House of Commons
Wednesday 3 February 2010
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
London Local Authorities Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill to be read a Second time on Thursday 25 February.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Criminal Justice and Policing (Devolution)
The Hillsborough talks established by my right. hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach last week have now continued for eight days. The British and Irish Governments helped to establish a basis and a pathway on which we believed it would be possible for the parties to reach a reasonable agreement. Considerable progress has been made. With good political will, we believe that the parties should soon be able to reach a reasonable agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. May I place on record the thanks of the people of Northern Ireland to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the extraordinary patience and diligence that they have applied throughout these talks? Does the Secretary of State share the frustration and anger of the people of Northern Ireland about the lack of real progress in these talks? Could he explain to the House why the Government have abandoned the core agreement principle of inclusivity by excluding 44 per cent. of the electorate from meaningful inter-party dialogue at these talks, and explain the abandonment of proportionality in the allocation of Ministries?
I certainly share the sense of frustration; after eight days and 110 or 120 hours of talks, sleep deprivation might be having its effect, as well.
The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach wanted to ensure that it was possible for the political parties to reach a reasonable agreement. Let us remember that, ultimately, because of the St. Andrews arrangements, the completion of devolution will be decided by a cross-community vote. However, before that, the political parties have been engaging in the past week in talks in an inclusive way. I can only say that, from what I have seen so far of the product of these talks, many of the points that the political parties in Northern Ireland would have wanted to see in such a process are very much under consideration.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer and for clarifying the position for the House. I have been a little concerned in listening to at least one of the parties talking about whether any agreement that was reached among the parties to the talks would have in some way to be put out for public consultation or a vote—it is a bit unspecific. What is the Government’s position on that? Do they think that that would be a helpful process or that it would hinder a solution that would be durable and remain for the foreseeable future?
Clearly, whatever agreement is reached by the parties must be durable. It is very important for us all to understand that what is at stake are not simply arrangements for a date for the transfer of policing and justice powers, for which the Government strongly believe that the time is now right: this is the end of a political process that began with the peace process itself. If we succeed with this, we will secure all the achievements of the peace process; if we fail, we will put many of them at risk.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, and all the other local and national politicians, on all the efforts that they have made in trying to progress this very important matter. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the new unit that he opened this week in Maghaberry prison. On that particular aspect, if the devolution of policing does not go ahead, what might be the implications for the future of the prison-building programme in Northern Ireland?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is responsible for security and policing, had the pleasure of opening that unit. He was allowed out of our open prison to go to another one, but I am pleased to report that we brought him back pretty promptly.
We are committed to the provision of new places in prison. In the past two years, we have provided some 300 new prison places, with 120 more to come. The House may wish to note, however, that if no agreement is reached in the next few days, and if therefore we cannot complete devolution, the loss of the £800 million that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would make available would almost certainly mean that extra prison places would not happen, that the new women’s prison would not happen, and that, indeed, the new Magilligan prison would be unlikely to proceed.
Does not the Secretary of State think that an essential ingredient of the current discussions must be a consensus that can command community confidence? Without that community confidence, no matter what pressure is placed upon me or my colleagues, the Democratic Unionist party will not be buying into any deal. Progress has been made, but more remains to be done, and we certainly agree with including all the other parties in these discussions.
Of course everyone must have confidence, but confidence does not belong to any one community. One of the principles is that an agreement must indeed command support from everyone in Northern Ireland, but we are speaking about something that was understood in the St. Andrews agreement and that people expected would be completed. All the political parties in the Assembly elections understood the importance of completing devolution. The Assembly has been up and running for nearly three years, and that business remains to be done. We believe that the confidence is there, and it is now time to summon leadership and courage and act.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is very important that no party in Northern Ireland is seen to be blackmailing Her Majesty’s Government? The actions of Sinn Fein, in threatening to pull down the Assembly if the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach did not go almost straight over to Northern Ireland and spend hours without sleep, would not seem to any reasonable person a sensible way forward. Of course we want the agreement to happen, but that is not necessarily the best way to move forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. Let us be clear that the Prime Minister works extremely hard whether he is here in Downing street or in Northern Ireland, which is why I am sure we are all very grateful to him for what he has done. He went to Northern Ireland with the Taoiseach because he has been following the matter very closely over the past few months and judged that the time was right last Monday to go and help facilitate the talks and to build a pathway on which it would be possible to construct a reasonable agreement. That was the critical role that he played in those two days. If we reach agreement, the people of Northern Ireland from every community should be grateful to him and to the Taoiseach.
In thanking the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for the time and effort that they have spent over the past few days, may I urge the Secretary of State to use whatever extra patience is necessary to ensure that when an agreement is reached, as I hope and trust it will be, it will hold and be supported throughout all the communities in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks, and indeed for his help during those two days when his being in Northern Ireland with the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs coincided with the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach being there. He is absolutely right that patience is required, but equally we must be careful not to try people’s patience to distraction. Unfair failure to make progress would not be rewarded—not by any particular process now, but by the people of Northern Ireland. We have changed their lives through the peace process and secured peace in the political process. It is right to make progress, but we now sit on the edge.
For those of us who definitely do not want to go back to direct rule and who want devolution and the talks at Hillsborough to succeed, with the principles of tolerance and respect at their core, what more can we in this House do to encourage those in the negotiations to take them forward and make them successful, in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. She always speaks well on these issues, and indeed she always speaks well on behalf of her constituents. She is absolutely right to talk about the importance of tolerance and respect. It is essential that we also learn to put trust into the process. Every step of the way in the peace process has at times required us to make acts of faith. We need acts of faith and trust now, and whether one is a negotiator or standing outside the process, we all have a responsibility for its success. We would all have a responsibility were it not to succeed, although I hope that that will not happen.
May I, too, endorse the efforts of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State in recent days in relation to the talks? I endorse also what the Secretary of State says about the importance of trust and faith. Does he believe that he would have been able to engender that trust and faith and perform the role that he has if he had been caught out trying to construct a pan-Unionist alliance?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me with the last part of his question. I will not make any attempt to secure any party advantage, because the politics of Northern Ireland are such that we must put the interests of the people above any party interest. However, I say this to the hon. Gentleman: we all have a responsibility. It is possible to grandstand what is happening in Northern Ireland, and in doing so, to say “It wasn’t my fault” if it fails. As I have said before, we are all responsible.
Everyone acknowledges the determination of the Secretary of State and his colleagues to see devolution completed, and we fully support his efforts and objectives. For devolution to be durable, it must command community confidence. Will he therefore ensure that both the Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour party are fully involved in the negotiations as equal members of the four-party coalition?
I wish to put on record that I believe that that can be done only if there is an unequivocal commitment to succeed by all parties in the House. I am grateful for what I believe is the hon. Gentleman’s full support for what we are trying to negotiate, but let us be clear that the process at Hillsborough has been open to all parties. None the less, the agreement must be forged initially between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Let me pay tribute to the leadership offered by both parties. The process has been undertaken in a good spirit and in good faith, but it requires the support of those who may not be able to be involved in the intimate parts of every negotiation. I urge the hon. Gentleman to do all he can with his alliance partner in Northern Ireland to help that party understand that the talks must succeed.
The negotiations have been much more protracted than anyone anticipated. Like the Secretary of State, we want them to succeed, and I again assure him of our continued support. Can he confirm, however, that issues other than criminal justice, policing and parades that have been raised by the parties are being carefully considered as part of the final deal?
These talks are to facilitate an agreement—the agreement must be reached by the political parties. I can confirm that in plenary sessions those issues have been raised and that a reasonable agreement would include a process to address them. However, it is sometimes difficult to address such issues if some Northern Ireland parties are not available for meetings or if they are not as prepared as other parties to meet me or my right hon. Friend the Minister.
The most recent Independent Monitoring Commission report confirmed that the threat from dissident republicans is at its highest for six years. I pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Security Service in combating and disrupting terrorism in all its forms.
The Minister will be aware of the latest attempt by dissidents to carry out an attack on the security forces, which happened last night. Thankfully, it was thwarted through co-operation between the PSNI and the police in the Irish Republic. It is that kind of co-operation that will help to defeat those terrorists.
Is the Minister aware of a realignment that is taking place within those dissident republican groups, as a result of which we have seen an increase in the number of attacks and the risks that they pose to the security forces? Will he reassure us that the Chief Constable will be given the resources he needs to combat that serious threat?
There was an attack last night on the Old Park barracks, which indeed followed an attack a few days ago at Bessbrook police station. Of course, all such incidents are to be condemned. The IMC noted that there was some tactical co-operation between certain groupings, which of course the PSNI and the Security Service are aware of and are dealing with, but the key thing is that the completion of devolution of policing and justice provides a real opportunity to snuff out those who would oppose the political and peace processes and try to bring disruption. We have a real opportunity to move such people right away from the mainstream of society, who support law and order and want visible policing on their streets to deal with everyday kinds of crime, including antisocial behaviour.
I have absolute confidence in the capacity of the PSNI and the Security Service to deal with the threat that is posed. It is a severe threat, and we recognise that, but the police and the Security Service have the capability to deal with it. I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning the people who carried out those attacks, and those who carried out the despicable attack on Constable Peadar Heffron a short time ago. I am pleased that because of Constable Heffron’s great strength and the support of his family, he has now regained consciousness and is in a stable condition. Their approach to life stands in stark contrast to the despicable behaviour of those who tried to take his life.
I join the Minister in condemning the attack on Constable Heffron and wish him a rapid and full recovery from his very serious injuries. His is one of a series of attacks, as we have heard this morning, mainly—although not exclusively—on police officers. On behalf of the Opposition, I condemn those attacks without reservation and I ask the Minister again whether he can do anything to help the police to protect their officers from these murderous and cowardly attacks.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that all police officers in Northern Ireland have received an appropriate briefing on their own security. This year the Government have made available an extra £28 million to deal with the terrorist threat, and more money will follow next year. It is a great tribute to the PSNI, when one looks back at some of the serious attacks in the past year, that two people have been remanded in custody and charged with murder in relation to the attacks at the Massereene barracks, two have been charged with the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll, and two have been charged with attempted murder in relation to an attack planned recently in Garrison against a young police officer. The police service is absolutely up for this and is determined to deal with the threat.
At the beginning of January, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning confirmed a major act of decommissioning by the UDA. We applaud the leadership and courage behind that decision and those responsible.
The Secretary of State rightly says that there has been welcome decommissioning by the UDA, but he will also be aware of the worrying number of loyalist dissident assaults, which are up by almost 250 per cent. on the same time last year. What is his Department doing to ensure that the people who orchestrate and authorise such assaults face justice?
First, this is a matter for the Chief Constable. That being said, we are ensuring that the resources are available for him to deal with all those who are engaged in crime. If the agreement that we are trying to work through at Hillsborough succeeds, an additional £800 million will be available to policing and justice in Northern Ireland to help with these things. If the agreement is not reached, that money will not be available and the police will have to suffer the consequences of a failure to reach agreement.
Along with others, my right hon. Friend has played a major part in the decommissioning talks. They have certainly brought safety to Northern Ireland, but does he believe that there is more to come from decommissioning, and has he any news that he can share with the House today?
Let us reflect on the success of the decommissioning policy. We have seen full decommissioning from the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, and limited decommissioning is reported from the Loyalist Volunteer Force. It has been an extremely successful programme, but I should share with my hon. Friend the fact that next week, on 9 February, it comes to an end—the process will be over—and that will be that on decommissioning.
Since the introduction of the temporary recruitment provisions in 2001, there have been 3,751 appointments to the PSNI—1,888 Catholic, 1,831 Protestant and 32 not determined. Catholic composition within the PSNI has increased from 8.3 per cent. to 27.68 per cent. We remain on track to reach the target of 30 per cent. Catholic composition by March 2011, and today I am laying before Parliament an order that will renew the temporary provisions for a further final year.
It was necessary to introduce the temporary provisions to deal with the historical imbalance in the representation in the PSNI. As I said, in 2001, 8 per cent. were Catholic, but now that figure is 27.68 per cent. As we move forward, however, it is important to ensure that, with confidence in policing shared across all communities, we can expect applications and people of high calibre from all communities and that they will be recruited. Of course we also need strategies to ensure that women apply to join the PSNI, and people from ethnic minorities too.
The Minister will be aware that over the past 12 months a number of PSNI and prison officers and former security force members have had to leave their homes following dissident republican threats. Does he agree that, if that continues, it will be a hindrance to encouraging young people to join the PSNI?
It is important, of course, that the Northern Ireland Office stands alongside the PSNI and provides support and protection where appropriate to police officers who may be under a serious and individual threat. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we all bear a responsibility to ensure that we create an environment in Northern Ireland in which those who seek to carry out the kinds of attack that we have seen are isolated from the mainstream community and stand unsupported and alone, so that they can have no further impact. All of us, including the hon. Gentleman and me, bear a responsibility.
Although I welcome the positive leadership that has delivered decommissioning in Northern Ireland, some individual members of loyalist paramilitary organisations remain involved in criminality, as reflected in the latest IMC report.
That is primarily a matter for the PSNI, which is looking at how such websites are used. Where there is illegal use of such sites or material, it will pursue the matter. However, I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that the talks taking place right now in Northern Ireland will do more than anything to ensure that in the future young people find no interest in such activity. I ask him to urge his hon. Friends to do all they can to help the talks succeed.
The latest assessment by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs confirms that the amount of revenue lost through the non-payment of UK duty is reducing. We are not complacent, however, and in the past year HMRC has seized 1.09 million litres of illegal fuel.
In 2002, the Chancellor’s Budget targeted fuel smuggling, yet in a written answer on 14 November 2008, column WA150, the noble Lord Myners pointed out that £210 million in diesel revenue had not been collected, and that in 2005-06 it was also £210 million. Given the importance of fuel smuggling to terrorist organisations, why has there patently been no progress whatever since 2002?
The most important thing that we need to do is ensure that we find those who smuggle and deal in illegal fuel in Northern Ireland, seize their assets and bring them to justice. Under the remit of the Organised Crime Task Force, the PSNI and other law enforcement agencies are deeply involved with that. Operations now take place week after week to seize equipment and bring people to justice.
Further to that question—and indeed, to all the questions that have been asked today—does my right hon. Friend believe that conducting clandestine negotiations exclusively with Unionist politicians in a stately home in England helps or hinders the process?
Tempted, as I often am by my hon. Friend, to respond to the question that he asked, there is a serious point, and it is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made previously. This is not a moment for party political advantage in this place; it is a moment for the parties of Northern Ireland, with our support, to strive for and find the agreement that can pave the way to permanent peace in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the service and sacrifice in Afghanistan of Lance Corporal Graham Shaw and Corporal Liam Riley, both from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. We think of their families and their loved ones, and we will never forget the sacrifice that they have made and the service that they have given.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be in contact with the Northern Ireland parties later today.
I add my sympathy and condolences to the families of those brave servicemen who have lost their lives in the service of our country.
All our constituents are rightly concerned about transparency, expenses and cleaning up politics. With that in mind, now that it is clear that there was a £50,000 fund solely for the Prime Minister’s use at his headquarters, will he explain why he did not declare this in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
I think that we all have a duty in the debate about law and order to give out all the facts that are relevant. To misrepresent facts that have come from the police and the British crime survey is not to allow us to have a fair debate in this country. The police have said that the use of the figure of 71 per cent. by the Opposition is “extremely misleading”, while the BBC home affairs editor has said:
“The story is of falling and then stable violence for over a decade.”
I think that there is a duty on everybody to report the facts accurately.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Liam Riley and Lance Corporal Graham Shaw, who were killed in Helmand on Monday. They were both very brave men. Everyone should be proud of their service and we should all honour their memory.
Is it not becoming clear from the Chilcot inquiry that the Government in general, and the Prime Minister in particular, made a series of bad decisions that meant that our armed forces were not equipped properly when they were sent into harm’s way?
I will welcome the opportunity to speak to the Chilcot inquiry, but the right hon. Gentleman must know that defence spending rose every year, with the fastest rises for 20 years, and that our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan received £14 billion from the contingency reserve to enable the fighting there to take place. Not only did we prepare the Army, Navy and Air Force with proper funding; we also funded every urgent operational requirement that was made. I do not believe that it is in the interests of this House to tell people that they were not properly equipped when funding was provided.
What the Prime Minister has just said is completely at odds with what witness after witness has said to the Chilcot inquiry. Let us listen to what they have said. The former Defence Secretary said that we now have fewer helicopters because of the decisions that the Prime Minister took as Chancellor. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walker, said that
“money …was taken out of the helicopter budget”.
Soldier after soldier has complained about the lack of body armour, vehicles and equipment, and we now know that the service chiefs threatened to resign en masse. Is it not time that the Prime Minister admitted to the mistakes that he made when he was Chancellor?
First, the Conservatives do not even know what their policy is for 2010 on spending on anything. Secondly, I have always taken seriously the need properly to fund our defence forces. In the 2002 spending review, which is the subject of discussion here, the defence estimate was the best for 20 years. The Defence Secretary at the time said it was an excellent settlement that allowed us to modernise the forces. In 2004, the defence management board made its own decisions. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he stood on a platform at the last election to cut defence spending by £1.5 billion.
As ever, this Prime Minister is in complete denial of the facts. He just said that he always took defence seriously. Another former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie, said that this Prime Minister
“was the most unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer, as far as defence was concerned”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 November 2007; Vol. 696, c. 961.]
Just today, in front of the Chilcot inquiry, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Kevin Tebbit, said that while troops were in Iraq, and while that man was Chancellor of the Exchequer, his budget was subject to “arbitrary” cuts and a “guillotine.” He said that he
“was running…a crisis budget rather than one with sufficient resources”.
Is not the evidence mounting that the Prime Minister ignored the welfare of our armed forces right up until the moment it became politically convenient to do otherwise?
I repeat: the Conservative party went into the last election wanting to cut defence expenditure by £1.5 billion. We continued to increase the defence budget every year and we made every urgent operational requirement that was necessary for Her Majesty's forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. That has included £14 billion of extra expenditure from the reserve. Expenditure on Afghanistan was £600 million a few years ago. It will be £3.5 billion this year. Defence expenditure is rising this year, as it is rising in the next financial year. The right hon. Gentleman cannot portray a picture of defence cuts when defence expenditure has been rising. The only Government who cut defence expenditure recently were the last Conservative Government, who cut it by nearly 30 per cent.
I hope that there is all-party support for the nuclear expenditure that is necessary to give us security in our power. It is 8 minutes past 12 and I understand that the current Conservative party policy is that nuclear power is a last resort. That is not the basis on which one can plan for the future. The Conservatives can change their policies every day. We will remain consistent in support for the energy needs of our country.
I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Corporal Liam Riley and Lance Corporal Graham Shaw from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, who tragically lost their lives serving so bravely in Afghanistan this week.
I would like to return to the issue of defence spending. The Government are about to make a statement on the future defence needs of this country, yet the Prime Minister has already excluded the Trident nuclear missile system from the strategic defence review. How can that review be taken seriously if the most expensive weapons system that we have is to be excluded from it?
One can either take a unilateralist or a multilateralist attitude to defence. We take a multilateralist attitude that we are prepared to work with other countries for nuclear disarmament. We do so on the basis of being prepared to discuss the future of Trident as part of multilateral talks. We are prepared to look at and discuss the scientific evidence for reducing the number of submarines from four to three. The defence review paper will state all these things. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in a very unsafe and insecure world where countries are acquiring nuclear weapons, breaching the non-proliferation treaty, it is better for us to be part of multilateral discussions to reduce nuclear weapons around the world.
Look at what we have: we have troops in battle without proper equipment and guillotined defence budgets in a world that has changed out of all recognition since the cold war, yet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition want to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money replacing and renewing a nuclear missile system designed to flatten Moscow at the touch of a button. How are we to face the threats the country faces if Government thinking is so stuck in the past?
I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for being consistent in his policies—something that I cannot say about the Opposition. It is important for us to maintain the resources we are spending in Afghanistan and it is important to understand in our strategic defence review that we are dealing with the problem of global terrorism, which is quite different from what we have experienced before. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will look carefully at all the uses of equipment for the future. It is important to recognise that we want to be part of multilateral discussions for the future.
I add that it is not fair to our troops in Afghanistan to give the impression that they are not properly equipped for the job they are doing. We have spent £3.5 billion from the reserve this year and it will be even more next year. The average expenditure per member of our forces is nearly £0.5 million to ensure that they are properly equipped. More helicopters have gone into Afghanistan over the last few months, as have more vehicles. Special attention is being given to counter-terrorism and dealing with the threat of improvised explosive devices. It is completely wrong to say that our troops are not properly equipped. We are proud of them; they are professional; and they are properly equipped for the job they are doing.
The Scottish Administration have had a record increase in public expenditure as a result of the previous public expenditure review. It is sad that they have not made a priority of education for the young people of Scotland. They will pay a price for that failure at the ballot box. Some of the cuts having to be announced by the Scottish Administration are the result of the wrong and misleading decisions that they have made.
No one on the Opposition Benches seems to understand that the politics of the last year has changed for ever the way the public view the House of Commons and our parliamentary institutions or that the status quo cannot last and has to be changed. If the Conservatives want to defend the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, if they want to postpone reform of the House of Lords for more than 10 years and if they want to refuse the people a referendum on the alternative vote, they are making a mistake about what the British people are thinking. My message today is to the British people: we are prepared to change our constitution—and to change it for the better. We are for the alternative vote; the Opposition are for the hereditary vote.
It is back to the bunker time with that line. I do not know whether the Prime Minister pulled the secretary out of the chair before he typed that one, but it was a lot of old rubbish. The Prime Minister talks about the hereditary principle, but there is only one leader in this House who inherited his title. What a lot of rubbish! [Interruption.] It is good of the Chancellor to have a laugh.
The reason why the Prime Minister is in favour of the alternative vote is that it is election time. This is the man who ducked the leadership election and bottled the general election, and now he is trying to fiddle with the electoral system. He must think that the whole country is stupid. Have another go! Why are you doing it?
This is the man who, at Christmas, promised us a policy-a-day blitz to show us the substance of the Conservative party if it were in government. We have had confusion over the married couples allowance, we have had chaos over public spending, we have had exaggerations about crime, and we have had the Conservatives retreating on the hereditary principle and now supporting it for the House of Lords. This is a Conservative party that is in a complete muddle and has no manifesto. The Conservatives do not have the substance to be able to govern the country. They are a shambles.
Why do we not go over some of the history? The last Liberal leader who got suckered into this was, of course, Paddy Ashdown. He wrote this in his diary about Tony Blair:
“Time after time after time, he’d say ‘Yeah Paddy, I agree, but I can’t get it past Gordon.’”
He went on to say:
“Gordon was the “primary block.”
Does not real improvement mean cutting the size of the House of Commons, cutting Ministers’ pay, and complete transparency on expenses, but is not the one thing that we should not change the ability, at a general election in Britain, to get rid of a tired, incompetent, useless and divided Government?
The right hon. Gentleman’s answer is about no change. It is the politics of no change at all. He supports the hereditary principle in the House of Lords. He supports no reform of the House of Lords for a decade. He supports no referendum to allow the electorate to have a chance. This is a party that has fundamentally not changed at all. The Conservatives are the same as they always were. We will vote for the alternative vote; they are still voting for the hereditary vote.
In the context of the Prime Minister’s response to the parliamentary institution, is he aware that tomorrow Sir Thomas Legg will publish his full review of MPs’ allowances? Building on the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Kelly recommendations—all of them the initiatives of the Prime Minister—can we put the sad and sorry saga of MPs’ expenses behind us, and rebuild this institution called the House of Commons?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must reform the system of expenses, and we must follow through with the Kelly and, now, the Kennedy reforms under IPSA. But I have to tell the House that we must do more than that. If I have a message for the whole country it is that it is not enough simply to change the expenses system; we must change the way in which we govern ourselves in this House of Commons and in the House of Lords.
I come back to the essential questions. If the Conservatives are not prepared to face up to major change in the constitution, the public will see that the Conservative party has not changed one bit.
I have to report to the House that defence spending was rising every year during that period. It was rising in real terms, and no one has doubted that every aspect of Iraq and Afghanistan was funded. I repeat that it was the Conservative party that went into the last election wanting to cut defence expenditure.
I am sure that Members throughout the House will applaud the care and support given by the Royal British Legion to those who are serving and have served in our armed forces. The Royal British Legion is asking Members of Parliament and those wishing to be elected to the House to do our bit and keep the faith with our brave heroes. May I invite my right hon. Friend to sign the Royal British Legion pledge in support of our armed forces family?
I would be delighted to, and the Defence Secretary has already done so. I pay tribute to the outstanding work of the Royal British Legion and welcome its continued support to our armed forces and veterans. The Government support our service personnel and their families, and our services Command Paper was an attempt to show how we do so right across the services. The Green Paper published today by the Secretary of State for Defence reiterates our commitment to doing this.
Does the Prime Minister agree that anyone who wishes to be taken seriously on defence has got to be prepared to commit, unequivocally and without reservations, to the aircraft carriers? Does he also agree that there is a party difference here, in that the aircraft carriers and the Royal Navy are safe with Labour, but they would be sunk with the Conservatives?
There is no stronger defender of the case for the aircraft carriers than the Member for the constituency in which some of them are to be built. We are committed to the aircraft carriers. The future policy of the Navy is being organised around them, and I hope all parties will support the aircraft carriers.
What I regret most is the Conservatives’ failure to support us as we were trying to take this country through recession with more apprenticeships, more people going to university and college, and every school leaver guaranteed the chance of a job or training. All these things were resisted by the Conservative party.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that investing in apprenticeships is an important way of investing in recovery? Does he therefore share my despair at the action of Tory South Ribble borough council in abandoning its apprenticeships scheme, and will he urge it to reconsider that and thereby show for once that the Tories are interested in young people and their futures?
It is difficult to know what the Tory party policy is on anything at the moment, and such is the lack of clarity that certainly for 2010 I could not guarantee that any apprenticeships that my hon. Friend wishes to support would be supported by the Tory party. We have trebled the number of apprenticeships; there are 250,000 of them now. We want to give every young person the chance to get an apprenticeship, if they have the qualifications to do so. Throughout the recession, we have been trying to maintain apprenticeships so that young people have the qualifications for the jobs of the future. There is only one party opposing that and opposing the expenditure on education, training and employment, and that is the Conservative party.
The figures show that defence expenditure was rising every year in real terms, and that they were the biggest rises for 20 years. The figures also show that every single urgent operational requirement that the Ministry of Defence asked of us for Iraq and Afghanistan has been met. I am afraid it is the Opposition who are having difficulty with figures at the moment.
My right hon. Friend has come under severe attack for not cutting the deficit fast enough or hard enough, but those who made those calls in this House seem to agree with him now. Does he think that that is what is meant by the statement that it is “a year for change” on the airbrushed Conservative poster?
It is a year for the Conservatives changing their mind every week about every single policy that they put forward. Two weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that it would be “moral cowardice” not to tear up the Budget for 2010. The shadow Business Secretary then said that there would be “calamitous consequences” if that were to happen. Now the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is boasting that he does
“not have a detailed plan”.
In other words, not only do the people not know where the Conservative party stands, but the Conservative party does not know where it stands.
I understand the concern when any jobs are lost; it is a personal tragedy for those people who have, in many cases, given their lives to one company, which is unable to continue to employ them. I shall arrange for these meetings that the hon. Gentleman asks for to take place. I can assure him that every teenager who has been unemployed for six months now has the guarantee that they will get work or training, and that the services available to those who are unemployed are better than they have ever been. The result of that is that 300,000 people are leaving the unemployment register every month, and that employment is at a higher level and unemployment a lower level than people expected months ago.
Even though the claimant count is 48 per cent. down in my constituency, it is nevertheless a great disappointment to hear of Bowater going into administration. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that the parent company’s actions are investigated—it seems to be playing fast and loose with the British work force—and that the work force affected and the supply chain are given every possible support?
I know that the regional development agency stands ready to help my hon. Friend’s constituents and the company that is in difficulty. This is clearly a difficult time for the work force. The administrators have said that in this case they will keep the business trading while they explore all options, which include looking for a buyer for the business. I can assure him that all the local agencies, including the rapid response teams at the jobcentre, will be available to help those workers in his constituency who are affected.
The one thing that the Conservatives have stuck to through this month of muddle and division is their policy on inheritance tax. Like their policy on hereditary peers, it will give the richest people in our society the greatest amount of additional wealth. That could be at the expense of schools, it could be at the expense of the health service and it could also be at the expense of defence. I think people should know that the Conservative party’s first priority, above all others, is to reduce inheritance tax for those who are perfectly able to take care of themselves. We are for the many, they are for the few.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the evidence is that in his region there are 12 new hospitals and 37,000 more NHS staff. We have doubled expenditure on the national health service so that everyone in our country will benefit and we are giving personal guarantees to every citizen of this country that they will receive cancer treatment within two weeks, that they will be in a position to get an operation within 18 weeks, that they will get regular check-ups and, at the same time, that they will be able to see a doctor at weekends or in the evening. The party that has resisted giving rights to every citizen is the Conservative party.
There should be no discrimination against widows and no discrimination against those who have been abandoned by their partners. That is why we have a system of individual taxation and special allowances for widows. I would hesitate to say that the proposal for a married couple’s or married man’s allowance would be fair to widows or to people who had been abandoned by their partners.
The purpose of all our measures in the recession is to help industry and business out of recession. Some 300,000 businesses have been helped in all constituencies across the country. The difference between us is that the Conservatives opposed all our measures and we took the action to get us out of recession. We are taking action to keep us out of recession, while the Conservatives do not have a clue what they would do in 2010.
Does the Prime Minister welcome the proposals announced last week for licensing and planning concerning houses in multiple occupation? Will he urge local authorities with a high concentration of HMOs, such as Southampton, to make early use of the powers that they will gain?
I know my hon. Friend has taken this issue up on many occasions and that it is an important issue when dealing with cities such as Southampton, where there are houses in multiple occupation. I can assure him that we will be urging councils such as those in his area to take up these proposals with speed.
Strategic Defence Review (Green Paper)
Today I am publishing a defence Green Paper that paves the way for a strategic defence review, set in the context of the national security strategy, early in the next Parliament. At the present time, Afghanistan is the main effort for the Ministry of Defence. Where choices have to be made, Afghanistan will continue to be given priority. Our forces there are fighting hard, protecting our national security by preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Two hundred and fifty three British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Many more have suffered life-changing injuries. Their bravery in the face of a ruthless enemy has been a stark reminder to us that all conflict is difficult and dangerous. We certainly cannot assume that the conflicts of tomorrow will replicate those of today, but we must anticipate a wide range of threats and plan for the requirements necessary to counter them.
We have come a long way since the last major defence review in 1998, which gave us the platform to modernise our armed forces. Looking forward, we will need to make decisions about the role that we want the United Kingdom to play in the world and about the capabilities that our armed forces need to support that role. We will need to balance those considerations against financial implications in what will inevitably be a resource-constrained environment. The Green Paper does not attempt to answer those fundamental questions. Instead, it is intended to set out our emerging thinking on the future security environment and on other key issues facing defence ahead of the review.
Although there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK, there are a wide range of emerging threats for which we must be prepared. We can work to diminish the threat of international terrorism and to counter the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; we can work to prevent emerging threats—for example, by improving our approach to cybersecurity—and to contain and resolve the threat from failing states; and we can work to ensure that the impacts of climate change and resource competition are managed peacefully, but my judgment is that conflict and instability in this new age will be an ever-present risk. In the face of those threats, no nation can hope to protect all aspects of national security by acting alone. We cannot simply defend from the goal line, and our defence posture must reflect that.
In the coming decades, our armed forces must be prepared, if called upon to do so, to protect our interests, often in distant places and, most likely, as part of a coalition of international forces. The Green Paper therefore reaches two key conclusions. First, that defence must accelerate the process of reform and be able to change swiftly to address new and unforeseen challenges as they emerge. We need to be more adaptable in how we structure, equip, train and generate our armed forces. We need a more agile defence organisation, and we need more responsive strategic planning. Today, I am proposing that we should legislate for regular defence reviews to ensure that the armed forces continue to adapt rapidly to changing trends and threats.
The second conclusion is that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies and security institutions to make the most of our combined resources. Our alliances and partnerships will become increasingly important and will define how successful we will be in meeting the challenges that we face. We will strengthen our alliance with the United States if we strengthen our position in Europe. We will continue to press our European allies to contribute more to our collective defence effort, but, make no mistake, this is not about Europe taking precedence over the US, or vice versa—the two are mutually reinforcing relationships.
In the UK, we need to improve further our partnerships with key Whitehall Departments and others to ensure that the contribution of our armed forces is joined up with our diplomatic and development efforts. In addition to its conclusions on adaptability and partnership, the paper poses six key strategic questions that the review will need to address. They are as follows. Where should we set the balance between focusing on our territory and region and on engaging threats at distance? How far are future conflicts likely to share the characteristics of our engagement in Afghanistan, and what approach should we therefore take if we employ armed force to address threats at distance? What contribution should our armed forces make to ensuring security and contributing to resilience within the UK? How could we more effectively employ armed force in support of wider efforts to prevent conflict and to strengthen international stability? Do our current international defence and security relationships require rebalancing in the longer term? Should we further integrate our forces with those of our key allies and partners?
Although the defence budget has grown by over 10 per cent. in real terms since 1998—and not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget—the forward defence programme faces real financial pressure. We will need to rebalance what we do in order to meet our priorities. In December, I began that process. I made a series of decisions to ensure that we found extra resources for vital equipment for Afghanistan. This included 22 new Chinook helicopters, which will provide necessary strategic lift capability for Afghanistan and for other military operations in the years ahead. However, our commitment to reducing the deficit resulting from the global financial crisis means that future resources across government will be constrained.
The report of Bernard Gray into defence acquisition set out clearly the pressures facing the defence budget. It also set out the importance of improving our procurement processes and addressing the shortfalls in our acquisition systems. The strategy for acquisition reform published alongside today’s Green Paper sets out how we will tackle the challenges facing this major area of defence expenditure. The major reform that it proposes will deliver enduring change by introducing greater transparency. It will ensure that our equipment plans are efficient, strategically focused, affordable and achievable.
But it is not just in equipment acquisition that we will need to do better. We are aiming to deliver efficiency savings of more than £3 billion over the current spending review period. We have a strong programme of work to achieve this, including an independent review into the use of civilians in defence that is being led by Gerry Grimstone.
Our biggest capability is our people. We rely on the ability of people, both military and civilian, to deliver defence. We need to attract the best people—people who are highly motivated and highly skilled. Our people have already shown their capacity to adapt to new challenges. We must continue to ensure that the structures and training that support them are fit for purpose, and that includes continuing to strengthen joint approaches across the services.
There has been a great deal of interest in, and speculation about, whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper, but that is to misunderstand the purpose. I can say that we do not plan to revisit the conclusions of the 2006 White Paper on the nuclear deterrent. We have committed to a wide range of major capability improvements over the past few years including, most recently, signing contracts for two new aircraft carriers. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Only two.
Recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the importance of being able to deploy and sustain significant numbers of highly trained and equipped troops in a variety of roles, including providing the aviation and air support that they need. Unless the defence review takes a very radical new direction, it is the Government’s position that those capabilities are likely to remain critical elements of our force structure. However, we need to know first what roles and missions we will expect our forces to undertake in the future before we can take final decisions about the capabilities that they will need. These will be key issues for the defence review.
Let us be clear—change is needed, and there will be some tough and important decisions ahead. In my view, we must, as far possible, put aside our special interests, in politics, industry and the services, to take rational decisions that benefit defence and the security of our nation.
In preparing the Green Paper, I consulted widely with academia, across government and with the main Opposition parties, and I am grateful for the help that I received. I would like to thank in this House the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen in the other place, all of whom sat on my Defence Advisory Forum. Where the defence of the nation is concerned, we must seek as far as possible to reach consensus on the main issues.
I hope that the Green Paper that I am publishing today helps that process and leads to a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our armed forces.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior sight of it, although we seem to be the last to have seen the Green Paper, since every journalist I have met this week has been telling me about its contents. The Secretary of State deserves genuine praise for his attempts to find a cross-party consensus. When the history of this dreadful Government is written, his will be one of the more honourable mentions.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) for the effort that he put into producing a balanced and open-minded Green Paper. I know that his experience in the Ministry of Defence was very much appreciated in the process.
The Green Paper indicates that the Ministry of Defence is coming out of denial, but that the Prime Minister is not. We are used to the Prime Minister briefing against his perceived enemies in the corridors of Westminster, but not normally undermining a Secretary of State on the front page of The Times. How far away from the No. 10 briefing this week is paragraph 9 on page 9 of the Green Paper, which states:
“We cannot proceed with all the activities and programmes we currently aspire to, while simultaneously supporting our current operations and investing in the new capabilities we need. We will need to make tough decisions”?
Of course, this week we have seen the truth of the current Prime Minister’s approach to defence. The former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) has said that there was a strong feeling that the last defence review was not fully funded. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Walker, told us that the defence chiefs threatened to resign as a result of the savage cuts that the then Chancellor tried to apply to defence in the middle of two wars. Today the former permanent secretary, Sir Kevin Tebbit, talked about having to operate a permanent crisis budget.
The Defence Secretary introduced defence cuts in December, but the Prime Minister this week was talking about increasing the defence budget. In his statement the Secretary of State said, “There has been a great deal of interest in, and speculation about, whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper”. We all know why. It is because No. 10 has been briefing all week that any project that has any job implications for the Prime Minister’s constituency will be spared in any defence review. That is taking a core strategy way too far.
There are some things on which we are clearly agreed. We know from bitter historical experience the difficulty of predicting future conflict—either its nature or its location. We cannot base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability and be able to adapt to any changing threats.
There is no doubt that in Afghanistan we have been too slow to give the Army, in particular, the agility and flexibility that it needs to maximise its effectiveness. But we must also remember that we are a maritime nation dependent on the sea lanes for 92 per cent. of our trade. A time when the threat of disruption is increasing is no time for Britain to become sea blind.
We agree that France and the United States are likely to be our main strategic partners. For us there are two tests: do they invest in defence, and do they fight? Sadly, too few European allies pass both these tests.
The Secretary of State talked about a 10 per cent. increase in the defence budget in real terms. He also talks in the Green Paper about the higher level of defence inflation. Can he tell us how much of the increase in the defence budget has gone into pay, allowances and pensions, and what proportion of the increase has been available for equipment and other programmes over the period that he outlined? Can he confirm that the Department’s budget for next year will be £36.89 billion, as previously set out? He says that not a penny will be cut, notably from next year’s budget. What cuts do the Govt envisage after that?
Unlike the Opposition and the House of Commons, the Government have access to all the costs of the contracts and all the penalty clauses for the major programmes. Why will the Government not give honest answers about the implications of the cost overruns in the years ahead? We know that there has been serial mismanagement at the MOD, with the equipment programme being somewhere between £6 billion and £35 billion above what can currently be afforded. How will it be reconciled?
After 12 years of indecision, we finally get a Green Paper weeks before a general election, and, despite all its good words and all the good intentions of the Secretary of State, the future defence budget of the United Kingdom will have to be determined against the backdrop of Government debt of £799 billion, which is the equivalent of having borrowed £1.1 million every day since the birth of Christ. That our nation’s security should be compromised in this way by Labour’s historic economic incompetence is truly a national tragedy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments— despite his motives in making them. Can I just point out one thing to him? He claimed that I made defence cuts in December, yet in the same response he said that we were a little late in providing the wherewithal for the Army in Afghanistan. We did not make defence cuts in December; we prioritised, over three years, £900 million of the core defence budget for equipment that was needed for the Afghan conflict. We are doing that, but he criticises us for not doing it, and then he claims that those measures were cuts when, in fact, they were reprioritisations. They were reprioritisations within a budget that never fell. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is prepared to admit or accept that. The budget never fell; I moved money within the budget. It was right to do so, and I make no apology for that, but one thing that I say in the Green Paper—and I think I say it with the genuine support of many people who know about these matters—is that our planning structures will have to be more adaptable. We cannot have planning assumptions that effectively prevent us from moving money within the budget when there are pressing needs; we have to have a structure that supports the adaptability of our armed forces. That must be the overwhelming priority.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the problems with the equipment programme, but I remind him that it was this Government who commissioned the Gray report. We did so to get to the bottom of problems that do exist but, when judged against international comparators, are no worse than hardly any and, indeed, better than many. But, those problems need to be addressed, and there are inefficiencies. We commissioned the Gray report, and I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman has the time to study it properly, he will see that there is a real way—albeit an uncomfortable one for future Ministers—of ensuring that we have a defence procurement methodology that prevents the overruns that we have had. Transparency will be the main tool for doing that, but regular defence reviews, enshrined in legislation, will help as well.
I thank the Defence Secretary for his statement and for the Green Paper, which is a well-judged attempt to frame the questions that the strategic defence review must answer. However, that agenda is unbalanced by the omission of one item: the replacement of Trident. A few minutes ago, the Prime Minister responded to a question about it by looking at the issue from a strategic security point of view, and I agree that that is the starting point, but surely the scale and the timing of any replacement of the Trident deterrent has profound opportunity cost implications for the entirety of the rest of the defence budget. A strategic defence review cannot be genuinely comprehensive if the biggest single strategic and spending decision is parked outwith its framework.
The statement rightly identified that the strategic defence review needs first to ask: what role does Britain want to play in global security? I agree with the Defence Secretary that it would not be appropriate for us to “defend from the goal line”, and that we should be prepared to go to distant places in our national interests, but are we going to learn from our mistakes? In particular, the 1998 assumption that we would be quick in and quick out of some engagements has not turned out to be correct. Should we not also learn the lesson that invading Iraq without the support of many of our usual allies and with dubious legal cover made the operation a great deal more difficult to prosecute thereafter?
I strongly welcome the Defence Secretary’s remarks about a greater importance for co-operation within Europe on defence matters. The Americans’ strategic interests and financial resources mean that in the next few decades they will not be able to make the contribution to European defence that they have made in previous decades. It is absolutely right that the Americans remain our key strategic ally, but we can contribute more to that relationship if we better harness the efforts of Europe in its own cause.
An interesting observation in the statement was the restatement of the 1998 assumption that there is no external direct threat to the United Kingdom. The Defence Secretary went on to talk about accelerating reform and the need to be more adaptable. I entirely agree, but I urge him to be bolder and to go further not only with reform, but with making ourselves agile enough to face emerging threats. We still have troops in Germany who seem to be prepared for the unlikely eventuality of the Soviets arriving with their tanks. There is a great deal more work to be done, but I welcome the direction that the Defence Secretary has pointed out.
Finally, we still have troops in Afghanistan, and we will have for many years yet. We know that there is pressure on the defence budget, but surely we all agree that ensuring that those troops continue to have everything they need is the top priority that cannot be sacrificed to anything else.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. He takes these issues seriously and studies them, and I hope that he finds the Green Paper a useful tool for his thinking as we move towards the strategic defence review.
The reason why Trident was not included in the Green Paper was that we had to take a strategic decision in 2006 to replace the deterrent if we genuinely wanted to maintain both the skill base in Barrow and our ability to build nuclear submarines. If we had not taken that decision, the risk to our ability would have been profound, and, having done so, we see no reason to attempt to revisit or re-take it. If we did so, that would be destructive. We took the decision, and the time scales in developing nuclear submarines are considerable. That is why the decision had to be taken when it was.
The hon. Gentleman will find that the Green Paper acknowledges that the possibility of quick in, quick out was thought about and hoped for. However, we have not been able or prepared to remove ourselves from some of our operations, and we have been enduring counter-insurgency as a result. That has profound implications, because if we want to maintain our ability to conduct operations like those that we are undertaking in Afghanistan, we must address that issue, among others.
I really believe that the US contribution will continue for the foreseeable future, but I do not believe, as some—not all—Conservative Members do, that there is an alternative to an Atlantic relationship or a European relationship. Our strength in Europe enhances our position with the United States of America. I believe that the two are complementary, and we should pursue both.
Our forces are based in Germany not in anticipation of the Russians coming over, although that is the historical reason why they are there. They are there because bases were built, and that is where they are based. Over time we have reduced our footprint, and over time I should expect us to continue to do so, but that is effectively their home. I am enormously pleased that they are made welcome in Germany, and that we will continue to have a close relationship with the German authorities.
I welcome the statement and accompanying papers and the emphasis that my right hon. Friend places on adaptability and partnership to meet not only the ongoing commitments in Afghanistan but the uncertainty that lies beyond that. He concluded by saying that he hoped that there would be “a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our armed forces.” Given that this time last year 29 per cent. of personnel deployed in Afghanistan were naval personnel, can he confirm that this work on the future structure of the armed forces will recognise the naval contribution?
In response to my hon. Friend’s final question, yes, of course, it is absolutely necessary and vital that we have that rounded debate and that we appreciate our geographical location and our dependence on the maritime environment. The existence of and necessity for naval capability is therefore an issue that we must consider seriously.
In many ways, the strategic defence debate has already started, and the Green Paper is a contribution to that. We have already been consulting widely and provoking other people to join in the debate. Papers are coming out of the Royal United Services Institute and other think-tanks and organisations, which are a great contribution to the debate, and those on the Front Benches and Back Benches are turning their minds to it, as are others in the country. I really wanted to encourage that debate when I embarked on this programme, and I hope that this Green Paper has made, and will make, a contribution to it.
I am grateful for prior sight of the statement and of the Green Paper, which is fine, and helpful. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that the more discussion we can have on this, the better, and I am glad that he has started it off. The Bernard Gray report suggested a 10-year rolling budget. Does the Secretary of State agree that a 10-year indicative planning horizon is a watering down of that proposal, and was it the Treasury that objected?
The longer the planning horizons that we can have in this regard, the better off we are, so we have obviously been discussing that within Government. The provision of the indicative budgets will be a great help, particularly on the equipment side. However, that, on its own, will not get us to where we need to be. Transparency, uncomfortable though it will be, is something which the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee, the Defence Committee, has been advocating for some time, and it will be the big tool in getting us to a better place.
On Friday, I will be visiting BAE Systems’ plant at Samlesbury in Lancashire, where the joint strike fighter is being built. Some £800 million has been invested in the plant, and the aircraft are due to fly off the two aircraft carriers that my right hon. Friend mentioned. His colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), mentioned to the Defence Committee the Government’s commitment to an order of 140 aircraft. I am sure that when I visit the plant on Friday the work force would be pleased if I could confirm that the Secretary of State had made a similar commitment.
Over time, our plans are to base our air capability principally on two aircraft—the Typhoon and the joint strike fighter. The numbers and the particular capabilities of either of those will need to be considered in the defence review. I hope that my hon. Friend takes heart from the fact that even with the movement of resources in December towards the Afghan mission, I brought forward the Typhoon capability upgrade, which means that I understand the importance of maintaining our air capability.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) for their kind words and say what an honour it was to serve on the Defence Advisory Forum?
Having heard the Prime Minister’s thoroughly slippery and entirely inaccurate answers on defence matters at today’s Prime Minister’s questions, will the Secretary of State confirm that good though this Green Paper is—and it is a good piece of work—a great deal more thinking needs to go on in respect of foreign policy? The foreign policy baseline needs to be the architecture on which the security and defence review will be based.
This Green Paper is clearly grounded in the security documentation that the Government have produced, and I hope that it is consistent with our foreign policy objectives; I have no reason to believe that it is not. The Foreign Office has had the same kind of input as the hon. Gentleman has had. We have been showing him drafts, and he has been providing input and helping to mould this work as it has gone forward. I do not think that his fears are well founded; I hope that they are not.
If I may say so, I found the Secretary of State’s statement rather depressing. There was no mention of a peace process, no mention of international law, and no mention of the United Nations. How on earth can one have a review of defence capabilities without including the nuclear question and the replacement of Trident, which forms such a massive part of our future expenditure? We could save £76 billion over the next 20 years by cancelling the Trident programme, so helping to bring about world disarmament.
I am not surprised that my hon. Friend and I have failed to reach a consensus on the nuclear issue. If he reads the Green Paper that I have produced—I commend it to him—he will see that the United Nations figures quite considerably. Of course, we want to support the security apparatus that provides not only for our own security but for good relations throughout the world, and the United Nations is a very important part of that. If we can promote peace in any and every way, and to the maximum degree of our ability, we should do so, but we should not be naive in thinking that that will always be the case. We therefore have to accept the need for capable armed forces of the kind that we have today and that we will need in future.
May I add my thanks to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has sought to engage with a wide range of people on this Green Paper? Does he agree, however, that this would not be the moment for an east of Suez retrenchment of the United Kingdom under financial pressures, that we cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing back to our home base, and that it is extremely unlikely that we can sustain our global role unless we maintain increases in defence expenditure?
The financial pressures are real, and they will have to be tackled. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not retreat to the goal line, as I put it, and that we should continue to play our part in the world. However, if we are not increasingly efficient and agile in doing so, and if we are not prepared to accept that we have to do it with others—that we cannot be unilaterally secure—then financial pressures may well force us in the direction he describes.
I warmly welcome the thoughtful statement by the Secretary of State. In terms of emergent threats, where is the reference to cyber attacks, accepting and acknowledging that, for many, those present the greatest threat to our security?
Passages in the Green Paper refer to the cyber environment, because we must be mindful of the great vulnerabilities to which we may be subject as we become more technologically dependent. A lot of investment has already been made in cyber defence and associated matters, but it is an issue to which we must give constant thought.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the strategic defence review. I note with sadness that he chose not to have talks with all parties in the House; perhaps that can be remedied in future.
In Scotland, since Labour came to power, more than 10,000 defence jobs have been lost, regiments have been amalgamated, and bases have been closed. According to the Ministry of Defence’s own statistics, between 2002 and 2007 there was a £4.3 billion defence underspend in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the strategic defence review must take account of defence spending and the defence footprint across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?
I personally get on very well with the hon. Gentleman: I want to say that at the start. However, I point out—sadly rather than in any other way—that in seeking to establish the Defence Advisory Forum and capture other political views, if I had thought I would get a constructive contribution from the Scottish National party, I would have included it. However, I genuinely thought that any points from its representatives would have been parochial point scoring rather than genuine input into the planning of the future of defence for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
My friend talks all the time about “our people”, but a steadily rising number of our people are recruits from the Commonwealth with no direct experience of life in the UK. Does the Green Paper say anything about future manpower planning, if I can use that term, and where the recruits are going to come from?
What my hon. Friend says was certainly true for a fairly long period, when we had an increasing contingency from across the Commonwealth. That trend has gone down, which may well be connected with the recession and job opportunities—I am not sure. We are now as near as we have ever been to full manning in the Army, but we need to maintain the high-level skills that we need at every rank. We are not talking just about officers, and when we see how our armed forces operate we see that they need more than bravery. The adaptability and brain power that the lower ranks bring to problem solving is impressive, so of course we must plan for how we can keep those people satisfied and employed in the armed forces.
The hon. Gentleman takes the view, which is not widely shared in the House, that we can simply buy cheaply and readily off the shelf from what is available on the market. There would be consequences for us in doing that. If we buy jets, helicopters or ships from abroad and lose the technological capability to produce such items ourselves, we will probably never be able to gain it again, and we will be sold what is effectively second-class equipment. That is the inevitable consequence. It may well be cheaper, but it will probably be second-class. That is why we have the defence industrial strategy, which decides where we can afford to go in the market, where we can afford to buy cheaply and where we need to maintain our own industrial capability onshore.
The public’s response to soldiers returning from conflicts has demonstrated that they want our armed forces and the members of them to be held in the highest regard. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that part of the review is the care and rehabilitation of soldiers returning from conflicts, who often come back traumatised and needing support, and particularly ensuring that those who are injured in the service of their country get the best form of treatment and that the families of the fallen are looked after?
We need to recognise that the way in which we treat our armed forces has an impact on our ability to recruit the high-calibre people whom we want. The detailed work on how we take forward our welfare programmes for both veterans and serving personnel is being undertaken by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). There are aspects that we yet want to improve, despite the improvements that we have made over the years in the service personnel Command Paper and so on, and we may make further statements in the near future on aspects of welfare for parts of our armed forces.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is representing his constituents assiduously, but the needs of Afghanistan and the priority that needed to be given to it, and therefore the need to continue to take the money that was specifically available for the operation from the Treasury reserve and to adjust the core budget, were justifiable and overriding. There were consequences of that, and I am sad to say that one of them fell in his constituency.
May I ask the Secretary of State how successful he has been in building a consensus with the Opposition parties on the future of the Royal Navy and the need for there to be thousands of jobs in the UK in building aircraft carriers? In the drive to build a consensus, is he willing to meet representatives of the work force engaged in building the carriers, and will he use his good offices to try to arrange meetings with the leaders of the Opposition parties so that they can hopefully be drawn into that consensus?
We took the decision to build the carriers, and my hon. Friend was deeply disappointed that we did not decide to build five or six rather than the two to which we committed. However, we took that decision and are getting on with it, and the carriers are in the process of being built. I know that the Opposition’s policy needs to be flushed out—he is very good at doing that, and I wish him every success—but in producing the Green Paper I never sought to divide people. I sought to bring them together.
I commend the Secretary of State for raising as one of his strategic questions the matter of armed forces ensuring security and contributing to resilience in the UK. The Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on national security, of which I was a member, stressed the importance of that. Has he looked again at the 1960s civil contingencies legislation and considered whether we should have a homeland security force, who would staff it and how it would work with the Home Office and local government agencies? That is a serious matter in protecting our critical national infrastructure, particularly if we get pandemics.
It is true to say that we have been going in the opposite direction, because other organisations, particularly the police, have developed better capabilities so that they do not depend on our armed forces. However, we need to think through how far that process should go. That is why the matter is flagged up in the Green Paper, so that we can consider it, tackle it and come to a conclusion.
The Secretary of State said, “Our biggest capability is our people…military and civilian”, and their ability to deliver defence. He was completely silent on the need for decent housing, whether it be single or family accommodation. Although I acknowledge the disaster of the privatisation of family housing by the previous Government, does he agree that the Government have had plenty of time to put that right? If retention is still an important part of the Government’s thinking, decent housing for our married soldiers is a priority.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have invested hugely in the estate, and his constituency and constituents have been the beneficiaries of considerable investment. However, we need to consider to what degree our structures should encourage home ownership among our armed forces. Many of them are going that way in any case, so we must consider to what degree we should continue to encourage them to be tied to the provision of housing that goes with accompanied service. We have to grapple with that issue, and it is raised in the Green Paper so that we can think about it in the defence strategic review.
People worry about the potential effects of losing accompanied service accommodation, but societal trends appear to be going in that direction in any case. It seems to be the desire of most people to own their home, and that applies to service personnel as to anybody else.
Bernard Gray found that too many types of equipment were being ordered for too many tasks at too high a specification. Is it not a great sadness that the Government have only just commissioned this review, having been in office for so long? Does not the Secretary of State feel that some of the problems in defence lie at the very heart of his Department?
When one looks for international comparators, one struggles to find anybody who does such things in a pristine manner. We are no worse than many, many others, but there is huge ground for improvement in my opinion. That is why my predecessor commissioned Bernard Gray to do that report in the first place, and why the Minister of State, Lord Paul Drayson, took a hold of it and produced the acquisition reform strategy, which I think will address the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the developing world-class technology at BAE Warton in my constituency, which is seeing the production of unmanned and autonomous air vehicles. Will the debate he has triggered by the publication of the Green Paper enable a decision to be made as to whether that technology should be counted as a sovereign technology for the United Kingdom?
Yes, that is something that has got to be looked at. I would just remind the right hon. Gentleman that some of his hon. Friends suggested that I was paying for today at the expense of tomorrow when I moved some resources for the purchase of drones. I think such capability is exactly “tomorrow”, whether that means in Afghanistan or anywhere else. The kind of thing the right hon. Gentleman mentioned is what we need to think about.
May I assure the Secretary of State that we in Northern Ireland and our friends in Scotland and Wales are not parochial when it comes to providing our best young people—men and women—to serve in the armed forces? Will he advise the House what proposals are contained in the Green Paper to help to encourage young people to join, particularly in the light of the proposals on the university officer training corps and the Army Cadet Force?
I would add to what the right hon. Gentleman says by saying that Northern Ireland provides a home base for 19 Light Brigade, which is greatly appreciated.
We will get the talent that we need in the armed forces only if people think it is an organisation that has a future in which they can build their careers and to which they can make a real contribution. That impacts not only on welfare provision—soldiers are interested in that, but they are also interested in the kind of organisation that they are joining. They want to join capable armed forces. Planning properly for the future to ensure that they can fulfil a role is the biggest single contribution we can make to attracting the talent we need.
It is welcome that the Green Paper contains a number of references to reserve forces, following from the question asked by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). In their review, are the Government going to address the questions why we strike the balance between reserves and regulars so very differently from most of our English-speaking counterparts, and why they are able to make so much more imaginative use of reserves than us?
I hope so. That is why those passages are there. I think societal trends will push us, in the long term, in the direction of making more use, not less, of reserve forces. Therefore, the need to ensure that they are highly trained and capable people is going to take on increasing importance. Those issues are flagged up in the Green Paper and the questions that we have posed are out there for debate, and I hope that that matter will be addressed in the strategic defence review.
Does the Secretary of State note, seeing as he has made the statement, that there is not a single reference to NATO in it, which is simply stupendous and quite astonishing? Why is there also no reference to the European Union? Europe is one thing and allies are another. Can he remember what happened with the French off Djibouti? Can he remember what happened when the Belgians would not provide us with any ammunition? Can he remember what happened over the Iraq conflict? Can he remember what happened with respect to the Germans in Afghanistan? Does he not realise that we must have a proper, coherent policy that includes NATO?
Unless I misread my speech or there was a late draft or whatever, NATO, the European Union and the United States of America were all mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will find that they are liberally mentioned—appropriately—in the Green Paper, which I commend to him.
Should there not be a step change increase in the use of our reserve forces if we are to provide Her Majesty with a more flexible, adaptable and cost-effective armed forces in future? Is this not the golden opportunity of a generation to do that?
Was it not the Ministry’s preoccupation with the European Union project for the future rapid effect system that prevented it having the ability to respond to the needs of our soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to a shortage of appropriate equipment in both protected vehicles and, indeed, helicopters? Did I not note that the Secretary of State mentioned further integration as far as the European Union and defence are concerned, and may I warn him not to go down that route? If he does, caveat emptor.
The hon. Lady has looked into vehicle capability and developed quite a level of expertise in that area, but she knows that I fundamentally disagree with her. The vehicles that we have to have specifically to fight the mine threat in Afghanistan are superb and exactly what is needed, but they would be of little use in different scenarios, such as a high-end attack from a capable and well equipped enemy. A Mastiff would not last very long on a fast-moving battlefield. Therefore, as I have said, we must plan for the many threats that we might face. Directing all our resources towards Afghanistan is something that we would need to think very seriously about.
One of the big questions we must face is to what degree we are prepared to integrate with, and therefore become dependent upon, our allies, whether that is NATO or the EU, or the US, with which we have a close association in military affairs. That is something that we must think about, but there are people in the House—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is one of them—who have a view that we can be secure unilaterally. However, I do not think that even the US can be secure unilaterally in the modern world. Therefore, we must invest in our friends and alliances—we have no choice but to do so.
Until 1997, there was an annual defence White Paper, which was, to a significant degree, the public presentation of the product of the long-term costings exercise inside the Department, which reconciled the defence programme 10 years out. The absence of that process or of any replacement for it means that the forward defence programme is now bearing all the risk. That was enumerated by Mr. Bernard Gray, who said in his report that
“the forward Defence programme faces”
I am afraid that the Secretary of State and his predecessors, but most of all the Prime Minister, who has been either Prime Minister or Chancellor throughout that period, have to bear the responsibility for this disaster for defence—that is what it is—and reconcile it with the worst fiscal crisis for the Government since the Invergordon mutiny.
Desecration of War Memorials
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law to make provision about damage to war memorials; and for connected purposes.
Every Remembrance Sunday, war memorials up and down the country become the focal point for our national ceremony of remembrance. From the plainest monuments to the grand Cenotaph in Whitehall, people gather to remember the glorious dead. For the rest of the year, war memorials fade from the public consciousness into the background of our lives. But they are still there, exuding a quiet dignity tinged with sadness for those who have died for our country. They are more than rock and stone. In fact, the estimated 100,000 war memorials take the form of plaques, inscriptions on church pews, statues, arches and even bus shelters. But whatever the form, they symbolise the values of service and sacrifice for our liberty that our country holds dear.
Conflicts such as that in Afghanistan have sadly made remembrance a continuous part of our national life. Today, the Prime Minister again read out the names of those soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in our name. Those names, like those that have gone before them, will not be forgotten. That is what we say, and we act—in one way—by inscribing those names on memorials.
I wish to introduce this Bill to ensure that we reflect the importance of war memorials. If enacted, the Bill would properly punish those who show such disregard by desecrating a war memorial. With the death of Harry Patch, the last human thread connecting us to the great war generation may have been cut, but that makes it all the more incumbent on us to retain and protect the physical thread that connects us to Harry Patch’s generation in the form of memorials.
My interest in this issue was sadly first prompted by an appalling act of theft and criminal damage to the Southgate memorial in Broomfield park in my constituency last August. Two six-foot-by-four-foot bronze plaques and nine smaller plates bearing the names of soldiers who died in the two world wars, alongside civilians from Southgate who were killed in the blitz, were ripped out. We were outraged by this despicable act. In 1949, when opening the Southgate memorial, Alderman Wauthier said:
“The Garden of Remembrance is a hallowed place and should not be interfered with”.
Sixty years later, it was disgracefully interfered with, and the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that culprits get the punishment they deserve.
The national media asked how this could happen. One radio programme was even dedicated to the question of whether Enfield was the meanest borough in London. I set about finding out whether this desecration is unique to my constituency. I take no pleasure in reporting to the House that in fact there have been an alarming number of incidents—57 reports in regional and national press in the last year of desecration of war memorials involving vandalism, theft and even public urination and defecation. This averages out to at least one war memorial being desecrated every week. In fact, the lack of any specific reporting of such offences means that the number of desecrations is probably much higher.
What particularly troubled me about the desecration in my constituency was that the bronze plaques were practically irreplaceable. We did not have any records of the names that were inscribed, and so when these plaques were stolen there was a good chance that the names, and the memory, of those soldiers could have been lost forever. It sickens me—and, no doubt, the House—to think of those plates being melted down for scrap and those names being consigned to oblivion. Thankfully, a local man who had taken extensive photographs of the memorial a few years ago came forward. Together with the good work of the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, we are now able to replace the plaques. Other communities are not so lucky, with many memorials not properly registered and recorded.
The War Memorials Trust together with the national inventory, based at the Imperial War museum, are doing a sterling job to encourage registration of memorials, but only 55,000 have so far been registered. I urge hon. Members to find out how many war memorials there are in their constituency by contacting the national inventory, and—as they pound the streets and visit community buildings in the coming weeks—to keep an eye out not only for floating voters, but for unregistered war memorials.
The War Memorials Trust, which relies on voluntary support, deserves our membership and support for its commendable and tireless work to protect war memorials. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) has previously raised this important issue, and we need to be vigilant and take action to reverse the neglect that is the greatest threat to memorials.
War memorials do not have any dedicated legal protection. When damage is caused through criminal acts or neglect, the common question is who is responsible for repair and restoration. In my constituency, thankfully, Enfield council quickly responded by temporarily replacing the plaques, and they will soon be fully restored. However, the law needs to reflect the impact of desecration. There is, of course, the physical damage and the financial cost to the community of cleaning away the graffiti, repairing damage or replacing any stolen items such as bronze plaques. Many memorials were erected in the aftermath of the first world war and have since become a part of our heritage and our community. They are our connection to the past. The desecrators not only cause damage and steal property, but break the crucial link with past generations who have provided the remembrance. Such a break can sometimes be irreparable. More fundamentally, war memorials represent the values of our country. An attack on a war memorial represents an attack on our deeply held values, our freedoms and our democracy.
Who are those people carrying out these acts of desecration? Some incidents, like the widely reported case of a Leeds student urinating on a war memorial, are the result of reckless binge drinking. Then there are the mindless acts of destruction where memorials are smashed to bits and nothing taken. Finally, and most serious of all, are the deliberate attacks aimed at desecrating the symbolic value of war memorials. I have come across several incidents of Nazi swastikas being sprayed on to war memorials. One of these included a memorial built to remember the victims of the holocaust. I find this particularly abhorrent, given that many of those memorials commemorate men who died fighting to keep this country free of fascism. Whether the actions are as a result of disrespect or deliberate malice, we must have tough sanctions.
So what is the state of the law at the moment? Currently there is no specific provision for desecration of a war memorial. The problem with the law, as it stands, is that it primarily accounts for seriousness on the basis of financial value of the damage. Unless the damage caused costs more than £5,000 to repair and replace, the maximum sentence that the magistrates court can hand down is three months in prison. This simply does not accurately reflect the seriousness of the crime.
The Bill would amend the Criminal Damage Act 1971 to recognise damage to war memorials. Crown Court judges would have the power to deal with these cases, with up to 10 years’ imprisonment at their disposal. Presently, there are no complete figures for attacks on war memorials. By recognising war memorials in statute, we would help the reporting of such incidents. Another benefit of this Bill would be the creation of a proper legal definition for war memorials. This has been the aim of the War Memorials Trust for some time. By clarifying this definition, we would be able to tackle not just desecration but the problem of neglect.
I appreciate that my Bill has no chance of becoming law in this Parliament, but I hope that a future Parliament will consider the whole issue of protection of war memorials. In the meantime, I hope that sentencing guidelines can be revised. Also I am sure that a war memorials all-party parliamentary group will be shortly formed, with a challenge for 2014 on the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war to have all memorials properly registered.
In 1949, the Southgate mayor said:
“Time may dim our recollections of the heroic days of the war but will never obscure the gratitude we shall hold for those who fell. This memorial is living testimony to those of whom we in Southgate are proud. We shall not forget.”
This Bill says that we as a House and country shall not forget.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. David Burrowes, Shona McIsaac, Robert Key, Jim Sheridan, Dr. Andrew Murrison, Mr. Colin Breed, Mr. Charles Walker, Mike Penning, Angela Watkinson, Mr. Graham Stuart, John Mann and Michael Fabricant present the Bill.
Mr. David Burrowes accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 April, and to be printed (Bill 60).
Police Grant Report
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11 (HC 278), which was laid before this House on 20 January, be approved.
This debate takes place against a backdrop of record falls in crime and record levels of police numbers. One thing that can be said about the Government, more than anything else, is that we have invested in police and policing numbers, not just through neighbourhood policing, protective services and collaboration programmes, but in relation to all aspects of the police service. I am delighted, therefore, that the British crime survey and figures last week showed a marked reduction in crime for 2008-09, compared with 2007-08.
It is worth placing that on the record because the police do a magnificent job, as has been shown by the fact that over the past year total recorded crime fell by 5 per cent.; vehicle crime by 10 per cent.; violence against the person by 6 per cent; robbery by 5 per cent.; sexual offences by 4 per cent.; robbery with a knife by 2 per cent.; and firearm offences by 17 per cent. Challenges remain, but I put it to the House that, whatever is said in this debate, those figures are good, particularly given that we are coming out of a recession. Normally, under such circumstances, crime would rise, but actually, over the past 12 months, in what have been—by any stretch of the imagination—challenging financial circumstances, crime has fallen.
That can be added to the overall drop in crime of 36 per cent. since 1997, which is a very positive thing. The House will also know that the British crime survey last week showed that confidence in policing is now at 50 per cent. and that the chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest since records began. That is the backdrop to today’s settlement and discussion. Coupled with those falls in crime, last week I was able to announce historically high numbers of police officers and staff on the streets. Figures published last week show that police officer strength remains at 142,688, which is an increase of nearly 17,000 officers over the past 13 years.
Obviously there are variations, challenges and difficulties, which no doubt will come out in the debate, but the record numbers of police officers, and indeed police community support officers—more than 16,000—show that today’s settlement is building on a history of strong settlements that have seen crime fall, policing numbers rise and the introduction of PCSOs. The levels of confidence in policing and the fact that a person’s chance of being a victim of crime is the lowest ever show that the Government have done a good job to date.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government improved the funding formula for West Yorkshire police. Nevertheless, it is still £18 million adrift of the figure it would get were it fully funded. Will he and his colleagues consider how police authorities such as West Yorkshire can bridge that gap, so that they can continue to enjoy record levels of police officers and the subsequent major impact on crime?
I will return to the funding formula later because it is an important issue, and a number of representations have been made by different forces about some of the inequities in the funding formula. We are currently considering the matter, and will continue to do so in the future, but my hon. Friend will know that, this year, West Yorkshire police saw an increase of 3.3 per cent.—£11.3 million—for the next financial year. Historically, West Yorkshire police funding has increased by 37 per cent. in real terms over the past 13 years.
Why has the Home Office consistently failed, until recently—with the migration impact forum—properly to take into account the significant impact on crime and policing of large-scale migration since May 2004 from eastern European countries? Does the Minister agree that that has had significant ramification for the number of police whom people in Cambridgeshire, where my constituency is located, expect to see on the beat? Why is that the case?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is one of the issues on which we have received representations, including from the chief constable of his own force. However, I hope that when the hon. Gentleman reflects on Cambridgeshire police funding, he will be pleased that the Labour Government have delivered an extra 109 police officers to his force in the past 13 years, that 33 per cent. more resource is going in than did under the Tory Government, and that even this year, in these challenging times, his force has £2.5 million more than it did last year—and all that from a Labour Government. I hope that he recognises those facts when he talks to his local police authority about the Government’s performance in those areas.
Funding statistics and formulae are important, although most people are more worried about outcomes than how we get there, but can the Minister assure us that the population figures, whether or not they include people on the electoral register, are up to date as the basis of the formula? That has been a recurrent issue for local government and other service funders in London. Will he also comment on the fact that there is still some doubt about the veracity of the crime figures, which—if he is to be believed—are falling? Although that is to be welcomed, to have public confidence the figures ought to be arrived at in an entirely neutral way and separate from the Government as far as possible.
The crime figures which I commented on—not announced—10 days ago were announced by the Office for National Statistics, which is independent of the Government. Indeed, I see the crime figures only as a matter of courtesy a few hours before they are produced, so they are independent. I do not gerrymander them. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the important population issues, but under any measure crime has fallen across England and Wales over the past 13 years, including in London and key areas as a whole.
The Minister will know that police numbers in Essex have increased, and he will probably have guessed that I will seek to claim credit for that. However, people out there know that the real reason is that the Government have increased funding to enable police numbers in Essex to increase, and I thank him for that. However, will he use innovative surveillance and high-tech equipment to improve policing—for instance, vehicle automatic number plate recognition systems? We need those to clamp down on burglaries, which are a particular problem on Canvey island, for instance.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. He recognises, as I do, that there has been a 30 per cent. real-terms increase in funding for Essex, that there will be a £5.2 million increase—2.9 per cent.—next year and that there has been an historical fall in crime over the past five years of nearly 6 per cent. I fully accept that there is always more that we can do, and the automatic number plate recognition is a valuable tool—I know from my constituency how it helps to identify potential vehicle crime and to reduce crime. However, it relates to issues not only of vehicle crime, but of mobile burglary and people who cross borders to commit crimes. I certainly, therefore, encourage and support its further use, for which we should all be grateful.
Let me turn to the nub of today’s debate. The police revenue support grant, which was laid on 20 January, confirmed the indicative figures, and we are implementing the 2010-11 funding settlement as announced in December 2007, which is good news for the police. Between 1997 and 2010-11, we have increased the police service grant by about £3.7 billion—a cash increase of 60 per cent. and a real-terms increase of almost 20 per cent. The figures that I gave to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) can be replicated across the board in every police authority in England and Wales and represent a substantial increase in funding. They show that this year total Government funding for the 2010-11 cycle in today’s report will be more than £9.7 billion—an overall increase of 2.7 per cent. on 2009-10. Some £8.5 billion of that provision is for the police general formula grant, and there is also an additional £1.2 million in specific grant funding, to which I will return later.
We gave those commitments several years ago. In fact, they were probably given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is with us today, as part of the three-year cycle of this comprehensive review. We kept those commitments and delivered on them in 2008 and 2009, and now in 2010-11. We have also kept ring-fenced funding to a minimum, so that we can allow forces the maximum flexibility in deciding how to allocate and spend their resources. The police grant deals with Home Office general police grant for revenue expenditure. The amounts for individual police authorities are set out in the papers before the House today, and I hope that they will be generally welcomed.
We have set a minimum floor of 2.5 per cent. for the grant provision for 2010-11. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who raised this issue, will know that, whatever our views on the funding formula, the fact that we have set a minimum rise of 2.5 per cent. is helpful to many forces. It means that each police authority in England and Wales is guaranteed an increase of at least that level. In my view, that is a positive announcement. We are trying to strike what I would describe as a sensible balance on the issues in economically challenging times.
Indeed, I would be interested to hear from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) about whether, in what I would obviously see as the unlikely event of a change of Government, he will commit himself to the 2.5 per cent. increase that we have put in place for next year, whether he will support that funding for police community support officers, and whether he will support the ring-fencing of that funding, because those are crucial matters that will form part of our debate between now and whenever my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister calls the general election. We want to look at the funding formula review, and we will do so shortly. I hope that we will be in a position to do that in the next 12 months.
There has been no change to rule 2 grants since the start of the current spending review, in 2008-09. Police authorities have complete flexibility on how best to use that resource.
Specifically on the settlement, we have also put in place absolutely committed funding for neighbourhood policing, as the foundation for local police in the 21st century. That is why, for 2010-11 we are maintaining and increasing the ring-fenced funding that helps to support those 16,000 police community support officers. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman make a commitment to fund those 16,000 PCSOs next year, in the unlikely event of a change of Government, or at least supporting me from the Opposition Benches for the good that the Government are doing on that. PCSOs provide a valuable resource, delivering on the policing pledge commitments and raising public confidence. Neighbourhood policing is the key. That investment is making a difference and contributing to the crime falls that I mentioned. We will shortly produce a safe and confident neighbourhoods strategy, which will look at how we develop the policy still further. I look forward to giving the House details of that, I hope within the next month.
As well as the policing of local communities, which is the bedrock of our activity, we also need to look at protective services and the collaboration programme, to ensure that we drive up and develop minimum standards across the board. We have made an additional £2.2 million available in the settlement today to help deliver regional capability in tackling regional crime, which is a serious issue and one that we need to address. We are keen to ensure that we aid the police in reducing crime and have designed programmes accordingly.
In today’s announcement, we have also committed to the basic command unit fund and ensured that forces receive the same allocation in 2010-11—a total of £40 million—as previously. From my perspective, public confidence is at the heart of our agenda—public confidence on issues such as antisocial behaviour and crimes that matter locally, which are best dealt with by locally supported forces. That £40 million is extremely valuable.
In the document before the House, we have also confirmed the capital spending for supported capital expenditure for next year. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman and others that we have committed a total of £220 million. That is money that we said we would allocate previously—we have committed to it and continued to support it. That has meant some difficult and challenging decisions, but, by making that commitment today, we have been able to support that capital expenditure firmly, which is good news for the police in dealing with the capital issues that they need to address.
Almost finally, for Welsh police authorities, which are close to my heart as a Member of Parliament representing a Welsh constituency, we have set a minimum increase in the grant, in line with English authorities. We have again adjusted the Home Office police grant for Welsh police authorities, to maintain consistency with those in England. The additional support will total £16 million this year and will help to maintain police numbers and reduce crime.
I should also like to report to the House that we asked for, and received, representations in our consultation on the settlement. However, I received only four sets of written representations about the settlement, from four police authority areas. That is fewer than in previous years and a little more than a quarter of the representations that were received last year. That indicates the level of support not just in the House, but in the community, for the proposals that I am putting before the House. Following those representations, we have laid the papers before the House, which in my view show a good settlement, which is something that we need to take into account.
The pre-Budget report of December 2009 is also crucial to our consideration today. It has enhanced our immediate understanding of the future funding of the police, by announcing, through my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that sufficient funding will be made available to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain the current numbers of warranted police officers, as well as police community support officers and other staff exercising police powers. Again, that is a commitment from this Government to real money, on the table, to fund real police officers out on the street, reducing crime still further.
I do not wish to be too political—although we are in interesting times—but that is a commitment on the funding to date that was announced in the pre-Budget report. I hope that that commitment will be subject to debate, and I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman’s support, because it sets the framework for the confidence that police authorities can have in knowing that the record numbers of police that we have provided will continue, should they wish them to.
Next year we will also maximise the increase in the general grant, providing a further £2.5 million to ensure that all police authorities have received that minimum increase. Again, at a time of falling public spending and challenges, which normally increase in a recession, that is a good indicator of the extra resources that are being supplied, and that at a time of falling crime.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will speak later on the implications for local government spending of police funding. However, there will also be debates and consideration about the capping action, decided in 2008-09, on Cheshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire, in advance of the 2010-11 settlement, as a result of previous excessive increases set by those authorities. Cheshire and Leicestershire have accepted their caps, whereas Warwickshire will be debated as part of our discussions later today. However, despite those difficulties and challenges locally, there are genuine funding increases today that we should welcome.
In summary, we have positive falls in crime, record numbers of police and a commitment next year to a minimum of 2.5 per cent. for each force. That is good news at a time of recession. We are seeking greater value for money from police authorities generally, and there will be a drive next year to look at issues that we raised in the White Paper and commented on yesterday, in producing our high-level group report on value for money. We need to drive better efficiency and value in the system. We need to ensure that we reduce police overtime and look at better procurement and the better deployment of officers. However, the resource is there, and this House can commit to it today. I hope that Members in all parts of the House will commit to it, because this Government have a proud record on policing and police numbers. I want that to continue next year, and I commend the motion to the House.
The one thing that we can agree on in this debate is that the police of this country do a difficult and usually very dangerous job. On behalf of the Opposition, I would like to pay tribute to their service. They need the resources to discharge their duties to the public in upholding law and order, which is why this debate is so important. This year’s settlement is the final part of the three-year comprehensive spending review. Excluding additional grants for counter-terrorism and other specific grants, the police settlement will increase by 2.7 per cent. this year. Including specific grants, total revenue funding will also increase by 2.7 per cent.
It is worth flagging up a few issues that many outside this House, and not just police authorities, have with the distribution of the police grant. It is a complicated calculation, based, as we know, on five separate components, including the needs-based formula, or the “principal formula”; additional rule 1, which reduces grant provision for the South Wales police authority and redistributes it to other police authorities in Wales; and additional rule 2. In the past, the Home Secretary distributed specific grants such as the rural policing grant, the forensic grant and the initial police learning and development programme grant. The Home Office decision to amalgamate those grants into a single pot, so that police authorities could have more control over how those funds were used, was welcome. The Home Office also distributes specific grants for police authorities. Finally, the police grant floors are applied. I will return to that issue of scaling later.
What we do know is that this year there are 20 police authorities in total receiving the lowest increase of 2.5 per cent., including Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Surrey and the Met. The biggest increase in the police grant is received by the West Midlands at 3.9 per cent.
Let me go to the heart of what I took to be the political thrust of the Minister's speech. We are in a severe economic situation and it has added huge strain to already tight police budgets. In written evidence provided to the Home Affairs Committee for its report on police service strength, the Association of Police Authorities
“acknowledged the deteriorating state of public finances”
and the expected impact on police budgets. Similarly, a study undertaken by the Association of Chief Police Officers’ finance and resources business area found that several forces in England and Wales—this is the crucial point that I would like the Minister to return to—were already using budget reserves to maintain front-line services.
There is increasing confusion about police officer numbers and police strength, with evidence from police forces contradicting what the Minister is asking us to believe. In research for its report into police strength, the Home Affairs Committee—I am sad that the excellent Chairman of that Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), is not here to confirm this—wrote to all police forces in England and Wales and asked them to provide information on their officer and staff numbers; crucially, likely changes to the work force during the remainder of 2009-10 and 2010-11; and the plans that the forces are putting in place in relation to staffing levels next year.
The responses were very interesting. They were clear. Just four forces anticipated maintaining staff and officer levels. Some forces had already begun to reduce officer numbers and many have plans to do so. To provide one or two examples, Humberside police force said that it was planning to cut 300 officer posts. Cumbria said that there are
“cuts likely of staff and officers”.
Derbyshire said that “police staff cuts” will be likely, and Durham is planning a
“vacancy freeze on staff and officer posts”.
Kent said that it had
“significant planned police staff reductions for 2009-11 to meet funding savings”.
Out of 43 forces, only four said that they anticipated maintaining staffing levels.
Are we seeing a pattern of grand promises prior to a general election that are not delivered? Does my hon. Friend remember that before the 2005 general election the Government promised 24,000 new community support officers? In fact they delivered just 16,000—8,000 short—a clear broken promise in their manifesto.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Could we get down to specifics? The grant is before the House today. It increases funding by a minimum of 2.5 per cent. and overall by 2.7 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman were sitting on this Bench, what figure would he put on the grant increase over and above what we are proposing? Will he give a commitment today to do that? I do not think that he will, as his party is committed to cutting public spending.
The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it quite clear that we will make a decision when we write our next Budget. We are still waiting for two things. We are waiting for a Budget from this Government. Also, no CSR was put in place, even though it was open to the Government to do that.
I want to get back to the promises that the Government are making about 2010-11. The Minister has given us all sorts of blandishments about how everything will be fine and everything will be maintained, but the evidence that I have been reading out completely undermines everything that he has been saying. To make promises about what will happen in 2010-11 is impossible; the evidence shows that it is not possible. I want to hear from the Minister why he believes that this settlement will maintain what he says it will maintain, because the evidence is quite to the contrary.
I will try again. If the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to increase the 2010-11 settlement over and above the 2.5 per cent. to the 2.7 per cent. average, will he do that? If he were in my position now, or if he were in my position in eight or nine weeks, would he increase next year’s money? We have already announced today the funding that the grant will provide.
I think that the shadow Chancellor has made the position entirely clear, and we will present a Budget should we be in a position to do so, but I still do not think that the Minister has explained why all these authorities that we have talked about—including Humberside, Cumbria, Derbyshire—are saying that there will be a cut in police strength. It flies in the face of what the Minister has been promising.
In a minute.
I want to test further what the Government are saying will happen in 2010-11 on the basis of the grant settlement. I was troubled by what the Chancellor said in his statement on the pre-Budget report, because it does not make sense to a lot of those in the police service. He said:
“I am today able to offer...sufficient funding to maintain the number of police and community support officers. That means that I can confirm not just that we will increase spending as planned next year on hospitals, schools and policing, but we can pledge that spending on these crucial front-line services will continue to rise over and above inflation after 2010-11”.—[Official Report, 9 December 2009; Vol. 502, c. 370-1.]
The evidence from the Home Affairs Committee clearly shows that police forces around the country have, or are preparing to, cut the number of staff and officers. I am amazed that the Minister does not have an answer to that. Can he please tell us how this Government are planning on, as he claims, guaranteeing police officer numbers when we do not have any details on police budgets after 2011? Crucially, can he tell us how he defines front-line policing services, because those were the words that slipped into the Chancellor's pre-Budget report? If the Minister is defending that, what is the definition of front-line policing services? It cannot mean police strength because police authorities have already told the Home Affairs Committee that those numbers are being cut and will be cut. It is a total mystery to me what protecting front-line policing services means in that context.
Derbyshire police have far more police officers and PCSOs than when I was elected in 1997, but we have continually argued that we should move more quickly towards where Derbyshire police should be compared with other authorities. They cannot do it too quickly because other authorities’ budgets would be cut—that is the floors and ceilings argument. Is the Conservative party able to give me an assurance now that, if it were in power, Derbyshire would immediately go to its right level, without cutting other police services?
The hon. Gentleman did not mention in his list the largest police authority—that of London. What advice is he giving to his friend, the Mayor of London, whose draft budget includes a provision for a cut of 455 police officers? If we take into account the four budgets for which the Mayor will have been responsible, it works out at a net reduction in police officers by just over 100, I believe. This is taking place at a time when much is being made about the freezing of precept, so how does the hon. Gentleman advise the Mayor to proceed?
Let us first make it clear and put on the record what the Minister is saying about defending police officer numbers. As I say, he talks about protecting front-line policing services, so will the Minister give us a definition of that when he concludes the debate?
The plot thickens, because two newspapers today report that the Association of Chief Police Officers has drawn up proposals to cut 28,000 officers and replace them with civilian staff. Part of the leaked report, as reported this morning, says:
“As a result of a variety of approaches to modernisation, in the case of the most mixed forces there are over 50 per cent. staff. If all forces were to mirror that position… this would result in a more diverse workforce but with approximately 28,000 fewer officers and with savings in the region of £400 million”.
Will the Minister confirm that? Has he commissioned that work? Is he aware of it?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that document has no locus for the Government and it has not been commissioned by Government Ministers or the Home Office, and it does not have the support of ACPO. It is an explanatory document presenting options that have not been endorsed and are not being endorsed either by ACPO or the Government.
He may not have the chance for it to become part of his policy in a few weeks’ time, so that might be why he is so confident in making that assertion. Unfortunately, the Government’s decision not to hold a comprehensive spending review that would detail proposed expenditure over a three-year period underscores that fact that they have no confidence in their rather woolly guarantees made in the pre-Budget report and repeated by the Minister today.
Surely one of the key parts of policing—ensuring that we have their presence on the street—involves the amount of time officers spend on patrol. It would be fair to say that the figures on the amount of time police spend on the beat have fallen under this Administration. According to the Government’s own latest figures, the amount of time a patrol officer spends on patrol has fallen from 19.1 per cent. in 2004-05 to an even lower 17.8 per cent. in 2007-08. Jan Berry, the Government’s police bureaucracy tsar, when asked whether officers were spending more time on patrol now than two years ago said:
“If you talk to police officers they would say it has remained the same or got slightly worse”,
and she went on to point out, in what I take to be a real indictment, that only one of the 33 proposals to reduce bureaucracy in the final Flanagan review of February 2008, had been implemented.