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Commons Chamber

Volume 454: debated on Monday 4 December 2006

House of Commons

Monday 4 December 2006

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Terrorism (Police Preparedness)

1. What recent assessment he has made of the preparedness of the police to respond to a terrorist incident in London. (106789)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked me to extend his apologies to the House for not being able to attend Home Office questions today. He is representing the Government at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels.

The Home Secretary and I are updated regularly on police preparedness to respond to a terrorist incident in London or elsewhere by a variety of means.

Just one limited radiological event recently showed just how stretched the police and emergency services have been, and even the most rudimentary dirty bomb would pose problems of a completely different order. Can the Minister explain why there has been only one full radiological exercise in London—and that four years ago?

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise that the emergency services have been stretched. I have been intimately involved, if I may put it that way, with what the Health Protection Agency, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and a range of other emergency services have been doing in connection with recent incidents, and “stretched” is not a word that I would use.

In the aftermath of a terrorist incident in London—which God forbid—the question of costs would soon arise, as it already has in connection with Operation Overt in Buckinghamshire. Last week, the Prime Minister told our local newspaper, the Bucks Free Press, that central Government should cover the costs of Overt. Can the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s view?

As far as I am aware, we have yet to receive the full application from Thames Valley, but when I visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and went around the cordon in what felt like the dead of night, that was certainly the assurance that was given. We will look very closely at any submission from Thames Valley relating specifically to Overt, and will view it in a sympathetic light.

When will the Government make telephone intercept evidence admissible in court so that innocent lives can be saved?

Again, I do not fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise. He will know that we are looking very seriously at a range of legal frameworks and models that could be used to protect the substance of what we do with intercept evidence, and a report is due in the fullness of time.

We have considered the issue as part of the overall review of terrorism with which the Prime Minister charged the Home Secretary, and the result of those deliberations will be forthcoming at an appropriate time. That will include the important issue of intercept evidence, but I do not necessarily accept the absolute causal link posited by the hon. Gentleman.

One of the problems that contributed to the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was lack of communication between the police on the surface and those in the underground. In the event of a de Menezes incident tomorrow, the same limitation would still apply. The police were offered a temporary solution to the problem three years ago. Why has it still not been fixed a year and a half after the de Menezes disaster?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is in the process of being fixed. He makes an entirely fair point—

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he needs to understand all the elements involved in the process. It is being undertaken, it will be undertaken and it should be undertaken, as one of the key lessons learnt from 7 July. In broad terms I entirely agree that this needs to happen as quickly as possible, and it is happening as part of the roll-out of Airwave throughout the country. I am particularly alive to its importance, not least owing to my limited 18-month experience as Minister responsible for transport in London.

That really is not acceptable. The issue has been around, and the vulnerability of the London tube has been known about, since 9/11—since 2001, not since last year. The Government therefore have no excuse.

Let us look at another aspect of the extent of police preparedness. One way to improve the ability of the police both to charge and to convict terrorists—apart from the intercept evidence mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley)—is to allow them to interview terrorist suspects after charge. The Government were offered that option more than a year ago by all Opposition parties. It was non-controversial, it was less draconian than the 90-day period, it would have been very effective in improving both speed of charging and probability of conviction, and it was supported by everyone from Liberty to the Commissioner of the Met. Why has it not yet been implemented?

Again, there are a number of elements in the question to which I would not subscribe. The proposal is being considered as part of a wider review. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he is very thoughtful on these matters, post-charge interview is not possible under legislation without at least consideration of the inference drawn from the right to silence. The two go hand in hand.

These matters are being considered, and although it is not definite, we intend to produce at least a preliminary report on the outcome of the review relating to all aspects of terrorism before the break at the end of the year, or very soon thereafter. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that his point, as well as the other point about intercept evidence, will be considered fully. However, neither is quite the panacea that the questions have tried to offer—although I realise that that is not what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. They may help, which is why they are being considered very seriously.

I shall be happy to report the right hon. Gentleman’s interest to the Home Secretary, who I am sure will wish to discuss matters with him further when the time is right.

Criminal Justice System

2. What progress has been made with the review of rebalancing the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (106791)

The Home Secretary has set out a substantial programme of reforms, which have time scales for change stretching to 2008 and beyond. We are making good progress in delivering what we said we would deliver and some of the commitments he made in July have already been met, but the collective impact of the programme as a whole will give us the criminal justice system that this country deserves.

In most areas of public services, the community is becoming more and more involved in the design and scrutiny of those services. Criminal justice should be no different. I am particularly interested in the concept of community payback, whereby offenders do compulsory unpaid work in neighbourhoods, with priorities decided by residents. Will the Minister inform the House how that concept is being implemented?

I am happy to do that. Much progress has been made on community payback in terms of visibility to ensure that the public are confident that criminals are delivering projects that the community wants delivered. I assure my hon. Friend that in the north-west much work is being done on community sentencing. The public pick the schemes, the schemes are sent to the magistrates, and the magistrates sentence using those schemes. Then they are carried out, there is an award ceremony and everyone feels the benefit. That is a thoughtful response in relation to the criminal justice system. I hope that we can expand that throughout the country.

What is the Minister doing to cut the huge volume of police paperwork, much of which is driven by the courts? For example, over recent years, the requirements of the courts in respect of disclosure have sometimes resulted in whole man years of police time being used on fishing expeditions on behalf of the defence.

The Home Secretary has, in consultation with Ministers, ensured that we consult the police and all the other bodies that are involved in trying to cut bureaucracy and paperwork, so that the public have confidence in the criminal justice system. That is what we want to try to achieve. We will look at all aspects in trying to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure that the public have every confidence in the system.

Despite the recent highly misleading “Panorama” programme about the probation service in the Bristol area, and indeed the Home Secretary’s unfortunate speech at Wormwood Scrubs, is not the probation service driving down the reoffending rate? Has it not been doing so for some time since the last reform? In that light, does the Minister agree that we should invest more in a publicly run probation service with direct employees, rather than abandoning it to the whims of the market?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in the issues relating to the probation service, and I am happy to put on record the Government’s thanks to the service for the work that it carries out. We are all committed to tackling the reoffending rate, which is around 60 per cent. I know that that figure is disputed by the National Association of Probation Officers, the probation officers union, but we all need to agree that we have to cut reoffending. There has been a 47 per cent. increase in the funding to probation. I want us to look innovatively at unpaid work and at the resettlement of offenders to try to cut reoffending.

Ten days ago, Angela Schumann was sent to prison following her attempt to commit suicide with her two-year-old daughter by throwing herself off the Humber bridge. We also know from the NACRO that three quarters of the schemes to move mentally ill prisoners from prison into specialised facilities are unsuccessful because of lack of beds.

When rebalancing the criminal justice system, will the Minister and his Home Office colleagues look at rebalancing spending priorities and perhaps at using some, if not most, of the £1.5 billion allocated for building to provide yet more overcrowded prison places to expand secure and semi-secure mental health treatment at centres, which do more to cut reoffending and so cut crime?

The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point about how to try to refocus some of the spend. On capacity issues and the prison population, clearly it is right that we protect the public and find the appropriate accommodation for dangerous offenders, but as he says, we need to look at the prison population, how to tackle reoffending and the mental health issues that he raised. I am prepared to look at that, including in discussions with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), on the Mental Health Bill. Lots more work can be done. We must look at the criminal justice system in a thoughtful way. I am happy to continue discussions with the hon. Gentleman.

Last Friday, Lord Ramsbotham, who has no political axe to grind, described the criminal justice system as being in meltdown after a decade of failure in crime and punishment, and he went on to say that the Government’s handling of it was “absurd. Broken. Chaotic”. To what extent does the Minister think that he can do something about that by not passing legislation in a hyperactive way and by just getting on with the business of mending what his Government have broken?

First, I do not accept what Lord Ramsbotham said. I respect him as a former chief inspector of prisons, but I think he is wrong. I have had a number of opportunities to discuss with him the issues that he raises, and it seems to me that although he might not have any political axe to grind he certainly wants to oppose the Government on every aspect of what we put forward, so I shall find those conversations even more difficult in future.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked what I can do. I will do what the Home Secretary has said should be done, which is to rebalance the criminal justice system by ensuring that where legislation is necessary we bring it forward, but also that where we can make the system work better, we do that.

National Offender Management Service

3. What recent progress he has made on plans for the future of the National Offender Management Service; and if he will make a statement. (106792)

The National Offender Management Service is rolling out offender management in custody and the community. The Offender Management Bill, which will support the development of NOMS, was introduced in the House on 22 November.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware—as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary certainly will be—of the arrangements in Scotland that put statutory duties on the probation service to co-operate and work in partnership with other agencies. Why cannot we enter into such arrangements in England and Wales—I think everyone would welcome that, and it would go some way towards achieving the targets being set—rather than implement the current proposals, which, however they are dressed up, will mean that there are significant possibilities of the privatisation of core parts of the probation service?

There are lessons to be learned from Scotland, but there is a different legal system there that cannot apply to the UK. I certainly do not accept—I am thankful for the opportunity to say this—that the proposals under the Offender Management Bill are about privatisation; they are about providing the best value partnership for the public to ensure that we tackle reoffending, which everybody is committed to doing.

The proposals that we are bringing forward—which I am sure we will debate at length and in great detail over coming weeks and months—will give us all an opportunity to look at the real issue, which is that we need to do something different from now on. The status quo cannot continue, and we need to look into the probation service.

Is the Minister aware of the report published last week by the Responsible Authorities Group on the effect of local drug rehabilitation services in Weston-super-Mare, about which I have written to the Home Secretary? Does the Minister share my concern that it says that three people who were sent by the probation service for drug addiction treatment in Weston-super-Mare in the last year have died as a result of poor management of their cases by the national probation service, and will he undertake to visit Weston-super-Mare to understand what is going on there—and, potentially, to improve the service?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I am not aware of the letter to the Home Secretary, but I will look into that, and if it is pertinent for me to visit Weston-super-Mare, I will be happy to do so.

I tabled a written parliamentary question regarding continuing consultation with the National Association of Probation Officers—the representative body for probation officers—and I was somewhat surprised to receive the answer that there has been very little of late. Is it not still, at this eleventh hour, worth going back to NAPO to see whether it is possible to get a proper evolutionary change, rather than what might come forward next Monday?

I do not know where my hon. Friend got that answer, but I have certainly met NAPO on numerous occasions and will continue to do so. It is important that the style of our operation should be that we get to the core of the issues. Clearly, NAPO has its members to protect and it is prepared to stick out to protect them in all circumstances; that is its role. Our role should be to tackle reoffending. We need to look at the best ways we can achieve that.

I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) that this operation is not about privatisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) knows that organisations such as the NACRO and Shelter have great expertise in resettlement. Surely he is not arguing against such bodies being allowed to look into resettlement and doing work that the probation service currently does. These issues are important. If we are serious about tackling reoffending, we have to ensure that we get the best possible services for the public.

As the Minister has rightly said, cutting the reoffending rate is clearly of the essence. Given that the governor of Polmont young offenders institution has stated publicly on the record that his speech and language therapist is his single most important member of staff—in enabling boys to access education in order to express their needs, that therapist is vital to their rehabilitation—will the Minister look sympathetically at amending the forthcoming Bill to commit the Government to ensuring that a speech and language therapist is deployed by every young offenders institution in this country?

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. In this regard, I agree with Lord Ramsbotham, who is also pushing the issue. During the Bill’s progress, I shall be happy to consider ways in which we can improve the situation regarding speech therapy. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are implications for the Department of Health and for the Department for Education and Skills, and I am happy to discuss the matter with other Ministers to see what progress can be made.

I share the Minister’s desire to open up the provision of probation services to a wider range of organisations, but does he share my view that, because many local authorities already have responsibility for housing, training, employment and community facilities, they are ideally placed to be providers of some NOMS services and to bring the different agencies together? Will he confirm that the NOMS Bill will enable local authorities to put themselves forward as new providers?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, for raising the issue of the role of local authorities. It seems to me that once someone becomes an offender, they are forgotten, or seen as something different, by our communities, and he is right to say that local authorities have a key role to play here. I was pleased to see that, two weeks ago, the Local Government Association produced a pamphlet called “Neighbourhood to Neighbourhood”. That is the first time in my memory that local government has accepted its responsibilities in dealing with offenders, including by using its expertise in housing, social services and many other areas. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a core issue, and I can assure him that we will look at it and that the NOMS Bill will give local authorities the opportunity to be involved.

Tackling Crime

The latest published British crime survey figures show that crime has come down by 35 per cent. since 1997. We are determined to reduce the harm that drug and alcohol-related crime causes communities, and to tackle problems of most concern. Our focus on the most violent crimes remains our top priority. The Government have a broad range of programmes in place that focus on those most at risk of offending, including young people.

Last week, two of my constituents, aged 17 and 18—two young murderers—were convicted and sentenced to life for killing Tom ap Rhys Price, who was murdered just outside an underground station. Further, a 17-year-old was arrested for shooting a 16-year-old. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we are showing that we are tough on crime and the causes of crime, we need to introduce more preventive measures, perhaps encourage initiatives such as Brent’s “Not Another Drop” campaign and the Damilola Taylor Trust’s “Respect Your Life Not A Knife” campaign, and spend more on youth services? Will he also join me in—

I am aware of the tragic events to which my hon. Friend refers, and our sympathies are indeed with the families of those victims. In particular, I pay tribute to the approach taken by the family and fiancée of Tom ap Rhys Price following his tragic death. I also commend my hon. Friend, who works with the various groups in her constituency to tackle these difficult issues and to prevent any further such tragedies.

Since the 2005 Budget, the Home Office has invested an additional £45 million in specific targeted programmes to prevent offending and antisocial behaviour. Those programmes, which are indeed delivered through local youth offending teams, are focused on those children and young people most at risk of offending, as identified locally by a range of agencies. We support local projects working on knife crime through the Connected Fund, and other initiatives working through the “Be Safe” programmes, which are educating young people on the risks and consequences of carrying knives. We are also supporting the Damilola Taylor Trust campaign. I understand—

The Minister will know that there are more than 1 million class A drug users in this country, probably 250,000 of whom fund their habit through acquisitive crime. Many of them are dependent on heroin and are very young. Does she accept that that is a tragedy? Does she further accept that the best way to treat those people is to put them into residential rehab? Is it not the case that we are far too short of residential rehab beds and that the funding—I am told by so many in that service—is drying up? Can she help?

Of course we acknowledge the link between drugs and crime, but the statistics and the evidence indicate that acquisitive crime is falling. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a significant reduction in crime overall. The drug interventions programme involves criminal justice and treatment agencies working together with other services to provide a tailored solution for adults, and we are seeing some significant results. Although residential rehabilitation has its place, he should look at the evidence and information about the drug interventions programme and the success we are seeing there.

Contrary to what is often said in the media, violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years, as have other crimes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the British crime survey shows that violent crime has nearly halved since a peak in 1995. He will also be aware that since 1997 we have introduced more than 14,000 extra police officers to tackle all kinds of crime. They are delivering results. That is not to say that there is no serious crime, and we are prioritising serious and violent crime, but we should pay tribute to the work that our police forces are doing in tackling those issues.

Is my hon. Friend aware that drug taking is increasing among Asian youths, drawing them further into criminal activities? What is she doing to tackle that growing new problem?

As I have said, we are aware of the strong link between drugs and crime. At local level, youth crime prevention programmes are delivering results. However, in relation to a specific community, it is important that we keep under constant review whether all communities have access to the programmes that I have mentioned and whether they are delivering equally for them all. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in relation to Asian youth.

Police Force Amalgamations

5. What recent representations he has received on the reimbursement of costs arising from aborted police force amalgamations. (106794)

Since the announcement on 30 October 2006 of the contributions being offered to police authorities for their additional costs, we have received a small number of representations on this issue from hon. Members, police authorities and police forces, and from members of the public seeking clarification of the offers being made.

Will the Minister please convey to the Home Secretary my congratulations on his having again managed to escape a pending fiasco? I thank him for providing Lincolnshire with £287,000, but does the Minister recognise that the aborting of the shambles of the merger of the provincial police forces has been damaging to police morale, as well as costing the taxpayer £4 million?

Given the fact, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, that Lincolnshire asked for £287,600, which included funding for a range of ongoing projects to do with the whole of the east midlands, and that the Government gave the force £287,600, I shall, despite his tiresome, overblown rhetoric, take that as a thank you.

The issue of amalgamations may have gone, but the issues that they were designed to address have not necessarily disappeared. In all my conversations with West Midlands police, I found that they were keen on amalgamation. Can my hon. Friend assure me that everything is being done by other means, including voluntary co-operation between police forces, to address the gaps in provision outlined in the report that underpinned amalgamation?

To be entirely fair to even the most vociferous critics of the proposals for strategic forces, nobody resiled from the notion that there were gaps at protective service level and that they had to be filled. Certainly, since we stepped away from the policy in the summer, there have been extensive meetings with the West Midlands force and others, both in the Home Office and elsewhere in the country. My hon. Friend makes a very serious point about the fact that the gaps in protective—level 2—services have not diminished; they are still there and will be addressed in the ways he suggests.

Is the Minister aware that there is real anger in my constituency and throughout Cambridgeshire, as people of all parties feel that my local constabulary has been robbed of £142,000—money that could have been spent on five or six beat bobbies patrolling the streets, tackling violent crime and other issues in my constituency? Is not it the fact that there was never any real academic or empirical evidence to support the decision to press ahead with regional police forces? Why does not the Minister have the courage of his convictions and admit that fact?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in his language and entirely wrong about the final recommendations of the O’Connor report. We have said clearly that we think that strategic forces are indeed the answer. Others have said that they think there are other ways to address the real gaps, which everybody recognises are there. It is time for all forces to consider how to fill those gaps short of merged forces. In a debate on law and order, the hon. Gentleman should not use the word “robbed” so carelessly.

I wonder whether the Minister can help me, as I am a little confused. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) proposed the mergers, I was opposed to them, and some of our mutual friends accused me of not supporting Government policy. As the mergers are not coming about, am I now supporting Government policy, and will the Minister ensure that my council tax payers in Essex are fully reimbursed for campaigning against that foolhardy and ill-thought-out proposal?

We said clearly that, for the additional costs sustained by activity on mergers, councils or police authorities will be duly compensated.

Duly compensated in the context of the criteria that we laid down. By the by, nearly all authorities have accepted precisely what was offered to them.

My hon. Friend may be, in the sense that in a very mature and reflective way the Government have listened to the debate and to what many police authorities and forces said.

Many police forces—not all, by the by, but certainly more than Lancashire and Cumbria—were in favour of merger, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) suggested. However, having listened to the substantive debate, forces and others said that there were other ways to meet the protective services gaps and we are now involved in that exercise. I said clearly on the day that we stepped away from the enforced merger policy that it was for police authorities, working with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Government, to make it clear to all communities up and down the country that they can fill the gaps in ways other than enforced mergers. If they do, all well and good; if they do not, it may be something that we revisit.

Only two thirds of the merger costs incurred by police authorities have actually been reimbursed. In any case, that money should never have been spent on ill-conceived merger plans and management consultants. It should have been spent on policing. How can the Minister justify that waste of millions of pounds when he is reneging on funding for police community support officers, so there will now be 8,000 fewer of them on the streets than the Government pledged in their manifesto just 18 months ago?

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be clear that, if it were left to the Conservatives, there would be minus 24,000 and no police community support officers at all. PCSOs are doing a very good job, supplementing police forces up and down the country, not least in his constituency. I do not accept the starting premise of his question—that two thirds of merger costs were not reimbursed. Two thirds of applications put in that included merger costs were not imbursed. Over 20 of the 43 forces received their reimbursement in full. We said clearly from the start that we would not allow opportunity and other costs to be thrown in for the hell of it so that forces could accrue more moneys. We have had a range of meetings since the summer and it is entirely wrong of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that much of the work done during the mergers was wasted. Forces up and down the country are making significant advances in filling in the gaps in protective services precisely because of the work that was done over the summer and before.

Alcohol-related Crime

According to the British crime survey 2005-06, published on 20 July 2006, victims believed the offender or offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in 44 per cent. of all violent incidents—approximately the same level as for 2004-05. The offender was judged to be under the influence of alcohol in 54 per cent. of incidents of stranger violence—a decrease from 60 per cent. in 2004-05.

Those figures back up my concern based on my constituency experience that insufficient priority is being given to provide treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol. That is given much lower priority than treatments for those addicted to illegal drugs. Will the Minister look again at the need for increasing funding for treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol—both for health reasons and to reduce the crime figures?

We are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that dependent drinkers get the treatment that they need. We also have an alcohol harm reduction strategy, which is about not only tackling those who are dependent on drink, but changing the culture and doing something about binge drinking. My hon. Friend will know that recently we launched an advertising campaign called “Know Your Limits”, which set out to do something about that. I can also tell her that we are considering introducing an alcohol interventions programme, which might include referrals from alcohol-related offences for health treatment, counselling and other such support.

My hon. Friend will have read reports over the weekend about a minority of criminals with serious mental health problems committing serious crimes. Some 10 years ago, the Department of Health was concerned about double diagnosis, where mental health patients in the community were also becoming alcoholic. Such a dual diagnosis must surely be a contributory factor to that serious crime, so is my hon. Friend monitoring the situation?

We are, indeed, monitoring it. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), the criminal justice system reform document, “Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in Favour of the Law-Abiding Majority” looked into how to use an alcohol intervention programme to support people who need help, following alcohol-related disorder. I said that we are also working with the Department of Health with respect to alcoholism where people are dependent on drink. We are very much aware of the problem and we are also reviewing the alcohol harm reduction strategy. We know that alcohol is an important issue and we want to see what more we can do to tackle it.

Has the Minister made any assessment of the link between alcohol abuse and the use of knives in committing serious offences?

I am not aware that we have done any specific research into that, but we are, of course, tackling alcohol-related violence wherever it occurs, and we have introduced a number of measures to deal with it. We have recently increased the maximum sentence available to the courts for the possession of a knife from two years to four. As I have said, we are determined to crack down on violence, whether alcohol-related or involving the use of knives, or whatever.

Illegal Immigrants (Employment)

To strengthen the existing powers to prosecute and fine the employers of illegal migrant workers, we took action in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to introduce a system of civil penalties for careless employers and a criminal offence of knowingly employing illegal workers. That will come into force by the end of 2007.

Does the Minister agree that certain sectors of industry lend themselves to that kind of abuse more readily than others? Coming from the construction industry, I have considerable experience of that sector. Does he agree that the construction industry is just such a sector? What is he doing and who is he speaking to in the trade unions, trade bodies and other appropriate organisations and Departments to try to halt such abuse?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We are working with a wide range of employers and the CBI, as well as with trade unions, to understand how we can come down much harder on the cause of illegal immigration, which is obviously not the great British weather, but the opportunity to work in a sustained and growing economy. That is not only why we are doubling the resources that we are investing in enforcement and removal, but why we are proposing a new package of measures, so that those employers who break the rule, undercut competitors and employ people illegally will now face not only civil penalties, but where necessary, unlimited fines and imprisonment.

The Minister must be aware that there is not a Member who does not have within their constituency those who have applied for asylum who often have to wait months, sometimes years, for their asylum applications to be dealt with and, likewise, those who have had their asylum applications turned down who are, again, held in limbo for some considerable time before being removed from the country. Invariably and inevitably, those people are sucked into the black economy. Is not the reason for illegal immigrants simply that the Home Office and the immigration and nationality directorate have not got a grip on the asylum system?

Far be it from me to intrude into the fantasy life of another hon. Member, but if the House will permit me a brief intervention, it is fanciful to argue that we can tackle illegal immigration while opposing penalties for smuggling people in, as the Conservative party did in 1999; while opposing the simplification of the appeals process in 2004; and while proposing to halve, by £900 million, the budget for the IND and to vote against ID cards, too. All those measures are required to police illegal working and illegal immigration in a modern economy. Yes, we need to increase resources. That is why we will double resources over the next few years. Yes, we need to change the law, and proposals will come into place in 2007. But let us not pretend that the kind of measures proposed by the Conservative party would have any impact whatsoever.

Will the situation not be made much worse by the Minister’s decision on Romania and Bulgaria, whereby EU citizens from some countries will be prevented from working, whereas citizens from other countries, such as Poland and Hungary, are allowed to work? Does that not create enormous confusion in the minds of employers? What steps will he take to ensure that he publicises those changes, rather than concentrating on removal, to make employers more aware of the situation, rather than acting in a way that could cause even greater problems for the operation of the lamentable immigration and nationality directorate?

There are very few things about which I disagree with my right hon. Friend but, unfortunately, this is one of them. As he will know, the question that all EU countries must confront upon the accession of Bulgaria and Romania is not whether to lift restrictions on their labour markets but how quickly to lift them over the next four or five years. The decision that we took—it commanded some support not only in the business community, but in the House—was that we should not throw the door open very quickly, but gradually.

We need to understand the impact of the last wave of accession. My right hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that we help employers to understand their obligations. That is precisely why I wrote to 500,000 of them over the last few weeks. We will spend significant amounts more over the next few months so that employers know their obligations. He alluded to an important point: without a means of establishing someone’s identity in this modern economy, the job is difficult. That is why we need ID cards.

One has to admire the Minister’s chutzpah in criticising employers of illegal immigrants when one of the employers caught using illegal immigrant cleaners was the Home Office in July. Tonight, a BBC “Panorama” special will expose how ridiculously easy it is to obtain a fake passport from another EU country and to be allowed freely into this country with it. Will he tell the House what penalty is appropriate for an employer who relies on that same fake passport as evidence of the right to work and will he not admit that the biggest problem is not the employers, but the fact that the Government’s system of border control has been exposed as completely inadequate?

The hon. Gentleman will know something about this matter, because the Opposition abstained on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act in 2005. The Act proposed a penalty for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and introduced new sanctions of unlimited fines, and imprisonment. The premise of his point is wrong. Business in this country has a responsibility to help to police illegal immigration. That is precisely why the CBI has joined with us, so that it can help draw up the rules that drive out bad employers. He is right to say that we must strengthen border controls—indeed we must, but that is exactly why biometric identity systems will be so important, not just for British nationals, but for foreign nationals and those who seek to visit this country from abroad. Over the months to come, as we debate the matter over and again, I anticipate that many members of the Opposition will join the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who made it clear on the radio a year or two ago that, where the police have said that they see a case for using ID cards to tackle illegal immigration, he believes that that is true.

What is my hon. Friend doing about people who have been granted leave to stay and allowed to take employment, but whose span of time has run out and who are waiting to renew that permission? Many employers are letting those people go.

We have a number of measures in place, but, ultimately, there is no substitute for a big expansion in the available resources to police that. That is why I am glad that we were able to take the first step a week or two ago, outlining plans to hire 800 extra officers and investigators to uncover those businesses that break the rules. The transformation and overhaul of the IND will not be done overnight. It will take place over months and years to come. Ultimately, there will be no substitute for that in tackling the problems that my hon. Friend outlines.

Northamptonshire Police

8. If he will take steps to prevent the loss of police officer posts from the Northamptonshire police in 2007-08. (106797)

It is for Northamptonshire police authority to set the budget and, with the chief constable, decide on police officer and police staff numbers and on their deployment.

That is a disappointing and complacent reply. There is strong local concern, because the way in which the present police funding formula works means that Northamptonshire faces the loss of between 30 and 42 full-time police officers next year. Will the Minister meet a delegation of hon. Members, the police force and the police authority so that we can get to the bottom of this serious financial crisis?

I will be happy to consider that, if the hon. Gentleman gets his facts right. If the formula had been strictly applied, it would have meant £600,000 less for Northamptonshire in 2007-08, so it has benefited from the 3.6 per cent. flat level.

The biggest problem faced by my constituents in Northamptonshire, on some of the more difficult estates, is that there is not the same uniformed presence that exists elsewhere. That is because the Conservative-controlled county council decided to pool the funding for police community support officers and cut funding for youth services, so that it could keep council tax down. Will the Minister ensure that the Opposition take the battle against crime and the causes of crime seriously?

I can only agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for her comments. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) cannot even get his facts right, let alone represent the concerns of the people in Northampton as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) does.

It is interesting that the Minister picks one statistic for one year. If he were being totally informative, he would have mentioned that year after year the police in Northamptonshire have been underfunded by the national formula. This Government have cut millions and millions of pounds from the funding. Is that not a disgrace, and should he not apologise for it?

The hon. Gentleman’s feigned anger shows again that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is exactly right. Tweedledee and Tweedledum here are not serious about properly representing the people of Northamptonshire, whereas she clearly is.

Identity Cards

From the start of the 2003-04 financial year, up to the end of September 2006, a total of £58.2 million was spent by the Home Office on the identity cards scheme.

Given that the huge cost is one of the reasons why so many people are rightly sceptical about the ID cards scheme, why are the Government so unwilling to publish the gateway reviews and come clean about the true accumulated cost of the project?

I note with interest that the Liberal Democrats’ website says that they:

“Support the inclusion of biometrics in passports…as a means of combating…illegal immigration, terrorism and fraud.”

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the cost report that we laid before the House not too long ago and he will remember that about 70 per cent. of the costs set out in it will be incurred anyway as we upgrade our identity systems to support biometric passports as well. He is looking for some Christmas reading, so he will be delighted to know that, just before Christmas, we will publish our action plan for identity cards, together with detailed plans about how we will use biometric identity systems to tackle illegal immigration, a cause to which I am delighted that he subscribes.

When the report is published, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that cost does not stop terrorists or illegal immigrants coming into this country? When he examines such things, he should remember the needs of the people of this country before he starts listening to the wishy-washy Liberals.

Recently, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), gave me a written answer saying that no costs had been calculated for the deployment of ID cards in the private sector—indeed, all the cost estimates so far have been only in respect of the Home Office. Is any quotation of possible savings from the introduction of ID cards not ludicrous until a full and comprehensive cost estimate is provided for not only the private sector, but the full public sector and not just the Home Office?

The private sector will make investments in exploiting ID cards as it sees fit and when it sees a net positive business case for doing so. We are fulfilling our obligation to the House to provide six-monthly estimates of the costs as we see them. When we laid the cost report before the House not long ago, we took the opportunity to set out the net benefit case. The net benefit stood at between £1 billion and £1.7 billion a year, in addition to helping our ability to strengthen controls, tackle illegal immigration and identity fraud, and disrupt terrorism.

North Yorkshire Police

10. What assessment he has made of the recently completed baseline assessment report on the North Yorkshire police; and if he will make a statement. (106799)

The baseline assessment forms an integral part of the police performance assessment for each force, which we published in October. North Yorkshire was assessed as doing better than its peers in most areas, and had demonstrated improvements compared with last year.

I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating North Yorkshire police on its success. Last year, the number of police officers in the county increased by almost 100, which was one reason why the total amount of crime in the county fell. However, the number of crimes varies enormously from one community to another. There were 3,949 crimes in York’s city-centre Guildhall ward compared with only 121 in York’s rural Wheldrake ward. Will the Government continue to target extra resources on fighting crime in the inner-city hot spots in police areas that are predominantly rural in character?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating North Yorkshire on its performance. I take his point about the rural-urban dichotomy in crime, which is startling in North Yorkshire’s case. I know that the North Yorkshire force has already put in place the architecture for neighbourhood policing and that will be implemented in full during the rest of the year and beyond. I have no doubt that City of York will get its fair share, and that will reflect the crime levels there, as opposed to other parts of North Yorkshire.

I congratulate North Yorkshire police on reducing crime overall, but does the Minister share my concern about the fact that violent and sexual crimes in North Yorkshire are on the increase, and that antisocial behaviour has reached unacceptable levels in the rural wards of market towns such as Thirsk, Bedale, Boroughbridge and Easingwold? What are the Government doing to allow the provision of community support officers to continue under North Yorkshire’s budget, and what extra finances will they give the force?

I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating North Yorkshire on its performance, and I am equally happy to congratulate her on hopefully staying in north Yorkshire, albeit in the constituency next door to hers. I take her points seriously, as does the chief constable of North Yorkshire. On every front—on violent crime, antisocial behaviour or the elements alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)—North Yorkshire is on the case. Resources, as reflected in the recent police settlement, are still going up, and are going in the right direction.

Drug Rehabilitation Programmes

11. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of drug rehabilitation programmes in prisons and young offender institutions. (106800)

Research shows that drug treatment programmes in prison can reduce the reoffending rate by 10 to 15 per cent. below predicted levels, when effective aftercare arrangements are made. The Government have boosted funding for prison drug treatment significantly since 1997. It is up by 738 per cent., and a comprehensive framework is in place to provide treatment based on individual need.

Given the importance of the issue, is the Minister aware that London prisons receive only 5 per cent. of the drug rehabilitation provision offered to those in the community? Why, then, have the Government cut the very programme introduced to plug the gap, namely the integrated drug treatment system, by some 60 per cent.?

I do not accept that we have cut the programme. We are trying to get the most, and most effective, treatment for offenders, both in prison and outside. As for the figures, as I said, there has been a 738 per cent. increase since 1997 and clinical services are up by 483 per cent., so we cannot be charged with not trying to deal with drugs in prison. We certainly have a good record on what we are trying to achieve.

May we have an investigation into the distressingly large number of addicts who die shortly after being released from prison? In a recent case in my constituency, a young addict was forcibly detoxed, against his wishes and those of his family. The result was that he died on the day when he was released from prison. He took what was probably his usual dose of drugs, but his body was no longer tolerant to it. Should we not treat drug addicts with the same humanity as we do those who are addicted to alcohol?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we try to support offenders in any way that we can, particularly those with drugs problems. That is why we made the investment that we did. I am happy to speak to him about the case that he mentioned, and, obviously, if any lessons can be learned, we will learn them.

Immigration (UK Skills Shortages)

12. What recent estimate he has made of the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria required to satisfy current UK skills shortages when developing his Department’s proposed restrictions on such immigration. (106801)

We have made it clear, not least during this afternoon’s questions, that we will impose controls on Romania and Bulgaria’s access to jobs for a transitional period. The opening of our labour market will take account of the needs of our labour market, the impact of the A10 expansion and the positions adopted by other member states.

Is the Minister aware of concerns in my constituency about the number of workers who may come to Britain from Romania and Bulgaria who will be unskilled or semi-skilled, rather than the skilled people that the country needs? Will she deny the suggestion, emanating from her own Department, that some 45,000 undesirables could well come to the country as a result of her policies?

Those coming from Romania and Bulgaria do not have any automatic right to work. Although we have not placed restrictions on skilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria, we will double enforcement and ensure that anyone who works does so legally. If they do not do so, sanctions will be enforced.

Trident

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the Government’s decision to maintain the United Kingdom’s independent nuclear deterrent.

There are many complex technical, financial and military issues to be debated in respect of this decision, but none of them obscures or alters the fundamental political judgment at the crux of it. Britain has had an independent nuclear deterrent for the past half century. In that time, the world has changed dramatically, not least in the collapse of the Soviet Union—the original context in which the deterrent was acquired. Given that that change has occurred, the question is whether it is wise to maintain the deterrent in the very different times of today. The whole point about the deterrent is not to create the circumstances in which it can be used but, on the contrary, to try to create circumstances in which it is never used. Necessarily, therefore, any analysis of what role it could play in any situation that is hypothetical will always be open to the most strenuous dispute.

Ultimately, this decision is a judgment—a judgment about possible risks to our country and its security, and the place of the deterrent in thwarting those risks. The Government’s judgment on balance is that, although the cold war is over, we cannot be certain in the decades ahead that a major nuclear threat to our strategic interests will not emerge; that there is also a new and potentially hazardous threat from states such as North Korea, which claims to have developed nuclear weapons already, or Iran, which is in breach of its non-proliferation duties; that there is a possible connection between some of those states and international terrorism; that it is noteworthy that no present nuclear power is, or is even considering, divesting itself of its nuclear capability unilaterally; and that in those circumstances it would be unwise and dangerous for Britain, alone of the nuclear powers, to give up its independent nuclear deterrent.

The House will notice that I do not say that the opposite decision is unthinkable, or that anyone who proposes it is pacifist or indifferent to our country’s defence. There are perfectly respectable arguments against the judgment that we have made. I both understand them and appreciate their force. It is just that, in the final analysis, the risk of giving up something that has been one of the mainstays of our security since the war, and, moreover, doing so when the one certain thing about our world today is its uncertainty, is not a risk I feel we can responsibly take. Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance. It may be—indeed, hopefully, is—the case that the eventuality against which we are insuring ourselves will never come to pass, but in this era of unpredictable but rapid change, when every decade has a magnitude of difference with the last, and when the consequences of a misjudgment on this issue are potentially catastrophic, would we want to drop this insurance, not as part of a global move to do so, but on our own? I think not.

What will happen from today, however, will be a very full process of debate. It is our intention, at the conclusion of that process in March next year, to have a vote in the House. We will make arrangements during the process to answer as fully as possible any of the questions that arise. Of course, I am sure the Select Committee on Defence, at least, will want to examine the issue carefully. The White Paper, which we publish today, goes into not merely the reasons for the decision but a technical explanation of the various options, and it tries to cover in some detail all potential lines of dispute or inquiry. I hope, therefore, that we can focus on the decision itself, not the process. Let me now turn to some of the key questions.

First, the reason why this decision comes to us now is that if in 2007 we do not take the initial steps toward maintaining our deterrent, shortage of time may prevent us from being able to do so. Necessarily, we can form that view based only on estimates, but they are from the evidence given to us by our own experts, by the industry that would build the new submarines, and from the experience of other nuclear states.

Our deterrent is based on four submarines. At any one time, one will be in dock undergoing extensive repair and maintenance, usually for around four years. The other three will be at sea or in port for short periods. At all times at least one will be on deterrent patrol, fully armed. The submarines are equipped with Trident D5 missiles that are US manufactured but maintained with our close technical and scientific collaboration. The operation of the system is fully independent—a missile can be fired only on the instructions of the British Prime Minister.

The current Vanguard submarines have a service life of 25 years. The first boat should leave service in 2017. We can extend that for five years, so in 2022 that extension will be concluded, and in 2024 the second boat will also end its extended service life. By that time, we will have only two Vanguard submarines. That will be insufficient to guarantee continuous patrolling.

The best evidence we have is that it will take us 17 years to design, build and deploy a new submarine. Working back from 2024, therefore, that means that we have to take the decision in 2007. Of course, all these timelines are estimates, but they conform to the experience of other countries with submarine deterrents, as well as to our own.

Secondly, we have looked carefully at the scope of different options. The White Paper sets them out—for example, aircraft with cruise missiles, but cruise missiles travel at subsonic speeds, and building the special aircraft would be hugely expensive; or a surface ship equipped with Trident, but that is a far easier target; or a land-based system with Trident, but in a small country such as the United Kingdom that would be immensely problematic and, again, an easier target. There is no real doubt on this score: if we want an independent nuclear deterrent, for a nation such as the UK a submarine-based one is the best. It is also our only deterrent; in the 1990s we moved to Trident as our sole nuclear capability.

Of the other major nuclear powers, the US has submarine, air and land-based capability. Russia has all three capabilities and has the largest number of nuclear weapons. France has both submarine and air-launched capability and has a new class of submarines in development, the last of which is due to come into service in 2010. China has a smaller number of land-based strategic nuclear weapons but is working on modernising its capability, including a submarine-based nuclear ballistic missile.

We will continue to procure some elements of the system, particularly those relating to the missile, from the United States, but, as now, we will maintain full operational independence. The submarines, missiles, warheads and command chain are entirely under British control, and will remain so after 2024. That gives British Prime Ministers the necessary assurance that no aggressor can escalate a crisis beyond UK control.

A new generation of submarines will make maximum use of existing infrastructure and technology. The overall design and manufacture costs of some £15 billion to £20 billion are spread over three decades, are on average 3 per cent. of the defence budget, and are at their highest in the early 2020s. As before, we will ensure that the investment required will not be at the expense of the conventional capabilities that our armed forces need. It is our intention that the procurement and building will, as now, be done by British industry, with thousands of British, highly skilled jobs involved.

However, we will investigate whether, with a new design, we can maintain continuous patrol with a fleet of only three submarines. A decision on that will be made once we know more about the submarines’ detailed design. No decisions are needed now on the warhead. We can extend the life of the D5 Trident missile to 2042. After that, there will be the opportunity for us to participate in any new missile design in collaboration with the US, which will be confirmed in an exchange of letters between myself and the President of the United States.

Maintaining our nuclear deterrent capability is also fully consistent with all our international obligations. We have the smallest stockpile of nuclear warheads among the recognised nuclear weapons states, and we are the only one to have reduced to a single deterrent system. Furthermore, we have decided, on expert advice, that we can reduce our stockpile of operationally available warheads to no more than 160, which represents a further 20 per cent. reduction. Compared with previous plans, we will have reduced the number of such weapons by nearly half.

So, inexorably, we return to the central judgment: maintain our independent nuclear deterrent, or not? It is written as a fact by many that there is no possibility of nuclear confrontation with any major nuclear power—except that it is not a fact. Like everything else germane to this judgment, it is a prediction. It is probably right—but certain? No, we cannot say that.

The new dimension is undoubtedly the desire by states, highly dubious in their intentions, like North Korea and Iran, to pursue nuclear weapons capability. Fortunately, Libya has given up its weapons of mass destruction ambitions and has played a positive role internationally; the notorious network of A. Q. Khan, the former Pakistani nuclear physicist, has been shut down. But proliferation remains a real problem. The notion of unstable, usually deeply repressive and anti-democratic states, in some cases profoundly inimical to our way of life, having a nuclear capability, is a distinct and novel reason for Britain not to give up its capacity to deter.

It is not utterly fanciful, either, to imagine states sponsoring nuclear terrorism from their soil. We know that this global terrorism seeks chemical, biological and nuclear devices. It is not impossible to contemplate a rogue Government helping such an acquisition. It is true that our deterrent would not deter or prevent terrorists, but it is bound to have an impact on Governments who might sponsor them.

Then there is the argument, attractive to all of us who believe in the power of countries to lead by example, as we seek to do in climate change and have done in respect of debt relief, that Britain giving up its deterrent would encourage others in the same direction. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any major nuclear power would follow such an example—on the contrary. As for the new, would-be nuclear powers, it really would be naive to think that they would be influenced by a purely British decision—more likely, they would construe it as weakness.

Finally, there is one other argument: that we shelter under the nuclear deterrent of America. Our co-operation with America is rightly very close, but close as it is, the independent nature of the British deterrent is again an additional insurance against circumstances where we are threatened but America is not. Those circumstances are, I agree, also highly unlikely, but I am unwilling to say that they are non-existent.

In the end, therefore, we come back to the same judgment. Anyone can say that the prospect of Britain facing a threat in which our nuclear deterrent is relevant is highly improbable; no one, however, can say that it is impossible. In the early 21st century, the world may have changed beyond recognition since the decision taken by the Attlee Government more than half a century ago. But it is precisely because we could not have recognised then the world we live in now that it would not be wise, now, to predict the unpredictable in the times to come. That is the judgment that we have come to. We have done so according to what we think is in the long-term strategic interests of our nation and its security. I commend that judgment to the House.

Let me say straight away that I agree with the Prime Minister both about the substance of this decision and about the timing. It is a vital matter for our national security, and it requires a long-term approach. I hope that we can work together on this issue for the good of our country. Conservative Members have always believed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent, and it is good to see that this is now so firmly part of a national political consensus.

When it comes to our nuclear deterrent, there are some straightforward questions to answer. Should it be replaced? Do we need a submarine-based system? Does the decision need to be taken now? Our approach to all those questions is to answer yes.

We believe that the case for maintaining our deterrent and therefore ordering a replacement is powerful. Those who argue that the world has changed so that no deterrent is required miss the point. Yes, the world has changed, and it continues to change rapidly, but that is the very case for keeping up our guard. Just as today’s threat is so different from that predicted 20 years ago, today we cannot predict the threat that we will face in 20 years’ time. Still less can we predict the threat in 40 to 50 years’ time, when the next generation of submarines will still be in service.

Some argue that because the major threat is now rogue states, a submarine-based alternative is not necessary. However, is not it the case that the replacement for Trident will cover the period 2025 to 2055, when the nature of threat is so unpredictable? It may be rogue states or major powers. We should have a credible deterrent to both. Does the Prime Minister agree that the key issue in deterrence is credibility, and that the key to a credible system is that it is not vulnerable to pre-emptive attack? Do not all the experts agree that, of the three options of land, air or submarine-based systems, the submarine-based system is the least vulnerable by far?

On the issue of timing, is not the key starting the design and procurement process so that the new submarines are available when the old ones go out of service? Would not a further life-extension programme be costly and uncertain and potentially leave a gap?

Let me ask about four specific matters. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it would not be right to rule out a fourth submarine? For example, the French deterrent requires four submarines. The Prime Minister said that the decision would be made when we know more about the detailed design. Will he confirm that the decision about the fourth submarine does not have to be taken until possibly as late as 2020?

Secondly, some have raised questions of disarmament and legality. Does the Prime Minister agree that replacing Trident with a submarine-based system does not hinder our efforts to achieve multilateral nuclear disarmament? Britain is not part of a nuclear arms race. Trident is our only nuclear weapon; it is a minimum deterrent and we have the right to replace it. On legality, will the Prime Minister confirm that maintaining such a deterrent is compatible with the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty?

Thirdly, there is the issue of cost. The White Paper gives a commitment that the cost will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities of our armed forces. What does that mean for the defence budget that the Prime Minister is currently planning?

Fourthly and lastly, there is the issue of warheads. Previous Conservative Governments significantly reduced the number of warheads. The incoming Labour Government reduced them still further. Now the Prime Minister proposes yet another reduction. Is he content that the new total is sufficient to maintain a credible minimum deterrent? On that issue as others, does he acknowledge that he does not have to make concessions to those in the House who do not support the theory of deterrence and who have never supported Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent? Is not it the case that the Prime Minister can make the right decisions because he knows that, if he does, he will have our full support?

First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for our decision. I essentially agree with the points that he made at the outset. In particular, I think that it is important to emphasise that the only credible deterrent is one that is not susceptible to pre-emptive attack—that is why the submarine-based system is so much better. On the design and procurement process, it is important that we get it under way now.

We certainly do not rule out four submarines. Indeed, it is the other way round—we would keep four unless it became feasible to move to three. If it is feasible to move to three, we can do that, but it depends on a series of discussions that will take place in the years to come about design and so on. The decision does not need to be made until much later.

It is clear in article VI of the non-proliferation treaty that we can maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. We are under an obligation, which we are fulfilling, to pursue multilateral negotiations, but there is no obligation on us to disarm unilaterally.

On the defence budget, all I can point to is the fact that over the past few years, after many years in which there were real-terms cuts in the defence budget, there have been real-terms increases. It is important that we give our armed forces the equipment and the defence spending that they require.

On the warheads, it is of course the case that it is only on the advice that retaining no more than 160 is consistent with maintaining a credible deterrent that we could take such a decision, and that is the advice that we have received.

As the Prime Minister and the White Paper both make clear, a decision to replace Trident is a significant decision, with enormous financial, political and security implications. To be properly made, that decision must take account of the strategic environment or threat assessment, of cost and of our treaty obligations. The Prime Minister says that the decision is a matter of judgment, and he is right; but it is my judgment that we can give proper consideration to all those factors only by postponing a decision, perhaps until 2014, by cutting the number of warheads by half to 100, and by extending the life of the existing submarines. There are many estimates available other than those contained—[Interruption.]

I remember the 1983 general election, when a large number of those people on the Labour Benches were arguing that there should be unilateral nuclear disarmament, that Britain should withdraw from NATO and that we should come out of the European Union. That just shows that if one waits long enough, one sees everything. The question in people’s minds is why is this decision being pushed through the Cabinet and Parliament just as the Prime Minister is about to leave Downing street. Is the decision about Britain’s interests or about his legacy?

I think that I gather from that that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in favour of maintaining the deterrent, but not necessarily now. On this idea of postponing a decision, all we can do is go on the basis of the advice that is given to us. That advice is that, working back from 2024, when the second submarine goes out of service, it will take 17 years to put a replacement together. That is because there is a hugely complicated process of engineering and so on. That is the advice that we have received. I am not a technical expert, and nor is the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The political judgment is ours to make, but the technical advice that we have received is as I have outlined to the House. In those circumstances, I really do not understand on what basis I would stand here and say that we would put the decision back to 2014. The advice that I am receiving is that if we do that it is perfectly possible that we shall not be able to maintain the deterrent, so we shall have de facto taken the decision.

There may be other estimates, but I have to go on the ones that we have got—I cannot go on the Liberal Democrat one.

As for the reduction from 160 to 100 warheads, again, I do not know on what basis I would make that decision. We have already reduced the number significantly, but the evidence that we have is that we can reduce to 160 without damaging our deterrent. I cannot responsibly go beneath that number, when I have absolutely no basis on which to do that, other than the fact that 100 is a round figure. I cannot do that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right in pointing to historical precedents, and I understand his point, but that is why it is a good idea not to go back there.

Those of us who have been here a long, long time find this a case of déjà vu all over again. Under a previous Government, I used the same arguments as my honourable and good friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats has used, when my assistant and I wrote the minority report for the Defence Committee. It was a brilliant report, but totally wrong. The arguments that I now hear against Trident were the ones that I used a quarter of a century ago.

One of the arguments was cost. Will the Prime Minister give us a ballpark figure, so that we have an indication of whether the cost of Trident will be as low as £15 billion, as some people hope, or as high as £76 billion, as projected by the Liberal Democrats?

The £15 billion to £20 billion cost is for the design, manufacture and infrastructure. In today’s money, that compares with the cost of the previous Vanguard submarines of some £14 billion. It is not as if we have nothing to compare with, and the experience of other nuclear states is also available for comparison. We are therefore reasonably confident of the estimate. Of course, there will be a massive amount of work to be done in the coming years, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the evidence now is very clear that we need to start discussing the design next year. After all, a series of skills will need to be retained, and such highly qualified people will need to know that they will be retained, in order to do the work.

The Prime Minister promised us a debate, and I welcome the fact that it will run until March. Will he confirm, however, that the decision was not to replace Trident so much as to replace the Vanguard submarines that are its platform? Will he also confirm, as it was not entirely clear to me, that he was announcing in his statement that the United Kingdom was signing up to the United States’ service-life extension programme for the Trident D5 missile system?

Yes, we are doing that, as that will allow us to ensure that the missiles have an extended life. After that, we will be in a position to participate in the replacement of the Trident D5 missile. The right hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right that we are effectively talking about replacing the Vanguard submarines. If we want to maintain the submarine-based deterrent, however, we must begin consultation on that now.

I believe that the country will very much support the forthright position adopted by my right hon. Friend in tackling this difficult issue on behalf of the Government and Parliament. A successful conclusion to a healthy debate could do a huge amount to raise the esteem of Parliament. There is still, however, an educational job to be undertaken. All the arguments—there are legitimate ones on all sides—should be expressed, so that people can judge whether Parliament is making the right decision in some months’ time.

I totally agree with what my hon. Friend says. One of the reasons that I dealt with the matter at some length in my statement is that there are perfectly legitimate arguments that people should have. I genuinely think that the more that we debate the matter the more people will ultimately see that there are answers to some of the technical points, but, in the end, we are left with a judgment that, very responsibly, we should make as a House of Commons.

No one seriously doubts that, in the next 30 years, both rogue Governments and terrorist organisations will get access to nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and will use those weapons to try to change the balance of power against the western world. Against that background, is not it the duty of responsible and democratic nuclear powers—not only the United States but Britain and France—to work together so that the countries of western Europe can make their full contribution towards our collective defence? Were we to give up that power unilaterally, would not that merely bring comfort to our enemies and alarm our friends?

I totally agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that is why we will continue to work with other countries in that vein. The NATO summit last week emphasised again that that collaboration is as important as it has ever been. The point about our duty to work together with other countries on nuclear disarmament is absolutely right. Were we to pursue that in any other way, that would go against what we all wish to see.

Given a cost of up to £75 billion—including the cost of maintenance over a lifespan of 30 years—how can this proposal be justified in an utterly different, post-cold-war environment, when it will severely restrict much more needed conventional defence expenditure? It will clearly undermine the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, especially for Iran, and it will drain off colossal sums of money from where they are most needed to deal with the real threats that confront us—terrorism, climate change and long-term energy insecurity.

Obviously, I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. We will be able to maintain the replacement for Trident with the same percentage of the defence budget for running costs with which we maintain the existing deterrent. The cost that we are giving is the cost of maintaining that submarine capability.

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that the proposal is contrary to our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Article VI states

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

In other words, there are obligations to pursue negotiations in good faith with other countries. That is precisely why it is clear that we are fully able to maintain our existing nuclear deterrent under the non-proliferation treaty.

Of course, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say—as I said in my statement—that the cold war is no longer with us; but the one thing we cannot say is that there are not potentially new and hazardous security threats out there, and in any event there are still major nuclear powers. I agree that it is—let us say—highly improbable, highly unlikely, that we will ever be threatened by any of those powers, but I am certainly not prepared to say that such a thing is impossible to think of. I believe that we must be in a position to protect ourselves against every potential threat, and ultimately I think that giving up our independent nuclear deterrent in what is a very uncertain and insecure world would be irresponsible.

The Prime Minister pointed out that close co-operation with the United States of America would be very important, not just in terms of politics but in terms of the upgrading of technology. Can he assure us that in the event of the Americans’ improving their missile warhead system in the future, we will have the same kind of access that we have today?

The whole purpose of the agreement into which we are entering with the Americans is to give us access to that technological improvement. As the Americans develop the successor to the Trident D5 missile, we will be able to work with them closely and have access to that updated weapon system. Although the deterrent would be used in wholly independent circumstances relating to the United Kingdom, the ability to work with the Americans is very important.

The Prime Minister is right to remind the House that we are not experts on this subject, but Theodore Postol is. Let me explain for the House’s benefit that Theodore Postol is a professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the former United States official responsible for the development and implementation of the Trident II system. He told me at the weekend that the American equivalent of the Vanguard class of submarine, the Ohio class, lasted 45 years despite having twice as much sea time as our boats, and that the Americans are currently converting some of their Trident-carrying boats into cruise-carrying submarines. Does the Prime Minister agree with Ted Postol? Could we not convert some of our boats, and avoid disproportionate expenditure?

First, let me tell my hon. Friend that I am delighted to see him back in his place. Secondly, let me tell him that the question whether we could do the same as the Americans has been gone into in a great deal of detail, and I am advised that the answer is no, because their submarines were designed and fitted in completely different way. I am told that the life of our boats cannot be extended for longer than five years.

Obviously some of the issues are highly technical, and, as I say, I am not an expert, but the best advice we have is that it is not possible to do what the Americans are doing because their submarines are different from ours, and that the maximum safe extension for ours is five years. That is why this decision arises now.

May I follow on from the question from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle)? Does the Prime Minister agree that just as vital as maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent is protecting the interests of the taxpayer and value for money, particularly since this replacement is going to cost £20 billion, and starting? Should not we have a debate on whether there are other options? After all, the multiple warhead was designed to protect Moscow defences from attack, which is unlikely to occur in the future. Why should we rule out at least consideration of cruise missiles being launched from our attack nuclear submarines? What would that cost? Would it not be a fraction of the cost of this system?

For that very reason the White Paper goes into the different systems in some detail. I agree that one of the issues is: should we stick with the submarine-based system, or should we move to some other type of system? All I can say is that, for the reasons given in the White Paper, the submarine-based system is, in my judgment, the most suitable form of deterrent. One can go through the other options, which are all well known. In the debate over the coming months, people can canvass all those different options, but the difficulty is that an aircraft armed with cruise missiles is far easier to intercept and the cruise missiles go at subsonic speeds. In any event, in terms of cost, I am advised that the aircraft would have to be specially designed and that is an enormously expensive undertaking. We could have a surface ship armed with Trident missiles, but that is an easier target. Alternatively, we could have land-based silos. It is worth pointing out that America, for example, has land-based silos as well as air-launched and submarine-launched missiles. Its land-based silos are situated in a vast territory—a huge area can be used for that purpose. I do not think that that is practical for us. Therefore, there are very good cost reasons why it is best to stick with the submarine-based missile. This is precisely the type of issue that the next few months will allow us to consider. The White Paper goes through those options in detail—this is why I wanted the White Paper—so that the perfectly legitimate questions that have been raised can be answered.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which will be particularly welcomed by those who work in DML and the naval base in Plymouth. Does he agree that on this occasion we are indeed talking about rocket science of the most complex and challenging kind and that the people who design, integrate and make the safety case for this equipment have to have many years of training and experience? For that reason alone, those who call for postponement are simply wrong.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is worth pointing out that thousands of people who work in and around her constituency have built up expertise over the years that we cannot afford to lose, and nor can their employers afford to keep those skills extant in circumstances where it is unclear for several years whether we will proceed. One of the reasons why this process will take slightly longer is that the submarine industry in our country and indeed in other parts of the world has contracted, so my hon. Friend’s comments are absolutely right. If we allow those skills to degrade—I think that that would be the most irresponsible thing of all—we will take a decision without ever meaning to take a decision.

The credibility of Trident in the previous century depended on the belief that we would be prepared to use it if necessary against an overwhelming enemy. Are we seriously to believe that we would ever use that most potent nuclear weapon against the rogue states or terrorist organisations that are the enemies of today and likely to be the enemies of tomorrow? Why will the Prime Minister not at least explore more flexible, more useable and therefore more credible non-nuclear alternatives before taking a final decision?

With respect, the whole principle of deterrence is that we do not state the precise circumstances in which we might use that deterrent, since that very uncertainty is part of the concept of deterrence, but we all have to make a judgment about that. Of course, it is possible to say, “Let us get rid of our independent nuclear capability and rely simply on conventional forces.” In the end, I do not think that that is sensible for the reasons that I gave in my statement: first, I do not think that we can say that it is inconceivable in any set of circumstances that we could be subject to a major power's nuclear threat; secondly, we have additional states that are developing nuclear weapons capability, and who can say where that capability will lead in years to come? I am, frankly, also somewhat fortified in this judgment by the fact that no other major nuclear power is taking the step of getting rid of its independent deterrent; indeed, it is interesting that France, for example, is in the process of launching a new generation of submarine-based nuclear missiles. Therefore, the whole idea of us at this point in time saying that we will put it out of our power to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent seems to me on balance to be wrong. I do not in the least dispute that it is possible to make the other point of view, but in the end there is a judgment to be made, and we shall all have to make it when the time comes to vote.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that, in contrast to what happened in 1947, 1961, 1974 and 1980, this Prime Minister and this Government have for the first time ever initiated a public debate on these decisions? Will he also confirm that the Government remain committed to the goal of global nuclear disarmament and will make renewed efforts to secure international negotiations as called for under article VI of the non-proliferation treaty?

Yes, I can confirm that, and it is important that we have a full debate because, as is clear, there are different views in all parts of the House in relation to this debate. The trouble is, however, that in the end it comes down to a judgment. The difficulty is that we cannot predict the precise circumstances in which the relevance of our nuclear deterrent will arise; we can only make a judgment about that. The truth is—I think we all struggle with this when coming to a decision—that although the world in which we live has changed dramatically since the 1940s, there is still a threat out there. Indeed, that threat can change, and even be extended in certain dimensions.

Therefore, is it sensible for us to say now—at this point—that we are going to give up an independent nuclear deterrent that has been one of the mainstays of our defence for over half a century? We can debate all the technical, financial and military questions, but we come back to that simple judgment. When I was reflecting on the decision, I reflected on this: what would it be like if I were to come to the Dispatch Box as Prime Minister and say, “We have decided that we are going to give up our independent nuclear deterrent”? I cannot see that; I just cannot see it.

Given that Scotland has a national Parliament not a parish council, will the Prime Minister give an assurance that he will respect the Scottish Parliament when it votes against the stationing of nuclear weapons in Scotland?

I always respect the Scottish Parliament because it is part of the devolution settlement within the United Kingdom, and unlike the hon. Gentleman, I believe that Scotland is stronger and better within the United Kingdom than it would be out of it.

As a Member of Parliament who does not believe in weapons of mass destruction even though they might be a deterrent because I do not think that we would ever dare use a deterrent that would destroy the world, I want to know whether the Prime Minister thinks that the money spent on them would be better spent on tackling poverty in Africa—and poverty in this country after last week’s report—and pensions for old people?

Again, that is a perfectly understandable judgment for people to come to. Some would say, “Spend this money on conventional defence.” My hon. Friend says, “Don’t spend it on defence at all, but spend it on poverty reduction programmes, or public services in our country.” But in the end the question is: will we make our country less safe if we give up this deterrent? [Interruption.] The purpose of deterrence is not so that we can use it; the whole purpose of deterrence is so that we never have to use it, and that is the reason that we keep it.

In welcoming this hard decision, I ask the Prime Minister to reassure us that he truly understands the philosophy of deterrence, which is complicated and tough. For instance, does he agree that our negotiating position is always strongest when we keep all our military options open, which is the opposite of what we did over Iran?

It is very important that we keep all our options open, which is precisely the reason why we are better able to achieve multilateral disarmament if we maintain our own deterrent.

If the British Government decided to go it alone and to act without our allies, would they first have to seek the approval of our American allies?

Our deterrent in its operation is completely and totally independent. As I said, I am not speculating on the circumstances in which we might or might not use our deterrent, but it is completely operationally independent. It is a decision for the British Prime Minister and the British Prime Minister alone.

The Prime Minister is right to say that this successor submarine must be built with British technology and by British scientists, but does he share the extreme anxiety of Rolls-Royce—one of the main contractors—that not enough nuclear physicists are coming out of British universities with the necessary specialism to enable it to be sure of doing the job that he outlines today? What steps will he take to reverse the decline in physics in schools and universities, so that we can be sure that we have enough British scientists with the necessary security clearance to build these submarines?

In the years to come, thanks in part to the fact that we have doubled the science budget, there will be many more opportunities for people in British science. The skills that we require is one of the issues that we will discuss with companies when we begin this process next year.

If a decision is to be taken by Parliament in three months’ time, will my right hon. Friend confirm that a recent document circulated to us all by Greenpeace, containing figures running into millions of pounds in expenditure on this programme, is complete fiction?

What people do is that they take all the existing running costs and project them forward for many years. The best estimates that we have of the actual costs of the design, manufacture, infrastructure and so on are the £15 billion to £20 billion estimates. We are somewhat strengthened in saying that, because the cost of the present Vanguard submarines—in today’s terms, not in the financial terms of the period in which they were built—is about £14 billion. We also have a lot of experience, not least in terms of the French system that is being brought into being.

The right hon. Gentleman relies on his judgment, but does he recognise that it was the very judgment that took us into Iraq, and that his reputation for good judgment is not highly regarded? That being so, if he wants to carry this thing forward, perhaps this House needs some independent advice. Might I commend early-day motion 239, which is in my name? It suggests the appointing of seven Privy Councillors to advise this House on the cost of Trident and the alternatives, and that this House should not vote on the matter until we have received such a report.

Obviously, I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on Iraq. In the end, this is not a judgment that can be subcontracted to other people; the Government have to take a decision. We have said that we will put this decision, after a debate, to the House and the House will vote on it. Rather than endlessly sidetracking ourselves into questions of process, we should just come to a judgment.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement? Given the importance that he attaches to an independent nuclear weapons system for the UK, would he advise the 23 non-nuclear NATO states to acquire similar independent nuclear weapons, and if not, why not?

No, I would not, and for the very reasons that are at the heart of the non-proliferation treaty. It is clear that those who are the major nuclear powers can remain nuclear powers, fully consistent with the non-proliferation treaty. To be fair, over the years that treaty has worked reasonably well, in that some countries have given up their nuclear weapons ambitions, such as Brazil, South Africa and so on. In fact, some of the predictions that were made back in the 1960s about the number of nuclear states that there would be have fortunately turned out not to be correct. But it is recognised, and it is at the heart of the non-proliferation treaty, that Britain, along with those other countries, should be able to be a nuclear power.

Given that NATO prohibits Germany from having nuclear weapons, and that we are apparently using NATO for missions further and further afield, has the Prime Minister discussed the nuclear deterrent in the context of article 5 of the NATO treaty, the prohibition affecting Germany, the proposal to change the European security and defence policy and the defence requirements, and European integration?

Would my right hon. Friend agree that if his recommendation is accepted, it would be possible for a future Parliament in 2014 to decide not to implement a Trident replacement, but it would not be possible for that Parliament to implement a Trident replacement if this Parliament decides not to?

There are sufficient experts on parliamentary sovereignty in the Chamber that I think that I am on strong ground in saying that Parliament can always decide what it wishes to do. However, let us be clear that if we were to endorse the Government’s decision next March we would be proceeding with a series of designs and assessments with the industry concerned. It is correct that it is only at a later stage that we will let the contracts, and it is always open to any Parliament to do anything, but it is highly unlikely to alter the decision that, frankly, will effectively be made next March.

The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who speaks for the Scot nationalists, made an important point that the Prime Minister rather dodged: that in the unlikely eventuality—heaven forfend—of an Scot nats majority in the Scottish Parliament, perhaps through a Liberal Democrat coalition, it is possible that we would face a non-nuclear Scotland. In which case, a submarine-based deterrent would not be possible. Has the Prime Minister thought about what alternative might be necessary under those circumstances?

First, I am not prepared to engage in that hypothesis, for obvious reasons. Secondly, my experience is that people in Scotland are every bit as committed to the defence of the United Kingdom as people elsewhere.

The House has listened to what my right hon. Friend has said about the weapons and the possibility of reducing from four to three submarines. But will he acknowledge my concern that the announcement that the UK will upgrade its nuclear weapons system will weaken our efforts to persuade other states to stay non-nuclear and could undermine the world’s non-nuclear proliferation mechanisms?

First, what we are actually doing is maintaining the independent nuclear deterrent. Indeed, we will reduce the number of warheads that we have. Secondly, that is not the evidence. The evidence is that the non-proliferation treaty works best in circumstances in which there is a multilateral mood for disarmament. That is the reason why we believe it is better to pursue such a course under the terms of that treaty. Suppose Britain said that we would no longer maintain our independent deterrent. Would France reverse its decision? No. Would any of the other major nuclear powers say that they would not maintain an independent deterrent? No. Would Iran or North Korea give up pursuing their nuclear weapons ambitions? No. The reality is that my right hon. Friend’s aims—which I fully support—will only be achieved by working together.

The Prime Minister will accept that for Trident’s replacement to be a credible deterrent it has to be truly independent. Will he therefore explain to what extent Britain will depend on the US for the operational capability and command chain of the new system?

The answer to that is very clear. Our present nuclear deterrent is fully operationally independent and will remain so. Only the Prime Minister can authorise its use. The instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using entirely UK codes and equipment and all the command and control procedures are totally independent. It is particularly true that this operational independence is at the heart of our being able to say correctly that we have an independent nuclear deterrent. It can be used and fired only at the instigation of the British Prime Minister—in other words, of Britain. It is correct that we procure elements of our deterrent system, especially the missile, from the United States, but every single factor that leads to its command and control is in our own hands. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is important that we make that completely clear to people because it is the whole basis on which we have our independent deterrent.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the logic of his proposal will be to increase nuclear weapons around the world and that as Professor Joseph Rotblat, a Nobel peace prize winner and a nuclear scientist, made plain before he died, if powerful countries feel insecure and therefore need nuclear weapons, who on earth are they to proselytise or argue against weaker countries also obtaining nuclear weapons to protect themselves? Does not the Prime Minister think that the security of the 21st century would be better served by seriously pursuing disarmament rather than rearmament?

There are two problems with what my hon. Friend says. The first is that we are maintaining our existing independent capability; indeed, we will be maintaining it with fewer warheads than we have at the moment. Secondly, the non-proliferation treaty is the agreement of the international community on the issue. At the heart of the treaty is the recognition that there will be major nuclear power states, of which Britain is one. There is then an obligation in the course of the treaty to pursue disarmament through negotiations under article VI, as I pointed out. In actual fact, what we are doing is fully consistent both with the treaty and with not increasing, or indeed upgrading, our system, but maintaining the level of deterrence we have at the moment, albeit, possibly, with fewer submarines and certainly with fewer warheads.

May I commend the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly the part that referred to the need for a debate? Does not such a debate need to go much wider than the question of our nuclear deterrent? Is not the Government’s foreign and defence policy somewhat in disarray following events of the last two or three years, and do not we need to put the decision in the proper context of a reassessed foreign and defence policy, to give the people of this country confidence in what the House is about to decide?

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make any points he wants in the course of the debate. He can debate the matter in any context he wants and make suggestions as to why the foreign and defence policy of this country is wrong, but I can tell him that the policy we have pursued is based on a strong alliance with the United States of America and a strong partnership within the European Union. That is where I stand, and that is where the Government stand; if he wants to stand somewhere different, that is up to him.

May I press my right hon. Friend on one aspect of the central judgment that he talks about? He says that it is not fanciful to think that in the future a rogue state might sponsor nuclear terrorists, but surely it is fanciful to suggest that we might use our nuclear weapons in retaliation against such a rogue state.

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that these are fine matters of judgment in difficult circumstances that we are, of necessity, predicting—they are hypothetical. I can see a situation—let us hope it never happens—in which states with their own nuclear weapons capability are sponsoring terrorism and encouraging the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capability. We do not ever want to be in the position of using our deterrents, but if states had nuclear weapons capability and were threatening our country, they might be less willing to do so if we had the nuclear deterrent. That is the judgment that we have to make. I repeat that the idea of the deterrent is not to use it but to try to create circumstances in which it is never used, which is why when people debate the morality of having nuclear weapons or not, it is merely another way of having the debate about whether deterrents deter. If they deter, it is sensible to have them; if they do not, obviously it is not. That is why this thing is best decided on the basis not of what we might do in a particular situation but of what might deter others in actions we wish to deter.

In paying tribute to the measured way in which the Prime Minister put forward his argument today, may I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the necessity to extend the debate not just to the Chamber but to the country as a whole? In doing so, will the Prime Minister pay tribute to the thousands of people who work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and make the point that it is not just a centre of excellence for engineering and science in the narrow area of atomic weapons, but that its benefits are felt in the wider economy as a whole?

I certainly pay strong tribute to people who work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. I know that about 4,000 people—some of the most highly skilled scientists and engineers—are employed there at the moment. Of course the debate will go wider than Parliament—so it should—and people will have an opportunity over the coming months to debate the issue in whatever context they wish to debate it. Some who work at those establishments will also have something to contribute—at least to be able to dispel some of the myths that surround issues to do with timing, the viability and capability of the submarines and so forth. I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) that the broader the debate, the better for the country. In the end, it is a decision of such importance, and we take it in somewhat different times than they were, that people expect the debate to be more open—and it will be.

May we take the case of Iran? May I invite my right hon. Friend to consider that there is widespread concern in the House that a state such as Iran, given the prospect of the UN not being able to dissuade the country, is more likely to use an independent nuclear deterrent against democratic states within its own region? We know that Iran sponsors the Taliban and Hezbollah. Concern is based more on that than on the potential threat of Iran using the weapons against Britain. May I invite my right hon. Friend to say a word or two more about how, in those circumstances, Britain’s retaining an independent nuclear deterrent will assist the world to dissuade a country such as Iran from threatening or even using its weapons?

Again, it is possible to speculate and hypothesise, but my right hon. Friend is essentially correct in saying that those in the immediate neighbourhood of Iran may feel a greater sense of threat. The one thing that is obvious from today’s world is that countries like our own are working alongside others—in Afghanistan, for example—and those others can be impacted by the actions of a nation like Iran. Because of the greater interdependence of the world today and particularly in the context of the global terrorist threat, it is not possible to compartmentalise the problem and draw a line around the middle east or part of Asia as a region. That is simply not possible. Although at the present time, the more immediate threat may well be felt in the neighbourhood, we cannot say that it will not go broader than that in the years to come.

Orders of the Day

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

[Relevant documents: the First Joint Report from the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Committees, Session 2005-06, on the Draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill, HC 540-1, and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6755.]

New Clause 1

Individual officers’ liability

‘(1) An officer of an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide if—

(a) that organisation is guilty of an offence under section 1; and

(b) that officer’s conduct by way of act or omission contributed to its breach referred to in section 1(1).

(2) In this section, “officer” means the chairman, managing director, chief executive or secretary of the organisation.’.—[Mr. Dismore.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 2—Individual officers’ liability: penalties—

‘An officer of an organisation who is guilty of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide under section [Individual officers’ liability] is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment or a fine.’.

New clause 4—Members of senior management liable to disqualification as company directors—

‘Where an offence under section 1 committed by an organisation to which that section applies is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any member of the senior management of the organisation who is a director of a company, section 2(1) of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 (c. 46) (disqualification on conviction of indictable offence) shall apply to him as if he had been convicted of an offence falling within that subsection.’.

New clause 6—Offence by senior manager—

‘(1) A senior manager of an organisation is guilty of an offence if by his acts or omissions which amounted to a gross breach of his duty he could have prevented an offence under section 1.

(2) For the purposes of this section a person is a “senior manager” of an organisation if he plays a significant role in the making of decisions about how the activities of the organisation are managed or organised and includes the chairman, managing director, chief executive, secretary or other director of the organisation.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on conviction on indictment to—

(a) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or

(b) a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum,

or to both.’.

New clause 7—Aiding and abetting—

‘Any company director or senior manager who is found to have aided, abetted, counselled or procured the commission of an offence of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years.’.

Amendment No. 40, in page 11, line 19, leave out clause 16.

Amendment No. 7, in clause 16, line 20, leave out ‘cannot’ and insert ‘can’.

Amendment No. 8, in line 22 leave out ‘cannot’ and insert ‘can’.

New clause 1 deals with one of the most fundamental points in any reform of corporate manslaughter—the need for individual liability, in respect of which there is a lacuna in the Bill. It is, in my view, one of the essential requirements of a successful reform of the law, as I proposed in my Corporate Homicide Bill. In the summer of 2003, however, the Government ruled out individual director liability in criminal law. I believe that to be a mistake.

The strongest incentive on a director would be the thought that he could stand in the dock to answer for his company’s failings that led to the deaths of employees or members of the public. Organisations can kill people, as identified in the Bill, but it is the actions and omissions of people in organisations that cumulatively cause death. Directors and senior managers should be held to account for their actions. Nothing in the Bill will ensure that directors who make decisions that lead to a death will be held liable.

Although the Bill might therefore make it easier to bring corporations to justice after a fatality, it will not increase the pressure on those who run organisations to take the necessary preventive measures to ensure that such deaths do not occur in the first place. If anything, the Bill should be about prevention, rather than prosecution. It should be intended to encourage people to ensure that there are no deaths, rather than to prosecute those who are responsible afterwards. Unfortunately, the Bill will not achieve that without new clause 1.

We shall achieve such a preventive system only when those who make the decisions that lead to workers or the public being killed are held responsible for their actions or inaction. If company directors can face individual liability for offences under the companies Acts or frauds committed by their companies, it is right that they should face prosecution if those companies kill.

Under the Bill, the only option is to prosecute for regulatory offences, but there is a strong argument that it is an abuse of process to charge a company with two offences—corporate manslaughter under the Bill and a breach of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974—that arise from the same circumstances. But without such a prosecution and, ultimately, a conviction under the 1974 Act, directors or managers cannot be liable under section 37. Corporate manslaughter charges could, therefore, reduce the individual liability of directors in the most serious cases. With clause 16 also excluding secondary offences, one of the main requirements of reform has been rejected. After all, the purpose of the Bill must be to act as a deterrent, and without individual liability it is far less likely to do so.

New clause 1 would go some way to meet the Government’s concerns about the relationship between corporate and individual liability by referring to the conduct of the company officer concerned—it is limited to the senior, top, directors—as contributing to the breach that gives rise to the offence of corporate manslaughter. The linkage between new clause 1 and the Bill is not dissimilar to the linkage between section 37 of the 1974 Act and a substantive offence by a corporate body under that Act that can make a director liable, under section 37, for the offence of the company if it is attributable to that director’s neglect, consent or connivance.

I am not making a drafting point—I recognise that that can be dealt with elsewhere—but I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman what he has in mind by using the word “contribute”, which can refer either to a major cause or to a slight cause. I hope that he is not saying that the officer of the company should be liable for corporate manslaughter if the contribution to the breach of duty is very slight.

I deliberately dealt with that issue in that way for precisely the reasons raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Ultimately, such questions would be for the jury and the good sense of the prosecution. I realise that the wording might not be as precise as the formulation in, for example, section 37 of the 1974 Act—indeed, such an option will be put before the House in other amendments—but the degree of contribution, although not particularly high, should be sufficient. My objective is to produce an offence whereby the director stands in the dock alongside the vacant chair that represents the company.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 deal with the problem in clause 16 by reversing it, so that individuals can be guilty of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the corporate offence. That provides an alternative formulation within the corporate nature of the offence, as opposed to the individual liability to which I have referred.

New clause 2 provides for the penalty for a director on conviction to be either a fine or imprisonment. That clear deterrent is needed to concentrate the mind of the senior managers on their obligations not just to run their companies within the requirements of the companies Acts to ensure financial probity, but to ensure that they are run safely too.

I understand from discussions that the Government might be considering an amendment to the 1974 Act to create a new statutory duty on directors to take reasonable steps to comply with health and safety requirements—I await the Minister’s views on that with interest—but I wonder whether that would add anything to section 37, which already provides for an offence by a director if the company is convicted. However the 1974 Act is amended, it would be a poor substitute for creating a clear offence of corporate manslaughter for which a director could be held liable, as I propose in new clause 1.

With the amendment from the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), we return to the issue that exercised us in Committee: the extent to which there should be personal liability on directors arising out of a company’s conviction for corporate manslaughter. I listened carefully to what he had to say and thought that he made one telling point, with which I have some sympathy. He indicated that one of the consequences of introducing a corporate manslaughter offence might be—I emphasise “might”; it would depend how prosecutors wanted to deal with the matter—that fewer directors were convicted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act if there were a serious case of death. That is because the prosecution would go for corporate manslaughter and there would be no means, in those circumstances, of implicating the directors of the company. That seems a fairly compelling point, although it could be addressed by also charging companies under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. However, it is certainly a complicating feature.

Although I do not wish to revisit territory that we covered in Committee, that is why I think that the approach that we have adopted to corporate manslaughter may not be correct and why I tried to tempt the Committee into having an aggravated offence under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, which would attract higher financial penalties on corporations and could attract higher financial penalties on directors if there were to be a conviction. However, I accept that that did not commend itself to the Government and I have not sought to revisit that issue in these debates, because the Government have clearly nailed their colours to the mast. They have said that they wish to have an offence of corporate manslaughter to act—this is not meant in any way pejoratively, I hope—symbolically so as to attach a particular stigma to corporations that transgress in cases of gross negligence.

The problem is that once one has established that principle, to start converting it by saying that, if the corporation is guilty, it would be right to lock up its directors, is, in principle, utterly wrong, as I have said before. Of course, there may be evidence in individual cases that means that the directors of a corporation, or indeed senior managers, might be individually charged with the offence of manslaughter through gross negligence. That must remain a possibility. I would be completely satisfied if prosecutors were to adopt a robust approach to such issues. If the evidence is there, people should be prosecuted.

We cannot, however, get away from the fact that the offence of corporate manslaughter, as we are creating it here, is different in a number of key particulars from the offence of manslaughter generally, which could be charged against corporations and/or individuals and which existed previously. To take away somebody’s liberty, which is what is being proposed, on the basis of a corporate manslaughter conviction, under the test that is clearly implicit and explicit in new clause 1, appears quite wrong.

The point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has some force. What is the extent of the participation or contribution that would be sufficient to fix the director, senior manager or officer of a company with liability that would lead to his facing an unlimited term of imprisonment or an unlimited fine? The House should not embark on such a route lightly. In this country, we have always been reluctant to criminalise people to the point of imprisoning them for negligent acts. There are exceptions, and manslaughter is one of them. However, corporate manslaughter and manslaughter will be two different offences, in a number of subtle, but important ways.

This debate also took place in Committee, but it is worth placing it on the record that, by definition, the offence of corporate manslaughter amounts to the causing of a person’s death where there is a “gross breach” of

“a relevant duty of care”.

We are not talking about a trivial matter of negligence. As the hon. Gentleman knows better than I do, a gross breach is a strong test before the courts. It would be necessary to prove both the corporate manslaughter and the corporate nature of that manslaughter before any individual would be caught within the realms of new clause 1 or, as I will explain later, new clause 6. We might disagree about whether people should be imprisoned, but the powers will never be used for a trivial matter and the court will have to apply a strong test.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, one of the reasons corporate manslaughter prosecutions have been so difficult to bring under existing law is that the rule under which one must find a directing mind of the company that one fixes with gross negligence, which can then involve the company itself. That is why cases such as the Herald of Free Enterprise and others never led to convictions. Therein lies the source of the problem, because in those cases individuals clearly could not be fixed with gross negligence at a directing mind level, and thus the company could not be convicted.

The hon. Member for Hendon proposes to reverse the process and to have an offence of corporate manslaughter that will enable us to convict corporations without looking at directing minds, which I welcome, and, hey presto, to catch the directors even though no directing mind is involved. That is where the injustice might arise and why, as a matter of principle, I am unwilling to go down that road, even though I can see the temptation.

The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) has an alternative approach. His new clause 4 envisages a non-custodial penalty—disqualification of the directors—and I dare say that we shall hear more from him later in the debate.

I am much more agreeably inclined toward that course of action because it does not involve imprisoning people, but I should simply make two points. First, the power already exists to disqualify company directors; it would be astonishing if they were not to face possible disqualification proceedings in a clear case where there was a prosecution. Secondly, the mechanism that the right hon. Gentleman envisages is very ponderous. It is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, because one would have to drag all the directors into the principal prosecution of the corporation merely to disqualify them under his proposals.

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the law on disqualification already exists. Perhaps one of the problems has been the interpretation of its provisions or a lack of will to deliver on disqualifications. I am aware that the Health and Safety Commission is issuing guidelines to its inspectors so that they examine this more seriously than perhaps they have done.

I am grateful to the Minister for those comments, because I entirely endorse that approach. Some cases—even those involving corporate manslaughter, as opposed to breaches of the 1974 Act—might not justify disqualifying directors. There might also still be clear cases for prosecuting individuals with manslaughter itself. As I have said, I do not disagree with that approach.

Given that the hon. Gentleman indicated his attraction to the approach in new clause 4, does he accept that if such a provision were available to courts, they found an individual director guilty and the director then did not comply with the decision of the courts, that director could be sent to prison? If so, in the light of the learned gentleman’s knowledge, why cannot such a person be sent to prison for wilfully creating a situation on behalf of a company in which someone loses their life?

For the reasons I gave before. Someone who had been involved in the way the hon. Gentleman describes would be liable for conviction for manslaughter, and that is what they should be prosecuted for.

The point about new clause 4, which I found interesting in some ways, is that it provides a mechanism for the direct disqualification of directors, but to disqualify them one has to show that the offence was committed with their “consent or connivance”, which means that they will have to be in the dock during the trial. That is just a muddling feature, given that the same outcome can be achieved without all the paraphernalia and extra cost of holding disqualification proceedings thereafter; that was my simple point.

To come back to the key issue, if somebody commits a killing by gross negligence through their direct, personal involvement, they should be prosecuted for manslaughter under existing law, but they should not be dragged into prison because they are associated with a corporation convicted of corporate manslaughter, because there injustice lies.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the difficulty is that such prosecutions have not happened. There are many examples, particularly among the cases of the 1980s with which we are all familiar. However, there is another incentive to consider. I do not know which of the many mechanisms before us would be the preferred course, but I put my name to new clause 6. It strikes me that the aim of the Bill—and not just the new clauses that we are discussing—is not to ensure that there is a queue of company directors adding to the overcrowding at Pentonville, but to act as an incentive to improve safety and safety culture. I do not think that existing legislation will be affected much by the Bill, but unless we introduce some form of personal liability, the culture will not improve. People will find other ways of ducking and weaving to avoid liability. It is the culture that we need to attack.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman about attacking the culture. Having spent a lot of my professional life prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, I am perfectly conscious that one can come across examples of very bad safety culture, pervading even the director’s office, and not just the lower managerial levels; I accept all that. It may be that prosecutors were insufficiently proactive in the past, but I hazard the suggestion that the reason there have not been many convictions among company directors for manslaughter through gross negligence is that, in truth, there was no evidence on which to convict them. Although they may have been culpable of negligence, they were not culpable of gross negligence.

Of course, there are one or two cases in which such directors were convicted, and the Lyme bay tragedy is an example. However, the hon. Gentleman must accept that it may be harsh to make such a judgment when something goes wrong, particularly in large organisations, in which directors cannot necessarily know what goes on, day to day, at the bottom of the organisation—although, from the point of view of safety culture, they must make it their business to endeavour to do so.

One could tell a director that there were negligent structures in their company, but to say that the situation was so bad that the director was grossly negligent is going a step further. If the evidence exists, they should be prosecuted for manslaughter, regardless of whether they are the director of a massive public company or not; we should prosecute in such cases. However, we should not say that if a corporation is convicted under the new law, it follows that a director can be sent to prison, if negligence can be shown. Really, that is all we are saying. A contribution to negligence is all that the hon. Member for Hendon requires. A mere contribution would be sufficient to send a director to prison. I do not know about the queue of directors going to Pentonville prison, but the danger is that if we introduce such a measure, there will be a very long queue of people who do not want to be directors of public companies.

One must take a realistic view of the situation. My view is that the Bill may make a contribution to improving safety culture by shaming companies, and some of the provisions for dealing with remedies, which we shall come to later, may help, too. I am pleased that the Government have introduced further amendments on that subject. However, the proposal before us drives a coach and horses through perfectly clear and established legal principles. For those reasons, I really cannot support it.

My problem with the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that he tries to present the issue as being black and white. Surely there may be directors who are not guilty of individual gross negligent manslaughter, but who have contributed to a death by their failure in other ways. What offence does he think should be available to the courts to enable them to prosecute those directors?

Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act allows such prosecutions. If the hon. Member for Hendon is right that the measure will prevents health and safety at work prosecutions under that Act, I accept that there could be a problem. The key point, however, is that someone convicted under section 37 cannot be sent to prison, just as they cannot be sent to prison for careless driving. Carelessness and gross negligence are not the same thing. The amendments, with the exception of the new clause tabled by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), would create imprisonable offences. I must draw the line at that, so I do not support the hon. Member for Hendon.

I expected the hon. Gentleman to give that reply, but is he aware that very few cases in which someone is charged with being a secondary party to a health and safety at work offence have been successfully prosecuted?

I am aware of that but, equally, may I point out that I have represented a director who was successfully prosecuted? In fairness, he pleaded guilty to the offence, but there are examples of such cases. The Health and Safety Executive may have to become more proactive, but the material is available. I do not wish to take up too much of the House’s time, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. The proposals are interesting, but the official Opposition’s view remains that it is fundamentally wrong to criminalise individuals under corporate manslaughter provisions, so we do not support them.

Most right hon. and hon. Members who are taking part in this debate recently participated in an intensive programme of discussion in Committee, but I am returning to these matters after a gap. It was a year since the draft Bill was scrutinised by the Home Affairs Committee, which I chair, and the Work and Pensions Committee, so I am rusty on the finer points of law. However, my overwhelming memory is of the public’s expectations that Parliament should legislate on corporate manslaughter. We took evidence from a wide range of organisations, including well-known ones such as Disaster Action, the Simon Jones memorial campaign, the Marchioness contact group and a number of trade unions, whose officers deal directly with the families of people killed in workplace accidents.

It was clear that the job would be only half done if we were able to hold companies to account but not the individuals whose negligence contributed to the problems that resulted in those companies being brought to court. I fear that if we do not amend the Bill as it proceeds through Parliament, we, or our successors, will have to come to the House in a few years’ time to address the issue again. It is easy to anticipate circumstances in which companies that have escaped prosecution under the common law offence are successfully brought to book under the corporate manslaughter provisions that we are discussing. No individual, however, will be held to account for their part in the death, so the provision will be regarded as unsatisfactory law. It will be better than current provisions—without doubt, it will be a step forward—but it does not go as far as it could.

New clause 4 has a modest aim. I should make it clear that the Committees that scrutinised the Bill called for secondary prosecution under criminal law. To be fair, however, that was one of the few issues on which we divided, and the vote was split. We pointed out that several pieces of legislation, including health and safety legislation and the Terrorism Act 2000, provide a legal structure for secondary prosecution of individuals when companies are found guilty of an offence. My modest new clause aims simply to clarify the proposal that once a company is found guilty of corporate manslaughter, at the very least its directors, who share responsibility, as the new clause sets out, should be disqualified from serving as company directors.

As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) says, there might not be any need for that. I make two qualifications. First, if it requires a separate prosecution under health and safety legislation to achieve that outcome, that would not be satisfactory. Secondly, even at the slight risk of over-egging the pudding, there is an advantage in making it clear in the Bill that the House had an expectation at the very least that disqualification would follow. Personally, I would prefer to see a secondary prosecution, but we may not be able to achieve that as the Bill goes through Parliament.

The amendment suggests to the Minister some action that could be taken. He may say that every legal measure already exists, and that if corporate manslaughter becomes a criminal offence as proposed, directors will be liable for disqualification without hesitation or obstacle. That would be a satisfactory response from the Minister, but if not, the Bill should be amended here or in another place to make it clear that we can offer at least that consequence to the families whom we heard represented in front of our Joint Committee and whom we all know we will meet in the future.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that his Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee did in scrutinising the original Bill. I have met the families, and today I met Families against Corporate Killing, who support the principle of the Bill and want it to be enacted. They have concerns about individual liability, but they believe we are moving in the right direction. I hope my right hon. Friend will acknowledge that.

Of course. My hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time talking to a wide range of interests about the Bill, and I know he has a deep personal interest in it. That is why I am confident that, as the Bill proceeds, if there should be any doubt about the ability to disqualify directors—the issue that I raised this afternoon—he will want to ensure that it is explicit by the time the Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

When we debated the matter in Committee, I learned a great deal about the relevant laws, particularly from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who served as free counsel to the Committee. There was, I am delighted to say, no remuneration from members of the Committee. It became clear to me that there is a gap in the law, and amendments Nos. 7 and 8 tabled by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), which we supported, would fill the gap by creating an offence of secondary liability to the offence of corporate manslaughter. I do not support the hon. Gentleman’s new clauses, which I think go too far, but I support amendments Nos. 7 and 8. Let me explain.

As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield made clear, particularly in response to my interventions, there are at present two offences of individual liability. There is the offence of individual gross negligence for manslaughter, although that is rarely prosecuted, and there are prosecutions of a secondary party to a health and safety at work offence. Those, as I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman, are equally rare in their prosecution. The figures that I saw in the House of Commons Library brief suggested that there have been only eight prosecutions in 20 years. Whether those offences correspond exactly to the categories to which the hon. Gentleman was referring, I do not know.

May I take the hon. Gentleman back? He says he supports amendments Nos. 7 and 8, but all they appear to do is to leave open the possibility that an individual can be convicted. They do not deal with what will happen to the individual on conviction. Am I to take it that the hon. Gentleman thinks those should be imprisonable offences, which is what new clause 1 and the other new clauses are about? I saw those as linked as a package.

The hon. Gentleman will know that under the procedures of this House they are not linked as a package; that is why I signed up only to amendments Nos. 7 and 8. We do not seek to make such offences imprisonable—that is a separate debate. However, there should be a separate offence of this nature because of the difficulty of prosecuting individual gross negligence manslaughter and the rarity in previous years—although perhaps the guidance would change that—of prosecuting a secondary party as a health and safety at work offence. That is why amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are necessary.

A director who is guilty of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of an offence of corporate manslaughter should be prosecuted for that.

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we would generally find that directors were guilty of acts of omission rather than commission. I doubt whether amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are apt, at least in general, to include acts of omission.