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Commons Chamber

Volume 472: debated on Monday 3 March 2008

House of Commons

Monday 3 March 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Queen’s Speech (Answer To Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty’s Answer to the Address, as follows:

I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.

Comptroller and Auditor General

I have to inform the House that the address of 23rd January, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Timothy John Burr to the office of Comptroller and Auditor General, was presented to Her Majesty who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Veterans Day

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Royal Air Force Sergeant Duane “Baz” Barwood, who died in Iraq on Friday 29 February. We owe him and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.

The third annual Veterans day will take place on 27 June 2008, and we have allocated £350,000 to support events across the UK. In January, I announced that Blackpool will host this year’s national event. To date, more than 80 UK towns and cities will host major events to celebrate the achievements of the country’s veterans, and we expect many more to do so. We are also working to ensure the effective involvement of ex-service organisations and service units.

The whole House associates itself with the Minister’s remarks about Sergeant Barwood, who give his life serving our country. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Given that the Government are considering options for another bank holiday, is it not time that Veterans day was a bank holiday?

I am sure that there will be a lot of support for that, particularly in the veterans community. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the decision is not mine to take, but many veterans have pressed that case and I am sure that they will continue to do so. As Minister with responsibility for veterans, I am the voice for veterans in government, and it is important to make sure that everyone is aware of veterans’ views on that issue.

As we think about Veterans day, can we consider some of the veterans who did not return home, in particular Captain Robert Nairac of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, whose body has never been found following his service in Northern Ireland? Is there any news on Captain Nairac’s body?

I do not have any news, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman after I have returned to the Ministry of Defence and found out any further information.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first world war armistice, of which there are a few veterans still alive. Will the Minister say how we will commemorate that occasion, bearing in mind that it was a seminal moment socially, politically and militarily for our country and, indeed, for Europe?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of that moment. My grandfather fought in the first world war, and I am particularly proud of his record—of course, the first world war touched nearly every family in the country. As my hon. Friend knows, we intend to hold a significant event when the passing of the last world war one veteran takes place. He is right to say that we need to do something this year to mark the 90th anniversary, and I will set out more detail for the House at a future date. At the moment, we plan to hold an event around remembrance week. It is also possible that there will be an event in France, and I will discuss that issue with the French Defence Minister.

Although I acknowledge other hon. Members’ contributions on particular veterans’ issues, I want to stress the importance of ensuring that there is a memorial to Sir Keith Park in Trafalgar square, which is in my constituency. There will be a campaign on Sir Keith Park, Bomber Command and the battle of Britain, and although I do not expect a positive answer from the Minister at this juncture, I have put the matter on the record.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out from a sedentary position, the campaign concerns Fighter Command. The Minister should give some credence to that campaign in the months and years ahead.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a great deal of support for that campaign. However, there are many campaigns for different memorials to various acts of heroism and service. He will also know that memorials are usually funded by public subscription, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this stage. However, I understand the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman has expressed; I can only praise all those who served in Bomber Command, the rest of the Air Force and the other services during the second and first world wars.

John Patterson is a local hero in my constituency. He flew more than 32 bombing raids into Berlin and ended the war flying Field Marshal Montgomery throughout Africa. As a result of publicity, he met a comrade whom he had not seen for 62 years. Will my hon. Friend consider producing a special magazine that contains the names of all the people who have received a veterans badge so that they can get in contact with old comrades?

I have to be candid with my hon. Friend and say that I had not thought about that until now. I shall certainly have a look at the idea. About 550,000 veterans badges have now been given out and the practice is becoming ever more popular. I do not know whether we can do anything along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, but I shall write to him.

We Conservatives wish to be associated with the Minister’s message of condolence to the family of Sergeant Duane Barwood, who died serving our country.

Parades and badges are important, but veterans are also looking for a more tangible recognition of their service and sacrifice. Will the Minister use the opportunity of Veterans day to announce, first, his plans to remedy the shortcomings in the management of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans, highlighted last month by the Defence Committee? Secondly, will he announce his plans for ensuring that there is continuity of care throughout the UK for amputees who leave the defence services rehabilitation centre at Headley Court and become reliant on NHS limb centres, which are not as well resourced and may very well have competing clinical priorities?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made a number of announcements about PTSD in the past few months. He has visited the medical assessment centre at St. Thomas’s—people can go there to get a mental health assessment, support and help to link in with that from their general practitioner. We have also announced the reservists mental health scheme and a 45 per cent. increase in funding for Combat Stress from January this year.

There is also an important new project, in which the Ministry of Defence will work with Combat Stress and the health service to develop specific pilots to address the mental health problems of veterans. Clearly, that is still at an early stage. We will continue to consider what more we can do to improve support for veterans. Given that we have much better knowledge of PTSD and mental health these days, I suspect that we can always do more.

It is important that we understand that the quality of the prosthetic limbs that our service people get at Headley Court is world class. If they have to leave the services, such people will obviously come under the care of the national health service. It is important that we have a system that will maintain that standard of prosthetic limb. That is why we are working with the national health service and talking to a number of health trusts about how we can provide such a service.

Health Care

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on arrangements for ex-service personnel to receive continuing secondary health care. (190359)

I have regular contact with my Department of Health counterparts. Recently, I discussed our response to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into Defence Medical Services. The issues that the Committee raised, including continuity of care for veterans, will be covered in the Government’s formal response to its report.

In the light of that answer, will the Minister expand on the progress that has been made with the regional pilots that are being used to improve the mental health of ex-service personnel?

I have visited pilots in Stafford and Camden and am pleased to see that they are developing well. There are, of course, other pilots in Wales, St. Austell, Cleveland and Scotland. The pilots are important because they will allow us to develop a service tailored to the particular needs of veterans suffering from a mental health problem.

I should like to make it specifically clear that the issue is not about the actual standard of treatment and care—that is the same whether the patient is a civilian or from the services. The issue is about understanding the culture of the armed forces and about the experiences that might have led to the mental health problems of those who have served in them. There is a greater understanding and therefore better care; that is the important point to make. That links in with Combat Stress, with which we are working very closely.

The House will understand that the Government now understand the issues and we are grateful for that.

The Minister mentioned continuing health care. Will he also consult the ex-service associations and make it plain to those dealing with wills that the estates of those whose deaths, whether early or late, might have been brought forward by war service or wounds, can be inherited tax-free?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer to that today, but I shall certainly write to him with my views on the issue.

As a Department, we work closely with ex-service organisations on a range of issues; I meet their representatives regularly. That partnership is an important part of the support that we give those who have lost loved ones on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere and of the treatment of the wounded and veterans. That relationship is important for us.

As the Minister knows, I have a constituent who is suffering from post-combat mental stress. In the first instance, he is finding it very difficult to get a GP referral, and in the second instance, he is being told that he cannot get any treatment for it in the north of England, so he has to travel to the south of England, which is adding to the stress of his condition and that for his mother and the rest of his family. This is simply not acceptable, and I hope that the Minister will look at some alternatives so that we can have treatment for these very brave soldiers nearer to their homes.

That is why we are looking at mental health pilots to see how we can develop a system around the country so that people can get treated near to home. Although we are currently offering the medical assessment programme at St. Thomas’s, we pay travel expenses for someone to go there. That support is important. Our doctor there, Dr. Ian Palmer, who is a former Army medic, will be able to link in with the individual’s GP to help to advise on the best course of treatment for that individual. If my memory serves me right, I think that I have written to the hon. Lady about this issue, and I urge her to advise her constituents to take that advice.

3. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of ongoing care provided for servicemen and women wounded on operations; and if he will make a statement. (190360)

I am confident that the enhancements we have made to the ongoing care for service personnel have created a first-class service. The House of Commons Defence Committee agrees, declaring in its February 2008 Report “Medical Care for the Armed Forces”:

“The clinical care for Servicemen and women seriously injured on operations is second to none. Defence Medical Services personnel, working with the NHS, provide world-class care and we pay tribute to them”.

We are not complacent and continue to examine what further improvements we can make in the medical care and welfare of our service personnel.

Alarming stories are emerging from servicemen who are being treated, under the MOD’s contract for trauma stress, with The Priory Group. We have heard stories of people being told not to talk about their experiences for fear of upsetting civilian members of the group. We also heard of one case where an individual was sitting next to a woman who was receiving bereavement counselling for the loss of her cat. Does the Minister accept that it is not entirely appropriate that the psychological welfare of servicemen traumatised by war is being subcontracted out to an organisation such as The Priory Group?

Hon. Members will remember that we heard similar stories about various cases at Selly Oak. I will be happy to look at any individual case for which the hon. Gentleman can give me evidence. The Priory Group has, rightly, been treating our service personnel, but it works very closely with our department of community mental health, which visits it on a regular basis. Personally, I have not had any complaints, and I meet very many veterans, some of whom have been to the Priory. That is not to say that things do not go wrong on occasion. If the hon. Gentleman, or any other hon. Members, can give me details of specific cases, I assure him that I will have them investigated. As I say, we heard the same sort of stories about Selly Oak, but we have just had the report back about the medical services that are provided there for our injured service personnel, which are first class. I am not suggesting that we can never improve anywhere, but the Select Committee looked at current mental health care provision as well, and said that it was very good.

Following on from the previous question, if all personnel returning from war-torn areas are subject to counselling, what is the quality of that counselling?

The process is that if someone who is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan develops a mental health problem, they can go and see a community psychiatric nurse and, if necessary, a consultant. Many can be treated or cared for in operational service out there, and some will need to be sent back to the UK. We have our departments of community mental health around the country, which can provide them with support, and eventually, as we have just heard, they could be admitted to the Priory for further intensive care. In addition to that, our service personnel go through a period of decompression before they come back, which is very important. We also have in service the new trauma risk management system—TRiM—which was originally used by the Royal Marines and now by the Army. All the feedback on that from service personnel says that it is very good and helps people. There is effective support in theatre and back in the UK as well.

I pay tribute to the treatment that Lance Corporal Nick Davis, of my constituency, has received both at Selly Oak and at Headley Court. Although his amputation has been traumatic, he has been treated well, but I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that his family found it extremely difficult to visit him. His mother has been living with him in Birmingham, and then down in Epsom, but his father has had no support, with the children or with his job, to enable him to visit his gallant son. May I ask the Minister to consider giving support in these circumstances?

I give the hon. Gentleman a clear assurance that I will look into the case. When wounded services personnel are taken to Selly Oak, families are given funding to visit, and there is accommodation there for families. That provision is based on medical need, which is obvious when an injury first takes place and the person in question is admitted to Selly Oak.

With regard to Headley Court, if there is a clinical, medical need for it, support for families can be given. The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association— SSAFA—has just invested in a house for families there. I am surprised to hear what the hon. Gentleman said, but if he gives me the details I assure him that I will look into the matter and get back to him.

Following on from that answer, I understand that an appeal is being launched in Birmingham to extend facilities where families can stay to support those in Selly Oak. Can the Minister assure me that his Department will support that appeal as much as possible?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, as I did with regard to the SSAFA house at Headley Court. SSAFA already helps with housing support at Selly Oak, and the new hospital being built there means that it will get even better facilities. It is an important part of the process that SSAFA is involved in the delivery of more housing for the families of injured service personnel. That is good because it shows the ex-service and charitable sector working with the Government to provide care, and it gives members of the public a chance to show their support for the armed forces.

In addition to the first-class medical care offered to our soldiers returning from Afghanistan, is it not high time that we recognised their great gallantry by striking a gallantry medal for those who have been wounded or even killed there? Perhaps we ought to call it the Prince Harry.

Iraqi Forces (Training)

4. What progress has been made on the mentoring, monitoring and training of Iraqi security forces in southern Iraq. (190361)

We continue to make good progress in our monitoring, mentoring and training efforts with the Iraqi security forces. They have shown themselves able to deal effectively with security incidents that have occurred. The most recent include operations to counter smuggling, border enforcement and successful containment of the religiously motivated violence at the Ashura festival in January.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. As he indicated, this is a crucial matter for us. Will he provide evidence of how overwatch is delivered by our armed forces in southern Iraq?

Contrary to some commentary on our forces’ activities in southern Iraq, we continue to play an important role there. I have already referred to the mentoring, monitoring and training of the Iraqi security forces. The view is that the 10th Division of the Iraqi army has improved significantly under that training, and that the 14th Division is progressing, although it is some way behind the 10th. Frequently, we support those troops in active operations, such as the counter-smuggling operation I referred to, which involved the seizing of 15 smuggling barges in the Shatt al-Arab waterway recently. That notable success was principally achieved by the Iraqi army. Where necessary, and at the request of the Iraqi army or their forces, we provide them with capabilities that they do not have access to, such as air cover, fast air support or aerial surveillance. Of course, we do that while retaining the ability and willingness to intervene if called upon to do so by the Iraqi army, but increasingly, that is becoming unlikely.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the men and women of the armed forces doing such important work in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes, whatever Prince Harry may modestly say about himself, and that we can be utterly proud of what they are doing? Is the Secretary of State on Facebook? Has he been invited to join a group demanding an apology from the Drudge Report?

I have not specifically been invited. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman and his advice, which I normally respect immensely, it might be unwise for me to join Facebook. However, I support the tenor of his question. All those who serve us in Iraq and Afghanistan—and in other places, including Sierra Leone, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces recently visited—are entitled to be considered heroes. On the right hon. Gentleman’s observation about Prince Harry and his treatment by the media, I thought the most important thing Prince Harry did was put into context the heroism of those with whom he had served.

There were reports in yesterday’s papers that the Government are to bring forward the withdrawal of a further 1,000 troops from Iraq. Will the Secretary of State make any comment that he feels fit on that? Will he also give us an estimate of the final date for withdrawing all British troops from Iraq?

Currently, we have approximately 4,100 troops serving in southern Iraq and we continue to work on detailed plans with our allies, including the Iraqi security forces and other coalition partners, to determine the appropriate number of troops. Those decisions will be made on the basis of military advice, and when I am ready to make a further statement to the House about numbers, I will do so, just as I have kept the House informed as numbers have reduced.

On the final part of my hon. Friend’s question, a final decision will be based on an assessment of the Iraqis’ ability to provide security for themselves and their people.

Aircraft Carriers

5. What his policy is on whether aircraft carriers are a necessary component of the UK’s defence requirement. (190362)

The future carriers will be a key component of the improved expeditionary capabilities that we need to confront the diverse range of threats in today’s security environment. They deliver on the Government’s commitment in the strategic defence review.

If the Secretary of State believes that there is a future role for the aircraft carriers, he should get on and replace them as his inaction is becoming an embarrassment not only to him but to the Royal Navy. The Illustrious has twice had to be towed back into port after breakdowns, and a tug is on standby in case it breaks down again. There is no air defence cover for the fleet until well into the next decade. Does the Secretary of State not agree that that smacks of a Government who do not understand the nature of maritime power and the lead times involved—unless he is looking to cancel the project?

If what lies behind the hon. Gentleman’s comments is a question about whether there is any change in the in-service dates for the carriers, there is not.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the article in February’s Parliamentary Brief by Dr. Eric Grove, director of the Centre for International Security and War Studies, on “Tomorrow’s Navy for tomorrow’s world”? It concludes that, by 2020, “the Brown years” may be seen to be those

“when the seeds were finally laid for a renaissance of British maritime power and global presence”.

I am not qualified to see that far into the future and retrospectively assess the position. However, since 1997, when the Government came to power, 31 new ships have been brought into service. We plan to spend approximately £14 billion on naval equipment in the next 10 to 15 years. That constitutes historic investment in our Navy, which will significantly increase its capability. I am sure that future generations will thank us for that investment.

I was pleased to join the Secretary of State at Rosyth dockyard last month for the signing of the contract to extend the dock to take the aircraft carriers. Why has yet another month passed without the main contracts for the aircraft carrier being signed?

As I have said repeatedly, we are working closely with the industry over months for this complex contract to be ready for signature. In the mean time, however, as the hon. Gentleman knows—I was in his constituency awarding a contract—a number of contracts have been placed in the supply chain, for design, engineering data, materials in support of the manufacture of the carriers and infrastructure, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which will be necessary to construct the carriers after the individual elements have been built. We are getting on with the job, and as long as the in-service dates remain the same—and they do remain the same—he can rest assured that we will contract at the appropriate time.

My right hon. Friend said that we could not look that far into the future, but the purchase of aircraft carriers that will remain in service for many years requires us to do so. When we look at future defence requirements and defence expenditure, should we perhaps not be asking our European allies to enter into an arrangement whereby we can joint-purchase such equipment, to be leased to the nation that needs it at any point in time?

The Government’s approach has been to encourage each individual country to meet its own commitments to invest in its capabilities and armed forces. That process has paid dividends—not as quickly as we would have wanted in some respects, although progress is being made. In particular, Afghanistan has been a transformatory process for a number of countries in that regard.

The Select Committee on Defence said 18 months ago:

“If the In-Service Dates for the”


“programme are substantially later than 2012, there is a serious risk of a capability gap emerging which would impact upon the ability of the Royal Navy to undertake its role effectively.”

Last July, the Government announced that they had delayed the in-service dates by two years, to between 2014 and 2016. Reports this weekend suggest further delays and that even if the matter is not delayed, the contractors will be asked to delay cutting metal. If there is no further delay, as the Secretary of State has just told the House, why is the Prime Minister dithering about a programme described by his own Minister responsible for security, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, as the

“jewel in the crown of the Strategic Defence Review”?

There is no dithering. We are talking about a complex contract. It was announced in July that we were going forward, and there has been no change to the in-service dates. The important thing is the real-terms increases in defence investment for which the Government have been responsible, year on year and planned into the future of the comprehensive spending review—exactly the same investment, I understand, that the Conservative party has agreed it would make if it came into government, although that is now in some doubt because of other commitments that have been made. Those who are interested in defence spending might wonder where those additional cuts might be made. However, there will be no change in the in-service dates, and the hon. Gentleman should not consider this idle speculation.

My right hon. Friend is aware that we are talking about two important platforms from which the Royal Navy will project its presence round the world. However, to go with those platforms, we need the joint strike fighter. Can he ensure that we will not see any delays in that order?

The JSF programme is developing. Indeed, flight testing of the JSF has been commenced and is progressing well. In fact, I understand that the first short take-off and vertical landing aircraft was rolled out in December 2007 and is undergoing testing, with the first flight planned later this year. We remain committed to the joint strike fighter as the optimal solution to operate from the future carriers, as the joint combat aircraft requirement. As is normal in a programme of such size and technical complexity, reports may emerge concerning progress—that issue was raised in the last Defence questions—but we remain committed to the aircraft.


6. What forces he has identified for possible deployment to Kosovo; and for how long he expects such forces to be liable for deployment to Kosovo. (190363)

As part of our long-standing commitment to the Balkans, the UK remains ready to deploy a battalion to Kosovo until the end of 2008, as part of the NATO pan-Balkans operational reserve force. Any deployment would be for an initial period of 30 days, after which we will re-examine the requirement with NATO. The 1 Welsh Guards is currently on standby to deploy if necessary.

If UK troops are deployed, the armed forces, which are already at breaking point, will be heavily overstretched. Will the Minister confirm what effect the deployment may have on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?

It would not have any effect on operations in Afghanistan and Iran—[Hon. Members: “Iraq.”] In Iraq. This is a long-standing commitment that is being provided for within our planning assumptions, and 1 Welsh Guards stand ready to deploy. The lead element would be ready, if necessary, within four days; the rest of the battalion would be ready within seven days. We have been prepared for that for some time.

Given our overstretch and the regrettable reluctance of European Union NATO countries to take on their share in Afghanistan, does the Minister not agree that those countries should bear the brunt of any troop deployment for peacekeeping purposes in Kosovo?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just told me that there are 18,000 NATO troops in Kosovo. We share responsibility for the reserve with Italy and Germany. It happens that, in 2008, that responsibility falls to us, and we have prepared for that deployment, which is all catered for within our assumptions. As I have said, 1 Welsh Guards will take on that responsibility for the first three months; after that, the responsibility will fall to 2 Rifles.

How does my right hon. Friend respond to the remarks made by Commander John Muxworthy, the chief executive of the United Kingdom National Defence Association, that the Ministry of Defence would be

“heaving a sigh of relief”

if no more troops were required in Kosovo, because the British armed forces are in chronic crisis?

I would respond by saying that this is a deployment that has been prepared for, and a commitment that we have known about. It started on 1 January and, to date, there has been no requirement for the reserve to be deployed. Let us all hope that that situation pertains, but I do not think that my hon. Friend or anyone else in the House would deny the fact that our forces have played an extremely positive role in Kosovo and in the wider former Yugoslav republic over a period of time. People will recognise the capability that we have been able to put in there, and the considerable effect that that has had over the past few years in helping to stabilise that part of the world.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but what efforts are he and his colleagues making to ensure that other European nations hold to their commitments and realise that, due to our commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, it is possible that they might be asked to do more?

As my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members know, there is an ongoing debate to try to ensure burden sharing across NATO. We are trying to achieve that to the maximum possible degree, taking into account not only our NATO allies’ preparedness to deploy in various places—whether in Afghanistan or Kosovo—but their capability to do so. We ought to be enormously proud of the fact that this country has a very real military capability that we have been able to use very effectively in the Balkans. We have accepted responsibility for this deployment as part of that. As I have already said, it is shared with Italy and Germany, which will take turns to be able to provide the reserve capability. It has not been called on for the first three months of this year. Let us hope that it will not be necessary to provide it, but our people stand ready and able to undertake the deployment, should it become so.

Russia’s new President, Mr. Medvedev, visited Belgrade twice during his campaign to show solidarity with the Serbs over Kosovo. Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, has warned that Russia could use military force if the situation in Kosovo worsened. What assessment have the Government made of how the new Russian Government might affect the security situation in Kosovo?

We conduct those ongoing assessments, along with our NATO allies, and we can only hope that the Russians will play a constructive part in exerting the very real influence that they have on the Serb side of the reaction to Kosovo. Let us hope that everybody plays a constructive role and that peace prevails, so that we do not need to deploy the reserve force and the transition to the new status in Kosovo takes place in a peaceful manner.

It was no secret that the date on which Kosovo was expected to declare independence would fall in the early part of 2008, yet the Government did not make an arrangement with any other NATO country to provide troops for the operational reserve force. If, as many worry, the security situation worsens and we have to deploy British troops to the area, it will have an impact on our armed forces. At a time when roughly 20 per cent. of the British armed forces are deployed overseas, is not that just another example of the Government failing to plan properly and our allies failing to carry their share of the burden fairly?

If the hon. Gentleman would listen—I have said that there are 18,000 NATO troops in Kosovo. The commitment was long expected and planned for; and throughout the run-up to what has subsequently happened in Kosovo we knew that from 1 January we would have to meet the commitment, should it become necessary and be required. That was part of our planning assumptions. We are now three months into the year, and it has not been necessary yet—let us hope that it does not become necessary. Should the deployment be necessary, however, we have the ability and we have done the planning in order to be able to meet our commitments, and we will do precisely that.


The security situation in Iraq varies from province to province. Although levels of violence remain unacceptably high in some provinces, the security situation in Iraq improved significantly over the course of 2007. In and around Baghdad, violence has reduced to levels not seen since 2005. In the south, the security situation remains relatively stable, following the successful transfer of security responsibility for Basra province to the Iraqi authorities in December. We continue to work with the Iraqis and our coalition partners to develop further the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and to consolidate the solid progress to date, underpinned by various economic development initiatives that we are undertaking in the south.

Yet another British serviceman was killed in Iraq last week. There is widespread concern that rockets being used to kill our servicemen are, in fact, made in Iran. Is that true?

Of course I would like to take this opportunity, as have other hon. Members, to express my sympathy and condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the RAF sergeant who was killed in that dreadful incident on Friday. Recently, there has been an increase in indirect fire attacks against our forces in Basra, but they are still at a significantly lower level than they were last summer. We now deploy quite significant resources to protect those troops deployed in the contingency operating base from such attacks.

I am unable to say whether, specifically in relation to that attack, those missiles were thought to have been manufactured in Iran, but I can say—there is undoubted evidence—that in the past we have interdicted equipment, particularly weapons, which have clearly been manufactured in Iran. As I understand it, they are more likely to have been an improvised explosive device than of the missile variety. Over the past few days, President Ahmadinejad of Iran has visited Iraq and been welcomed there. There is no question but that, because of the geography of that part of the world, the Iranians will have a continuing and significant influence on Iraq—never mind the history of those two countries. My message to the Iranians—

My right hon. Friend will know that, last week, we were pleased to welcome six Iraqi trade unionists to the House of Commons, and they all talked about improved security. There were two women among them—one from Basra, one from Baghdad—and they were concerned about the continuing intimidation of and threats against women. Next time my right hon. Friend meets the leadership in Iraq, will he please impress on them the importance of saying that women in Iraq must be protected against threats and intimidation and that they have a role to play in the future of the country?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and her consistent support of trade unionists, women and others in Iraq over a long period—long before many others wanted to be engaged in that country. Her point is well made; I have made it in previous meetings with the Iraqi Government, and will seek an early opportunity to do so again. Although violence has decreased in Basra, there is some evidence of continuing violence against women. It is hopeful that General Jalil, who is in charge of the police, has identified that as a priority. I will continue to support him in that through our forces.

Bearing in mind our military commitments in Iraq and elsewhere, and the Army’s lack of medium-weight vehicles, will the Secretary of State confirm that future rapid effect system vehicle design will be based on current and foreseeable future operational requirements, and that recent lessons regarding troop protection will not be forgotten?

I give the hon. Lady that assurance with regard to the design of the FRES, particularly its hull, to which she alludes and which is most important. Valuable lessons have been learned, as can be seen in the improvement of the vehicles supplied over the past couple of years, and will be taken into account.

Pay Settlement

8. What factors he took into account in determining the recent pay settlement for the armed forces; and if he will make a statement. (190365)

Pay rates for UK service personnel are recommended by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which bases its recommendations on a wide range of factors. The Government accepted in full its recommendations, which will be implemented with effect from 1 April 2008.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Is he content that the recent pay award will improve recruitment and retention in our armed forces? Is he also content that the views and aspirations of our armed forces are reflected accurately under the current structure, particularly in the lower ranks?

The increases provided for by the pay review body this year will include not only the 2.6 per cent. but the addition of the X factor to increase the remuneration of the lower ranks by about 3.5 per cent. My hon. Friend needs to recognise that that is on top of the 9 per cent. for the lower ranks provided for last year. The operational bonus will also increase by 3.6 per cent. In addition, the retention packages for certain pinch-point trades will be continued to try to maintain skills in those areas where they are most needed. The package will be welcomed by the armed forces, including the lower ranks, and adds to what we achieved last year.

Topical Questions

As Secretary of State for Defence, my departmental responsibilities are to make and execute defence policy, to provide the armed forces with the capabilities that they need to achieve success in their military tasks at home and abroad, and to ensure that they are ready to respond to the tasks that might arise in future.

I do not have to remind you, Mr. Speaker, as an ex-Territorial, that we are four weeks from the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Territorial Army. Between Lord Kitchener writing them off as a town clerks army in 1915, and Sir Henry Wilson, the outgoing Chief of the General Staff, trying to disband them in 1918, they formed almost half the fighting units in the first world war and won 77 Victoria Crosses in the process. Can I urge today’s Government to bear in mind the huge potential that the Territorials still have, including providing fighting units, not just specialists, and gap-filling for their regular counterparts?

The hon. Gentleman is consistent in his support for the Territorial Army, and he knows of my admiration for it. When I visit the operational theatres I always make a point of spending time with those who are deployed there, and I know that they are very proud of their service. Interestingly, our post-appointment interviews suggest that the effect of Territorial Army members’ deployment is that they want more of it. I am very impressed by the job that they do, and I know that the regular soldiers who work with them are as well.

During the past week I have been privileged to speak to a number of veterans in my constituency, and one of the subjects that they wanted to discuss was burden sharing in southern Afghanistan. Will my right hon. Friend give his assessment of the current direction of travel in that respect?

Our military have done an excellent job. There has been a focus on the job they have been doing over the past few days, and I think that the understanding of the people of this country has improved. They have a sense of the nature of the task and the skills being deployed, and also of the effect that those skills have had: the Taliban have been significantly affected. We hope to be able to construct the other elements of what is necessary to rebuild that part of Afghanistan, which has not seen proper governance for the best part of 25 or 30 years.

Are Ministers able to update the House on recruitment to the services? Are they alarmed that the rate of drop-out from basic Army training has jumped from a quarter to a third? Will they confirm that there is a shortfall in manpower among recruiting staff? Given that the most recent figures show—again—that the number of people leaving the forces exceeds those coming in, is not recruitment from the Commonwealth rather saving the day? What are Ministers doing to improve the situation?

I am not trying to suggest that we do not face challenges, but the hon. Gentleman should recognise that the current level of recruitment is 96.9 per cent. of the required level. The drop-out rate in the services is lower than that in many other areas of employment, and certainly much lower than that in industry in civilian life.

Of course we need to do more: we need to do as much as we can on retention. We have packages to cover certain pinch-point trades that we badly need to keep the skills in the armed forces. Our task is challenging, but I think that the pay review body’s award and the morale of the armed forces will enable us to maintain recruitment at sustainable levels in the near future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best investment that we can make in our armed forces in order to ensure the continuation of recruitment, retention and future capability is in training—not just training for service life, but training that will equip our servicemen and servicewomen throughout their working life? Does he think that the defence training review and the military academy at St. Athan will achieve that?

Yet again, as the hon. Gentleman says.

Of course training plays an important part in recruitment and retention, but I think it should be recognised that it has a far wider purpose. I do not think that the importance of its role in military life is appreciated in civilian life. When the military have to act they have to get it right, and their training must therefore be first-class and extensive. The defence training review should put us on a better footing, and that includes the provisions made at St. Athan in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

T2. Like other hon. Members, I have visited Basra and Baghdad, and I have heard incoming fire very early in the mornings. Progress is being made in Basra to harden troops’ canteens and living facilities, but when will we start to make progress in hardening defences for our troops in their sleeping accommodation? Will the Secretary of State give us an undertaking that he will start that process, so that we can give our troops in Basra more protection from incoming rockets? (190384)

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the need for hardened accommodation, but there are many other ways of improving security for troops against that threat. Changes have been made—I will not go into detail, but I would be happy to let the hon. Gentleman have a private briefing if he wishes—that have significantly improved the personal security of sleeping troops. The changes proved to be very effective against a recent missile strike.

T4. We welcome Prince Harry back from Afghanistan and celebrate the achievements of the British military there, but we must avoid missing the big picture, which is that there is strategic confusion in Afghanistan. We have no UN co-ordinator, there is a divided command chain, several allies have different caveats on their armed forces and there is little evidence that the aid effort will have a long-term impact on the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. When will these matters be resolved? Will they be addressed at the Bucharest summit? (190386)

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify those as the priorities on Afghanistan. It is crucial that the leadership of the international community in the form of a UN special representative be appointed sooner rather than later to give coherence to the international community. It is regrettable that a previous appointment fell apart in the way it did. The other points that he made are also important and it is to be hoped that we will make significant progress at or about the time of the Bucharest summit on those points, all of which identify priorities of the Government on Afghanistan.

In my constituency we obviously welcome the two new aircraft carriers and the six Type 45 destroyers, not least because VT Shipbuilding will be playing, and does play, a large part in their construction. However, will the Minister elaborate on how the orders are consistent with the maritime industrial strategy?

My hon. Friend points to an important issue. We need not only to maintain our capability for today and the immediate future by the provision of capability for, in this case, the Royal Navy, but to maintain the capability to produce new ships, which is exactly what the defence industrial strategy and, in this case, the maritime industrial strategy are all about. Of course we need the maximum efficiency to provide the best possible equipment for our Navy and armed forces, but we have made a commitment to all three naval bases, including, of course, Portsmouth.

T5. Further to the question from the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), will the Secretary of State tell the House specifically the shortfall in infantry battalions, whether it is caused by an inability to recruit the right calibre of young men or by the flood of young officers and other ranks leaving the Army, and to which Government policies he ascribes the shortfall? (190388)

There is no shortfall of infantry battalions. The Conservatives have made a commitment to increase the number of infantry battalions—we are all aware of that—but plan to do so without increasing defence spending. If they are to increase the number of infantry battalions by three, the natural corollary of that is that they will cut the size of either the Navy or the RAF. It is up to the hon. Gentleman and his party to tell us what they would do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and I recently visited RNAS—Royal Naval Air Station—Yeovilton, and I pay tribute to the helicopter squadrons who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Lynx aircraft, however, plays a crucial operational role for our surface fleet, and it is reaching the end of its flying life. Will the Minister confirm when he expects to sign the contracts for the future Lynx project?

We are not yet ready to make any announcements on the future Lynx project, or on any other possible future projects under consideration.

T6. Will the appropriate Minister give an unequivocal commitment that future FRES vehicles, which have, of course, to be air-transportable, will have monocoque V-shaped hulls, which deflect blasts, leaving the vehicle repairable after it has experienced an explosion? That is critical to the safety of our armed services personnel. (190389)

I fully understand how important the hon. Gentleman’s point is—and he knows why. In answer to an earlier question, I made it clear that I would expect the design of the hull to take account of our learning experience over the past two years in particular. I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box the unequivocal undertaking he seeks, but he can rest assured that I consider the shape of the hull to be extremely important to the safety of the vehicle.

In order for the Government to fulfil their 2004 commitment for a fleet with 25 frigates and destroyers and eight submarines, they need to order eight Type 45 destroyers and eight Astute class submarines. Do they intend to do so?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have ordered six Type 45 destroyers. We have made no commitment yet to hulls seven and eight, and we are not ready to make any announcement on that. If the hon. Gentleman had followed what is said in Hansard rather than what he hoped was said, he would know that back in December I told him that the plan was eventually for there to be seven Astute class submarines, not eight.

T7. Will the Minister for the Armed Forces confirm that the costs of the joint strike fighter are now ballooning out of control, and that it will be impossible to achieve the original number that the Ministry of Defence was to order? (190390)

As I said earlier in answer to another question on the JSF, that programme is developing. We are working closely with the United States to monitor the programme, and although we do not intend to order production aircraft, when we are satisfied that the aircraft’s development has matured sufficiently and that it is affordable, we will place the order. Currently, we are committed to the JSF providing the joint combat aircraft for the carrier force.

T9. What progress has the Department made on reaching a common position with the Americans on the eradication of opium poppy farms so that the men involved in that are not driven into the hands of the Taliban? (190392)

The hon. Gentleman knows our Government’s policy on opium production in southern Afghanistan, which is to drive forward on a number of pillars of the counter-narcotics strategy that we share with all our allies and coalition partners, including the United States of America. We have made significant progress in Afghanistan more widely than just in the south by increasing significantly the number of poppy-free provinces, but it continues to be an important part of our policy on the eradication of opium in southern Afghanistan that alternative livelihoods are available to farmers.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As all Members know, the Government have said on a number of occasions that the police pay award cannot be honoured in full because it would be inflationary, and that any pay increase would be eaten up by inflation. On the back of that, I tabled a written question to the Chancellor asking what effect paying the police 1.9 per cent. and 2.5 per cent. would have on the official inflation rate, to try to tease out from the Government exactly what the inflationary impact would be. I received a reply from a Minister, which did not address the question at all. It merely stated:

“The Government are committed to continuing to support public sector workers in their efforts to deliver the best possible public services.”—[Official Report, 6 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 1197W.]

I therefore tabled the following question to calculate—

Order. I am going to assist the hon. Gentleman by saying that that is not a point of order, and that it is not a matter for me as I have no responsibility for the perceived quality of a Minister’s reply. Therefore, I cannot take this matter any further.

Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 8)

I beg to move,

That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows—

(1) in paragraph (1) for ‘the first business is’ substitute ‘the business includes’,

(2) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 9—

(a) in the second column, for ‘Clauses 3 to 7’ substitute ‘Clause 3, the Schedule, and Clauses 4 and 5’, and

(b) in the third column, add ‘6 hours after commencement’,

(3) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 10—

(a) in the second column, for ‘Clauses 3 to 7, so far as not completed on Allotted Day 9’ substitute ‘Clauses 6 to 7, and any selected amendments to Clause 8 other than those making commencement contingent on a referendum’, and

(b) in the third column, for ‘The moment of interruption’ substitute ‘6 hours after commencement’, and

(4) in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 11—

(a) in the second column, for ‘Clause 8, the Schedule, New Clauses and New Schedules’ substitute ‘(1) remaining proceedings on Clause 8, and (2) New Clauses and New Schedules’, and

(b) in the third column, for ‘The moment of interruption’ substitute ‘(1) 6 hours after commencement, and (2) 15 minutes after commencement’.

The motion does three things in response to concerns about the scrutiny of clauses 3 to 8. First, it provides certainty for the House by protecting a full six hours of debate on each of the three days of debate this week. The time is protected against any statements or urgent questions—such matters have arisen on five occasions during Committee days thus far. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in his place—he is in a different place from normal, but Conservative Members move around to make it appear that there are more of them. He has asked on a number of occasions whether day 10 and in particular day 11 could have a protected number of hours of business, saying that he would be grateful if Ministers tabled a provision to that effect. I congratulate him on the influence that he has brought to bear in ensuring that just that has happened.

Secondly, the motion structures a division of time over the three days to ensure that sufficient time is given to discuss the clauses of most interest to the House—that is the case with clause 8 and its hook for the discussion of a referendum, and with clause 6, which covers the amending provision and new oversight powers for Parliament.

Following this weekend’s astounding referendum results, does the Minister not believe that it is now necessary to extend debate on the referendum question? Perhaps we ought also to debate the issue on Thursday so that we could explore why, for instance, Maria Hutchings’s superb campaign in Eastleigh did so well in getting that referendum result.

We are not tempted by that approach. I cannot congratulate the hon. Gentleman in the same way as I encouraged the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, who has a different view from him—the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) wishes to see us out of Europe altogether.

I thought that the Minister was going to say that I had a different view about the timing. I had said that I was grateful to the Minister and the Government for having listened and for having at least protected the six hours of debate. In an intervention on the Deputy Leader of the House, I pointed out that the debate on the referendum was to be on a Wednesday, and that if we carried on we would have many hours free in the evening to debate the matter at length.

The business of the House motion guarantees a certain number of hours of debate, as the hon. Gentleman requested. The third thing that it sets out to do is to provide an opportunity at the end of day 11 for a new clause to be moved, protecting that possibility without encroaching on the time available for the referendum debate.

I am always impressed with the Minister’s tact and charm. I have tabled an amendment for Wednesday, but as that is a busy day for some of us would he like to be really tactful and allow me to debate my amendment earlier?

May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that our affection for one another’s tact, diplomacy and guile is mutual? As she is aware, the timing of the discussion of amendments is, of course, a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means.

In the light of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink)—that an overwhelming majority of the people who voted in the constituencies where referendums were held opted to support the holding of a referendum on the treaty—is it too late for the Government to recognise that the people of this country deserve a vote on the matter, and to decide that they will, after all, grant a referendum?

In my constituency, fewer than one in six of the electorate voted for a referendum. The timetable set out for this week, which builds on the first programme motion, sets aside three days, which represents the same number of days of debate as on the Committee stage of the Bill implementing the treaty of Nice. We have already had eight full days of debate.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and I will not agree on whether there should be a referendum, but I disagree with his assertion that Britain would be better off out of the European Union. I do not disrespect him, but I disagree with his view, which I accept he holds strongly.

I know that the Minister always likes to be transparent with the House: when he said that one in six people in his constituency voted for a referendum, he was referring to the sample rather than the percentage of those who voted. He will know that, in his constituency, more than 85 per cent. of those one in six people who were sampled wanted a referendum on the treaty. Are the Government not failing democracy when the people of this country have to take direct action, only a few hundred yards from Parliament, because the Government have reneged on their promises on the EU reform treaty?

The hon. Gentleman knows his constituency better than I do, and I hope that he would accept that all hon. Members know their own constituencies better than any other Member. In my constituency, more people voted for the failed Conservative candidate at the last election than in the process that we have just been through. Of course, the process cost nearly £50,000.

I shall return to the business motion, because I do not think that you would thank us for going much wider, Mr. Speaker.

If the turnout in local elections in the Minister’s and other constituencies falls below that achieved in the recent voluntary polls, do the Government propose to ignore the outcome?

The place to make decisions is in this Chamber, not in a crane in the sky above London. This Chamber will decide later this week whether it is right to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, in the same way that it decided whether there should be referendums on the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam.

Does the Minister agree that, when he mentions the Nice, Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, he ignores an issue that we shall debate shortly: the amalgamation of all those treaties into one? To say that there is no need for us to examine the whole, and that we need only examine individual treaties, is to deny what the Government are saying in their own proposals and about the mandate.

No, the mandate is clear, and has been clear on each day of the debate. Every Government of the European Union has agreed that the constitutional approach has been abandoned. That view has been accepted by Governments on the left, centre-left, centre and centre-right of European politics.

I absolutely agree with the Minister when he says that all of us know our constituencies better than anyone else does. Given that the Government are not inclined to allow a referendum, could the party Whips at least give Members a free vote?

I am grateful to the Minister, and I promise him that this will be the last time that I intervene on him; he has been most generous in giving way. If he were to allow the debate this week to extend into Thursday, so that we had more time, we could explore how the referendums this weekend had a greater turnout than many EU elections in this country.

I will not hold the hon. Gentleman to his assertion that that was the last time that he will intervene on me today; no hon. Member believes that to be the case.

I accept that it is probably the last in this debate; I have only one paragraph left of my comments in moving the rather narrow business motion.

Does my hon. Friend accept that a fundamentally different situation now faces us in that, if the desire of the Liberal Democrats is upheld, we will be effectively making a decision based on two referendums? Should he not take that into account, so that we can extend the time, to debate both fully?

As I am against holding one referendum, it will hardly come as a surprise to my hon. Friend to learn that I am against holding two referendums. We are not tempted by that approach, and I have set out a business motion that protects the time on each day available to the House this week. We have been flexible.

So that we can determine how much time will be required and given what the Minister has said about what has taken place already, does he accept that much of what he has described as debate has, in fact, been very general debate on subjects connected with the treaty but not detailed scrutiny of its provisions? Does he accept that, for example, we have had no detailed scrutiny so far of the treaty’s provisions on defence, which is a very important subject in the treaty?

The total number of days available for the House to discuss the Lisbon treaty and the Bill to enact it has been the same as for the treaties of Nice and Amsterdam and the Single European Act.

The Minister always makes comparisons with treaties that were much shorter and much less controversial, but does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)? The Minister makes great play of the time that we have taken so far, but it has been largely taken up at the Government’s insistence with general debates on European issues that have gone very wide of the treaty of Lisbon? The debates have been very familiar to many hon. Members; they have been about the merits and otherwise of various aspects of our European policy. Does he not agree that this experiment has been a failure and that we should have debated the amendments tabled by those hon. Members who, unlike me, disagree with the treaty’s contents?

Of course, on these issues of substance and on some of the policy issues that relate to Europe, I find myself at common cause with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the fact is that the structured approach that we have taken to each day was contained in the programme motion and the principle was in both the Government’s motion and Conservative Front Benchers’ motion. Although, of course, the Conservatives demanded more days, they nevertheless suggested their own set of proposals along this structured approach.

But does not the Minister understand how difficult he is making things, even for those of us who support the treaty of Lisbon? To have a debate on the treaty of Lisbon that excludes a debate on the treaty’s effect on defence is not to have a complete debate on the treaty. Similarly, would he not be in a stronger position if he had spoken out against holding a referendum in the first place, as some of us did, instead of supporting a referendum when that was convenient and now opposing a referendum when that is convenient? Is it not better to be against referendums always?

I hope that it does not unsettle the right hon. Gentleman if I disagree with him. Where there is an issue of substantial constitutional significance—for example, if we were ever to consider joining the euro—there is a case for consulting the public in a referendum, as we did when we established devolution in Scotland and Wales. Those are substantial, lasting constitutional changes, and I agree that there is, on occasion, a place for a referendum.

I know that it will be; I am trying to tell the Minister that we have to get back to the motion.

Mr. Speaker, I know that you will accept that I am simply responding to the interventions that I take. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). It is perhaps the last time that I shall give way, as I want to conclude the one paragraph that I mentioned in my response to the hon. Member for Castle Point.

I thank the Minister for giving way. My point is directly about the motion, Mr. Speaker. The Minister asserted that when we debated the original business of the House motion, we consented to the Government’s procedure in principle, but we did not. Let me read him what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said on that point, in response to an intervention on the topic:

“We certainly do not agree with the motion, and we will vote against it. We will, of course, vote for our amendment, not because we agree with any of the procedures involved but because we wish to propose an amendment that ought to be acceptable to the Government and that would address many of Members’ concerns about the time available for consideration of amendments. We are no fans of the procedure employed in the motion or of the constraints that it sets on debate.”—[Official Report, 28 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 61.]

That sets the record straight. We did not favour the Government’s methodology, and we still do not.

The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his own way. The fact is that the Conservatives tabled a substantive amendment to the business of the House motion—an amendment with its own structure and its own purpose, and which included provision for themed debates. If I may conclude—

I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that it was the Government who proposed the procedure; other people opposed it. The Government radically changed the way in which we are handling the Bill. That may be a good thing or a bad thing—in my view, it is an extraordinarily bad, selfish and rather unimaginative thing to do—but he should be proud of what he has done, because it was the Government’s decision not to have amendments tabled in the normal way, not to proceed in the normal way, and to limit the discussion.

Of course the procedure was recommended by the Government, but it was decided on by the House, which came to its conclusion on 28 January, agreeing to the motion with a substantial majority.

I shall conclude my remarks—my one paragraph. We have varied the motion on six occasions. On each of those occasions we responded to the amendments tabled and extended the time available for detailed debate. Today’s motion makes good the further undertaking that I gave the House that we would be flexible and would secure sufficient protected time to debate clauses 3 to 8. With that, I commend the motion to the House.

The Minister referred to the previous business of the House motion, so I shall do so too, if I may. I wish to begin by explaining with what part of today’s Government business of the House motion we agree. The motion in effect divides up the time for the three remaining days of Committee, and protects the business. The Minister will recall—in fact, he mentioned the matter in his opening remarks—that when we debated the original business of the House motion on 28 January, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) noticed, in his usual eagle-eyed way, that the time for day 11, allocated to discussion of the referendum, was not protected. He repeatedly pressed the Minister to give an assurance that it would be protected. In fairness, the Minister undertook to consider that, and today’s motion does indeed protect the time for the debate; we should acknowledge that.

However, there is much that is wrong with the motion. For instance, the House will recall that when we debated the original motion, we objected to the Government’s methodology in relation to the debate, and sought more time to debate specific amendments. We also argued for at least six extra days of debate to match the figure of 20 days that the Government have repeatedly floated in the media. We asked for a day on which to debate the defence implications of Lisbon—a point that we subsequently pressed repeatedly at business questions—given that the defence amendments were not touched on at all. Unfortunately, the motion does not allow any extra time for the important topic of defence to be debated in detail, and that is to be deprecated.

As the amendments relating to defence were tabled in my name, I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and—this is unusual, but welcome—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Although we disagree about certain aspects of the treaty, we agree that the defence issue has not been discussed. Our boys out in Afghanistan and Iraq are at risk as result of some of the provisions of this treaty.

My hon. Friend has made a powerful point. In the run-up to these debates, the Government repeatedly said in the media that their strategy was to divide the Conservative party on Europe. As has been said, they have succeeded in unifying my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), which is more than we have managed to do for years.

Will my hon. Friend point out that some of us want a debate on defence in order to show that the treaty will help our boys in Afghanistan and elsewhere? If we do not have a chance to say it—

As has been said, we really did want that extra day on defence.

It has emerged that we have the rest of today to debate just four amendments, whereas we will have six hours tomorrow to debate many more amendments. That will hopefully include our important amendment No. 20, which would not wreck the treaty, because it is procedural. It would amend the Bill so that no further vetoes could be given up under the so-called ratchet clause without an Act of Parliament. I raise that question because previous experience of debating this Bill does not set an encouraging precedent for being able to debate everything, not least because of the Government’s deliberate ploy of using so-called themed debates to eat up time that would otherwise be available to debate specific, detailed amendments.

On day one in Committee of the whole House, when we debated justice and home affairs, there were three groups of amendments. We only managed to debate the first group, and we did not discuss any of the important amendments concerning borders, visas, asylum and immigration. On day four, the theme was the single market. There were four groups of amendments, but we only reached the first group, so we did not touch on subjects such as social policy, the free movement of workers and intellectual property rights.

On day five, as a number of hon. Members have said, we debated foreign, security and defence policy. That night there were three groups of amendments, and again, only the first group was reached. The treaty includes proposals on creating military structures that could rival NATO, a mutual defence guarantee and an armaments agency, but none of the amendments relating to defence were considered. I reiterate that we have repeatedly pressed the Government at business questions to allow us to debate defence, but the motion does not reflect that request.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s analysis of the defence provisions of the treaty identified five important changes introduced by the treaty? The Committee found one change in which the Government’s wording, which was taken directly from the treaty, was ambiguous and needed clarification. None of those matters has been debated, although they are important to this country’s defence.

My hon. Friend has scrutinised the treaty in detail, and as usual he has made an important point. The Government said that there were only 50 vetoes, but on the day of the foreign policy and defence debate, they released an answer saying, “Oops! Sorry! There are 51 vetoes, and the extra one relates to defence.” We did not get an opportunity to debate that, either.

On day six in Committee of the whole House, we debated international development. There were two groups of amendments, and we actually reached the second group for five minutes.

This is yet another motion that slightly amends the timetable. Although my hon. Friend has acknowledged that that involves meeting hon. Members’ desire to protect the time for the referendum debate, how far are the Government consulting the usual channels? Were Conservative Front Benchers or Liberal Democrat Front Benchers approached about this latest motion, and was there an attempt to agree it? Surely the point of timetabling in this House is to enable the maximum opportunity for debate involving the widest range of opinions in order to achieve proper scrutiny. Have the Government presented yet another unsolicited business motion, or was there at least an attempt to reach an agreement first?

As an ex-Whip, I have learned never to comment in the Chamber on any discussions through the usual channels; that is always safest career-wise. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend will know that we asked repeatedly at business questions for an extra day to be added for debating defence. That request was made almost ad nauseam, but unfortunately the Government have not complied with it. It is disappointing that we have not been allowed to debate defence.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend should be concerned about his career—he should be concerned about the principle of what we do in the House and our ability to scrutinise.

I should like to take up the matter to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) aware that Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, an author of the European constitution and past President of France, has said that the treaty contains all the critical elements of the constitution? Is it not true, therefore, that this business motion is inadequate and does not reflect the best interests of this House?

Order. That intervention was very wide of the motion under discussion. We are talking about the business motion and the time allowed.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—[Laughter.] I am well aware of Mr. Giscard d’Estaing’s comments about the treaty. The one that sticks in my mind is—

We will continue the discussion in the Tea Room, but my hon. Friend is entirely right.

On day seven in Committee, we debated four groups of amendments relating to EU institutions and remaining matters in clause 2. That day, there were four quite large groups of amendments, but we touched only on the first. How can the Government be confident about their business motion given that so far in Committee the Chair has selected 20 groups of amendments, only eight of which have ever been debated—one of them for only five minutes?

The subjects of borders, visas, asylum, immigration, defence, social policy and free movement of workers have never been debated in detail at all. The Government had hoped that they would be able to get away with the whole process, of which today’s motion forms a further part, without anyone outside the House noticing and with no media attention. However, I am pleased to say that they have been unsuccessful. For instance, I doubt whether their motion today will redeem them in the eyes of Simon Carr, who, following the debate on the original business motion, wrote a piece about all this in The Independent, entitled “Gordon’s trickery backfires on him”. He noted the Government’s methodology for the Committee stage as follows:

“The Government’s promises for unparalleled opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny were, frankly, demolished by both sides…Why was so much time being given to these nebulous themes and so little to amendments?”

Will my hon. Friend be careful not to allow the Government to get away with the idea that they have misused the House’s arrangements only in respect of the treaty of Lisbon to ensure that there is not proper debate of Bills? There has never been a time when legislation has been so ill-debated, so ill-argued and therefore so ill-produced as since the so-called modernisation that the Government have carried through.

My right hon. Friend has made a pertinent point, which I wish to reinforce. It is even worse when the Government constrain debate on a treaty to which this country would theoretically be committed for a very long time.

I doubt whether the Government’s motion today will cut much ice with Michael White of The Guardian. On 22 February, he wrote in that newspaper, in an article entitled, “Lisbon debate rings hollow”:

“Labour’s chief whip has persuaded MP’s to vote to overrule their own standing orders. Instead of line-by-line debate which explores changes to foreign policy procedures, EU co-operation on crime or energy, at least half of each day is devoted to a ‘themed’ discussion, with debate on specific amendments tacked on later. Does procedure matter? No one would be allowed to change the rules before a football match or criminal trial.”

I also doubt that today’s motion will impress Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph, who, in a piece on 11 February entitled “The debate on the Treaty of Lisbon is a scandal”, argued about the procedure for debating treaties as follows:

“Conventionally, this is done by tabling amendments to specific clauses and debating them in fine detail. But this is not happening and it is a scandal.”

He then went on to note:

“When Mr. Brown was challenged about this in the Commons last week, he said ‘We are considering the European Union (Amendment) Bill day by day in the House of Commons in great detail.’ Day by day, but not line by line. The cynicism is breathtaking.”

In view of the unequivocal views quoted by the hon. Gentleman, can he explain why his Front Benchers lay down and allowed the Government to run right over them, and why the Liberals, who made their pathetic little mewling noise last week, have nevertheless continued to co-operate with the Government, who are determined that we should not debate the legislation as opposed to some of the ideas?

I thank the hon. Lady. We have not lain down at all—we opposed the Government’s motion and voted against it; that is why I deliberately read into the record the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. [Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you explain to Hansard how to put down in the record that last very important contribution by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)?

I think that that is for the editors of Hansard to work out for themselves.

Could I just explain that I was waving genteelly in the direction of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois)?

I am sure that the editors of Hansard will be very grateful for those remarks.

I am grateful for the gentle wave. I am not accustomed to that from the hon. Lady, but I will take it in the spirit in which it was offered.

The truth is that this whole process has been rigged from the outset. First, we were promised a referendum on the treaty, and then that promise was broken. Then we were promised 20 days of debate, and that promise was broken too. We have been given only 14 days, which today’s motion does not extend and which, according to the Library, represents less than half of the 29 days’ debate in the Commons allocated to the treaty of Maastricht. That is why the Minister talks about Nice and Amsterdam but never makes the comparison with Maastricht. We were then promised an opportunity for line-by-line scrutiny of the treaty itself, and even that promise was broken, because the Government came up with a totally new way to debate treaties specifically designed to curtail the detailed scrutiny of the document that they tell the country they are so proud of.

Will my hon. Friend note, too, that a day is not a day in the sense that the public outside understand? It has been reduced to an hour and a half or two and a half hours, and we spent a total of 19 hours on clause 2, which is the guts of the Bill. That bears no comparison with any constitutional measure that we have had on the Floor of the House in the past, and questions the legitimacy of the process.

My hon. Friend, who has, as usual, followed these debates very closely, makes a powerful point. I reiterate: when the Government are comparing treaties, they never like to compare this with Maastricht because they know that that had twice as much debate. Indeed, in those days, a parliamentary day was usually much longer in terms of the time available for debate, so the disparity is even greater if one makes the comparison in hours, as my hon. Friend encourages me to.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Is it not worse than he suggests, because not only have all these promises been broken but the Government have not been completely transparent about how they have done it? They keep repeating that we are allegedly having line-by-line scrutiny, but very little of that time is devoted to looking at the treaty, as it is spent on debating these wide motions.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. In days of yore, there used to be an offence of breach of promise, and the Government are most definitely guilty of that now.

My hon. Friend will recall that on 20 June, the deceitful manner in which this process has been conducted was initiated by the revelation of the mandate, which is described as binding on all the member states. Furthermore, that mandate, as we shall discuss later, translates the word “Community” into the word “Union”, provides a single legal personality, and replaces and succeeds the Community. What is happening during all of these proceedings is happening against the background of a binding mandate that is being imposed on this House, which is why the Government are behaving in the way that they are.

Again, my hon. Friend is entirely right, and I suspect that he will return to that point briefly later.

The hon. Gentleman may be making a powerful case, but it is also a completely pointless case. Unaccustomed as I am to being helpful to those on my Front Bench during these debates, if I consider the amendments that have been tabled during the limited time we have had, I find that the Opposition have not come up with any ideas, other than, “I don’t like what’s in the treaty”. He should be a bit more positive in the next couple of days.

The hon. Lady is of course entitled to her view, but if we had had an opportunity to debate a number of those amendments, powerful cases would have been made. Because of the way in which the debate was structured, it was not possible to do so.

The Government’s whole case against a referendum is based on the alternative of detailed parliamentary scrutiny. We have not had detailed parliamentary scrutiny. The Government do not deserve to get away with this, and on Wednesday, hon. and right hon. Members will have a vital opportunity to prevent them from doing so. I shall end, as I have taken quite a lot of interventions, with an editorial from The Times today, which is entitled “Let The People Speak”. It says:

“Institutional subterfuge, such as that in which the Government has engaged, will do great harm to the reputation of Parliament, will increase the contempt felt for the EU by much of the electorate and make a mockery of the ‘new’, more inclusive, politics which the Prime Minister insists that he favours.”

We agree. We say that these debates have been rigged from start to finish for the Government’s convenience. We say, “Let the people decide”.

I shall speak very briefly. We should be quite clear about what is happening here. This legislation is being guillotined, not programmed. It is being cut short in a most brutal and unhelpful manner. Presumably, that is happening because we are frightened of debating in this Chamber every massive change to the way in which we organise our affairs. The House of Commons has always been jealous of its command of powers over the Government and of the way in which it proceeds through legislation.

What we are debating has enormously far-ranging implications, and because of the way in which the process has been managed, we are unable to discuss whole fields of affairs that are of enormous importance to our people. For instance, transport is not even mentioned under the arrangements for this so-called programme. The Government are foolish and unwise; they ought to have handled this matter better.

The thing that depresses me most is that neither the Front Benchers of the official Opposition, nor the unofficial hangers-on, have made the slightest attempt to wreck this legislation in the way that they should, or have been prepared to, despite the artificial noise. Until we do so, we are failing those who sent us here.

I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), or the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but I agree with their opposition to this motion. We disagreed with the original business motion because, as others have said, it curtailed time for this House, and we do not like the Government’s overall approach. As the hon. Member for Rayleigh said, it is wrong that we have not had proper time to debate common defence and security policy. Many trenchant views are held in the House on that and it is wrong that we cannot debate it. Other matters, too, have had scant attention.

I say to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that we were not consulted on the business motion. My only discussions—formally and informally—with the Government have been to ask for more time.

I have long believed that, if we are to have timetabling, which apparently now applies to all Bills, it should essentially be for the Opposition parties to decide how best to use the time on the matters that most concern them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Government had said to his Front Benchers and to my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) that there were three days in which to cover the clauses that we are considering, and had allocated three generous timetables, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties could have reached agreement on how to divide them so that the most important amendments, in the opinion of critics, would take up our time? Instead, we have the Government’s best offer of what seems to them to be most convenient and right in dividing up the available time.

I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We often go through a charade and pretend that the House controls the Government when the Government railroad matters through. We should change the rules to allow the Opposition parties a much greater say. Perhaps we should consider other legislatures, which have business committees and do things differently—in my view, more democratically.

I made the point to the Minister that we should have extra time—at least an extra day—to debate especially common defence and security policy. If he has a chance to answer the debate, I hope that he will explain why he has been unable to provide that. Not doing so is wrong and undermines the process. As someone who is pro-European and supports the Lisbon treaty, I stress that such actions do not help the Government’s case. That is why they are misguided, and really should withdraw the motion and start again.

I shall be brief. In compensation for breaking a solemn manifesto pledge to hold a referendum, the Government—the Prime Minister himself—promised that the House would be given an opportunity to debate in Committee, line by line, the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which effectively incorporates the constitutional treaty on which they promised us a referendum. We have not had that line-by-line consideration. The House has not had—and will not have, if the Government motion is passed—the opportunity to debate a single line of the numerous and important clauses in the treaty that affect immigration, asylum and border control, to consider a single amendment or to take a single vote. In other words, the Prime Minister will break a second promise if the business motion is passed. I find that disgraceful.

I find it appalling that a Minister who is personally so charming and agreeable can be party to such a duplicitous attempt to prevent the House from having what it was promised.

The Government must think again. There is no doubt that there is much in the Lisbon treaty to debate; there is no doubt that we have not debated it; and there is also no doubt that Oppositions always make that claim, but on this occasion the claim has very serious truth in it.

The Government promised us line-by-line scrutiny but they have not given us the same length of time as the previous Conservative Government gave the debate on Maastricht. They have made debate difficult with their novel procedure and they have wrongly accused my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) of going along with that procedure when he manifestly did not. They have upset their own supporters, who see that the motion is utterly unfair, and have made Conservative Members who believe in the treaty of Lisbon extremely angry about the process that they have introduced. I hope very much that they will withdraw the motion.

Views on the EU and the Lisbon treaty transcend the party political spectrum. There are a number of amendments tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends who wish to discuss the implications for public services. We hope that the Chairman of Ways and Means will look on them preferentially, but it seems very unfair that our debate is again being shoehorned into a very short time. There is also the issue of the referendum. As I said in my earlier intervention, we are now, in effect, discussing two referendums. Again, it would be only right and proper—

It being forty-five minutes after commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question, pursuant to Order [28 January].

Orders of the Day

European Union (Amendment) Bill

[9th allotted day]

(Clause 3, the Schedule and Clauses 4 and 5)

Further considered in Committee.

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair.]

Clause 3

Changes of terminology

I beg to move amendment No. 39, page 2, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert—

‘(c) may be made only if a draft of the order has been—

(i) laid before Parliament; and

(ii) approved by a resolution of each House’.

Clause 3 is, if one includes the schedule attached to it, the longest part of the Bill. Together they run to some three and a half pages. On that ground alone, it is worth studying in some detail.

The clause is headed “Changes of terminology”, which rather implies that these are technical matters, but I shall, I hope, show that it deals with substantive matters of importance. For instance, the schedule attached to the clause makes nearly 50 amendments to the European Communities Act 1972, the founding Act that has governed our relationship to the European Union ever since that date. Clearly, those are matters of substance.

One of the purposes of clause 3 and its schedule is to delete references to “European Community” and replace them with “European Union”. That is not a technical change; it is a matter of substance, because the two are not the same. To remind the Committee, when we joined the Common Market, as it was then called, there were three treaties: the European Coal and Steel Community treaty signed in 1951; the European Atomic Energy Community treaty, usually known as EURATOM; and the European Economic Community treaty, usually abbreviated to the EEC, set up by the treaty of Rome in 1957. Collectively, those treaties formed what were known as the European Communities.

Since that time, the coal and steel treaty has expired and is no more. EURATOM still exists but is only of marginal significance—that is not to say that the European Union will not legislate on energy and atomic power; under the additional sections in the treaty of Lisbon, I anticipate that it will pass a great deal more legislation on that, but not through EURATOM. For the purposes of this debate, therefore, we can ignore that treaty.

A separate treaty on the EU, the Maastricht treaty, renamed the EEC the EC, and crucially, added two intergovernmental pillars, the first dealing with common foreign and security policy, and the second with justice and home affairs. That was a critical and innovative solution, and in my view and that of many of my persuasion, the intergovernmental method of co-operation is to be preferred. It cuts out the monopoly of initiative enjoyed by the European Commission, and does not come under the jurisdiction of the European Court. But it allows for extensive international co-ordination and co-operation in tackling matters of common interest.

Today, essentially, we have two treaties. We have the EC treaty, derived originally from the treaty of Rome, as then amended by the Single European Act, the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and so on. Separately, we have the EU treaty from Maastricht, covering the intergovernmental areas.

The current treaty abolishes the EC. Article 1 of the treaty states:

“The Union shall replace and succeed the European Community.”

Crucially, however, the EU will also include those previous intergovernmental policy areas that I have described, such as the common foreign and security policy and parts of criminal justice and policing.

My right hon. Friend has made an important point. Is he saying that the treaty, and clause 3 in particular, abolishes what was the European Community? Was it not precisely on the claim that the European constitution abolished the former structures and replaced them with a new one that the Government based their promise of a referendum? They said that this treaty did not do that, and that therefore we did not need a referendum. Now my right hon. Friend is saying that the treaty does do that—in which case, surely, the Government’s promise of a referendum would have to be reinstated even if we believed in their rather bogus excuse for getting out of it.

My right hon. Friend is spot on. This treaty does exactly the same as the constitutional treaty: it founds a Union that encapsulates and incorporates all the EC and EU treaties, and indeed establishes a single legal personality for the purpose.

My right hon. Friend may not have heard some remarks I made during the last debate about the mandate which—as he knows very well, because he is a fellow member of the European Scrutiny Committee—was brought in through the back door, in deceitful circumstances, on 20 June last year. Does he agree that it had the effect not only of replacing the word “Community” with the word “Union”—with, as he said, a single legal personality replacing and succeeding the Community—but of collapsing many of the pillars that he mentioned earlier, thus undermining the whole constitutional basis on which the original arrangements were made? That fundamental change is the reason why we should now have a referendum.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is being tempted to extend his remarks rather more widely than the amendment allows. It is quite narrowly drafted.

I am well aware of the narrowness of the amendment, Sir Michael, but I wish to put it in the context of what is happening to the EC, as opposed to the EU. As you will see, a large part of clause 3 is concerned with replacing the EC with the EU. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that the two are not the same. Clause 3 attempts something of a three-card trick, making what are apparently name changes but, in fact, changing the substance. The EU will not only replace the EC but include the formerly intergovernmental aspects of common foreign and security policy, criminal justice and policing. Moreover, subsections (4) and (5), which are the subject of my amendment, give the Secretary of State or the Treasury power to

“make other amendments of Acts or instruments”.

That is quite a wide power. The amendments are not defined or limited, and the power obviously includes power to amend primary and secondary legislation. The amendments must “reflect changes in terminology”, but are not limited to such changes.

We are not simply dealing with changes of name. Just as the change from EC to EU is a matter of substance, other matters of terminology could and, in my view, will entail substantive and material changes.

Terms are important, and people understand their significance. We have moved from a common market to a European Economic Community to a European Community to a European Union. Could it not be said that we are not far off becoming a Federated State of Europe?

The hon. Gentleman is right. There has been a baffling series of name changes, all of them in the wrong direction. In the Convention on the Future of Europe, I—along with some other delegates—suggested yet another name change, but a change in the right direction. We proposed a Europe of democracies. We submitted a minority report to give effect to such a concept, which is essentially intergovernmental. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that names and terms are important. Whichever direction we take, it is vital that the House has the right to scrutinise and authorise the changes when they are made. I commend my rather modest amendment, which would ensure that so-called terminological changes are made by affirmative resolution, giving both Houses an express decision, replacing the negative resolution procedure whereby the changes are made unless they are emphatically blocked.

I am genuinely trying to understand the right hon. Gentleman. Is he arguing that if we do not agree to his amendments to schedule 1 and to some of the name changes, the intergovernmental nature of some of the policy areas that the Government currently feel are protected will lose that protection because we are merging the Community into the Union, so making those policy areas vulnerable? Is that his key point?

No, that is not my argument. The so-called innocuous change from EC to EU is not simply a change of terminology, because the EU incorporates not just the EC, but intergovernmental policy areas such as common foreign and security policy and criminal justice. In the same way, the other changes that the Government may propose to give effect to the treaty in existing UK legislation will also encompass matters of substance and are not simply matters of terminology.

To demonstrate that, I need to pick up a number of themes that have emerged in the debates so far. The first point is that the treaty is almost the same as the European constitution, which failed at the hands of the French and Dutch electorates. That observation is now not seriously contested by Ministers. There are a few apologists from the Labour Back Benches who occasionally pretend that they are two different treaties but the Select Committee reports are decisive on this. When the Prime Minister says that the constitutional approach has been abandoned, he must know that that refers only to the form of the treaties rather than to their substance. The constitutional treaty brought the two treaties into a single document; the present one simply amends the two existing treaties without formally merging them. In substance and legal effect, however, the two treaties are the same.