bench, I am disappointed, given the cross-party nature of the motion and the seriousness of the subject, that the Prime Minister is not here. I am sure that many people who care passionately about the need to do as much as we can in this humanitarian crisis will be saddened that he did not think it important enough to attend today’s debate. That stands in sharp contrast to the all-party approach that we saw last week in Scotland, which included the leader of the Conservative party in the Scottish Parliament. That cross-party approach to making plans was chaired by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and included charities and others.

I do not want to dwell on that discordant point, because I would prefer Members, particularly Government Members, to look closely at the text of the motion. Perhaps unusually on an Opposition day, the motion is not aimed at identifying or highlighting shortcomings in the Government’s policy. Given the gravity of the humanitarian situation and the fast-moving nature of developments in recent days, we who have sponsored the motion have worked hard in formulating a text to recognise what is being proposed, which we all welcome, and to encourage what must happen next.

On Monday, we had a significant update of UK policy by the Prime Minister, with commitments made to help many more people, and we welcome that. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is immense. Millions of

9 Sep 2015 : Column 413

people have been displaced from the conflict in Syria, to neighbours such as Lebanon and Jordan. Many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been on the move are from other war-torn and oppressive countries.

Today, the European Commission has outlined its immediate plans to deal with the situation, and that does not come before time. We are told that it is the time for bold action by EU member states and institutions. I note the words “EU member states”—not just some of them: all of us, and that includes the United Kingdom. For the world, it is a matter of humanity and human dignity. For Europe, it is a matter for historical fairness.

Europe is a continent where people from nearly all countries at some point have been refugees at one time, fleeing war, dictatorship or oppression. There is a fundamental right to asylum. It is one of the most important international values, and we should not forget that. We should be proud of the fact that Europe is seen as a safe haven for those who are fleeing horrific circumstances. We should not fear this; we should be proud of it. It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery of the world—we know that—but we must put things into perspective.

How can it be that we are hearing from all sides, and justifiably so, that we should do everything to combat an insidious terrorist movement such as Daesh, but we are not prepared to accept those people who are fleeing from it? In the Mediterranean, as the European Commission pointed out today, every life lost is one too many, regardless of where those people are trying to get to. We know that efforts have been redoubled to dismantle human trafficking groups. We learn that fewer boats are under the control of smugglers on the perilous route. That is a good thing.

We must applaud the efforts of countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Those countries, which are far poorer than we are, are making huge efforts in moral and financial terms. We must recognise, however, that we—we the United Kingdom; we Europe—have clearly under-delivered in the common solidarity we have offered to refugees who have arrived on our territory. Italy, Hungary and Greece alone cannot be left to deal with this enormous challenge. This is not a defining matter of whether or not one is within the Schengen zone.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has just said, does he not accept that the UK Government have put nearly £1 billion into supporting safe refuges throughout the middle east—more than virtually any other country in the world—and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development should be congratulated on her efforts in doing that?

Angus Robertson: In the spirit that I started, I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman says. I join him in applauding Ministers for delivering the amount of money that he notes. He could have gone on to say, of course, that other countries are providing significant amounts. I note that, this week, Chancellor Angel Merkel announced £4.4 billion to go towards refugees, and the lesson is that we must all do as much as we can.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 414

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): We should be clear. The hon. Gentleman says that we cannot let these countries alone help the refugees. Britain has provided more—not just in money, but in aid in helping displaced people live—than Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy, Finland, Belgium and Ireland together, and they are nine of the 10 EU countries in the top 20 donors in the world. Should he not accept that we should all be proud of what we have done so far and that we can build on it as well, as the Prime Minister has announced?

Angus Robertson: I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he has just come in, but obviously he has not been listening to a word I have said. I said from the beginning of this opening speech that I am not interested in a bidding war or a discordant note across the Chamber about the things we agree on, and I paid tribute—including following another prompting—to the Government for their effort, and I will continue to do so. I hope that the hon. Gentleman listens to what I am saying. We should ask ourselves, individually and collectively: “Are we doing everything we can?”

In May the European Commission announced emergency resettlement mechanisms that would encompass 40,000 refugees, and today it announced a second emergency mechanism that will involve the relocation of 120,000 refugees from Hungary, Greece and Italy. The Commission called on member states to come to a Commission meeting on 13 September and take a share of that 120,000. Jean-Claude Juncker of the Commission said he wanted “everyone on board”, which I imagine includes the United Kingdom—I certainly hope it does, because the door should not be closed on refugees. He said that action is needed, and action is being undertaken by the United Kingdom. We welcome that—let me say that again—and we ask what more we can do.

Our motion recognises the funding that the Government have committed to humanitarian initiatives to provide sanctuary for refugees in camps across the middle east, as that makes a real difference to people’s lives. It calls for a greater international effort through the United Nations to secure the position of displaced people, and recognises that the Government have committed—again, I stress that we welcome this—to accepting 20,000 vulnerable people from camps in Syria over the next five years. We are calling for additional action, and we hope that, in the spirit in which the motion has been drafted, Government Members will find themselves able to agree. We have called for a Government report to be laid before the House by 12 October 2015 when Parliament returns from the conference recess—that point was made during Prime Minister’s questions by the acting leader of the Labour party, and it seems entirely reasonable.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I do not want to detract from the reasoned tone of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but is it not important to be absolutely clear that children accepted under the vulnerable persons programme will not be kicked out of the country when they reach 18? We were told today that that would not happen, but I understand it could well happen under the programme.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct in saying that it could happen, but the fact that we have had clarification from the Prime Minister

9 Sep 2015 : Column 415

acknowledges that it would be totally unacceptable in the country for that to happen. I have not seen the official statistics, but when I last looked I think that 216 or 217 people were part of the vulnerable persons scheme. That is one reason why the Government had to look pretty quickly at updating their approach to the humanitarian crisis and its scale. We learned that there is not automaticity in vulnerable children who might come to the UK being able to remain in the UK, and we could perhaps have greater clarity in that area from the Government, and greater generosity in providing confirmation that children will not be sent back to countries such as Syria—potentially still in a civil war—when they turn 18.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Immigration is always about numbers and we all welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to accept 20,000 refugees. During yesterday’s Home Affairs Committee we questioned the Immigration Minister about whether we could have a target for the number of refugees who could come this year—the Government do have targets, such as that for net migration. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although we cannot have a precise figure, it would be extremely helpful to have a target for the number who come this year?

Angus Robertson: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the motion before the House because we are calling for an action plan by the Government to be laid before Parliament. When understanding the Government’s figure of 20,000—which is, of course, significantly more than 216—many of us found difficult the fact that if that number is spread over the Parliament it equates to six refugees per constituency. I cannot speak for Members across the House, but my mailbag has been jam-packed with letters from people of good will saying “Please call on the Government to do more”, and that is what we are doing today.

People are also making concrete offers of help and assistance, which has happened here and in other countries. There is Airbnb in Germany for refugees, and the Icelandic people are suggesting that they will take masses of people to stay in that country, which is smaller than Dundee. Offers of help are being made domestically and internationally, and the UK Government should go away and work with the English Local Government Association—we heard the Prime Minister commit to that—the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the authorities in Northern Ireland, and the churches. Working with others, how do we accommodate as many of the 20,000 as we can as quickly as possible? This is literally a life and death issue for people, and we must get on with it.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I commend the hon. Gentleman and his party for the inclusive way in which he is conducting this debate and the drafting of the motion. He rightly talks about the upwelling of public concern and the will to do more. Does he agree that local authorities should be helped with funding beyond the first year? Many local authorities across the country want to do more, but they need to know that there is more than just one year of funding.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Lady makes a sensible point, and that is in part the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies).

9 Sep 2015 : Column 416

This week the Government of Germany announced £4 billion—more than €6 billion—of support for local government and municipalities to do this thing. Of course, because of the scale of this issue it is perfectly understandable that one has to work in government with the civil service, other authorities and the third sector in getting it right. At this point in parliamentary proceedings we are here for only a week and a half, and we all understand that because of the scale of the challenge not everything can be sorted out and planned, and not every number can be crunched. The motion is clear in giving the Government an opportunity to bring back a plan. The Prime Minister generously said during Prime Minister’s questions that he and ministerial colleagues would be coming back to this issue, and it would be helpful if those on the Treasury Bench listened to the suggestion on how a concrete plan can be advanced and delivered.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Clearly, and unsurprisingly, the Government are already planning, because the Home Office document on the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme states:

“For planning purposes, we are working on the basis that overall the UK would take around 500 people (not cases) over the next 2-3 years - with around 150 in the first year.”

That is where they were a few weeks ago. The Government are planning, but they need to upscale that planning.

Angus Robertson: That is absolutely true, and in the emollient spirit of today’s proceedings, thank goodness that they re-examined those projections and reconsidered their paucity of ambition in helping people in need. Given the fast moving nature of developments, perhaps we will continue to see a programme of iteration and re-examination to work out exactly what can be accommodated and supported. As a first ask, it would be helpful for the Government to accept that it would be good for all of us, in government and opposition, to see a plan laid before Parliament detailing how the number can be increased to encompass refugees already in Europe, and a plan for the remainder of this year to reflect the overwhelming urgency of the humanitarian crisis. We have already had a concrete suggestion from the Scottish Government that 1,000 refugees can be accommodated this year. If the UK total, which is 20,000 over five years, is 4,000 in a year, we are talking about the possibility this year of a quarter of all refugees in the UK being housed in Scotland. Surely the rest of the United Kingdom would not wish to be left in a position where not as much is being done.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that the number will not be staggered on a year-by-year basis? It may well be based on need, which means that many more than 4,000 are accommodated across the United Kingdom. We must be careful not to make arithmetical calculations in that way.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I really hope that he is right, because we need to help people as quickly as possible. I am sure that he would wish that as many people within this 20,000 total, which we hope is not a final total, can be helped as quickly as possible. We have agreement on that point across the Chamber.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 417

In yesterday’s emergency debate on the humanitarian crisis, a very, very strong case was made. Unusually, I am looking towards the shadow Home Secretary. For those who were not in the Chamber, I encourage them to read her speech, which was extremely powerful and convincing, as were the speeches of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and many hon. and right hon. Members. They talked about the urgency of the situation, the need for action and the fact that we should not discriminate between refugees.

The United Kingdom is part of Europe geographically and culturally. Regardless of our views on the European Union, we have responsibilities as Europeans and as human beings towards fellow human beings. It cannot be left to Sweden, Germany and Austria to take up disproportionate burdens. It cannot be left to Italy or, heaven help it, Greece, which is saddled with a massive austerity plan and creaking public services. Greece is having to manage disproportionate challenges simply because of geographic proximity.

May I just say on a personal note, as somebody who is half German and who lived and worked in Austria for a decade, how utterly remarkable and moving it is to watch the welcome given to refugees in those countries? It is an inspiration to people of good will elsewhere. The leadership and humanity of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chancellor Werner Faymann is widely recognised and appreciated.

Today’s motion notes that refugees arriving in European Union territory have a moral and legal right to be properly treated; and that, given the pressure on southern European countries, the UK should play its full and proper role, in conjunction with European partners, in providing sanctuary to our fellow human beings. Who can possibly oppose that?

The history of these islands stands as testament to solidarity with fellow Europeans and to people from further afield. I am talking about the thousands of Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, the thousands of Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms of the 19th century, the thousands of Basque children fleeing the Spanish civil war and the thousands of Jewish children in the Kindertransport. Incidentally, I am not sure why people do not ask why it was just a Kindertransport. Much has been said in recent days in praise—and I am praising it—of the good will in welcoming people. We should also not turn a blind eye to some of the siren voices of past decades that, among other things, restricted adults from Austria who were fleeing the Nazis in 1938. It is right that we should praise, and be aware of, the contribution that has been made in past decades. I am not just talking about the run-up to the second world war.

After the second world war, believe it or not, the UK took in people from the largest group of displaced refugees in world history; they were German. Think about that. Their city was bombed and significantly destroyed. In 1945, 1946 and 1947, the UK accepted as refugees those who had been enemy aliens. I have much to be grateful for as my mother was among those refugees.

Since that time, there has been a commitment to refugees, and that has not stopped. There were the Hungarians and Czechs after their uprisings in the

9 Sep 2015 : Column 418

1950s and 1960s, the Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, the Vietnamese boat people, and the refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and on it goes.

It is well understood by most people of good will—and that is the overwhelming majority of people in this country—that a remarkable contribution has been made to these shores by those who originally hailed from elsewhere. If Members have not already heard the song “Scotland's Story” by the Proclaimers, I recommend that they listen to it. The chorus goes:

“In Scotland’s story I read that they came

The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane

But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine

They’re all Scotland’s story and they’re all worth the same.”

I know that there are Members from other parts of the UK who can attest to similar sentiments and realities in their nations and constituencies. We celebrate refugees and their contribution and we remember the humanity of those who made past decisions, which were not always popular.

It is not that long ago that speeches were made about rivers of blood. Hopefully—I think certainly—we have moved beyond that narrow-mindedness, but we face a challenge. This is the biggest refugee crisis in Europe, if not the world, since the second world war. Just one week ago, the UK Government’s position was that 216 people on the vulnerable persons programme were acceptable. Thank goodness that is no longer the case. What was unimaginable a week ago is now imaginable. We have to rise to the challenge of playing our part.

The UK Government have done much, and they are doing more. Today we are asking that they should not close their mind to doing more. Regardless of our politics and of those things that divide us, we, as human beings, share a responsibility to refugees. I am talking about not just refugees in camps in Jordan and Lebanon, but wee boys and girls and mums and dads in Greece, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Sweden. Wherever refugees are, we have a responsibility to work with our European neighbours and partners to help them. This is their hour of need. The motion before us today is one to build consensus to say that we are not closed to doing more. I hope that the Government will accept it, because they should.

1.17 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): There is no doubt that this debate comes at a time when the world is facing humanitarian emergencies of an unprecedented number, scale and complexity. Whether we talk about the Ebola epidemic that hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea last year, the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April, the current crisis in Yemen or the conflict that has raged in Syria for more than four years now, it is clear that these crises are not just events that go on half a world away unconnected to our own lives here in Britain. We saw that last year. The Ebola crisis that threatened to engulf west Africa was just a five-hour plane ride away from the UK.

Nobody can fail to have been struck by the tragic images of desperate people putting their lives in the hands of criminal gangs and people smugglers, risking and sometimes losing their lives for the chance of a better future. More than 360,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean this year. The flow of people

9 Sep 2015 : Column 419

has largely been driven by conflict, particularly the bloodbath in Syria that has now taken more than 220,000 lives and forced more than 11 million people from their homes. I recognise that the debate—not just here in the UK, but around Europe—shows that there are no easy answers to these questions of how to deal appropriately with these crises. Many countries, including the UK, are debating what the right response is. Indeed, many are taking and playing different roles in the overall response we need to see.

Since day one of the Syrian crisis, Britain has been at the forefront of the response. We have evolved our response—we have had to—as this incredibly complex crisis has steadily evolved. Britain has done and will continue to do a huge amount to help the Syrians who have been caught up in the crisis and, of course, our priority is to stop the senseless death of refugees and migrants making the perilous journey. Our assets, including Royal Navy ships, have played their part in the European response that has helped to rescue more than 6,700 people in the Mediterranean.

We are also working alongside other European partners to tackle the criminal gangs and trafficking networks that profit from this human misery, including by establishing an organised immigration crime taskforce that brings together officers from the National Crime Agency, immigration enforcement, Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service into one team so that they can work collectively to address these challenging problems. Of course, we have provided sanctuary to more than 5,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began and the Prime Minister has announced that we will provide resettlement for up to 20,000 additional Syrians in need of protection over the lifetime of this Parliament.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to say what the British Government are going to do to assist the refugees at Calais? We have heard much about Syrian refugees and I am pleased and grateful that the Government have changed their mind and done the right thing. In my constituency, huge amounts of clothing, shoes and other goods have been donated for volunteers to take them from North Down through the Republic of Ireland to Cork and across to Calais. I know that the Northern Ireland Office is under pressure politically as we have difficult times again in Northern Ireland, but as a sign of generosity and solidarity with the rest of the UK Northern Ireland wants to do something. This is a small token gesture to help refugees in Calais.

Justine Greening: I will follow up that point. I pay tribute to the work that the Home Secretary did over the summer with her French counterpart to try to work collaboratively to find a resolution to the problem in Calais.

I have talked about some of the challenges closer to our doorstep here in Europe in recent weeks and months, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we have also needed to and been right to help the overwhelming majority of Syrians who are still in the region. I have met many refugees from the Syrian crisis in my time in this role and I am proud that Britain has played a leading role in the humanitarian response to the crisis. We have pledged more than £1 billion to date, the largest ever response from the UK to any humanitarian

9 Sep 2015 : Column 420

crisis, which gives a sense of how complex, wide-ranging and challenging the Syrian crisis is. That is also the biggest bilateral country support for the Syrian crisis, other than that from the US.

The picture inside Syria today is unspeakably bleak. We have debated, discussed and had questions about the Syrian crisis in this Chamber many times and it seems almost impossible that it can continue to get worse, but it does. For four years the people of Syria have been bombed, starved and driven from their homes. I have met children in the Zaatari camp in a little classroom where they can play and spend time with one another, but when they hear a supply plane overhead delivering supplies to the camp they dive for cover under the table because they are used to planes that are about to bomb them. I have met children in classrooms that Britain is helping to fund, with teachers whom we are helping to do double shifts so that they can teach not only their own Jordanian and Lebanese children but find time in the school day to accommodate the Syrian children who are now living locally. I have seen the pictures those children draw when they are asked to do art, and they are pictures of their homes having been bombed, of planes with bombs and of their friends having been bombed. Those children deserve the support of the United Kingdom and they are getting that support.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I do not think that any Opposition Member is criticising what the Government are doing, but what the Government are not doing, which includes their duty as a member of the European Union in respect of migrants in Europe. May I also raise the issue of refugees from Daesh in Iraq? We have a duty in Iraq and Yazidis, Christians and Muslims have had to flee in very similar circumstances. Will the Secretary of State extend the vulnerable persons relocation scheme to refugees in Iraq who cannot be catered for by the Iraqi Government?

Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that Britain is playing our role in dealing with crises that go far more broadly across the middle east than the Syrian conflict. I can reassure him that we are working specifically to try to ensure that we support children who are part of the many millions of displaced people in Iraq. Let me give the House some sense of that, although I know that I need to make some progress with my speech. We are providing not only the medical assistance that they will often need but trauma counselling. That is not uncomplicated as the specialised support the children need and the language capability required of the people providing it are not easy to access, but we are part of ensuring that that is done as far as it possibly can be. We are providing and helping to fund safe areas within camps so that unaccompanied children and parents who have lost their children can easily link up with them again. More than 80% of unaccompanied children in Jordan have managed to be linked up with their families through such efforts. Out of sight, we are working incredibly hard in a range of areas, particularly to help children affected by the crisis. We will keep doing that.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister for what they have said today and for what they have been doing. The World Food Programme is, as I discovered at a meeting in Luxembourg that I attended as Chairman of the

9 Sep 2015 : Column 421

European Scrutiny Committee on Saturday and Sunday, the centre of gravity, and it is quite clear that we not only have our 0.7% but are the second or third largest of all the donors to the programme. Germany, for all the hype, is way behind us over the past year and over the past five years. Does she accept that we have done an amazing amount of effective work in that programme? Will she comment on the implications of my International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 and on whether it has any relevance to this matter?

Justine Greening: I pay tribute to the World Food Programme, which is operating alongside other UN agencies in some of the most dangerous places to get vital food and often other supplies to people affected by the crisis, and I have often met and talked to Ertharin Cousin who runs it. As my hon. Friend sets out, Britain has been one of the key funders of the WFP over recent years, more broadly as well as particularly in relation to the Syrian crisis. Agencies such as the WFP are having to make impossible choices about how to help the most people with limited resources, and I shall come on to that shortly.

My hon. Friend also asked about his efforts regarding gender equality, and I pay tribute to him for them and for how they fed into the UK response. I can reassure him that alongside his Act we had the UK Call to Action summit, held at about this time in 2013, which was about ensuring that we did not lose sight of the specific needs of women and girls. In these crises, the rates of forced marriage and sexual violence rapidly rise, and we have prioritised tackling that.

I have been out to the region often, visiting camps and host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. I have been to the camp at Kilis in Turkey, which is close enough to Aleppo for people to be able to hear the bombs there. Half the Syrian population—more than 11 million people—have had to leave their homes. Only around 3% of those have sought asylum here in Europe. The vast majority of those who have been displaced are trying to stay in their home or to rebuild their life in a neighbouring country closer to home. Many still hold out the hope that they will be able to go back home and they have remained in a place more familiar to them where they may have family links.

David T. C. Davies: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are right to target our help at those who are in the camps, who may be the most vulnerable people from the area, and not to do anything to encourage more people to hand money over to people traffickers and risk their lives coming to Europe in leaky boats, when we have done so much to provide them with places of safety?

Justine Greening: I shall make progress, but my hon. Friend’s point is important. We have to think very carefully about how we can meet the dual objectives of continuing to support people in the region and helping refugees without inadvertently making the problem worse, which would be the wrong approach to take. That is why this is a complex problem to deal with. We need to think extremely carefully through those complexities to reach the right approach. I believe that that is what we have done as a Government.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 422

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) rose

Justine Greening: I recognise that it is the hon. Gentleman’s party which has tabled the motion and I will give way to him shortly.

As we have heard, Britain has already given more aid, by some margin, than any other European country to help Syrians affected by the crisis. Our commitment to do that will continue, but we need other countries, both in Europe and internationally, to step up to the plate and do more too. As we have this debate in the Chamber today, the UN agencies involved in the Syrian appeal have looked at the scale of the need and the number of refugees, and assessed the resourcing that they would need to help provide support to those people. They totted that up and only 37% of it has been funded for 2015.

Angus Robertson: A number of leading charities in the UK have launched appeals, which are very welcome. I am sure we would all encourage as many people as possible to give. It is a mystery to me that the way in which we signal collectively the need for a significant fund-raising effort is through the Disasters Emergency Committee. It is for the DEC to decide what the criteria are to raise money for emergencies, but it seems to me that this is a pretty big emergency. Would the Minister support the Disasters Emergency Committee launching an appeal to all our constituents who want to help and support people in need?

Justine Greening: The Disasters Emergency Committee is a fantastic way of enabling some of the most incredible NGOs, which often happen to be UK NGOs, to come together and work effectively to raise funding. I would certainly support such a move if the DEC chose to do that. In the past it has done so. At Christmas 2013 we match-funded part of a DEC appeal in order to ensure its success, and we will continue to look at how we can use that as a mechanism to share the priorities of the British people, which we are already mirroring in the amount of effort we are putting into the Syrian crisis.

The point I was making was that in the end we need a broader international response. It is worth saying that the UN appeal this year was in the region of $8 billion. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) commented on the amount that Germany is spending on refugees who are in Germany, which, as he said, is around $6 billion. We can start to see that we need to think carefully about effective funding of the UN appeal. We have been part of a sustained lobbying effort, particularly on the part of myself and the Prime Minister, to press other countries to follow that lead. We have helped to raise around $6.9 billion for the Syrian crisis over the past two years. Last year we co-hosted a ministerial meeting at the UN General Assembly which alone raised $1 billion.

We have to understand that these humanitarian emergencies do not clear themselves up over one or two years. That is part of a funding problem that needs to be fixed. The length of time that people spend as refugees is rising. In 1980 people could expect to spend perhaps nine years as refugees. Now they may expect to spend 20 years, so a child born in the Zaatari camp now

9 Sep 2015 : Column 423

will grow to adulthood away from home. We need a step change in the way that the international community supports refugees.

Richard Graham rose

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) rose

Justine Greening: I will give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham).

Richard Graham: The UK has a good track record in providing match-funding for good causes to help people in disaster zones. Would she consider arranging for match-funding for a new vehicle which would be available to everybody in the UK who wants to donate specifically to help Syrian refugees settle in this country?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend has put an interesting and brand new idea on the table. I am sure it will not be the only proposal that we hear in the debate today. I will take all of them back and look carefully at the art of the possible to see what we can do and how we can knit together, as we already do in many other humanitarian responses, the amazing generosity of the British people with the work that the UK Government are doing, often with NGOs, to provide the support that we seek to give.

We need a step change in the way that the international community supports refugees. We must recognise that the existing model for crisis funding supports short-term need but not protracted displacement. What that means in practice is that we see food, life-saving medical support and shelter understandably prioritised. What is left out of that UN work when it is only half-funded is education for children, work on helping to provide skills for young men so that they have the prospect of a successful livelihood ahead of them, and the work needed by host communities, which may see their populations double. The UK is focused on providing a lot of support in that vein. The problem is that it cannot be done at scale when UN appeals are as underfunded as the present one is. That, I am sorry to say, is symptomatic of other appeals for which the UN does not have appropriate funding.

We must look down the line at the challenges that we will face. Even today, we heard the President of the European Commission talking about the need for stepped-up EU activity to address the wider root causes of the refugee crisis by fighting poverty, improving governance and helping to support sustainable growth.

Simon Hoare: My right hon. Friend encapsulates the general thinking of the country that that requires an international response. She is right to make that point. Given her historical and contemporary interest in Syria and the policies of President Assad, can she advise the House what steps Russia is taking to alleviate the crisis?

Justine Greening: I have set out the fact that the US and the UK, alongside other nations, have led on the humanitarian front. It is less clear what humanitarian role Russia is playing. We were pleased when we finally achieved consensus on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on cross-border access for humanitarian supplies from countries such as Turkey into parts of

9 Sep 2015 : Column 424

Syria. That required Russia’s co-operation. It took some time to get it, but it was absolutely vital in enabling us to make progress. The key now—my hon. Friend alluded to this—is getting a political solution. The work that my Department does tirelessly every day is aimed at dealing with the consequences of the failure to do that. Ultimately, we will need a longer-term solution to the crisis if we are ever to see an end to the kind of suffering we have seen in the region—I have seen it myself—over the past four years.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Justine Greening: I will give way, but then I must make some progress, because many Members wish to speak.

Stephen McPartland: I congratulate the Secretary of State on the work she has done. Are we providing any support to the people who have been displaced and are trying to reach the refugee camps so that they do not have to use smugglers and other criminal organisations?

Justine Greening: Helping anyone inside Syria is incredibly difficult, which is one of the reasons I paid tribute to the work of the World Food Programme. We have seen the kinds of risks that humanitarian workers face while trying to get on with the amazing job they do. Some of them, including from Britain, have paid the ultimate price and lost their lives. The help that we can give kicks in the minute we get to people.

We have also worked with countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, which understandably have concerns about how they can cope with the huge influx of people across their borders and into their communities. I would like to put on the record my thanks to the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who have seen their communities literally double in size, but they have provided incredible generosity of spirit and support. That is why we are right to support those host communities, given the sheer number of refugees they have had to deal with in recent years.

Our response to this highly complex crisis has had to evolve. As the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, we have scaled up the UK’s support—it increased fivefold from 2012 to 2014. When it began, our planning with UN agencies related mostly to the logistics of putting in place the supply chains to get the food, water, shelter and medical support to the flow of people coming out of Syria. Then it was about ensuring that they could get through that first winter, which meant providing the kind of shelter required for moving from searing summer temperatures to very cold winter temperatures.

We then turned our attention to the challenge of educating the children affected by the crisis, for example by getting them into local schools. Over half of all registered refugees are children. In 2013, alongside the UN and the then EU Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, I launched the “No Lost Generation” initiative, which aims to provide the resources needed to help schools in Jordan and Lebanon cope with the double shifts they are having to put on. We have already allocated £111 million to help provide not only education, but protection and psychosocial support for the children affected by the crisis.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 425

I have talked about the need, ultimately, for a political solution. I have talked about how hard the UK has worked, and will continue to work, on the UN Security Council to ensure that we can get on with delivering humanitarian support and, in time, play our role in reaching a political solution. I have talked about my visits to the region and the shocking things I have seen at first hand.

As has been noted, the evolving nature of the crisis has meant that our support closer to home has also had to change. A significant number of Syrians have now left the region. The last time I visited the Zaatari refugee camp, I met a man who only the night before had been texted images of his restaurant in Damascus, which had just been bombed. People see their prospects change in an instant and, like anyone else, reassess how to deal with the next stage of their lives.

In response to that, the Prime Minister announced on Monday that we will expand the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme and resettle up to 20,000 additional Syrians who need protection over the lifetime of this Parliament. We have been very clear that we have come up with an overall number and are working hard to ensure that it is not only effectively targeted, but measured, so that we can cope with the number of people coming here and provide the kind of support they will need.

Hywel Williams: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Justine Greening: I will give way, but then I absolutely must make some progress.

Hywel Williams: Will the right hon. Lady tell the House how the Government arrived at the figure of 20,000? Other European Union countries are using a formula that is broadly based on GDP, population, the unemployment rate and the number of applications already processed, which seems a reasonable way of proceeding.

Justine Greening: We have tried to arrive at a figure that means we can have an impact and ensure that we are playing our role, but also one that we have a clear sense we can deliver. Already a number of local authorities have generously come forward and said that they want to play their role, and no doubt we will have discussions with the devolved Administrations in the coming weeks, which I very much welcome. The right thing to do now is ensure that we can deliver on our level of ambition. We are getting on with that not just in the work that is being done domestically, led by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but in the work we are doing on the ground with the UNHCR. We are helping the most vulnerable and needy people still in the region, many of whom could never make the kinds of journeys that others have made. We are identifying the people who most need help and assessing what packages of support will be needed if they are to be relocated to the UK.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Justine Greening: I will of course give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I welcome to his new role as Chair of the International Development Committee.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 426

Stephen Twigg: On Sunday the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about the funding for refugees settled here in the first year coming out of official development assistance, so it is not something new. Can the Secretary of State clarify that the Government are not proposing any change in the existing rules with regard to the ODA applicability of refugees who resettle here?

Justine Greening: Yes, I can. It recognises the fact that many of the host communities are in Lebanon and Jordan, and we are right to support them, but when refugees come here, there is an impact on our communities as well, so we should also use the aid budget, appropriately and within the rules—they are there precisely to enable this to happen—to provide support to communities here. I have talked about the need to work with local authorities. We should recognise that many of the refugees that our communities will be welcoming have been through very traumatic experiences, so we need an overall package of support to ensure that that works for everyone concerned. We know that the refugees will require a whole range of services, including healthcare, housing and education. We will stay within the ODA rules so that, quite sensibly, we can use the aid budget to fund such costs.

I think the House should be proud that the UK has delivered on its promise to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance. We are seeing why that was the right thing to do, and why it was right that we enshrined it in law. I think that we are seeing how problems far away in another country can seem like they have nothing to do with us, but in the end they do.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): For 40 years UK Governments signed up to the 0.7% pledge and missed it, and that totals about £90 billion-worth of spending that could have helped prevent many humanitarian disasters. We congratulate the Government, but they keep pressing this point, yet they have only very recently met this target, so we need to continue to see action.

Justine Greening: As I said, I am proud that we have now met that target. I would urge the hon. Gentleman to put as much passion as he put into his intervention into going to other countries around the world and pressing them to do the same. It is incredibly important that Britain does not stand alone among the major economies of our world in meeting the 0.7% target. As he says, we need to think not only in the short term to tackle the impact of the humanitarian crisis in our midst because of the Syrian conflict, but in the long term.

The best way to protect against poverty and instability is through development—through people having countries that offer them opportunity and the potential to get on with their lives and feel like they can make a future for themselves, and their families in security and safety. That means growing up in countries that have the kinds of institutions that we have, such as our Parliament, where disagreement and debate happens in a democratic way and people have choices over their future. Alongside everything we have talked about today, the UK works on that every day of the week in very many countries. Later this month, we will sign off on the next set of global goals for the next 15 years, which we hope can eradicate extreme poverty once and for all.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 427

We should all be proud of the UK’s work in leading that effort. Whatever our debates on the details of how we respond to complicated crises month by month, I hope that we can continue to have consensus across the House on the 0.7% target and on Britain continuing to play its role in responding to the crises that we see around the world and in driving development.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. There are 26 Members seeking to catch the Chair’s eye, so we are going to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches after the shadow Secretary of State has spoken.

1.52 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I rise to support the motion. I very much welcome the spirit in which the SNP has sought all-party support for it. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) made a very powerful speech. Like him, I hope that the motion will win the support of the Government.

It is right that the House is debating how Britain should respond to this crisis, which, as we have heard, has been described as the largest movement of refugees since the second world war. But what is the reality? The reality is mothers and fathers and children, brothers and sisters, forced by bloody conflict, their homes and their schools destroyed, their relatives killed, to flee from the land in which they were born, to seek help from the kindness of strangers. From Syria, hundreds of thousands of people are trying to make their way to safety in Europe, taking to dangerous and overcrowded boats, climbing over fences that have been erected to keep them out, queuing outside stations and then, despite desperate exhaustion, walking mile after mile along roads and railway lines to try to reach a new life in a new country.

They do this for one simple reason: they are desperate. Everything they had and knew has been destroyed. They see no hope, no future, no life. Deep down, every single one of us in this Chamber today understands, because it is exactly what we would do if those we loved were confronted by the same horror. Human beings will brave many dangers because the human urge to survive is strong and when we see people in these circumstances, our human urge to help is just as strong. It is, after all, our moral obligation, especially when we know what others are doing; Germany and Sweden, in particular, have already been mentioned. The fact that we are not in Schengen does not mean that we should opt out of our responsibility to stand shoulder to shoulder with our European friends and allies in playing our part. I say this to the Secretary of State: why is a child who has made the same perilous journey that claimed little Alan Kurdi’s life and is now in Greece any less deserving of our help than a child in a Syrian refugee camp? We should help both, and it is a false choice to argue otherwise.

As always happens in war, it is the neighbouring countries that bear the greatest burden. There are nearly 2 million refugees in Turkey. Jordan has seen its population increase by 650,000. Lebanon’s population has increased by 1.2 million, or 25%. That is equivalent to the United Kingdom taking in 16 million people. Let us compare that with the number of refugees we have actually taken from Syria under the UN vulnerable persons relocation scheme thus far: 216.

9 Sep 2015 : Column 428

Britain has given very considerable help in humanitarian aid to these countries; we are the second most generous donor in the world. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and to the Government for everything that they have done. It has been as exemplary as the Government’s initial refusal to take in a share of refugees, saying that we had done enough, was profoundly mistaken. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Home Secretary, I genuinely welcome, as did the hon. Member for Moray, the Government’s change of heart.

But we have to turn that commitment into practical steps that will help change people’s lives, and do so now, because the crisis is now. The families here in Europe need somewhere to live, somewhere for their children to go to school, and the chance to make something of their lives now, not in four years’ time. That is why the question of how quickly we can fulfil the commitment that the Government have made is so important. Four thousand people a year, dividing 20,000 by five, is not enough. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday, there needs to be a plan for how we are going to take in those refugees, and it should include people who are already in Europe.

Simon Hoare: I confess that I fail to understand the logic of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. There are schools, hospitals, doctors and all the social infrastructure in the rest of the European Union; that is not a unique preserve of the United Kingdom. On what logic does he base his argument that when these people have found places across the continent of Europe, they should merely use that as a stepping-stone to come to the United Kingdom? Those European countries can provide succour just as well as we can.

Hilary Benn: I say in all honesty to the hon. Gentleman that it is about playing our part, including by taking those who have sought shelter in Europe and those who are still in the camps in the region. It is about doing our bit. It is not a competition between providing the generous help that the Government have given in humanitarian aid and providing help and succour to those, in particular, who have made such a perilous journey.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): I greatly admire the Prime Minister’s attempt to help the maximum number of people in this desperate position in the fallout from the Syrian war. The amount of money that he is spending to help as many people as possible is a huge credit to our country. But I also admire the fact that he clearly understands that there are hundreds of millions of people in impoverished states in the middle east and north Africa—some, yes, in the grip of war—and realises that if we say to hundreds of millions of people, “Europe is open,” at some point Europe will have to close, and before that point we will lose thousands more people in the Mediterranean and lose the emphasis that he has put on looking after people properly in the areas where they are, which is what we have to do. It is a scandal that the international community is not doing enough to look after these people.