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Commons Chamber

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

House of Commons

Monday 26 March 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Manning Levels

1. What assessment he has made of the references in the report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to the adequacy of manning levels in respect of operational commitments. (129295)

Mr. Speaker, with the leave of the House, let me begin by saying that I know that the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to the 15 members of HMS Cornwall currently detained by Iran. Our thoughts go out to their friends in theatre and to their families back here in the UK. I do not intend to comment further on the issue, other than to say that we are doing everything possible to secure their release. At an appropriate time in the near future, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will inform the House of the diplomatic efforts that are being pursued.

We welcome the 2007 independent report by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and acknowledge the issue that it raises about manning levels. On 1 March, I announced that the Government had accepted the report’s recommendations and would implement them in full without delay. As a result, all service personnel will receive at least a 3.3 per cent. pay increase, with the 13,000 lowest paid receiving 9.2 per cent. In total, about £350 million more a year will go into pay and allowances. I also announced that we are committing £17 million to financial retention initiatives in areas where we face particular manning challenges, including the infantry and the marines—an approach endorsed by the AFPRB and the National Audit Office. We are doing all that we can to sustain manning levels for our operational commitments, and I and the chiefs of staff continue to judge that current commitments are manageable.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of every Member will be with those illegally detained by the Iranian Government, and with their friends and families.

The Secretary of State will know that the AFPRB’s report described manning levels in the armed forces as critical and fragile. Recruitment and retention in the armed forces rely on trust, but how can people trust what the Government say about forces’ funding? Last week in the Budget, the Chancellor sought to give the impression that there is an extra £400 million for forces’ funding, but it turns out to be nothing of the sort: it is operational costs, which will be paid out of the Treasury reserve next year in the usual way. So how can men and women in the armed forces trust what the Government say, when even on something as fundamental as forces’ funding the Chancellor of the Exchequer is playing smoke and mirrors?

There can be no criticism of the Treasury’s support for the armed forces in the form of resources not just for pay and operational allowances—we have been able to announce the operational bonus in recent months—but for other areas. It would be much easier to conduct this debate about funding, including what comes from the reserve and what comes from the core Ministry of Defence budget, if other hon. Members—I excuse the hon. Gentleman from this—did not seek to give the impression that operational costs come from the MOD’s core budget. It is well known that in every Budget and pre-Budget report, the Chancellor refers to the access to the reserve for supporting operations.

I join the Secretary of State in his comments; our thoughts go out to the families of the 15 members of HMS Cornwall, which is of course a Plymouth-based ship.

The 9.2 per cent. pay increase for the lowest paid personnel is welcome, and is not the real message from the pay review board that one can do a great deal about retention and recruitment by targeting money? I also thank my right hon. Friend for the money that was spent on rewarding medical service personnel.

I am very grateful to the AFPRB and to the National Audit Office for pointing out in their respective reports the way in which targeted incentives or financial help can assist in meeting the challenge of recruitment and retention. This year, we intended that the armed forces’ settlement would help particularly the least well off—the worst paid among our troops. That was exactly what the AFPRB recommended, and I was very pleased to be able to accept that recommendation.

Will the Secretary of State accept my congratulations on the pay settlement? Is he able to tell us what the consequences of the Budget tax changes will be, and how they will affect the lowest paid in the armed forces?

I accept with alacrity the right hon. Gentleman’s congratulations on the armed forces pay review settlement. The Budget’s impact is different for different people; for example, single-earner couples with children on a private’s salary will gain from the package by more than £300 a year, and I could give more examples. He asked specifically about the lowest paid. He will know that their salary will go up to £15,677, ignoring the operational bonus. The strict effect of the Budget is that those who are single and in receipt of that amount of money will be worse off by the equivalent of about £1 per week, but one has to take into account the fact that almost all of them are likely to attract the operational bonus, so that must be factored in, too.

Harmony guidelines have been consistently broken, planning assumptions breached, readiness targets not met and essential training requirements not fulfilled. Even the Chief of the Defence Staff says that the armed forces are very stretched, so just what does it take for the Defence Secretary to admit that we are asking too much of our armed forces?

The hon. Gentleman sought to get the Chief of the Defence Staff to agree at the Defence Committee evidence session that we were asking too much of the armed forces, but he would not agree. It takes exactly the same for me, as for the Chief of the Defence Staff, to admit to that, which is not correct. We are not asking too much of our armed forces; we are operating at levels that are higher than the assumptions that informed our operational planning. If that is not addressed, we know what the long-term consequences will be; but the hon. Gentleman was told by the Chief of the Defence Staff during the evidence session that we are already taking steps to address those issues. As the Chief of the Defence Staff said, the screw is being somewhat loosened by the decisions that have already been made in relation to the tightened circumstances of the armed forces..

The thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with the families of those taken illegally by the Iranians in the past few days. Because we are aware of the diplomatic sensitivity, we shall not press the Government on the issue today, but we obviously want Parliament to have a chance to discuss it as soon as possible. I am sure that the House would also like to send condolences to the families of the submariners of HMS Tireless who were killed on active service—another example that shows how much they risk in our name.

On the question of overstretch in the armed forces, the basic problem is that the Government produced the strategic defence review, defence planning assumptions came from that and a budget was designed to suit it. The Government then exceeded those defence planning assumptions in the past five years. At the same time, they are cutting the size of the Navy, the Army and the RAF, yet they are increasing expectations and activity levels. When will it dawn on them that with defence spending of only 2.2 per cent. of GDP, the lowest since 1930, they cannot conduct wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with peacetime resources, because the people who will ultimately suffer are those in our armed forces, with the inevitable consequences for recruitment and retention that we are now beginning to see.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that a statement will be made to the House as soon as appropriate, which will be in the near future. I join him in his condolences to the families and comrades of those who lost their lives on HMS Tireless and, indeed to the submariner who was injured in that incident.

The hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged views a number of times at the Dispatch Box about how properly to interpret the investment that we are making in our armed forces year on year. I see now that he has moved on from the criticism he used to level at us, and now says that we are cutting the amount of money that we spend on the armed forces as a percentage of GDP. The fact is that we spend £32 billion a year on the defence budget. That, of course, as we have already discussed at Question Times, is supplemented by access to the special reserve in relation to operations. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of time to indicate whether, if his party comes into government, he will increase that amount of money, or not increase—

RAF Innsworth

2. What consideration he is giving to the ongoing use of the RAF Innsworth site; and if he will make a statement. (129296)

There is no further Royal Air Force requirement for the Innsworth site beyond 2008. As is normal practice, we are now assessing whether there is any other military use for the site. It is too early to make any firm commitments, but one option being considered is that it should house British forces returning from Germany in the 2008-12 time frame.

I thank the Minister for the response and the letter that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence on 13 March regarding that possible transfer. Innsworth is quite a deprived area and the armed forces provide the life blood of it, so it came as a body blow to the area when the announcement was made to close the site as an RAF site. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to moving another operation to the area, to make that decision as soon as possible, and to make the transfer, should it be to Innsworth, as soon as possible, because we do not want too long a gap between the two.

I share the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman about the impact on local communities when such a closure takes place, but I am sure that he will appreciate that what we are seeking to do by co-locating the two main RAF headquarters on one site makes sense in defence terms, for a whole lot of good value-for-money reasons, as well as people reasons. In terms of the future use, my view is that we should be looking, as progressively as we can, to move forward the timetables. I would not like to see a major planning blight descending on that site for any length of time, if at all. It is an important site. That is why we have designated it as a potential—probable—site for other military use. If that does not happen, we should make our decisions quickly so that alternatives uses can be found.

Ballistic Missiles

3. What preliminary proposals for ballistic missile defence installations in the United Kingdom have been discussed with the United States. (129297)

The UK makes a valuable contribution to the US ballistic missile defence system through RAF Fylingdales and our well established technical co-operation programmes. We regularly discuss with the United States our ongoing support and, as I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have said on many occasions, we will inform the House of any change to the current position.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on the position of NATO’s missile defence programmes?

The position in relation to NATO is that there was a process of assessment as to whether the ballistic missile defence would make a contribution to NATO defence. That process reported, indicating that such a contribution could be made, following the completion of the feasibility study. NATO continues to examine the options for and the implications of territorial missile defence, but it has no plans, nor has it set a timetable for any specific decision.

What part will RAF Fylingdales and the US base at Menwith Hill play in any negotiations with the US on missile defence? Will there be a full and public discussion of any developments at those sites?

When the decision was made to incorporate RAF Fylingdales into the US missile defence system, there was a full debate in the House in relation to the role that it would play. That role—[Interruption.] I am not going to go into the detail of that. There was a full debate. An important contribution is made, in radar terms, to the system. No decisions have been taken in relation to any other facility or site. The discussions are ongoing and, as I told the House when I answered questions on the matter last month, it would be irresponsible of the Government not to explore, both through the United States and our NATO allies, the implications that any system of this nature might offer for the security of the UK. That is the stage that we are at. That is what we are currently doing. When there is anything further to report, we will of course report to the House.

I know that the Secretary of State is aware that the Polish newspaper, Trybuna, on 7 October last year published an article that stated:

“the United Kingdom has revised its stance and—there are many indications of this—it will make the Orkneys accessible for building the second base of universal application.”

The Secretary of State was good enough to tell me in a telephone conversation last October that that was not the case. Will he confirm that denial today and will he also confirm that neither Orkney, nor for that matter Shetland, is being considered by the United Kingdom Government in relation to an installation of this nature?

I know of no change in the information that I gave the hon. Gentleman when he last spoke to me in relation to this matter. As I have told the House, no sites are being considered in our very preliminary discussions in relation to the siting of any missile defence.

But the Government have taken a decision in principle to support missile defence as something that the Americans may wish to deploy. We know that from the memoirs of Sir Christopher Meyer, who wrote of the toothpaste summit when the Prime Minister first met President Bush in Washington, back in President Bush’s first year of office. We have had a tremendous debate about nuclear weapons in this country. When are we going to have a proper debate in the House about the principle of missile defence? That issue is dividing NATO and destabilising relations with Russia.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the United Kingdom already makes a contribution to the US missile defence system through RAF Fylingdales and that there is other co-operation through technical programmes. All that is entirely consistent with the issue of principle. The House also knows that the Government’s position—I think that most hon. Members share this view—is that it would be irresponsible not to explore with the US and its NATO allies the possible implications of the system for the security of the UK—[Interruption.] I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when there is something to report to the House, a report will be made. However, no decisions have been taken at this stage, and there are no developments that require the matter to be reported to, and debated in, the House.

Given the ever-increasing prospect of rogue states, including perhaps Iran, acquiring a ballistic missile capability, does not the Secretary of State understand that it is his duty to engage in public debate, not to hide behind spurious claims that he needs to protect international relations? As far as the Fylingdales upgrade is concerned, may I remind him that there was so little debate that the Defence Committee issued a report in January 2003 that said:

“We strongly regret … the way in which the issue has been handled by the Government. We believe that it was a mistake on the part of the MoD to fail to respond to calls for a public debate of this issue for much of last year”?

Why cannot the Secretary of State share with us the assessment that he has made of the risk, and of the benefits or drawbacks, that might result from the UK’s participation in positioning ground-based interceptors on our soil? Alternatively, as was the case with the Fylingdales experience, are we once again to be bounced into a decision without the House or the public being engaged?

I know of the support of the hon. Gentleman and his party for engagement in ballistic missile defence. As he says, there are developments throughout the world that suggest that ballistic missile defence will make a significant contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom. This is a US system, and, currently, the US has not asked to examine any UK sites—for example, regarding any element of its missile defence system. I am reporting to the House the current state of our relations with the United States on this issue. I have given hon. Members an undertaking that when the situation moves beyond that, I will report to the House.

Red Arrows

I am delighted to hear that answer. However, there is concern about the future of RAF Scampton, the base at which the Red Arrows are located. There have been rumours in the press that the Government’s penny-pinching on the defence budget means that the colours of smoke used in the displays are under threat. Will the Minister give a commitment that no aspect of the Red Arrows will change and that they will remain at the forefront of display teams in the UK?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I will certainly examine the matter because we take great pride in what the Red Arrows do, not only in this country, but internationally.

I will come to RAF Scampton in a moment. I am trying to pay tribute to the Red Arrows, which I thought that the hon. Gentleman would want me to do. The Red Arrows make a major contribution in many ways. They fly the flag for this country and help recruitment to the RAF.

RAF Scampton, like several RAF airfields, is under review because we need to find the optimal basing for all our RAF assets. We have already taken some decisions on the Nimrod MRA4 and on future basing for the joint combat aircraft and Typhoon. We will continue to examine what the best lay-down will be and announcements will be made in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his straightforward answer. However, may I press him a little further and suggest that he should increase the budget of the Red Arrows? As we know, all young people, such as Chorley air cadets, aspire to join the RAF and especially want to join the Red Arrows. Will he ensure that we will have the fine aircraft and the fine personnel that keep them flying, and that there is a bonus for BAE workers in Lancashire, which is why I am pressing him to increase the funding?

I can tell my hon. Friend that in the next three financial years the funding will be £5.6 million, £5.7 million and £5.9 million. He can take some credit for putting pressure on us to ensure that increase in the budget. Of course, there are other associated costs, too. The Red Arrows are not under threat; it does not matter what newspapers say or what criticisms people concoct. They are not under threat—end of story.

The citizens of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire take huge pride in what the Red Arrows do, and I am glad to hear from the Minister that their budget will not be cut. However, we should not consider them to be purely a flag-flying operation, as they clearly provide crucial battle flying skills for the RAF. Will the Minister please assure me that crew will continue to be trained regularly, and that the expense will be borne, so that the skills that they acquire can be spread throughout the Royal Air Force?

I do not think that we can keep the Red Arrows flying without meeting that commitment, because it takes the highest skill to fly those aircraft, no matter what colour the smoke coming out of the back. I am sure that the fact that we are retaining the Red Arrows means that the element of the requirement that the hon. Gentleman mentions will be retained.

As an east midlands MP I am pleased that the Red Arrows are based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Red Arrows are a public display of the pride, talent and professionalism of our armed forces. Will he confirm that the figures that he has just announced to the House, which represent barely half a day’s worth of the annual defence budget of £32 billion, will be protected in the medium and long term?

The original question was about the commitment over the next three years, and I have given that firm commitment. It would be very easy for me to say, after all the plaudits that I have given, that I do not see any chance of the situation altering, and I do not, but I cannot make commitments for what my hon. Friend calls the medium and long term, and that would apply to any part of defence expenditure. I have given a firm commitment: there is no threat to the Red Arrows and the budget is increasing over the next three years.

Bullying (Armed Forces)

5. What steps he is taking to combat harassment, discrimination and bullying in the armed forces relating to gender, race and ethnicity; and if he will make a statement. (129299)

In 2006 the Ministry of Defence published an overarching equality and diversity scheme that sets out our approach to equality and diversity. Measures that we intend to undertake are set out in our annual action plan, published in conjunction with the scheme. The armed forces have entered into formal agreements with the Commission for Racial Equality to promote racial equality and take action to prevent racial harassment and discrimination, and with the Equal Opportunities Commission to prevent and deal with sexual harassment.

In the light of recent comments that again highlighted the continuing existence of racism in the armed forces, will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will address any forms of latent or overt racism in the armed forces by developing measures to tackle the problem head-on—for example by developing an independent military complaints body to give voice to those who have experienced any form of discrimination and bullying?

On the point about an independent military complaints authority, we set up an independent complaints system as part of a Bill that recently went through Parliament. There is no place at all for discrimination or harassment in the armed forces, and I can tell the hon. Lady that from the very highest levels downward, there is clear commitment to making sure that they do not take place and to dealing with them when they do. For instance, we ensure that progress reports are made to the Equal Opportunities Commission, and we have a new complaints procedure in place. Of course, training and education are key, and above all else, it is leadership that delivers that. That is why I am confident that the armed forces are clearly moving forward on the issue. Any discrimination or harassment is just not acceptable.

Last Thursday and Friday, I visited Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde at Faslane, and I was impressed by the quality of the new single living accommodation for new recruits to the Navy. There was slight concern that because the new accommodation is en suite, there is a danger that the young ratings will just go to their rooms of an evening, so bullying and harassment may go undetected. Does my hon. Friend agree that commanding officers will have to take on board and recognise that? Although the new accommodation is much better for the ratings, commanding officers have to recognise that such a problem could occur.

Like my hon. Friend, I have visited a number of single living accommodation units in recent months, and I was very impressed by their quality and standard. I have also talked through the issue with commanding officers. For instance, I have discussed with regimental sergeant majors how we can ensure that protection, advice and training are given to look after our young recruits. She may have noticed that the adult learning inspectorate recently concluded that substantial improvements had been made everywhere, and that there were some marked achievements. It described our achievements as

“something of a triumph of focused effort to resolve serious problems.”

A tremendous amount of effort and time have gone into ensuring that we deal with bullying and look after our new recruits. The living accommodation in the new facilities that we have put in place is one way of doing so.

This evening, “Panorama” will show a programme about a huge increase in soldiers going absent without leave from active service. If that is the case, does it have something to do with bullying, or are our servicemen being stretched too far and not receiving the medical back-up that they need?

I totally rebut any such allegations. In fact, there has been a decrease in the past few years in the number of people going absent without leave. The latest figures are lower than they were seven years ago, and there is strong support for people who have developed mental health problems in the armed forces, on the bases and elsewhere. Some of the evidence shows that a key reason for members of the armed forces going absent without leave is relationship issues. In my surgery on Saturday, I met someone who had been in that position and wants to rejoin the Army—that was exactly the position in which they found themselves. That is how many of the issues arise. The support is there, and there is a welfare line that people can contact, so I reject and rebut the allegations completely.

The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) is clearly not aware of the excellent provision for a service complaints commissioner in the Armed Forces Act 2006. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me when that office will be set up? I have tabled written questions on the issue, but because of the snail’s pace at which the Department answers questions, I have yet to receive a reply.

I, too, support the development of that process, and may I assure my hon. Friend that progress is being made, and we will certainly be in a position to make a further announcement?

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that while of course there is no place for bullying and discrimination, it is nevertheless a fact that those young men and women, who are covering themselves in immense distinction under circumstances of great difficulty in Iraq and Afghanistan, can do so because they go through a very tough and robust training programme, which is designed to prepare them for what they are likely to meet if they have to go on active service? Will he therefore be very careful, and not be seduced in any way by the siren voice of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), whose talk is of a kind unknown to the armed forces, which want to get on with it and do the job that they know they need to do, and be trained to do it.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Clearly, we have to have robust and challenging training, because of the nature of operations and service that our armed forces have to undertake. Again, I have visited a number of training establishments in the six months I have been in this job. I have been impressed both by the robustness and the challenges of the training for recruits, and by welfare support and support generally, given the issues that recruits may encounter. I completely accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman—we need robust and challenging training, but we must put procedures in place to make sure any complaints can be dealt with and that people are comfortable, if they suffer any difficulties, with the system for making a complaint.

South Africa

6. What support his Department has allocated to peace support training in South Africa in 2007-08. (129300)

Building peace support capacity will remain a high priority for the MOD in support of the UK’s overall approach to conflict prevention across sub-Saharan Africa during 2007 and 2008. In South Africa, the nine-man British peace support team, which is 50 per cent. funded by the South Africa national defence force, will continue to provide training and advisory support in the areas of military education, peacekeeping, doctrine development, training and sustainment. In addition, the team co-ordinates UK-funded attendance of South African personnel on related courses in the UK and across Africa. We have allocated £1.3 million to support this effort in 2007-08.

I congratulate the armed forces on the vital work that they are doing in that area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that military capacity must be aligned to political will in South Africa? As Zimbabwe spirals ever closer to anarchy, does he agree that South Africa must provide regional leadership for intervention and conflict prevention in that country?

My hon. Friend asks about a very important aspect. With international allies, we have been trying to get regional groupings together, with the support of the African nations. In the west of Africa there is a well functioning organisation in place, ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States. SADC—the Southern African Development Community—in the south is somewhat limited because of Zimbabwe’s presence within it. There is a similar initiative in the east of Africa. My hon. Friend is right. It is about building not just the military capacity of the African nations, but their capacity to govern outwith their own area. As ever, there is the strapline of African solutions to African problems. We will continue to help wherever we can to meet those problems as they arise, as part of international coalitions in friendship with those African nations.

Veterans Day

The Department has increased the support available to regional veterans day events for 2007. Organisers can bid for up to £10,000 for their individual regional events. Officials have also provided advice to all 65 bids so far received on conveying effectively the key messages and on the presentation of veterans badges by leading members of the community as a central feature of the day.

I thank the Government for their establishment of and continued support for veterans day. The Minister is aware that last year the main celebration in Scotland took place in Dundee in my constituency and was a resounding success, thanks mainly to Government funding and the hard work of the local combined ex-service association ably led by Bruce Kelly and Victor Herd. This year, however, there seems to be a problem with funding. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that we can ensure that the success of Dundee’s day last year will be repeated this year?

I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. As he probably knows, we have increased the amount of funding available this year. Whereas last year we centred it on major cities, this year we are trying to involve many more towns and cities and therefore spreading the funding around. We have had an enormous number of bids. I am pleased to say that Birmingham has been agreed for a national event and of course there will be events in Greenwich in London as well. This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate and get across the importance of veterans, their contribution to our society and the services that are available for them.

Will the Minister bear it in mind that veterans are increasingly young and that on the whole, when we celebrate Armistice day, we are celebrating an historic event, but when we celebrate veterans day, we are celebrating contemporary people who have served recently in the forces? We need to shift the focus of public understanding to the contribution made by the current generation to the armed services, which is in danger of being lost.

I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Veterans are of all ages. One whom I met a few weeks ago was 22, and a Normandy veteran was 86 or 87. At a veterans event that I attended recently in my constituency, I was struck by the ages of veterans. I met a number of young veterans and discussed the issues affecting them. It is right to get across the diversity of age and the important role that veterans of all ages and backgrounds have played in protecting the peace and representing this country as a force for good.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Defence himself recently came to present badges to veterans in my constituency? The event was a great success, even though we did not get the amount of money that Dundee did. We managed to raise the money ourselves. Will the Secretary of State visit my constituency again, and will he recognise that veterans in my constituency are very proud of the fact that they served with others from other parts of the United Kingdom, and that an artificial division between those who served from Scotland and those who served from other parts of the United Kingdom, as some would wish, would be absurd and obscene?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that would be absurd.

The veterans badge has been a widespread success. More than 400,000 badges have been issued, and there are more applications to come in. We are gradually increasing the time frame for applications. I recently announced that 1984 will be the next stage when people can apply for veterans badges, which will take the Falklands campaign into account. Feedback from veterans indicates that they value the badge, and I would be more than happy to come to my hon. Friend’s constituency to present some badges.

I wish the Minister well with this year’s veterans day. If we are to have the maximum public participation and recognition, should not we all be able to take part and should it not be a public holiday?

I will not go down the road of a public holiday at this point. It is important that we all take part. A number of hon. Members have said that they are involved in events that will take place in the week of veterans day. It is crucial that Members of Parliament give their support—many have already done so—which is increasing all the time. Any support or encouragement that Members of Parliament can give to their local events will be most welcome.

The best way to support the splendid innovation of veterans day is to back the campaign by the loved ones of 98 of the soldiers who have fallen in Iraq to have the work “Queen and Country” by the official war artist, Steve McQueen, which includes photographs of those 98 fallen soldiers, produced in the form of a postage stamp by the Post Office as an act of commemoration.

I repeat my earlier comments about the importance of veterans day and of the various events and initiatives to raise the profile of veterans. I am happy to speak to my hon. Friend to discuss that issue, of which I have no knowledge at this time.

I commend the Ministry of Defence on its work on veterans day. The Minister mentioned the Falkland Islands in an earlier answer to a supplementary question: is he placing any emphasis on the fact that this year is the 25th anniversary of the defeat of the Argentineans and their expulsion from the Falkland Islands? Is he allocating any particular resources to recognising the contributions that our veterans of the Army, Navy and Air Force played in that epic event in our history?

The hon. Gentleman has been supportive in maintaining the profile of the Falklands campaign. We pay tribute to all the veterans who took part in that campaign, some of whom are still serving today. Last week, I met some of them in Portsmouth—they did a tremendous thing for this country. We are focusing on the Falklands this year, and commemorations and funding have been agreed. I am going out to the Falklands later this year with the veterans to visit the area and meet people. That is an important part of the focus of this year’s veterans day, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will play his part.

Armed Forces Pay

8. What changes there were in rates of pay for the UK armed forces in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement. (129302)

As my hon. Friend will be aware, pay rates for the armed forces are recommended annually by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Since 1998, the average increase has been 3.3 per cent.

A number of units within our armed forces seem to be regularly rotated into front-line action, and rightly so—one thinks of the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment. In an earlier answer, my right hon. Friend said that he will focus on better pay and conditions in those particular units to ensure that recruitment stays high. I welcome his commitment to support a 9.2 per cent. increase for the lowest paid members of our armed forces, but what more can we do to ensure that those elements of our forces that regularly rotate on to the front line are rewarded properly?

My hon. Friend will know that there is a tax-free operational allowance, which is £2,240 for six months—in my view, and, I think, in the view of the armed forces, it goes some way to recognising the contribution made on operations. As well as those who get a 9.2 per cent. pay rise, the next band up gets a 6.2 per cent. pay rise as a result of the acceptance of the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report reflects the fact that there are a number of specific incentives, one of which concerns the retention of marines, to address pinch points that result in retention problems in the armed forces. In the past, such approaches have improved our ability to hold on to those who have the skills that we need, whether or not they were deployed in operational theatres, and that is what we will continue to do.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will take a close personal interest in the fact that next month the Army will have its first pay run under the new joint personnel administration—JPA. He will remember that when the system was rolled out in the RAF and the Navy there were errors in the pay of 6,500 members of the RAF and 10,000 Navy personnel. Will he assure the House that he has taken steps to ensure that such errors will not be repeated in the Army’s pay run next month?

I was aware of the teething problems with the roll-out of JPA to the RAF and Royal Navy. The hon. Gentleman will know that when the system was rolled out to the Royal Navy in October 2006 we were able, as a result of the RAF experience, to anticipate some problems and to respond to others timeously for those affected. I am advised that the programme is on track to go live in the Army from March 2007. He may rest assured that it has put in place a number of contingency plans to deal with any possibilities that may arise.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, more than 20,000 people who are employed by the Ministry of Defence live in Scotland; given an average salary of £20,000, that means that nearly £500 million is being pump-primed into the Scottish economy. Is my figure correct? Would he like to speculate on the security of that investment in Scotland in the short, medium and long-term?

As far as I can see, the Scottish people intend to stay part of the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend may be reassured that the contribution that is being made and the economic consequences of that contribution to the Scottish economy will continue. Of course, the people of Scotland must take into account—this is why they are so intent on staying in the United Kingdom—the fact that taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom, particularly if it were ruled by those who propose to do so, would mean coming out of NATO. In such circumstances, there would be no need for those who currently serve the British armed forces to serve the armed forces of an independent Scotland.

UK/EU Navies

9. What recent assessment he has made of the performance and requirements of the navies of (a) the United Kingdom and (b) other EU member states. (129303)

We regularly assess the performance and requirements of the Royal Navy through routine departmental planning processes. The performance and requirements of navies belonging to EU member states are matters for the countries concerned.

At this time, we should remember with pride the role of the Royal Navy in suppressing the transatlantic slave trade in the 19th century, as well as 400-odd years of excellent service to this country. Instead, under this Government, the Navy has been cut, cut and cut again, to the extent that the First Sea Lord has said that this country’s naval capability risks being turned into that of Belgium. He has called in particular for two carriers, which the Government have promised. The main gate decision should have been taken in April 2004; three years later, we must ask when, if ever, the order for the carriers will be placed.

The hon. Gentleman began by discussing the slave trade, and I echo his sentiments on that. We are talking about not only the passing of an Act of Parliament in terms of the abolition of slavery, but the bravery of the Royal Navy—in the main—on the high seas; it tried to stop that ongoing trade after the passing of the relevant Act in this House all those years ago, and many lives were lost in its doing so. The bravery of the Royal Navy should be marked, alongside all the other events that are taking place in respect of the abolition of the slave trade.

The hon. Gentleman asked a range of questions, but his main question was about the carriers. We are still committed to carriers, and an announcement will be made when we are ready to make it.

The Minister will know that there were two birthday celebrations last week: the European Union was 50 years old and, last Thursday, our right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was 55. At the celebrations in Berlin, there was a discussion about further co-operation between our EU partners. Following on from St. Malo in 1998 and Le Touquet in 2003, is the Minister satisfied that, as regards the Navy, we have the capabilities required to work more closely with our colleagues so that we can have a more collective approach to our armed services?

I recognise one of the birthdays. Let me deal with the EU aspect. In building up our capabilities with NATO and EU, not only as regards the Royal Navy but across our armed forces, we are meeting the various challenges that have been set, including the headline goals that were laid down for 2010. That is part of the process of ensuring that we have the capabilities required not only to meet the foreseeable demands as best we can anticipate but to be ready for, and able to address, the unforeseen. There are many examples of joint training taking place to build up that interoperability between nations. It is important that we work with our allies in the EU and in NATO and that we stop those who are advocating part of this proud nation coming out of NATO, which would diminish our capacity to defend these shores and work against good European tradition.

Is not one of the requirements of the United Kingdom Navy to obey the rules of engagement set by the Ministry of Defence? Did not the current rules of engagement that allow no conflict in Iraqi waters with Iranian forces lead directly to 15 of our service personnel being abducted by the Iranians?

Rather than speculate about events, let us stand back and understand the sensitivity of the situation. There is too much speculation about what happened and what did not happen. Those carrying out that mission clearly have to respond to the level of threat that is posed to them. We will have to investigate that when they are safely returned to these shores and we get their version of events rather than the speculation that is being paraded around in the media and elsewhere.

Clearly, the most important requirement for the Royal Navy is personnel. One of its great sources of new recruits is the sea cadet units around the country, including HMS Minerva in Llwynypia in Rhondda. However, those units get no direct guaranteed funding from the Ministry of Defence. Is it not time that we put them on a proper footing?

If my hon. Friend looks into this, he will find that that is because of the way in which the sea cadets have been set up as a charitable organisation. I do not have all the information to hand as to the precise structure, but I will ensure that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who has responsibility for this, responds to him in detail.

Most of the 29 ships that have joined the fleet since this Government came to office were ordered under the previous, Conservative Government. Is it not a fact that in the past five years the only warship order has been for a single, solitary offshore patrol vessel? When the order for the carriers eventually, and belatedly, comes through, will the Minister guarantee that it will not be used as cover for the cancellation of the seventh and eighth Type 45 destroyers, which the Navy says it needs to ensure that the carrier taskforces are properly protected?

As has been said many times from the Dispatch Box by previous Administrations as well as this one, there is a continuum in the defence of this country. It does not surprise me that ships that have been commissioned in the past 10 years were ordered in previous periods. The important aspect is that those orders were carried out because it was acknowledged that it is important to maintain the strength of the Royal Navy. On top of that, there is a projected £14 billion capital programme for the Royal Navy in the next decade. That includes carriers, Type 45s and other vessels for the Royal Navy. At the end of that, it will be a formidable Navy.

The Royal Navy is at the point of change—change for the better.

Injured Troops

10. What progress has been made in improving health care provided to troops injured on operations on their return to the UK. (129306)

Selly Oak hospital, part of the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, is the primary reception hospital for operational casualties. It is a centre of excellence for treating the injuries sustained by our troops. A military-managed ward reached initial operating capability in December 2006. There are 22 military nurses, including military nursing managers, who work at all levels on the ward. That allows the presence of military nursing staff on duty on every shift. We have also increased the overall number of military psychiatric support nurses and have military welfare staff and liaison officers at the hospital.

Personnel who require rehabilitation following hospital treatment may receive it at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court. That world-class facility provides high-quality, appropriate prosthetics and adaptations, manufactured on site and individually tailored as necessary to the specific patient.

My hon. Friend knows that a large contingent of personnel from Plymouth is currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot emphasise enough the importance to the families of understanding that there is a decent health care service in place for those who are injured, and equally for those who return from stressful tours of duty. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, despite the recent incident in Cyprus, the Ministry will continue to support decompression programmes—one of which I saw on HMS Temeraire—to assist, for example, Iraq veterans back into regular Army service?

It is clear that we provide top quality, world-class medical support and treatment for our injured service personnel. I have talked to many injured service personnel and their families in recent months. A recent survey at Selly Oak of those who had been discharged showed everybody saying that their care and treatment had been excellent, very good or good. It is clearly an important facility, which we are continuing to develop. We are taking an initiative on reservists and mental health. Mental health support exists pre and post-deployment.

Decompression is important, and commanding officers decide how it is handled and delivered. It clearly has an important role to play in allowing service personnel who return from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to come to terms with their experiences, discuss any difficult problems that they may need to take forward and, of course, relax. That is all part of the process before returning home to their loved ones.

Given the success of Defence Medical Services in keeping alive injured troops who, in earlier times, would have died, is the Under-Secretary satisfied with the aftercare available, especially for those injured out of the services? Is he content with the long waiting list for former servicemen to access psychiatric services? Given increasing awareness of the services available and the problems that former servicemen experience, will he expand the defence psychiatric service to make it the equal of those in America, Australia and the Netherlands?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Defence Medical Services is responsible for such services, pre and post-deployment. As he rightly said, once personnel leave the armed forces, they become the responsibility of the NHS. In October, we announced the reservist mental health care plan, whereby reservists who visit their GPs are referred to the defence medical mental health unit at Chilwell. We are currently working with the Department of Health and Combat Stress to improve further the mental health support for our veterans.

We hope to get several pilot schemes up and running in the not-too-distant future to consider how we improve both the understanding of mental health problems that result from being on operations or in the armed forces and education and support for that throughout the health service. I shall report further to the House as that develops.

Will my hon. Friend note that it is very important that servicemen be treated within units where they are totally comfortable and surrounded by those who they most want to be with? Will he resist any attempt to divide the specialist units from the main national health service providers because it is essential that they be given a wide range of treatments and are not left in conditions that are inadequate in comparison with other NHS patients?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, but the decision to move away from military hospitals was taken some time ago and it was based on expert clinical and medical advice. It is important to ensure that practitioners, clinicians and military medical staff are able to develop their experience, see a range of cases and be given a range of skills to use out on the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq and back home when injured soldiers return. The best way for that to happen is in the context of a large NHS trust where those skills can be developed and honed. The experience they gain there can be used for the benefit of injured armed forces personnel.

General Sir Richard Dannatt said that we may see a dedicated military ward at Selly Oak within three years, but at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister did not seem to believe in the concept at all and we now know from contractors at Selly Oak that it will be at least five years before such a unit is up and running. What is the truth in all that shambles? People in this country think that our troops deserve better than the confusion and contradiction that they are getting and want to see an exclusive military unit inside the NHS as soon as possible.

We are now seeing the best medical treatment ever for our armed forces personnel, thanks to the quality and expertise at places like Selly Oak as well as in the field hospitals in operations out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me make it clear that we are moving towards a military managed ward with initial operating capability and by the early summer we will have full capability. Alterations and works are taking place at Selly Oak hospital to do that. As to General Dannatt’s comments, he raised the issue of having a fully military ward—in other words, a ward with no civilian patients—but it is a problem when there are empty beds and civilian patients need them. It is important to think about how to deal with that problem. With the developments coming up over the next few years, including the development of new units at the hospital at Selly Oak, we will be looking further into how to introduce a military ward into the new facility. We are working with people at Selly Oak and elsewhere to do that, as General Dannatt understands.

Business of the House

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement altering the business of the House for tomorrow in the interests of restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland:

Tuesday 27 March—Consideration of a business of the House motion. Followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill followed by conclusion of the Budget Statement. Followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments to the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been signified.

The business for Wednesday and Thursday remains unchanged and as previously announced.

Wednesday 28 March—Motions relating to communications allowance, notices of questions during September, Select Committees (Reports) and parliamentary contributory pension fund. Followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument on casinos.

Thursday 29 March—Motion on the Easter recess Adjournment.

The House will recall that the St. Andrews agreement set out a timetable for devolution; and the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 set in statute the date for the restoration of devolution as 26 March—in other words, today. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have repeatedly made it clear that, nine years after the Good Friday agreement and following countless rounds of talks and negotiations, the point has been reached where substance has to take over from process. Both my right hon. Friends have stated in categorical terms—and I have underlined in the House—that if the path to devolution today as laid out by the British and Irish Governments were not followed, the parties would have to reach agreement on a way forward themselves.

Our way, which in November Parliament endorsed without dissent in the 2006 Act, has been clear: that if devolution did not happen today, dissolution would happen tomorrow. That is why I made it clear, both last Thursday and the Thursday before, that the Government planned no emergency legislation as the Democratic Unionist party had requested—a position reaffirmed to its leadership team in a meeting last Wednesday by the Prime Minister.

In the long and difficult history of Northern Ireland, our approach to date has been based on a reality—that up to now there has never been a consensus or a way forward agreed between the parties. All the achievements since the 1998 Good Friday agreement, however momentous, have depended on the two Governments calling it as they thought best. Until today, that approach has been the only one available because the parties themselves have been unwilling to do so their own way.

However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was informed earlier today that an agreed way forward to devolution has now been found. The leaders of the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein—the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams)—met for very the first time this morning at Stormont, and have agreed to participate in a power-sharing agreement on 8 May. Right hon. and hon. Members will recognise the extraordinary significance of that. Many in the House and beyond would never have expected such a development in their lifetimes. The fact that it has been achieved is a tribute not only to the work of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State but to their predecessors in both Labour and Conservative Administrations who, throughout the past 35 years, worked tirelessly to bring about a settlement that would allow devolution to be restored and to end direct rule in Northern Ireland. Most importantly, it is a tribute to the commitment of all the political parties in Northern Ireland.

This morning, following their meeting, the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein together asked Her Majesty’s Government to introduce emergency legislation immediately to give effect to their agreement. To achieve that within the framework put in place last November by Parliament in the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, it is essential that the necessary changes to that Act be made by midnight tomorrow. I am therefore proposing to the House a change to the Order Paper tomorrow to allow a very short technical Bill to be considered to put the necessary changes in place. My noble Friend the Chief Whip in the Lords will make a similar request in the other place.

I appreciate that this is an exceptional situation—but these are exceptional circumstances. If the representatives of Unionism, republicanism and nationalism can reach agreement on what the whole House will hope will be a final political settlement in Northern Ireland through a shared future, it is right that this House should do all that it can to facilitate that in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. A Bill will therefore be put before the House tomorrow with the aim of Royal Assent before midnight. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will cover all the key points during consideration of the Bill, I am sure that the whole House will understand that tomorrow’s oral statement, of which I gave notice last Thursday, will now not take place.

As the Leader of the House has said, this is a significant day for Northern Ireland, and we welcome the fact that agreement has been achieved, and that devolution will now be restored in Northern Ireland. As the Leader of the House has done, I pay tribute to all those, across Governments and parties, who have worked to that end. We, too, want the legislation passed through Parliament, and we will co-operate to ensure that it gets through in the required time.

Important though the new emergency legislation is for Northern Ireland, the Leader of the House’s statement has implications for the rest of our business this week. The introduction of a new Bill tomorrow will have particular implications for our debate on the Budget. What is proposed will cut short that debate, especially were the Government to meet the expectation of many right hon. and hon. Members for a statement on the capture of armed forces by Iran.

Why does the Leader of the House intend to cut debate on the Budget short? Surely we should ensure that the time for that debate is protected, and he has options to do that. He could, of course, extend the time for debate tomorrow. Preferably, Parliament’s sitting this week could be extended: we could sit on Friday, or on Monday of next week. Agreement in Northern Ireland, and agreement on a restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, is a significant step, but should not be an excuse for the Government to ride roughshod over Parliament and shorten debate on the Budget. We welcome the agreement, and we will co-operate in getting the legislation through, but I urge the Leader of the House to look again at the order of business for this week.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her welcome, on behalf of the Opposition, for the principle of what we propose tomorrow. As I said in my opening statement, we pay tribute to the Conservative Administrations and Opposition for the constructive part that they have played in achieving what is a historic moment. I reassure the right hon. Lady and the Opposition, who I know are anxious to debate every last detail of the Budget, as, indeed, are we, that we are ready to extend tomorrow’s parliamentary day by a significant amount. The timing can be agreed between the usual channels in the usual constructive way. I hope that that helps the House. We will also consider whether to make a statement on Iran.

I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his brief statement. What has been achieved in Northern Ireland appears to be both extraordinary and welcome news, and we very much hope that it comes to fruition. It is right to put on record our appreciation to all concerned, in all parties, who have worked so hard to achieve a result.

The Liberal Democrats have been sceptical about deadlines. We were sceptical last time, and we would be even more sceptical were another deadline to be reached and passed without resolution. I believe that the country would expect us to put aside any consideration of the order of business in order to accommodate what might be an historic settlement, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that that must not, and need not, be at the expense of giving proper consideration to the Budget. Do I understand from what the Leader of the House said that he will fully protect the time set aside for the Budget debate tomorrow? If not, will he consider having a later sitting on Wednesday so that we can conclude the Budget debate and the Divisions on the Budget resolutions without losing any of the time that has been set aside for the other matters that are due to be debated on that day? It would be extremely helpful if he were to make that clear.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. As for scepticism about deadlines, I think that the whole House will agree that were it not for the very clear deadline that was set in the St. Andrews agreement Act, it is unlikely that these very constructive events would have taken place. I have already said that we are willing to extend the parliamentary day tomorrow, but I cannot agree that there will be exact, minute-for-minute injury time. We are working on that, but it is a matter for the Whips of the different parties to agree. We recognise that the time for tomorrow’s debate on the Budget might need to be extended. As for statements, hon. Members know that statements and urgent questions are bound to eat into the normal public business. That is a straightforward reality.

As it is important that there should be adequate debate on the important Northern Ireland measure, which we all welcome, why does not the Leader of the House follow the precedent that we used at Christmas, when we resumed the Queen’s Speech debate after it was interrupted for Northern Ireland legislation? Why not resume the Budget debate on Wednesday and devote tomorrow to this historic event?

We have to get the whole thing through tomorrow, which means that we have to debate it early so that the other place can then debate it. It is a very short Bill—[Hon. Members: “Start early.”] I am in favour of starting early and finishing late, but others in this place have taken different decisions on that. However, that is another debate.

We have to debate the Bill first in the order of business, after any statements or urgent questions, and it must then go to the other place. Any amendments have to come back to us, and there may be some ping-pong between the Houses, although we hope not. In that situation, it makes sense to continue debating the Budget. This does not really compare with what happened in November, because that Bill was much longer and more complicated.

Clearly, these are exciting times. The Leader of the House is absolutely right to bring in the emergency legislation tomorrow—I am sure that it will have the full support of the whole House. However, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) for his comments that the Budget debate should be concluded on Wednesday. I say gently to the Leader of the House that there is not very important business on Wednesday; indeed, we might be doing a great favour to the Patronage Secretary by withdrawing the debate on the casino order, which she might well lose.

The right hon. Gentleman anticipates my answer: quite important—very important—Government business is tabled for Wednesday, and I think it would be convenient for the whole House if it were dealt with on that day.

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge the personal contribution of John Major, who is generally recognised to have started the process that should lead to sustainable peace in Northern Ireland? Will he also reconsider the business tabled for later this week? As one of the usual suspects when it comes to the Easter Adjournment debate, I can assure him that we should be very happy to sacrifice some or all of that debate to accommodate other business this week, so that the Budget debate is not curtailed.

It is nice that the hon. Gentleman should think that the amount of time available for debate on constituency and wider issues on the motion for the Easter Adjournment is in his gift. In any event, I shall bear in mind what he said.

Of course I pay tribute to John Major. I did so in general, but I am happy to do so in particular as well. His was a very significant contribution to what has happened today.

The Leader of the House’s historic announcement of the legislation for tomorrow is obviously welcome on both sides of the House, as is his agreement to make a concession on the time for debate on the Budget, but may I return him to the question from my right hon. Friend the Shadow Leader of the House and ask for an assurance that none of this will compromise time for a statement on what has happened to the 15 service men who have been seized by the Iranians? Many of us will want to ask questions about, for instance, the rules of engagement that made that possible.

The granting of time for an urgent question is a matter for you and you alone, Mr. Speaker. As for the issue of a statement, there must be a statement this week, and we are discussing with the usual channels which would be the most appropriate day for it.


With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Zimbabwe. I hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the Liberal Democrats received a copy in good time.

As the Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday, what is happening in Zimbabwe is appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for its people. My noble Friend Lord Triesman, Minister responsible for Africa, noted on 12 March that it was a direct consequence of Mugabe’s own approach and of his disregard for the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. What we are seeing is a wilful waste of Zimbabwe’s assets and potential by a ZANU-PF Government who have substituted plunder and corruption for a programme of economic and social advancement for its people.

Hunger and malnutrition are all that millions of Zimbabweans now experience in their daily lives, and Mugabe and his regime are directly responsible. They are directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s economy being in free fall: the economy shrank by 40 per cent. in less than a decade, and will shrink by a further 5 per cent. this year. Inflation is already at 3,000 per cent., and the International Monetary Fund says that it will breach 5,000 per cent. by the end of this year. They are directly responsible for circumstances in which a quarter of the resident population is dependent on food aid, and a quarter has already fled the country. They are directly responsible for an unemployment rate of over 80 per cent., the third highest in the world. It is little wonder that there has been an exodus over the Limpopo river. They are directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s having the world’s highest orphan rate, largely as a consequence of the pandemic rate of AIDS: roughly 20 per cent. of adults are infected. They are directly responsible for circumstances in which Zimbabweans can expect to die younger than anyone else on the planet. A Zimbabwean woman today can expect to live to just 34, while a Zimbabwean man can expect to live to 37. However, instead of taking the necessary measures to reverse each of those evolving tragedies, the regime continues to make people homeless, suppress independent media, harass human rights defenders and arbitrarily arrest those involved in peaceful demonstrations.

The violence and repression used against peaceful protesters gathering to pray for change during the weekend of 10-11 March, during which at least one young person was shot and killed, has continued unabated. Four members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been prevented from leaving Zimbabwe, including one MP, Nelson Chamisa, who was badly beaten when travelling to a meeting in Brussels. I am pleased to note that the MDC’s vice-president was able to take his place: we salute his bravery and that of his colleagues.

A significant number of activists are still being arrested and beaten throughout Zimbabwe. Lawyers representing those who have been detained have themselves faced intimidation. Trade union and student union members have also been harassed and arrested. My noble Friend Lord Triesman summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to register our disgust,

As I did during my address to the Human Rights Council on 13 March, I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed and injured in the last two weeks of terrible assault, and offer my solidarity to all Zimbabweans on behalf of everyone in the House. Mugabe’s men might break the bones of the democracy campaigners, but they cannot break the quiet dignity of these extraordinary human beings. One day, Zimbabwe will return to democracy; Zimbabweans will be free. Mugabe knows that. He knows that he has got it wrong, and that the crisis has resulted in an increase in internal pressure. He feels more vulnerable. The involvement of the military in almost all aspects of Zimbabwe life—from running state businesses and economic programmes to agriculture and food distribution—underlines that.

What does Mugabe do? He blames everyone else, especially us in the United Kingdom. He persistently alleges that the UK is responsible for Zimbabwe’s woes—that we are somehow victimising him for his disastrous fast-track land reform policies. That is simply not true. We have always recognised the need for an equitable redistribution of land, but that has to be done in a transparent, legal manner. We signed up to all three of the internationally recognised land reform packages: in 1979, 1998 and 2001. The UK gave a total of £44 million to the first of them. About £3 million was returned unspent in the mid-1990s when the Zimbabwean Government lost interest in proper land reform. We were also willing to support the package put together by the United Nations Development Programme in 2001, but Mugabe’s violent land invasions put a halt to that.

Let us look for a moment at Mugabe’s claims that the crisis is down to us. It was his Government—not the UK—who displaced and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 700,000 people during Operation Murambatsvina, which I understand means “drive out the filth”. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who previously refused to appeal to the UN for food aid despite widely reported food shortages. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who have crushed a free media. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who deny Zimbabweans their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly by routinely and violently breaking up peaceful protests. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who have ignored IMF recommendations to reform an imploding economy. It is they who continue to squander the country’s limited foreign exchange while ordinary Zimbabweans can scarcely afford food. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who destroyed property rights by removing land from the legal process. It is they—not the UK—who have ruined the Zimbabwean agricultural sector; agricultural productivity has fallen by a staggering 80 per cent. since 1998.

Since 2000, more than 250,000 black commercial farm workers have lost their livelihoods. Including families, that means that there has been a rural displacement of about 1 million people, to match the urban dislocation of 700,000. Of course, while the Government of Zimbabwe continue to blame the international community, the European Union and the UK Government for their troubles, in each case we are taking action to improve life on the ground for ordinary Zimbabweans.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said last week, there is considerable concern throughout the international community about the situation in Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom is greatly concerned about the situation there, but those concerns are shared by the whole of the European Union, by the African Union—sadly, those concerns have not always been expressed as loudly as they might be—by the United Nations and by the rest of the international community.

Ministers and officials are in constant contact with our African counterparts, emphasising the risks to regional stability and the importance of Zimbabwe’s African neighbours taking a more direct role in addressing the crisis in Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister last week wrote to President Mbeki and spoke with President Kikwete of Tanzania on this issue. We recognise the difficulties in challenging Mugabe bilaterally, but without the engagement of the Southern African Development Community, with its commitment to promoting good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law, the situation will deteriorate further. We therefore welcome the visit of the chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, President Kikwete, to Harare on 15 March. With President Mbeki of South Africa, he has proposed an initiative to encourage internal dialogue between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change on policy reform, but quick progress is necessary if that is to have an impact. Mugabe is a master of denial and delay. The Zambian President has recently called Zimbabwe a “sinking Titanic”—an apt description, indeed.

On the European Union, despite the claims of Mugabe about illegal economic sanctions imposed by the EU, let us be clear: the EU has no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. They exist only in his mind. The EU does not prevent western companies, including British ones, from doing business with Zimbabwe, which in fact has a trade surplus with the UK. The EU does have an arms sales ban, and a travel ban and an assets freeze on leading members of the regime. While those targeted measures have had no impact on the Zimbabwean economy, they show that the EU is serious about human rights. Zimbabwean civil society organisations support those measures because they are focused on the destroyers of Zimbabwean society and not on its suffering people. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House on Tuesday and the Prime Minister repeated the next day, we will look to add to these targeted measures. We are pushing for, and expect there to be, progress on the addition of extra names to the EU visa ban list, again pressurising the regime without impacting on ordinary Zimbabweans.

On the actions of the UK Government, let the House be clear: we are doing all that we can to relieve the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. The UK is one of the three largest donors to Zimbabwe, and, contrary to the claims of some, that money is making a real difference to the lives of ordinary people in Zimbabwe. For some, that money is quite literally the difference between life and death, and the House should be proud of that contribution.

In the past five years, the Department for International Development has committed more than £143 million to humanitarian programmes, including food aid, life-saving vaccines, support for orphans and vulnerable children, and agricultural inputs to the poorest farmers. We have also provided £37 million to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Of the €200 million given by the EU last year, the UK alone disbursed nearly €60 million in bilateral assistance—hardly the actions of a country not interested in the affairs of Zimbabwe; far less one with a bilateral grievance.

As the Foreign Secretary made clear on Tuesday, our aid is channelled through United Nations and NGO agencies to escape the clutches of the regime. I want to stress that our food aid is not a part of the ZANU-PF programme to use food as a means to force support or to punish opposition. It is also clear that not only are innocent Zimbabweans suffering, but the tragedy in Zimbabwe is having a significant impact on the region: both a direct impact with mass migration, and a consequent social impact in terms of HIV, malnutrition, safety and the education of children, to name but a few factors. As Zimbabwe disintegrates, those impacts will increase.

The UK shares the region’s desire to see Zimbabwe’s recovery—there is no other UK agenda. Our concerns are for the ordinary Zimbabweans and their suffering at the hands of a regime determined to pursue policies that hurt rather than help them. We stand ready to help, with our international partners, but only when there is an environment inside Zimbabwe in which that assistance will be effective.

Until the Zimbabwean regime changes course, we will maintain the international spotlight on them, and increase Mugabe’s isolation. In that vein, I welcome France’s decision not to invite Mugabe to the February France-Africa summit, which sent a clear signal that this woeful governance will not be tolerated. However, as I and others, including the Prime Minister, have made clear, the Zimbabwean crisis cannot be solved by the UK. Those sentiments were echoed by the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who told the BBC on 18 March:

“I have repeatedly said that the British government cannot be seen to be at the forefront in confronting Robert Mugabe alone. I’ve always said that that will be misconstrued as a colonial resuscitation of the same situation again. So I always say that Britain, together with the rest of the international community, the African Union, and the rest of the international community have to act together.”

So we in this House and elsewhere must be careful that, while expressing our outrage at recent events and at the downward spiral of Zimbabwe, we do not do or say anything that will hand a propaganda tool to Robert Mugabe. We will continue to exert pressure in international forums, including the United Nations —we expect a tough EU statement on the Human Rights Council this week, and a humanitarian briefing on the UN Security Council next week—the African Union and the European Union, and with international partners, until democracy is restored to Zimbabwe. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that whoever governs Zimbabwe does so in a way that guarantees a better future for all Zimbabweans: a democratic and accountable Government, and policies that ensure economic stability and development, not humanitarian misery.

My generation was the first to be born not as children of the empire, but as children of the Commonwealth. When I first became involved in political life, the struggle against colonialism, and the struggle of the peoples in southern Africa who were subjugated by racist regimes, were an inspiration to me and to my generation. As time went by, we celebrated as Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and the fighters came out of the bush to create a new democratic future for their people.

That is why it is so hard for me personally to watch what is happening in Zimbabwe today. Uniquely, the people whom we once cheered as liberators are now the oppressors who have taken away the voice of the Zimbabwean people. Brave Zimbabweans are speaking up for their freedom. They are looking to their African neighbours to help. We are playing our part in the international community.

In 1980, Zimbabwe proudly proclaimed its independence. Tragically, 27 years later, its people have still to gain their freedom.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the generous amount of time that he allowed the Opposition to have advance sight of his statement. I am sure that the whole House will join him in his condemnation of the Mugabe regime. Like the rest of the international community, we have been shocked by the regime’s brutal tactics, the country’s chronic food shortages and staggeringly high inflation and unemployment, and the increasing Government repression of all forms of dissent.

All Zimbabweans are suffering as a result of the Government-made, deteriorating economic, political and humanitarian situation, which has now become so desperate that Archbishop Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, said last week that he was

“ready to stand in front, even of blazing guns”

to force President Mugabe to step down.

I turn to some specific questions. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the international community’s response to 27 years of Mugabe misrule, although well intentioned, has been unable to prevent the situation from deteriorating, and that decisive action is now needed? Is not it the case that, although the Government have done the things the Minister outlined today, they could have done more? What we are looking for now is that all his good words in the House today are matched by action.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that the UK is pushing for additional EU sanctions. Will they include widening the scope of the assets freeze? We have heard the rumour that the financial sanctions currently affect only 400 bank accounts, covering £210,000. Surely the Government could do more in that respect.

Will people who have residence and visitor’s permits in the UK and who are on the list of banned people have their permits and passports withdrawn? Will the Minister assure the House that no member of ZANU-PF, including President Mugabe and anyone on the EU sanctions list, will be invited to the EU-AU summit in Portugal later this year? If they were, it would make a mockery of the travel bans.

Will the Minister urge Zimbabwe’s neighbours to make a concerted effort to resolve the crisis, and to exploit their many points of influence with the Mugabe regime? Will he now make the case that the consequences of a total collapse in Zimbabwe will fall heavily upon them and their regimes, and will he urge them to put pressure on the Mugabe regime to block the extension of his rule and engage in talks with the Opposition? Can he confirm that the UK is strongly conveying that message, particularly to the Government of South Africa? Is not it vital that the international community present a united front in pursuing a clear strategy that increases the penalties on the Mugabe leadership? Could he have a system of incentives and disincentives clearly linked to sanctions, so that the international community can ratchet up their actions? Can he confirm reports that the UK, along with other nations, is working with moderate members of ZANU-PF to discuss the possibility of agreeing a power-sharing transitional Government? Does he agree that any change in the Government will ultimately come from the actions of the Zimbabwe people themselves? Finally, does he agree that the international community should stand by, ready and planning to work as partners to lift and help Zimbabwe out of the unimaginable poverty in which it finds itself today as soon as genuine partners with whom we can work in Zimbabwe emerge?

Does the Minister agree that, like the iron curtain around the Soviet Union, once the tide starts flowing, it is unstoppable? Is not it high time for the 83-year old Mugabe to retire now?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his positive statement of support for the Government’s strategy. All of us in the House, whatever our political persuasion, want to do everything possible to ensure engagement with South Africa and other front-line states, which is why the steps taken by the Presidents of Tanzania and South Africa in the past few days are important.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is important that Mugabe see that it is not just the west, and Britain in particular, that is trying to get a regime change: it is a matter for the Zimbabwean people and those in the region. When Mugabe goes, he must be replaced with a regime that respects human rights and human dignity, and has the capacity to represent the interests of all Zimbabweans and all civil society.

The hon. Gentleman is right about another matter. Alongside working in that respect, it is important that the international community have a twin-track approach. It is important that Zimbabwe should not implode when its leadership changes. That means working as a united force—the UN, the south African states and the European Union—to ensure that, alongside the transitional change, arrangements are in place, first, to stabilise the country, and, secondly, to ensure that the transition benefits the Zimbabwean people and does not result in further dispersal, dispute and violence. It is important that we do those two things together.

On the targeted measures that the hon. Gentleman raised, I made it absolutely clear that we want to see further targeted measures and we are discussing that with our European Union colleagues and others. It is important that we do so. I will keep the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat spokesman informed—it is not a secret. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, I want to work with every party in the House to ensure that maximum pressure is put on the regime. That means working together and trusting each other to get the best result for the Zimbabwean people. That includes the issues about targeting.

The hon. Gentleman did not raise this point, but in the context of targeted measures, it is important to remember that, as well as a travel ban—I hope that we will add names to the travel ban—there is also an issue about some of the children the regime benefits from. As well as adding other names, it is important to consider seriously whether the children of the worst offenders should be included on the list. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will consider that.

Let us be quite clear that it is critical that the EU-Africa summit take place, because we want to discuss good governance, regional peace and security, development and integration, education, health and immigration in Africa as a whole. We should not let Zimbabwe or Robert Mugabe capture that important agenda. I said what I said about France for a specific reason, and I want to be absolutely clear about it: I want the summit to take place—not as a platform for Mugabe, but as a platform for Africa to work with the European Union. The summit does not take place till November or December, so we should not make hasty decisions. We should work with our colleagues who will have the presidency at that time—the Portuguese Government—to ensure that the EU-African Union summit takes place. I hope that there will be a place there for Zimbabwe, but a different type of Zimbabwe.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Secretary of State found out anything more about the Angolan troop situation? Does my right hon. Friend share my regret at the seeming reluctance of the Commonwealth Secretariat to engage in Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe did not leave the Commonwealth; she was abducted by Mugabe, just as South Africa was abducted by Verwoerd. In the case of South Africa, the Commonwealth never accepted the abduction. The then Prime Minister of Canada said:

“We shall leave a candle in the window for South Africa.”

Why does my right hon. Friend think that the Commonwealth Secretariat has been unwilling to leave a candle in the window for Zimbabwe?

I checked up on the reports about Angola, because it was important to do so. The Angolan authorities tell us that the reports are completely false, but I know that hon. Members raised the issue legitimately and in the right spirit. We went back to our post in Rwanda and spoke to the Angolan authorities who said—I repeat—that the reports about troops were false.

We are working actively with the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is critical that not just the Commonwealth Secretariat, but our colleagues in the Southern African Development Community and in the African Union, along with us in the European Union, make progress over the coming days to get the dialogue going about the situation in Zimbabwe so that it can move on to a new leadership, new politics and a new type society. As I tried to outline in my remarks to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), that should be done in a way that does not undermine further the ability of Zimbabweans to see through the crisis and get to a different place.

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in thanking the Minister for an advance copy of the statement. The Minister has made a powerful case against Mugabe this afternoon and the whole House will be grateful to him for doing that. He did not pull his punches in his description of Mugabe’s monstrous regime. I invite him to be more robust about the countries of southern Africa. Frankly, people are despairing at South Africa’s softly-softly approach, in particular. Notwithstanding what the Minister said about Angola, it is alarmed by the past week’s reports of closer security co-operation between the two countries.

Does the Minister agree that despite the sensitivities—we accept that humanitarian briefings in the Security Council are important—Britain has to force the pace on extending sanctions not only in the European Union, but at the Security Council, so that Mugabe and all his regime can be held to account? It has been reported today that to facilitate Mugabe’s political demise, he might get some sort of deal letting him off the hook for all his crimes against humanity, which would surely be an appalling prospect for all of us. Will the Minister confirm that neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union would support such a tawdry arrangement?

Let me take the hon. Gentleman’s last point first. We are not holding discussions about giving immunity to Mugabe or any other member of the regime. However, our first act must surely be to assist efforts internationally and in the region itself so that we get to a position in which Mugabe is no longer in power. However, that should be achieved by the Zimbabwean people with the support of the international community. That will be an important first step, yet what happens after that, in terms of our contingency planning, ongoing support for the people of Zimbabwe and the problems flowing from the excesses of the regime, is important. I am not dodging the question, but as the hon. Gentleman indicated, we must ensure that South Africa and the other countries in the region—this is critically important—and China and other countries are in a position in which they will come along with ourselves and the European Union on multilateral action to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe once and for all. That is the priority. We must not provide anyone with a loophole or a bolthole so that things become more difficult than they are at the moment.

We will take each step in turn. The first step is to get momentum going with regard to what the hon. Gentleman said. That was why I was robust in negotiations to ensure that the Human Rights Council, which is sitting at the moment, debates Zimbabwe before its session breaks up in June. It will be important for us to pursue the matter in the Security Council early next week—of course, South Africa is its chair at the moment. Over the next few days, it will be critical for us to maintain our pressure on the international community to come together on Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman asks us to be robust. I am robust as any Member, but I am acutely aware that I want to be robust in such a way that it will make a difference. I do not want to be robust and thus give someone an excuse. It is easy to get a clap or a nod of approval in here. As I said in my statement, we should not say or do anything that would give anyone the opportunity not to participate in this international effort to rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe.

What countries will be represented at the regional conference and what issues will actually be discussed? It has been a long time since we first started thinking about tightening up the sanctions. Why has it taken so long to do that?

The European Union sanctions are a matter for the EU as a whole. We will have to wait to find out what comes out of the debates in the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. However, my hon. Friend can rest assured that from our perspective, as I said in my statement and in reply to the hon. Member for Cotswold, we want to maximise our ability to extend the bans and to examine other measures. We want to take colleagues with us. It is important that the action is multilateral and that it is seen that that action is being taken by the international community, not just by ourselves.

I served in 1979 to try to bring Zimbabwe back to democracy and I am horrified by the state that we are in now. I must say to the Government that I think that we have dragged our heels unnecessarily over the years. Does the Minister agree that surely the time has come to deal directly with South Africa and the other neighbours and to say to them very simply, as a process of limit diplomacy, that it is time for them to put real pressure on Zimbabwe? If they do not do so, perhaps we should examine again the programmes, such as aid programmes, that are going in their direction and say, “It’s a two-way street. Either you act, or we act.”

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution in his previous roles, but I disagree entirely with his last remark. I am all for putting increased pressure on people in the region to take their responsibilities seriously, and that is why, as I said, the Prime Minister has already been in contact with President Mbeki and has already had discussions with the President of Tanzania, and there will be other such discussions to follow. However, what we cannot and will not do is withdraw our important international aid activity, whether it is dealing with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, or with pandemic AIDS and TB. We will not take action against the ordinary citizens of any country in Africa simply to get at Mugabe’s regime. That is playing entirely into his hands, and that is the kind of suggestion that I tried to allude to earlier. Such suggestions are not only unhelpful, but are nonsense, given what we are trying to do.

In view of reports that ZANU-PF might itself move to get rid of Mugabe, will my right hon. Friend set out the principles that the UK Government and others will expect from an incoming Government, particularly in respect of the move to full and free elections in Zimbabwe? Some of us are concerned that people in ZANU-PF who have benefited greatly from the regime might try to ensure regime change to protect their own position, whereas most people, obviously, want a move to a truly democratic Zimbabwe, with a return to peace and security for the millions of Zimbabweans.

I am absolutely certain that there are some people within the regime who would like regime change but who would like to simply carry on with the policies that have led Zimbabwe to a position of international isolation. That country, which was able to feed itself, and which used to be the bread basket of Africa, now cannot even feed its own nation, and has an AIDS pandemic and a life expectancy of 34 years for a woman, and 37 years for a man.

Let me be absolutely clear that any regime change, which has to come from inside and not outside the country, has to result in a Government who recognise the human rights of all their citizens, who recognise opposition and the freedom of the press, who have the capacity to work with the international community to rebuild their shattered economy, and who have the ability to treat with respect and dignity all the people in Zimbabwe who want to make a contribution to the rebuilding of their country. No individual or organisation can simply take over and carry on as before. That is why it is important, as I said to the hon. Member for Cotswold, that alongside that effort, a second effort is made—an effort on the part of the international community to provide contingency plans on what support we can give to ensure that changes in government, and any transition that takes place, are sustainable on the grounds that I have set out.

In associating the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the Minister’s description of the woeful circumstances in Zimbabwe, may I press him for details of the plan that he has mentioned a number of times? Surely it will take a plan of Marshall plan application to make a real difference to the country when regime change takes place. Does he not think that it is time to tell the people of Zimbabwe about the degree of commitment outside the country to helping them back to the circumstances in which they should live?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks of support from the nationalist parties, and I accept them in the spirit in which they were made. Contingency planning is at an early stage, and I do not want to give the impression that I have an all-singing, all-dancing plan. What I am trying to allude to is the fact that, as well as bearing in mind the diplomatic issues to do with the regime, it is important that we do not simply wait until there is potential regime change, or indeed until there is a collapse, with all its consequences. We can already see the stresses and pressures on the front-line states around Zimbabwe as a result of migration and issues related to it. It is important that the international community, including the European Union, the United States and other large donors to Zimbabwe, think through what our contribution will be to assisting the transition to a democratic society and, with that, to preventing full-scale humanitarian disaster from occurring. That will be a huge effort.

For example, there are large numbers of elderly people in Zimbabwe, and given the collapse of the care system in Zimbabwe, what do we do to prevent those elderly people from becoming victims of any collapse? What do we do with young children, and what do we do in terms of restructuring, and in terms of those millions of people who have already left the country, and who need to return to be effective there? If they are to do so, a stable, incoming Government are needed. All those issues to do with contingency planning must be considered, as well as the issue of how the international community can best provide support for any new regime that takes over.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary about the position of Zimbabwean citizens in this country? Last Friday at my surgery, three Zimbabwean citizens who had received letters from the Home Office asking that they be returned to Zimbabwe came to see me. They believe that they will be killed if they go back. Surely, now is the time, especially in view of my right hon. Friend’s statement, at which we should not return people to that dreadful country. Will he meet the Home Secretary to discuss that as a matter of urgency?

There are no forced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe currently. Returns are suspended until the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Tribunal has made its judgment on a Court of Appeal case. We will continue to defer returns to Zimbabwe until that case is concluded, but we also continue to expect Zimbabweans who have no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and we encourage them to take advantage of the generous return and reintegration package. I do not have any details of my right hon. Friend’s case, but if he sends them to me, I will deal with it personally in the way in which he has asked me to do.

There are some 5,000 pensioners living in Zimbabwe who are world war two veterans and veterans of service with the Crown. Many of them are well over the age of 85, and they are being kept alive by charity. If there is a collapse of government and energy supplies, they will be at risk not within days or weeks but almost within hours. In addition to the measures that the Minister discussed a moment ago about longer-term contingency plans, can he assure the House something will be put in place almost immediately, because a collapse could take place tomorrow or the next day, and people will be vulnerable immediately? Are there plans for immediate support for people who look to Britain for support now, as they gave service to Britain so long ago?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, again, both for his question and for the tenor of it. I alluded in a previous answer to the fact that a key area for us is the elderly, and some of them are exactly the type of individual citizen to whom he referred. Given that assurance, the question of how best we can deal not just with the situation now but one that deteriorates even further is under active consideration. We are providing assistance at this moment in time, particularly in private care homes, where there are extreme difficulties, as the continuation of funding is a problem. The matter is a priority for our high commissioner, who is looking both at what we can do in contingency terms inside the borders of Zimbabwe and at what other actions need to be taken in those situations where people are extremely vulnerable.

When Chile suffered under the similarly brutal Pinochet dictatorship, we discovered that many British companies had been involved in providing the paraphernalia of repression to that Government—things such as riot police training, tear gas and so on. Is the Minister absolutely certain that no British company or British-domiciled person is in any way providing the paraphernalia of repression to Mugabe’s regime, and will he make sure that no other European country takes part in that repression, either?

There is an EU arms embargo, and it is critical both here and throughout the EU that companies respect it. It would be a breach of the embargo not to do so, but if my hon. Friend has any evidence of such action, I will investigate it. However, as far as we are concerned, there is a strong embargo that will remain in place and we may consider extending it.

The right hon. Gentleman has made the most outspoken criticism of the Mugabe regime that I have ever heard from a Minister in the House, and I congratulate him on it. Does he not agree that Mr. Mugabe has lost the support of the civilised world? He has lost the support of the overwhelming majority of African countries and of the majority of his own people—and even the majority in his own party—and is merely supported by a minority in his party. Can we not take a genuine initiative in dealing with African countries to indicate that we will do our best to help, if requested, in the supervision of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, to help with food aid and all the other necessary things to help to remove the suffering of the people?

For the second time in a week, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. There is nothing in his remarks that I disagree with. That is precisely what we are trying to do, in a multilateral way, where we play a very effective part, in order, first, to achieve democracy, secondly, to rebuild the country, and thirdly, to sustain the aid and support that we are giving and to extend that internationally. Fourthly, I cannot overemphasise the desire from the Prime Minister downwards in this regime to encourage South Africa and other front-line states to come up to the plate now. I am certain that that is happening. The important thing for us is to support it and take it forward, as I suggested in my opening statement and in my remarks since.

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), may I bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that I have a constituent who is still threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe? He is a man who is suffering from serious mental illness. As far as we can tell, there are no mental health facilities at all in Zimbabwe at present. Home Office Ministers have refused even to meet me about the case. If there is such a suspension as the Minister referred to, will he make sure that Home Office Ministers know about it?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I do not know the circumstances of the case. Irrespective of my ministerial responsibilities, I will raise the specific case with my Home Office counterparts. Hon. Members are entitled to see Ministers, whatever their responsibilities. There is an open-door policy in that respect. I will take back the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and ensure that he receives an appropriate response from the Minister concerned.

Can the Minister confirm that Robert Mugabe’s daughter, Bona Mugabe, is currently studying at the London School of Economics, and if so, can he say who is paying?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I understand that that is the case. On the second part, I am not certain so I cannot answer. I will write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy in the Library of the House. In response to the hon. Member for Cotswold I said, without prompting, that we should seriously consider extending the travel ban to children and other members of the family.

The Minister should be warmly commended for his robust criticism of the Mugabe regime and for pointing out that all the failings of Zimbabwe, which are causing such harm to its people, rest entirely with Mugabe and not with us or previous colonial rule. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it significant that the Archbishop of York, who has huge regional experience, has said that South Africa is in denial on these matters?

What the archbishop has done has been very helpful. Over the past few days and weeks—I do not mean just the past 10 days or the past fortnight—he and others have increasingly been speaking up and speaking out, demanding of South Africa and cajoling South Africa to take a more proactive role. That is exactly what has been happening in the past few days. That is why we must maintain and develop a relationship. That is why the Prime Minister has written to President Mbeki and why we have had discussions with the President of Tanzania. Further discussions will take place. It is critical, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to move to a point where those in the region take responsibility to assist the process of Mugabe leaving and getting a democratic, accountable Government in place.

If the Mugabe regime comes to an end or if for any other reason there is free access to deliver humanitarian aid on the scale that it is required in Zimbabwe, what plans are being put in place now to make sure that there can be a rapid increase in the level of that aid?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. On 23 March, we hosted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a meeting of 10 countries to discuss contingency planning—the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and the European Commission. Those are the key donors in the region and also those which have representation in Harare. So we are already thinking about the twin-track approach that I spoke about in my statement.

Will the Minister consider talking to the Foreign Secretary, because one of them should go to South Africa during the forthcoming recess with the Archbishop of York to talk to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other prominent South Africans who have spoken out to try to put some pressure on the South African Government, who have the key?

To stop the hon. Gentleman fretting, I should say that I speak to the Foreign Secretary every day on a range of matters. [Hon. Members: “Commiserations!”] Hon. Gentlemen should not be so churlish. There will be a range of diplomatic activity, as there is now, and it will include ministerial involvement. As part of what I have promised the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers, I will keep them abreast of continuing events, including ministerial engagement.

May I ask the Minister whether officials have consulted the International Criminal Court on whether charges can be formulated against Mugabe and his chief lieutenants? Although that might not lead to an actual prosecution, it would be a deterrent. On any view, Mugabe’s activities, while not as grave as those of Milosevic, are similar in kind.

That is a similar question to the one asked by the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), although perhaps it is more direct. The ICC is the next stage; the first stage, which we must concentrate on, is the process of engaging with front-line states and people internally in Zimbabwe to get a new regime and a new Government following agreed democratic principles. Any issue that arises after that will be for discussion. This Government are the biggest supporter of the ICC. We have already resisted efforts not to have it operate in Darfur—where there has been clear potential for its activities—and in northern Uganda and other areas. We are big supporters of the ICC, but I would rather not speculate at this stage, when the priority is clearly the international effort working with South Africa, Tanzania and others to ensure a transition from Mugabe to democratic government in Zimbabwe.

Although I commend the Minister for his robust condemnation of the Mugabe regime, I am not alone in the House in thinking that the statement was one of the most empty that I have heard. I ask for specific action. I have a report that a Chinese-registered ship docked last week in Mozambique at Beira and off-loaded small arms destined for Harare. I have another report that a team of Israelis are going to Harare to advise on demonstration control and that, furthermore, they are sending tear gas from Israel to Harare to support the Government there. Will this Government investigate whether those reports are true, and if so raise the matter at the highest level with the Governments of Mozambique, Israel and—[Hon. Members: “China”]—China? Will they also ensure that such matters are raised at the United Nations and by the European Union, too?

The hon. Gentleman was rather churlish in saying that the statement was empty: helping to keep millions alive with £120 million-worth of aid is not empty rhetoric; helping to fight Zimbabwe’s AIDS pandemic is not empty rhetoric; supporting all those working for democratic change is not empty rhetoric; helping to isolate Mugabe on an international basis is not empty rhetoric; pressing the African Union to support efforts to allow the people of Zimbabwe to remove Mugabe is not empty rhetoric; and pursuing the United Nations to increase pressure through the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is not empty rhetoric. The hon. Gentleman can by all means criticise, but he should do so on the basis of logic and not make partisan political points.

The Minister will be aware, as is everyone, that Zimbabwe is on the brink of both economic and institutional collapse. Is he aware that this could bring the country to collapse much more quickly and that, given what he said, we are apparently unprepared for what might happen? If at its meeting this week ZANU-PF’s central committee refuses to have Mugabe as the sole candidate in the forthcoming elections, and if at its own meeting in Tanzania the Southern African Development Community then votes for change, collapse would come even more quickly. What is the free western world going to do to help the people of Zimbabwe in these circumstances?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; her points are well made. Such points are why I set out in my statement what we are doing and will continue to do, and the contingency planning that I set out in the meeting that was held in my Department on 23 March. We are well aware of the movement in the situation. Hon. Members may rest assured that all that we can do, ourselves and by working with the international community, will be done.

The infrastructure in Zimbabwe is now significant, and we are putting in significant resources. I do not in any way underestimate the difficulties that would be caused, not just in Zimbabwe but across the region, if the country were to go into free fall. That is why it is critical that we work in unison with the region to get a transition from Mugabe to a new Government in a way that does not cause total disruption or a complete implosion of society in Zimbabwe, difficult though that is. I assure the hon. Lady that all our efforts and aims are to that effect.

When visiting Zimbabwe in February 2004 I was privileged and inspired to meet the distinguished human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. Given that on only Tuesday of last week Beatrice was again brutally assaulted by police officers when seeking to serve court papers on them, is it not now time that South Africa led a united international community in issuing to Robert Mugabe a very simple message: “Quit now and count your lucky stars if members of the MDC are willing to be bigger in dealing with you than you have ever been in dealing with them”?

The hon. Gentleman takes a great deal of interest in these issues. The lady concerned is an extraordinary person; every day could be her last. Such is the regime’s disregard for human rights that it is not just those who want to campaign for rights; the attack is on the defenders of human rights too. That is why we have put substantial financial resources into supporting those human rights defenders—in addition to the other resources. I do not say that in a partisan way; I just want to make it clear that we are helping to resource their activities as well.

In the past few days, South African Minister Pahad made a substantial move forward, saying:

“South Africa urges the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the rule of law including the respect for rights of all Zimbabweans and leaders of various political parties is respected”.

They seem few words, but in terms of what has gone on in the past they represent a significant step forward. We hope to build on that, particularly in view of what the Prime Minister has set out in his letter to President Mbeki, and the discussion and debate that we are having with the South African Government at various levels and with the President of Tanzania.

Further to the question raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the arrest and arraignment before a UN international court of Charles Taylor of Liberia creates the clear precedent that no Head of Government or Head of State is immune to trial by the international community for crimes against humanity.

The Minister may reflect that he might send out the wrong signal. It needs to be made very clear that Mugabe could be arraigned before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. That is not a matter for us; it is a matter for the ICC. The fact that he is a Head of State or a Head of Government no longer gives him immunity, and we must make it clear that where Heads of State or of Government trespass beyond what is acceptable in the 21st century, they will be brought to justice, as, hopefully, will Charles Taylor of Liberia.

I do not think that I could be any clearer about the Government’s support for the ICC. Its creation means that for the first time the world community is saying, in international terms, that there is no impunity for some of the activities of the most despotic leaderships of the world. That is why we took action in accepting international responsibility for Taylor when his trial comes and for the end of the trial; why we have been so firm with the Justice Minister and others in Darfur about their responsibility to work with the ICC; and why we have been so firm as regards the situation in northern Uganda. This Government are at the forefront of supporting the ICC. As for sending the wrong signal, the first signal that we need to send concerns the need to get a transition from Mugabe’s regime to a democratic regime and to do so not in a way that undermines its people’s capacity to have a country that does not implode but that, with international support, goes from strength to strength in very difficult circumstances.

There are 4 million Zimbabweans in political exile abroad, 295,000 Zimbabweans were displaced during the farm seizures, and a staggering 700,000 were internally displaced during Operation Murambatsvina. Surely one of the key issues is that of protecting the votes of those Zimbabweans in future elections.

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is critically important that, working with the international community, any change in regime is to a Government whom we recognise as democratic and accountable to the citizens of Zimbabwe, and where there is a fully fledged Opposition working in the context of free, transparent elections. That is all part of the process. In the coming weeks and months, the first priority must be to ensure that we are able to take forward the momentum of South Africa’s and Tanzania’s engagement to secure a future for the Zimbabwean people that excludes Robert Mugabe.

If there is a total collapse in Zimbabwe, what specific plans does the Minister have for the 12,000 British citizens who live in that country? When will his Government finally take way Mugabe’s honorary knighthood?

The honorary knighthood was given in 1994 by then Prime Minister Major. It is a source of angst and something that we may want to consider at some point. However, it is a third order issue in relation to the issues that we need to resolve. It sounds good, but it is a bolthole, and we must try not to provide Mugabe, or any of his supporters inside or outside the country, with any bolthole, but concentrate our efforts on having a regime that will take on responsibility for the citizens of Zimbabwe in a democratic way.

I cannot make any plainer the contingency planning that we need to do as an international community. This is an evolving situation. However, I gave the House a commitment, and I give it again: I will come back to the House as the situation evolves. In the meantime, I will keep Opposition Front Benchers in constant touch with what I and other Ministers are doing.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The integrity of this House is very important, as I am sure you would agree. I understand that over the weekend there was publicity about a certain report by the Standards and Privileges Committee, which may well be published tomorrow, about the use of banqueting facilities in this House. Is it right that a report that has not yet been made to the House should become public knowledge? I ask you to investigate.

It will surely be taken as a serious matter, but it must in the first place be for the Committee itself to investigate whether its confidentiality has been breached.

Orders of the Day

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [21 March].

Amendment of the Law

(1) That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.

(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—

(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,

(b) for refunding an amount of tax,

(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—

(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and

(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.—[Mr. Gordon Brown.]

Question again proposed.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

I am delighted to open this third day of the Budget debate on the economy and the environment. It provides an opportunity to explore two key themes that will be central to our prosperity in the years ahead: first, the drive to build a low-carbon economy at home; and secondly, the need to maximise our contribution to the development of effective systems for emissions reduction around the world.

The Budget took important steps forward on curbing domestic emissions and contributing to international emissions reduction. It complemented measures in previous Budgets and pre-Budget reports, the Climate Change Bill and European negotiations. It set the stage for further measures in the next few months in the waste strategy, the energy White Paper and international discussions and negotiations, first in the G8 plus 5 in June and subsequently in the United Nations framework.

Vice-President Al Gore said—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) says that he spoke to him yesterday. I congratulate him on his choice of dining partners. The vice-president, who is recognised as an authentic voice on climate change, said that United Kingdom citizens should be proud of their record in contributing to the global fight against climate change. The starting point for the debate is, therefore, the UK’s record so far and international evidence on the science and politics of climate change.

UK greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions trading in 2005, the latest date for which data are available, were nearly 19 per cent. below their 1990 levels. The figure for carbon dioxide is 11 per cent. Since 1997, greenhouse gas emissions, including reductions achieved through the European Union emissions trading scheme, are down by 11 per cent. For carbon dioxide, the reduction—including through the EU ETS—is 4 per cent. Only the countries of central and eastern Europe, the economies of which have undergone a process of restructuring since 1990, match the UK for the scale of emissions reductions.

Our carbon reduction goals have not been fulfilled through economic austerity. In this country, we have enjoyed 58 successive quarters of economic growth. Our inflation, according to the internationally recognised measuring standard, has been the lowest in the G7 countries in the past 10 years. Since 1997, our interest rates have been half the 11 per cent. average of the previous 20 years. Employment is at a record high, and, all the while, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen. In other words, we have given the lie to the old choice of environment versus economy.

The Secretary of State is proud of the Government’s record, but is not a large part of meeting the targets due to the dash for gas? Is not the trend in CO2 emissions and greenhouse gas emissions as a whole now upwards?

The latest figures for the household sector show that emissions are declining. I am happy to address the question about the dash for gas. It is true that the switch to gas reduced our CO2 and greenhouse emissions, in the same way that rising gas prices in the past three years have led to an increase in CO2 emissions.

Anyone listening to the Secretary of State might be misled into believing that the Government were meeting their environmental targets. Can he name a single target, other than the Kyoto target, which is being fulfilled largely because of the dash for gas, that is being met? What about the renewables target, the energy efficiency target, the biofuels target?

What have the Romans done for us other than created a new civilisation? Other than fulfilling the international standard, which is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent., I am happy to provide examples. What about our recycling commitments? When we came to office, this country was rightly perceived as a throwaway society, with 4 or 5 per cent. of waste going into recycling. The figure is now 27 per cent., which beats the target that we set. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has decided to start the debate in a rather churlish spirit because he and I agree that the UK has a good record by international standards, but that it has to do better. It would better become him if he admitted that.

The old choice was between the environment and the economy. The new choice is between low and high carbon development. Reducing emissions powers our economy forward, with 400,000 people working in environmental industries, compared with 170,000 only five years ago. Venture capital is moving into environmental industries, with London’s alternative investment market becoming the market of choice, listing more than 60 clean technology companies with a combined market capitalisation of more than £4 billion.

Meanwhile, Lehman Brothers—[Hon. Members: “It is pronounced “Leeman.”] I say “Leyman”, they say “Leeman”—I think we are talking about the same company. [Interruption.] Since I am British, I pronounce it “Leyman”; since they are American, they pronounce it “Leeman”. However, we are talking about the same company of Lehman Brothers—the distinguished bank, which, I am pleased to say, has many operations in this country. It states that climate change is inexorably becoming one of the major forces that shapes business, and that that presents new opportunities and enables new business to appear and develop. But while we have broken the link between economic growth and carbon growth, we know the country as a whole—Government, businesses and individuals—has to do better. That is the rationale behind the climate change Bill, which I look forward to debating in the House, and also for the measures in the Budget and further measures to come.

I want to ask about aggregates tax. The right hon. Gentleman and I agree that we need to reduce the use of non-sustainable resources, but given that the prime driver is transport costs, is there any evidence to suggest that the aggregates levy has actually reduced the take of virgin stone or increased the use of recycled stone? Will not removing the direct environmental benefit for the local communities affected by quarrying create a pointless levy?

The short answer to whether there is any evidence is yes, but it might be best if I write to the hon. Gentleman to provide the extensive details, some of which, I think I am right in saying, were published in the Red Book last week. They show some of the changes made, but I will happily write with further details.

For the UK, there are four main sources of greenhouse gas emissions: electricity, heat, transport and waste disposal. Each needs to be addressed by a combination of Government, business and individual action. That is what the Government are determined to do. Let me start with electricity and heating supply.

It is remarkable that we can deliver more than 1 million tonnes of carbon reduction from the decision to make the UK the first country in Europe to phase out all high-energy light bulbs. Further significant reductions will come from consumer electronics and from reducing the power consumed in wasteful standby mode. Renewable energy, including wind energy, will cut carbon and a continued nuclear contribution is also important. “Wait and see” is not a sufficient policy in this area, but to drive down energy-related emissions we need to go further in respect of the business sector and households.

The business sector accounts for 40 per cent. of all carbon emissions. I am pleased that large businesses and large emitters are now covered by the European Union emissions trading scheme, covering nearly half of all carbon emissions in this country—and more than half if aviation is included. For medium emitters, we are consulting on an energy performance commitment, but small business needs high-quality advice on energy reduction. That is why the Chancellor announced that the regional development agencies are increasing their expenditure on environmental and energy efficiency initiatives from £140 million to £240 million over the next year. In addition, all firms, whether or not they are in taxable profit, will have access to an enhanced capital allowance for more than 14,000 energy-saving and water-efficient products.

Households constitute 34 per cent. of electricity emissions and changes in building regulations have raised energy efficiency standards by 40 per cent. since 1997, which is worth more than 1.5 million tonnes of carbon every year by 2010. We have reformed the planning rules for wind turbines so that they are no more difficult to install than a satellite dish, and we are committed to help all householders take advantage of cost-effective energy efficiency measures. We also believe that individuals should be able to export electricity more easily to the grid, which is why Ofgem is conducting a special study of how we can better reward people for taking the step of becoming an electricity producer, not just a consumer.

Has the Secretary of State given any consideration to the Trade and Industry Select Committee report and its proposal not to levy council tax increases on households that choose to carry out the sort of actions that he is now praising?

Under the energy efficiency commitment, council tax—or reductions in it—are already being used as incentives for such energy efficiency commitments and I certainly intend to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whom I see by my side on the Government Front Bench, to ensure that an appropriate response is made to the Select Committee’s work.

We also know that the fight against global warming needs new technologies such as carbon capture and storage. The principle is simple: instead of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels being released into the atmosphere, it is captured at source and stored safely underground. The results are transformational, with about 85 to 90 per cent. of carbon emissions removed from coal-fired power stations. The requirement is now urgent, which is why we are determined to have a demonstration plant in the UK, why a competition is now being launched by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and why we want to show the world, especially developing countries, that this is not a technology to fear, but one to embrace.

The third main area of transport represents around a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. The pre-Budget report made commitments in respect of aviation that will save the equivalent of 750,000 tonnes of carbon a year by 2010-11, but surface transport—mainly from cars, vans and lorries—is 93 per cent. of the total.

On aviation, will the Secretary of State confirm that he argued to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that VAT should be introduced on domestic flights and, if so, why does he think he lost the argument?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that issue. One of the joys of the real world of government, rather than the dream world of opposition, is that collective discussion sorts out the best proposals from the not-so-good proposals. That is why—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members will contain themselves, that is why I was delighted that the Chancellor embraced the air passenger duty proposal, which was in the same letter about which the hon. Gentleman is so excited.

Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that he will follow the example of the Leader of the House and join the Chancellor’s campaign team?

I have not yet been asked to join the campaign team, but I assure the hon. Gentleman, who will be concerned about the issue, that, as I have said for three years, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is an outstanding Prime Minister in waiting, and I believe that he will do outstanding service for the country—[Hon. Members: “As Chancellor or Prime Minister?] As Prime Minister—for some reason, there are some suspicious minds in the House. I am happy to assure Opposition Members that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be sitting on this side of the House as Prime Minister for a long time to come.

Surface transport accounts for 93 per cent. of the total, mainly from cars and lorries. It is right that we give incentives to all individuals to choose fuel-efficient ways of motoring. Were every car owner to purchase the most efficient vehicle in their current class of car, average CO2 emissions across the UK fleet would fall by 30 per cent. The commitments on fuel duty, over the three years, make that choice more likely. We predict that they will save 160,000 tonnes of carbon a year by 2016. Fuel-efficient cars in band B have CO2 emissions of about half those in band G. We now have a graduated vehicle excise duty system, so that cars in band G will next year face a tax rate of more than 10 times the level for band B.

While it is perfectly laudable to try to reduce inappropriate use of vehicles, such as 4x4s, perhaps in the city, does the Secretary of State recognise that the measure is rather unfair to those of my constituents who are farm labourers, shepherds and uplands farmers, who must use 4x4s for their job? Checking the sheep at 4 am in a Nissan Micra is totally inappropriate. Does he recognise that the proposal is too blunt an instrument?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as delighted as I am that there is a lower poverty rate in rural areas than in urban areas, and that poverty is falling faster in rural areas than in urban areas.

Will the Secretary of State address the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace)? The issue is not poverty in rural areas, although we know from the Government’s own advisers that 20 per cent. of rural people live in poverty. The reality is that many thousands of people require powerful engines for their work—towing trailers, four-wheel-drive pick-ups and so on. Of course we need to stop the use of 4x4s—although the issue goes beyond 4x4s—in wholly unnecessary circumstances. But does he accept that it is necessary to devise a new class for those who genuinely need a powerful engine as part of their work, and who might fall foul of the regulations? Will he discuss that with the Chancellor?

The hon. Gentleman speaks on these matters with expertise and commitment, and I take his point seriously. Obviously, we think that the principle of a graduated VED system makes sense. Different people have to make different choices for all sorts of reasons. This is not about forcing Nissan Micras down the throats of farmers, as was suggested earlier. However, if we are to have a graduated system that does not become impossibly complex to administer—for example, many people in rural areas might have a larger car but will not drive it only in that area—there will always be a balance to be struck with simplicity. I am sure that he would not want an over-bureaucratic scheme. If he wants to write to me or the Chancellor, however, or if the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre wants to make a specific proposal, we will consider it seriously. We try to strike a balance between the environmental, economic and social parts of the equation. A simpler system is always an advantage.

Does the Secretary of State accept that VED is still a tax on ownership and not usage? Surely we should have a strategy under which the polluter pays. That should drive our strategy.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for the measures across the board that the Chancellor announced last week. I look forward to him persuading his own Front Benchers to set out their position on fuel duty, which has not been clarified.

We also need to explore the scope for a large-scale shift away from fossil fuel-based transportation. For reasons of environmental and economic security, it is right that we look to a future in which we no longer use petrol to get around.

On that important point, is my right hon. Friend aware that road freight pushes out 12 times as much carbon dioxide as the equivalent rail freight? It would be a tremendous advantage if we could get more freight on to rail. In that respect, will he support the scheme that I proposed, in an Adjournment debate, to build a railway line from Glasgow to the channel tunnel? The railway line would be dedicated to rail freight, link all the industrial areas of Britain and take 5 million lorries off the roads every year.

I believe that there has been a 35 per cent. increase in passenger numbers on the railways and an almost equivalent increase in freight numbers—I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with the details. Tempting as it is for me to do the job of the Secretary of State for Transport, the fairest thing that I can say is that I will look at his scheme. No doubt, my right hon. Friend will also consider it.

Countries such as Brazil decided, about 25 years ago, to shift away from fossil fuel-based surface transport methods. The Chancellor has asked Professor Julia King to work with Sir Nicholas Stern to look into the benefits of taking carbon out of surface transport over the next 25 years by using electric or hydrogen-powered cars. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will shortly announce the terms of reference of that work.

My final point on domestic emissions is that the methane that comes from landfill is 23 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. That is why we have had the landfill tax for the past 11 years, which has helped to achieve a 25 per cent. reduction in the amount of waste that is sent to landfill. However, with the rate of increase at £3 per tonne, the incentives are not yet right for a fundamental shift away from landfill, which is why the tax will rise by £8 per tonne every year from April 2008 until at least 2010-11. That should save greenhouse gas emissions of at least 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says from a sedentary position, “No, it won’t”, but I am happy to provide details to show how the landfill tax, which was introduced by a Conservative Government, has worked. I suggest that Conservative Back Benchers take a few lessons from their Front Benchers.

Two people want to hop in. I will give way to the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) first.

I am glad that that the Secretary of State mentioned landfill tax. What funding will be available to help local authorities to meet their obligations under landfill tax in the coming years?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the comprehensive spending review for details of funding for the years from 2008. He will know that the position until then has been set out in previous Budgets and spending reviews.

I rose to help my right hon. Friend out because it seemed as though we would not get any response from the Opposition. The Staffordshire Environmental Fund is keen that there should be an increase in the landfill tax because of the good work that is being done to aid recycling and environmental schemes as a result of the tax. That is a very welcome outcome of the Budget.

My hon. Friend, who sits on the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, is right. I thought that the landfill tax had cross-party support, so I am surprised by the earlier sedentary comment. We will have to put certain Conservative Back Benchers down as sceptics, if not opponents, but I assure them that the scheme is very good.

I read in the newspapers that some people believe that it was a landmark decision to move away from landfill. Many companies pursue a zero landfill waste policy, which is a good thing.

The Secretary of State has been very generous in giving way. Just for the record, the landfill tax was introduced by the Conservative Government. We support it and we support what the Government are trying to do with it, but does he recognise that one of its consequences is increased fly-tipping, responsibility for which should fall within his Department? What initiatives is he taking to ensure that an increase in the landfill tax does not lead to an increase in fly-tipping?

The hon. Gentleman may not have memory on his side, but Labour Members recall his opposition on Second Reading to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, a measure that was designed to tackle precisely that problem. I suggest that he does not tie himself in any further knots.

I welcome the increase in landfill tax because of the likely consequence of a reduction in methane emissions, but can the Secretary of State give us an estimate of the overall impact on greenhouse gas emissions of the measures announced in the Budget? How large a cut will they lead to, in percentage terms?

I do not have the figure to hand, but the hon. Gentleman can tally up the millions of tonnes of carbon represented by the announcements that I have made in my speech, and I shall be happy to send the figure to him later.

I am sorry to disappoint the Secretary of State, but one difficulty with “tallying up” the environmental effect of the Budget is the precise result that the Government intend with their alterations to the climate change levy. The Red Book appears to give no figure for carbon saving from the package. Are the measures in the Budget designed merely to hold the savings level, or are they intended to make any change? If they are not intended to cause a reduction, why not?

The climate change levy has been raised by inflation, and the associated climate change agreements work with it. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s difficulty with calculation in respect of some of the changes. Obviously there is an arithmetical relationship between tax and output, but my experience of talking to businesses suggests to me that the climate change levy and the associated agreements are causing them to take a whole new attitude to the way in which they deal with energy. In other words, the climate change levy—which, as I shall make clear later, has saved about 16 million tonnes of carbon so far—has had a bigger effect than an arithmetical calculation might suggest. To put it more simply, it has resulted in a cultural as well as a fiscal change.

I want to say something about the international part of the agenda. We know that, as well as helping to build a low-carbon economy at home, we must contribute to further emissions reductions abroad. Our commitment to European action is central to our vision of the low-carbon economy of the future.

The European Union can regulate across markets worth 475 million citizens, minimising the competitive disadvantage for any one country. It can bring together a negotiating bloc that is powerful on the world stage. It can create and use carbon markets to drive emissions reductions in Europe—markets that are worth billions of pounds in carbon finance for the developing world.

We are determined that London will be the centre of the European and global carbon market. Thanks to the resolution of the dispute with the European Parliament, we can release common agricultural policy funds to our farmers to help environmental stewardship and rural development across our country. I will make further announcements about that later today.

In raising the European Union, the Secretary of State acknowledges that many decisions on these issues are now made in the Council of Ministers, but this is, in United Kingdom terms, a devolved matter. Can he tell us how many of those Council of Ministers meetings he has attended in the presence of a Scottish Executive Minister?

I have been to many meetings of the Council of Ministers. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is deliberately misleading the House, or deliberately misunderstanding what I said, but I shall be happy to find out how many such meetings I have attended.

I can remember Scottish Ministers being present at meetings. I sit on the council of environment Ministers as well as the council of agriculture Ministers. What I can tell the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)—and I am sure that it will interest him—is that the clout of all parts of the United Kingdom is all the greater for a United Kingdom presence at the negotiating table, rather than a splintering of our efforts. [Interruption.] I said that I would find the exact number. I do not want to name a number of meetings that Scottish Ministers have attended, and then for that to turn out to be wrong. I want to reply to the hon. Gentleman later to ensure that he has an accurate answer.

Order. I hope the Secretary of State will not allow himself to be put off by sedentary comments which are not helping the debate from either quarter.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We know that we need to effect change further afield. Carbon finance—the product of emissions reduction commitments in richer countries—will help, but we also need Government leadership. It was announced in the Budget that there will be an £800 million international window for the environmental transformation fund to help developing countries deal with climate change, get access to clean energy and tackle unsustainable deforestation. The poorest countries will be the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and we have a duty to support them and to help them to participate in the global transition to a low-carbon economy. Deforestation accounts for about 18 per cent. of global greenhouse gas emissions.

That is why it is right that the first £50 million of the fund will go to support proposals made by 10 central African countries to help protect the Congo basin’s forests and people. I am not sure whether the significance of that announcement has been appreciated. The forests of central Africa contain an amount of carbon equivalent to about 4 years of global emissions. If that carbon is released, all our futures will be affected. If it is safeguarded in those rainforests, we will all be protected.

It strikes me that the European Union might introduce measures along the lines of the emissions trading scheme, which placed tax burdens on British citizens. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that, if that is the case, the taxes that he has created—in respect of air passenger duty, for example—will be reduced to offset the taxes from the EU?

That would be a very disappointing commitment for the following reason. The European emissions trading system has had support from all parts of the House, as well as from business and industry. The recently published UK manifesto for the future of the European emissions trading scheme got part of its strength from the fact that business, non-governmental organisations and all parties in this House supported it. The market mechanism that has been established ensures that those who are environmentally thrifty are rewarded, and that those who are not have to pay. That seems to me to be a very good principle to establish.