House of Commons
Tuesday 19 October 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Prisons (Drug Addiction Services)
I have had discussions with Ministers in a number of Departments, including the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office. Those discussions have covered a range of drugs-related topics, including reforming drug addiction services in prisons.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that many prisoners struggle with choosing abstinence over methadone when they want to kick their drug habits, so what action will the Government take to encourage prisoners to take an abstinence-based regimen instead of methadone?
Our policy is that we should move towards abstinence from maintenance, but it is not the practice that we have inherited. The main programme, the integrated drug treatment system, is relatively new and based around National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse models of care, but the effect in practice is much more about maintaining addicts safely than leading them to abstinence. However, there are very good abstinence-based programmes in prison, such as RAPt, and our goal is to challenge offenders to take responsibility for the harm that they have caused and to accept help to come off drugs. We will therefore reshape existing drug services in prisons to establish drug recovery wings that are based on abstinence, free from drugs, motivate change, support rehabilitation and, on release, link offenders into community services that can continue the progress made in prison.
It sounds as if the Minister is going to be pretty rigid in pursuing a policy that, in some cases, will work and be wholly appropriate. In other cases, however, people will fail, and when they do so they will be a problem not just to themselves but to our communities. They will feed organised crime and return to their habits. Surely he accepts and recognises that.
Of course I accept and recognise that. That is the reality of the current position. All too many short-sentence offenders are going into prison, and occasionally they do not have a drug habit but acquire one while they are there. We are failing to rehabilitate drug addicts effectively and, indeed, to address properly alcoholics, in the community and in prison, who are under the sentence of the courts. That is why we will move to a much more output-based system, measuring people by what they achieve rather than simply measuring inputs. Of course, that is a very difficult area, and many people need more than one go—indeed, several goes—at effecting successful rehabilitation from drugs, and of course this Administration acknowledge that.
The latest reoffending rate for young people, those aged between 10 and 17, released from custody in England and Wales in the first quarter of 2008 is 74.3%. Reoffending rates for young people are based on whether an offender has been convicted at court or has received an out-of-court disposal for an offence in the year following release from custody.
Does the Minister agree that young offenders, when released from prison, need a more demanding and challenging set of programmes? In my constituency, the Kent Film Foundation runs a programme teaching film skills, and it has an 85% success rate in getting young offenders into work or further education, at a cost of £5,000 per course.
There are many isolated examples of really good practice all over the country, and our challenge is to systemise it so that people can learn from what works, experience the flexibility and the opportunity to implement it and deliver the output, which then effectively turns those young people away from crime.
The functions of the Youth Justice Board will be taken into the Ministry of Justice, but I am not sure that I would be quite as condemnatory as my hon. Friend is about the board’s record. It has achieved success in getting youth offending teams effectively embedded within a local delivery framework, and it is now up to the Ministry of Justice and myself, as the Minister for Youth Justice, to take that work forward and take responsibility for it.
Precisely how much money will the Minister save by the abolition of the Youth Justice Board? Will he ensure that that money is reinvested in front-line services to support youth offending teams? How precisely does he expect to organise youth offending teams without the oversight of the Youth Justice Board?
There will be some savings to be taken, but they will not be taken at the outset because the delivery functions of the Youth Justice Board, principally in purchasing custody for young people sent into custody by the courts, will obviously remain. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman remembered the system that he had, whereby one-on-one policy advice came from the Youth Justice Board and from his own policy officials in the Department. That sort of duplication will be taken away by bringing the functions of the Youth Justice Board within the Ministry of Justice.
I am glad that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to rubbish the Youth Justice Board, because the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), heaped praise on it in abolishing it last week. Having praised and buried the Youth Justice Board, what does the Minister suggest takes its place? He knows that 25% falls in youth reoffending rates occurred over its first eight years. What is his strategy for continuing the excellent record of the previous Labour Government in reducing youth reoffending?
I am not entirely sure that I would be that sanctimonious about presenting the record of the last Labour Government, when we had not only the awful reoffending rates out of custody but, in relation to community penalties, 67.6% of young people reoffending within one year. That is not a record to be wildly proud of. We need to continue to embed youth offending teams in their local authority areas and ensure that there is a proper, effective delivery of local services to young people, including from the education departments of local authorities, for example, to ensure that we properly co-ordinate the effective delivery of services to young offenders within the gift of the state to ensure that they do not reoffend.
Judicial Co-operation (UK and Greece)
Both the UK and Greece are party to a number of European instruments that facilitate co-operation between judicial systems within Europe. In addition, I know that my hon. Friend is taking a particular interest in the separate bilateral issue of improving the provision of locally obtained information regarding deaths of our citizens in Greece to coroners here.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent, Luke Walker, has been imprisoned on the island of Crete for over 150 days, and his defence team have been constantly frustrated by the denial of information that should rightfully be theirs. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the working group set up between UK and Greek officials and designed to improve co-operation between the UK coroner service and the Greek authorities?
I understand that Luke Walker has been charged but that a trial date has not been set. It is of course a matter of great regret that delays are occurring in the exchange of information between the Greek authorities and coroners in England and Wales. That can only increase the distress felt by everyone involved in such cases, of which there are a number. We are working with the Foreign Office and the Greek authorities to try to improve the situation so that inquests can be concluded without further delay. The working group to which my hon. Friend refers will be able to have its first meeting to discuss these issues shortly; we are pressing for a date to be set.
Vulnerable Women (Alternatives to Custody)
We are already providing effective alternatives to remands for the courts with new enhanced bail provision for women and robust community sentences supported by voluntary sector-run women’s community projects.
I thank the Minister for that answer. However, will he pledge that funding for voluntary and community sector projects designed to help vulnerable women out of a life of crime and away from prison is not undermined by cuts to Ministry of Justice budgets?
I appreciate the value of such community projects. The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot make pledges on funding, not least ahead of tomorrow’s spending review announcements. However, we are keen to ensure that such projects continue if they can and, in particular, that there is a role for the voluntary sector in helping to deliver them.
In 2007, the Corston report stated that custodial sentences for women should be reserved for serious and violent individuals who pose a threat to the public, yet 68% of women in prison are there for non-violent offences, compared with 47% of men. What more can the Government do to ensure that fewer women who are guilty of non-violent offences go to prison?
My hon. Friend may know that when the then Government broadly accepted the Corston report’s recommendations, we in opposition broadly accepted them too. The female prison population rose sharply from when the previous Government took power. It had risen by 86% by 2002, although it has been broadly static since then. It is important to provide alternatives such as community projects, particularly to help vulnerable women who do not need to be in custody, although custody must of course remain for the most serious offenders.
While obviously the Minister cannot anticipate tomorrow’s comprehensive spending review decisions, in order to fulfil the strategy set out by Baroness Corston of reducing the number of women offenders in prison, there must be good community provision. Can he now commit to maintaining the existing provision?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role. We want to embed women’s community projects into mainstream service provision and provide support for women at each stage of the criminal justice process, so we are devolving both budgets and contracts to directors of offender management. They are working with the probation service, which will have the lead role in sustaining successful projects. We want those projects to succeed.
Restorative Justice Pilot Schemes
I am providing good value for the taxpayer this afternoon. [Interruption.] Buy one answer, get one free.
Pre-sentence restorative justice for adults was trialled as part of a Home Office crime reduction programme that ran between 2001 and 2004. A youth restorative disposal has also been piloted, allowing police officers to resolve minor first-time offences by young people using restorative techniques. We are currently ensuring that the pilot is independently evaluated.
The community payback scheme in Downham Market was initiated by volunteers and has proved very effective in both showing justice being done locally and delivering key community projects such as improvements to paths and car parks. What plans does the Minister have to give local communities the power to make it easier to deliver similar schemes?
I am aware of the Downham Market scheme. If sentencers and the public are to have confidence in community payback, we need to make it tougher. We need to ensure that the work done is meaningful and challenging, and that there is rigorous enforcement of community payback orders. We are also keen on ensuring that as much as possible is done, like in Downham Market, to encourage members of the community to nominate projects and therefore take an interest in them.
In view of the Minister’s comments earlier about embedding best practice in the mainstream, what will he do to ensure that judges and magistrates have a full understanding of the outcome of restorative justice projects and make full use of them?
The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that we will announce a set of proposals on sentencing later this year, and restorative justice will form an important component of that. It is a coalition agreement to seek to promote restorative justice programmes, and the evaluation of them that has been carried out is encouraging, showing high levels of victim satisfaction and reduced rates of reoffending.
My right hon. Friend referred to the community payback scheme. I recently spent a day with the community payback team in my constituency, helping to cut back branches in a local area of woodland. I saw the benefits of such work to both offenders and the community. Does he agree that such schemes play an important part in the justice system?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I assume that he was taking part in the scheme as an observer, not as somebody who was required to pay back to the community. It was not a Whips-run scheme.
It is important that community sentences are effective, and that there is confidence on the part of members of the public and sentencers that the schemes are rigorous. At their best they can be, but there is a great deal more work to be done to ensure that they are supervised and enforced properly.
Last year alone, offenders carried out more than 11 million hours of unpaid work through the community payback scheme, which is a model of restorative justice. Across the country, offenders have cleaned graffiti, repaired community centres and worked on environmental projects, including helping to repair flood damage in Cumbria. The scheme was established by the previous Labour Government in the face of Conservative opposition—indeed, at the time, the current Attorney-General dismissed it as a gimmick. Will the Minister confirm that that excellent Labour programme is in fact now being expanded by his Government because it provides an important role in punishing and rehabilitating offenders?
May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new position as Opposition spokesperson? He does not seem to recognise that there are public confidence issues with community payback as it is currently run. He did not refer, for instance, to the ITV documentary that was broadcast recently that showed offenders abusing community payback and problems with supervision. It is the Government’s intention to considerably improve and toughen up community payback so that there is confidence in it.
Prisoners (Drug Addiction)
We estimate that on average, 55% of all people entering prison have a serious drug problem, but we are unable to give a robust and precise estimate of the number of prisoners who are addicted to class A drugs. A recent study reviewed 1,457 newly sentenced prisoners from 49 prisons. It showed that 62% of prisoners reported some drug use, and 41% of the sample reported heroin, cocaine powder or crack cocaine use during the four-week period prior to the study.
The Secretary of State will know that more than 60,000 prisoners received methadone or another drug intervention in our prisons last year alone. Almost 24,000 of them received a regular methadone prescription. Does he agree that that state-induced dependency must end?
I was compelled by my hon. Friend’s first question and I had not thought that there was more to come. As he said, we must move away from the overuse of drugs and methadone maintenance, and aim at detoxification and returning people to a condition in which they might stay out of prison. Methadone maintenance is sometimes necessary when dealing with people who are seriously addicted when they enter prison. If people are serving a very short-term sentence, there is not much more we can do than maintain them on methadone.
However, the Ministry of Justice is looking, with my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, to see what can be done in the context of his health reforms to deal more constructively with the huge problem of drugs offenders and crime. As I said, more than half the people whom we admit to prison are believed to have a serious drug problem when they arrive, and some who enter drug-free become addicted while there.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in drug treatment in his constituency, where he has an excellent record on the subject. Responsibility for such treatment in prisons has been transferred to the NHS. I agree with his proposition that clinical judgments must lie at the heart of any drug treatment programme, but it is necessary for Departments to collaborate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I hope to produce a combined framework on treatment in prison and treatment for convicted drug users in alternative residential accommodation. That might include the transfer of prisoners in suitable cases to community-based mental health care. All those things must be tried, because the current situation is quite appalling. However, in the end, treatment of an individual must be a clinical decision. It is certainly not a decision for politicians.
Prisoners (Relationship Skills Programmes)
Currently, commissioning services for offenders is devolved to directors of offender management in the regions and Wales. They are responsible for deciding what services they wish to commission to meet the needs of prisoners in their area. We are examining how reforms to the justice system could enable delivery of more programmes from a broader range of local providers of greater relevance to the many rehabilitation needs of offenders.
Given that there is a mass of academic evidence from the UK, the US and the Netherlands that strong family relationships reduce reoffending and, therefore, cost to the Minister’s Department, can I ask him to stress that in the Green Paper and when he and his colleagues speak to prison governors?
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend. We have to get to a position in which those people who are charged with the rehabilitation of offenders have a much freer hand to deliver the interventions that will be effective for the offender who is in their care. If we over-prescribe exactly what has to be done from the centre, we will have a much less effective system. That process will be central to the rehabilitation revolution of delegating responsibility and authority for these decisions to a local level.
While I would not go as far as the Minister’s party in terms of rehabilitation for prisoners, is it not better to have resources going into rehabilitation so that we save money in the long run? When I spoke to those who work at Nottingham prison in my constituency, they were very concerned that the cuts that will be implemented tomorrow could mean that prisoners will be locked up for much longer periods with no rehabilitation services.
I detected a degree of contradiction in how the hon. Gentleman presented his question. He does not want to go as far as we would on the rehabilitation of offenders, but then asks us to go the distance. That is exactly what we will do. It would be wholly short-sighted to cut our capacity to deliver rehabilitation of offenders, and that is why we will enable a system that gets the whole country—including the voluntary, not-for-profit and the private sectors, as well as the existing state services—to work together to deliver effective rehabilitation of offenders and effect a step change in the delivery of what is a critical public service.
Prison Service Staff (Mental Health Awareness)
12. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the provision of training for prison service staff on the management of offenders with mental health conditions. (17823)
Ministry of Justice and Department of Health Ministers and senior officials discuss offender health issues regularly. Over 17,000 prison officers received mental health awareness training between 2006 and 2009. A new mental health training framework was launched in 2009-10, which regional offender health teams now co-ordinate.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer and I am delighted to hear that his Department is working with the Department of Health. Will he do all that he can to work effectively with that Department to ensure the proper commissioning of mental health services, which will not only improve intervention in the police station, but ensure a wider range of effective sentences in our courts?
That is precisely what we want to do, and my hon. Friend’s approach is very much in the right direction. Much reform will take place in the Department of Health, including obviously the commissioning of services for mental health. It is important that account is taken of the need to commission proper services of all kinds for prisoners, and that is being taken on board by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his team. We will work closely with them. The present prison population includes people whose criminality goes alongside a definite need for support—in this case for mental health problems—which, if tackled successfully, might reduce their liability to reoffend.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the treatment of prisoners with mental health problems does not just end when they leave prison but continues far beyond? Will he please outline what steps the Government plan to take to support prisoners with mental health problems after they leave prison?
I agree entirely. It is all part of what we hope to do on rehabilitation. In addition to tackling prisoners’ problems inside prison, we have to look ahead and almost certainly join up with the community mental health services providing support for prisoners when they are released. That will be an important part of ensuring that the reforms we are carrying out to the prison service and the criminal justice system are properly tied up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health’s important reforms to the future shape of the NHS.
I recall that proposal in the coalition agreement. I think I mistakenly drew upon it a few moments ago when talking about drug treatments—I do not think we will be moving to that quite so rapidly. However, that is an important part of the coalition agreement, and I can only say at this stage that we certainly have not forgotten about it and are working on it. Undoubtedly, if we can set up a proper and, where necessary, secure treatment facility, it would perhaps be a better place to treat mental illness than an overcrowded prison.
What discussions have been held between the Secretary of State’s Department and the devolved Administrations on this important issue? Are there any glaring variations between the training available across the different regions of the United Kingdom?
These matters are devolved. I have no doubt that we will look at good practice on both sides of the Irish sea from time to time to ensure that we benefit from what we each do. I am in regular contact with my opposite number in the devolved Northern Ireland Government, and I will try to take the opportunity to discuss these matters with him to see how we are both getting on.
I am encouraged by the responses from the Secretary of State, particularly given that this is a big issue in my constituency, which is home to Her Majesty’s Prison Brixton. We want to expand provision for mental health services in that prison so we are keen to know whether he agrees that it would be a mistake this week to reduce funding for mental health services in our prisons?
Not surprisingly, everyone is trying to anticipate tomorrow’s announcements. We will have to make fairly marked reductions to the budget of the Ministry of Justice and the various services for which we are responsible. Against that background, we will need to take an approach to how we tackle these problems that is more radical and reforming than the previous one, which involved simply paying for more and more places for more and more people, leading to overcrowded prisons. Our approach will underline the need to take a particular look at drugs, mental health, illiteracy, innumeracy, foreign national prisoners and all the other things to ensure that we find better ways of dealing with rehabilitation problems whenever possible.
Short Custodial Sentences
The Sentencing Guidelines Council has not issued any specific guidance on short custodial sentences. We have had no discussions with the council on this topic, which we are considering as part of our assessment of sentencing policy.
The Secretary of State may be aware of a recent case in my constituency in which a young man suffering from autism and Asperger’s syndrome was subjected to a series of horrific attacks by three other young men. The judge said that the attacks could almost amount to torture, yet the three perpetrators were given community orders. During the general election, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), now the Prime Minister, told the country that we are not convicting enough. He then explicitly said that
“when we do convict them, they’re not getting long enough sentences.”
Just two weeks ago, in his speech to the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said that
“offenders who should go to prison will go to prison”.
I agree with the Prime Minister—does the Secretary of State?
One of the failings of the last Government was to take a popular subject from the popular press and make rather shallow partisan points out of it. Sentencing in individual cases is not a matter for Ministers, and should not be a matter for sensational comment to the newspapers by Ministers with the frequency that it was. We have to ensure that justice is done, particularly to the victims of crime, and that justice is carried out in such a way as to reduce the risk of reoffending. We have made our approach to crime perfectly clear: we must punish the guilty. Prison is the right place for serious criminals—they will not commit more crimes while inside—but we also strive to avoid reoffending. The case that the right hon. Lady mentions was obviously a serious case for the victim, but newspaper cuttings from Salford are not the source of future criminal justice reform.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to acknowledge that very few people are sentenced to prison for a first offence? The vast majority of people who serve short-term prison sentences do so only because they have been given community sentence after community sentence, all of which have failed. The last thing to do with those people is to give them another community sentence, only for it to fail once again.
It is very pleasant to say that I largely agree with my hon. Friend. He has probably been upset by reports that I am minded to abolish short prison sentences. Actually, I have always expressed precisely the opposite opinion. It has never been my view that we should abolish all short prison sentences. Indeed, I have rather shared his opinion that with the kind of irritating recidivist offender who is causing a lot of damage, if they offend over and over again there is quite often no alternative to a short prison sentence. There are too many such offenders, and although there are cases in which we can avoid the use of short prison sentences, if we do that we must have a very effective alternative.
May I begin by saying how much I genuinely relish the prospect of debating—and, dare I say, arguing—with the Lord Chancellor and his team on the matters in their portfolio? I am also looking forward to working with the coalition Government where there are areas of agreement between us, notably on the use of restorative justice projects such as community payback—a subject that has already been raised by the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and other colleagues. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that most people who receive short prison sentences are persistent offenders who have refused to change their behaviour, even after undergoing community sentences, as has been said. He has said that he is not against abolishing the power of magistrates to award short sentences. Will he commit today not to reduce, in the sentencing review now taking place, the power of magistrates to give custodial sentences where appropriate?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place, and I look forward to debating with him. He has certainly got to Cabinet level a damn sight more quickly than I ever did, so I am sure that he will prove a formidable challenge to the Government. As I have already said, we will not take away powers from magistrates courts, which sometimes find it absolutely inevitable that they have to give somebody a short prison sentence, because everything else has failed and that person is continuing to cause damage to other people. However, we hope to provide magistrates with the full range of alternatives. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said a few moments ago, more credible community sentences—sentences with a properly punitive element that might have a better chance of rehabilitating the offender—should be tried in more cases, and we will try to provide them for magistrates.
I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for that answer. He has made it absolutely clear that magistrates will not have the power to give short sentences taken away from them. For clarity, will he also confirm that the cuts that will be announced tomorrow will not lead to a reduction in any prison places or to any prisons being closed?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to follow his predecessors in making a great policy point about a target for the number of people in prison, because there is no evidence that that does any good to anybody. We do have to—[Interruption.] The present numbers are enormous compared with the numbers when we were last in office. There are 20,000 more people in prison than there were when we last had a Conservative Home Secretary in charge. We are looking at what works, and what protects the public. Prison must be used for those for whom it is essential, but it is simply not the case that prison is the only way of dealing with all offenders. Once we have punished people and given others a break from their activities, the key thing is to do more than the present system does to reduce the risk of their reoffending and committing more crimes against more victims, to which the present system almost condemns us. More than half of prisoners—
The Government recognise the importance of providing support, information and advocacy for families bereaved by homicide. We are currently considering options for future funding of services for victims.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response, but I am still concerned, because the draft structural plan for the Ministry of Justice makes no reference to continued funding for the national victims service. Can the Minister guarantee that the £8 million committed by the previous Government will be protected by the present Government, ensuring that families of murder victims get the support that they need?
The Government of course recognise that families who are bereaved through homicide require the most intensive support of all, and we are working with Victim Support on the continuing development of the homicide service, which is relatively new. It has supported 600 bereaved people, although it has only been going since March 2010. However, I cannot make commitments about funding ahead of tomorrow, or ahead of the proposals that we will set out later this year.
The Government are committed to introducing payment by results as part of a new approach to offender rehabilitation. We will provide further details in the rehabilitation and sentencing Green Paper.
With 60% of offenders on short-term sentences reoffending within a year, it is absolutely critical to have a major step change in our attitudes to rehabilitation. To that end, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us whether he plans to introduce any more pilot schemes, and if so, when and where will they occur?
I entirely share my hon. Friend’s view, and we are hoping to get more pilots under way in the new year, as soon as we have got our Green Paper out and drawn up the framework contracts that we shall have to enter into with providers. The country is full of people with extremely good ideas on how to improve rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, and we must ensure that we have a proper means of engaging with people in the voluntary and independent sectors and in private sector companies—in any combination of those that people wish—to try to produce the result that my hon. Friend and I, and all our constituents, would like to see.
Vulnerable People (Legal Representation)
On 23 June 2010 the Justice Secretary announced in a written ministerial statement that the Government were undertaking a policy assessment of legal aid in England and Wales. The Government intend to seek views on proposals later this autumn. In addition, on 26 July I announced the Government’s intention to consult on implementing Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals on funding arrangements from his report later this autumn. Those proposals, if implemented, would help to maintain access to justice at proportionate costs for claimants and defendants.
The only organisation in Bradford with qualified solicitors offering welfare advice ceases its service part-way through the year as it uses up its allocation of matter starts, while other solicitors still have unused but non-transferable allocations. Will the Justice Secretary please ensure that, as part of the review, the inefficiency of matter starts is given due consideration?
The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) has talked about the importance of legal aid. Like many other hon. Members, I believe that legal aid is critical for those who want to address an injustice. Can he assure us that it will continue, and there will still be an opportunity to access it, even after the comprehensive spending review?
Absolutely. The Government support legal aid very much. As far as we are concerned, however, it is a question of directing that legal aid to those who need it most, and that will form the core component of the review whose findings will come out later this autumn.
Foreign National Prisoners
Since 1 January this year, 97 applications for transfer have been received from prisoners wishing to serve their custodial sentence in their country of origin. The Prison Service has in place procedures—principally on induction—to ensure that prisoners are aware of the possibility of transfer and of how to submit an application. In addition, prisoners are advised, during interviews with immigration staff, of the possibility of being repatriated. Relevant prisoners are advised in writing of any new prisoner transfer agreement that comes into effect.
May I urge my hon. Friend to place in the Library the details of the countries to which those 97 prisoners wished to return? I also urge him and his ministerial colleagues to do far more to encourage foreign national prisoners to go back to where they came from, because taxpayers in this country are fed up with paying for their board and lodging.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for continuing to keep a spur to the Ministry of Justice’s side to ensure that we do not slack in our responsibility to get these foreign national prisoners home if at all possible. I am pleased to be able to tell him that when I spoke recently to the annual conference of the Independent Monitoring Boards, I asked them to help us with this, to ensure that we have our procedures in place, and to identify any cases of delay involving prisoners wishing to return under a prisoner transfer agreement. I am determined to ensure that all those who are willing to go home should be encouraged to do so at the earliest opportunity.
Sentencing (Parental Responsibility)
As part of our informal consultations for the Green Paper, we have received clear support for greater engagement of parents and families in the youth justice system. There is strong international evidence and promising emerging evidence from the UK of the effectiveness of supportive parenting interventions in reducing offending by young people.
What we want to do is to move towards a restorative approach to the youth justice system, and particularly to examine whether we can transfer the lessons from the experience of the youth system in Northern Ireland. Youth justice conferencing was very successful there, which involves, of course, the parents of offenders as well as the offenders themselves having to face up to the consequences of their actions. I hope that that gives a pretty unqualified yes to my hon. Friend.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (17836)
I would like to point out that we recently launched the new legal ombudsman scheme on 6 October 2010. The legal ombudsman, established under the Legal Services Act 2007, will act as a one-stop shop for all complaints against legal service providers. The new scheme replaces the previous complaints-handling regime, whereby service complaints about lawyers were dealt with by their regulatory body. The legal ombudsman will preside over the new complaints system, which will be efficient, easily understandable for consumers, and clearly independent from the legal profession.
I recently received a letter from a constituent who in 2000 received a three-year custodial sentence for a non-violent crime. Despite successful rehabilitation and gainful employment, he now discovers that his conviction can never be legally spent—with a dreadful impact on the future lives of both himself and his family. Given the Lord Chancellor’s enthusiasm for rehabilitation, and also the inflation in sentencing over the past 10 years, will he commit to look again at the threshold at which convictions can be legally spent?
My hon. Friend has pointed out some of the problems with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as it operates in today’s climate. I can confirm that this will be covered by our review of sentencing and rehabilitation.
The coalition agreement sets out that we will appoint a commission, which will probably happen next year. We will certainly not resile in any way from our obligations under the European convention on human rights, which the Government accept. We will also examine the prospects of improving understanding of how human rights legislation works in this country.
T3. Are my right hon. and hon. Friends aware of the devastating consequences, particularly for victims of domestic violence, of the decision taken by the Legal Services Commission to halve the number of legal aid providers? In the whole of my constituency of South Northamptonshire we have only one small firm specialising in domestic violence legal aid cases, yet it has just been told that its licence will be revoked. Can Ministers do anything to help my constituents? (17838)
It was a competitive contract, and the contracts have now been awarded. It is appropriate to note that the new legal aid contracts for family law were due to commence on 14 October, but that on 30 September the Legal Services Commission lost a judicial review brought about by the Law Society against its recent tender process. The tender was ruled unlawful and the awards quashed, meaning that the Legal Services Commission is unable to proceed with the new family contracts until a fresh process can be undertaken.
T2. What action will be taken to ensure that the arrest and prosecution of foreign nationals can be undertaken only by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police? (17837)
I will make careful inquiries into what steps are being taken. Obviously foreign nationals should be treated on the same basis as any other residents of this country when it comes to being dealt with via the criminal law. However, if the procedures give rise to some concern, perhaps the hon. Lady would draw the specific problem that troubles her to my attention and that of my team, and we will look into it.
T5. Given the potential closure of Northwich court in my constituency, as a result of which people will have to travel a considerable distance to reach the nearest court in Chester, what plans have the Government to encourage the use of technology to minimise the necessity for members of the public physically to attend the court for routine purposes? (17840)
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to discuss the merits of technology in relation to the courts. As for the court in his constituency, access is important. The Government took the view that an average travelling time of an hour or less would be acceptable.
I think that it would be very publicly acceptable if there were a more work-based regime in more of our prisons. I am not sure what specific tests would need to be devised, but we would need to ensure that, whenever possible, the hours spent in productive employment by prisoners reintroduced to the work habit were similar to those to which they would have to adapt if they obtained a job when they left prison, and that they would be able to produce goods, for instance, generating earnings that would help them to make a contribution to compensation for victims. However, I am not sure that each of those programmes would need to be subjected to a public acceptability test.
T6. Many millions of pounds are spent on court cases involving divorcing couples. Yesterday David Norgrove was quoted as saying that the Department was looking to a Swedish model to help to resolve divorce cases— Name her! What changes does the Secretary of State propose to make, and how much would—[Interruption.] Order. I want to hear the rest of the question. It is becoming more fascinating by the word. What does the Secretary of State intend to learn from the Swedish model, and how much money would be saved? (17841)
We have some good English models too. Family mediation can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful, and provide better outcomes, than contested court proceedings. We know that informing people about mediation helps them to understand how it can enable them to avoid long-drawn-out cases. I am pleased to report that the issue forms part of the Norgrove review, which we will follow with great interest.
How many of those who were seriously injured in the 7/7 bombings are still waiting for compensation? Presumably the Department has some responsibility in that regard. As for the claims that have been finalised, is the Secretary of State aware that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction among those who have received inadequate sums, in view of the serious injuries inflicted by the mass murderers?
Because of the system that we have inherited, the criminal injuries compensation scheme will have to be re-examined. It simply has not received adequate funds in each year’s budget to keep up with the level of claims. We will have to establish how we can produce a system that works more efficiently, is affordable, and does not depend entirely on huge delays before payments are made because no one has been allocated any money to settle all the outstanding claims.
There is quite a lot behind the hon. Gentleman’s question, but of course everything possible is being done to provide the compensation due to people as quickly as possible. Obviously I cannot comment on the assessment of damages in individual cases, but I note the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the disappointment that some have felt.
T7. As part of his efforts to save money by reducing the workload of the magistrates courts, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it his policy to decriminalise the non-payment of the BBC television licence fee, so that the BBC, like every other organisation, must recover its civil debts civilly rather than through the magistrates courts? (17842)
I am not sure that that is my responsibility at present; I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I can only say that the last time I can remember a Government attempting to do that, the idea was not met with a great deal of favour by the BBC—but I shall find out exactly where we are now.
Like many others, I would like to see less use of short-term prison sentences, but will the Justice Secretary expand on his curious remark a little earlier that there is little evidence that prison does any good to anyone?
If I said that, it was one of those slips of the tongue that I very rarely make. Prison is the best and only punishment for serious criminal offenders; it is the one that we all want to use. It has a strong punitive element if the just and correct sentence is given, and the public are, of course, spared from the crimes of the individual for so long as he is in prison—but we should also strive to do much better than we have ever done before in reducing the likelihood of the person reoffending and committing new crimes as soon as he is released. I am, however, delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that short-term sentences are used too much. He should have a word with his party’s newly appointed Front-Bench spokesman, before that Front-Bench spokesman slips into the folly of the last 10 years.
Since no funding was in place from the previous Government for the post of chief coroner, the decision not to go ahead with it was hardly surprising, but does that not leave a gap both in raising standards and in having an appeal procedure less costly than judicial review?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to explain the fact that we aim to improve the coroner system in line with most of the policy in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. However, the purpose of abolishing the chief coroner post is, first, to save the £10 million start-up costs and then the £6.5 million running costs, but also so that some of the chief coroner’s leadership and operational functions can be transferred to an alternative body.
The Secretary of State will be aware that prisoners held within the prison estate are still allowed to smoke tobacco. Does the Secretary of State agree that that presents a huge health risk to Prison Service employees, and are the Government considering the matter?
T8. My right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will be aware of the considerable disquiet felt about the Judicial Appointments Commission both by those within the ranks of the judiciary and by those seeking preferment to it. According to the Library, the cost of the JAC to his Department is in the order of £10 million annually. That is for the discharge of functions formerly performed by the Lord Chancellor’s Department for an amount that I have little doubt was one twentieth of that. We saw the axe taken to a number of quangos this week; when can the House expect the JAC to join them? (17843)
I do not think we are going to abolish the JAC, and it did not appear on the list for the axe this week. My hon. Friend makes a well-founded point, however. While retaining the commission, we will take a close look at improving the way it operates, particularly in respect of the amount that it is now costing, the time it is taking to make appointments, and the burdensome processes that are sometimes introduced.
Perhaps it was also a slip of the tongue when the Secretary of State completely failed to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). Before the election, Members now sitting on the Government Benches, from the current Prime Minister down, all promised on umpteen occasions to sort out the issue of universal jurisdiction. Why have they so far completely failed to do anything about it at all? Why are they shilly-shallying about? When are they going to get it dealt with?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; for some reason, I completely failed to get the full point of what was being said. I thought it was being suggested that there should be a different method for dealing with foreign arrests than for domestic arrests. I entirely agree with the point that has been made. We have already said we are going to readdress the law. The Leader of the House is sitting alongside me, and he tells me that legislation will be introduced in the House very soon.
T10. The Ministry has a laudable and exemplary commitment to evidence-led policy. Given that, can the Minister assure me that when he reviews the magistrates courts, he will look critically at the information on the condition and use of Southport’s courts in the Ministry’s consultation document—which is, frankly, duff, inaccurate and misleading? (17845)
I am sure that the Ministry of Justice is aware of early-day motion 794 in my name, on the Court of Appeal ruling on mesothelioma liability. I received a letter this morning from the Association of British Insurers. I will deal with their very polite request that I withdraw my early-day motion after this, but first I want to focus briefly on its assertion that
“the industry and the ABI agrees…that the appropriate trigger point for employers’ liability policies is the point of exposure”
“not the point at which the disease develops”—
the disease being mesothelioma. Does the Minister agree?
Strategic Defence and Security Review
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the strategic defence and security review. There are four things that I would like to say up front. First, this is not simply a cost-saving exercise to get to grips with the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. It is about taking the right decisions to protect our national security in the years ahead, but let me say this: the two are not separate. Our national security depends on our economic strength, and vice versa.
As our national security is a priority, defence and security budgets will contribute to deficit reduction on a lower scale than most other Departments. Over four years, the defence budget will rise in cash terms, and fall by only 8% in real terms. It will meet the NATO 2% of gross domestic product target for defence spending throughout the next four years. But this Government have inherited a £38-billion black hole in our future defence plans. That is bigger than the entire annual defence budget of £33 billion. Sorting this out is vital not just for tackling the deficit, but for protecting our national security.
Secondly, this review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. We are the sixth largest economy in the world. Even after this review, we expect to continue with the fourth largest military budget in the world. We have a unique network of alliances and relationships—with the United States, as a member of the EU and NATO, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have one of the biggest aid programmes in the world, one of the biggest networks of embassies, a time zone that allows us to trade with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the afternoon, and a language that is spoken across the globe. Our national interest requires our full and active engagement in world affairs. It requires our economy to compete with the strongest and the best, and it requires, too, that we stand up for the values that we believe in. Britain has traditionally punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come, but we need to be more thoughtful, more strategic and more co-ordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security. That is what this review sets out to achieve.
Thirdly, I want to be clear: there is no cut whatsoever in the support for our forces in Afghanistan. The funding for our operations in Afghanistan comes not from the budget of the Ministry of Defence, but instead from the Treasury special reserve, so changes to the Ministry of Defence that result from today’s review will not affect this funding.
Furthermore, every time the chiefs of staff have advised me that a particular change might have implications for our operations in Afghanistan, either now or in the years to come, I have heeded that advice. In fact, we have been and will be providing more for our brave forces in Afghanistan: more equipment to counter the threat from improvised explosive devices; more protected vehicles, such as the Warthog heavy protection vehicle, which will be out there by the end of the year; more surveillance capability, including unmanned aircraft systems; and, crucially, at last, the right level of helicopter capability.
Fourthly, the review has been very different from those that went before it. It has considered all elements of national security, home and abroad, not just defence on its own. It has been led from the top with all the relevant people around the table and, crucially, it will be repeated every five years. The review sets out a step change in the way we protect this country’s security interests. We will move from a Ministry of Defence that is too big, too inefficient and too over-spent to a Department that is smaller, smarter, and more responsible in its spending; from a strategy that is over-reliant on military intervention to a higher priority for conflict prevention; from concentrating on conventional threats to having a new focus on unconventional threats; and from armed forces that are overstretched and under-equipped and that have been deployed too often without appropriate planning to the most professional and most flexible modem forces in the world, fully equipped for the challenges of the future.
I want to take each of those in turn—
I shall give the hon. Gentleman all the figures he requires.
First, even though the Ministry of Defence will get real growth in its budget next year, the Department will face some significant challenges, so the MOD will cut its estate, dispose of unnecessary assets, renegotiate contracts with industry and cut its management overheads, including reducing civilian numbers in the MOD by 25,000 by 2015. We will also adjust and simplify civilian and military allowances. The new higher operational allowance stays, but there will be difficult decisions, although these will be made easier by the return of the Army from Germany. Taken together, all those changes in the MOD will save £4.7 billion over the spending review period.
Getting to grips with procurement is vital. The Nimrod programme, for example, has cost the British taxpayer more than £3 billion; the number of aircraft to be procured has fallen from 21 to nine; the cost per aircraft has increased by more than 200%; and it is more than eight years late. Today, we are announcing its cancellation.
Secondly, from military intervention to conflict prevention, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the immense financial and human costs of large scale military interventions, and although we must retain the ability to undertake such operations, we must get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher. We will expand our capability to deploy military and civilian teams to support stabilisation efforts and build capacity in other states and we will double our investment in aid for fragile and unstable countries so that by 2015 just under a third of the budget of the Department for International Development will be spent on conflict prevention.
Thirdly, we need to focus more of our resources not on the conventional threats of the past but on the unconventional threats of the future. So, over the next four years we will invest more than £500 million of new money in a national cyber-security programme. That will significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyber attacks and it will fix shortfalls in the critical cyber infrastructure on which the whole country now depends. We will continue to prioritise tackling the terrorist threat both from al-Qaeda and its affiliates and from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. Although efficiencies will need to be made, we are giving priority to continuing investment in our world-class intelligence agencies and we will sharpen our readiness to act on civil emergencies, energy security, organised crime, counter-proliferation and border security.
Fourthly, and crucially, we need to move from armed forces that are over-stretched and under-equipped to the most modern and professional flexible forces in the world. We inherited an Army with scores of tanks in Germany, but that was until recently forced to face the deadly threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan with Land Rovers designed for Northern Ireland. We have a Royal Air Force hampered in its efforts to support our forces overseas by an ageing strategic airlift fleet and we have a Royal Navy locked into a cycle of ever smaller numbers of ever more expensive ships. We cannot go on like this.
The White Paper we have published today sets out a clear vision for the future structure of our armed forces. The precise budgets beyond 2015 will be agreed in future spending reviews. My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015. Between now and then the Government are committed to the vision of 2020 set out in the review and we will make decisions accordingly. We are also absolutely determined that the Ministry of Defence will become much more commercially hard-headed in future and will adopt a much more aggressive drive for efficiencies.
The transition from the mess we inherited to that coherent future will be a difficult process, especially in the current economic conditions, but we are determined to take the necessary steps. Our ground forces will continue to have a vital operational role, so we will retain a large, well-equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—7,000 fewer than today. We will continue to be one of very few countries able to deploy a self-sustaining, properly equipped, brigade-sized force anywhere around the world and to sustain it indefinitely if needs be. We will also be able to put 30,000 into the field for a major, one-off operation.
In terms of the return from Germany, half our personnel should be back by 2015 and the remainder by 2020. Tank and heavy artillery numbers will be reduced by about 40%, but the introduction of 12 new heavy lift Chinook helicopters, new protected mobility vehicles and enhanced communications equipment will make the Army more mobile, more flexible and better equipped to face future threats than ever before.
We will also review the structure of our reserve forces to ensure that we make the most efficient use of their skills, experience and outstanding capabilities. That review will be chaired by the vice-chief of the defence staff, General Houghton, and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has served for many years in the reserves, will act as his very able deputy.
The Royal Navy will be similarly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are procuring a fleet of the most capable nuclear powered hunter-killer Astute class submarines anywhere in the world. Able to operate in secret across the world’s oceans, those submarines will also feed vital strategic intelligence back to the UK. We will complete the production of six Type 45 destroyers —one of the most effective multi-role destroyers in the world. We will also start a new programme to develop less expensive, more flexible, modern frigates. Total naval manpower will reduce to around 30,000 by 2015—that is a reduction of 5,000—and by 2020 the total number of frigates and destroyers will reduce from 23 to 19. However, the fleet as a whole will be better able to take on today’s tasks—from tackling drug trafficking and piracy to counter-terrorism.
The Royal Air Force will also need to take some tough measures in the coming years to ensure a strong future. We have decided to retire the Harrier, which has served this country so well for 40 years. It is a remarkably flexible aircraft, but the military advice is clear: we should sustain the Tornado fleet as that aircraft is more capable and better able to sustain operations in Afghanistan. RAF manpower will also reduce to around 33,000 by 2015—again, that is a reduction of 5,000. Inevitably, that will mean changes in the way in which some RAF bases are used, but some are likely to be required by the Army as forces return from Germany. We owe it to communities up and down the country who have supported our armed forces for many years to engage with them before final decisions are taken.
By the 2020s, the Royal Air Force will be based around a fleet of two of the most capable fighter jets anywhere in the world—a modernised Typhoon fleet, fully capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, and the joint strike fighter, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat jet. The fleet will be complemented by a growing number of unmanned aerial vehicles and the A400M transport aircraft together with the existing fleet of C-17 aircraft and the future strategic tanker aircraft. This will allow us to fly our forces wherever they are needed in the world.
As we focus our resources on the most likely threats to our security, so we will remain vigilant against all possible threats and we should retain the capability to react to the unexpected. As we cut back on tanks and heavy artillery, we will retain the ability to regenerate those capabilities if need be; and while in the short term the ability to deploy air power from the sea is unlikely to be essential, over the longer term we cannot assume that bases for land-based aircraft will always be available when and where we need them, so we will ensure the UK has carrier strike capability for the future. This is another area where I believe the last Government got it badly wrong. There is only one thing worse than spending money you don’t have, and that is buying the wrong things with it—and doing so in the wrong way. The carriers they ordered were unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France. They had failed to plan so carriers and planes would arrive at the same time. They ordered the more expensive and less capable version of the joint strike fighter to fly off the carriers. And they signed contracts, so we were left in a situation where even cancelling the second carrier would actually cost more than to build it. [Interruption.] I have this in written confirmation from BAE Systems.
That is the legacy we inherited—an appalling legacy the British people have every right to be angry about, but I say to them today: we will act in the national interest. We would not have started from here, but the right decisions are now being made in the right way and for the right reasons.
It will take time to rectify these mistakes, but this is how we intend to do so. We will build both carriers, but hold one in extended readiness. We will fit the “cats and traps”—the catapults and arrester gear—to the operational carrier. This will allow our allies to operate from our operational carrier, and it will allow us to buy the carrier version of the joint strike fighter, which is more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons. We will also aim to bring the planes and the carriers in at the same time.
Finally, we cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge, so we will retain and renew the ultimate insurance policy—our independent nuclear deterrent, which guards our country round the clock every day of the year. We have completed a value for money review of our future deterrent plans, and as a result we can do the following. We can extend the life of the Vanguard class so that the first replacement submarine is not required until 2028; we can reduce the number of operational launch tubes on those new submarines from 12 to eight; we can reduce the number of warheads on our submarines at sea from 48 to 40; and we can reduce our stockpile of operational warheads from fewer than 160 to fewer than 120.
The next phase of the programme to renew our deterrent, the so-called “initial gate,” will start by the end of this year. But as a result of the changes to the programme, the decision to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until around 2016. We will save around £1.2 billion and defer a further £2 billion of spending from the next 10 years. So, yes, we will save money, but we will retain and renew a credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent that will stand constant guard over our nation’s security.
Finally, the immense contribution of our highly professional special forces is necessarily largely unreported, but their immense capability is recognised across the world. We are significantly increasing our investment in our special forces to ensure they remain at the leading edge of operational capability, prepared to meet current and future threats, and maintaining their unique and specialist role. This enhanced capability will allow them to remain at “extremely high readiness” for emergency operations.
We were left a budget £38 billion overspent, armed forces at war, overstretched, under-equipped and ill prepared for the challenges of the future, and the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. I believe we have begun to deal with all these things, sorting out the legacy and fitting Britain’s defences for the future. I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces? I also want to pay tribute to their families, who sustain their loved ones as they prepare for, serve on and recover from operational service. They are the best of Britain, and we should recognise that in the House here today. We must ensure that their interests are protected in all the decisions we make.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance notice of his statement—in today’s papers, yesterday’s papers, Sunday’s papers, Saturday’s papers and Friday’s papers. It almost did not matter that I got his statement at 3.15 pm because I had read so much of it in the newspapers, but, as someone who takes Parliament seriously, I have to say to the Prime Minister that the process of announcement of the review has been a complete shambles. I genuinely hope he will learn the lessons from it.
On issues of defence and national security, we will always seek to be constructive. I believe the Prime Minister approaches the challenge of national defence, as all Governments have done, with the right intentions, and it does neither our politics nor our armed services any good to imply anything different. That is the approach I shall follow today.
The cuts announced today clearly represent a significant reduction in our defence spending, but what matters in our defence spending is what the money does for our defence and security needs. That is what I want to focus on today. First, I remind the Prime Minister of the concern expressed by the Defence Secretary in the letter to him. He said that
“this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR”.
The Prime Minister will know that the concern that the Defence Secretary expressed was expressed not just by the Defence Secretary, but by the Chair of the Select Committee, by many Members of the House and by many independent observers.
Is it not instructive that the strategic defence review of 1998 took 15 months to complete and involved much greater consultation and in-depth study? May I ask the Prime Minister to respond to the widespread perception that the review has been driven only by short-term considerations? Does he think, on reflection, that it would have been better to have had a longer-term strategic defence review, continuing after the spending review?
Secondly, may I ask the Prime Minister about the most immediate and pressing issue of Afghanistan? I reiterate that we support the mission in Afghanistan and will work in a bipartisan way with him to stabilise the country and bring our troops home safely. I was reassured by what he said in his statement about Afghanistan, but may I ask him for some further assurances that he has been told by the Chief of the Defence Staff that no decision announced today will in any way undermine or disadvantage our military operations in Afghanistan?
I welcome what today’s statement said about delivering new equipment, but may I raise with the Prime Minister the issue of extra helicopters? People will remember that he made much of the issue of helicopters in the previous Parliament. The order, as I understand it, was for 22 extra helicopters, but the document produced today states on page 25 that “12 new Chinook helicopters” will be ordered. I simply ask the Prime Minister to explain the discrepancy between the 22 helicopters that I believe he wanted in the previous Parliament, and the 12 that have been ordered.
Thirdly, I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that a key part of preparing for the challenge of the future is the targeting of limited national resources on the most pressing threats. He mentioned terrorism in his statement, and the national security strategy identified terrorism as a tier 1 threat. Given that today’s announcement forms only a partial response to yesterday’s national security strategy, can he assure the House that nothing announced tomorrow in the changes to the Home Office budget will in any way undermine or weaken our ability to counter terrorism in all its forms?
Fourthly, on the issue of preparing our armed forces for future challenges, we agree that savings can be made on the legacy cold war capability, such as in the number of Challenger tanks and in heavy artillery. However, I seek reassurance from the Prime Minister that he is content that the decisions made today do not in any way compromise our ability to support current operations and defend our interests round the world. In particular, what does the capability gap arising from the scrapping of our Harriers and the withdrawal of Ark Royal mean for our force projection, which was made much of in the national security strategy document yesterday? What does it mean for our ability to defend our overseas territories? In that context, will he also reassure the House that the best strategic decision for the next decade really is for Britain to have aircraft carriers without aircraft, which is the decision he announced today?
May I also ask the Prime Minister about two things that he did not mention in his statement? Will he confirm what he did not tell the House but what I think is set out on page 19 of the review—that he is today announcing a one-third reduction in the number of troops that Britain can deploy on both short-term and enduring bases? Will he also take the opportunity to respond to the huge disappointment that there will be in south Wales, following the decision announced in a written ministerial statement this morning to terminate the defence training college at St Athan, which he personally promised would go ahead?
Fifthly, there will be concerns that the review has failed to address strategically the important questions about the future of our nuclear deterrent. All parts of the House support the retention of the nuclear deterrent, alongside progress in multilateral disarmament talks, but can I say—[Interruption.]
There will be concern that the Prime Minister has announced a whole range of decisions on Trident, despite telling us for months that it was not part of the strategic defence review. He made much of the issue of the procurement budget, but will he confirm that by choosing to delay Trident, he is creating a large unfunded spending commitment in the next Parliament—precisely the problem he told us he wants to get away from in procurement.
We will help the Prime Minister and his Government as they seek to do what is best for our country’s security, but many people will believe that this review is a profound missed opportunity. It is a spending review dressed up as a defence review; it has been chaotically conducted and hastily prepared; and it is simply not credible as a strategic blueprint for our future defence needs.
The Opposition will support him where we can, but we will also give his strategy serious scrutiny, and where necessary and appropriate we will subject it to the principled and responsible opposition it deserves.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about our armed forces. Anyone who does my job or that of Defence Secretary knows that we have in our armed forces the bravest of the brave, some of the most professional and dedicated people, and everyone in this House looks up to them and is proud of them.
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is here at all, because of course today is the day of the TUC rally that he promised to attend. I am very glad that he got his priorities right, and I am sure that all the trade unionists who voted for him will fully understand.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that I had not got him the statement early enough, but I got the document to him two hours ago, which I do not remember his predecessor being very quick to do, but there we are. I might be being unfair.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman should have started his statement with one word—“sorry”: sorry for the £38 billion of overspend in the MOD; sorry for the fact that the previous Government left more civil servants than we had sailors or airmen; sorry for the £2.3 billion that they spent on refurbishing the Ministry of Defence; and sorry for the completely unsustainable promises that they made.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions, and I shall try to answer every single one. He compared this review with the 1998 review, but one crucial difference is that the 1998 review did not include the funding to go with the promises that were made. Yes, we have made tough decisions in this review, but the funding is there to meet the promises that have been made.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the review was all about short-term considerations, but I have to say that we have made some long-term decisions: to invest £650 million in cyber at a time when one is making cuts is a long-term decision; to sort out the future of the carriers is a long-term decision; and scrapping many tanks and heavy artillery involves difficult but long-term decisions. On his idea that we should take longer over it, I have to tell him that these decisions do not get any easier by just putting them off. We have had a proper process—a national security process. I note that during his leadership election, he said:
“I think there is a strong case for carrying out our own Strategic Defence Review so that we can give appropriate scrutiny to the Government’s plan”.
I have not seen that review; perhaps it will emerge eventually.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about no decision doing damage to what we are doing in Afghanistan, I made it clear in my statement, and I make it clear again to him now, that that has been absolutely uppermost in my mind.
The reason I kept talking about helicopters in the last Parliament is that every time I went to Afghanistan, that is what the troops on the ground were worried about. Now, talking to our troops on the ground—I did a video conference call with the commander of our forces in Helmand only a few days ago—one finds that that is not their concern; they now have the helicopters they need. Let me answer specifically the point about the Chinook order. There was no order for Chinook helicopters—it was this Government who have had to fund that. The number of Chinooks is going from 46 to 60, and we will also be refurbishing the Puma helicopters to add to capacity.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Home Office budget; he will have to wait until tomorrow for that. However, I would stress again that this decision—this document—was brought about by the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the International Development Secretary and the Business Secretary sitting round as a National Security Council making the right decisions. On his question about being able to produce 30,000 forces in theatre, that was in my statement.
Let me address very directly the issue of the capability gap, because this has been the most difficult decision for the Government to take. There is no gap in our flexible posture. With our air-to-air refuelling and our fast jet capability, we have the ability to deploy force around the world, but I accept that there is going to be a gap in carrier strike. The alternative would be to keep the Harriers but not to keep the Tornados. I think that that would be the wrong decision. The Harriers, in any event, would have to be in Afghanistan, not on an aircraft carrier. The Harrier, while a brilliant aircraft, is not as capable as the Tornado. There are fewer Harriers than Tornados, so there would be a question as to whether they could sustain the action in Afghanistan. The premise underlying the question is not right. The current carriers are not equivalent to the future carriers that we are building. I have to say to hon. Gentlemen who may think, “Well, why not try to keep all of them—the Tornados, Harriers and Typhoons—and develop the joint strike fighter?”, that that would be prohibitively expensive. As I say, it is the sort of decision that was taken in the last Parliament just to push these things off into the future. We have to make the tough decisions now to line up our forces for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman’s last question was on Trident. I have been saving that up for the end because I was so excited by his questions. We held a value-for-money review on Trident because we really wanted to find out what money we could save, and we are saving money, including £700 million in this Parliament—that is money available to invest in other things, and it does nothing to risk our Trident replacement. I believe that Trident is vital to our nation’s security and, having looked at all the evidence, that a proper full replacement of Trident is the right option for the future. These are responsible decisions, well made. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is now running away from the Trident replacement that he supported, that that would be a profound mistake for this country.
Does the Prime Minister understand that many will view with great concern the decision to postpone the vital decisions on the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent until 2016—after the general election, when, for all we know, Lib Dem Ministers may still be there in Cabinet and, having been lifelong opponents of the nuclear deterrent, will continue to try to veto it, so that this decision looks like a subordination of the national interest to the political expediency of keeping the coalition going?
I really can reassure my hon. Friend. I am a very strong supporter of replacing Trident. We have sought the best military advice on what is right for its replacement, and the fact is that because we have been operating the Vanguard submarines for many years, we know what their life can be. We know that it is absolutely right to go through the initial gate this year—we are spending some £700 million in this Parliament on Trident’s replacement—but to go through the final gate of actually commissioning the building in 2016. We are on track to replace Trident and have a full-service nuclear deterrent. It is the right decision, and it saves money at the same time. That is what we should do.
Is not the Prime Minister doing precisely what he criticises with regard to Trident? He is putting off the decision and delaying the expenditure, thereby increasing it. He has also cancelled the Nimrod aircraft, rendering our nuclear deterrent less than invulnerable. How is that sensible, never mind strategic?
Let me first answer the right hon. Gentleman’s last question. What we are proposing would mean no reduction in continuous at-sea deterrence, which is vital. We set out that we were committed to Trident’s replacement but wanted a value-for-money review, and we asked the Ministry of Defence to go through all the possibilities and look to see how we could extend the life of the existing submarines, work on Trident’s replacement and ensure that we had continuous at-sea deterrence all the way through. Those are the sorts of questions, frankly, that the last Government should have asked. It would be irresponsible not to do so if we want to have a full-service nuclear deterrent but want value for money. That is the sort of thing that the last Government should have been asking about.
May I offer the Prime Minister some comfort in relation to Trident and say that I welcome the proposals, particularly as they are consistent with the Liberal Democrat position and also make an important contribution to multilateral nuclear disarmament? Will he confirm that between now and 2016, he will continue to pursue opportunities for multilateral nuclear disarmament, and also investigate the possibilities for greater military co-operation, including nuclear co-operation, with the French?
Of course we will continue to look at our responsibilities on nuclear disarmament, which we believe can be done on a multilateral basis, and of course we should be looking at co-operation with the French. Let me say to anyone who fears that that is a cloak for a European army that it is completely the opposite. Britain and France have very shared assets and very shared interests in developing our Army and Air Force and working out where we can work together to increase our sovereign capability. I will be having a defence summit with President Sarkozy before Christmas, at which I think we can take some very exciting steps forward.
The one place where I would probably part company with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that although I know the Liberal Democrats are absolutely entitled to use the time between now and 2016 to look at alternatives, from looking at those alternatives I do not think that any of them would give us the assurance of having a full-service nuclear deterrent with the Trident submarine and missile system. I do not think the alternatives come up to scratch in anything like the ways some of their proponents propose, but under our coalition agreement he is free to continue to look at that. The programme for replacing Trident is on track and going ahead.
The Prime Minister has announced cuts and deferred defence decisions today, and tomorrow the Chancellor will announce cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC World Service, yet the national security strategy states:
“The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence.”
Given that statement, is it not true that the national security strategy is not worth the paper it is written on?
May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman a novel idea? Why do we not start looking at what we get out of public spending rather than what we put in? He will see in the strategy that we are actually ensuring that we get the things we need for our Army, Navy and Air Force. We are going to get greater efficiencies, even in vital bodies such as the intelligence services—that is what we have to do at a time when we have such large deficits and debts—but he can see the priority that this Government give to defence and national security in the decisions that we have taken.
With such a thankless task because of the economic background, may I commend the Prime Minister and his colleagues for ensuring that even though reductions in defence capability are inescapable at the moment, we will be able to reverse many of them if our economy improves and resources increase? May I also suggest that the whole House ought to welcome the prospect of saving £700 million on Trident without interfering with continuous at-sea deterrence? Is he satisfied that the technical evidence that he has been given supports that conclusion?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. As a lifelong supporter of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent and someone who wants us to have a full service replacement, I wanted to make absolutely sure that we would have continuous at-sea deterrence and that there would be no break between the Vanguard submarines and what will follow. I am satisfied from all the evidence I have seen that that is what we will get. The reason that we have been able to do that is that the Vanguard submarines have been operating for longer. We now know about their life extension and what is possible. It is possible to continue with the independent nuclear deterrent and its replacement without a break in capability.
Thoughts must go to servicemen and servicewomen in communities around the country. Many will be worried about their futures following the Prime Minister’s statement, including thousands at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss in Moray. Does he understand that if both those bases close, it will mean a 25% cut in the uniform service posts in Scotland as a whole? Given that it will cost more to close RAF Lossiemouth than to maintain it as a Tornado base, will he or the Defence Secretary meet me to discuss its future?
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, RAF Kinloss will not be required by the RAF following the decisions that we have taken, but we are not announcing base closures today because more armed service personnel will come home from Germany than will lose their positions following my announcements. There is therefore an opportunity to use RAF bases for other military purposes. I hate to make too much of a political point, but one wonders how many bases and how much capability there would be if there were an independent Scotland.
The Defence Select Committee will wish to give the review very close scrutiny. It seems to take a real gamble with the short term in order to provide security and stability in the longer term, but how will my right hon. Friend answer those who say, as they will, “If we can get away with no fast jet aircraft carriers for 10 years, why do we need them at all?” Will he defend the Defence budget against such an attack?
That is absolutely the crucial question and the one that I personally spent the most time on. In many ways, the politically easy answer would be to keep Harriers in service and thereby pretend that there would be no real carrier-strike gap between the carriers we have now and those we will have in future, but militarily, that would be the wrong thing to do. Our greatest priority today is making sure that we have what we need in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the Harrier did great work, but the Tornado is more capable and carries a bigger payload, which is vital. Retiring the Harrier and keeping the Tornado is the right decision.
On our ability to project power around the world, as I said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, we have air-to-air refuelling, the friendly bases, our allies and overfly rights. It is not easy to see in the short term the need for that sort of carrier strike, but we cannot rule it out for the longer term. I think that a good decision plus a carrier strike gap is better than a bad decision with what we might pretend is no gap. Actually, there is a big difference between our current carriers with the Harriers on board and the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers that we will have in future, with the joint strike fighter, which has a far larger range.
It is difficult, but, having heard all the arguments, I am convinced. I came at the problem as a politician quite tempted by the easy political answer, but the right military answer is the right thing to do for our country.
The Prime Minister will know that the country’s only remaining factory for the manufacture of battle tanks and heavy fighting vehicles is located in Newcastle upon Tyne. Is the factory of strategic importance to the United Kingdom—being the only one we have—and will he say what implications today’s announcement has for the factory?
Clearly—and everyone will accept this—we need to get away from the sort of cold war tactics of having massed tank regiments in Germany, as we have had in the past. The statement as a whole is extremely positive for Britain’s industrial base, in terms of things such as the joint strike fighter, in which we have a huge participation; the A400M, which we will be building; and the shipbuilding that will continue on the Clyde. Obviously, we need to retain key sovereign capabilities and we have to ask in each case what is strictly necessary. Clearly, we will retain a number of tanks and we need them to be properly serviced and workable, because we cannot predict all future conflicts—and it would be a mistake for a document such as this to try to do so.
May I welcome this review, and especially the careful analysis that has gone into it and the conclusions that have been reached? Does the Prime Minister agree that this is just the starting point for a fundamental transformation of defence in this country so that in 10 years’ time we will have a defence posture and capability capable of securing the way ahead for Great Britain?
My hon. Friend is right. The whole point about this review is that it has a vision for what our forces should look like in 2020—10 years’ time rather than just five years’ time. Because the Ministry of Defence and the service chiefs can now see their budgets for the whole of the spending review period, they can make proper plans and try to drive some efficiencies through the MOD so that they get even more for the money that they have. We must have reviews every five years. The problem has been that we had a review in 1998, which was not properly funded, and then a sort of scissors crisis, in which the commitments went in one direction and the ability to fund them went in another direction. To stop that happening in future, we need regular defence reviews and that is what we are committed to having.
We have now seen some of the biggest cuts ever in defence, as we saw when the Conservatives were last in power. The so-called party of defence is no longer the party of defence. The Prime Minister has already said that we should be out of Afghanistan in five years, no matter what. Do the assumptions he has made assume that that is still the case and that the capability will therefore reduce over those five years?
Along with our NATO partners, we believe that there is a clear programme of training up the Afghan national army, police and security forces so that they should be in the lead by 2014. That is our aim, and in addition I have said that by 2015 we should not be in a major combat role or there in major numbers. By then we will have been in Helmand province for longer than the entire second world war. We will have played our part, and I am confident that we are making good progress so that the 2014 calendar to which NATO is committed will go ahead. I do not accept that taking long-term, difficult decisions about the defence of our country makes us somehow anti-defence—the opposite is true. I am passionate about our armed forces, what they represent in our country and what they do on our behalf, but we do not serve them by putting off decisions for the future, making all sorts of airy-fairy promises and then not funding them.
It was sad to hear this morning that the appointment of Metrix as the preferred bidder for the St Athan project had been terminated, although we can understand the reasons. It is a disappointment for the armed forces who need those facilities, as well as for Wales and the Welsh economy. The statement also says that
“work on the alternative options will begin as soon as possible”.
Can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that the St Athan site will remain prominent among those options?
I absolutely can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The current programme and PFI for St Athan is not affordable, but this is not the end of the road for training at St Athan. Training, including fire training, takes place there now, and everybody knows that the MOD and our armed forces need to train together and in fewer places—and St Athan is perfectly placed to bid for that training. There will now be intense discussions between the MOD and others to try to bring that about.
For obvious reasons, the Prime Minister was not able to list in his statement all the vessels that will potentially be scrapped. Those vessels may include HMS Chatham, HMS Cornwall and HMS Ocean, but those are all due for refit in Devonport. Without that work, 300 jobs will be at risk and the skills base will also be at risk, because there is an 18-month trough in the period in which those vessels will be refitted. What discussions did he have on the issue of the skills base with the defence industries before this announcement?
I know the hon. Lady has a very strong constituency interest in this matter, and perhaps I can get back to her in greater detail on the refit programme. I can tell her that HMS Ocean will be going into refit. Clearly, as we have explained, the number of frigates and destroyers combined will be coming down to 19. The decision on the future of HMS Ocean and HMS Illustrious will have to be taken on the basis of what is the best platform for the use of helicopters. The best thing is for us, as we go through the details, to tell her more about what I think will be fundamentally good news for both Plymouth and Portsmouth, because we want to keep both naval bases—and keep them busy. The communities there are hugely supportive of our armed forces and give them tremendous backing. I have never believed that it is right to put all our defence eggs into a very small number of bases, as it were, so Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane will of course all go ahead.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s determination to adopt a more thoughtful and strategic approach. Has he had a chance to read the Public Administration Committee’s report “Who does UK National Strategy?”, in which the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff commented that the UK had
“lost an institutionalised capacity for, and culture of, strategic thought”?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a more co-ordinated approach to strategic thinking across Whitehall, and will he adopt the report’s recommendations?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That was one of the reasons why yesterday we published the national security strategy separately—so that people could see that the defence review flows from strategic thinking about Britain’s place in the world, about the threats we face and about how we can bring all of the Government together to try to deal with that. The National Security Council and the national security adviser, Peter Ricketts—I pay tribute to him and his team for their work—are working well at bringing the Government together to interrogate the experts and really think about what our strategy should be and what that means for the decisions we have to take. That is much better than a two-way battle between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
The Prime Minister says that savings can be made in this Parliament by delaying Trident, but can he say what the increased cost overall to the deterrent programme will be of this delay and how this needless risk and uncertainty are showing leadership in the long-term interests of the country?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a strong constituency interest in this matter. I can tell him that overall the cost will be lower—this was a value-for-money exercise. We are driving costs out of the programme, and overall we believe that it will be less expensive. Further good news is that the Astute class submarines are going ahead. Obviously he will have a tortured time ahead as he considers the fact that this Prime Minister and Government support the Trident replacement when his own party is going a bit soft on it.
My right hon. Friend has it in his power to secure the future of the nuclear deterrent until 2055 by holding the vital vote and making the main gate contract decisions in this Parliament, not the next one. He could do that at no extra cost, even if he wishes to delay the introduction of the system. Will he explain his reason for delaying this vital vote into the next Parliament, other than to make our ultimate deterrent a political gambling chip to satisfy the Liberal Democrats?
I worked with my hon. Friend for many, many years, and I know that he takes an extremely close and professional interest in this matter. I remember he did it when there was not a single supporter of nuclear deterrence on the Labour Benches. He did a great service to the country. However, I would make two points to him: first, the military advice is that we need to go through the main gate in 2016, not earlier. I would also like to make another, slightly more frivolous point: I am not as lacking in confidence as he is that there will be plenty of supporters of Britain’s strong and independent nuclear deterrent in the next Parliament.
Given that the Prime Minister, in his previous answer, cast doubt on the Labour party’s commitment to Trident, and given that we know that his coalition partners are against it, may I return to the question he was just asked? Why is he afraid to put this to a vote before 2015?
I really think that I have answered the question. The military advice is that 2016 is when we need to go through the main gate. We are going through the initial gate this year. We now have the Backbench Business Committee, so if anybody wants to hold a vote in this Parliament, they can do so, to check that we are going through the initial gate, which we are steaming through this year. I question the Opposition’s position, because the leader of the party said throughout the leadership election:
“I have been clear…I believe the right approach is to include the decision about the replacement of Trident in the…defence review”.
He is therefore not automatically committed to the full replacement of Trident, so perhaps the hon. Lady ought to have a word with him and put him right on that.
I can say yes to both those questions, particularly the second, which is: do we have the naval assets to meet the tasks of tackling piracy, combating drug running, maintaining patrols and suchlike? Yes, we do have that capability, and it is extremely important that that should be on the record.
The Prime Minister announced a reduction of 7,000 to the Army. Will he give the House an assurance that this will not include front-line infantry units such as the Royal Irish Regiment, which is currently deployed in Afghanistan? Secondly, I welcome the establishment of the review of the reserve forces and the appointment of our hon. Friend the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the review will seek to expand the role of the reserve forces in support of our regular forces? Finally, will he ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the special forces deployed there receive the support that they need to deal with the threat from dissident republicans?
That was very ingenious: the right hon. Gentleman managed to get round your restriction on questions, Mr Speaker, and I think managed to get in at least three. As for regiments, I can confirm that no infantry regiments will be abolished or scrapped as a result of the review. The reduction in the Army numbers will be achieved by reducing the number of headquarters, particularly the divisional and regional headquarters. There may be some impact on logistics and artillery, but no infantry battalions will be altered.
On the reserves, I was personally keen that we should look widely at what other countries are doing on the balance between regular and reserve forces, and ensure that our reserve forces are properly equipped for the sort of modern wars that we have to fight and the modern services that they have to undertake. I do not think that we have done that work yet, which is why I have taken it out of the defence review and said that we should have a proper, separate look.
On Northern Ireland, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the last Government gave a number of commitments on the devolution of policing and justice, and the funding that this required, and we will continue with those. We have had a discussion in the National Security Council about these issues and how we best tackle the threat from dissident republicans. I can give the right hon. Gentleman my word that we will continue to give the issue our highest attention, and he will have noticed in the national security strategy that we have put it down as one of the highest priorities for our country, which is right.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that there will be no shrinkage in Britain’s role on the world stage. The Royal Navy has fulfilled a number of deployments around the globe for many decades. Can he reassure me that with the reduction in the number of frigates, there will be no reduction in the number of the Royal Navy’s commitments?
The Royal Navy has said that it is able to undertake its task with this lay down of frigates and destroyers. We obviously have the new Type 45 destroyers coming into service, which are costing something like £1 billion each, and we will have the less expensive, more flexible future frigates coming forward as well. I genuinely mean this point about no strategic shrinkage. We are having to take some difficult decisions, but when we think about how much time we spend in this House talking about natural disasters the world over, and about our role in trying to tackle them, one argument that we need to develop is about how the money that we spend through our aid budget plays a key role in ensuring that there is no strategic shrinkage.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty commits this country to long-term nuclear disarmament and to take steps to achieve that. The Prime Minister has just announced the replacement of the Trident nuclear system at some point in the future. Is this not illegal under the terms of that treaty, and how much money will it cost us to develop another generation of weapons of mass destruction, when what we need is peace and a nuclear-free world?
Our proposals are within the spirit and the letter of the non-proliferation treaty. Also, I did not necessarily come to the House today to try to make the hon. Gentleman happy, but I did announce that we would be reducing the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40, and our operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, which is all contained on page 38 of this excellent document today, which I commend to him.
The communities of Wootton Bassett and Calne, as well as that of Lyneham itself, will deeply regret the loss of the RAF from my constituency to that of the Prime Minister. Will he accept that those communities are absolutely ready to accept soldiers into the vacated base, and that the base itself, which will be vacant by the end of next year and is close to Salisbury plain, is ideally suited to brigades returning from Germany?
My hon. Friend has stood up for Lyneham with vigour and tenacity for many years, and I commend him for that. This is a good opportunity to put on record the respect that everyone in this House and in the country has for the people of Wootton Bassett for what they have done. I am in the embarrassing position of having in my constituency the premier RAF base, Brize Norton, which, I am afraid, does not particularly suffer from the announcements made today. My hon. Friend has made a good suggestion for the future of Lyneham, and I am sure that he can pursue it with the Ministry of Defence.
There are human costs attached to the 42,000 job losses across the Ministry of Defence and the military that have been announced today. Can we have an assurance that those people who are losing their jobs in the Ministry, the civil service, the military and the defence industry will be given help and support to relocate, and that their housing needs will be addressed, given the housing cuts that have been announced in the past few days? Can we have an assurance that the people who have served and offered their lives for this country are not going to be discarded?
I can absolutely give the hon. Lady that assurance. We want to ensure that as many of the job losses as possible are found through voluntary redundancy and retirement, rather than through making people redundant. I can also confirm what has been said before, which is that we will obviously not be making anyone redundant who is in Afghanistan or whose units are in Afghanistan. That will not be happening; that is extremely important.
In terms of the industrial base, of course there will be impacts—for instance, with the decision on Nimrod—but if we look across British industry as a whole, and at the decisions on shipbuilding, on the A400M and on the joint strike fighter among many others, we can see that there is a strong future for defence manufacturing in our country.
Let me just put on record how much we should value the MOD’s civilians and how hard they work, because I know that they sometimes feel undervalued. I was at the Permanent Joint Headquarters today and saw many civilians working alongside their military counterparts to co-ordinate our efforts in Afghanistan; they were doing a fantastic job. It is right that we reduce the number of civilians in the MOD—it has got too big—but we need to ensure that we do it in as sensitive a way as possible.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the honour that he has done me in putting me on to the commission. I also find it deeply humbling that five parliamentary colleagues have been among the 27,000 men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq as reservists over the past eight years. I welcome this wide-ranging study, and my right hon. Friend made it clear that it goes across all three services and will look at the balance between regulars and reserves. Has he thought about who else he might put on to the commission?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for taking part in this. I want the vice-chief of the defence staff, General Nick Houghton, to lead it, and I think that my hon. Friend should be the deputy. General Lamb, who has served our country outstandingly in Iraq and Afghanistan and was taken on personally by the Americans in Afghanistan because of the great work he has done, has also agreed to serve. My Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) is one of the many people in the House who has served in the reserve forces, but I am afraid that he will not be free to do this. I once suffered a capability gap when he went to Iraq during the last Parliament in the rather hard-to-explain role of liaising with the Italian forces—something I know everyone thinks he is uniquely qualified to do.
Given that a nuclear attack on the UK by another state was judged by yesterday’s national security strategy to be of “low likelihood” and in the light of the formal exclusion of Trident from the strategic defence and security review, will the Prime Minister use the delay in the Trident main gate decision to allow a full public review of the necessity of nuclear weapons?
I think that there will be a continuing debate in this country about nuclear deterrence. I have been through the arguments in my own mind a thousand times, and I always come up with the same answer, which is that, in an uncertain, unsafe and dangerous world, with countries like Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, it would be a profound mistake for Britain to discard her nuclear weapon. But this debate can always take place in this House. I think that my party has a very settled view on it, and the White Paper safeguards that, but it is for others to make up their own minds.
I remind the House of my interest. Will the Government match their commitment to conflict prevention with an expansion of the stabilisation unit and greater use of our specialist reserves in a military stabilisation and support group?
My hon. Friend, who has served in Afghanistan and has expertise in bomb disposal—we should give him credit for that—makes a good point. The whole point of taking the reserves out of the review and of having a separate, longer and more thoughtful look is precisely to answer the sort of question that he puts. When it comes to what is called “hot stabilisation”, I think it is right to try to develop units where we bring the military and civilians together. Then, in that vital golden hour when we have gone into a community, we can start to get things done so that the population is on our side rather than against us. If we are to have more of what have been called “wars among the people”, we must make sure that we are properly equipped to deal with them.
I have always supported the case for greater conflict prevention, but conflict prevention needs to be understood and practised by the military themselves. How will the Prime Minister guarantee the continuing and proper focus of the Department for International Development on women, children and achieving the millennium development goals if a third of its budget should be reallocated to conflict prevention, which is something quite different?
I would say that conflict affects women and children and that broken states have the worst records on poverty and development. Far be it from me to recommend a reading list to the right hon. Lady, but Paul Collier’s work on the bottom billion and broken states backs up the case for how we should use our DFID budget—yes, for meeting the millennium development goals; yes, for vaccination and malaria reduction and all those extremely worthwhile things; but I think we are mad if we do not put money into mending broken states, where so many of the problems of poverty arise.
I strongly support our defence industrial base, which is one of our great industries and a great export earner for our country. We should support it. However, when we were looking at how to make this very difficult budgetary situation work, I checked the figures and found that between 2011 and 2015, we will be spending £17 billion with BAE Systems. We are an enormous customer for it. Just as it behoves us as a Government to spend responsibly and think of our industrial base, so it must ensure that we get value for money for the very many millions we spend.
I find it passing strange that the Prime Minister made no reference in his statement to the defence training academy at St Athan and then failed to answer a direct and simple question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Has the Prime Minister not been told that the academy is cost effective, delivers savings and will improve the quality of training for our armed services? He talks about professionalism and flexibility, so how does it make sense to axe it?
This is what the defence review was all about—asking some of these difficult questions. The conclusion on St Athan was that the current private finance initiative is not right and is not working. That is why, although we recognise St Athan as a great base for training—important training takes place there now and much training can take place there in the future—we need another look at ensuring that it is right and provides value for money at the same time. That is what is going to happen, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as a former Secretary of State and former First Minister, will want to get involved in that.
We are supporting and, of course, upgrading Eurofighter because it is important that it has a ground attack capability. What this document sets out is the total force of Typhoon and joint strike fighter that we anticipate having as part of our 2024 structures.
The Prime Minister may not be aware that my son is serving in 40 Commando Royal Marines, and has just returned from duty. He tells me that when he asked the RAF for a helicopter to take his men into the field, he was told, “We do not fly in the day because we are being shot at.” Will the Prime Minister have the matter investigated?