First, I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, a copy of which he kindly sent me earlier. May I also thank him for the measured and careful tone of his public statements since the dreadful events of last Friday in Paris? In the face of such tragic events, and the horror, anxiety and sorrow that have caused the British public to stand up in solidarity with the people of France, it is right that we take an approach of solidarity with them.
The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have talked of the importance of achieving consensus in our response to the attacks and a common objective in trying to defeat ISIL. I agree with him, and the Opposition stand ready to work with him and the Government towards that end. May I also thank him for arranging for the National Security Adviser to brief my Opposition Front-Bench colleagues last weekend? Will he assure me that the Opposition and other parties will continue to be briefed about developments as they emerge?
On behalf of Labour Members, I want to express my condolences to and solidarity with the people of Paris in the wake of the horrific and unjustified attacks on the people who suffered in that city last Friday night.
That solidarity extends to all victims of terrorism and conflict, whether they be in Paris, Beirut, Ankara or Syria itself. Absolutely nothing can justify the deliberate targeting of civilians by anyone, anywhere, ever. These contemptible attacks were an attempt to divide Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and peoples of all faiths and none, as was tried in London some years ago. They will fail.
Secondly, I wish to take a moment to praise the efforts and work of emergency service workers, in Paris and elsewhere, who spring into action in these dreadful and very difficult situations, and help to save life. It is easy to forget the extraordinary heroism of those involved in simply going to work, not knowing what will happen. It is not easy to drive an ambulance not knowing what you are going to find when you arrive at the scene.
In my letter to François Hollande this weekend, I said that we stand united with his country in expressing our unequivocal condemnation of those involved in planning and carrying out these atrocities. The shocking events in Paris were a reminder to all of the ever-present threat of terrorism and indiscriminate violence. In this House, we also have a primary and particular duty to protect the people of this country and keep them safe. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) pledged our support for the Government in their efforts to do that, and that we reiterate again. We welcome the sensible measures to make more funding available for our security services, so that they can gather intelligence and expose and prevent plots, but can the Prime Minister confirm that those will be balanced with the need to protect our civil liberties, which were so hard won in this country and are so stoutly defended by many of us? They are part of what distinguishes us from many other regimes around the world—indeed, regimes from which people are fleeing.
My right hon. Friend said yesterday that in the forthcoming spending review there should be protection of the policing budget and policing services, which clearly will be playing a vital role on the ground in ensuring that our communities are safe. Will the Prime Minister now confirm that he is willing to work with us to prevent cuts to our police force and ensure that they are able to continue with the protective work they have to do? Does he agree with the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Blair, that it would be “a disaster” to axe police community support officers, as they bring in vital intelligence from communities to help prevent attacks? As a Member of Parliament for an inner-city community, I fully understand and appreciate the great work that safer neighbourhood teams and community policing teams do.
As for community cohesion, we in Britain are proud to live in a diverse and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities. There are more than 2 million Muslims living in Britain, and they are as utterly appalled by the violence in Paris as anybody else. We have seen after previous atrocities such as this that there can be a backlash against the Muslim and other communities. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and far-right racism have no place whatsoever in our society or our thinking, and I hope there will be no increase in any of that degree of intolerance as a result of what has happened in Paris.
Will the Prime Minister set out in more detail the steps his Government are taking to work with representative organisations of all our faith communities to ensure that we achieve and strengthen community cohesion during these very difficult times? We must also ensure that those entering our country, whether they be refugees or visitors, are appropriately screened. Will he confirm that the Home Office will provide the border staff necessary to do that?
It is also important in these circumstances to maintain our humanitarian duty towards refugees. The Syrian refugees are fleeing the daily brutality of ISIL and Assad and it is our duty—indeed it is our legal obligation—to protect them under the 1951 Geneva convention. I hope the Prime Minister will confirm that our obligation to maintain support for that convention and the rights of refugees will be undiminished by the events of the past few days.
At a time of such tragedy and outrage, it is vital that we are not drawn into responses that feed a cycle of violence and hatred. President Obama has said that ISIS grew out of our invasion of Iraq, and that it is one of its unintended consequences. Will the Prime Minister consider that as one of the very careful responses that President Obama has made recently on this matter? It is essential that any military response that might be considered has not only consent, but support of the international community and, crucially, legality from the United Nations. I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments at the G20 yesterday when he said:
“I think people want to know there is a whole plan for the future of Syria, for the future of the region. It is perfectly right to say a few extra bombs and missiles won’t transform the situation.”
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee report, which has been so carefully presented to the House and the country. Will he confirm that, before bringing any motion to the House, he will provide answers, as he has indicated that he will, to the seven questions raised by the Select Committee report? Will he also say more about the particular contribution that Britain has made to the Vienna talks on the future of Syria? The talks possibly provide a basis for some cautious optimism that there could indeed be a political future in Syria that involves a ceasefire and the ability of people eventually to be able to return home.
Finally on this matter, will the Prime Minister also say what more can be done to cut off supplies of weapons and external markets to ISIL? Weapons are being supplied to some of the most repressive regimes in the region. What is being done to ensure that they do not end up in even worse hands, including those of ISIL and some of the extremist jihadist groups in Syria? What more can be done to bring to account those Governments, organisations or banks that have funded these extremists, or turned a blind eye to them? We need to know the financial trail by which ISIL gets its funding and indeed sells its oil.
Turning quickly now to other G20 issues, did the Prime Minister have a chance to congratulate the new Canadian Prime Minister? He did not mention it, but I am sure that he has. Is he also aware that the current slowdown in the global economy is causing concern? What discussions has he had with his Chancellor about the dangers of more demand being sucked out of the economy at this time?
In conclusion, the Prime Minister mentioned the climate change talks that will be going on in Paris over the next few weeks. They are very, very important indeed. I welcome the commitment he made in relation to the problems created by epidemics and antibiotic resistance. I ask him also to consider this: the cuts that have been made to renewable energy in this country run directly counter to everything he and his Government have said they want to achieve at the climate change talks. We must combat climate change globally, internationally, and here in Britain.