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Commons Chamber

Volume 396: debated on Monday 9 December 2002

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House Of Commons

Monday 9 December 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Nato Capabilities

1.

What progress has been made to improve defence capabilities among NATO countries. [83956]

NATO's defence capabilities initiative, launched at the Washington summit in 1999, has made good progress in a number of areas. To continue this progress, a new initiative—the Prague capabilities commitment, or PCC—was launched at the Prague summit on 21 and 22 November, focusing on improvements in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence, information superiority, combat-effectiveness, and deployability and sustainability. Allies have made firm political commitments to improve their capabilities in each of those areas.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, particularly the part about the expansion of the capabilities of our NATO allies, but we have heard all of it before. We heard it at the end of the Washington summit. What is the vital difference between the Washington proposals and the Prague proposals, and can my right hon. Friend assure us that the capabilities and capacities of our NATO allies will match our record?

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend receiving so much support.

The Washington defence capabilities initiative was an important step in the transformation of NATO, but I agree that, with hindsight, it could be considered too broad a programme. In the run-up to Prague, therefore, the United Kingdom argued consistently that any successor initiative should have a narrow focus with clear objectives, backed by high-level ownership. The Prague capabilities commitment is a good package that will focus nations on providing the capabilities necessary for the alliance to perform the full range of its missions.

Given that Germany's Social Democratic Government have completely lost control of the economy, what message does the Secretary of State have for his counterpart in that Government about the defence cuts that they have just announced?

I have had some excellent conversations with my German counterpart. No doubt the Ministry of Defence was able to draw on its experience under Conservative control, when defence budgets were cut successively. Given the healthy economic circumstances enjoyed in the United Kingdom, I was able to make it clear to my German counterpart that extra resources were available for defence in the UK, and he looked forward to the day when that would be the case in Germany as well.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the conditions imposed by the economic stability pact may make it more difficult for NATO countries that are also members of the European Union's single currency to increase their defence expenditure and thus improve their defence capability?

I am sure my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer that question at Treasury questions, but I think it would be much more sensible of me to avoid answering it.

After an entertaining start, may I press the Secretary of State on the subject of one capability that all NATO countries need to improve—preparedness for a major terrorist attack at home? There is clear evidence of a threat, and leaked documents from the Government seem to admit that civil defence "effectively no longer exists". What has the Secretary of State achieved in his Department in regard to civil defence since 11 September last year?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that civil defence is primarily the responsibility of the United Kingdom's civil authorities, certainly in respect of protection of its territory and jurisdiction on land. He and other Members will know of the significant changes proposed by the Ministry of Defence in the new chapter—the policy document supplement—to the existing strategic defence review. As for threats from the air and at sea, the Ministry of Defence remains responsible. We have ensured that our defences are commensurate with the nature of the threat that we face, particularly since the appalling events of 11 September.

I presume that the Secretary of State is referring to the document that I have here, "The Role of the Reserves in Home Defence and Security", which was produced nine months after 11 September. Is he aware of the answers that his right hon. Friend the Minister of State has been giving about the civil contingency reaction forces? On 25 November, he stated

"The training plans for the Civil Contingency Reaction Forces are still being developed … We expect that the 14 Civil Contingency Reaction Forces will be fully effective by the end of 2003"—[Official Report, 25 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 3–4W.]
Is the issue being treated with the urgency that it seriously deserves?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that no civil contingency plans existed before the appalling events of 11 September. Clearly there were such plans. What we seek to do is upgrade and improve those preparations, specifically in the light of what took place on that date.

What has been done in the past couple of months to deal with talcum—like sand penetrating into the sophisticated mechanical systems and instrumentation of Challenger 2 tanks?

As I said to the House a couple of weeks ago, a contract has been let for the desertification of the Challenger 2 tank and that work is proceeding at some speed.

On the subject of capabilities, will The Secretary of State confirm that, even after the various financial changes that he has mentioned, the percentage of GDP that this country will spend on defence next year will be significantly lower than it was when the Government took office, despite 11 September?

Thanks to questions asked by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who speaks for the Conservative party on the Front Bench, I examined carefully a number of statistics relating to the amount of expenditure. There were periods during the Conservatives' control of defence when the percentage was higher, but equally there were periods when it was lower.

Bae Systems

2.

What discussions his Department has had with BAE Systems about the maintenance of (a) aerostructure and (b) other manufacturing business in the UK. [83925]

BAE Systems is the Ministry of Defence's single largest supplier. Both the MOD and the Department of Trade and Industry have frequent dialogue with the company concerning existing and future programmes as well as the company's strategic plans.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he understand the concern of my constituents and others who work for BAE Systems in the north-west that its proposed sell-off of the aerostructures division will mean the loss of a pool of some 400 skilled workers, who are potentially key to the defence business in terms of flexibility and extra capacity? Does he recognise that a company that has benefited from some hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money for orders needs to have a clearer focus on what its future core structure of business will be and what its strategy is? Many of us believe that it is becoming rather woolly.

I am well aware of the change in the company's strategy. Its aerostructures business is successful and viable; it has a substantial order book. To divest the aerostructures business was a commercial decision for the company to make, and it has said that there are no current plans to fragment the business. Any discussions with interested parties will consider the business as a whole. I assure my hon. Friend that we will be keeping a very close eye on what is happening.

In the light of the current uncertainties in BAE, the biggest employer in my constituency, can the Minister confirm that, notwithstanding the sad loss of DA6, one of the pre-production prototypes of Eurofighter, the Government remain utterly, totally and completely committed to what is a vital source of manufacturing work, and that they will buy all 232 of those aircraft? What work is he doing to ensure that BAE benefits from further export orders for the Hawk aircraft?

On the latter point, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, we are working hard, as we have done continuously, to try to help the company to secure orders for Hawk abroad. We are also working with it on the development of a new variant of the aircraft, potentially for our own future training requirement. With regard to Typhoon, I repeat the assurances that have been repeatedly given in the House. The order currently stands at the number that the right hon. Gentleman has quoted and will remain so. The crash of the prototype was most unfortunate, but the aircraft remains on course to come into service when we expect it to.

The Minister is rightly spelling out commitments to BAE Systems and to the north-west. Within that, can we ensure that the advanced jet trainer will come on stream and that that contract will be let to BAE Systems? Obviously, the aerostructures business is very important. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that he continues the dialogue to ensure that those jobs remain in the north-west and are not transferred?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are continuing to discuss our future training requirements closely with British Aerospace. The contract will have to be competed for but we hope that the company will carry on doing sterling work for us. Again, we will be keeping a very close eye on what is going on in the business to ensure that our interests in the north-west are not adversely affected.

Can the Minister tell the House whether he has had a discussion with British Aerospace, as a partner in the Airbus consortium, on the effect of the German Government's announcement that they are to reduce their intended order from 73 airframes to 60? Will that significantly increase the price to the Royal Air Force, which Her Majesty's Government have decided should order some 25 airframes?

We are continuing to discuss the implications of the German decision on the contract, but our current expectation is that there will be no major changes in the unit price for us.

My hon. Friend mentioned the new arrangements for the Hawk, which his Department and BAE Systems are discussing. There will be 450 redundancies on the north and south banks of the Humber as a result of dithering in the swapping of information, either by his Department or by BAE Systems management. Can he tell the House when he hopes those discussions will conclude; whether he will maintain the Government's intention to purchase this aircraft, and in the numbers that he said; and what steps he and his Department will take to try to alleviate the Christmas misery of 450 families on Humberside?

I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is for BAE Systems to determine its staffing levels. The job losses that he describes result from its failure to secure a number of orders—not just from the MOD—in what is a highly competitive market. I know that the claim has been made that the MOD is taking too long to reach a decision on the Hawk 128. Choosing an advanced jet training aircraft that will probably remain in service for at least 25 years is not a simple matter. The decision will be made at the earliest practicable moment, but it should not—and will not—be taken lightly. We need to be sure that the aircraft that we choose is the best available platform on which to train the pilots of a highly sophisticated new generation of combat aircraft that has yet to come into service.

Nuclear Security

3.

What steps he has taken since 11 September 2001 to secure from air attack sites at which (a) research into and (b) maintenance of nuclear weapons takes place. [83957]

In the interests of maintaining effective protection, it would be inappropriate to go into too much detail, although I can assure the House that a number of protective measures have been taken. For example, the number of aircraft on immediate stand-by for quick reaction alert—QRA—duties has been doubled from two to four. Also, measures have been taken to enhance our air defence radar detection capability and command-and-control processes, and to provide facilities for QRA aircraft at alternative air stations to increase operational flexibility.

I understand that after 11 September, the French decided to introduce anti-aircraft missiles around at least one of their sites, but have since decided to reverse that policy. Have the British Government considered any such policy, and if so why have they decided against it? Would they reconsider that policy if there were a specific threat to a specific site?

We considered the French's actions and their change of posture at the time, and decided that it was not appropriate for us for a number of reasons, but primarily because once such weapons are deployed, one has to consider when to remove them. We will keep this issue under review at all times, and if a specific threat arose, appropriate action would clearly be taken.

The Minister has rightly emphasised the seriousness of this situation and the potential threat. Can he tell the House how many sites are concerned with research into nuclear matters, and in how many such sites nuclear weapons are in place? Secondly, is the Minister saying that the air defence system has been activated and is sufficient to deal with an immediate air attack on one or other of the many sites, or that it will be up and running within the next three to six months?

I missed the latter part of that question, but I should point out that a number of such sites exist, according to the different types of priority that could be allocated. However, that could change over time. Although a particular number might exist today, if a specific threat were posed to another site—if we received information that it had been designated for terrorist action—it would be added to that number. However, it is not a numbers game; it is question of the quality of our response at all times. We have put in place very good protective measures in terms of the QRA response covering the wider country. Over time, more airfields will be made available—the three other airfields will be modified to be able to take those aircraft so that we can give a quicker response time and aircraft can be moved accordingly.

These are very sensitive and difficult issues to balance because of the nature of the threat. It can be specific but it can also be general, and it can change. Therefore, we must at all times keep all these matters under constant review based on the best intelligence, always remembering that intelligence is never perfect.

Missile Defence

4.

When he last discussed strategic missile defence with his NATO counterparts. [83958]

NATO Defence Ministers last discussed missile defence formally in June 2002. At the recent NATO summit in Prague on 21 November, NATO Heads of Government agreed to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to alliance territory, forces and population centres through an appropriate mix of political and defence efforts.

As I promised the House on 17 October, I have today placed further analytical and discussion material in the Library of the House which I hope will contribute to the debate on the role that active missile defence might play within a comprehensive strategy for tackling the potential threat from ballistic missiles. The paper will also be distributed widely and will be available on the Ministry of Defence website.

Many of my constituents and other people in Yorkshire are concerned about the potential implications of missile defence. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, unlike the Conservatives, who seem willing to embrace missile defence almost without question, the Government will make sure that their discussion document is widely circulated so that they can proceed with a thorough and careful consideration of the arguments for and against in the light of views expressed by members of the public?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations and delighted to give him that assurance on behalf of the Government. As I told the House on 17 October, if there is a United States request for the use for missile defence purposes of Fylingdales or any other United Kingdom facility, we will consider it seriously. The Government would agree to such a request only if the security of the United Kingdom and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced.

I welcome the document that the Secretary of State has produced today and thank him for the advance notice of it. However, I should like to press him on the principles to which he has just alluded. Can he assure the House that the UK will not participate in any missile defence scheme or allow facilities to be used on UK soil unless it enhances the security of the United Kingdom and, moreover, enhances the security of all the alliance, not just specific members of it?

I have said this on a number of occasions, but it bears repetition, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me the opportunity of saying again that the Government would agree to such a request only if the security of the United Kingdom and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced. On the second part of his question, it is important to bear in mind what I said on 17 October. The United States is developing a test bed—the means whereby it can examine the appropriate kind of architecture that might ultimately be required. In those circumstances, it is not possible to give the hon. Gentleman precisely the assurance that he requires because the United States is not yet in a position to do that.

My right hon. Friend will know from his geography lessons that my constituency is a quarter of a mile from RAF Fylingdales. I wrote to him welcoming his statement on 17 October and also invited him to participate at the earliest possible opportunity in a local public debate with people in Whitby and the Esk valley. In the light of the welcome publication of his document today, could he offer that facility to my constituents so that they can understand what is affecting this important issue? In that way, we can ensure that our part of the world, along with our colleagues in NATO, is included in the debate.

I have had the opportunity of visiting both RAF Fylingdales and my hon. Friend's constituency, and I look forward to the opportunity of doing so again.

As missile defence is not a priority according to the MOD's previous White Paper, to the present and previous Chiefs of the Defence Staff and to the national intelligence estimates of the US Congress post-11 September, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that the document that has just been made available is not evidence that Government policy is being dictated less by intelligence and British interests than by the ideological obsessions of the Bush Administration, with Opposition Front-Bench Members seeking to be more servilely subservient?

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that Opposition Front-Bench Members are not influencing the nature of the Government's policy in this area. It is none the less important, on the occasions when my hon. Friend and I have the opportunity to debate these matters, that he consider the current evidence rather than some of the historical evidence.

Future Aircraft Carrier

5.

If he will make a statement on the future aircraft carrier project. [83959]

The future aircraft carrier—carrier vessel future—project is progressing well. The second stage of assessment ended on 20 November. By the end of January 2003, we plan to announce which, of BAE Systems or Thales Naval Ltd., is our preferred contractor for the programme.

Although I of course congratulate the Government on the biggest shipbuilding programme since world war two, this project in particular has the potential for massive effects for decades to come. In selecting the prime contractor, will my hon. Friend tell me how he plans to weigh various factors, such as the effect on future warship exports, on the United Kingdom supply chain and UK subcontractors and on UK design capability and the extent of UK content and jobs?

I suppose the short answer would be "very carefully," but my hon. Friend will want a bit more than that.

Whichever of the contractors is successful, it is clear that throughout its design and manufacture the programme will sustain and create about 10,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. There will be up to 1,000 white-collar engineering design and managerial jobs, about 2,000 to 3,000 blue-collar jobs and a significant number of jobs throughout the supply chain. At the end of the day, the decision will be made on the basis of the track record of the two companies concerned—on how successfully they have performed in the past and are performing during the initial stages of the contract.

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier response, but can he give a firm assurance that the Government will be able to write into the contract of the successful contender the insistence that all the yards currently in the bids will be given parts of the work for the two carriers? Can he also assure the House that the three aircraft currently designated to fly off the ships will be in service when the ships are in the water?

We are actually quite a long way from the ships being in the water and I am always a wee bit sceptical when Ministers stand up and make confident predictions, but it would appear from the success on both projects to date that the planes will be ready when the ships are operational.

With regard to the yards bidding, it is difficult at present to say with certainty that everybody will get a share of the work. Obviously a certain amount of competition will be involved in deciding which part goes where. Furthermore, it does not take a genius to work out that if there are only three major sections and four yards are bidding, somebody will lose out at the end of the day. I can say, however, that I believe that all yards in this country that are capable of building those large modules will have a very good chance of securing work on the carriers.

Although it is MOD policy that the design and build of all Royal Navy warships will be carried out in the UK, can my hon. Friend reassure the House by guaranteeing that the through-life support, which will last for 50 years, will also be carried out in the UK?

Typhoon

6.

As was made clear in the written statement last week, we do not now expect Typhoon to enter service until the end of June next year. This schedule takes account of the disruption to test flying following the unfortunate loss of a development aircraft in Spain last month, but, until the causes and implications of the crash are fully understood, we cannot rule out further delay. I can assure the House that we will do everything possible to prevent any delay to the aircraft's operational employment date scheduled for the second half of the decade.

I hear what the Minister has to say, but whereas the Eurofighter project will be delivered some four and a half years late, I read at the weekend that the German and Italian air forces are taking delivery of their planes in the next few weeks. Why is that the case? Is it another example of how the Government are undermining British forces' equipment?

The best advice that I could give the hon. Gentleman is that he should not believe everything that he reads in The Sunday Telegraph, because the article in question was wholly inaccurate. The position was made clear in last Thursday's written ministerial statement. None of the four nations involved in the Typhoon programme can take delivery of the aircraft before the type acceptance and associated commercial process is complete. All four nations are unanimous in the view that the aircraft must meet the agreed specification before acceptance of the weapon system can take place. So the hon. Gentleman should not believe what appears in the press the day before Defence questions because it is usually spin from someone and, in this case, it was wholly wrong.

What is the Government's policy towards the sale of such aircraft to countries in the middle east? Does the aerospace industry need bribery, corruption and excessive secrecy to sell such aircraft? What about the reports of the £7 million slush fund—

The fact is that the Government announced only in February this year that this aircraft would enter service in June this year, yet we are now told, "For June 2002, read June 2003." It looks as though the Government are losing their grip on this programme. Although we understand that there are some technical difficulties with the aircraft, I suspect that the Minister has not been entirely correct in what he has just told the House about the crash influencing the programme, because his written statement on Thursday said:

"we have concluded with our international partners and with industry that the evidence required to permit contractual acceptance of the aircraft by the four partner nations will not be complete before the end of March 2003 … aircraft should then be ready for hand-over to Royal Air Force by the end of June 2003."
He went on to say:
"Further delay"—
that is to say beyond 2003—
"cannot be ruled out until the causes and implications of the crash are fully understood."—[Official Report, 5 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 84WS.]
Does the Minister not owe it to the House to tell us whether June 2003 is now a realistic prospect? Bearing in mind that 5 Squadron, with its Tornados, is about to be disbanded, we will not be prepared for the possible attacks on this country, about which the Government know only too well.

Of course the hon. Gentleman indicated in his question his knowledge that technical matters are associated with the delay. They may well be minor, but, cumulatively, they still have to be resolved. We have a duty of care to those who will fly the aircraft and all four partner nations have to operate under the same strictures to ensure that what we have is fit for purpose. The unfortunate accident involving the loss of the development aircraft now has to be studied. With that in mind, based on the other reasons for slippage in some of the technical and design issues that have had to be resolved, we have said that by March the company has to give us indications, which then have to be verified, and we are working to June next year. That commitment is as firm as it can be given the complex nature of the platform.

Afghanistan

7.

If he will make a statement on military support for the Government of Afghanistan. [83962]

The international security assistance force, mandated by the United Nations, provides support to the transitional Administration of President Karzai in Kabul and the immediate surroundings. The United Kingdom was the initial lead ISAF nation, and continues to be a major troop contributor. The Germans and Dutch have offered to assume the joint role of lead nation after Turkey's successful time in command. The United Kingdom anticipates remaining a significant contributor to ISAF, at about the current levels, through the current mandate.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. During the intervention in Afghanistan, which I strongly supported, the Prime Minister stressed that we would not let Afghanistan down later. I am concerned to read reports that the writ of the Government in Afghanistan still does not reach much further than the area around Kabul, and that Mr. Karzai is forced to negotiate with warlords on quite small matters. Does the Minister feel that we are doing enough to reinforce the Government of Afghanistan in asserting their rule over the country?

The UK has pledged some £200 million over the next five years to help rebuild a country that has been divided by conflict for a generation. We are only one of the contributor nations to that process. Clearly, in terms of expanding our areas of activity outside Kabul, those matters must be considered with other coalition partners to see what can reasonably be done and to give best effect. We are not unmindful of the issues that have been raised. As with everything relating to the initial deployment in that country, however, we must build that coalition of the willing. A change to any posture must be carefully balanced, and we must make sure that anything that is done has proper and full effect.

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier answer. There are 300 or so staff officers and specialists tied up in Afghanistan at the moment. May I congratulate the Minister on the deployment of 40 or so territorials? What further plans does he have to increase the territorial commitment to Afghanistan, thus easing our overstretched regulars, and, to paraphrase Sir Michael Boyce, helping not to get our hands stuck in the mangle any further?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking for more activity in Afghanistan or less. I am not clear where he is coming from. I think that I said earlier that we have a firm commitment to help rebuild that country. Every rebuilding exercise, as I also explained, must be done in partnership with other nations to be fully effective. Our approach to those issues must be built over time with the right depth and breadth.

On the question of the Territorial Army, I do not accept that its deployment is for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave. It is appropriate to use the TA in circumstances in which that can be done. That is a useful development, and I know that the TA will seize the opportunity and perform magnificently in that area and in that theatre, as it would anywhere else.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the numerous appeals from the President of the transitional Administration and key Ministers in Afghanistan for an expansion of ISAF. Certainly, when I went to Afghanistan recently on an International Development Committee visit, numerous representations were made to members of the Committee on this issue, particularly in relation to an expansion to key cities outside Kabul. It was suggested to us that if defence remains purely in the Kabul area, there was a danger that the President would be seen merely as the mayor of Kabul, which was the description given. That would not be helpful in terms of support for the new Administration in Afghanistan. Will the Minister assure the House that that will be given careful consideration?

I can give that assurance, and I think that my earlier answer indicated that we are considering a number of ways of doing that. Ultimately, it is for the Government of Afghanistan to begin to address their territorial issues. We can assist, but we cannot be the army of that nation for ever. That must come from the people of that country. We help in the training of the army there, too, so that it can take on an increasing role in relation to an ongoing problem that my hon. Friend was right to highlight.

Iraq

8.

What requests he has received from the United States Government for the use of British military facilities in respect of preparations for military action in Iraq. [83963]

As I told the House on 25 November, the United States approached a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, seeking support in the event that military action against Iraq proves necessary. Although no decision has been taken to commit UK forces to military action, we have responded to this approach and discussions with the US will continue so that an appropriate British contribution can be identified should it prove necessary. As the House would expect, we will continue to prepare our forces so that they will be able to participate in military action should that be required.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still an amount of uncertainty about both the objectives and the consequences of a war in Iraq? Is it solely about weapons of mass destruction? Is it about human rights? Is it about democracy in the middle east? Is it about regime change? Is it part of the war against terror and, if so, is it likely to increase or decrease the terrorist threat?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend about uncertainty. The Government have made it absolutely clear over a long period that we want to ensure that the will of the United Nations is enforced and that UN Security Council resolution 1441 is implemented. That is the Government's position, and it is a very clear one.

The Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged that, if there is military action against Iraq, British military facilities will be made available to our American allies. However, we have also heard in answer to questions by my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that the civil contingencies reaction force will not be available until the end of 2003 to deal with a terrorist attack on this country, that the Typhoon aircraft will not be available until well into 2003 to deal with, among other things, a terrorist attack on this country and that there appear to be no anti-missile defences around nuclear power stations to deal with a terrorist attack on this country. Will appropriate measures be taken at least to protect British military facilities, which may soon be in a state of war, against a terrorist attack against this country?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench. I cannot help but observe that the Opposition Front-Bench team requires more by way of numbers than the Government team. The Opposition obviously required reinforcements from the rear.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the capabilities of the United Kingdom's armed forces will be prepared and available to deal with any military contingency however it should arise. It is not appropriate for me to go into the precise detail of confidential exchanges between Governments, but l assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that appropriate protective measures will be in place should military action be decided on.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that there is in this country enormous public opposition to the preparations for war against Iraq and to the use of British bases for it? The feeling is that a war against Iraq will result in a large number of civilian and military casualties in Iraq and in military casualties on all sides. It will do nothing to bring long-term peace to the region and do nothing to solve the Palestinian crisis but will ultimately work in the interests of American global and military power and American commercial power in the region. Does my right hon. Friend not think that it is time to stop and think a bit more about this?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are very cautious and careful in their approach to these issues and that, notwithstanding what he says, my experience is that, after having travelled around the United Kingdom and participating in a number of meetings where the issue has arisen, there is absolute unanimity that it is necessary that the will of the United Nations should be enforced. That is the clarity of the Government's position as set out in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), and it continues to be the position. It is crucial that Saddam Hussein should be left in no doubt that the international community is absolutely determined that he should comply with UN Security Council resolution 1441. I have not heard anyone argue against that position.

Are there any circumstances in which further American military action would not be accompanied by British forces?

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to give such an open-ended commitment. I can say that the United States is the closest ally of the United Kingdom, and we work extremely closely with it on the planning and preparation of all military operations.

Do we have any special forces operating in Iraq at the moment? Is it true that some minesweepers are on their way to the Gulf? If so, for what purpose?

My hon. Friend is an experienced Member of the House and will know that no member of the Government ever comments on the deployment of special forces. I assure her that no military decisions whatsoever have been taken on military action against Iraq. That situation will be reported to the House should it change.

Missile Defence

9.

Which (a) current and (b) planned British military facilities and equipment could contribute to missile defence. [83964]

The United States Administration have yet to make specific decisions about the precise future architecture of a United States missile defence system. However, as I told the House on 17 October, the US missile defence programme is gathering momentum, and there are plans to develop and evaluate options for a basic missile defence system. In that context, the United States has indicated that one of the options it is considering would involve an upgrade of the early warning radar at Fylingdales. We will consider any such request seriously and will agree to it only if we are satisfied that the overall security of the United Kingdom and the alliance will ultimately be enhanced.

Why are we being so timid? There is no doubt that the US will make such a request. The Government seem more concerned about opinion on their Back Benches than with doing the right thing for Britain.

Over many years I have found it fairly sensible to answer questions only once they have been asked.

Service Leavers

10.

What steps his Department is taking to support personnel when they leave the armed forces. [83965]

The key elements of support for service personnel when they leave the armed forces are provided under the career transition partnership, which provides resettlement support for service leavers through nine regional resettlement centres within the United Kingdom, one in Germany, plus an office in Kathmandu specifically for the Gurkhas, and a resettlement training centre at Aldershot. It includes the job finding services of the regular forces employment association and the officers association as sub-contractors.

Although it is some time since my father left the Royal Navy after 25 years service, I know that many people who leave the armed forces find it difficult to obtain housing. Indeed, there are press reports about some of them becoming rough sleepers. What assurances can my hon. Friend give that the projects he mentions take into account social issues as well as issues of employment?

I am well aware of the sterling service that my hon. Friend's father gave to the armed forces when he served in the Royal Navy. On rough sleepers, she may be aware that we have taken a great deal of interest in, and spent a great deal of time, effort and money on that problem over the past couple of years. We have certainly had a major effect. We have developed living spaces and work closely with other Departments. Indeed, I was up in Richmond the week before last, opening a new facility that involves, I think. 13 bed spaces for people leaving our armed forces.

We must remember that 25,000 people a year pass out of the armed forces. The vast majority go into full-time employment and have no problems resettling into the community, as we would expect from such excellent individuals. It is imperative to ensure that the transition is properly managed so that all those who leave have the same advantages.

Pension provision is obviously a major factor in retirement for personnel from the armed forces. Is the Minister aware that part-time members of the Royal Irish Regiment have no pension provision despite the fact that they are on constant active service as members of the home service battalions of that regiment? What plans does the Ministry of Defence have to make pension provision for them?

This, of course, also applies to the Territorial Army. A review of pensions policy is being carried out, which we expect to report in the near future. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a close eye on these matters. However, it is not that easy to make provision for part-timers.

While most service personnel benefit enormously in terms of fitness and confidence from their time in the armed forces, a significant number need extra and significant support. Is the Minister aware that the record in the UK does not compare favourably with the record in the United States, where it is said that if it puts its boys and girls in harm's way, it will do anything to ensure that they are safeguarded after their service? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is not good enough to leave the matter to charities? We would like to see a much more determined initiative from the Government.

The situation in the United Kingdom, with the national health service, is very different from that which pertains in the United States of America. I would refute any suggestion that the care given to people in this country is in any way inferior to that given in any other country.

Having said that, we are always concerned to ensure that the services given to those leaving the armed forces are improved. I am working closely with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that that happens and that people get the treatment to which they are entitled.

Arctic Convoy Medal

11.

What his policy is on the award of a medal to those who served on Arctic convoys during the second world war. [83966]

Service on the Arctic convoys during the second world war is covered by the Atlantic Star, which specifically included in its eligibility criteria service in Arctic waters.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there is a precedent for an award of a medal after such a long delay. The sailors of Nelson's navy had to wait up to 56 years for a decision over their medals. If the bureaucrats, after decades, could finally do their duty by the heroes of Trafalgar, why cannot the bureaucrats of today, after a similar delay, do their duty by the heroes of the Barents sea and the Arctic convoys.

No one disputes the heroism of those who took part in the Arctic convoys. At the end of the second world war, the qualifying criteria for the range of medals instituted to recognise second world war service were drawn up by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, which is known usually as the HD Committee, which advises the sovereign on all matters relating to honours and awards. The Committee took great care with the qualifying criteria of all the campaign medals and stars before submitting them to the King for his approval. The King approved the proposals and ruled that no further medals should be instituted for second world war service. That ruling remains in force today and there are currently no plans to institute any new medals or to amend the qualifying criteria of any existing medals.

I thank the Minister for his and his officials' assistance, which he will recall arose because one of my constituents had not previously been awarded a decoration because of ill health failing a claim being made earlier. The Minister was very helpful and an award has now been made. I agree entirely with what he has said about the heroism of those who served on the Arctic convoys and the appreciation given to those who, like the constituent to whom I have referred, served in supporting the forces in Russia by the work that they did on the Arctic convoys, which has been very much recognised by Russian authorities in recent years.

Yes. I underscore again that the fact that there is not an individual medal for service on the Arctic convoys does not in any way lower the respect that we feel for those who served or gave their lives in the course of that action during the second world war.

Reservists

12.

14.

How many reservists are deployed on operations. [83969]

As at 1 November 2002, 605 reservists were called out and deployed on operations.

As the Army and the Navy now train and mobilise their reservists at the centre and the Royal Air Force does not, will the Minister tell us when he will bring the RAF in with the other two services to co-ordinate their efforts fully and stop wasting taxpayers' money?

I do not have a specific date for that. However, I am not so sure that there is a waste of money. There is an individual service approach, and over time harmonisation on a tri-service basis is constantly developed. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. I am sorry, but I do not have a precise date.

Many of the reservists who have been compulsorily mobilised recently are highly paid civilian specialists whose skills are much needed by the armed forces. Does the Minister accept that if he wants the help of such people he must compensate them properly? If so, will he tell the House why to date he has been reluctant to pay realistic sums from the reserve hardship award?

Will the Minister tell the House how many reservists are employed as doctors and nurses in the national health service, and what the effect on NHS personnel would be if we went to war with Iraq?

I understand that about 420 doctors and 2,000 nurses are employed, but those are approximate figures. I shall get precise figures and write to the hon. Lady accordingly.

Territorial Army

15.

What changes there have been in the strength of the Territorial Army in the last six months. [83970]

I think that we have missed out question 13, Mr. Speaker.

My apologies, Mr. Speaker—some people can be too smart.

As at 1 November 2002, the strength of the Territorial Army stood at 39,370, and on 1 May 2002 it was 39,125.

Can the Minister tell the House what specific steps the Government are taking to recruit ex-regular personnel to the TA?

I cannot think of any specific steps, but a great many ex-regulars go into the TA and, by and large, provided that they were honourably discharged, are welcome because of the experience that they bring with them. However, I am happy to look at that, to see if more encouragement can be given. As part of the developing work under the new chapter, we are looking at increasing the number of people in the Territorial Army in particular—it would be useful to encourage as many people as possible to join.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As far as I am aware, question 13, which I tabled, was not unstarred. Can you provide clarification?

The hon. Gentleman may not have heard my statement on 19 November. When an hon. Member volunteers a question—I did not ask the hon. Gentleman to do anything, but his name was called—I automatically unstar his question on the Order Paper. The trick is therefore not to rise for an earlier question.

Defence Fire Service

16.

If he will make a statement on the defence fire service. [83971]

17.

Whether the Government intend to continue with the privatisation of the defence fire service. [83972]

The defence fire service continues to provide excellent support for the activities of the Ministry of Defence. Its responsibilities include the protection of defence assets, support for military operational capability, expert advice on fire-risk management and the provision of personnel for operations and exercises worldwide. Also at present it is providing vital support to those members of the armed forces engaged as emergency cover during the firefighters' dispute.

"Fire Study 2000", a major review of the defence fire service, has recently been completed and is expected to propose a number of initiatives for modernising the defence fire service. The result of "Fire Study 2000" will be used to inform the public sector comparator for the airfield support services project, which is a separate but complementary work stream that is seeking the most cost-effective and viable solution for the provision of airfield support services.

Given that Mr. Ed Balls, no less, has said that there is a limit to the application of market principles to the delivery of public services, and given that the defence fire service trade unions have agreed a radical modernisation package that will reduce in-house costs by 20 per cent., does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the Government to abandon any privatisation proposals, which the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has said cross the line of acceptable private sector involvement in public service delivery?

I am not going to respond to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), but I shall reply to my hon. Friend, who has been raising this issue for a number of months. Indeed, he secured an Adjournment debate on the matter in November last year, when the precise way in which the proposals are developing was set out. He is right that "Fire Study 2000" is an important in-depth analysis of the way in which we can make best use of existing resources, and I hope that he accepts that the Government should always look at best value in the delivery of the service overall. It would be wrong for any Minister, given the opportunities that may exist, to minimise the best value approach. As I told my hon. Friend during his Adjournment debate, we have to treat every penny as if it were a pound.

A few weeks ago a very senior RAF officer told me and a number of other Members of Parliament that he thought that there was a good chance that the airfield support services project might fail, although there could be an ASSP minus a privatised defence fire service. Does the Minister believe that the officer is misinformed or that the House is under-informed?

I do not know who the officer was, but after Question Time, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt write and tell me precisely who he was. I will then reflect on the status of that advice and whence the officer was drawing his information and advice. I have given a detailed explanation of the fact that we continue to look for value for money, and it would be appropriate to examine the range of services provided across airfield services to see whether better use can be made of the taxpayers' money. That is the function of Government, but the hon. Gentleman is extremely unlikely ever to experience it.

Speaker's Statement

3.31 pm

Before I call the Secretary of State to make his statement, I want to make a brief statement myself.

In the report that the House approved on 29 October, the Modernisation Committee recommended that the full text of a ministerial statement should be made available to Members in the Chamber as soon as the Minister sits down, or at the same time as the statement is given to the Press Gallery, whichever is the earlier. This is the first occasion on which that recommendation is to be implemented. I would ask Members to co-operate with the Doorkeepers in distributing copies of the Minister's statement around the Chamber. May I make it clear that I am treating this as an experiment? If it seems to me that the disturbance that results from the new arrangement outweighs the benefit, I will review the matter.

Education And Skills (Spending Plans)

3.32 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the Government's education and skills plans for the coming three-year period.

In July, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the outcome of the 2002 spending review. He stated that education spending will increase by an average of 6 per cent. a year in real terms over the three years beginning in April 2003. Following that announcement, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), published our agenda for change, which was called "Investment for Reform". This set out how we would match those extra resources with sustained reform to achieve our objectives of a world-class education and training system that meets the needs of individuals and the economy. I now want to tell the House more about these investment and reform plans.

With the exception of higher education, which will be the subject of an announcement next January, I am today announcing the details of our three-year settlement for the whole education and skills sector. I begin with the early years. The Government remain of the view that a strong early start is vital to continued educational success, so, as the Chancellor announced in July, we will be continuing our substantial investment in the early years, including our sure start programme, and funding a further expansion of 250,000 child care places.

Working together with my colleagues in other Government Departments, particularly in the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, we will continue to expand our sure start programme and to mainstream the approaches in those areas that we believe have been successful. As the Chancellor announced in July, expenditure on early years and child care will rise from about £1 billion this year to some £1.5 billion in 2005–06. Next year £300 million will be transferred to enable local authorities to provide universal nursery provision for three-year-olds.

I turn now to schools, which will form the subject of most of my statement today. The reforms that I am announcing will provide a simpler, fairer system. Alongside this, we are seeking a continued drive to raise standards in every school in the country. Last week my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions announced the outcome of the review of local authority funding. As he announced, the national average increase in overall funding for schools and local education authorities is 6.5 per cent. Moreover, every local authority will next year receive an increase in funding per pupil of at least 3.2 per cent. The new system provides every local authority with a basic entitlement per pupil, plus more money for authorities with significant deprivation or recruitment and retention difficulties. Our three-year funding announcement means that we are giving local authorities certainty about their budgets in future years, so they can give schools indicative three-year budgets—and we expect them to do so. That will enable head teachers and governing bodies to plan and implement longer-term reforms.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions announced last Thursday, the Government are committed to allowing local authorities more freedom over the use of resources. Ring-fenced grants will form a reducing proportion of local spending, so on top of the £4.3 billion increase by 2005–06 in local authority general education spending, which we have already announced, substantial funds will be moved from central DFES spending to local authority spending. That will be an extra £500 million in 2003–04 and a further £800 million in 2005–06. That means that, by 2005–06, more than 92 per cent. of all schools funding will be allocated through local authorities in accordance with local priorities. That compares with 87 per cent. in the current year of 2002–03.

Thus we will end the ring-fenced grants from my Department for the following programmes in 2003–04: nursery education for three-year-olds, funding for infant class sizes, the school improvement grant, school inclusion-pupil support, performance management and induction for newly qualified teachers. In 2004–05, in addition to the above, we will do the same with grants for special educational needs, study support, golden hello payments, advanced skills teachers, school support staff, drugs education and teacher sabbaticals. We will also focus grants for the national literacy and numeracy strategies and the key stage 3 national strategy. The substantial increases in local authority funding that I have set out will enable authorities to take over the delivery of those important programmes in ways that meet local needs. Of course, we will closely monitor the effects of those changes.

From 2005–06, we will also reform the system for rewarding those good, experienced teachers who pass the performance threshold. The money for teachers who pass the threshold will be devolved to the schools budget in that year. In the new year, we shall announce further measures to strengthen performance management in schools and cut associated bureaucracy. We shall also discuss with all stakeholders measures to ensure that the allocation of money meets the cost of the threshold payments made by schools.

We will however continue with ring-fenced funding to provide national drive in some key areas. Three key grants will contribute to that aim. First, the leadership incentive grant will be £175 million a year for each of the next three years. We will provide £125,000 to each of 1,400 secondary schools in the inner cities and in challenging circumstances beyond. That money is being provided because it is clear that a good head teacher and leadership team are the key to raising expectations and achievement in schools. The grant is intended to support them.

That money will be used in a variety of ways, including strengthening poorly performing departments, helping strong departments to help other schools and buying in specialist advice on leadership or working together with other schools to provide leadership training. In the weakest schools in particular, the money can be used to change the school's leadership. One purpose of the money is to encourage local schools to behave in a more collaborative fashion. It will be for local schools to decide how best to use it to strengthen their leadership teams, but I will reserve powers to ensure that the weakest schools make effective use of it.

Secondly, the school standards grant, at £800 million in 2003–04 rising to £875 million by 2005–06, to be paid directly to schools, is intended to drive forward reform of the school work force. It will allow more and better trained teaching assistants to be employed to help the school team to work together more effectively. As we made clear in July, our substantial extra investment in the school standards grant must be matched by a commitment from unions and employers to a restructured teaching profession and a reformed school work force that is more flexible, diverse and focused on raising standards. We are making good progress towards agreement, but the extra resources will not be released until a satisfactory agreement is reached.

Thirdly, the standards fund—about £1.5 billion in each of the next three years—will enable schools to galvanise reform on standards, behaviour and choice. In 2003–04, that will allow us to support, for example, the following programmes: the key stage 3 strategy at £120 million, ethic minority achievement at £80 million, music services at £60 million, excellence in cities and excellence clusters at £290 million, and school support staff and training at £170 million.

As I announced a couple of weeks ago, we will provide sufficient funding for every school that fulfils the required standard to become a specialist school. The money will also provide support for primary literacy and numeracy. We are determined to build on the outstanding improvements that our primary schools have made since 1998. The national literacy and numeracy strategies have transformed standards but much remains to be done to achieve the ambitious targets that we set. We shall therefore continue to provide funding and support that is focused on schools which are under-performing by comparison with similar schools.

Schools will have the freedom to spend their standards fund budget on any purpose, provided that they deliver the improvements in standards, behaviour and choice that we seek. We have already given the details to local authorities and we want significant improvements in outcomes.

I am publishing today details of the capital funding that schools will receive to improve and modernise buildings. A typical secondary school will get £75,000 of devolved capital funding next year, increasing to £82,000 by 2005–06. That is part of a total investment in school buildings which, including private finance initiative credits, will increase from £3 billion in the current year to £3.8 billion in 2003–04, to £4.5 billion the following year, and to more than £5 billion by 2005–06. Although that represents a sevenfold increase in capital spending since 1996–97, too many school buildings have suffered decades of underinvestment. The extra amounts that I am announcing today include substantial extra resources to provide clean, modern and secure places for children to learn.

I have announced a real-terms increase in overall funding for schools of more than 7 per cent. from 2002–03 to 2003–04. That will be followed by annual real-terms increases of more than 4 per cent. and subsequently 5 per cent. That is a total of more than 17 per cent. in real terms over the three years of the spending review. It means an average real-terms increase in revenue funding per pupil of more than £1,000, from approximately £2,840 to £3,850 in the 10 years between 1996–97 and 2005–06.

I conclude with further education and skills. Its importance cannot be overstated. Developing our people's skills is critical to improving our productivity and hence to the country's economic and social future. We must transform the performance of the learning and skills sector and make it far more responsive to the needs of learners, employers and communities. We need to improve the quality of the sector and increase the achievement of those who study and learn in it.

The document that I published last month, "Success for All", sets out our work on the further education reform strategy and our challenge to the further education sector. We shall work closely with the Department of Trade and Industry to co-ordinate our Departments' work more effectively. We are investing to match our ambition. I have already announced, at the Association of Colleges conference on 19 November, £1.2 billion for reforms to further education. That forms part of the Learning and Skills Council's budget, which I announced last week. It will rise by £1.4 billion, reaching a total of £9.2 billion by 2005–06. That means an increase in total spending on skills from £8.6 billion in 2003–04 to more than £10 billion in 2005–06—a real-terms increase of almost 12 per cent. over the spending review period.

As the Chancellor made clear in his pre-Budget statement a fortnight ago, we face economic uncertainty and it is therefore more important than ever to continue to invest and reform to increase the skills of our people and improve our productivity as a nation. The substantial investment in education and skills funding that I announced today is a necessary but not sufficient condition for raising standards in our schools and colleges, thereby tackling the attainment gap and creating a world-class education and training system at all stages. That will be achieved only if, as well as investing, we reform our schools and colleges so that they genuinely fulfil every child's aspirations. That is the ultimate test of our success at the end of the spending review period. I am confident that, with the help of the millions of people throughout the country who are committed to our educational success, we will pass the test.

I am, as ever, grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. He knows that most of it was a series of re-announcements, including welcome news on early years and further education. I shall concentrate on the small amount of new material that he produced. It is clear that he wants to appear in a seasonally appropriate role as an early Father Christmas for schools. Sadly, the wrapping is more enticing than the contents of the package. Behind the rhetoric, the right hon. Gentleman is making artificially inflated claims for all areas of this country, and, in some areas, schools and pupils will rightly feel betrayed by the way in which he is fixing the distribution.

It is perhaps appropriate that the Secretary of State is making this statement on the day on which the Department has been forced to admit that it is missing more than half the targets that it has set itself on school standards. Even when the Government are in control of the figures, they fail to meet them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will understand, therefore, why today's announcement will be greeted with an appropriate degree of scepticism.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about some of the issues that affect every part of the country. The first concerns the extra costs that his Government have imposed on schools, but which did not feature in his statement. Will he confirm that, next April, schools will have to find another £79 million simply to meet the employers' element of the national insurance increase that the Chancellor announced in his last Budget? Will the Secretary of State also give the House some idea of the scale of the extra money that will be needed to make up the value of pension funds for teachers and other local education authority staff—pension funds whose value the Chancellor has done so much to erode?

Will the Secretary of State also confirm that there is an element of double counting in the increases that he is claiming? Specifically, has money been taken out of the standards fund—where it was already available for schools—transferred to the LEA budget line, and then claimed as an increase in the money available to schools through the LEA? Schools may well feel that this is an act not of generosity but of accountancy. While the Secretary of State is contemplating the standards fund, will he also confirm that, after the Government's most strenuous efforts at deregulation and cutting red tape, the number of funding streams within the standards fund has been cut from 71 all the way to 65? Today, he says:
"Schools will have the freedom to spend their Standards Fund budget on any purpose—providing they deliver the improvements in standards, behaviour, choice we need … we are looking for significant improvements in outcomes."
It takes some cheek for the Department to talk about improvement in outcomes on the day when it has admitted that it is missing most of its own targets. Will The Secretary of State explain what will happen to schools that miss their targets? Nothing happens to Ministers who miss theirs. Will he claw back the standards fund money from such schools?

Why has the Secretary of State not responded more to the real desire both in schools and LEAs for more local control of spending? He made much of this in his statement, but, frankly, he protested too much. Does he agree that, in 1997, the central ring-fenced grants were just 4.5 per cent. of the schools budget? His predecessors increased that figure to 13 per cent., and he has done nothing like enough to bring it down. Centralised control is blighting our schools, and when he preaches about reform, he should start close to home, in his own Department. While he is doing so, perhaps he could answer a question that his colleague the Minister for Local Government and the Regions failed to answer on Thursday. Why has £250 million disappeared from the schools budget between the Chancellor's spending review and this statement?

On reforming the system of performance-related pay, the Secretary of State said that, from 2005–06, the money for teachers who pass the threshold would be devolved to the schools budget. Will he give schools an assurance that that money will be available to them between now and 2005–06, particularly for the upper pay spine, which is causing severe problems in many schools?

Every school in the country has reason to feel that the Secretary of State is trying to sell them a false prospectus, but some schools and pupils will find that they have been singled out for unfair treatment at the hands of the Government. Last Thursday, it became clear that the Government were declaring war on the shire counties, and those areas come out of today's statement particularly badly. There are a number of examples of this, but I will stick to one that is close to home for me: the treatment of Kent. On the Government's own figures, the increase per pupil is 3.2 per cent., but the effects of the teacher's pay settlement, the pensions problem, and the national insurance increase mean that schools will be facing a cost increase of 7 per cent. just to stand still. So pupils in Kent, including poor pupils, deprived pupils, and pupils from ethnic minorities, will lose out. So much for New Labour's ridiculous claim to be have become a one-nation party.

What we see today is a classic new Labour con trick—shouting about what they are giving with one hand, while staying silent about what they are taking away with the other. It is a con trick the Government have tried many times, but they will find that the House and the British people have seen it all too often before. The Government will be judged by what happens in our schools, and after five years, it is a test that they continue to fail.

Talking of con tricks, the hon. Gentleman is trying to con the country with his suggestions about my announcement today of a real-terms increase in schools spending of more than 17 per cent.—7 per cent. next year, then 4 per cent., then 5 per cent. It is extraordinary that he should do so given that we all know that he is not prepared to commit himself to a single penny of those increases—indeed, interviews given by his party leader and others in this period imply further reductions in education spending rather than the increases that we have announced.

As for the shire counties, I, too, represent a shire county seat—Norwich, in the shire county of Norfolk. The response of Norfolk's Conservative leaders to the settlement was to say that it was a good deal better than they had expected after the propaganda put out earlier by Conservative Front Benchers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman notes and appreciates, as I do as a representative of Norwich, the various aspects of our agreement that encourage local authorities to focus resources on real educational need in their area.

The hon. Gentleman raised some specific points. Yes, the pensions amount is fully covered in the way that I indicated. As for the amounts from the standards fund, we are reducing the number of elements in that fund. I set out reductions in that area continuing during 2003–04, 2004–05 and 2005–06. That is being done because we accept the argument from head teachers that we need a less complicated system of school funding and the removal of some of the separate streams. We are carrying that through, but I make no apology for the process that we have followed, which is to put in money to galvanise the system—for example, the primary literacy and numeracy strategy has made a significant material difference to education standards compared with the position that we inherited. That is also true of the question of greater local control—I stated the figures on that and will not repeat them; and on performance-related pay, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he sought.

In short, I think that this is a profound and solid statement, which shows the continuing commitment, not only of the Government over the next three-year spending review period, but of every school in the country. Schools will have a three-year programme that they can develop to raise standards. Never before have they had a three-year commitment in advance. That is a tremendous achievement and I am proud of it, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman can only sneer, rather than join in trying to raise standards in our schools.

We will not begin our response to the statement in so churlish a fashion. We welcome any additional spending on our schools, and it is rather sad that the Conservative spokesman cannot simply welcome those additional resources.

We welcome the capital resources, but how much—what percentage—of the grant announced today is PFI capital? We welcome, too, the 250,000 child care places, but will the Secretary of State confirm that they will be quality places and not summer play schemes, as was the case previously? We welcome the £1.2 billion increase in the FE budget, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that money will not meet the 14-to-16 element of the new 14-to-19 proposals, but will be entirely for use within the traditional FE sector?

We welcome the three-year budget certainty, but that certainty rings rather hollow in the absence of advance knowledge of results from the School Teachers Review Body or the manual pay round. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the results of those pay rounds are announced before the traditional December settlement, not afterwards? We welcome the move away from ring-fenced grants to core budgets. We regard that as an admission that previous Secretaries of State have got it badly wrong by trying to dictate from the centre how everything is spent.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, when the fog has lifted from today's statement, we will see a £400 million deficit on the figures announced in the comprehensive spending review in July, rising to £530 million next year? How much will be cut from the CSR amount in 2005–06?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that 9 per cent. of the 7 per cent. increase for schools will be met from council tax—[HON. MEMBERS: "Churlish!"]—and that council tax payers will therefore finance a significant part of the settlement? Will he confirm that schools will have to meet the costs of the £600 million transfer of pensions liability from the Treasury? Will he confirm that local authorities will have to meet the entire cost of special educational needs statements for 2004–05—[HON. MEMBERS: "Churlish!"]—and that the quantifiable resources agreed in the new code of practice simply mean the transfer of the budget to those authorities?

Where does the statement mention resources to meet the 100 per cent. pledge on specialist schools, which we welcome and the Secretary of State has guaranteed? Will he agree to drop the £50,000 entry fee for the specialist programme?

Finally, will the Secretary of State tell us why he has refused to accept the activity-led formula, which was agreed by all bodies from Ofsted to the teacher organisations, rather than returning to the historical base for the allocation of resources to primary and secondary schools?

Notwithstanding those few deficiencies, we welcome the statement. [Laughter.]

It may seem uncharacteristic, but I welcome the welcome given by the hon. Gentleman. I do not think he was churlish; I think he asked fair questions, and in that general spirit I will do my best to answer them.

I cannot give details of the PFI proportion, but the overwhelming majority of schools' capital will continue to come directly from the usual sources. I will write to the hon. Gentleman giving him the exact proportion for each year. The 250,000 child-care places are "real places", in the hon. Gentleman's words; they are not manufactured in any way. There will be a genuine increase in the number of places in pre-school education. The £1.2 billion is extra money allocated through the learning and skills councils, which, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, will fund both sixth forms and further education colleges over the period. I hope that co-ordination will be possible. So the extra money will be provided for post-16 education, as indicated. As I have said, 14-to-16 education will be funded through the schools budget for key stage 4.

The hon. Gentleman is right: neither I nor anyone else can predict the outcomes of the review body's decisions. I can only say that, like other Ministers, we are trying to secure long-term agreements over two or three years, which we hope will help schools to plan effectively.

I cannot confirm the existence of the alleged £400 million deficit. As for council tax—I make a political point here—elected local authorities must decide what tax rates to set, and must make balanced judgments on services and on the taxes that they levy. Everyone will want to know what the various authorities decide, but I hope that they will make a proper commitment to funding services. It is not true that, as the hon. Gentleman implied, all the increases will be financed by extra council tax. They will be financed by mainline spending.

We are currently allocating £540 million to pensions directly. We are not asking others to provide the money.

The hon. Gentleman made a serious point about special educational needs. We decided, as a matter of principle and in the spirit of giving more money to local authorities, to allocate the 2004–05 SEN resources by means of the local authority grant settlement. That is because we believe that our mainstream approach is right. As the hon. Gentleman said, however, some people will have worries. Some authorities will take their responsibilities more seriously than others. We will monitor local authority decisions very closely, and report to the House in due course.

It is certainly our belief that dealing with special educational needs should be part of the mainstream function of any local education authority, and that it should take it up properly and carry it through. That is why we have made the funding change but issues could arise, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The funding for specialist schools is within the £1.5 billion for the standards fund that I have just announced but we have not put a figure on it because it is a demand-led programme, for the reasons that I indicated earlier. On the £50,000 entry fee, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, as I said in the House the other day, we are setting up a special fund to allow the £50,000 to be reduced in cases where a school demonstrates that it tried to build the relevant partnerships but simply did not have the cash. We will publish guidelines on that shortly.

The activity-led formula is an old chestnut and I am sure that we will keep going over it in the next few years in an entertaining fashion.

I very much welcome the great increasesߞthe further increases—in education funding announced by the Secretary of State, but I am concerned about their distribution, particularly given the announcement last week. Sure start is welcomed in my constituency, where there is a detailed measure of rural deprivation—Dorset is 34th out of 34 shire counties—but that rigour is not applied in the new formula that was announced. I ask the Secretary of State to agree to meet a delegation from Dorset to discuss the effects of the settlement on our schools, which appear to be destined to continue to battle against an unfair funding formula.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend, who I think I am right in saying—he will correct me if am wrong—is the first ever Labour Member of Parliament for Dorset, is arguing much more powerfully for his county than some of his Conservative colleagues in other parts of the county. The spirit of the Tolpuddle martyrs lives on and I commend him for that. I will be delighted to meet a delegation to discuss those questions. In all seriousness, we put in a floor on funding per student precisely for the reasons that he raises, and indeed for the reasons that I would raise as a Member of Parliament for another shire county, Norfolk. Whatever the issues of equity, it is important that there should be basic guaranteed minimum funding, and that was guaranteed last Thursday. I am happy to meet a delegation to discuss those issues in more detail.

The Secretary of State's spending plans are of course welcome, but can he give an assurance that additional spending will be accompanied by major changes in the teaching methods and ethos of many of our state schools, which in aggregate are resulting in the United Kingdom education system coming 20th out of 40 in international league tables; a quarter of 11-year-olds not being able to read properly; a quarter of 15—year-olds saying that their lessons are blighted by noise and disorder; and half of 15-yearolds saying that they are bored by their lessons?

I would not entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says because, if we look at some of the international studies, British education does well, but I agree that change is necessary in a number of the areas that he has identified; that is precisely what I have been saying today. We need to move forward in order to generalise some of the changes that we have been developing—for example, advanced skills teachers. Therefore, we need change, but not in response to the pessimistic position that the hon. Gentleman is inaccurately describing.

Have not ring-fenced grants been used well by the Department for Education and Skills to iron out some of the injustices that inevitably arise from the Local Government Finance Act 1987? Perhaps we should hold on to them until we get the new legislation to see how fair it is, and so that that avenue can be used to improve matters in counties such as Derbyshire, where grants are still deficient.

I agree with my hon. Friend that those ring-fenced grants have been used well in a number of cases, for example, the primary literacy and numeracy strategy, and I could cite others. The impulse that the standards fund gave helped schools not only in his constituency but more widely to make profound changes. However, I also believe—it is policy right across Government—that we should try to devolve more decisions to local government.

My hon. Friend will know from his own county council and from others that local authorities have not been able to engage with our programme as fully as they would like. That is why we have tried to make changes gradually over the period of the spending review. We have retained some central grants funds, for the reason that my hon. Friend rightly cited, and we have tried to ensure that others are mainstreamed by being passed to the local government settlements, so that the policies and achievements to which he rightly refers can be made part of general practice. I would be happy to discuss with him further any of the specific matters about which he is concerned, but I do not think that there is a contradiction in saying that we have done well in many respects, but that now we should try to generalise that good practice across the whole system.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the excellence in the cities scheme will be extended to the London borough of Hillingdon to help us sort out our crisis in teacher recruitment and retention?

I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm that Hillingdon, like other London boroughs, has the admirable and tremendous services of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), and of Mr. Tim Brighouse, in trying to transform the entire approach of education throughout London through the London challenge approach. I acknowledge the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks—that improvements in education in Hillingdon are needed—but the performance in Hillingdon is not as poor as in some other areas of London, in which we have prioritised the issues taken forward. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be happy to discuss with him precisely what measures he thinks would help to improve the situation in Hillingdon.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in three primary schools in my constituency, 95 per cent. of the intake of children at reception level do not speak a word of English—in fact, some of them have never even heard English? I therefore welcome the expansion of the sure start programme, to which he refers. That will doubtless help a great deal; it is very popular—in fact, I think that it is wonderful. Combined with universal nursery provision for three-year-olds, that will certainly help to decrease the number of children entering school without any English. I should also mention that parents bear some responsibility in terms of using English in the home, so that we can avoid the trauma of little children going to school without a word of English.

I agree profoundly with my hon. Friend on the issue of sure start schemes, which have been tremendously successful. I have one in my constituency, and like that in my hon. Friend's, it has made a real difference. The challenge that we have to accept is not only to increase the number of sure start programmes, but to generalise the practice and experience of sure start, so that it spreads throughout pre-school education in her constituency and in mine. That is what we are trying to do.

I also take my hon. Friend's point about the importance of relations with parents. That is at the core of the sure start approach, and needs to be at the core of all our pre-school education. On language, all that I can say is that I heard what she has to say, and she makes an important point. Children of that age are obviously growing up in a society in which English will be the dominant language, and they should focus on speaking English well. That is an important part of the job—a job that exists both in school and in the home.

Can the Secretary of State explain to the House whether he has reviewed the £50,000 barrier for specialist school status? It is an entrance hurdle that is proving a problem in many London boroughs, including my own of Bexley. On further education, which he touched on in his statement, can he assure us about the future of adult education colleges, many of which feel the squeeze? The issue concerns not just those who want to increase their skills for their working life, but the contribution to the community of those who have retired. Such people are increasingly feeling the squeeze because of the funding process for further education colleges such as Bexley college.

For the third time, I am happy to confirm that we have looked again at the £50,000 figure, and in conjunction with the technology colleges trust we have set up a £3 million fund to help schools that want to be specialist schools. We have built the various partnership arrangements with a cash grant to reduce the £50,000 that they might have to pay, if they can demonstrate that they simply cannot raise the money by that means. We have heard the comments of many Members from both sides of the House, and of many schools, and have tried to respond constructively.

On adult education, the increase in resources for the Learning and Skills Council is extremely large. We believe that adult education is tremendously important, particularly issues of adult literacy and numeracy. Some 7 million people in this country still do not have basic level 2 skills. That is a blight on our system. A large amount of money is going into further and adult education because of the fundamental truth that we need to work much harder to ensure that people at all ages and levels, and of all skills, have the talents to meet the needs of the modern economy. That is where the resources will be targeted. That still leaves a place for adult education colleges of type described, which do tremendous work—I have taught in one myself—but the overall mission must be to raise the level of education and skills across the country, and in all areas.

I was having a very serious discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), Mr. Speaker.

I am not in the mood to be churlish because I went to see a consultant about 10 days ago and I got good news. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] However, the important thing is that Derbyshire authorities, including the authority in the constituency of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), had a tremendous result of 12.5 per cent. in the local government settlement last Thursday. We hit the ceiling at 12.5 per cent. and Derbyshire county council got 8 per cent. There is no doubt that irrespective of any comments, the activity in education in the past three to four years has been tremendous, and we want to keep it going, especially in the coalfield areas that need rejuvenation. Keep up the good work—send the money to Bolsover.

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks, and I am sure that the whole House will be pleased at his good news. He is right in what he said. We will keep the money coming, particularly to Bolsover.

Is it true that there will still be 65 separate avenues through which schools can claim money, even after the changes that the Secretary of State has made? Is he aware of the anxiety caused to many head teachers about the number of forms that they have to fill in? What is he doing to rationalise those forms and the system of grants?

There are a couple of points to address. First, the vast bulk of money—about 99 per cent. of it—goes through six of those funding streams. It is true, as I announced in my statement, that we took six funding streams out this year, thus reducing the number from 71 to 65. I announced that we would take out another seven next year and further funding streams the year after. So we are steadily reducing the number of funding streams to reduce the complexity about which the hon. Gentleman and others have complained. He should not forget, however, that the overwhelming majority of resources are met through just six funding streams, and that is as it should be.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that before last Thursday's announcement, every head teacher in Kent was briefed by Kent county council that they should be looking at 8 per cent. cuts in budget. Clearly, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was at one of those briefings. However, we now know that, overall, Kent will see a 6.6 per cent. increase in its education funding, which I welcome. In the context of increased devolution of education budgets, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that he will ensure that local education authorities get the funding through to the schools that need it? Will he also congratulate Kent county council on giving the news this weekend that Lawn primary school has made such improvements that the council is to keep it open?

I am happy to congratulate Kent on its decision on Lawn primary school. I addressed Kent head teachers with the Conservative leader of Kent county council a couple of weeks ago and we discussed many of these points in a friendly and fraternal way. I am glad that some of the scaremongering that people engaged in before the local government settlement was announced last Thursday has been proved to be demonstrably false. The fact is that we have provided an increase for every school in Britain. Conservative Members should praise us for that rather than carping at us.

The Secretary of State will recall that after five years of our pressing for it, the reform of the area cost adjustment has delivered a welcome substantial increase in the formula spending share for Cambridgeshire. However, the increase in the education formula spending share cannot be matched by grant because of the operation of the ceiling—only 70 per cent. of the notional increase is actually matched by grant. The Secretary of State referred to three-year indicative budgets. How is my local education authority to go about that process with the ceiling in place? Can it be lifted, for example, so that matters could be discharged in two years rather than three, or could we have indicative figures for the ceiling on grant changes in the two subsequent years?

The reason that we have floors and ceilings—so-called—is that we want to ensure that none of the people who would lose most in any rejigging of the system lose as much as they might. However, that means that some of the people who might have gained most do not gain as much as they might. If we were to remove the ceilings for Cambridgeshire, we might have to remove the floors from some other counties, for example—

The hon. Gentleman brings Kent into the equation and that is indeed an example. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) would like to discuss between themselves whether they want to remove the ceiling for Cambridgeshire and the floor for Kent, or keep the floors and ceilings in place. I shall be interested to hear their conclusion.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his officials discuss with Lancashire county council at an early date the reorganisation of secondary schools in Burnley to recognise the fact that, for several years, we have had an admissions problem and that, this year, some parents set up a do-it-yourself school? Difficult decisions have to be taken. The resources are there, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that his officials discuss the matter with Lancashire?

I am happy to guarantee that my officials will look at the situation in Burnley and if my hon. Friend would like to bring a delegation to meet the Minister for School Standards or myself to discuss the matter, we should be delighted to do so. It is important to acknowledge the fact that the existing resources—especially on the capital front—allow the resolution of some difficult long-standing issues such as those described by my hon. Friend. I hope that we can help to do that.

How all this impacts on local authorities depends on the relationship between the old system, with its large amount of grant, and the new formula. The purpose of a formula is to be redistributive, otherwise it would not exist. In Middlesbrough, for example, they appear to have gained on both the roundabout and the swings, yet a little further south in North Yorkshire there are serious concerns over medium-term funding, especially in relation to the diminishing standards fund and in particular the nursery grants for three-year-olds, which diminish after 18 months. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that essential funding is maintained over that medium term, even in the less visible guise of the formula?

While we are on the subject of direct grants, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer renounce his annual habit of dishing out money to head teachers in the course of his Budget as a special headline-grabbing formula? After all, that is a direct grant.

If the Chancellor decides to give a little bit of money to head teachers throughout the country in his Budget next year, I certainly shall not try to prevent it. In fact, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) has given me an idea that I may pursue.

On the right hon. Gentleman's more serious point about nursery grants, I shall look into the comparisons that he gave. The mysteries of the local government grant funding system and the formulae that operate are designed to update the data based on the current situation in each part of the country. That is how the figures emerged. It might be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman dropped me a note about the detail of the particular points he raised. I should be happy to consider them.

May I start by congratulating the Secretary of State on the great news about universal nursery education for three-year-olds- I did not expect to see that so quickly. It will make more difference to success in education than many of the other things that he has announced.

May I press my right hon. Friend on the leadership incentive grant? Will he ensure that he uses those resources extremely carefully in areas such as mine where there are separate grammar and secondary-modern schools. Langleywood school has got out of special measures by good leadership and is currently working with Langley grammar school, with some teachers holding appointments at both schools. If we can use initiatives such as that to create partnership, I am sure that children in Slough who do not pass the 11-plus will get a better deal from their secondary education.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The example that she has given from Slough illustrates precisely the type of collaboration that we are trying to encourage. My hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards is carefully considering how we can use the grant in a way that ensures that schools both receive the money and work collaboratively to deal with particular leadership problems. The kind of scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned is helpful in that regard.

We want to avoid the money merely being put into budgets where there is no real leadership outcome. We are convinced that when schools work together—especially at post-16, but also in the 14–16 age range—we can make a major difference in their performance. We hope to use the money to encourage that.

Points Of Order

4.19 pm

Thank you for calling this point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have previously commented on the importance of Ministers making policy announcements to the House to enable Opposition Members and Back Benchers to carry out our role of scrutiny. You will be aware that last Friday a policy announcement was made about civil partnerships and the recognition of same-sex couples in The Independent and on the "Today" programme by the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, to whom I have given notice of this point of order. There was no sign of any Government announcement on that matter the day before, given that Friday was not a sitting day and, indeed, the answer to a parliamentary question tabled on 27 November gave no indication that an announcement was due. There have been allegations that that announcement was made to dominate the news agenda—[Interruption]—to conceal or displace other items in the news that day, but there was a great deal of interest in this important matter. I should be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, if you could let me know whether you had any indication that the Government planned to make an announcement, whether any statement at the Dispatch Box or written statement is due, or whether the relevant Minister is willing to come to the House to apologise for the fact that, yet again, announcements have been made outside the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I reiterate what I have said many times before: the House should be the first to know of changes in Government policy. As for the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, my understanding is that last Friday's announcement concerned an intention to consult on the proposals that he has described. It did not therefore constitute a policy announcement as such.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted that, when Madam Deputy Speaker was in the Chair on Thursday at the conclusion of the statement on local government finance, I raised a concern, which many Opposition Members share, about the attitude of the Minister for Local Government and the Regions when responding to the concerns that were expressed. About an hour after the Minister finished answering questions, I received a message from the director of finance of my local authority to say that the Minister's announcement that my borough council would receive a 3.2 per cent. increase in local government spending was, in fact, based on fiddling the figures by adjusting the current year's spending and that the true figure was only 1.08 per cent. Can you give us guidance on how we may press in the House for Members to receive a proper, accurate statistical analysis, supported by the opinion of professional local government officers, rather than by fiddled figures announced by Ministers?

What the hon. Gentleman raises is a matter for debate. He knows that he can apply for an Adjournment debate or table parliamentary questions. There are many ways to extract the figures that he requires.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, during business questions last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House why we were not yet aware of the motion that the Government will table on Thursday for what he described as a substantive debate. He said:

"It is right that we should have a full day's debate on those topics"—
agriculture, the environment and foot and mouth disease
"and a full motion will be tabled in good time."—[Official Report, 5 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 1050.]
So it was perfectly obvious that the Leader of the House seemed to know last Thursday what would be the terms of the motion that the House will debate this Thursday, yet, as I speak, there is no indication of what that will be. Can you do something about that, Mr. Speaker? If the Leader of the House knows the terms of the motion, presumably, Ministers also know them. Why cannot they share that with the House so that we can have a properly prepared, structured debate on Thursday?

May I advise the right hon. Gentleman that this is perhaps something that he could take up through the usual channels?

Orders Of The Day

Extradition Bill

[Relevant document: The First Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, on the Extradition Bill (House of Commons Paper No. 138).

Order for Second Reading read.

4.24 pm

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

I am pleased to introduce this important Bill. The House will understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is indisposed, but I am sure that he will be back with us shortly.

This important Bill will bring what are essentially 19th-century extradition arrangements into the very different world of the 21st century. The main legislation that it will replace is the Extradition Act 1989, which, of course, was a consolidation measure that included large chunks of the Extradition Act 1870. The 1870 legislation effectively still governs our bilateral extradition arrangements.

Our extradition arrangements are in urgent need of reform. On average, it takes 18 months to extradite someone from the UK and, in many cases, much longer. The system allows the fugitive to raise the same—arguably, often spurious—points time and again, and to mount numerous legal challenges. Even when—as has happened many times—an individual appeals all the way to the House of Lords following the committal hearing, he can, once the Secretary of State has considered the case, appeal all the way again on exactly the same grounds.

To give a real—life—but anonymous—example, Mr. B was wanted by the French authorities for trafficking in cannabis. It was alleged that he assisted his father in overseeing the importation of approximately £1.3 million worth of cannabis resin into the UK. He was arrested in the UK in November 1995. He appealed against his extradition, through habeas corpus and judicial review, no fewer than five times, raising many of the same issues each time, and then attempted to delay his extradition on health grounds just before his actual surrender. He was finally extradited to France in September 2001, nearly six years after his arrest, and was sentenced in November 2001 to four years imprisonment and a €45,000 fine. The costs of detention alone in this case exceeded £120,000, to say nothing of court and legal costs.

The present extradition system has manifest failings. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), speaking in the debate on the Loyal Address less than three weeks ago, said:
"It is clear that the extradition procedure needs to be tightened, streamlined and speeded-up…we need to limit the number of appeals and to tighten up the whole procedure…Currently, I think one can make about six appeals in the average extradition case."—[Official Report, 20 November 2002; Vol. 394, c. 682.]
Although he went on to make several detailed criticisms of the Bill, the House as a whole will share the sentiments that he expressed in those remarks.

We live in a day and age in which crime is becoming increasingly international, and we simply cannot go on as we are. We need a quick and efficient extradition system in which proper protection for the rights of those who are the subject of extradition requests is built in. Before describing the provisions of the Bill, perhaps I can explain to the House a little of its history.

In March 2000, the then Home Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, announced that a review of extradition law would take place. It was completed a year later, and a consultation paper was published in March 2001. We are very grateful for the responses that were received, which can be found in the Library and on the Home Office website. We published a draft Bill in June this year and again received many helpful comments. I particularly welcome the interest that the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have shown, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), who chair those Committees. We have also heeded what those Committees said, and a number of additional safeguards in relation to politically motivated requests and fugitives' state of health have been built in to the Bill as a consequence.

As The Minister is aware, many important extraditions have not gone ahead because of the courts' interpretation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights. Is he aware of the Soering judgment, in which someone accused of murder could not be extradited to the United States under article 3? What will the Bill do to try to streamline such cases and make the extraditions go ahead?

It is important to say that the Bill does not seek to overturn the European convention on human rights. Indeed, the convention provides a test for extradition that is built into the Bill, so it would be wrong to suggest that we are attempting to use the Bill as a way round some of the issues arising from the convention. In drafting the Bill, we have sought to make it clear that the extradition proposals do not suspend or change the convention's provisions. Such a human rights principle should be reflected in the Bill.

Although I was grateful to hear my right hon. Friend's kind words of a moment ago, the recommendations in the Home Affairs Committee's report go considerably further than the ones that he has so far adopted. I was a little disappointed, therefore, by the off-hand press release issued on Thursday in response to our report. It seemed to suggest that we should not take too detailed an interest in this subject. I am sure that that was not the intention, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that he proposes to look carefully at the rest of our recommendations and that we might, in future, look forward to seeing some of them implemented too?

Naturally, I am very disappointed that my hon. Friend is disappointed at the tone of the press release. I hope that nothing that we said gave the impression that it was not the business of the Home Affairs Committee to look closely at this Bill. In my earlier remarks, I was referring, in particular, to the changes that we were able to make between the draft Bill and the Bill's current version in response to representations and suggestions made by, among others, the Home Affairs Committee. In the past few days, we have received the more recent comments of the Committee on the Bill before us. I am sure that those comments will be discussed in this debate and examined carefully in Committee. We will, of course, consider every suggestion and recommendation on its merits and, if we are convinced of them, we will seek in the appropriate way to amend the legislation. I have not in any way closed the door on the principle of considering some of the recommendations from the Home Affairs Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman has received suggestions from a wide circle of people who have taken an interest in the Bill. How many consultees' suggestions were incorporated in changes to the draft Bill before it reached this stage?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the arithmetical answer that he seeks; indeed, some suggestions came from more than one organisation. In particular, the provisions for politically motivated requests and for the health of suspects were made in response to proposals from several different organisations. Further changes were made to the drafting in respect of the release of prisoners if an extradition were withdrawn purely because the consultations revealed that ambiguous drafting had led to the wording being interpreted in entirely the opposite way to that which the Government intended. There were a series of recommendations of that sort. The consultation responses that we have permission to publish are in the House of Commons Library, and I am sure that they will be of use to hon. Members when the Bill is in Committee.

I shall describe in more detail the provisions in the Bill. Parts 1 and 2 create two parallel regimes for handling incoming extradition requests. Part 1 is the more streamlined regime. It will apply initially to requests from other European Union member states and enable us to give effect to the European arrest warrant—the EAW. The Government believe strongly in the principle of mutual recognition. It has been suggested in some quarters that the EAW is the first step towards the creation of a European judicial superstate—quite the reverse. It is precisely, if we want to avoid pressure for a Europe with harmonised laws and a single judicial system that we must be prepared to recognise the judicial decisions taken in other European countries.

The right hon. Gentleman has just told the House that the Bill is designed to extend, in the first instance, the power to other European countries. We are, of course, dealing with the power of designation, so to what other countries do the Government, at this time, intend to designate by Order in Council?

We do not at this stage have particular countries to which that could be extended.

Major issues of concern surround the European arrest warrant. It will help if I address them now because, on closer examination, they will turn out to be unjustified. The framework decision on the European arrest warrant was given parliamentary scrutiny. The Government maintained a scrutiny reserve until both Houses had cleared the instrument, which happened after the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), had appeared before Committees in both Houses and there had been a debate in another place. By introducing the Bill, we are giving Parliament another opportunity to consider the measures.

There have been fears about foreign police officers coming to Britain to arrest people. They are groundless. Only British law enforcement personnel, such as the police and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, will be permitted to execute a European arrest warrant in this country.

But the offences are not listed in the Bill and the means of changing or expanding them is by ministerial order. Do the Government not think that that is a highly unsatisfactory process?

That is a slightly different issue. I was talking about powers of arrest. The Bill reflects the framework decision on the list of generic offences and makes specific reference to that in, I think, clause 63. The list of generic offences is clear. At the moment, an amendment to the list could be made only by unanimous agreement in the Council of Ministers. It is our judgment that it is better to have drafted the Bill as we have, referring to that decision, rather than to be required automatically to have new primary legislation should such a change be made. I am sure that that will be explored in Committee. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to avoid the need to introduce primary legislation. I am not aware of any proposals in the justice and home affairs division of the EU to change the list of generic offences.

The Minister said that only a British constable would execute the warrant. Does that mean that he accepts that we need to amend clause 3, which allows the Secretary of State to designate absolutely anyone as an appropriate officer?

I said that it was the Government's intention that only British law enforcement personnel would be permitted to execute a European arrest warrant in this country. That means the police, but it could also include Customs and Excise. There are plenty of legal precedents for using the term "appropriate person", including in legislation adopted by the Conservatives when they were in government to deal with powers of stop, search and entry that gave an even wider range of discretion to the Home Secretary. Given the point of principle that I have outlined, I have no doubt that the precise wording can be considered in Committee.

It would be helpful if I could take it that the Minister is willing to redefine the clause so that it clearly applies to British law enforcement officers.

I am saying that there is plenty of precedent in almost identical circumstances in which Governments, including Conservative Governments, have restricted a power to British law enforcement personnel even though they have used the term "appropriate person", or something similar, in legislation. That should give the House sufficient confidence in this Government's intention to use the Bill in the same way. I have no doubt that the matter will be considered in Committee. However, it is important for the House to understand clearly the Government's intentions.

A few months ago, I spoke to a police officer who worked on serious crimes, by which I mean drugs, people smuggling and so on. He said that not one of the top 100 criminals—those people who are involved in the most serious crimes—lived in the UK. Is not that a good reason why we need the Bill?

Crime is becoming increasingly organised internationally. It is important that the system of extradition does not prevent the effective but just use of extradition to ensure that serious criminals can be dealt with. It is the recognition throughout the European Union that the systems that we have in place make law enforcement and the exercise of justice more difficult that lies behind the agreed moves throughout the EU to change extradition arrangements. I think that my hon. Friend is right.

My right hon. Friend referred to the European Union. Will he confirm that if the EU is enlarged during the next few years, the proposed legislation will mean that we can take much more effective action to deal with the criminality that exists throughout the European continent? It will then be far more effective in tracking down the origins of the people smugglers and the drug smugglers who use central and eastern Europe as a conduit to this country.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, to which I shall turn shortly.

An important part of the accession agreement is that states must be able to fulfil their full obligations under the framework decision and the European arrest warrant. The ability to have common approaches throughout the EU after enlargement will, I think, be of significant assistance to us in fighting international and organised crime.

I shall continue to go through the issues that have been raised as potential objections to the Bill. It has been said, for example, that people will be sent off to stand trial in another country without due process in this country. I can reassure the House. Anyone who is the subject of a European arrest warrant will be entitled to an extradition hearing before a British judge. They will then have the right of appeal to the High Court and, if significant points of law are raised, to the House of Lords.

Will the issuing country—the country that requires the extradition—have to make a prima facie case in this country?

No. In the context of part 1, the issuing country does not have to do that today, and has not had to for many years. Under the European agreement on extradition, a much wider group of countries than the EU—essentially, the Council of Europe countries—agreed more than 10 years ago that prima facie evidence did not need to be provided. It is an unfortunate myth that the Bill is introducing a profoundly new principle into our extradition arrangements with our European colleagues.

There is an issue about prima facie evidence that comes up in part 2, which I shall address briefly. However, as for EU countries, I think that there is no new issue of principle in the proposed legislation.

The provision of prima facie evidence is not required at present and it will not be required in future. On this issue, the Bill does not introduce a new principle.

It has been suggested that a newspaper editor could be extradited for publishing an anti-German editorial. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that these stories are wildly inaccurate. No one will be extradited for conduct in this country that is not illegal in this country. I shall say more about dual criminality in a moment.

No. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me. Perhaps I could make some progress and then take more interventions.

There have been complaints that we are removing the requirement for evidence in the case against fugitives to be produced. As I have said, all the Council of Europe countries have not had to provide prima facie evidence with their extradition requests since the United Kingdom signed up to the European convention on extradition in 1991. I assume that the Opposition found that an acceptable principle then—I assume that they still do today. It has been suggested that we would be obliged to extradite in cases where the presumption of innocence is not applied. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in the debate on the Gracious Speech, the presumption is a guaranteed right under the European convention on human rights, to which all European Union states have signed up. In the case of convictions in absentia, the Bill it makes it clear that we will extradite only if the fugitive is guaranteed a retrial. A retrial is differentiated from a simple appeal by the fact that the process starts again from scratch with a presumption of innocence.

Having spent rather longer than I intended on what the European arrest warrant is not about, I shall say what it is about, and describe its benefits. It will speed up extradition with EU partners. In future, cases within the EU should take about three months, as opposed to nine to 12 months at present. The current timetable for bringing serious criminals to justice does a great disservice to the victims of crime. It works both ways— Britain's extradition procedures are notoriously slow, but our EU partners are not always above blame, as demonstrated by the case of Mr. L. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in this country for beating a man unconscious and leaving him to die. The victim died from his wounds four days later. Mr. L escaped from prison and absconded to France, and an extradition request was made to France, where he was duly arrested. One would have thought that that was a very clear case, yet it took more than a year before he was returned to Britain—one can only imagine the additional distress and pain that the episode must have caused the victim's family.

Some of our European partners refuse to extradite their own nationals, even if they have committed the most heinous crimes in Britain. The European arrest warrant will mean that those countries will no longer be able to prohibit extradition of their own nationals, denying us the right to try those who have committed serious crimes here.

Some of our European partners have traditionally been unwilling to extradite people who have committed purely fiscal offences. The UK has never held the view that fiscal offences are minor crimes, but others take the contrary view. UK criminals have not been slow to exploit that loophole, with the result that people accused of major tax evasion and VAT fraud have been able to escape justice. The European arrest warrant means that serious criminals accused of fiscal offences will no longer be able to hide within the EU.

Some of our European partners are unwilling to extradite for crimes where they have a statute of limitations, even though we do not. The case of Mr. Y, a British national, illustrates the problem. He was accused of the serious sexual abuse of two children in Britain—a crime that by its nature only comes to light many years after the event. His extradition from Denmark was sought, but refused because Denmark's statute of limitations had expired. However, Mr. Y could legitimately have been put on trial in this country. In future, people in his position will be extradited.

The European arrest warrant will have all those clear benefits for the United Kingdom and our criminal justice system, but there will also be strong safeguards for fugitives—an extradition hearing before a district judge, the right of appeal to the High Court and, if important points of law are raised, to the House of Lords. Extradition can be barred because of double jeopardy, and will not be possible if the fugitive's mental or physical condition makes it unjust to extradite him; if there is reason to believe the prosecution is politically motivated; if the fugitive's trial is likely to be prejudiced by extraneous factors; or if the fugitive's rights under the European convention on human rights would be breached. All the states that we are talking about are mature democracies and ECHR signatories, so it is highly unlikely that some of those bars will ever arise.

I have almost lost my voice, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can hear me. On the ECHR point, will it involve the district judge assessing the quality of the trial that the defendant will receive in the country to which he is to be extradited?

The Bill is based on mutual recognition of each EU country's judicial and criminal justice systems. The presumption on which the original framework decision and the legislation are based is that decisions in one another's countries are respected and trusted. None the less, we need to be sure that ECHR rights are not breached. Personally, I think that unlikely in the case of the states under discussion, but it would be open to people to argue, as it always is in legal processes, that that would be an issue. It is important that the House understands that mutual recognition is a point of principle on which the Bill is based.

The Minister brings to the House his usual temperate delivery, for which we are grateful. However, there is a concern. If 32 categories of offence are exempted from the dual criminality requirement, what does the Minister say about Lord Scott's observation that the definition of a xenophobia offence in the schedule

"would almost certainly cover the distribution of Biggles and probably the Old Testament"?
On the murders, rapes and child offences, nobody in the Chamber would do other than share the Minister's views, but it is the other aspects of European law, which are not customary in the United Kingdom, that cause concern.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I turned straight to the issue of dual criminality, which is clearly an important issue in this debate.

I should attempt to answer the intervention from the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) before I take others.

First, no one will be extradited for conduct that takes place lawfully in this country. Secondly, it will be possible for people to be extradited for conduct that is not illegal in UK law, but where that conduct has taken place in the requesting state and breaches its law. The principle is simple: British people who go abroad should be expected to obey the law of the country that they are visiting, in the same way as we expect visitors to this country to obey our laws.

If a German citizen came to this country and acted illegally in the UK, we would expect them to be arrested and put on trial, irrespective of whether their conduct was contrary to German law. In the same way, a Briton who visits Germany should not expect to escape justice for breaking German law simply because Britain does not have an exactly equivalent crime. If a British citizen goes to Sweden and breaks the law there, he can expect to be arrested and put on trial, irrespective of whether the conduct is contrary to UK law. I am sure that no right hon. or hon. Member objects to that proposition—

It will be useful to flush that out in the debate. I believe that a British citizen who goes to Sweden and breaks the law there should expect to be dealt with by the Swedish criminal justice system. Opposition Members seem to believe that if that person flees before arrest and manages to cross a border, they should be safe from prosecution. In a world where travel is so simple and widely available, that is an indefensible position.

Is the Minister suggesting that, had the tourists in Greece earlier in the year left Greece and got back to the UK, and had an extradition warrant subsequently been issued for their arrest, it would have been quite proper for us to ship them back for conduct—observing aeroplanes—that is a crime there, but not here?

If a country has a crime of espionage and wishes to charge people with that, that must be its right.

Just as we in this country would expect our espionage laws to be followed. There is a fundamental point of principle here, which Opposition Members need to recognise. It is difficult to argue that British citizens should be able to travel to other EU countries and break their laws, without arguing that the same rights should be extended to visitors from the EU who come to this country. That is not what our fellow citizens in this country expect. We expect that anybody in the UK who breaks our laws can be brought before British justice and that the extradition system should enable those people, if necessary, to be brought back to face British justice.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Are not specific offences such as sex with children under 16 and some forms of drug trafficking or drug abuse legal in certain European countries but illegal here? Are those who oppose the measure suggesting that we should let people who commit such offences off simply because they flee the country before prosecution?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It would be useful to find out in this debate whether Opposition Members believe that people who break the law in this country should be able to escape justice simply by leaving these shores for another European Union country. That is at the heart of the issue.

After I have made some progress, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Not all EU countries have an offence of incitement to racial hatred and most other EU countries do not have an offence of fraudulent trading—but we do. Not all EU countries have laws equivalent to ours on the evasion of excise duties. As long as Opposition Members maintain that there must be absolute dual criminality in the EU, it follows that they are suggesting that people can commit the serious offences that I mentioned with complete impunity as long as they can cross the frontier before our police apprehend them.

Does the Minister not appreciate that the matter is more complex? Essential to our concept of liberty is freedom of expression and free speech. We regard that as an especially important ingredient, but other countries take a view on some elements of free speech. For instance, xenophobia may be a thought crime here, but it is not a legal crime, even though it can be an offence elsewhere. The Bill is now trespassing on areas that affect the freedom of the citizen in this country, as well as that of the German or French person who expresses in words something that is contrary to their law and then seeks residence here. We would have to extradite such a person for something that we hold to be important—the right to freedom of expression.

The problem with the hon. Gentleman's argument and the logic of his position is the suggestion that somebody should be able to travel to this country from Portugal—I have nothing against the Portuguese people or any reason to believe that they might wish to do this—which does not have laws on incitement to racial hatred, and incite racial hatred here, perhaps with a serious impact on community cohesion. If they were to escape arrest, they could then return to Portugal without our being able to take action. It is our view that that is unacceptable.

Indeed, the principle that underlies the framework decision in the EU is that member states collectively and unanimously believe that the creation of loopholes that enable criminals to avoid the consequences of their conduct throughout the EU is wholly undesirable both for individual member states and for the development of the EU itself.

It is useful to have this discussion to flush out some of the issues, but I should like to make some progress. I shall, however, give way to the hon. Lady.

The Minister said that, in the round, the Bill, and therefore the European arrest warrant, reflected the principle of mutual recognition, which is a key legislative principle in the EU. However, does he accept that, as we have seen in swathes of legislation implementing the EC single market, the principle of mutual recognition is based on the premise of a minimum harmonisation of standards? That has not happened in criminal law as it was outwith the scope of the EC treaty. It is only with regard to third pillar measures that any moves have been made in criminal law. Is it wise to proceed with such measures when we lack proper understanding about whether we have a common and acceptable framework with regard to procedural safeguards in criminal law, for example, and also whether the presumption of innocence is applicable in the terms in which we understand it, certainly in Scots law, throughout the European Union?

That is clearly a matter on which hon. Members need to reach a judgment as the Bill progresses. The Government believe that the answer to both the hon. Lady's questions is yes. We have sufficient confidence in the criminal justice systems of the mainly mature democracies of the 15 countries of the European Union. I shall deal with the point about the accession states shortly. The European convention on human rights is incorporated into the law of each of those countries. The protection of the presumption of innocence is therefore built into the approach that we are considering.

The Minister has been extremely patient, but I want to take him up on his last point, which he made earlier in passing. Does he accept that there is a difference between the right to a fair trial, which the convention guarantees, and the presumption of innocence, which is a peculiarity of specific judicial systems, including ours?

I believe that the protection that we seek for the presumption of innocence is in the charter, but doubtless we shall debate the matter at greater length.