All 28 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 21st Feb 2017

Tue 21st Feb 2017
Tue 21st Feb 2017
Tue 21st Feb 2017
Criminal Finances Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tue 21st Feb 2017
Tue 21st Feb 2017
SS Mendi
Commons Chamber
(Adjournment Debate)
Tue 21st Feb 2017
Tue 21st Feb 2017

House of Commons

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Tuesday 21 February 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 28 February (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The Secretary of State was asked—
David Hanson Portrait Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. When he next plans to meet the US Secretary of State.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10. What assessment he has made of the implications of the policies of the new US Administration for UK foreign policy.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What assessment he has made of the implications of the policies of the new US Administration for UK foreign policy.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I met Rex Tillerson in Bonn last Thursday and Friday. We had some very good conversations, and I am sure we will have many more meetings in the weeks and months ahead to entrench and deepen a relationship that has been part of the foundation of global peace and prosperity for the past 70 years.

David Hanson Portrait Mr Hanson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Foreign Secretary confirm that when he met the Secretary of State last week he said unequivocally that Her Majesty’s Government think the ban on travel proposed by President Trump for Muslim countries is simply wrong?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman will know very well that the Government did not support the travel measures that were introduced by the Executive order. They were not something we would commend to this House and it was not the kind of policy we would like to see enacted in this country, and we made that very clear to our friends in America. It was by engaging constructively with the White House and others that we were able to secure the important clarification that the Executive order would make absolutely no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary’s reports of the discussions he had with the Secretary of State, but will he tell us a bit more about how he plans to manage the important tripartite relationship between the UK, the EU and the US, post-Brexit?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady asks a good question. Obviously, on some things we will differ from our American friends—we have just had an example of that—but on some areas we will perhaps wish to stiffen the spines of our European friends. I can think of issues such as sanctions over Ukraine, on which some EU members are not in quite the same space as we are. As would be expected, the policy of the United Kingdom would be to stick up for UK interests and values and—if I can use a bit of jargon—to triangulate dynamically between the two.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On standing up for British interests, Mr Trump’s track record suggests that any deals he agrees to are likely to be to our disadvantage. What will the Foreign Secretary do to ensure that British businesses benefit from any deals with the United States, not just American ones?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I may say so, it is important to be clear-eyed about American power and success in negotiating trade agreements and to recognise that we will have to be on our mettle to get a good deal for this country. Nevertheless, I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to do such a deal. It is a great shame that in 44 years of EU membership we have not been able to secure a free trade deal with the United States. That is now on the table.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In his discussions with the American Secretary of State, did the Foreign Secretary discuss the best opportunity for a state visit by President Trump? Did he put forward my suggestion that the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers in 2020 would be a much better occasion for a state visit than one in the course of the next few months, which is likely to be a rallying point for every discontent in the United Kingdom?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting suggestion; I am afraid to say that it is not one I had time to make to our American counterparts. Let us see how the matter of the state visit evolves. The invitation has been issued and accepted, and I am sure it will be a great success.

Simon Burns Portrait Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Next time he meets the Secretary of State, will my right hon. Friend tell him that if the current discussions between the US Department of Defence and the State Department lead to their recommending to President Trump that they put American ground troops in northern Syria to combat ISIS, the British Government will not be following them?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have to tell my right hon. Friend that I am not aware of any such proposal. Nor do I think, having listened quite attentively to the language being used by the White House and the State Department, that we are going to see the imminent contribution of ground troops in that theatre. Nevertheless, the advent of the Trump Administration does offer the possibility of new thinking on Syria and the hope of a new way forward.

Anna Soubry Portrait Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and I went to Jordan as guests of Oxfam, and we met a number of Syrian refugees, notably Khalid who lives in the Zaatari refugee camp. He was due to start a new life in America literally within the next few weeks. It is difficult to put into words his sense of despair that all his hopes and dreams for a new life have been shattered by President Trump’s decision to ban all refugees from going to America. When my right hon. Friend next gets the opportunity, will he please not hesitate to tell President Trump that this ban on refugees brings great shame on his country and that he should lift it immediately?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend will know full well that we have already expressed our disagreement with the travel ban and the policy on refugees. I think she was in the House when I explained the Government’s view on that policy. By contrast, this country can be extremely proud of the fact that it not only supports that particular camp in Jordan—indeed, we have recently agreed another £30 million to support that individual operation—but is the second biggest contributor to the humanitarian effort in the region, with £3.2 billion already pledged.

Alex Salmond Portrait Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But has policy triangulation not meant that the British Foreign Secretary is trying to anticipate what American policy will be and then to mimic it? Interpreting what American policy will be or who will be implementing it must be very difficult just now, so will he at least wait to see what the policy is before, for example, changing policies such as the two-state solution in the middle east?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the policy on the two-state solution in the middle east remains unchanged not only for Her Majesty’s Government, but, so too, to the best of my knowledge, for the United States’ Government, to judge by the recent press conference. For the guidance of the House, let me just say that it is my general impression that the policy of the United States is migrating ever more towards a position of congruence with our policy rather than the reverse.

Alex Salmond Portrait Alex Salmond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Was it the Foreign Secretary’s idea to offer a state visit to President Trump after seven days in office? Given that the Foreign Secretary once famously declared that he would not go to New York in case he was mistaken for Mr Trump, is there any chance that President Trump will not come to London on a state visit in case he is mistaken for the Foreign Secretary?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am embarrassed to say that I was mistaken for Mr Trump in—I think—Newcastle, which rather took me aback. It also happened in New York, which was a very humbling experience for me. I cannot say who was the exact progenitor of the excellent idea to accord an invitation to the President to come on a state visit, but the invitation has been issued. It is a wholly appropriate thing for the British Government to do, and it will be a great success.

Julian Brazier Portrait Sir Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when there is fresh fighting in Ukraine and when Russia continues to carry out large-scale exercises close to the borders of the Baltic state, some of them with nuclear capable equipment, there has never been a time in recent years when our relationship with America and keeping NATO together have been so important for Europe as a whole?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is completely right, which is why it was so important that our Prime Minister, on her very successful recent visit to the White House, secured from Donald Trump the 100% commitment to our NATO alliance, which has been the guarantor of peace in our times.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh Portrait Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We know that Trump’s Muslim ban adopts Daesh’s narrative, which is that it is the west against Islam. In fact, the Home Secretary said that it would bolster terrorists at home and abroad. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence about the increased threat to UK national security as a result of Trump’s immoral and racist policies?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We remain constantly vigilant against the terror threat as a result of all international policies, but, as I have said before, the seven countries in question were previously singled out by the Obama Administration for particularly tough visa restrictions. The hon. Lady will be aware that this Government have already signalled their disapproval of the ban to which Opposition Members are rightly objecting.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Did Mr Tillerson quantify the length of the queue of countries seeking to do a free trade deal with the United States, and outline where Britain’s place was in that queue?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Rex Tillerson was absolutely clear that he regards the relationship with the United Kingdom as one of pivotal importance for his country. Indeed, NATO is of pivotal importance for the safety not just of European countries, but of the United States. He was also clear, of course, that the UK will be at the front of the queue for a new trade deal.

Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

President Trump boasts of running a finely tuned machine, but the truth is that American policy is under review when it comes to all the world’s major crises—from Ukraine to Syria, and Afghanistan to North Korea. I hear from the Secretary of State that there is new thinking, but we have yet to see anything coherent coming out of America. The finely tuned machine has not so much stalled as not yet got going. The resulting vacuum is being filled by the Russians, with peace talks on Syria and Afghanistan taking place without US or UK involvement. Is the Secretary of State happy to keep waiting for President Trump’s cue or is he capable of thinking for himself? Will we see a British initiative in any of these countries; and, if so, where is he going to start and what is the plan?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The finely tuned machine that is the Labour party is a fine one to offer any kind of political advice to the American Administration. As the right hon. Lady knows very well, the UK has, in fact, been in the lead in trying to find a solution in Yemen, and in trying to maintain the commitment to AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia. She should recognise, in all fairness, that the current area of diplomacy being considered by the United States in respect of Syria is a course that the UK has principally advocated—one in which the Russians and the Iranians are separated in their interests, and we move towards a political solution and a transition away from the barbarism of the Assad regime.

Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have to say that if that’s a plan, I’m a monkey’s uncle. The fact is that the Government have been frozen out of negotiations on some of the most pressing issues we face. Take Afghanistan, where there have been 450 British fatalities over 15 years. The American army general on the ground, John Nicholson, describes the fighting as having reached a stalemate that may take several thousand more troops to break. In the meantime, Russian-led peace negotiations are going on in the absence of America, the United Kingdom and, in fact, every other NATO member, so I ask the Secretary of State again: when will we start seeing some leadership from this Government?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the right hon. Lady is referring to Russian-led peace talks in Afghanistan, I think she is in error. Perhaps she is talking about the Astana talks on Syria. It is strongly our view and the view of all Syria-supporting countries that those negotiations should resume as soon as possible in Geneva.

The right hon. Lady talks about the UK’s contribution to Afghanistan, and I think that she and the whole House can be very proud of the sacrifice made by those 456 British troops who lost their lives over the past 15 years. Hundreds of thousands of women in Afghanistan are now being educated as a result of the sacrifice made by British troops and the investment in that country by the British people. There are people who are now getting food, water and sanitation, which they would not otherwise have received.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Mrs Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What steps he is taking to support the negotiations for a settlement to re-unite Cyprus.

Alan Duncan Portrait The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Sir Alan Duncan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Foreign Secretary and I took part in the Geneva conference on the Cyprus settlement on 12 January. We welcome the Cypriot leaders’ commitment to resuming political level talks next month. We are keen to maintain momentum and stand ready to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Mrs Villiers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend agree that third-country guarantees should have no place in a new settlement for Cyprus, because Cypriots should be able to determine their own future without the threat of external military intervention?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is up to the two sides to decide what future security arrangements they want for a united Cyprus that will enable both communities to feel secure. As a guarantor power, the UK is playing a supportive role and is open to any arrangement that is acceptable to the two communities.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that Northern Ireland has had a partnership Government who have moved forward, bringing communities together. What has been done to offer advice from Northern Ireland to bring forward a political process that works, especially in relation to gas and oil exploitation, which could benefit all of Cyprus?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the example of Northern Ireland is an example to the whole world, and it has been of benefit in the likes of Nepal and Colombia. The issue of Cyprus is slightly different, but I hope that the lessons from Northern Ireland can be taken into account and that they can help inform the progress we would like to see in Cyprus.

David Burrowes Portrait Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree with the view of the all-party parliamentary group, which visited Cyprus last week, that the best hope for a solution is the dedication and courage of both Cypriot leaders, freely negotiating, and a realisation in the communities that the status quo of a divided Cyprus is untenable? Does he agree that we need to ensure that Turkey gets that when it comes to security and guarantees?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think we all applaud the good faith and dedication of the two leaders, who are working tirelessly towards a solution. There are other ingredients that are necessary, such as the co-operation of the two main countries next door, Greece and Turkey, and—this is very important—successful referendums in each community.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The last time negotiations in Cyprus seemed close to a deal, the effort collapsed when hackers broke into the UN’s computer systems and the documents were leaked to a pro-Russian Cypriot newspaper. The inflamed communal tensions that followed had a major role in scuppering the chance of a deal. What assurance can the Minister give that lessons have been learned from that experience and that proper safeguards are now in place to protect the negotiations from any undue influence from outside?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have a very close association with the UN special representative, Mr Espen Eide. I am confident that he will have thought of this possible intrusion into the successful negotiations, and I hope that those safeguards are properly in place.

Marcus Fysh Portrait Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps his Department is taking to promote the Global Britain campaign.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What steps his Department is taking to promote the Global Britain campaign.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Global Britain is a programme to help to explain to the world, but also to the people of this country, what I think they do not often suspect, which is the full range of Britain’s military, cultural, commercial and diplomatic influence in the world. It is important to do that now, particularly as we make our Brexit—or Bre-entry into the world, as we should perhaps call it—to help people to understand that a more global Britain will be a more prosperous Britain.

Marcus Fysh Portrait Marcus Fysh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend tell us how the various initiatives on building a global Britain as we leave the EU will help the people of the Yeovil constituency and the south-west of England?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that over the next 10 years we will, for instance, be spending £178 billion on defence—we are one of the few countries in NATO to contribute 2% of our GDP to defence. As a result, there will be more funds available, for instance, to support companies in Yeovil, such as the helicopter company Leonardo MW, which, as far as I know, builds Wildcat submarine-hunting helicopters, among other vital bits of kit.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to defence spending, soft power—including the effective use of aid and increasing levels of trade and investment, which are helping businesses to find the most suitable partners—remains an essential part of the UK’s approach to boosting security in some of the more dangerous parts of the world?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I quite agree. Perhaps I can just give Members one stunning fact, which should seldom be off their lips when selling UK universities, for instance, to the world: of the Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers in the world today, one in seven was educated in this country, and London has more international students than any other city in the world.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the Foreign Secretary’s brother probably told him that.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could we have a note of honesty in terms of an assessment of the nasty little hard Brexit campaign? Will the Foreign Secretary, instead of insulting the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as he did last week, take seriously the danger to this country of a hard Brexit? The people of this country did not sign a blank cheque, and they want a real vote on how good the deal is with Europe as we leave it.

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think that anybody could seriously say that the former Prime Minister has been insulted by any remarks I made last week. What I was trying to get over was my strong feeling that the debate was had last year and everybody understands that we are going forward with a new approach for this country— a global approach. It will be a clean Brexit and, I think, a highly successful Brexit, as the Prime Minister has said.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that a famine has just been declared in South Sudan, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that a truly global Britain will respond to such crises rather than siphoning off the aid budget on diplomatic empowerment funds?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the UK is one of the only countries in the world to contribute 0.7% of GNI to overseas development. We have a fantastic record not just in Sudan but across Africa. He is right to draw attention to the approaching famine in South Sudan. We have sent 400 troops to help deal with that emergency.

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. What recent representations he has made to the Government of Iran on the imprisonment of dual British-Iranian citizens in that country.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We remain deeply concerned about the UK consular cases in Iran and continue to raise them with the Iranian Government at every opportunity, including when I visited Tehran last month and when the Foreign Secretary met his counterpart, Javad Zarif, in the margins of the Munich security conference.

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He is familiar with the case of Mr Foroughi, a 77-year-old father and grandfather to constituents of mine who has been detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for almost six years. Does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when Iran and the west’s relationships are under increasing scrutiny, the exercise of clemency in this case, and others like it, would demonstrate Iran’s commitment to constructive engagement with the international community?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful for the work that he has done in liaison with the family. I was able to meet Kamran Foroughi, the son, on 25 January. I spoke to Ambassador Baeidinejad about the case this morning and when I visited Tehran last month. I am pleased to see that Mr Foroughi is now going to receive the health test that he has been requesting, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a case for clemency there that I hope will be answered.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is anyone in the British Government able to make direct contact with the Iranian revolutionary guard, because they are the people who are arresting and falsely imprisoning our nationals? Surely if we are speaking only to the puppets in Tehran, no one from Britain is going to be safe to visit that country.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think we should be careful in the language we use. The Iranians, like those in many countries, do not recognise dual nationality, and therefore we have to conduct these matters with diplomacy. Our avenue with the Iranians, which was not there a couple of years ago, is through the Iranian Foreign Ministry and our interlocutors there. We have had communications from our Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, as I said, and now me, with our embassy opening as well.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on joint areas of working on science and technology.

Alan Duncan Portrait The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Sir Alan Duncan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister made clear on 17 January the high priority this Government place on their science relationship with Europe. The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), is in regular contact on this issue with his European counterparts, including the European commissioner.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there are no barriers to the UK joining future collaborative ventures, and that the UK intends to pursue those collaborative ventures with high-tech beacons around the world, including Hong Kong and Israel?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government aim to secure the best possible outcome for UK science and research as we leave the European Union. The EU and the UK have publicly emphasised the importance of continuing to work together to produce high-quality research, so both at home and abroad we will remain at the forefront of science and research.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In paragraph 10.14 of their White Paper, the Government tell us that they

“would welcome agreement…with our European partners”

on science and technology issues, but they give no indication of how that agreement will be achieved—no timetable, no detail and absolutely no guarantees. Will the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place, rather than simply telling us that the Government have had discussions?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on science, but this will be an essential part of the negotiations we conduct with the European Union after we have triggered article 50.

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

17. May I ask the Minister to ensure that scientific co-operation in Europe is extended to the preservation of threatened species?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not see why not, especially as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is living proof that the woolly mammoth can return from extinction.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What steps his Department is taking to strengthen UK relations with other Commonwealth countries.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are committed to strengthening our Commonwealth engagement, in continuing the theme of global Britain, and we look forward to hosting the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in March and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018.

James Davies Portrait Dr Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister tell me how he believes the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting, to which he referred, can be used as an opportunity to promote the Commonwealth as a trading network?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We should not forget that the network of 52 states is very important to Great Britain. It has a combined population of 2.2 billion people, including 1 billion people under the age of 25. In the post-Brexit environment, we are looking for trade deals. When we travel across Africa, and indeed the Commonwealth in general, the first question that is asked is, “What are the opportunities for Britain, now that you are liberated from doing business through Brussels?” The ministerial meeting that is coming up is a great opportunity for us to embark on looking towards the trade deals that we need for the future.

John Spellar Portrait Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the cross-party majority in the vote on the EU-Canada trade deal? What priority is the Minister giving to completing that deal and ensuring that similar arrangements are made with our Commonwealth Canadian friends and cousins post-Brexit?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are contained until article 50 has gone through, but Canada is another example—along with the United States, of which the Foreign Secretary made mention—of where we can push forward trade deals to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

James Duddridge Portrait James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the Minister, who has responsibility for Africa, on visiting nine countries on the continent along with three other Ministers over the recess. May I encourage him not just to look at the existing Commonwealth and at bringing in old players such as Gambia, but to get Zimbabwe back and, off the back of Mozambique and Rwanda, perhaps to look at inviting the Ivory Coast?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend, with his experience, is absolutely right. The Foreign Secretary has been to Gambia, Ghana and Liberia, and I was in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Again, I stress the opportunities there. As we venture across Africa, there are huge opportunities for Great Britain to advance our trade deals post-Brexit.

Simon Danczuk Portrait Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that increased assistance to promote democracy in countries such as Bangladesh is a vital part of strengthening ties between the UK and members of the Commonwealth?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. These are countries with which we have a history and a relationship. We are trusted, and through organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British Council and our embassies, consulates and high commissions we can certainly do that work. We hope to embark on such projects with Bangladesh and other countries across the Commonwealth.

Jake Berry Portrait Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the Commonwealth encompassing 52 members and a third of the world’s population, is it not vital that we set out our stall for Britain by saying that we want a free trade deal with Commonwealth countries, and that the Government put forward a plan for achieving that—not least in tomorrow’s Westminster Hall debate on this subject, which I have secured?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure, after that advertisement, that Westminster Hall will be packed tomorrow. My hon. Friend is right: Commonwealth trade will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, and trade across the Commonwealth is estimated to be actually 20% cheaper because of common legal systems and language and, indeed, trust. Those are exactly the areas to which we need to aspire, given our leadership role in the Commonwealth.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But 90% of those who live in the Commonwealth live in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Tanzania has, only this week, announced that it intends to publish lists of people in the public domain who are meant to be homosexual. That is a massive danger to those individuals, and it poses further risks to others because Tanzania is trying to close down all the HIV/AIDS units and to blame homosexuality for HIV. Do we not need to enter all our negotiations with our Commonwealth colleagues with our eyes wide open and making it very clear that we will not put up with this kind of thing?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. I will be visiting Tanzania soon, and I will certainly take that message with me. It is important to understand that, in the trade advances we are making across Africa, we do not miss the opportunity to raise delicate matters such as this, so that 21st-century standards can be met.

James Berry Portrait James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. What assessment he has made of the strength of UK relations with Japan.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We maintain excellent relations with Japan. We have close defence co-operation, and the recent visit by RAF Typhoons was a very visible demonstration of that co-operation. Japanese businesses employ 140,000 people in the UK, which shows our strong economic ties.

James Berry Portrait James Berry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, shows how important it is that we maintain strong military and security relationships with our friends in Japan and South Korea, as well as strong trade relationships?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The actions of North Korea are a direct violation of multiple Security Council resolutions and a threat to international peace and security, not least to our friends in Japan and South Korea. Last week, as the House will know, the North Korean ambassador was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where we made clear the UK’s concerns. Japan is of course our closest security partner in Asia, but we also enjoy close co-operation with South Korea, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that the innovative technology sector is very important for trade between Japan and the United Kingdom, in which we in Northern Ireland excel? Will he ensure that the sector is promoted very heavily in Japanese-United Kingdom relationships for the benefit of the Japanese workforce, but particularly of those who are developing the sector here?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I have said, we of course enjoy very close trade relations with Japan. When I was in Japan last year, I met Japanese companies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the biggest ever acquisition in the UK out of Asia was the acquisition of ARM Holdings by SoftBank for £24 billion.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister engage with his Japanese counterpart to get the latest assessment of Japan’s attempts to resolve its dispute with Russia over the Kuril islands?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We of course maintain close links with Japan—and, in fact, with all our allies—on matters related to security, and we continue to have dialogues across a range of issues, including those that my hon. Friend has raised.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, the Scottish Government’s external affairs Minister visited Japan to boost foreign investment, but the hard Tory Brexit is causing a cloud of uncertainty. Given the pending EU-Japan free trade agreement, will the isolationist hard Brexit agenda leave the UK trailing behind?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Along with ministerial colleagues, I talk regularly to Japanese businesses to hear their views. May I just say that, since the date of the referendum, a huge amount of investment from Japan into the UK has been confirmed? I have referred to the ARM Holdings deal, but, as the hon. Lady will know, Nissan has reaffirmed the super-plant in Sunderland. If that is not a vote of confidence in the UK, I do not know what is.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. Whether he made representations on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories during the recent visit of the Prime Minister of Israel to the UK.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, indeed. I met Prime Minister Netanyahu and repeated the historic UK position, which is that we believe the settlements on the west bank are illegal and constitute a barrier to a peaceful settlement in the region.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

President Trump has caused great concern for peace in the middle east by dismissing a 20-year US commitment to a two-state solution. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK remains committed to a two-state solution and will redouble its efforts?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I certainly can—and, if I may say so, I think the hon. Gentleman misrepresents what the US President said.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21. Were the representations on settlements set in the context of Hamas fully restoring its military strength to levels before 2014—an illustration that peace does not entirely depend on this one issue?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are aware of the preparations being made by Hamas in Gaza and we remain very concerned about the situation. It underscores the reality that while Israel is of course at fault for the expansion of settlements in the west bank—we have made that absolutely clear—on the other hand nobody should underestimate the very real security threat facing Israel. We are firmly on the side of the Israelis as they face that threat.

Richard Burden Portrait Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that just two days ago dozens of stop-work orders, which are usually regarded as precursors to demolition orders, were distributed in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, including to a primary school that serves over 170 children from local Bedouin communities? He may or may not know that the school is being visited by a large number of hon. Members from this House, and that if demolitions take place there to make way for settlements the chances of a viable Palestinian state will disappear. Is he making representations on this matter, and what action will he take to ensure that Mr Netanyahu heeds those representations?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, of course, deplore demolitions, although, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there is a difference between settlements and demolitions taking place in the west bank and demolitions within green line Israel.

Lord Pickles Portrait Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend think that our opposition to settlements is somewhat diluted by treating all settlements equally? The Oslo accords and the late President Arafat recognised that there would be land swaps. Would it not be better, as the Prime Minister said, to concentrate on new settlements and leave the existing settlements for a final decision?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s policy is unchanged. We regard settlements as illegal insofar as they are in occupied Palestinian territories. Members will be absolutely clear that sooner or later—I hope sooner rather than later—there will be a deal and an understanding that involves land swaps. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, we will have to show some sense when it comes to doing that deal.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

20. I am going to give the Foreign Secretary another opportunity to answer the question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). The Israeli civilian administration personnel and police arrived at Khan al-Ahmar and served 39 stop- work orders, including to a school. An entire community is about to be forcefully displaced. What representation has he made to his Israeli counterpart on this matter?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave a moment ago. My hon. Friend the Minister will be going to Israel very shortly. When we have got to the bottom of the exact complaint she is making, I am sure he will raise it.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Alongside concerns about the rearmament of Hamas and the rebuilding of its network of cross-border terror tunnels, does my right hon. Friend share the growing alarm at the new activities of Daesh in the Sinai desert, which, together with the activities of Hamas, point to the prospect of further violence in the region and a new wave of terror attacks on innocent Israeli citizens?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is completely right. What he says underscores the need for a regional solution that brings together all the states surrounding Israel to do a deal that brings the Palestinians, finally, to the table, and brings concessions from the Israelis.

David Winnick Portrait Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is not the truth of the matter that the Israeli authorities have at no stage over the years ever wanted a viable independent Palestinian state? President Trump’s inane comments have strengthened the ultras in Israel. What encouragement can one give to the Palestinian people in view of the continuing destruction of their homes and the building of settlements by Israelis?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 20 years has supported a two-state solution, and that is the right way forward. It is the policy of the UK Government and remains the policy of the US Government. The difficulty will be to get a deal that not only allows the creation of the Palestinian state that I think everybody wants to achieve, but protects the security of the state of Israel.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But last week President Trump said very clearly on televisions across the world that he could “live with either one” of a two-state or one-state solution. I am sure the Foreign Secretary agrees it is deeply disappointing that the President could casually disregard so many years of international consensus on a possible peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Did Mr Netanyahu give any hint at his recent meeting with the Prime Minister that he too was prepared to live with a one-state solution? If so, what was her response?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us be absolutely clear. As both the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and indeed the Palestinians, have said, there needs to be dialogue, but at the moment I do not think that the Palestinians are committing to dialogue in the way they could and should be. It takes two to negotiate. We have seen no progress over the last eight years. Let us not rule out the possibility of progress today.

Gerald Howarth Portrait Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What plans he has for co-operating with EU countries on defence policy after the UK has left the EU.

Alan Duncan Portrait The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Sir Alan Duncan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are strongly committed to European scrutiny and will remain so after we leave the EU. NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence, and we will continue to play our full part in supporting European security, particularly in eastern Europe.

Gerald Howarth Portrait Sir Gerald Howarth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to NATO, but does he not find it as depressing as I do that while other EU countries are completely obsessed with creating an EU defence identity, they are failing miserably to meet their NATO requirement of spending a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence? Is not the foot-dragging by Germany, the richest country in Europe, and its refusal to honour that commitment until 2024 particularly perverse?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to make it clear that nothing should cut across NATO’s role as the cornerstone of European defence. Other parties’ contributions being fairly distributed to NATO would make sure that NATO can remain the force it needs to be.

Emma Reynolds Portrait Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Will the Minister confirm that even when we leave the EU it will be open to us to democratically agree such sanctions with the rest of the EU where it is in our mutual interest?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is not specifically a question about defence policy, as on the Order Paper, but none the less I can reassure the hon. Lady that the answer is yes. Some kind of parallel structure for implementing sanctions will be required and I am sure will be agreed.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What recent assessment he has made of the progress of the transition to civilian democratic rule in Myanmar.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Burma has made welcome progress towards democracy since embarking on reforms in 2011. It has lifted media censorship and released political prisoners, and held legitimate elections in 2015. The military remains powerful, however, and under the constitution is granted 25% of the seats in Parliament. Clearly, we want to see a transition to full democracy.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The National League for Democracy, in power at the moment, continues to lock up those of its own activists who have spoken against the excesses of Burma’s military and its treatment of ethnic minorities. Will the Minister make it clear to the Burmese Government that it cannot be recognised as genuinely democratic if it keeps putting its critics behind bars?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Human rights are vital, of course, and we always ask any Government to make sure that they are observed. More broadly, the issues right now are stopping the violations, securing humanitarian access and delivering accountability in parts of Burma where it is lacking, and those are precisely the points my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pressed the Burmese Government and the military on when he visited Burma last month.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Burma’s Rohingya Muslims were banned from voting in last year’s elections, and have since been excluded from dialogue between the military and other ethnic minority groups. Endemic violence against the Rohingya has recently been described by UN officials as ethnic cleansing that may amount to crimes against humanity. Did the Foreign Secretary raise the plight of the Rohingya with Daw Suu and the generals on his recent trip to Burma?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, he most certainly did.

Rob Marris Portrait Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

By the next time I answer questions in the House, the Government will have invoked article 50. My priority for the rest of the year therefore will be to ensure the smoothest and cleanest possible departure from the EU consistent with maintaining close co-operation with our European friends. I shall also strive—the Opposition can never achieve this—to work alongside the new US Administration as we deal with common challenges posed by Russia and the crises in the middle east.

Rob Marris Portrait Rob Marris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In July 2015, the highest court in Colombia decided that Her Majesty’s Government had discriminated against its embassy employee, Mr Darwin Ayrton Moreno-Hurtado, on the basis of his ethnic identity and religious convictions. The court ordered his immediate reinstatement, yet Her Majesty’s Government stubbornly continue to refuse to obey the court in Colombia. Does the UK Government not take seriously the judicial decisions of courts in Colombia, or do they not take seriously the need to cease ethnic and religious discrimination against their employees in Columbia?

Alan Duncan Portrait The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Sir Alan Duncan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman well knows—I have written to him in detail—it is impossible to reinstate that person as the job no longer exists.

Ben Howlett Portrait Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. Bath has a great local charity called GlobalARRK, which helps women who are stuck overseas, often facing domestic violence. What is my right hon. Friend doing to help stuck parents who are unable to return to their home country with their children?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will know that we have a programme to support the return of children whose parents are stuck in the wrong country. We do it through our—oh, what is it? We do it through our proper processes in making use of all our consular services.

Liz McInnes Portrait Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the whole House will welcome the recent positive political developments in the Gambia. The Gambian authorities are already investigating allegations that the former President Jammeh smuggled millions of dollars’ worth of assets out of the country before his departure last month. What steps are the Government taking to help track down any missing assets, including any that might have ended up in the UK, and to make sure that any proceeds of corruption are returned to the Gambia without delay?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are doing everything we can to support the Gambia’s judicial system. The hon. Lady will know that the new President Barrow has indicated that he would like the UK to be the Gambia’s principal partner of choice in tackling corruption in that country and putting the Gambia back on an even keel. I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that when I recently went to the Gambia, there were crowds in the street dancing—[Interruption.] Not necessarily because they were pleased to see me—perhaps they were—but because they were delighted that the Gambia was being welcomed back into the Commonwealth. I can say that their joy was unconfined.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. Further to comments made last week by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, would he care to suggest what the great British public should watch on television rather than the former Prime Minister and former Member for Sedgefield and his disgraced colleague and guacamole-loving former Member for Hartlepool?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I hesitate to advise the British public what to watch on television, but I have to say that I think they will exercise their infinite sagacity and wisdom in not heeding the siren voices of those who try to overturn the democratic decision of this country’s people last year to embark on a course that I think will lead us not only to democratic emancipation, but to a new course of global prosperity.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. A report published by Physicians for Human Rights, an independent non-governmental organisation, states that recently, during the conflict in Indian-occupied Kashmir, Indian authorities responded to protesters—who were unarmed—by killing 87 of them and injuring 9,000. What representations have our Government made to the Indian authorities about that excessive use of force?

Alok Sharma Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We discuss a wide range of issues with the Indian authorities. As for the specific issue raised by the hon. Lady, earlier in the year the state Government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the establishment of special investigating teams to look into deaths of civilians and the involvement of police personnel during the five-month-long unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, and we will of course monitor their reports closely.

Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There were also crowds of people to welcome us when we arrived in Ghana a week or two ago. Although we could not quite work out whether the welcome was for us or for the Minister for Trade and Investment, it was thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.

It seems to me that the greater the number of trading connections that we forge, particularly in west Africa, the stronger the foundation on which to build good international relations will be. Does my right hon. Friend agree that withdrawal from the European customs union will give us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost our diplomatic relations worldwide?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as trade envoy to Ghana. Indeed, I thank all our trade envoys, who do a fantastic job around the world. It is thanks to the efforts of my colleague the Minister for Trade and Investment and others that we are seeing increased trade with countries such as Ghana, and I was very proud to see British firms operating there. I believe that the largest single private sector employer in Ghana is a firm run by a Brit. We should all be proud of the contribution that those firms are making.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. Former Prime Minister Blair has acknowledged that people voted to leave the European Union but not at any price. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that when the price of Brexit becomes clear, people should be asked to confirm that that is a price that they wish to pay?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House gave a clear mandate, 6:1, to give the people the decision on whether to stay in the European Union. All sorts of threats and all sorts of blandishments were made to the people of this country to persuade them to vote to stay in. Those threats and those warnings have proved to be fallacious, and I think that all future such threats will be taken with a pinch of salt.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T10. Many sectors in my constituency rely on foreign workers, from highly skilled workers in pharma to seasonal workers in agriculture, and including 12% of workers at Addenbrooke’s, my local hospital. I know that the Foreign Secretary values the important contribution to the economy made by foreign workers such as EU nationals, but will he also acknowledge that it is important to give them some certainty about their future as soon as possible?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fully accept that we need to give all the 3.2 million EU nationals in this country the maximum possible certainty, and that we should do it as fast as we possibly can. Unfortunately, however, I do not think it is reasonable to do it before giving certainty to UK nationals in other EU countries. We would like to get on with that as fast as possible, and it is up to our friends and colleagues abroad to join us.

Neil Gray Portrait Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. Last week, on the issue of securing peace between Palestine and Israel, Donald Trump said: “So I'm looking at two-state, and one-state…I can live with either one.”Having heard that direct quote, how can the Foreign Secretary say, as he did earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), that US policy has not changed or is not changing?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I really must accuse the hon. Gentleman of failing to listen to the answer that I gave a few moments ago. I am not here to defend or explain what the American President said, but he made it very clear that there should be dialogue, and he also made it very clear that he thought that the illegal settlements should no longer continue. The solution is a deal between the two parties, and that is what everyone in the House believes and wants.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Today, once again, the ghastly prospect of famine stalks the world in four countries with which Britain has very close and long-standing historical connections: Yemen, north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure, perhaps through the co-ordinating mechanism of the National Security Council, that every sinew of government is bent to address and combat this unconscionable situation?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. The whole House can be very proud of the work being done by the Department for International Development, and the huge contribution this country makes through UK aid to all four of the regions he identifies. He has recently been to Yemen, and he will know that this is a very difficult and intractable problem, but it is the UK who is trying to knock heads together and get a deal.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. Despite its continued violations of international law, Israel enjoys favoured trade status with the UK and the EU. Does the Minister agree that if the UK Government are serious about peace and justice post-Brexit, we must revisit trade negotiations with Israel while it continues to deny Palestinians their rights?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Lady is suggesting that we should boycott Israeli goods, I must say that I completely reject her advice.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any global Britain strategy should include the whole of the global British family, which means the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies? What guarantees will the Government give that they will be included in any new arrangements post-Brexit?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am certain I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. I know that one prime focus of his thoughts is Gibraltar, and I can assure him that the sovereignty position remains totally unchanged. Gibraltar is fully involved in the preparations for the process of leaving the European Union.

John Pugh Portrait John Pugh (Southport) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. Will the Government support the UN special rapporteur’s call for a full UN inquiry into abuses against the Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese army at the UN Human Rights Council this month? This is a specific question.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UN high commissioner for human rights has issued a substantive report on the widespread human rights violations, and of course the UN special rapporteur also referred to violations in her recent press briefing. A full report is due in March. In the light of these two reports, the UK will consider, with international partners, the scope for further enhancing scrutiny of the military’s actions in Rakhine. I can confirm that I will be attending the Human Rights Council.

Hugo Swire Portrait Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Brexit provides an opportunity to review the role of the FCO, which has been woefully under-resourced for far too long. Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that there should be a moratorium on any asset disposals until such a review is complete, and that such a review should also examine how finally to bring other Departments with overseas representatives under the control of the respective heads of mission?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted for the support from my right hon. Friend in campaigning for proper funding for our diplomatic missions overseas. It is true that we have an absolutely unparalleled network around the world, and it is also true that the missions will be needed more than ever as we forge a new global future. That point will be heard loud and clear by the current occupant of the Treasury, who was, after all, the previous Foreign Secretary.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. Last month the all-party group on Yemen met in-country NGOs, who raised significant concerns about the safety of aid workers in Yemen, particularly those at checkpoints, who were at risk of being caught in aerial bombardments. Will the Ministers tell me, please, what specifically the Government are doing to end aerial bombardment in Yemen so that aid can get through?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I will be visiting Riyadh this week and having discussions with President Hadi and, indeed, Adel al-Jubair. We are concerned that we need to move towards a political resolution, and we want the military component that has been taking place to end.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Israeli Prime Minister has recently spoken about coming together with the Gulf Co-operation Council on security issues. Countries such as Jordan and Egypt have played a significant role in previous peace processes. Does the Foreign Secretary think that the GCC has a significant role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend brings a wealth of knowledge to this subject. I do think that the GCC and the Arab countries more generally hold the key, and that a variant of what used to be called the Arab peace plan is indeed where we will end up. What it will take now is for both sides to see that, and to make progress.

Lord Walney Portrait John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The announcement by Toshiba last week regarding NuGen will mean that new foreign investment will be required for the Moorside nuclear development. Does this not place a new question mark over the UK’s decision to pull out of Euratom, which will create more instability for the industry?

Alan Duncan Portrait Sir Alan Duncan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We shall remain a full member of Euratom while we remain part of the European Union, and we intend to make sure that all our research into nuclear fusion will continue after we leave.

Chris Davies Portrait Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We all look forward to the day when a sovereign Palestinian state exists alongside a safe and secure Israel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that can be achieved only through face-to-face negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I certainly agree with that, and those negotiations should take place as fast as possible and without preconditions.

Douglas Carswell Portrait Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With Iran testing missiles, Russia plotting coups and North Korea murdering dissidents, does the Foreign Secretary agree that now is the time to renew western resolve and leadership, which has sometimes been lacking during the past eight years?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree. One of the interesting phenomena of the global reaction to the new US President is how much it is at variance with some of the commentary I have heard from the Opposition Benches this morning. When I go around the world, I find that many people in foreign ministries and other Governments are hopeful that they will see American leadership again where it has been lacking. They are particularly encouraged by the role of the United Kingdom in helping to transmit and improve American policy.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week I led a delegation to Kosovo, and I can tell my right hon. Friend that the President, the Prime Minister and others that we met there greatly appreciated his visit. May I invite him to reaffirm our continued support for Kosovo and to take part in any future initiatives to help it?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I certainly shall. I much enjoyed my time in Kosovo. All those on the Labour Benches who have sprung to the defence of their former Prime Minister today should know that he is memorialised, at least in Kosovo, in that no fewer than eight 16-year-olds there have been christened Tony Blair.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

President Putin might be President Trump’s new best buddy, but he is certainly not ours. Will the Foreign Secretary give his full support to the Magnitsky amendments that we are going to debate in a few minutes, which would allow the assets of any Russians involved in the murder of Magnitsky to be seized in the UK?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will be looking very carefully at that debate as it unfolds, and at the arguments that are made. We think that we have good provision in our statutes at the moment, but we will take account of the debate as it evolves.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recently had a meeting in my constituency surgery with a delegation from Cameroon regarding the lack of democracy in that country. They described fear, brutality and a lack of education in English-speaking Cameroon. What role can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the conflict, stability and security fund play in supporting democracy in that area?

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I want to pay tribute to the diasporas based in the UK that provide us with an understanding of what is going on in their countries. I also pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend is doing, and I absolutely agree with the concerns that she has raised about Cameroon. She is right to point to the conflict, stability and security fund as a way for us to provide funds to achieve that security, and we will be doing just that.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A few moments ago, the Secretary of State confirmed as Government policy something that this House resolved without a Division on 9 February—that there should be a halt to the planning and construction of residential settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Given that that is the case, why is the UK permitted to trade specifically with those illegal settlements?

Boris Johnson Portrait Boris Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is the policy of the UK, and I think of many of our friends and partners, to continue to trade on the grounds that that is the best way to support the economy of the region. Many workers in the region come from populations within the occupied Palestinian territories, and their livelihoods depend on that industry. That policy is widely understood and supported, and we will continue with it.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary and to colleagues. We must move on.

The future of nursery schools

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I rise to present a petition on the future of our state-run nursery schools. It is the petition of the many parents and supporters of schools such as the Fields Children’s Centre in Cambridge. Those schools do brilliant work that is now threatened by funding changes.

The petition reads:

The petition of residents of Cambridge,

Declares that nursery schools have very good outcomes with regard to closing the achievement gap as well as supporting children with complex educational or medical needs; further that the petitioners are concerned by the Government’s proposals for early years funding that would mean that local authorities would pass on 95% of early years funding from central government directly to early year providers; further that should the proposals be accepted all nursery schools in Cambridgeshire will find themselves in dire financial difficulties; and further that the proposals would lead to a loss of early years provision as well as job losses for nursery staff.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to drop their proposal that would require local authorities to pass on 95% of early years funding from central government directly to early year providers.

And the petitioners remain, etc.

[P002014]

Closure of bank in Odiham

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Banks are more than a utility; they provide a service to communities up and down the land. Today banks are changing definitions and moving the goalposts so that they can close more branches, including in my constituency. This is being done by all banks, at a time when they are seeking to rebuild trust. The people of Odiham want to make it clear to this House—they have done so well into their four figures—that they want their local bank to remain.

The petition reads:

The Humble Petition of the people of North East Hampshire,

Sheweth,

That Lloyds Bank have proposals to close the Odiham High Street branch on 8th March 2017; that this high street branch is particularly highly valued; especially by older residents and small business owners who often pop in to manage their finances; and that if accounts are moved to Fleet, this becomes a four hour return journey by public transport, which is clearly not in the best interests of our community

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges HM Government to take all possible steps to urge Lloyds Bank to reconsider this decision and to make sure that the banking industry considers the social implications of their actions

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.

[P002016]

Points of Order

Tuesday 21st February 2017

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
12:40
James Duddridge Portrait James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for taking this point of order. Notwithstanding the underwhelming support for my vote of no confidence in you, have the Government or indeed the Backbench Business Committee contacted you in any way to allocate time for this unresolved matter to be debated and, indeed, voted on?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The short answer is no, and there is absolutely no reason why they should have done, a point which I can say from my own head and heart fortified in the knowledge that it is also the sound advice of the experienced Clerk of the House, who has been working in the service of the House for 40 years.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh Portrait Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. While the Foreign Secretary is still in the Chamber, I want to ask for clarification. He said from the Dispatch Box during Question Time that the Trump travel ban order would not affect UK passport holders. Is he aware of the case of the teacher from Swansea who has been—[Interruption.] I am giving the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to clarify that he is aware of the matter and that it is in hand.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is not specifically a matter for the Chair. If the Foreign Secretary wants to respond on the Floor of the House, he is free to do so, but he is under no obligation. I get the impression that the hon. Lady will be contacted.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the case that the hon. Lady is referring to is the one that I am thinking of, I have written to her about it.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You quite rightly apologised to the Lord Speaker for unilaterally seeking to ban the President of the United States from speaking in Westminster Hall. When can we expect an apology in this Chamber?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I treated of that matter very fully both on the day in question, when I responded to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and on the following day, when there were points of order. I cannot recall whether the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) was in his place at that time, but I responded to points of order and the matter was addressed fully, so we shall leave it there. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest.

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
12:42
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict charges for using telecommunications to contact certain government advice services; and for connected purposes.

The Bill that I am proposing would regulate the provision of telecommunications advice lines by all Government Departments so that call charges to citizens would be restricted or, for the most vulnerable, eliminated. It would ask Government Departments to conduct an assessment for each local authority area of the provision of public computer equipment capable of being used by Department for Work and Pensions claimants, for example, and to publish the results. If that assessment were to demonstrates that the total number of units of public computer equipment was less than one for every 20 claimants, all Secretaries of States would have to make provision for a dedicated telephone number that could be accessed at zero cost, including without having to use coins or cards at a public telephone. I also propose that if Departments were unable to take a call within a reasonable period, such as five minutes, the caller should be given a regularly updated estimate of the likely waiting time, with the offer of an immediate call-back facility. That is an essential courtesy.

MPs often encounter examples of unfairness and injustice when, through no fault of their own, people seem to be punished for finding themselves in need, and where rules and regulations actively harm, not help, the average citizen who is simply seeking what they are entitled to. A key part of the role of an elected Member is to help people to navigate their way through the system, but since being elected, I have been shocked by the in-built unfairness and the costs of claiming.

Take the Department for Work and Pensions. Although an initial inquiry to the DWP is free, follow-up inquiries about a claim, queries about benefits sanctions, or even reporting that a benefit has not been paid on time all come with call charges. Constituents have told me that those calls can be very expensive—as much as £9 or £16 a time—and that long waiting times to speak to an adviser bump up that cost even further.

Other examples of services that charge for access are the child maintenance helpline and the Home Office helpline for inquiries about spousal visas, which costs £1.37 a minute over and above network charges. There can be no justification for the Home Office imposing charges on anyone for a genuine inquiry service. Dealing with telephone inquiries must be treated as a valid overhead cost that is covered by the fees levied for the application process itself.

Telephone network charges vary and, again, they can be seen to discriminate against the least well-off. All providers include 03 numbers in their inclusive call packages, but calls to such numbers are often presented as if they are available only to those who are well off. That even applies to pay-as-you-go arrangements, which are more likely to be used by low-income households. They may be unaware of the bundles that enable calls to be made at no more than 7p a minute, rather than the range of 10p a minute to 55p a minute suggested on the Government website, as updated on 7 February.

I thank David Hickson of the fair telecoms campaign for providing me with information as I prepared this Bill. David tells me that the campaign fully supports the use of 0800 numbers, and the consequent bonanza for telephone companies, in cases when it is essential that nobody pays for a call. He is, however, concerned that greater use of 0800 numbers would do nothing to help constituents who get ripped off when calling friends, or their MP, on ordinary numbers. There is therefore a strong case for us all to push the point that it is essential to ensure that everybody chooses the most appropriate telephone call plan for their needs. Those of us who are well-off, smart consumers do that anyway, but there is a need for greater assistance and guidance to be given to all.

Last July, the Social Security Advisory Committee recommended that all telephone calls to the DWP should be free via 0800 numbers. The Government’s response was that that would cost £7 million, which is not a lot in the context of the overall budget. The roll-out of universal credit threatens to extend call times and costs to claimants due to the nature of the new benefit, which will require frequent contact from claimants to update the DWP on their circumstances. A ministerial written answer last year revealed that the average length of a call to the universal credit helpline is seven minutes and 29 seconds, which is equivalent to £4.40 at one major phone operator’s rates. Universal credit is a replacement for jobseeker’s allowance, and the weekly equivalent is £73.34, so claimants will already have less to live on than they are allocated simply for calling a helpline.

The push over the edge into poverty should not be administered by the DWP and other Government Departments through charging for inquiry lines. When the safety net becomes a trap, it is time to ask what sort of Government boost telephone company profits on the backs of the poor.

Far from working to create a society that is fair for all, the Government have not responded positively so far to the campaign to remove telephone helpline charges, which can be up to 55p a minute. When I have queried the cost of calling, the ministerial response has inevitably mentioned the alternative of online access for inquiries and claims. That is fine for those who are digitally literate, who can afford broadband and who live in an area with good connectivity, but it is not so great otherwise and a further in-built barrier that stops people from accessing the support to which they are entitled. Although there has been some funding for public access terminals and digital learning, if all the people who seek advice on claims were to switch from phoning to the use of public internet access terminals, libraries and community centres would be unable to cope with the demand.

When I was researching this issue, I was particularly struck by a DWP spokesperson’s response to the telephone tax campaign last year, which was that online access is widely available through the network of jobcentres. I pause for a moment as we reflect on the proposed closure programme for the DWP estate. It should not be too difficult to conduct an audit, in conjunction with local authorities, to identify the availability of free online access terminals to our constituents, or the lack thereof. In fact, I am inclined to conduct one in my constituency of Glasgow South West and to compare that with the claimant count. I strongly suspect that that would reveal a mismatch.

The other stock ministerial response to questions about phone charges for inquirers is the use of a call-back, but it is rather difficult for an inquirer who is on hold if a call-back is not offered routinely. A call-back also requires the caller to self-identify as vulnerable. That in-built humiliation within the system is familiar to those of us who have watched “I, Daniel Blake”.

Ministers have promised a review of telephone charges, but I ask the Government to act on the recommendations of the 2016 Social Security Advisory Committee report “Telephony in DWP and HMRC: an update” as part of the review, introduce a more effective call-back system for vulnerable customers, and bring in an information system that advises customers of possible wait times.  That should be adopted across all Government services as best practice. The need for reform is pressing with regard to benefit claims, but over-the-top charging for information, through a lack of recognition of the least well-off’s limited access to the range of phone packages available and a lack of digital inclusion, excludes and discriminates against far too many of our citizens.

As Mr David McAuley from the Trussell Trust put it:

“When incomes are extremely tight, we could see people being forced to choose between phoning to make a…claim and buying essential food supplies”.

Unless people have been in that position, or have a case load from a constituency like mine, it might be difficult for them to understand how disempowering or discriminatory the system can be, and that every penny spent on a phone call ramps up stress and anxiety for people who simply want access to information, support and the benefits to which they are entitled. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Chris Stephens, Mhairi Black, Jonathan Edwards, Neil Gray, Dr Philippa Whitford, Drew Hendry, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Ian Blackford, Mr Jim Cunningham, Grahame M. Morris and Mark Durkan present the Bill.

Chris Stephens accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 141).

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 7
Unlawful conduct: gross human rights abuses or violations
‘(1) Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (civil recovery of the proceeds etc of unlawful conduct) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 241 (meaning of “unlawful conduct”), after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Conduct which—
(a) occurs in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom,
(b) constitutes, or is connected with, the commission of a gross human rights abuse or violation (see section 241A), and
(c) if it occurred in a part of the United Kingdom, would be an offence triable under the criminal law of that part on indictment only or either on indictment or summarily,
is also unlawful conduct.”
(3) After that section insert—
“241A “Gross human rights abuse or violation”
(1) Conduct constitutes the commission of a gross human rights abuse or violation if each of the following three conditions is met.
(2) The first condition is that—
(a) the conduct constitutes the torture of a person who has sought—
(i) to expose illegal activity carried out by a public official or a person acting in an official capacity, or
(ii) to obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, or
(b) the conduct otherwise involves the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of such a person.
(3) The second condition is that the conduct is carried out in consequence of that person having sought to do anything falling within subsection (2)(a)(i) or (ii).
(4) The third condition is that the conduct is carried out—
(a) by a public official, or a person acting in an official capacity, in the performance or purported performance of his or her official duties, or
(b) by a person not falling within paragraph (a) at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence—
(i) of a public official, or
(ii) of a person acting in an official capacity,
who in instigating the conduct, or in consenting to or acquiescing in it, is acting in the performance or purported performance of his or her official duties.
(5) Conduct is connected with the commission of a gross human rights abuse or violation if it is conduct by a person that involves—
(a) acting as an agent for another in connection with activities relating to conduct constituting the commission of a gross human rights abuse or violation,
(b) directing, or sponsoring, such activities,
(c) profiting from such activities, or
(d) materially assisting such activities.
(6) Conduct that involves the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering on another person is conduct that constitutes torture for the purposes of subsection (2)(a).
(7) It is immaterial whether the pain or suffering is physical or mental and whether it is caused by an act or omission.
(8) The cases in which a person materially assists activities for the purposes of subsection (5)(d) include those where the person—
(a) provides goods or services in support of the carrying out of the activities, or
(b) otherwise provides any financial or technological support in connection with their carrying out.”
(4) The amendments made by this section—
(a) apply in relation to conduct, so far as that conduct constitutes or is connected with the torture of a person (see section 241A(2)(a) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 as inserted by subsection (3) above), whether the conduct occurs before or after the coming into force of this section;
(b) apply in relation to property obtained through such conduct whether the property is obtained before or after the coming into force of this section;
(c) apply in relation to conduct, so far as that conduct involves or is connected with the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of a person (see section 241A(2)(b) of that Act as inserted by subsection (3) above), only if the conduct occurs after the coming into force of this section.
This is subject to subsection (5).
(5) Proceedings under Chapter 2 of Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 may not be brought in respect of property obtained through unlawful conduct of the kind mentioned in section 241(2A) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (as inserted by subsection (2) above) after the end of the period of 20 years from the date on which the conduct constituting the commission of the gross human rights abuse or violation concerned occurs.
(6) Proceedings under that Chapter are brought in England and Wales or Northern Ireland when—
(a) a claim form is issued,
(b) an application is made for a property freezing order under section 245A of that Act, or
(c) an application is made for an interim receiving order under section 246 of that Act,
whichever is the earliest.
(7) Proceedings under that Chapter are brought in Scotland when—
(a) the proceedings are served,
(b) an application is made for a prohibitory property order under section 255A of that Act, or
(c) an application is made for an interim administration order under section 256 of that Act,
whichever is the earliest.” —(Mr Wallace.)
This new clause extends the meaning of “unlawful conduct” for the purposes of Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, so that it includes conduct in other countries that constitutes the gross human rights abuse or violation of a person who has sought to expose illegal activity of a public official or person acting in an official capacity, or to promote etc human rights. Part 5 confers civil recovery powers in relation to property that has been obtained through unlawful conduct.
Brought up, and read the First time.
12:52
Ben Wallace Portrait The Minister for Security (Mr Ben Wallace)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 1—Civil recovery: gross abuse of human rights—

‘(1) Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (civil recovery of the proceeds etc. of unlawful conduct) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 241 (which defines unlawful conduct), after subsection (2), insert—

“(2A) Conduct which—

(a) occurs in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom and has been designated as conduct by a person connected to a gross human rights abuse in accordance with the provisions of section 241B, and

(b) if it occurred in a part of the United Kingdom, would be or would have been unlawful under the criminal law of that part at the relevant time,

is also unlawful conduct.”

(3) After section 241 (which defines unlawful conduct), insert—

“241A Conduct connected to a gross human rights abuse

(1) “Conduct connected to a gross human rights abuse” means—

(a) involvement by a Person (“A”) in torture or other serious breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms against a Person (“B”) where B sought or seeks—

(i) to expose illegal activity carried out by foreign public officials, or

(ii) to obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms,

(b) activities by a Person (“C”) as an agent in a matter relating to an activity by A described in paragraph (a),

(c) activities by a Person (“D”) to profit from, materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, an activity by A described in paragraph (a),

(d) commission by a Person (“E”), whether or not a foreign public official, of the illegal activity described in paragraph (a)(i).

(2) For the purposes of this section, it is immaterial where the conduct occurred.

(3) In this section “human rights and fundamental freedoms” means the “Convention rights” as defined in section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

241B Designation of conduct connected to a gross human rights abuse

‘(1) The High Court may make an order designating that the actions of the respondent constitute conduct connected to a gross human rights abuse and, if considered appropriate, that—

(a) a person is prohibited from dealing with property, funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by the respondent if the person knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that the person is dealing with such property, funds or economic resources,

(b) a person is prohibited from making property, funds or financial services available (directly or indirectly) to the respondent if the person knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect that the person is making the funds or financial services so available,

(c) a person is prohibited from making funds or financial services available to any person for the benefit of the respondent if the person knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that the person is making the funds or financial services so available.

(2) An order under subsection (1) may only be made on application.

(3) An application for an order under subsection (1) may be made by—

(a) the Secretary of State,

(b) an individual, or

(c) an entity, including a non-governmental organisation.

(4) An application for an order under subsection (1) must be supported by a statement of information which addresses—

(a) the circumstances surrounding the respondent’s conduct connected to a gross human rights abuse, and

(b) the nature and extent of the respondent’s involvement.

(5) An application for an order under subsection (1) may be made without notice to the respondent to a judge in chambers.

(6) The Court must be satisfied that it is in the public interest to make an order under subsection (1).

(7) The Court shall reach a decision on an order under subsection (1) on the balance of probabilities.

241C Duration, extension, variation and discharge of an order

‘(1) The High Court shall specify the duration of an order under section 241B(1) which shall not exceed two years.

(2) In determining the duration of an order, the Court shall have regard to the likely duration of consequential proceedings under this Part.

(3) The Court may extend an order for a maximum period to two years at any time before it expires, if it is satisfied that the requirements of a designation order continue to be met.

(4) An extension application may be made without the need for a hearing if the court considers it appropriate.

(5) An application to extend, vary or discharge an order may be made to the court by—

(a) the Secretary of State,

(b) the applicant,

(c) the respondent, or

(d) any person affected by the order.

(6) An application to discharge a designation order must be made by the applicant as soon as reasonably practicable in circumstances where the requirements of an order are no longer satisfied.

241D Appeals, etc.

‘(1) The following persons may appeal to the Court of Appeal in respect of the High Court’s decision on matters falling to be decided under sections 241B and 241C—

(a) the applicant,

(b) the respondent, or

(c) any person affected by the order.

(2) On an appeal under subsection (1) the Court of Appeal may—

(a) confirm the decision, or

(b) make such orders as it believes appropriate.

(3) An appeal lies to the Supreme Court from a decision of the Court of Appeal on an appeal under this section.

(4) An appeal under this section lies at the instance of any person who was a party to the proceedings before the Court of Appeal.

(5) On an appeal under this section the Supreme Court may—

(a) confirm the decision of the Court of Appeal, or

(b) make such order as it believes is appropriate.

241E Standard to be applied

All matters to be determined by a court under sections 241B to 241D are to be decided on the balance of probabilities.

241F Costs

In the exercise of its discretion, a court may, on application, make a costs capping order in respect of proceedings under sections 241B to 241D.

241G Duties in respect of gross abuse of human rights

‘(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to apply for an order under section 241B where the Secretary of State is satisfied that—

(a) the requirements for the making of an order are met; and

(b) it is in the public interest to make the application.

(2) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to maintain a public register of—

(a) individuals in respect of whom orders have been made under section 241B(1),

(b) the circumstances giving rise to the making of such orders, and

(c) any decisions of a court under sections 241C and 241D in relation to such orders.

(3) In any case where a relevant authority considers that evidence is available of property being held by a person in respect of whom an order has been made under section 241B which may represent property obtained through unlawful conduct, it shall be the duty of the relevant authority to seek to initiate proceedings for civil recovery under this Part.”

(4) In section 304 (which defines recoverable property), after subsection (1), insert—

“(1A) Property of a person who is the subject of a designation order under section 241B is presumed to have been obtained through unlawful conduct unless the contrary is shown by the respondent.””

This new clause extends the scope of unlawful conduct for the purposes of Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to cover to certain actions connected to a gross human rights abuse which has taken place abroad.

Government amendments 58 and 59.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Some time has passed since we last considered this Bill. There was, as hon. Members will recall, a great deal of cross-party consensus on it, both on Second Reading and in Committee, and I hope that we will be able to continue in that same spirit of constructive debate and healthy scrutiny today.

This first group of amendments concerns the extremely grave matter of gross human rights abuses or violations. The Government are committed to promoting and strengthening universal rights globally, and I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. In particular, these amendments have been prompted by the harrowing case of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was not a serious criminal; he was a lawyer who tried to blow the whistle on large-scale tax fraud in Russia, and he believed that he would be protected by the law. Unfortunately, he died in state custody in 2009 after suffering both mistreatment and assault, and being denied medical attention. I share the strong feelings of many hon. Members about this case, and I want to reassure the House that the Government have expressed, both publicly and to the Russian Government, our serious concerns about Mr Magnitsky’s death. Of course, we must also remember that his case is only one of many atrocious human rights violations committed globally each year.

As I am sure that hon. Members will highlight, the US has legislated to prohibit the entry of certain named individuals to the US and to forbid them use of the US banking system. Less than two months ago, President Obama’s Administration extended the legislation so that it could be applied to those involved in human rights violations, wherever in the world they have taken place. That sends an important signal that perpetrators of gross human rights violations will face consequences. However, we have an entirely different legal system, which merits a different approach.

I pay tribute to those hon. Members who have raised this issue by tabling new clause 1—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), the right hon. Members for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I am grateful to hon. Members for giving me advance notice of the amendment, and am pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss it with many of its signatories.

It has always been the Government’s position that for further legislation to be warranted on this issue, there would need to be a real case that existing powers were insufficient. I hope that hon. Members will agree that we should avoid doing anything that might have an impact on the effectiveness of our existing sanctions and civil recovery powers. The National Crime Agency has confirmed that it has considered all the material provided to it on the Magnitsky case. It concluded that the individuals whom we believe to be connected to the case do not reside in the UK, and it has identified no assets of value in the United Kingdom that are connected to the case, so the additional powers proposed in new clause 1 would have no obvious material effect on the individuals involved in this case.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The point about the Magnitsky Act in the US is that it pulls together the visa ban, the ban on using American banks and the inability to trade there; the advantage is that it is all pulled together. I appreciate that the scenario is different in this country, but will the Minister please explain how he intends to pull the links together in this country, using the different pieces of existing legislation?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I will get to that later in my speech, but we have to recognise this difference between the United States and the UK: here, most of our sanctions regimes are under the European Union umbrella. Of course, there will be time to discuss those sanctions, and the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit arrangements, at a later date. When it comes to sanctions, we have slightly different dispersals of authority and power from the United States, which often can, and does, act entirely unilaterally in this area; we should point that out.

One problem with new clause 1 is that we think it would be non-compliant with our domestic human rights law, because it contains no derogations. It would freeze all the assets of a designated individual, so they would not have any funds for living expenses or medical treatment, or to pay for legal representation. The reversal of the burden of proof, so that it would be assumed that all assets owned by designated individuals were the proceeds of their unlawful conduct, would also be an unprecedented step. That is incongruous with the existing civil recovery regime and could be judged by the courts to be disproportionate.

However, we recognise the strength of feeling on this matter, and understand the deterrent effect that such an amendment would have on those who seek to profit from the gross abuse or violation of human rights overseas.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is clearly very well informed on this issue, and I know that he has had meetings on the subject. If assets connected to the case were identified in the UK—I know that there is a dispute with Bill Browder, who believes that there are such assets here—is the Minister confident that existing legislation or his new clause 7 would enable them to be frozen?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point. I have to respect the boundaries of our law enforcement agencies. As a Minister, I cannot direct them to take action; they have an operational freedom and independence that we value greatly in this country. They have said to me that should actionable evidence be presented to them, they would be free to follow that up and enforce the law. Speaking as the Minister, where actionable evidence of gross human rights abuses or other criminal offences is presented, of course we would like to see action taken. This is not about trying to shelter people who have been involved in those offences; it is about trying to make sure that the appropriate action is taken when the correct evidence is presented. I absolutely concur with the right hon. Gentleman’s point: it is important to understand that we need to act on the evidence. If there is evidence, we could take action, even without this legislation. I certainly urge our law enforcement agencies to take action to make sure that people are held to account for the atrocious murder in Russia of Mr Magnitsky.

We have tried to come some way towards meeting many of the concerns of hon. Members by tabling new clause 7 and the consequential amendments 58 and 59. They would widen the definition of “unlawful conduct” in part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to include torture or

“the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”

of those exposing corruption, or obtaining, exercising, defending or promoting human rights, including in cases where that conduct was not an offence in the jurisdiction in which it took place. That would allow any assets held in the UK that were deemed to be the proceeds of such activity to be recovered under the provisions in part 5.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s new clause 7 contains no duty on the Government to act at all; they can simply ignore the provisions. That is one of the key differences between new clause 7 and new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab).

12:59
Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman talks about duty, but there are lots of criminal offences on the statute books on which the Government do not have a duty to act. We leave it to the interpretation and freedom of our law enforcement agencies to act. Are we to say that the duty in this case is greater than the duty on the police to act on burglary or on a whole range of other criminal offences? The fundamental issue is that the hon. Gentleman wants to put a duty on the Government for one specific type of criminal offence, which would, I am afraid, hinder the freedom of our law enforcement agencies to take the appropriate action when the evidence was presented to them.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But in the Government’s new clause, as opposed to new clause 1, there is no provision for third parties to bring a case to the courts to allow the seizure of assets, so, yet again, the Government are closing off the options for tackling money laundering in London and the UK.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid we are not. The National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are not full of people who do not want to do their job. They want to enforce the law: they want to go out and catch the criminals and stop money laundering. It is slightly insulting to imply that if we did not put a duty on them, they would not do it. They would do it. The problem with new clause 1 is that it would allow non-governmental organisations and individuals—it does not define whether those NGOs or individuals are foreign or from the UK—to go to the court, with limited liability, to force the Government to take action, without a high threshold at all.

For example, under new clause 1 a Cuban exile living in Florida who does not like the rapprochement with the Cuban Government could come to our courts to allege human rights abuse and make an application against the Cuban ambassador’s assets in this country, and actually confiscate or freeze those assets. It would not only preclude us from making peace or moving on with some countries, but would allow massive amounts of vexatious claims based on gimmick politics. That is why we have to respect the professionalism and independence of our law enforcement agencies and allow them to make the case based on the evidence presented to them.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is simply not the case. For example, we already regularly have lots of vexatious applications from Russia for the extradition of Russians who are now resident in the United Kingdom, but the court decides. New clause 1 would not allow an individual to decide that somebody’s assets must be frozen; a court would decide.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, the hon. Gentleman misses the point that courts do not like vexatious complaints. They do not like time-wasting applications with what would be in the case of new clause 1 limited liability for those people who want to use the court’s time to make a statement. Secondly, applications for deportation are often made by the state. The hon. Gentleman would open it up to individuals all over the world to come to our courts, without liability, to make the case for or to make a gesture out of freezing individuals’ assets, without any recourse to the state or even necessarily to evidence. That would open up a whole can of worms for countries around the world.

I shall give another example. We have sponsored and supported the peace deal in Colombia. Should the Colombian Government at some stage choose to send somebody with a background in the FARC to represent them or to be a cultural attaché in their embassy or something, and somebody in Colombia does not like that, under new clause 1 they could, as an individual, come to a court here and make a tokenistic application. The judiciary might throw it out, but there is capped liability, so the court’s time could be wasted writ large by lots of people making statements and blocking the courts.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Have the Government considered whether any application should go first to the Attorney General before being allowed to proceed? That might stop the abuse that the Minister is suggesting.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We did consider that in consultation with the office of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, but it was felt that there was not the appropriate need for that, so we progressed with new clause 7 as it is drafted. We should remember that we are putting on the statute book a new power to take action based on gross human rights abuse, torture and degrading treatment. We have not done that before and it is a major step. It is a major signal to countries around the world that if evidence is presented, we could interdict with their assets. That sends the powerful message that London and the United Kingdom are not bases for them to put their assets or ill-gotten gains from such behaviour.

Lord Pickles Portrait Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Surely that is the substantive point. The concern would be that we would get not only vexatious complaints, but complaints designed for publicity, in the almost certain knowledge that such complaints would not be seen through by the courts and there would be virtually no cost to the people making the complaint. New clause 7 provides the opportunity to nab the guilty, and it says to people that bloodstained dictators have no place putting their money in this country.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that it sends a message, but it also respects the independence of our law enforcement agencies so that they can apply the law and take action when they are presented with evidence, which will ensure that the courts’ time is not wasted and that we get successful results when we deal with these individuals. It will also ensure that it is done in a way such that the Executive retains the initiative to carry out the process and prevent vexatious complaints. Judges will tell us that they do not want their courtrooms to become public relations arenas in which people can make vexatious applications; they want their courts to be able to decide on the basis of evidence. Under new clause 7, they will be able to do that, but we respect the operational independence of our law enforcement agencies.

All that explains why we tabled the new clause. As I have said, it would allow any assets held in the UK that were deemed to be the proceeds of the activities I outlined to be recovered under the provisions in part 5. Of course, any civil recovery would be subject to all the existing processes and legal safeguards in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The court would need to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the property in question was the proceeds of crime, or was likely to be used to fund further criminal activity. Law enforcement agencies would, as ever, need to consider which of their powers to utilise on a case-by-case basis.

I hope Members will agree that the new clause would send a clear statement that the UK will not stand by and allow those who have committed gross abuses or violations around the world to launder their money here. I have been the Minister in charge of the Bill from the beginning, and when colleagues from either side of the House have tabled amendments, I have asked my officials, “Do they have a point?” I have asked my officials about the evidence set against Mr Magnitsky’s killers and to find out whether we have actually done the work we say we are doing. I make sure; I do not just take things at face value. It is important to say that I am confident that we have not taken action in this case because we have not yet had the evidence to do so or the assets have not been located in the right place. I have checked that out and verified it.

I have come to the House today with an attempt to put a compromise in statute—to put gross human rights abuse on record for the first time. I hope we can send the right message to the regimes, criminals and individuals around the world, while at the same time respecting the law enforcement agencies so that they can carry out their job unhindered by political interference, or by third-party groups or anyone else who might want to use publicity rather than actual evidence to further their cause. That is really important. I shall pause my comments there and wait to hear from other Members, and then respond at the end of the debate.

Richard Arkless Portrait Richard Arkless (Dumfries and Galloway) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not fair for us to live in a world in which criminals are free to generate cash and spend it without fear of repercussion. Given what I have learned during the progress of the Bill, I think all Members on both sides of the House would agree with that sentiment. There simply must be a level playing field for the vast majority in society who chose to play by the rules.

Until now, provisions on financial crime have been focused on anti-money laundering regulations and proceeds of crime legislation, which have been specifically geared towards dealing with the proceeds of drug traffickers and bank robbers. In many senses, it has worked. It is not as easy to launder money in 2017 as it used to be, although, sadly, it is not impossible. It used to be the perception of criminals that if they could evade capture and not flash the cash, they could eventually spend their ill-gotten gains. In many cases, criminals looked forward to spending the gains when they were released.

Thankfully, the world has moved on, and this Bill is an attempt to move us another step ahead of the criminals, so that we as a society are fit to attack the finances of criminals in 2017 and beyond. We cannot buy into the rule of law unless we can agree to the evolution of regulations surrounding the financial industry that has happened over the years. Today, we face the threat of grand corruption, particularly in relation to politically exposed people, which is facilitated for the most part—perhaps unwittingly—by the City of London.

Last year, The Guardian revealed, through the Panama papers, how a powerful member of Gaddafi’s inner circle had built a multi-million pound portfolio of boutique hotels in Scotland and luxury homes in Mayfair, Marylebone and Hampstead in London. He was head of Libya’s infrastructure fund for a decade and has been accused by Government prosecutors in Tripoli of plundering money intended for schools, hospitals and infrastructure projects.

Scottish police have confirmed that they are investigating the matter. Libya has made a request for an asset freeze, but, as far as I understand it, the freeze has not been implemented. With the powers contained in the Bill, we could have dealt with such an injustice much more swiftly, so, in general terms, we welcome its provisions. However, as I intimated earlier in this process, our issue is not with what is in the Bill, but with what is not in the Bill. None the less, that list has narrowed as this process has continued.

The Bill does not satisfactorily address corporate economic crime—which we will discuss in the third group of new clauses, which includes proposals on Scottish limited partnerships, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) has done so much to campaign—and the real facilitator of criminal finances: the profit-seeking, responsibility-shedding and self-serving banking culture that we have in the UK and the wider western world. Until we challenge the attitude of the banks that house these moneys, we will never absolutely deal with the criminality. The Bill attempts to deal with the symptoms of the criminality—getting at the assets and seizing them—but it does not deal with the facilitators, the banks, which is a great shame.

New clauses 1 and 7 have been touched on by the Minister, and much of the talk has been about the scope for applicants to bring an application under these provisions. In general terms, those new clauses seek to extend the scope of unlawful conduct. That makes sense in that a public official—or someone acting with the consent or acquiescence of a public official—who is depositing funds in the UK should not be safe on account of that criminality having occurred abroad. I think that most people would agree with that sentiment; it is a sensible and logical step, and one that we support in principle.

The protection of human rights is a profoundly good thing. Violations of human rights should not be allowed to remain hidden behind international borders—they should be there for the world to see—and the consequences of such violations should be global consequences. With the adoption of either new clause 1 or new clause 7, the UK will no longer be a hiding place in that respect, and that is worth lauding.

What are the differences between the new clauses? As has been suggested, there is wider scope for more applicants to make applications under new clause 1. The Government say that that is not necessary, as the judiciary would vet those claims; it would be up to the court, not the applicant, to decide their merits. One other difference is that the ambit of new clause 1 is wider with regard to potential respondents, as it includes more people connected to criminality. Will the Minister touch on the scope of respondents as well as the scope of applicants and the differences between new clauses 1 and 7?

Furthermore, new clause 7 contains a provision, which is mirrored in amendments 58 and 59, to set the limitation period for actions under unlawful conduct to 20 years. In one sense, we welcome that, because without it the standard limitation periods of five and six years would apply. However, given that we are talking about gross violations of human rights—torture and the like—should a perpetrator ever be free from those crimes? Are we saying that, 20 years after someone has committed a gross violation of human rights, their money should be safe? Given that some of these abuses take years to come to light, are there unintended consequences that could let some of the criminals off the hook?

13:15
I have a number of other simple questions for the Minister. Under new clause 7, is a mere suspicion of the acts that constitute gross violation enough? It seems to me that a conviction in either jurisdiction would not be necessary, but would suspicion be enough, and how does he see that playing out? If he is not minded to accept new clause 1, will he explain specifically why new clause 7 is better for the applicant and the potential respondent? I would be grateful if he picked up on the point of limitation as well, but I have a lot more points to make on the next two groups.
Dominic Raab Portrait Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to new clause 1, which is known as the Magnitsky amendment, and to touch on the Government’s new clause 7 in the process.

New clause 1 was tabled by me, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and 50 hon. Members representing eight different political parties across the House. That is testimony to the cross-party nature of our ambition, which was kindled by the tragic murder, on the instructions of the Russian state, of the young Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. In November 2008, Magnitsky was arrested and detained. His crime was to identify the perpetrators of the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, which was committed by the Russian Government against the investment firm, Hermitage Capital, that employed Magnitsky and against the Russian taxpayer to the tune of a mind-boggling $230 million.

For his courage, Sergei Magnitsky was jailed and tortured for almost a year, and then ultimately murdered. The crime was perpetrated by some of the very officials whom Magnitsky had identified. Although those appalling crimes were documented by two Russian investigations, no one has ever been brought to justice in Russia. Perversely, it was Magnitsky who was convicted, posthumously, of fraud—a sickening snapshot of the corrupt and venal state of the Russian justice system today.

Large amounts of the stolen money were subsequently laundered out of Russia, and Hermitage Capital submitted to all the relevant UK authorities detailed evidence of $30 million that was sent to the UK between 2008 and 2012, including to firms run or owned by the Russian mafia. Despite receiving that evidence, the Metropolitan police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office, HMRC and the National Crime Agency have never opened a single investigation. Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments, this case also shines a light on the weaknesses of our own justice system, which is what we are here to address today. We should be clear in this House that, although Magnitsky has been the standard-bearing case for reform, it is by no means an isolated case. According to the Home Affairs Committee’s 2016 report on the proceeds of crime, an astonishing £100 billion is laundered through UK banks alone each year, and we know from the NCA that only around 0.2% of that figure is currently frozen.

No one wants Britain to be a competitive global hub that attracts investment and is open to international talent more than I do, but I also want us to be known the world over for our integrity, our commitment to the rule of law and our adherence to the most basic of moral principles. We therefore have to stop turning a blind eye to the blood money of butchers and despots that, frankly, flows all too freely through some UK businesses, banks and property. New clause 1 is designed to address the weaknesses in the current UK asset-freezing regime. I pay tribute to Jonathan Fisher QC, the expert in this field—one of the leading experts in public law and human rights law—who carefully helped us to craft the mechanism.

New clause 1 would enable the Secretary of State, an individual or a non-governmental organisation to convince the High Court to make an order to empower the UK authorities to freeze assets where it can be demonstrated, on the balance of probabilities, to a senior judge that those assets relate to an individual involved in, or profiting from, gross human rights abuses. The clause would put a duty on the Secretary of State to pursue such an order when there is sufficient evidence and when it is in the public interest to do so—there is a measure of flexibility—and would establish a public register of those who are subject to such orders, all against the backdrop of appropriate safeguards and due process in law.

The Government have responded with their own proposal, new clause 7. In fairness, it is only right and proper to pay tribute to the Security Minister and the Foreign Secretary for engaging so seriously with the issue and, ultimately, for being willing to act. New clause 7 would, indeed, mark a significant step forward, principally because it would provide specific statutory grounds for an asset-freezing order based on gross human rights abuses and would target individuals responsible for, or profiting from, such crimes against whistleblowers and defenders of human rights abroad.

My view is that new clause 7 is not as robust as new clause 1, mainly because it does not impose a duty on UK law enforcement agencies to act subject to the flexibility I described, and it omits the third-party application procedure and removes the public register. In each of those three cases, I understand and recognise the Minister’s reasons why that is the Government’s position—it is probably to be expected—and I do not want to let the best be the enemy of the good, but I retain at least a measure of underlying concern. My concern touches on something that is so often the case with criminal justice legislation: the extent to which the new power will be enforced in practice. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) touched on that, and the concern is probably shared across the House.

If I may be so bold, I would like to elicit some further reassurances from the Minister—which he may feel free to indicate during my speech or his winding-up speech—on the issue of enforcement. First, will he commit to the Government to collecting data on the exercise of the new clause, say, annually, so that the House and the public can properly scrutinise the extent to which it is being exercised in practice? I recognise and understand the Minister’s point that the success of the clause should not be judged only by how many times it is exercised but by its deterrent effect, but I still think that would be a valuable source of reassurance.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that I will commit to collecting those stats and ensuring that they are published annually alongside other stats on the proceeds of crime.

Dominic Raab Portrait Mr Raab
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for such an immediate, swift and decisive acceptance and provision of assurance. That would be extremely useful. There is only one other aspect on which it would be useful to have some reassurance. I understand that there is a wider ongoing review of UK-wide asset-freezing powers. I can well appreciate why the Government may be reticent about reinventing a bespoke procedural mechanism for one new power, given its relationship with other wider proposals that may be forthcoming, but I hope that the Minister will undertake to factor the proposals made in new clause 1 into the review process and to ensure that any future new proposals on enforcement include the most robust and rigorous mechanism available under UK law applying to new clause 7. If the Minister can give that assurance on top of the one he has just given, I am inclined to accept new clause 7 and to not press new clause 1, heartened by the Government’s commitment to strive to make the new power work as effectively as possible in practice.

For those of us who have campaigned for change, there remains the further issue of visa bans, but that is for another day. Today, the House has the opportunity to lay down some moral red lines in UK foreign policy and to take a lead in denying safe haven to the dirty money of those profiting from the most appalling of international crimes.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend says that visa bans are for another day, but of course visa bans already exist as a possibility. Would it not be helpful to know how the existing visa ban system will complement the new proposal?

Dominic Raab Portrait Mr Raab
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will need a separate legislative vehicle to address the wider question of visa bans, but he makes his point and has been tenacious in powerfully campaigning for this. We will want to move on to that issue at the appropriate time. Today is really about the asset-freezing side of things. We have in this last analysis the opportunity to send a message of solidarity to those who are fighting for the liberty that we in this country hold so dear. We have the opportunity to nurture the flame of freedom on behalf of those brave souls, such as Sergei Magnitsky, who suffered the very worst crimes when standing up for the very highest principles.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I rise to speak to this group of amendments, it looks as though new clause 1 might not be moved in favour of Government new clause 7. The Minister started by saying that the Bill has so far enjoyed a degree of cross-party consensus in its parliamentary passage, so I would like to say that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will not stand in the way of new clause 7 and will not stand in the way of new clause 1 if it is moved.

I welcome new clauses targeting asset seizure for those guilty of human rights abuses outside Britain who seek to use the UK to conceal their wealth. New clause 1 has become known colloquially as the Magnitsky amendment, and we have heard some of the tragic details of that case. It would bolster the Bill’s aim to tackle the growing concern about money laundering, terrorist financing and corruption. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank estimate that the annual loss through money laundered globally is between 2% to 5% of global GDP—a staggering $800 billion to $2 trillion. We do not know the true figures because this is all hidden, white-collar crime.

It is estimated that serious and organised crime on our own doorstep costs the UK economy at least £24 billion annually. The amount of money laundered here every year is between £36 billion and £90 billion. That is a loss to our Exchequer, so it is only right that we tighten up the legislation with this Bill, and such an amendment would tighten them up further. Quite simply, those who have blood on their hands from the worst human rights abuses should not be able to funnel their dirty money through our country. In a recent article in The New York Times, the journalist Ben Judah uses quite colourful language to attest:

“Just because there aren’t bodies on the streets of London doesn’t mean London isn’t abetting those who pile them up elsewhere. The British establishment has long feigned ignorance of the business, but the London Laundromat is destroying the country’s reputation.”

Under new clause 1, the names of individuals who have been involved in or profited from human rights abuses would be published, and Ministers would be obliged to apply for a freezing order of up to two years if they are presented with compelling evidence of abuse and it is in the public interest to do so. That would make dictators and despots think twice about using the UK as a safe place to stash their dirty cash. By creating personal costs for the perpetrators of human rights abuses, we can protect whistleblowers around the world, which would be a fitting tribute to the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to be given the opportunity to speak to this significant legislation, which will certainly help the overall objective of stopping the UK being used as a safe harbour for illegal proceeds, as it currently is all too frequently.

13:30
Like Sergei Magnitsky, I practised as a corporate lawyer, and I have asked myself whether, in his situation in Russia, uncovering the largest tax fraud, I would have risked reporting it to the authorities. Would I then have refused to withdraw my statement, while being imprisoned, beaten and denied medical help—and, indeed, while being abused by the very perpetrators of the crime I had blown the whistle on? All this was happening with the backing and connivance of politicians, judges, tax authorities, prosecutors and police—all the people who are meant to be there to keep us, the honest citizens, safe. I would like to think that I would stand up for what is right, but I appreciate that it is easier for me to say that living here in the UK under the rule of law, rather than in the vicious, pernicious kleptocracy that modern Russia has become and that did for Sergei Magnitsky.
New clause 1, to which I have added my name, and Government new clause 7 deal with individuals who have directly or indirectly committed gross human rights abuses overseas against whistleblowers or defenders of human rights. Of course, these provisions do not stop with Magnitsky, or, indeed, Russia, and not all Russians are bad people, but Russia is as good an example as any to show how the new clauses, in different ways, address a glaring omission in our laws—an omission that has, for too long, allowed the perpetrators of vicious crimes against humanity to then happily base themselves and their ill-gotten gains in the UK as though nothing had happened, under the unwritten law that they do nothing illegal while in the UK.
While the new clauses deal with individuals’ actions, these people will almost invariably come from countries where the crimes of the person are mixed up with crimes of the state. Russia operates a repressive, nasty society where human rights are often ignored, where the media are suppressed and journalists are killed, where democratic opposition is ruthlessly suppressed and where even businessmen have a glass ceiling beyond which they are told who to pay and how to toe the line. Russia has an undiversified, oil-reliant, poor economy and a political system controlled by a dictator, who, like most dictators, looks to address his failures at home with wins through threats and wars abroad. Georgia and Ukraine are therefore partially occupied, and the west faces espionage, cyber-attacks and so on—and all this from a country with an economy smaller than that of Italy.
How do Putin and his gang get away with it? At least with communism there was belief, an ideology and a raison d’être, however misguided. Now, there is no belief in anything, except one thing: money. Modern Russia is a kleptocracy, with small numbers of very rich people making the decisions and bound together through their thieves’ honour. However, I have heard many experts say that if the thieves collectively thought that President Putin was not going to let them keep their money overseas, he would not last very long. That is one good reason to follow the black money through to the UK and to seize it. In other words, by not acting in the UK against the thieves and torturers, we are indirectly bolstering many of the worst regimes in the world.
The other point is that thieves rarely steal for the sake of it; they steal because they wish to enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains. But where should they spend it, and how should they keep it safe until they do? That is the challenge. The best place, obviously, is somewhere like the UK, where the rule of law and property rights are sacrosanct. That is why, as the Home Affairs Committee pointed out, £100 billion of black money is being laundered in the UK every year. It is why Russian and other human rights abusers’ black money has been pouring into London property, Bond Street shops, country estates and prized British education.
I recently went on a parliamentary trip to Hong Kong and heard—I have to say, unofficially—that after the recent Beijing corruption crackdown, the takings of the Hong Kong couture and jewellery shops were reduced by up to 60%. As a result, Hong Kong commercial and residential property prices have also stopped rocketing.
Likewise, many criminals coming to London will be happy to pay top property prices if they feel their money is, say, 80% less likely to be confiscated in London than in their home countries, should they fall out of favour with the powers that be. Even with higher stamp duty and the annual company overseas tax—the annual residential property tax—the security of anonymously owning property in London in an offshore company can be worth paying the taxes for.
But the question is: do we want that kind of money here? In other words, we as a country have a decision to make: do we value the tax revenue and work coming via black money more than dealing with the human rights abuses and/or illegality it is connected with? I would suggest not. As we prepare to leave the EU, this issue will only become more relevant, as we necessarily attempt to negotiate free trade agreements and cosy up to all sorts of regimes around the world.
We need to set a marker, and new clause 1 provides the mechanics for action. Moreover, it makes a statement against the rotten values of torturers and other criminals who might see us as an easy drop-off point for their assets. That this new clause has been initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), and that the Home Secretary’s new clause 7 recognises that it raises an important issue—albeit one to be addressed in a more narrow way—is highly commendable, and I do want to put on record my congratulations to the Security Minister and his Department for listening to the case and coming forward with a meaningful compromise, but further questions arise.
Government new clause 7, of course, falls way short of the US Magnitsky Act, which has a specific list of undesirables attached. Furthermore, the Government clearly wish to keep for themselves the choice of whom to prosecute and asset-seize. I am minded to go along with that, given that many, if not most, seizures would have political implications, and I doubt such things should be left to non-governmental organisations, for instance, to prosecute. However, I would be happy with the proposed powers only if I were given comfort that the Government intend actually to use them once the Bill is passed.
On the question of a list, we are missing a trick here. One of the strongest aspects of the US Magnitsky list is that hundreds of thousands of people have seen exactly who is blamed and for what. Indeed, I note that the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control updated the list only last month. If we search-engine the US Magnitsky Act, we see each of the sanctioned individuals and their job titles. Naming and shaming is a huge negative issue for human rights abusers who wish to live in the security of criminal darkness. It is also a strong deterrent to others who might consider such abuse. Has the Minister considered publishing lists of those who will be prosecuted under these provisions? I am not sure whether that would be included in the stats he said he would be publishing, so a bit of clarification would be helpful.
My reading of new clause 1 is that it is more like the US Magnitsky Act, and that it looks not only to seize assets but to stop the undesirables travelling to the UK, trading in the UK, using UK banks and buying UK property. Could the Minister say whether such issues would be dealt with through new clause 7 or perhaps through other legislation that could be used at the same time?
Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I can inform my hon. Friend and the rest of the House on the visa issue. We can refuse a visa to a person who does not meet the immigration rules. Evidence that a person has been involved in organised crime or in human rights abuses or violations would be taken into account when considering a visa application. We can already do that; the power is there with the Government, and we have exercised it in the past.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification. It would be helpful if he could say that it is the Government’s position that, when a prosecution is taken under these new provisions, the court should consider a visa exclusion automatically and not as a possible add-on.

Clearly, if the sanctioned person had his or her assets confiscated but could then go on to buy more assets or to conduct business in the UK, new clause 7 may lack the required teeth.

New clause 7(5) refers to proceedings needing to be brought within 20 years, which seems like a short period in any event. Furthermore, it looks to be 20 years from the commission of the gross human rights abuse. Why is it not from the end of the abuse? In other words, if someone has been abused for 20 years plus one day, would the right to prosecute the abuser fail?

Would the court be required to connect the human rights abuse to the assets being seized? For instance, where the individual is accused of organising the torture of three people but steals from only one of the three and then moves the stolen goods into the UK, would the seizure have to be tied to the one incidence of torture that relates to the stolen goods?

My final question is this: after the legislation is put in place, do the Government actually intend to act? Many foreign nationals—not least Russians—really want to live here, rather than in, say, the US, so we have significant influence in setting the standards of civilised behaviour we expect from people who live or stay here. I ask the Minister, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton did, whether we are now going to say to those who have been merciless in their own countries and who then look to store their ill-gotten gains in the UK, “We do not want you here. We do not want your money here”, and, importantly, “If you do come here, we will act.” If that is the Minister’s position—I think he said it was, but perhaps he could clarify that—I am minded to support Government new clause 7 rather than new clause 1.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to pay tribute to two people, the first of whom is the Minister for introducing this Bill. I think we all accept, in all parts of the House, that the corrupt money that swishes around in the British financial system is part of a type of crime and corruption across the whole world. Unfortunately, it also has a very detrimental effect on the housing market in the UK in that large numbers of houses are bought not to live in but as an investment vehicle and a means of laundering money. While some of those properties are at the high end of the market and there might be no effect on the majority of our constituents, in some cases these people have been buying property portfolios all the way down the housing market—and by increasing the value of the top end of the market they are affecting the whole market. If we want to get serious about the housing market in this country, we have to tackle the issue of corrupt money in the British system coming from overseas. I welcome the main provisions of the Bill. I applaud the Minister for trying to get some way towards a provision that might be termed the Magnitsky clause, as he suggests in his new clause 7.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). He and I have had very many conversations on this subject for a long time, but we still have not managed to decide how to say the name “Sergei”. One of the most depressing things to add to the long list that he outlined is that Sergei Magnitsky was prosecuted posthumously, which must be a new low in putting two fingers up to the normal standards of criminal prosecution around the world.

I am absolutely certain that significant numbers of the people who are prohibited from entering the United States of America under the Magnitsky list have entered the United Kingdom since his death. That is why the Minister really needs to think again about visa bans. I do look to the United States of America in this regard. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), have already said that the United States of America has gone much further than we have. The Minister tried to argue that the Americans have a very different legal system. Yes, they do, but it is based on the same fundamental principles as ours and, I would have thought, on the same values as ours. That is why we ought to be going at least as far as the United States of America. When the Commons debated this on 13 December 2010, the motion stating that we should proceed with a Magnitsky Act was carried unanimously. The Minister at the time, who is a thoroughly charming chap, said that we had to wait to see what the United States of America does. Well, I think we have all decided that we are not going to wait to see what the United States of America does on anything at the moment, and we might choose to set our own path in relation to these matters. I sometimes feel as though the UK is dragging its heels on this issue.

Sergei Magnitsky was killed just before 2010, when I was Minister for Europe in the Foreign Office, and most of the debate about this has happened since then. My personal perception was that both David Cameron and President Obama were very reluctant to show a strong arm to Russia because they thought that by pressing the reset button—this was Obama’s view—we would somehow manage to get major concessions out of Putin. That has not proved to be an effective strategy. In every single regard, Putin has simply taken those moments as a sign of weakness and proceeded to use force to a greater degree. On the day that David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party, the first thing he did was to go to Georgia to stand with the Georgians against Putin’s invasion of that country. Yet there are still Russian troops in Georgia, and since then we have had the issues in Ukraine.

There is now clear evidence of direct Russian corrupt involvement in elections in France, in Germany, in the United States of America, and, I would argue, in this country. Many believe that some of the highest-level decisions affecting security in the United Kingdom, in Germany, in France and in the United States of America are now compromised by Russian infiltration. The murder of Sergei Magnitsky and his then being posthumously put on trial shows that Russia is, in effect, a kleptocracy—a country ruled by people who have stolen from the people and used every means in their power to protect themselves and guard their position with jealousy. It is, in essence, the politics of jealousy writ large. I fear that this has infected the United Kingdom, and also one of our closest allies in Europe, Cyprus, where much Russian money is currently stored away corruptly and laundered illegally.

13:45
A sign of the problem we face is that it is impossible to extradite anybody from Russia because Russia will not allow in its law—in its constitution—the extradition of any Russian national. We are therefore unable to prosecute in many of the cases that we are talking about. I am still mystified about why the authorities in this country have failed to act in relation to any of the assets belonging to those in this country who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption that he unveiled. Many people have pointed to some £30 million-worth of such assets, none of which has yet been seized or frozen, while in 11 other countries around the world $43 million-worth has been seized and frozen. It feels as though this country is reluctant to move on this, or has inadequate laws to be able to do so.
However, this Bill is necessary not only in relation to Magnitsky and to Russia. Rakhat Aliyev was reckoned to have some £147 million-worth of London property. He was the former secret police chief in Kazakhstan. He went on to have two tours of duty as ambassador to Austria and then to Austria, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia. During the time that he did those jobs, he amassed an enormous fortune from areas such as banking, oil refinery, and telecommunications—virtually every form of state monopoly that he could manage to peculate from. He was the son-in-law of the former president Nazarbayev. He was charged with money laundering through the British Virgin Islands—another reason we need to take more concerted action. He was charged in Austria with the torture of two bodyguards and the murder of the opposition leader in Kazakhstan and of a Kazakh journalist. He committed suicide in 2015. Up until that moment, there was still no system in the United Kingdom that would have enabled us to tackle his financial assets in the United Kingdom and seek recovery of them. Indeed, there is now an issue about what we should do about those who have inherited those substantial assets. They would certainly not be covered by the Government’s new clause but would be covered by the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton. That is why I still support it, even if he is not going to press it to a vote.
The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) referred to Libya, where there is a major issue because the transitional Libyan Government found that some $10 billion had been peculated from the Libyan people, depriving schools, hospitals, and the whole of the Libyan state infrastructure under Colonel Gaddafi. A lot of that money has clearly come to the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Libyan authorities have been trying to pursue it here but have found it phenomenally difficult to do so. So far, as far as I am aware, the only asset that has yet been recovered is a £10 million townhouse.
The Minister suggested that the threshold in new clause 1 was too low and that it would be too easy for people to be able to bring prosecutions, meaning that it would fall foul of the Human Rights Act—incidentally, I hope that we are keeping the Human Rights Act. I would argue quite the reverse. In fact, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton pointed out, this has to go to a senior judge in the High Court. It is not a case of someone simply turning up and saying, “I want to have this chap’s assets frozen, please”—they have to make a proper argument. There is also the balance of probabilities, which is a standard evidential basis in most civil actions. It is true that new clause 1 places a duty on the Secretary of State to pursue such matters, but only where it is in the public interest so to do. There are plenty of cavils and protections against the abuse that the Minister seemed to suggest might otherwise apply.
There are significant differences between the two new clauses, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon mentioned. First, the Government’s new clause applies only to abuses by public officials. The definition of public official in the UK is already established in statute law, and that is a significant limitation. Secondly, as I have said, there is no duty for the prosecuting authorities or the Government to initiate civil recovery proceedings at all. Third parties cannot apply under the Government’s new clause, and there will be no public register of human rights abusers who are subject to recovery proceedings. There will be no designation orders, so it will be quite easy for people who think that they are about to be proceeded against to squirrel their assets away to another domain fairly quickly, because there is no system for freezing those assets before recovery proceedings can start.
The Government’s new clause applies only to new degrading treatment or punishment after the commencement of the Act, rather than to events that have already taken place. As Members have already said, the Government’s new clause will not apply to human rights abuses that happened more than 20 years ago. I hope that the Minister will respond to the point that was made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon about when the 20 years begins and ends.
It seems as though the Government still believe that they can somehow or other appease some of these people from around the world. They seem to want to pussyfoot around the issue. I just do not think that that meets the present danger and need, particularly in view of the risk to the financial propriety and reputation of this country. We cannot prosper if we allow bribery and corruption to flourish through the back door. We should be saying that none of these people, whether they are from Russia or from any other country, are welcome in the United Kingdom.
I have already said that I believe that many of those involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption that he unveiled have visited the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the Minister’s statement that such people can be refused a visa. That may be the case, but we cannot be certain that they have been excluded, and they cannot know that they are being excluded. It would be far more useful to be able to bring the two issues together with a visa ban and a proper Magnitsky Act like the one in the United States of America.
My final point is that we are, as I think the Minister said earlier, operating under a set of circumstances that exist because we are in the European Union. The Prime Minister has regularly said on her return from European Council meetings, “It has been great to be able to get tough sanctions against Russia imposed by the European Union.” If we are the only country that has argued for tough sanctions in those meetings, it will be much more difficult for us to prosecute the foreign policy that we want, particularly in relation to Russia, when we are no longer there.
The hon. Member for Esher and Walton has a completely different view on that last point, but I hope that he—and the whole House—will agree that we have to find new mechanisms to enable us to ensure that we do not become the sink spot for international corruption and bribery, and for human rights abusers who want to abuse the rights and privileges of owning property and living in the United Kingdom.
Lord Pickles Portrait Sir Eric Pickles
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I agred with much of what he said—some I did not, but we will put that to one side for a moment.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab)—never forget Walton in his patch—because he has achieved enormous progress. When he started this process, I did not think that he had a chance of getting his measure through, but the Government have made quite an unusual concession, if the Minister does not mind my saying so. Usually concessions arise out of panic about defeat, but I do not think that there was any possibility of that. This concession is due to the power of my hon. Friend’s arguments about righting a wrong and including in British law something that I think will make a difference. I am sure that the House is grateful for what he has done.

I stand before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as the UK Government’s champion on anti-corruption. When I was appointed by David Cameron, I came out to find that he had described me as the anti-corruption tsar. The Daily Mirror shortened that to corruption tsar, and I felt that that was one step too close to the Romanovs, so I am happy to use the word “champion”.

In that capacity, I went to an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe anti-corruption conference in Paris. One of the speakers talked about taking a lorry full of time-sensitive goods through customs and being asked for a private facilitation payment. They asked how many of the people present would make such a payment. To my amazement—and, I suspect, to the greater amazement of the person who asked the question—a good 60% of hands went up. I was proud to say that if that lorry driver had been British, not only would he have committed a crime, but he would have been prosecuted for it on his return to the UK and so would his company.

New clause 7 and the excellent new clause 1 have to be seen in that context. We have been gradually triangulating this crime. I am old enough to remember listening to a Minister—a Conservative Minister, I am ashamed to say—saying on the radio a number of years ago, “I want British companies to bribe. Everybody bribes, and I want Britain to be among those that do so.” That was a ludicrous thing to say, but it was the kind of reaction that we got to the Bribery Act 2010. People said, “Everybody’s doing it. All we are doing is putting British companies at peculiar risk.” That has not been the case. Because of the Bribery Act, board members have put in place due diligence to ensure that they do not face that problem. That was part of the process of triangulating the crime, and I do not think that there has been any drop-off for British business. The new clauses have to be seen in the context of the call for consultation on economic crimes and the place of boards in relation to economic crimes. They should be seen in the context of transparency over beneficial ownership of property in this country by those who want to trade with the Government, and I hope to see something positive come out of that.

Given the degree of consensus that seems to be breaking out about the proposals, I will make a slightly shorter speech than I intended. New clause 7 should help us to deal with bloodstained dictators and those on the take in kleptocracies around the world. I entirely agree that a posthumous conviction for dishonesty and theft is as ridiculous as the practice during the French revolution of putting animals on trial. We have to understand that there are parts of the world in which Governments and private business move hand in hand, and they make the Tudor court look like the epitome of puritan restraint. To those people, we are sending out a clear message that their assets will be seized and their lives interrupted, and that those who seek to buy expensive flats and jewellery will face a problem.

We have dealt with the worry about third parties making vexatious claims. I will not go over that again, but a further point needs to be emphasised. Non-governmental organisations, especially, often play an enormous part in getting prosecutions together and bringing evidence to the authorities. I have had the privilege, as I suspect the Minister has, of seeing how the Serious Fraud Office works. A lot of its cases are complex and take a lot of time, and there is a risk that if third parties were allowed to make applications, they might actively tip off those involved in an ongoing investigation. That is another compelling reason why states, and more particularly prosecution authorities, should bring such cases.

14:00
I want to end by agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who made the powerful point that such provisions are pointless and useless unless there are prosecutions. I have had the honour of talking to various Governments around the world. They often show what marvellous laws they have and demonstrate how they are dealing with bribery, but we find that a large number of prosecutions are not made or seen through. When I was in one country, which I shall not name, and pressed its Government on this, they managed to say that a local government official was prosecuted for making a profit from taking away television aerials, yet the place was riddled with corruption. Unless the people at the top have their collars felt, the process will not be effective.
New clause 7, along with other new clauses and amendments, should make a difference, so I am pleased to support the Government. I end by again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton on seeing this through.
Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) for putting together the proposal in new clause 1 and the Minister for responding positively. I have been in the House for long enough to know that Ministers rarely respond positively to approaches, even cross-party ones, so it is welcome that the Minister has taken on board the spirit of the proposal. I also pay tribute to Bill Browder—many Members in the Chamber will have met him—who has really led the charge on this issue. However, I am sure that Bill wants not a tribute but action.

I share some of the reservations of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). In other countries, assets have been seized in relation to the Magnitsky case, but it seems that that is not so in London. Many Members would accept that London is a place where many Russians, sometimes of rather dubious backgrounds, like to put their assets, so it seems strange, while assets are being seized almost everywhere else around the world in relation to this case, for London to be the one place where they have not been seized.

The Minister reassured us that the prosecuting authorities—of course he cannot put pressure on them, but he has confirmed this—would prosecute if there was evidence. I assure Bill Browder and others that they will have the support of the House if evidence—or further or more detailed evidence—is forthcoming, as the Minister for one endorsed the need for very firm action. He said that action might be taken under existing legislation, but that it could be taken even more effectively under Government new clause 7.

Like other Members, I would prefer new clause 1 to the Government’s proposal, but I understand why the Minister preferred to table his own new clause. Unfortunately, I suspect that we would not have the numbers in the House to win a Division today on cross-party new clause 1. We will therefore have to follow the matter very closely, and I welcome the fact that the Minister will publish statistics.

Several hon. Members referred to the Magnitsky Act. If they want to see the list of names, they could read my early-day motion 1344—it has been signed by a number of Members—which lists Russian citizens subject to the Magnitsky Act in America. The hon. Member for Rhondda reminded me that I need to retable my early-day motion because, as he said, new names have been added to the American list. The information is there if Members need to refer to it.

I welcome the fact that the Government have moved on this issue, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If evidence is forthcoming that such assets are in this country, in the way that Bill Browder and others believe is the case, the Government must ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and brought to justice for the gross human rights violations they have committed.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, as a signatory of new clause 1, can be very brief because my right hon. and hon. Friends, and indeed Opposition Members, have made the case with such eloquence on what is known as the Magnitsky amendment. It seems to me, as such a signatory, that the Government have listened. The Minister has quite rightly heard the cross-party voice on these issues and tabled new clause 7, and I certainly congratulate him on having achieved that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has done such a good job on this issue, pointed out, in accepting the Government new clause, that we must not allow the best to be the enemy of the good. The story that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), the anti-corruption tsar, told us about his Paris meeting reminds me of just how complex is the attack on corruption, of which we must all be a part.

I remember a very eminent New York anti-corruption lawyer, who had been involved in a variety of anti-corruption mechanisms, telling me that he was once invited to Afghanistan to give a lecture on how to tackle corruption, and a vast number of Afghan officials turned up in the auditorium. To his horror, observing the Rolex watches on the wrists of so many of those officials, he suddenly realised halfway through the lecture that they had turned up to learn not how to tackle corruption, but how to evade the tackling of corruption.

Corruption is a cancer: it is insidious in a whole variety of ways. One of the good things about the Bill is that it seeks, in a very complex area, to make progress on some very clear aspects of the issue. The former Prime Minister, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Government Members have also made a very big contribution in the fight to tackle corruption in this area.

I want to make two brief final points. The first is that in the Magnitsky case, as I think the Minister has recognised—I know Bill Browder and I was absolutely horrified to hear the tale of the experience he has undergone—it is clear that the British law enforcement agencies have shown, to put it no more strongly than this, a degree of confusion, delay and obfuscation in their handling of such matters. There are issues of administrative co-ordination and effectiveness, and I very much hope that the Minister ensures that tackling this issue remains clearly on his agenda.

My second and final point is that Britain needs to send a very clear signal about the approach we take to human rights abuses and money laundering. The failure to send a very clear signal—I hope that that will be ended by the decision the House will take this afternoon—damages our international relations. Britain’s relations and dealings with Russia are very complex. We need to work with Russia on a number of matters on which we have a common interest, but we also need to be absolutely clear where we stand on the issues—my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) set them out so eloquently in his speech—so that there is no misunderstanding about where the British Government stand on many of the horrific aspects of Russian governance and conduct. I have been a strong critic in this House of Russian abuses of human rights and, indeed, of war crimes in Syria. Given the other dimension of areas on which we must be able to work constructively with Russia, it is extremely important that we in this House are absolutely clear with the Government about where we stand on human rights issues.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have had a very important and well-informed debate. I am very grateful to colleagues for their contributions, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). As Minister, I have done my best throughout the process to speak to as many colleagues as possible and to listen to their concerns. I have gone back to the law enforcement agencies and asked them tough questions. I cannot say whether my predecessors did that or not, but I take the view that our job as Ministers is to go beyond the briefing papers we all receive, test their resolve and send a very clear message. I have told the agencies that when the Bill is passed by Parliament and becomes an Act, we want to see prosecutions and we want the powers to be used. I will not interfere in how they choose to apply those powers, and I will not choose which powers they use to achieve the right effect.

The main aim is to ensure that we say loud and clear that we do not want money launderers in this country. We do not want organised criminals. We do not want those who abuse people through torture and inhumane treatment. We want to say, “You are not welcome in this country and nor is your dirty money. If you come to this country, we will try to have you and we will certainly try to have your money. If we can return that money back to the regimes it has been stolen from, we shall do that.” We have already started that process by returning £27 million to Macau recently and signing a memorandum of understanding with Nigeria. If we can do that, we will. Both Government new clause 7 and new clause 1—there are many things I agree with in the spirit of new clause 1—say that loud and clear. I think that our new clause will help to achieve that in relation to the people who want to exploit laws around the world, whether through immunities, state sponsorship, state umbrella or tacit support.

I highlighted to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton that annual reporting will cover the use of this provision. The Government have already agreed, in our response to the Public Accounts Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, to publish a set of annual asset recovery statistics. As I made clear in Committee, it will cover the annual use of unexplained wealth orders. I am also pleased to commit today that it will include the use of this provision.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will it also include the names and titles of people from whom the assets have been taken?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will have to check and get back to my hon. Friend, but any court action is a matter of public record. If someone is prosecuted under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or has their assets frozen, that will become a matter of public record available to all—that is very important.

To reiterate the point about sanctions, the Government are undertaking an assessment of existing sanctions policy post-Brexit to ensure we can continue our proactive approach. It is right that any changes to our sanctions regime are considered in that context, rather than making changes at this point. We will of course continue a dialogue with parliamentary colleagues on this work, and I will absolutely ensure that the spirit of new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton, is carried forward in those discussions. The time to do that, however, is not with this legislation; it is when an assessment is made post-Brexit to consider sanctions in the wider picture.

I want to talk about the duty of law enforcement agencies to use the powers. Part of the rule of law and the strength of our system, as opposed to perhaps some other regimes we have talked about today, is that our agencies are operationally independent. As a Minister, I do not sit behind a desk and use the agencies to pick on people or political rivals I do not like. We leave the agencies, as much as possible, to be operationally independent. That is a part of the balance and safeguards in our society.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But if the prosecuting authorities were, for a corrupt reason, to choose not to prosecute, there are powers, through the courts, to ensure that they do so.

14:14
Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid I have too positive a view of the integrity of our law enforcement agencies to say—or even allude to the fact—that there could be some corrupt reason they may not use their powers. We all have constituents who write to us and say, “I made a complaint to the police and they didn’t take any action.” Sometimes that is valid and we try to get a better result for them. Hon. Members who have met Bill Browder have brought their evidence to this House and made representations to the National Crime Agency. They cross-examined a National Crime Agency witness in Committee. However, we also have constituents who do not like the outcome of their complaint—that a crime has not been judged to have been committed. That is a disappointment they sometimes have to live with and it is our job as Members of Parliament to tell them, “I’m afraid it does not constitute a crime.” Sometimes the police have to make that case. Sometimes constituents may seek to deal with that by changing the law to create a crime that may be appropriate or up to date. However, it is important to respect operational independence, tempting as it may be sometimes to wish to reprioritise their priorities to suit the issue of the day.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I really do have to press on. Hon. Members have made a considerable number of valid queries and I have a small book, handed to me from the Box, to get through.

The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) raised a number of issues relating to the unlimited nature of retrospective offences. Torture is an offence where the UK applies universal jurisdiction. On that basis, the provisions are retrospective in so far as they relate to torture, even where it occurs prior to the enactment of the Bill. However, the Government new clause would cover conduct constituting cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment only after the Act comes into force.

We have already taken significant legal steps to suspend the requirement for dual criminality; that is, providing for civil recovery to be pursued against property not necessarily unlawfully obtained in the country in which the conduct took place. We think this is a suitably proportionate approach. We have already gone further than we do in some other areas. We can take action where the unlawful event took place when it was not in this country. That is something we have to balance.

The recovery of proceeds of crime is generally subject to a 20-year limitation period under the Limitation Act 1980. The hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Dumfries and Galloway asked about the timescale for claiming the proceeds of crime. Under POCA, it starts when the property is obtained through unlawful conduct. Under new clause 1 it seems to run from the date of the conduct itself, so that could possibly mean a shorter timescale than that under Government new clause 7. I reassure the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway that new clause 7 covers conduct linked to torture, such as: assisting it, directing it, facilitating it or profiting from it even when that linked conduct is not conducted by a public official. It therefore goes wider than some have feared.

We must also consider what evidence is needed to allow for assets to be recovered. Any civil recovery would be subject to all existing processes and legal safeguards in the Proceeds of Crime Act. The court would need to be satisfied, on the balance of probability, that the property in question was the proceeds of crime or was likely to be used to fund further criminal activity. Law enforcement agencies would, as ever, need to consider which of their powers to utilise on a case-by-case basis. It would also apply to inherited wealth. That would not be excluded. Inherited wealth would be covered by the ability to recover assets, so I hope I can reassure the hon. Member for Rhondda on that point.

I reiterate to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton that the Government agree with the spirit of his new clause. We want to say loud and clear that organised criminals, crooks and corrupt individuals are not welcome in this country, and neither is their money. I was pleased to contribute to the implementation of the Bribery Act 2010, introduced by the last Labour Government, and its statutory guidance, under the previous Conservative Government. That is part of this whole package: the Bill comes alongside the Bribery Act and some other measures. I do not want London and the UK to be fuelled by dirty money, and I do not want people to be profiting from it. One of the best ways of making London and the UK open for business is through the rule of law—and, I would say, a competitive tax base. People should want to come to the UK for those reasons, not because they can hide or launder their money. It does not make us a better host for these individuals. I hope that the new powers in the Bill will help us tackle the problem, and I am keen to ensure that upon its enactment we start to deal with these individuals and get the money back to where it belongs.

There was little in the well-articulated speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) that I did not agree with. He is absolutely right about sending a message. There are regimes around the world that deliberately take advantage of Britain’s openness, the quality of places to live and what we have to offer, and they need to be sent a message that we are serious and that they should go elsewhere—although we would like to catch them first and put them in prison, to be brutally honest.

I think I have clarified the point from the hon. Member for Rhondda about inherited wealth. On the worries about the London property market, I must add that it is not just nice townhouses in Knightsbridge being bought up, but huge portfolios up and down the country, and it does not just apply to overseas citizens either. For instance, other parts of the Bill deal with drug dealers, including those in my part of the world, in the north-west, the north-east and Northern Ireland, funnelling money into property.

As part of the Government’s work on the implementation of the fourth anti-money laundering directive, they have consulted on whether estate agents should carry out checks on the buyers of properties as well as the sellers. I was surprised, as I suspect were colleagues, to find out that currently they only carry out such checks on sellers. We intend to publish the response to the consultation “imminently”—that is what my note says—and I think that we will all be looking at it carefully.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about freezing orders and people quickly moving the money. Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 provides for interim freezing orders, allowing for the freezing of property while the courts consider the case. I recognise that the Home Affairs Committee report on the proceeds of crime and the recovery of assets pointed out some valid problems in the system, however, and I have asked that the Department set about being timely when making cases for the confiscation of funds and assets so that the gaps do not allow criminals and bad people to move the money beforehand.

The hon. Member for Rhondda and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), the anti-corruption tsar, will recognise that within Government we always have to satisfy the competing concerns of Departments. They will both know—the hon. Gentleman was a Foreign Office Minister and my right hon. Friend is a former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—of the competing interests within Government when it comes to legislating, and inevitably amendments have to walk a fine line between several challenging diplomatic and political issues, but I trust that the House agrees that the Government have taken a constructive approach. I have been determined to listen to colleagues and produce something that sends a strong message while also providing powers to allow us to act against people who abuse human rights.

I want to finish by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton on tabling new clause 1. It was important that we have this debate. He is a formidable campaigner and has successfully articulated the case and imbued the Bill with the spirit of his new clause. I hope that the House will support Government new clause 7.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 7 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 8

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs: removal of restrictions

‘(1) The following provisions, which impose restrictions on the exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs, are amended as follows.

(2) In section 23A of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (investigation of offences by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), omit the following—

(a) in subsection (2), the words “Subject to subsection (3) below,” and the words from “other than” to the end of the subsection;

(b) subsection (3).

(3) In section 307 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (interpretation), omit the following—

(a) in subsection (1), in paragraph (ba) of the definition of “officer of law”, the words “subject to subsection (1A) below,”;

(b) subsection (1A).

(4) In the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 omit the following—

(a) in section 289 (searches), subsections (5)(ba) and (5A);

(b) in section 294 (seizure of cash), subsections (2A), (2B) and (2C);

(c) section 375C (restriction on exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs);

(d) section 408C (restriction on exercise of certain powers conferred on officers of Revenue and Customs).

(5) In the Finance Act 2007, in section 84 (sections 82 and 83: supplementary), omit subsection (3).”

This new clause, together with amendments 20, 25 and 28, removes restrictions on the exercise of certain powers by HMRC officers. The restrictions prevented the powers being exercised in relation to certain former Inland Revenue functions.(Mr Wallace.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Natascha Engel Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 5—Unexplained Wealth Orders: award of costs

“In Chapter 2 of Part 8 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, after section 362H insert—

‘362HB Unexplained Wealth Orders: award of costs

(1) Pursuant to Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules (The Court’s Case Management Powers) the High Court must make a costs capping order, in respect of—

(a) unexplained wealth orders under section 362A of this Act;

(b) interim freezing orders under section 262I of this Act.

(2) The High Court shall not have power to make an award for costs on the indemnity basis against enforcement authorities who bring an unsuccessful application for—

(a) unexplained wealth orders under section 362A of this Act;

(b) interim freezing orders under section 262I of this Act.

(3) For the purposes of this section “enforcement agencies” has the same meaning as in subsection 362A(7).’”

This new clause would prevent the courts from awarding uncapped costs on the indemnity basis against enforcement agencies where they have brought unsuccessful applications for unexplained wealth orders or interim freezing orders. It seeks to define such civil actions as within “exceptional circumstances” required for the purposes of Practice Direction 3F to Part 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules under which the court has the power to make a cost capping order.

Amendment 1, page 3, clause 1, leave out line 29.

This amendment would allow unexplained wealth orders to be issued to politically exposed persons in the United Kingdom and EEA States.

Government amendments 2 to 19.

Motion to transfer clause 12(3).

Government amendments 20 to 57 and 60 to 72.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now come to a group of amendments relating to law enforcement investigative and recovery powers. It is primarily composed of Government amendments that I hope the House will agree are, for the most part, technical and uncontroversial. I therefore do not intend to linger on each of them, but I will quickly summarise the key amendments for the benefit of hon. Members.

New clause 8 and other consequential amendments remove the restriction on HMRC’s criminal powers being used for former revenue functions. This ring fence arose following the merger of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue in 2005. In the intervening period, legislative changes have brought most major taxes within the scope of HMRC’s criminal justice powers, but there remain some anomalies. For example, investigators cannot use certain powers to fight stamp duty tax fraud. Fraud is a crime, regardless of which function of HMRC it is committed against, and the amendments will ensure that the necessary powers are available in all such cases. They do not provide HMRC with any new criminal justice powers.

Amendments 2 to 15, 70 and 71 relate to the power in clause 9 to allow an extension of the moratorium period in which law enforcement agencies can investigate a suspicious activity report before a transaction is allowed to proceed. These amendments will deliver a number of minor and technical improvements to this provision: they will allow an automatic extension to the moratorium period while a court hearing is awaited to make a decision on an application; they will help to ensure that a company does not provide any information to the customer whose transaction is subject to a suspicious activity report, other than the fact that an SAR has been made; they will allow immigration officers to apply for an extension; and they will allow for an explicit right of appeal in Northern Ireland.

The majority of the remaining amendments in this group—amendments 22 to 24, 26, 27, 29 to 38, 46, 47, 49 to 57, 60 to 69 and 72—clarify the operation of the seizure and forfeiture powers that the Bill adds to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Many of these changes are extremely technical in nature, but I will highlight a few of the more significant ones. They will allow the director general of the National Crime Agency to designate the level of senior officer that can authorise the use of certain powers—unlike in the police, no such designation currently exists in law. They will ensure that any interest accrued on forfeited funds while in the agency’s account is returned to the owner of the funds if that person successfully appeals against the forfeiture. They provide that, where the NCA has used the powers, and a court determines compensation should be paid, the NCA will be responsible for paying that compensation. They will introduce a duty on the police and others to consult the Treasury to ensure that the full range of terrorist asset-freezing powers are considered before exercising the related power provided by the Bill. They will require consultation with the devolved Administrations before the provisions in clause 12 relating to the seizure of gaming vouchers and betting slips are commenced. This will ensure that the provisions are implemented effectively in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On the devolved Administrations, we hope the Scottish Parliament will approve their legislative consent motion on the Bill shortly. Although the Government assert that none of the provisions are devolved with respect to Wales, I note that the Assembly has already provided such a motion. The Government have had extensive discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive about the Bill, and plans were in place for a legislative consent motion to be considered by the Assembly—law enforcement authorities in Northern Ireland are keen to ensure they have access to the powers in the Bill—but the suspension of the Assembly prior to elections has prevented the motion from being pursued at this time. These are clearly extremely unusual circumstances, but the Government remain committed to the central principles of the Sewel convention. We will therefore commit not to commence provisions on matters devolved to Northern Ireland without the appropriate consents having been obtained. It is our intention to pick this up with the Executive, following those elections. It may not be possible to resolve this before the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are most likely to make further amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords to put beyond doubt that all the relevant provisions can be commenced at separate times for different areas of the United Kingdom.

14:30
Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will be aware that although the aspiration is to see an early return to the Stormont Executive, the likelihood of that happening in the immediate future is somewhat fraught. Given that the Bill will inevitably conclude before we see the return to the institutions of Stormont, will he outline what steps will be taken to regularise issues, once the Assembly has been restored?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are in ongoing discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and we hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly elections are completed and that Stormont takes up the reins again, so that devolution returns to Northern Ireland. That is our starting-point, and it is what we all wish. There was a good cross-party consensus for these provisions for Northern Ireland in the Assembly earlier. I cannot remember the exact date of the election—the hon. Gentleman might have to remind me. Let us plan for normality in Northern Ireland and make sure that we get to a good position.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The election is planned for 2 March. I agree with the aspiration to see a return to Stormont as soon as possible, but does the Minister believe that there would be some merit in at least corresponding with the leaders of each political party to attain affirmation of the measures at this stage, for fear that we do not see a return in a reasonable period?

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I will certainly put that suggestion to officials. My view would be that pre-suspension of the Assembly is the place we are at, and although there has been a change of a leader, I am not sure that we have had any signal that it has gone backwards. The date of 2 March gives me some good hope. I have never known the other place move at the speed of light, so I hope we shall have time to make sure that this gets through.

Finally, this group includes two proposals concerning unexplained wealth orders: new clause 5, in the name of a number of the officers of the all-party parliamentary groups on anti-corruption and responsible tax, and Opposition amendment 1. I will allow hon. Members the opportunity to speak to those amendments and will respond to them in my closing remarks.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Opposition support the spirit of the Bill and broadly support this group of amendments. We welcome new provisions to prosecute those professionals who fail to prevent tax evasion, as well as welcoming unexplained wealth orders, under which assets can be seized if owners are unable to explain how they were funded. We, of course, support the Government’s effort to tighten up state powers against white-collar crime, but we have concerns that they are squandering the opportunity that the Bill provides to stamp out the everyday corruption of the super-rich who are getting a free ride at the expense of the wider society, thereby fuelling inequality.

Another problem is that, amid the Government’s cuts to public services, the Bill could be very difficult to enforce. Although I understand the giving of new powers to HMRC, are the Government not concerned about how HMRC will carry out its new duties? Given that the coalition Government decimated HMRC’s budgets by £100 million and that HMRC is set to lose 137 of its offices by 2027, there seems little point in creating laws that cannot be enforced—unless, of course, it is to give the impression that the Government are doing something. This, I fear, is a theme that has sadly run through our proceedings on the Bill so far.

We Opposition Members argue that it is crucial for the agencies involved in civil recovery powers to have sufficient resources to do their jobs properly. We therefore request a distinct and clear annual report that details the resources allocated to the agencies that are concerned solely with the task of carrying out these recovery powers.

In previous stages, the Government objected on the grounds that the asset recovery incentivisation scheme would allow frontline agencies to keep 100% of what they recover, but this argument is seriously flawed. In theory, yes, the agencies could retain the total value recovered, but as the Public Accounts Committee made clear in its progress review of confiscation orders and as the Home Affairs Select Committee made clear in its review of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, these agencies’ recovery rates have been typically poor. Consequently, it remains to be seen how these agencies will improve their rate of recovery to benefit from the new incentivisation scheme.

Another reason that the Government gave is that anyone who wanted to find out this information could in theory obtain it by going to a number of different sources. Yet again, this is flawed. We previously argued for a detailed reporting of resources, specifically for these agencies, in the exercise of the powers laid down in the Bill and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The Government have already blocked a number of measures that Labour has proposed to make this a meaningful and effective Bill. We proposed a corporate probation order. If a company was found to have committed a failure to prevent offence, it would have been subject to an independent review of its compliance procedures and it would have had to pay the full costs of such a review. This was coupled with allowing for the removal of directors from companies who failed to ensure that proper procedures were in place to prevent UK and foreign tax evasion offences from taking place. The Government believed that this was unnecessary because UK law could already deal with such cases of negligence. Although there may be a case for some UK law to be used to a similar effect, it would not be an identical effect.

While there is an implied threat to the EU that the Government could change the UK’s economic model into one of a tax haven, there is a strong case for legislation to protect both UK citizens and citizens from around the world. With the potential for a race to the bottom and the destruction of workers’ rights and the slashing of corporation tax, it could be argued that a Brexiteer Government would foster an environment where tax evasion was implicitly encouraged.

As my colleagues have said, and will no doubt say again, the Bill must do more to tackle the deeply entrenched and extraordinarily costly phenomenon of tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is, in effect, living to the letter of the law, but not in the spirit of the law. Repeated investigations of companies that sail close to the wind but know that they have bought the lawyers and accountants to make their tax abuse legal is both very frustrating and extremely costly. As the UK general anti-abuse rules show, there are ways to minimise the risk of corporate abuse of the tax system, and these should be absorbed into the Bill.

Spain, Canada and Australia each have a single agency responsible for supervising and enforcing anti-money laundering regulations—Britain has 22. Worse still, according to Transparency International UK, 15 of these 22 supervisors also lobby on behalf of the interests of their sector, creating clear conflicts of interest and a system inefficient to its core. The Government raised this problem in their action plan that preceded the Bill, but they were not concerned enough to convert this into proposed legislation. The system needs reform and the Bill needs to reflect this. Unless the Government accept all these concerns and indeed all the changes suggested in the Opposition amendments, the Bill is likely to fail on the intention to clean up money laundering and tax evasion.