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Commons Chamber

Volume 553: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2012

House of Commons

Wednesday 21 November 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Independence (Jobs)

1. What assessment he has made of the potential effects on jobs in Scotland of Scottish independence. (128888)

The UK Government firmly believe that Scotland is, and always will be, better off in the UK. The UK Government are undertaking a programme of analysis to evaluate how Scotland contributes to, and benefits from, being part of the UK.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he explain why there is so much concern among those working in the defence and supply chain industries in Scotland over the future of their jobs?

I can advise the hon. Gentleman that, as of April, there were 15,880 regular armed forces and Ministry of Defence civilian personnel based in Scotland, and an additional 40,000 people employed in defence-related industries in around 800 companies. Not one of those people could guarantee their job under an independent Scotland.

The SNP’s commitment to a nuclear-free Scotland will presumably mean the end of Trident, the end of the Vanguard submarines that carry it and the end of Rosyth. Am I right in thinking that that affects something like 6,500 jobs in Scotland? Does the Minister think that these jobs would be replicated elsewhere, or would those people simply lose their jobs, thanks to an SNP Government?

I can advise my hon. Friend that by 2020, there will be 8,000 jobs based at Faslane, following the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence of an additional 1,500 jobs. There is absolutely no certainty about what would happen to anybody employed in the Ministry of Defence or the defence industries in Scotland under an independent Scotland.

The list of recent investment and job announcements in Scotland has been quite remarkable, particularly in the renewables sector. The Minister will know there were £2.3 billion-worth of completed projects to July this year, and that there is a future pipeline of £9.4 billion with many thousands of jobs attached. Each of those investment decisions has been taken in the sure and certain knowledge that the referendum is coming and independence is likely. Why does the Minister think that these investment decisions continue to be made, and why is nobody listening to his scare stories?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. These investments are taking place despite the uncertainty, not because of it. I tend to agree with the chief executive of Aggreko, who said yesterday in giving evidence to a parliamentary Committee that the supposed benefits of independence were “small and tenuous” and unlikely to arise, while the dangers were “large and serious”.

The Minister mentions uncertainty, but the only uncertainty we have seen is the massive increase made in the North sea supplementary charge with no discussion with the sector, and the uncertainty for employees now that this Government are making it easier to sack people. Is it not the case, as Douglas Sawers of Ceridian said when he made a significant investment earlier this year, that in the event of independence, the Scottish Government’s approach will be to make Scotland more, not less, competitive? Is that not the truth? Instead of scare stories, we are going to move to independence with a Government who will make Scotland more, not less, competitive?

When the people of Scotland make a decision on independence in the referendum, they must be sure that that decision is a long-term one. Independence is not for Christmas 2014. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the Institute for Fiscal Studies report, he would see that it says that an independent Scotland would face much harder decisions than the rest of the UK in the longer term.

13. The Minister will be aware that 30,000 Scots are employed by UK Government agencies to work as civil servants in Scotland, including in the Department for International Development, which has 450 staff members in East Kilbride. What would happen to those jobs if Scotland voted for independence, and has there been any clarity on that from the SNP? (128901)

There has been no discussion between the SNP, or indeed the Scottish Government, and the UK Government about the future of defence-based jobs, civil service jobs or any other jobs in Scotland. The people in those jobs would face, as would everybody else, great uncertainty if Scotland were to become independent.

Independence Referendum (Electoral Commission)

The agreement reached between the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments recognises the importance of the independent Electoral Commission and that the referendum should be based on the normal rules for referendums held across the UK.

It is clearly important for all parties to respect the independence of the Electoral Commission. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the SNP Administration in Scotland were to ignore the commission’s advice, that would taint the whole process and call into question whether the referendum was fair?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the expertise and experience of the Electoral Commission, which is indeed a highly respected institution. I do not think that it would be in the interests of the Scottish Government or any nationalists to pit themselves against the commission’s advice.

Does my right hon. Friend share the concern that the referendum question submitted to the Electoral Commission by the Scottish Government is weighted in favour of a positive outcome?

I understand the concern that people feel about the formulation presented by the Scottish Government, but I think that, given its great experience, great expertise and trusted status, the Electoral Commission is in the right position to carry out the right procedures. I am ready to stand by its advice, and I hope that the Scottish Government are too.

Does the Secretary of State accept that while the Electoral Commission may be a trifle wishy-washy on occasion, it is necessary for an impartial body to decide important questions such as the question of the question? The alternative is for separatists to be both referee and player, and it is simply unacceptable for the party that is on one side of the argument to decide the rules as well.

I entirely agree with the eminent Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. He and his colleagues have been conducting a series of investigations of that issue and others relating to independence. I believe that the referendum must be seen to be fair to both sides. We cannot possibly have folk calling the outcome into question at the end of the process, which is why we have laboured long and hard to secure a referendum that is legal, fair and decisive. I hope that the Scottish Government will accept the Electoral Commission’s advice.

Given that any proposal to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds is unlikely to take effect until the spring of 2014, will the Electoral Commission provide advice on how all those young people will be able to register and vote in any referendum?

The hon. Lady has raised an important point about the potential extension of the franchise. It will be for the Scottish Government to present detailed proposals, but I imagine that the Electoral Commission will be closely involved in the guidance that is provided for all voters as we approach the referendum.

Yesterday, the gentleman who gave evidence to the Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) on behalf of the Yes Scotland campaign for separation refused to state categorically that his campaign would abide by the advice of the Electoral Commission. What sanctions can be imposed on a Government, a Parliament or a campaign that blatantly refuses to take the commission’s advice ?

I understand my hon. Friend’s anxiety, but this Government and their predecessors have always followed the advice of the Electoral Commission, and I would expect the Scottish Government to do so as well.

The Secretary of State has just asserted yet again that no Government have ever ignored the advice of the Electoral Commission, and has implied that the Scottish Government might. Far from ignoring the commission’s advice, the Scottish Government have yet to receive it. Meanwhile, the right hon. Gentleman’s Government have rejected the Electoral Commission’s advice on the desirability of referendums on council tax in England. Will he now put the record straight?

I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and help him to calm down. As the Electoral Commissioner John McCormick said on television just the other weekend,

“For every referendum that has taken place, the Electoral Commission’s advice and question has been accepted.”

As for the issue of local government referendums, none has taken place. We have already said that we have reflected on the Electoral Commission’s advice, and I shall be presenting proposals on that question very shortly.


The Government are committed to promoting United Kingdom businesses, including in Scotland, around the world. Brian Wilson, the former Trade Minister, is currently carrying out a review of Scottish exporting and has been appointed a UK business ambassador with special focus on Scotland.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, as well as promoting business, we need to support businesses at this time when access to finance is so difficult? What steps is he taking to work with the devolved Government to ensure that there are prompt payments in the supply chain, and in particular that the public sector pays private sector suppliers in a timely fashion?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are committed to ensuring that private sector suppliers are paid on time so they can sustain their businesses, and I am happy to work with the Scottish Government, or anybody else in the public sector, to ensure that everybody adheres to best practice.

What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure there is no conflict between Scottish Development International and UK Trade & Investment when they use public money to try to attract companies either side of the border by offering bigger carrots?

My hon. Friend underlines the importance of trade for the Scottish and UK economies. Scotland’s exports are worth some £22 billion, but to put things in perspective, that is half the value of what we sell into England, Wales and the rest of the UK. SDI has 21 offices in 13 countries, whereas UKTI has 162 offices in 96 countries, and 270 Foreign and Commonwealth Office consuls operate in 170 countries. That network offers a great opportunity to Scottish business to get the best out of the United Kingdom. It is important that we work together, and it is clear that we are stronger together and would be weaker apart.

As we have seen, the work undertaken here has an impact on Scottish businesses both at home and abroad. May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to the troubles that Scottish businesses are currently experiencing, however? Unemployment is now higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Recent research by the Fraser of Allander Institute reveals another challenge for the Scottish economy and Scottish businesses: it found that welfare changes in Glasgow alone will remove £115 million from the local economy and lead to the loss of almost 2,000 jobs across Scotland. What does the Secretary of State plan to do about that?

I share the hon. Lady’s analysis in this respect: there is a huge mess that has to be cleared up, and there are significant challenges and some deep-seated problems in the Scottish and UK economies, as well as real problems on our doorstep in Europe. Every time she comes to the Dispatch Box, however, she tries to duck Labour’s responsibility for the mess we inherited, and she simply cannot do that. We are determined to ensure that through welfare reform we make work pay, by supporting the most vulnerable and helping people into work. We are also determined to put money back into the pockets of low-income and middle-income Scots; from next April, 162,000 will be taken out of tax entirely, and 2 million will have seen their tax bills reduced.

Perhaps I can draw the Secretary of State’s attention to some of the comments made by his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who I do not think share his enthusiasm for his welfare changes, and ask him to focus on the loss of jobs that they will cause in Scotland. Perhaps he should focus a little more on that. The truth is that the Government’s policies are hitting Scotland hard, and the Secretary of State must start addressing the work his Government are doing in Scotland. Earlier this month in a letter to me, the Secretary of State revealed he is not on a single one of the Cabinet Committees dealing with either the economy or welfare. The last time I questioned the Secretary of State we had no action on food banks, and now there is no action on Scotland’s economy. It would seem that he does not understand the impact of the welfare changes in Scotland. When are you going to start doing your job in relation to the Scottish economy?

Order. I am certainly doing my job, but I think the hon. Lady is referring to the Secretary of State, and we will now hear about how he is doing his.

Once again, we are going to take no lessons from the Labour party about the state of the United Kingdom economy. We have a plan that will make sure we deal with the mess it left us, and that gets us back on the right track and gets us sustainable growth—unlike Labour, which has no plan whatever.

Independence Referendum

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the referendum on Scottish independence. (128891)

I have discussed the referendum with the Scottish Government on a number of occasions, most recently on 15 October, when Scotland’s two Governments reached agreement on the process to ensure that there is a legal, fair and decisive referendum.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the arguments for separation is based on the false premise that it would be good for the Scottish economy? Does he agree that separation would be good for the English economy but not for the Scottish economy?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom economy. We would be weaker if we were outside it, primarily because it gives us access to this huge single market which takes twice as many of our exports—if we can call them that—as anywhere else in the world; it has the resilience to absorb huge financial catastrophes, such as the bank collapse; and it gives us the clout internationally to be at the top table, where all the key economic decisions are made. That is far better for Scotland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that last week we saw an example of what happens when people do not listen to the Electoral Commission—the debacle of the police commissioner elections, with a turnout of less than 10% in some places and empty boxes? Will he talk to the Scottish Government to ensure that a similar debacle does not happen in Scotland?

Funnily enough, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the example he uses, but I am in complete agreement with him on the principle that we should listen to the Electoral Commission and follow its advice.

Thank you for clearing up that confusion, Mr Speaker.

Can the Minister confirm that following the Edinburgh agreement, which all parties agreed to, the referendum on independence is now exclusively a matter for the Scottish Parliament and that this House has no further role in it?

I know that the hon. Gentleman always wants to denigrate the Parliament of which he is a part, and I wish he would stop doing that, but I point out to him that a rather important part of that agreement is that we will pass the section 30 order, which will transfer the powers to the Scottish Parliament. Importantly, that will involve debates in this place and in the other place, as well as in the Scottish Parliament. We are all part of this debate, and all Scots will be part of that political process.

When the Secretary of State next meets the First Minister will he share with him the powerful call of President Clinton and Secretary Albright when they visited these shores reminding us that what binds us together is far more powerful than any distinctions in identity?

On economic co-operation, was the Institute for Fiscal Studies not right to point out that if we want to diversify the Scottish economy away from our dependence on oil and gas revenues, we need not only a shared currency and interest rate, but a powerful and strong fiscal union which benefits Scotland? That is the likely result in terms of our shared prosperity in the future.

The hon. Gentleman makes two important points. One is that when senior international figures look at the issue confronting Scots—the most important political decision in 300 years—time and again they say that they think Scotland would be better off as part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, the report he highlights is significant as it shows the strength of Scotland’s economy as part of the UK, both in terms of its opportunity and in reducing the risks attached to it. [Interruption.]

Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place—mainly on the Opposition Benches at the moment. Let us hear from Mark Pritchard.


6. What recent assessment he has made of the benefits to Scotland of the UK’s membership of NATO; and if he will make a statement. (128893)

Scotland is stronger in defence terms as part of the United Kingdom within NATO. NATO is the bedrock of our national security, and the UK is one of its largest contributors. There is no guarantee that an independent Scotland would gain automatic membership.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend held with the Scottish Government on their dialogue with NATO, given that so many within that Government are anti-nuclear and NATO is a pro-nuclear alliance?

It is not clear whether the Scottish Government have had any dialogue with NATO about prospective membership and it is quite clear that membership could not be guaranteed. As the NATO Secretary-General said, the

“door does not open…just because you stand in front of it.”

Rosyth dockyard in my constituency works for the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy. Will the Minister clarify whether, if Scotland were a separate country, regardless of its NATO membership, Rosyth dockyard would get work from the Royal Navy?

Many UK defence contractors benefit from contracts that are exempt from EU procurement rules for national security reasons, meaning that they have to be placed or competed for within the United Kingdom. Many such contracts have been awarded in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and there is no guarantee that they would be awarded in an independent Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is an inherent contradiction in saying that one thinks that nuclear weapons are an obscenity while at the same time wishing to join an alliance based on both conventional and nuclear deterrence? Are not those two positions wholly irreconcilable?

I absolutely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Some honourable former members of the Scottish National party, such as MSPs Jean Urquhart and Mr Finnie, agree with him and they could not reconcile their positions. Many SNP MSPs continue to sit in government in Scotland, however, despite being unable to reconcile those two positions.


The UK Government have reduced the deficit by a quarter and we are taking important steps to promote growth. Cutting corporation tax, accelerating infrastructure projects and establishing the funding for lending scheme are just some of the range of measures being implemented.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the recent assessment of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that in the event of a separate Scotland the economy will not be sustainable in the long term?

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. We will have much stronger opportunities if we continue as part of the United Kingdom than we will if we go our own separate ways.

Vion has put up for sale McIntosh Donald, a meat processing factory at Portlethen in my constituency that employs 600 people. Will the Secretary of State emphasise to any potential buyer north-east Scotland’s excellent reputation for high-quality meat production and the importance of the factory in a route to market for that excellent product?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. These have clearly been difficult months, particularly for those employed by Vion at Hall’s in West Lothian, and now we have the sale of the rest of the group. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and other Scottish colleagues to discuss the implications, and encourage everybody to see the potential in the company. I hope that we will sustain the jobs that are in it.

Vion’s decision to cease operations in Scotland also affects up to 400 people in my constituency in Cambuslang. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is intolerable for the company to refuse to provide those 400 people, who are obviously very anxious about their future, with meaningful information? Will he make contact with the company to remind them that they should be ensuring that their employees get clarity about their positions as soon as possible?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point and I shall certainly take it up on his behalf and add to his efforts with the company. I will be happy to meet him in due course to discuss it further.

Superfast Broadband

The UK Government are committed to delivering the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. As part of that, the Scottish Government were allocated more than £100 million to support broadband improvements. It is now the responsibility of the Scottish Government to deliver on this investment by the UK Government.

I am pleased that the Government have allocated more than £100 million to Scotland for rural high-speed broadband. Will the Minister do all he can to encourage the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to get a move on and use that money to bring high-speed broadband to the rural parts of Argyll and Bute as soon as possible?

I most certainly will encourage the Scottish Government and all other agencies to get on with deploying rural broadband. My constituents are as concerned about it as the hon. Gentleman’s.

I am very concerned, as everyone is, about all of Scotland getting superfast broadband. Is the Minister aware that BT is going to use fibre optics in West Lothian, and has just announced that it is going to roll out copper wire into Bo’ness and parts of my constituency? Copper wire is last century’s technology. Will he intervene and talk to BT about rolling out fibre optics to all parts of Scotland, so that superfast broadband is a reality for everyone?

I am happy to arrange a meeting involving myself, the hon. Gentleman and BT to discuss that issue.

In what appears to be a break with the constant scaremongering in this session, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees that broadband coverage percentages should be based on local authority area rather than national area?

What I think is that the Scottish Government, having been given £100 million by the UK Government to roll out broadband, should get on with it in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sympathies and our condolences to the family of Captain Walter Barrie, of 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. He was described as a fantastic, engaging and professional soldier. He will be truly missed by all who knew him. Our nation must never forget his service and his sacrifice. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Barrie and all our soldiers working so heroically in Afghanistan?

In Stoke-on-Trent, libraries are closing, teachers are being laid off and youth clubs are shutting their doors. Given that public funds are so precious, does the Prime Minister really think it was a good use of taxpayers’ money to waste £100 million on the farcical police and crime commissioner elections in November?

I think it is good that, right across the country, we are now going to have local law and order champions, who will stand up for the public and ensure that we get a good deal from the police. I have noticed that Labour has two criticisms of the police and crime commissioners: on the one hand it said we spent too much money; on the other hand, it said that we did not spend enough money promoting the elections. I am prepared to accept one criticism or the other, but not both.

Yesterday the British Government borrowed money from international investors at record low levels, saving taxpayers millions of pounds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is more evidence that our economic plans are working?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is that because of the fact that we have a credible plan to get on top of debt, to get on top of deficit, to show how we will pay our way in the world, we have record low interest rates, which were described by the shadow Chancellor as the key test of economic credibility.

May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Walter Barrie, of 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland? He showed the utmost courage and bravery, and all our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends.

May I also express my deep sorrow about the loss of life and suffering in Israel and Gaza in recent days, including the latest appalling terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv? There is widespread support on both sides of the House for the agreement of an immediate and durable ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, so will the Prime Minister set out, in his view, the remaining barriers to that ceasefire agreement now being reached?

May I say how much I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the appalling news this morning about the terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv? May I also express our deep concern about the intolerable situation for people in southern Israel and the grave loss of life in Gaza?

The right hon. Gentleman asked specifically what more we can do to help bring this ceasefire about. I think that all of us, right across the European Union, and in America and beyond, need to be putting pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister and all those who have contacts with Hamas, to de-escalate, to stop the fighting, to stop the bombing; and that is exactly what I have done. Over the weekend, I spoke twice to the Israeli Prime Minister and once to the President of Israel—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working very hard on this as well—to persuade both sides that we need a ceasefire. Beyond that, obviously what we need is proper discussions about the future of Israel and Palestine.

I agree with the Prime Minister: he is right to say that any such ceasefire deal can be turned into permanent peace only if there is a resumption of meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution. This week has shown us once again that there is neither peace nor a peace process, and the reality is that the international community bears some responsibility for the abject failure to have those meaningful negotiations, nine years on from the promise of the road map for peace. Can the right hon. Gentleman set out for the House what steps beyond the hoped-for ceasefire need to be taken to pressure both sides into meaningful negotiations?

I agree that we need a process to be put in place and we have to do everything we can to persuade President Obama that this should be a leading priority for his second presidential term, but I make this point: of course we all want this process and we all want this peace, but in the end peace can come about only by Israelis and Palestinians sitting down and talking through the final status issues—they have to discuss borders, Jerusalem and refugees. In the end, as President Obama is fond of saying, and I agree, we cannot want this more than they want it. We have to encourage them, provide the framework and push for a process, but in the end we need courageous leadership from Israelis and Palestinians to talk through those final status issues.

That is completely right, but we have to use every means at our disposal to pressure both sides into those negotiations, because the reality is that confidence that there can be a two-state solution is dwindling month by month. There will be an opportunity to support the cause of the two-state solution at the UN General Assembly later this month by recognising enhanced observer status for the Palestinian Authority. The Opposition support that because we believe it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence. I urge the Prime Minister to consider adopting that position in the days ahead.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the first part of what he said: confidence is dwindling that there is time left for a two-state solution. That is why there is such a sense of urgency in the international community—this could be the last chance for peace, because the facts on the ground are changing. Frankly, I think it is so much in Israel’s interest now to push for the two-state solution, so we should keep up the pressure.

On the potential vote at the United Nations, our view, which I know the Foreign Secretary set out for the House in some detail yesterday, is that the Palestinians should not take it to the UN in the short term, and we have urged them not to do that. Clearly, if they do so, we will have to consider the right way to vote. The point is this: we will not solve this problem at the United Nations; it will be solved only by Israelis and Palestinians sitting down and negotiating. Indeed, there may be dangers in pushing the issue too early at the UN in terms of funds for the Palestinian Authority being cut off and all the other consequences, so let us get negotiations going, rather than discussions at the UN.

If the Prime Minister wants to send a clear message that Scotland and England belong together and have a better future together, should he not be doing his best to make sure that the principal road from London to Edinburgh is a modern dual carriageway and does not become a country lane?

My right hon. Friend makes a very attractive spending bid for the autumn statement. Although my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is not here, I am sure that Treasury colleagues were listening closely.

Q2. The Prime Minister claimed that universal credit will “bring about the most fundamental and radical changes to the welfare system since it began”. Given the Government’s propensity for omnishambles, can he guarantee that the second phase of universal credit will be implemented in April 2014 and not delayed? (128799)

Universal credit is a good reform and I thought it was welcomed across the House because it puts in place proper work incentives for people at all levels of income, and is also highly progressive in channelling money to those who need it the most. I can tell the hon. Lady that universal credit is on time and on budget and, indeed, a pilot scheme is to start shortly.

The person responsible for the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards, whose mother is my constituent, has not been brought to justice because important incriminating evidence was excluded from the court process. Will my right hon. Friend join our cause in calling for a thorough review of code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, so that such terrible situations will not occur in future?

I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend raises and the specific case he mentions. I will also look at the issue of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. It is always important that all information that possibly can be put in front of a court is put in front of a court, so that it can reach the correct decision.

Q3. Cuts in front-line policing, together with cuts to police pensions and conditions in service, have led 96% of the police force to believe that this Government do not support them. Does the Prime Minister think that that is a problem and, if so, what will he do about it? (128800)

This Government strongly support our police service and what it does. These are people who go out every day and put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe. Frankly, whoever was in government right now would have to be making cuts to police budgets, but if we actually look at what is happening in policing, we see that the number of neighbourhood police has gone up, the percentage of police on the front line has gone up, the number of police in back-office roles has gone down and, crucially, that crime is down and satisfaction with the police is up.

Q4. So that people do not have to wade through hundreds of bamboozling tariff plans, will the Prime Minister confirm that this Government will legislate to ensure that people can access the best deals, which the Leader of the Opposition failed to do as Energy Secretary? (128801)

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that, having stood at this Dispatch Box and said that we wanted to ensure that people got access to the lowest tariffs, that is exactly what we have achieved. If Opposition Members have doubts about this, let me quote a Labour shadow Energy Minister, who said this about our change:

“It also means some of the most expensive deals would have to go...Being able to reduce the number of tariffs for people is going to help people get a clearer picture of what is happening and that can only be a good thing.”

That is the sort of endorsement that I welcome.

The Government promised that there should be no rationing in the NHS on grounds of cost alone. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he has kept that promise?

The promise that we have kept is that we said that we would increase NHS spending every year under this Government, and in England that is what is happening. In Wales, of course, there is a massive cut in the NHS, because it is run by Labour.

First of all, there are 7,000 fewer nurses in the NHS than when the Prime Minister came to power, according to the figures published this morning. I asked him a specific question about the promise made a year ago by the then Health Secretary—the Prime Minister sacked him and he is now the Leader of the House—that there would be no rationing on the grounds of cost alone, but the president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists said recently—[Interruption.] Government Members should listen, because he said that

“PCTs are not following government guidelines.”

Half of health commissioners are restricting access to cataract surgery. [Interruption.] I do not think that the Prime Minister should ask the former Health Secretary for help, because he got rid of him from the post. Can the Prime Minister tell me why, for the first time in six years, the number of cataract operations actually fell last year?

What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that, under this Government, the number of doctors is up, the number of operations is up, waiting lists are down and waiting times are down. That is what is happening because we took the responsible decision. He quotes primary care trusts, which, of course, we are abolishing and putting the money into front-line services. That is what is happening under this Government. The Opposition and he believe that increasing spending on the NHS is irresponsible; we think it is the right thing to do.

Once again, the Prime Minister has no clue about the detail—he has no idea what is actually happening out there on the ground. To give him credit, he did make history this week, because he now has his very own word in the “Oxford English Dictionary”: “omnishambles.” The reality is that the reason people are suffering on the ground is that he has wasted billions of pounds on a top-down reorganisation of the NHS that nobody wanted and nobody voted for, just like he wasted millions of pounds on police commissioner elections. He does not listen, he is out of touch and last Thursday the people of Corby spoke for the country.

Last Thursday the people of Humberside spoke for the whole nation. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Happily, there is more, because the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said that this

“is not just about the police. This is a referendum on everything this…government has done…On the health, on the education, on the local authorities”,

and people took the first opportunity to kick him out.

I think that it is the leader of the Labour party who made history this week, because he told his conference that he wanted to be Disraeli; he told Radio 4 that he wanted to be Margaret Thatcher; he came to this House and said that he was more Eurosceptic than Bill Cash; and then he went to the CBI and said that he loved Europe even more than Tony Blair. He has impersonated more politicians than Rory Bremner, but this time the joke is on him.

Q5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a free press is one of the cornerstones of a true democracy, and that any attempt to muzzle newspapers, such as those of the excellent Kent Messenger Group in my constituency, should be strenuously resisted? (128803)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I join him in expressing my admiration for the Kent Messenger Group and all that it does. The problems there have been in our newspaper industry have not concerned regional and local titles, which perform an incredibly important function in our democratic system. However, we all have to wait for the Leveson report, study it carefully and respond to what it says.

Q6. Allow me to present a tale of two companies. The first is Red Hot Comics in my constituency, which employs seven people and pays every penny of the tax that is due, on time. Its main competitor, Amazon UK, brings in revenue of up to £4.5 billion, and yet last year it paid less than £1 million in tax. Will the Prime Minister follow the example of the French Government, who have issued a back claim for unpaid tax against Amazon, or will he allow us to draw our own conclusions about whose side he is on? (128804)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about ensuring that companies make fair contributions and fair tax payments in our country. We have put an extra £900 million into the Inland Revenue to ensure that we get companies and individuals to pay their taxes properly. Yesterday I announced that one of the key priorities of the G8, which I will be chairing from January and which, I am pleased to announce, will meet in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland next June, will be to get proper international agreement so that companies pay their taxes properly.

May I highlight for my right hon. Friend a free school that will be opening in one of the most deprived wards in Wolverhampton next year? It will provide a real ladder for social mobility for young people. It is a great, tangible advert for what this Government are doing in education, and he is more than welcome to visit.

That is a very kind invitation. I recently held a meeting at No. 10 Downing street for all the 78 free schools that have been established over the past two and a half years. We are making good progress. I want many hundreds of free schools to be established between now and the next election. It is of note that, whereas the last Government managed 200 hundred academies in 13 years, we have managed 2,000 in two and a half years. We want to give the academies and free schools agenda the biggest boost that we can.

Central Ayrshire

I look forward to visiting Scotland soon and will obviously look carefully at whether I can visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency of Central Ayrshire.

I thank the Prime Minister for his response. A few months ago, he came to Troon in my constituency and he was going to give me the opportunity to take him around. One of the areas I was going to take him to was the Troon shipyard, where I served my apprenticeship many years ago—in fact, when he would probably still have been in short trousers. Outside the door of the shipyard on a Thursday was a man called the tallyman, who was a loan shark. He charged half a crown, which is 12.5p, per £1 each week on a loan to a shipyard worker. Today, we are hearing all about these—

Mr Speaker, you hold one of the great offices of state, as does the Prime Minister. What is he personally going to do to drive these sharks out of our economies?

I enjoyed my visit to Troon. I made the offer to the hon. Gentleman at that time that I would happily share a platform with him to defend our United Kingdom, but for some reason the invitation got lost in the post. I therefore make the offer to him again.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about payday loans. We have seen the preliminary report by the Office of Fair Trading. We need to take action, and that is why we are giving the OFT a new power to suspend a consumer credit licence with immediate effect when there is an urgent need to protect consumers. The report shows that many companies are not sticking to the guidelines, and that is not acceptable.


Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent Experian study which shows that Milton Keynes is the area of the UK best placed to lead economic growth, with a forecast growth of 3.1% a year?

My hon. Friend is a great spokesman for Milton Keynes and has welcomed me there many times. It has a successful economy based largely on small and medium-sized enterprises. One thing we need to do, in Milton Keynes and elsewhere, is to get the housing market moving again. I am convinced that that is an important part of driving recovery in our economy.

Q8. Many young apprentices receive very low wages—the youngest only £2.60 an hour. Is it fair for the Prime Minister to take housing benefit from young people who cannot live with their parents but are trying hard to build a future for themselves? (128807)

The Government strongly support the growth in apprenticeships, and we have seen something like 1 million new apprenticeships under this Government. I know that housing benefit is a very important issue, but there is a problem, which needs proper attention: we seem to give some young people a choice today, in that if they are on jobseeker’s allowance they can have access to housing benefit, but if they are living at home and trying to work they cannot. We need to recognise that in many cases we are sending a negative signal to young people through our welfare system.

Yes, it is. It is this Government who, in record time, have established a Green Investment Bank that is now in Edinburgh and starting to make loans.

Q9. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees with me that a Government spokesman describing the report by the Children’s Commissioner into child abuse as “hysterical” was extremely unhelpful. Victims of abuse already find it difficult to come forward, including those who were abused by Cyril Smith in Rochdale. Will the Prime Minister now help these victims by publishing all the police files on Smith, and ensure that a police investigation takes place into all the allegations and any cover-up? (128808)

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the issue that is being examined is very serious, and we need to study carefully the interim report that has been produced. It has some extremely disturbing findings and we need to give every encouragement to the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that a final version of the report is produced. The specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman concerns very serious allegations about a former Member of this House. I understand that Greater Manchester police have today confirmed that they will investigate any allegations of sexual abuse involving the late Sir Cyril Smith from 1974 onwards.

I say to the hon. Gentleman and all Members of this House, particularly in the light of what has happened over the past few weeks, that if anyone has information or facts they should take them to the police. That is the way we should investigate these things in this country.

Q10. Businesses are helping to cut the borrowing deficit by paying tax on their profits. Some multinationals, such as Starbucks and Amazon, appear to be paying low amounts of UK corporation tax. Does the Prime Minister think that that part of the tax code needs investigating? (128809)

I think it does need investigating. I have asked the Treasury to do that and it is looking as hard as it can at what can be done. There are clearly things that one can do nationally, and that is worth examining. Because we live in a competitive global economy where companies can move their capital, headquarters or money around, we need greater international agreements. We have come to a very important international agreement with Switzerland that will recover billions of pounds of tax for our country, but we need to work hard. That is where the G8 can help to ensure we get a fair share of tax from companies, especially given that Britain is doing its bit to cut rates of corporation tax so that they are some of the most competitive in the world.

Q13. The Prime Minister quite rightly praised the wonderful work of London’s emergency services during the Olympics, Paralympics and Her Majesty’s jubilee. Does he share the concern of the London public about the number of fire stations that are threatened with closure, in particular the one in Clapham Old Town in my constituency? Will he join the campaign to save that fire station, and does he agree that it is not right to choose a fire station for closure simply because it is on very expensive land? (128812)

Obviously this is an issue for the Mayor as well as for the Government, but I will look closely at what the hon. Lady has said. Hon. Members must recognise that the most important thing is the time it takes the emergency services to get to an incident. As constituency MPs, we are naturally focused on the bricks and mortar items—whether ambulance or fire stations, or other facilities—but what really matters for our constituents is how quickly the emergency services get to them and how good the service is when they do so.

Q11. Does my right hon. Friend share my deep disappointment, and that of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the Church of England yesterday failed to make proper provision for women bishops? It was a sad day for our national Church and our national character, particularly given that 42 of 44 dioceses voted overwhelmingly in support of women bishops. Is the dangerous consequence of that vote not the disestablishment of the Church of England but simply disinterest? (128810)

My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise and knowledge. On a personal basis, I am a strong supporter of women bishops and am very sad about how the vote went yesterday. I am particularly sad for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, because he saw this as a major campaign that he wanted to achieve at the end of his excellent tenure of that office. It is important for the Church of England to be a modern Church that is in touch with society as it is today. This was a key step it needed to take.

Q12. The Prime Minister promised that his start-up loans scheme would provide 2,500 loans to young entrepreneurs to get their business ideas off the ground, but only 43 loans have been granted. Why has he not delivered on his promise? (128811)

The start-up loans initiative is a very strong one. I want to look at putting even more resources into it, because there is a major demand. At well as start-up loans, we have the enterprise allowance scheme. That was originally available only after people had been unemployed for three months, but under this Government it will be available from the first day of someone being unemployed. In the 1980s, many people used an enterprise allowance scheme to start up their first business and get their foot on the first rung of the ladder. Those are the sorts of people we want to help.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Drapers’ academy, which is in the most deprived ward in my constituency? It is sponsored by the Drapers’ Company and Queen Mary college, London. In only its second year, it has become the fastest improving school in the country, and is a wonderful example of the Government’s academy scheme.

I certainly join my hon. Friend in that. One strength of the academy programme is in getting sponsors such as the Drapers’ Company, and other businesses and organisations, behind a school and helping to change its culture and improve it. That is why we set a new target last week for academies taking over failing primary schools. We do not think that academies should be restricted to secondary schools; we want to see sponsored academies taking over primary schools where results are not good enough. All hon. Members can now focus on this: because of effective academy sponsors, some schools in inner-city areas are doing better than schools in some of the leafy shires and suburbs. We can use that change to drive up aspiration and achievement right across our education system.

Following the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) a moment ago, and given that the Church of England is the established Church, will the Prime Minister consider what Parliament can do to ensure that the overwhelming will of members of the Church and of the country is respected?

I will certainly look carefully at what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Church has its own processes and elections. They might be hard for some of us to understand, but we must respect individual institutions and the decisions they make. That does not mean we should hold back in saying what we think. I am very clear that the time is right for women bishops—it was right many years ago. The Church needs to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme, but we must respect individual institutions and how they work, while giving them a sharp prod.

The cut in this country’s EU budget rebate, which was agreed by the last Labour Government, is now costing taxpayers £2 billion every single year. Will the Prime Minister please confirm that in the forthcoming budget negotiations he will not agree to any further reduction in the rebate?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher is an incredibly important part of Britain’s position in Europe and making sure that we get a fair deal. It is absolutely extraordinary that the last Government gave away almost half that rebate, and we have never heard one word of apology or regret for the fact that however hard we fight in Europe—and I will fight incredibly hard this week for a good deal—they have cut away our footing by giving away half the rebate.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his very wise decision to bring the G8 summit to County Fermanagh and confirm the enthusiasm with which that decision has been received in Fermanagh. Does he think it will be possible to bring further similar prestigious events to Northern Ireland in the future?

I will certainly look at that. It really is the right decision for the G8 to be based in Northern Ireland and at Lough Erne on 17 and 18 June. I was talking with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister yesterday about this, and it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago to have such an event, with so many world leaders coming to Northern Ireland. It will be a great advertisement for Northern Ireland and everything that its people can achieve. I hope that it will also be the harbinger of further events to come.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the United Kingdom’s retention of its triple A status, when France lost its triple A rating this week, shows that the UK retains the confidence of international markets because of the difficult but necessary decisions that we are taking?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Because we have set out a clear plan, we are able to have low interest rates and international confidence, which is line 1, paragraph 1 of the proper growth plan for the UK.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that it is not a convention of the House of Commons for the Second Church Estates Commissioner to make a statement to the House, but in the light of the extraordinary decision of the General Synod of the Church of England last night not to have women bishops, is it possible to have a statement from the hon. Gentleman setting out what the Church intends to do next, and what this means for the continuing discrimination in the other place with only men being eligible to sit in the House of Lords as Church of England bishops?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. She is right to say that it is no part of the convention of this House that the Second Church Estates Commissioner makes statements to the House. The right to make a statement of the kind that she has in mind is reserved to Ministers. The hon. Lady may however wish to explore whether the Minister for Women and Equalities has any responsibilities in relation to this matter, and whether there are avenues by which she may pursue this issue. It is certainly open to the Minister for Women and Equalities to make a statement to the House. In the meantime, I would simply say that very strong voice to opinion in this House has been given today on both sides. I will leave it there for today.

BBC (Audit Arrangements and Publication of Invoices)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the British Broadcasting Corporation to publish all invoices for amounts in excess of £500 each quarter; to allow unrestricted access to the Corporation’s accounts by the National Audit Office; and for connected purposes.

I wish to state at the outset that I am a friend, strong supporter and advocate of the BBC. My original request for this Bill stems back to May, and was preceded by protracted communications with the previous director-general, Mark Thompson, seeking to gain voluntary agreement on this Bill’s intentions. The events of recent weeks have nothing to do with my motivation in seeking to bring about greater transparency in how the licence fee is spent, although some issues that have arisen help to demonstrate the need for more openness, along with the need for a cultural shift to respond to demands from the public. The first element of the Bill would require the BBC to publish all invoices for more than £500 on a quarterly basis. That would bring the corporation in line with local authorities and, although it would meet the aspirations of the Government’s public transparency agenda and the Efficiency and Reform Group objectives, it should not be interpreted as political interference. The Bill merely follows public expectation.

The licence fee is the UK’s biggest regressive tax: the poorer one is, the greater the proportion of one’s income is spent on it. That places a strong moral obligation on the BBC to demonstrate that it is using money in the most prudent manner. Under the Bill, the BBC would allow the public to see exactly how their money was being spent, and that would encourage participation and scrutiny. That would lead to innovation, procurement and, ultimately, savings. The BBC would be better informed, and new opportunities could lead to better feedback and a change in its priorities. Naturally, the BBC’s special independence must be protected with appropriate safeguards, but they need to be set as an absolute minimum and seen as the exception rather than the rule.

There are several examples of questionable expenditure that could be cited: business consultants, retirement dinners, accommodation charges, and the cost of sending 100—or even, in 2008, 175 staff—to cover US elections. I am sure that all hon. Members have enjoyed BBC hospitality in some way or another, but we need to know how much money is being spent. One constituent asked me how much was spent on after-show parties, after a successful series or even after every episode of “Strictly Come Dancing” or similar programmes. There are concerns about how some journalists compete personally and refuse to share resources. Why does the BBC pay to advertise through other media, when it already reaches nearly all the population? It is not that these activities are necessarily wrong, but the public have a right to know how much they cost.

Publication of invoices would also provide an ongoing report on how many people are paid through personal services companies in their efforts to reduce income tax liability. The National Audit Office was originally refused access in this area, yet on 2 May BBC News was all too keen rightly to expose the fact that Ed Lester, the former chief executive of the Student Loans Company, was paid through such an arrangement. The irony is that that has been standard practice in the BBC for many years; it is just that it has been hidden.

Public statements made by senior BBC figures suggest that the organisation would be among the strongest supporters of the Bill. Unfortunately, there has been significant evidence of a lack of action on those statements. Sir Michael Lyons and later Lord Patten have continued to resist unrestricted access for the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is a series of correspondence between the Secretary of State and the chairmen on gaining an agreement on the extent of access. The case of personal service companies is an example, because we still do not know the details of the policy.

BBC talent is another area that needs investigation. It has become a catch-all title that extends well beyond known personalities, arguably in an effort to block publication of more newsworthy data. I simply do not accept that there should be a blanket ban on the publication of BBC talent details. In this day and age, it is difficult to believe that the NAO does not have unrestricted access. How many other bodies are allowed to dictate the terms and timing of audit investigations and publications?

It is to the credit of the previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that he secured a significant agreement earlier this year dramatically to improve the CAG’s access. However, there continues to be no right of access—it remains by agreement only. Nor does it cover the whole scope of NAO activities. The correspondence suggests that respective BBC chairmen frustrated the calls by the Secretary of State, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Broadcasting Committee in the other place. Restrictions remain, and the time has come to legislate.

Current arrangements mean that the BBC must agree to the area the NAO wishes to investigate. The NAO needs to give 12 months’ notice of its plans, which can only be amended at stated quarterly intervals. This is hardly unrestricted access; nor does it allow investigations into controversial news developments to take place. Recent concern surrounding the terms of departure of the director-general have led to calls for the NAO to investigate. Unfortunately, the agreement means that it is powerless to look into such matters. Even after the Secretary of State said in the House that the NAO would investigate, the latter stated that it could not do so immediately unless the BBC Trust referred itself for such scrutiny.

The publication arrangements are also worrying. By contrast to the NAO, which reports to Parliament and the public, the BBC reports to the BBC Trust, which then considers the matter and responds. That is followed by a BBC management reaction, with rebuttals, and it is only then that the NAO investigation is passed to the Secretary of State for publication. The BBC decides on the timing. I am absolutely sure that all other bodies would welcome such a privileged position in relation to auditing. It puts considerable power and influence over reporting in the hands of the BBC, compared with every other body. That situation has been questioned by the Select Committee and the Government, and efforts have been made to improve the situation.

Over recent years, there has rightly been increasing demand for greater transparency from the public. Some bodies, including this place, took longer to recognise it. Now all details are published, including potential conflicts of interest. It is important that the BBC, like all bodies, responds to these demands and reacts to the Bill by voluntarily publishing invoices of £500 and over, and opening all elements of its operations to the NAO. That would underline the special role that the BBC plays in our nation.

In closing, I suggest that the BBC could go even further by voluntarily publishing registers of interest of key people to highlight potential conflicts of interest, and it could truly embrace the spirit and the letter of the Freedom of Information Act. Unless the BBC responds positively, I fear that it could be the subject of future legislative demands.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alun Cairns, Mr David Amess, Mr Richard Bacon, Guto Bebb, Stephen Barclay, Dan Byles, Philip Davies, Robert Halfon, Dr Phillip Lee, Ian Paisley and James Wharton present the Bill.

Alun Cairns accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 92).

Opposition Day

[10th Allotted Day]

Security in Northern Ireland

I beg to move,

That this House extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Prison Officer David Black, whose murder represented an attack upon society as a whole; condemns the violence of the various republican terrorist groups now active in Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive in providing the fullest possible protection to members of the prison service and the security forces generally, and to ensure that all necessary resources and measures are deployed to combat the threat from terrorists in Northern Ireland.

At the very outset of this debate I want once again to place on record, on behalf of my hon. Friends, and I am sure everybody in this House, our heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Prison Officer David Black—an innocent public servant going to work when he was brutally gunned down in cold blood by despicable criminals. His death will leave a massive void in the lives of his wife and children that will never be filled. We continue to think of Mrs Black and her children; our thoughts and prayers are with them. There is no doubt that Mrs Black’s call at the time of her husband’s murder for no retaliation was an example of immense courage and bravery, which, as I said in response to the Secretary of State’s statement at the time, stood in stark contrast to the darkness in the hearts of her husband’s killers. We will remember him and his colleagues, and all those who have died in the service of defending Northern Ireland. It is our duty to do all we can, as far as possible, to ensure that this kind of violence is thwarted and defeated.

There is no doubt about the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over recent years. As the Prime Minister has said, his announcement yesterday that Fermanagh would host the G8 summit next June would have previously been unthinkable—he said it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, but I think it would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. It is an immense opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase its talents and the opportunities that we can provide to a worldwide audience. It is a momentous event. We warmly welcome the announcement and thank the Prime Minister for taking that step, which is a mark of the progress we have made. Another was the visit by Her Majesty to the Irish Republic last year and the diamond jubilee celebrations that took place in Northern Ireland, where for the first time in decades—I think maybe for the first time ever—Her Majesty was able to be greeted by thousands of ordinary people in Belfast and move about in an open-top vehicle without the massive security that would normally attend any kind of event involving Her Majesty. Again, that is an indication of the progress that has been made.

There is also the ongoing work that happens every day at Stormont and throughout Northern Ireland—parties working together, alongside the First and Deputy First Ministers, with Ministers representing a number of parties doing the day-to-day work of government, committed to working for and on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland. It is important to put on record the gains that have been made through devolution in Northern Ireland. Even today, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) has tabled early-day motion 752, which draws attention to other significant achievements for Belfast and Londonderry, which is now recognised as the fourth best city in the world to visit, according to the “Lonely Planet” guide, and will be the UK city of culture next year. These are immense strides forward in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to everyone, right across the community and across all parties, who has played a part in bringing about that progress and, of course, to successive Governments as well.

But Mr Black’s murder showed us that, despite the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, there remains a crazed and fanatical republican element that is determined to try to drag our community backwards, into the darkest days of the past. Just last Monday a viable explosive device, which police said was designed to kill and maim, was discovered near my constituency off the Ballygomartin road. The device was found near a local school—Springhill primary school—and if it had gone off, the consequences, in terms of loss of life or serious injury to innocent civilians and schoolchildren, would have been very serious indeed. The device is thought to have fallen from the vehicle that belonged to its intended target, either a police officer or a soldier.

That incident, coming after the murder of David Black, shows that we are in a very serious situation indeed. Nor do we forget the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in April last year, or the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll in March 2009, which came just two days after the killing of Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at Massereene barracks. All those murders were carried out by so-called dissident republicans. There have also been many attacks and incidents that have been successfully thwarted by the excellent work of the police, through intelligence and co-operation with other elements of the security forces, including those in the Irish Republic. These murders all demonstrate the intent of the republican groups and the greater degree of planning and organisation that is now evident.

It is sometimes easy, especially from the perspective of those on this side of the Irish sea, to believe that everything in Northern Ireland is now sorted out.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would agree that it would be helpful if the Government were to sanction the publication of the inventories of the weapons that were decommissioned by loyalist terrorists—because that is what they were—and republican terrorists, supervised by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, so that the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom generally could compare what is claimed to have been decommissioned with what we reckon still to be available out there to enable dissident republicans to carry out yet another ghastly murder. I join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning the murder of the prison officer and in giving the greatest praise to his wonderful family, who have shown themselves to be beacons of dignity.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She raises an issue that has been raised a number of times by Members from Northern Ireland and elsewhere about the decommissioning process. We have said on previous occasions that it would be useful for the process that we are engaged in if the public were allowed to know exactly what was decommissioned by the various terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. I remember attending meetings with the decommissioning body, along with other hon. Friends, at which we sought clarification as to the circumstances in which that information would eventually be released. My understanding was that a judgment would be made at a suitable juncture when the entire decommissioning process was finished. It was certainly the intention of General de Chastelain, who was then the chairman of the decommissioning body, that the information should be released in due course. It would be helpful if it were released, for the reasons that the hon. Lady has given.

We were among those who wanted the greatest possible transparency for the decommissioning process. Indeed, we pressed for it to be made clear to the public, through video evidence and photographs, exactly what was being decommissioned. Famously, however, the republican leadership refused to abide by that at the time. Unfortunately, their refusal to accept that reasonable argument, which was designed to reassure people in Northern Ireland that what was happening was real and sincere, delayed the introduction of devolution by some considerable time. It raised doubts about the sincerity of the republican movement.

I was making the point that people can sometimes fall into the belief that everything has been sorted out and settled, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The events that I have been describing, including the tragic murder of David Black, have served to remind everyone that massive challenges remain. I know that the Ministers and shadow Ministers who are here today do not hold that belief, but it is important that we should debate the issues here today and consider them carefully. We need to take note of the progress that has been made, as well as making it clear to the people of Northern Ireland that there is no complacency and no sense of the challenges being underestimated.

The criminals want to take the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland back to the days of death, bloodshed and mayhem, but all of us in Northern Ireland and here, throughout the country, are determined that they will not succeed. After the death of David Black, the First Minister said:

“The Assembly and the Executive will not fall or collapse—far from it. We are united in condemnation and reinforced in our determination to create a stable, shared and peaceful society.”

He was absolutely right in his assessment. Those evil people will not succeed. Such terrorism did not succeed in the past, and it will not succeed now.

It is important to make the point that the violence that was carried out in the past, over 30 or 40 years, by the Provisional IRA was just as despicable, unnecessary and evil as the violence that is being carried out today by the so-called dissidents. I echo the point made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that the violence that was carried out by other groups, on the loyalist side, was terrorism. It is important for the sake of the victims that we do not get into a mindset of thinking that all the violence today is terrible while the violence that took place in the past was part of a conflict in which there could be grey areas and justifications. The violence that was carried out by the Provisional IRA, and others, for 35 years was just as evil as the violence that is being carried out today. It was never justified then, and it is not justified now.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. A few days ago, I attended the remembrance service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb, and nothing could have made the point that he is making more clearly than that. The unnecessary nature of that act still lives with us today. I echo his assertion that we must never forget those people either.

It was excellent that the hon. Gentleman and colleagues from the Northern Ireland Select Committee were able to be in Enniskillen to join the First Minister and other elected representatives, the families of the victims and members of the community in County Fermanagh on that solemn occasion. There are many reminders: we are coming up to the anniversary of the Ballykelly bombing as well. These events serve to remind us of the callous, evil and despicable nature of the violence that was carried out against the people of Northern Ireland and against the security forces.

It is worth remembering what happened in Enniskillen in 1987. One of those who was killed was a close personal friend of mine. Enniskillen is the town where I grew up and went to school, and I knew many of the people who were involved in that incident. The fact that now, 25 years on, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is able to announce the gathering of the world’s leaders for a G8 summit in that same county of Fermanagh is a fantastic illustration of the progress that has been made, and a fantastic vindication of the courage and steadfastness of the ordinary people who stood against the terrorists and were determined that they would not succeed in tearing down the fabric of their society.

I should like to pay tribute to the ongoing courage and steadfastness of the people of Northern Ireland, especially the officials there. We do not quite understand how the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland live with a certain threat. They have to go outside their house and check their car, for example, and they can never be certain what is going to happen. That tension is there in their lives all the time. I hope that when they come over here, that tension lessens, but the people of Northern Ireland never get rid of it. This House must always understand that the tension remains: we want it to go, but the only way of achieving that is by continuing developments towards peace.

The hon. Gentleman has enormous experience, having served in Northern Ireland. He and his colleagues who served in the armed forces have helped to contribute to bringing about the peaceful circumstances of today. He is right to remind us of the continuing issues that many people, including members of the security forces, have. I shall come on to deal with the issues affecting prison officers in more detail shortly. Members of those forces in our constituencies have come to our offices and have spoken to us about their worries about their personal security. The hon. Gentleman is right that members of the police service and people who are connected in any way with the security forces might be seen as some kind of target by these dissident terrorists. We all live daily with these kinds of threats or potential threats. People often say, “Well, there’s no specific intelligence out there to indicate that any particular individual is at risk”, yet we have discovered—we know from the recent tragic events—that that does not necessarily provide any reassurance at all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments.

The victims, to whom we referred earlier, continue to live with the scars and wounds of the violence inflicted on them—and they will carry those wounds to their graves. It is important that we never forget the sacrifice of the innocent and the victims and their families and the loved ones left behind.

Coming on to the issue of personal security, prison officers and their families are living every day with the threat of murder and injury hanging over their heads. During the worst of the violence in the Province, more than two dozen prison officers lost their lives to terrorists. This was a deliberate strategy by republicans and loyalists to win concessions for their prisoners serving time for terrorist-related offences. Just as the murder of those officers was met with widespread and near-universal revulsion in the community in the past, so will this latest attempt to intimidate and suborn the forces of law and order.

On personal protection for prison officers, police officers and their families, we have some serious concerns about the present personal protection arrangements—the maintenance of protection equipment, for instance, in the homes and other places where members of the security forces have those arrangements in place. The arrangements must be robust enough to ensure the security of those who work in our prisons and in our police service. This is an area in which the Government have a duty to act. The Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State oversee the home protection scheme, which prison and police officers avail themselves of, and it is within their power to ensure that the fullest possible protection is afforded to those officers. I encourage them to do everything in their power in that regard.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme in Northern Ireland—I accept that this is mainly a devolved matter, but it touches on national security issues— we have prison officers, police officers and others who have had to leave their family home and move to alternative accommodation? They are being seriously disadvantaged because the value of their home has reduced significantly, particularly if they purchased it at the height of the property boom. They now face the prospect of losing a lot of money. Should we not be looking to find ways of compensating those people who, through no fault of their own—it was because of a security threat—now find themselves out of their home and facing a substantial loss?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, which I know has been raised in the context of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know that the Minister for Social Development, whose Department administers the SPED scheme in Northern Ireland, has also been looking at this issue. As my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, members of the security forces were told that they had to move. The criteria for qualifying under the SPED scheme have a quite high threshold, so people are granted support only in the most extreme circumstances where their life may be in danger. People often find themselves with negative equity—a problem not of their own creation.

A wider issue connected with the SPED scheme, about which I have been concerned for some time, is the fact that the money spent on the scheme comes out of the Northern Ireland housing budget. I think that is something that needs to be looked at. SPED is a security-related measure, so it needs to be looked at in that context rather than being seen as a housing issue. The specific matter raised by my right hon. Friend has, I think, been the subject of some discussion between the Minister of Justice, the Chief Constable and the Minister for Social Development. It is certainly an issue that we need to continue to raise on behalf of our constituents.

The SPED scheme is clearly intended to help those who are in particular trouble. As a result of the tragic murder of David Black, a number of prison officers from my constituency who were worried about the SPED scheme came to see me. I hope that in the response to this debate the Government will outline how the SPED system can be sped up—how it could work faster, to a time scale that people need. Secondly, can some consideration be given to people who have to move out of their houses quickly—the costs of buying a new house, getting a new mortgage, and so on? Many aspects of the SPED scheme need to be sorted out. Perhaps the Government will give us some response on that today.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, as it is a real practical outworking and consequence of the security situation in Northern Ireland. The issue has not arisen only in the past few weeks or only following the tragic murder of David Black; it has been an issue for some considerable time. People have been told about security issues by the police. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) mentioned, Members of this House have been spoken to about personal security issues. For obvious reasons, we are not going to go into the detail, but these are serious issues. It is entirely wrong that people who qualify under the SPED scheme and find themselves having their house purchased in order to move should face terrible financial consequences, given that their lives are at risk and they find themselves in that position through the fault of terrorists and through no fault whatever of their own.

I know of a number of prison officers who have been told that they qualify for the Prison Service’s protection scheme and measures but who have been refused other protection offered by the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Executive. There is clearly an issue, and I seek the reassurance of the Secretary of State—I am sure she will be able to give it—that there is no question of resources or money forming any part of any decision to deny any police officer or prison officer the protection that they need to be given under any scheme to ensure their personal security. We would all agree that we should pay tribute to all those who do such sterling service, but it has to go beyond just paying tribute to them. When things happen, we should take cognisance of their concerns and as far as possible avert any kind of threat to them. That applies, of course, right across the board.

The issuing of licences to carry personal protection weapons has been raised with me and other colleagues, along with the refusal to renew those licences for people who have legitimate and well-founded concerns about their personal security. There has been a tendency for that to happen in recent years. A week or two ago, a man came to my office and told me that although he had been informed that he was under threat, his personal protection weapon licence was being withdrawn, which he found incomprehensible. He was told that because he was no longer serving, the threat had been reduced. However, although there is no intelligence relating to him suggesting the existence of a specific threat, he feels that he is under threat and in danger, and has given the example of his neighbour David Black, who was murdered.

One can understand how that man feels. He has gone through all the proper processes and is now forced to consider legal action, at his own expense, so that he can try to secure the minimal protection that would afford him peace of mind and enable him to sleep in his home at night. The Police Service of Northern Ireland needs to pay close attention to such issues. When appeals are considered by the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State and other Ministers have a role to play. I know that the Secretary of State will also pay close attention to those issues, because they are of real concern to people and we have raised them in the past.

The people of Northern Ireland have suffered for too long as a consequence of the acts of terrorists down the years. Those of us who know our history are aware that the Provisional IRA, which wreaked so much havoc in our country for so many years, started out as a splinter group. It is easy nowadays to dismiss groups that are currently active as “splinter groups”, “small groups” or “micro-groups”, but it should be borne in mind that the provos originated as a breakaway movement from the official IRA. If we are not to condemn a further generation in Ulster, we must act swiftly and decisively, now, to bring those people to book.

A short time ago, the Home Secretary announced that the level of threat from dissident republicans here on the mainland of Great Britain had been reduced from “substantial” to “moderate”. In Northern Ireland, it remains “substantial”. At that time, in the House, I expressed the fear of many people that the announcement might have been premature and somewhat counter-productive. I said that given the recent experience of intelligence reports, or the lack of them, people needed to be reassured that there would be no reduction in security, and no complacency on the part of the security forces. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would tell us whether the Government have sought or received any new assessment in the wake of the murder of David Black, and whether they are satisfied with the current threat level assessment overall.

Many people seemed surprised by the announcement that the various dissident groups had united to form an umbrella group which styled itself simply “the IRA”. That was the group that claimed responsibility for the murder of David Black. In a speech in September 2010 entitled “The Threat to National Security”, Jonathan Evans, the director general of the Security Service, noted that the largest dividing lines between the various republican dissident terrorists groups at that time were based on

“marginal distinctions or personal rivalries”.

It is now clear to many of us that those marginal distinctions and personal rivalries have, to some extent, ceased to exist, and that the groups are starting to coalesce, which is an extremely serious development. I understand that the “IRA” group which has claimed responsibility for the murder of David Black appears to consist of elements of the Real IRA and other factions based in the Lurgan area, and that is certainly very serious.

The Secretary of State must conduct a review to establish whether the proscriptions that already apply to the various terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland apply to the newly formed umbrella group. If they do not, the Government must move to apply them without delay. If it is proved that a person is involved in such activity, that person should face the full rigour of the law, and should be in no doubt that he or she will spend a very long time in prison.

Many inhabitants of Northern Ireland are greatly concerned when they hear of an incident, hear that certain people have been questioned and arrested—and have been continually questioned and arrested in connection with similar offences—and then hear that, unfortunately, they have either been released after a few days, or have not been convicted when brought to trial. Those living in the area in which such people operate, and in Northern Ireland generally, are well aware of the serious threat that is posed.

Of course we must be conscious of the rule of law and of due process. However, bearing in mind the efforts that are made to remove people from the United Kingdom, here in London or elsewhere, because they pose a threat to national security, many of my constituents ask me what real efforts are being made—proactively as opposed to reactively, following a terrible event—to get to grips with individuals who are known by the police, and indeed by everyone, to be involved in serious acts of terrorism and criminality and the organisation of terrorist acts. That is another issue that the Secretary of State should address.

The apparent closer organisation of dissident terror groups in Northern Ireland adds greatly to the challenges facing the PSNI and the security forces. All necessary resources must be made available to the Chief Constable to combat the terrorist threat. Early in 2011, the Government announced the provision of an additional £200 million for the PSNI budget to enable the police to counteract the dissident republican terrorist threat, and at the same time the Northern Ireland Executive provided an extra £45 million for security purposes. That money was received very gratefully by the police, and I assure the House that it has been critical to ensuring that more people have not been murdered at the hands of terrorists. However, the police will face a range of challenges in the months ahead. The Chief Constable has expressed concern about what the forthcoming comprehensive spending review will mean for the delivery of front-line policing services. I urge the Government to look favourably on any future request for additional resources, beyond the block grant allocation. The Chief Constable has made no call for extra money so far, but the Government should not be surprised if such a call is made in the future.

The circumstances faced by the police in Northern Ireland are way beyond the day-to-day challenges and problems faced by any regional police force in England, Scotland or Wales. The rate at which officers are leaving the force is higher than expected. The PSNI is losing, through retirement, a great deal of the experience and expertise in key fields such as crime investigation and counter-terrorism that are so crucial in counteracting terrorism. As a consequence of the faster than expected retirement rate, a new recruitment campaign will be launched next year, but it will obviously take time to plug the gaps caused by the loss of senior and experienced officers.

A judicial review of the use of managed services contracts by the PSNI is currently under way. If it succeeds, it will pose an enormous risk to the capacity of the police service. I believe that binding the hands of the police in such a way risks the incurring of massive costs, perhaps amounting to between £50 million and £60 million a year. The PSNI has been forced to employ agency staff, as a direct result—in my view—of the Patten report, which had the effect of driving years of experience and expertise out of the police service and creating a massive void in talent and skills within the organisation. The Auditor and Comptroller General has acknowledged that the police in Northern Ireland face a major challenge because of a loss of talent which is without precedent in any other public sector body.

As my right hon. Friend knows, increasing numbers of PSNI officers are resigning from the service. That is a trend at present, rather than a spike, but more officers now join and spend just a few years in the service, rather than a lifetime. Instead of dedicating themselves to a career, many of them now get out after a short time. That makes it more difficult for the PSNI to serve the public properly.

I agree. That trend is clear in many of our local areas, even among senior officers. My constituency of Belfast North faces big policing challenges: as well as addressing the security threat, our PSNI officers have to police protests against parades and civil disturbances such as those we saw over the summer. Increasingly, we are seeing senior police officers staying in the area for a relatively short period of time. Just when they have started to get to know the area and its issues and various personalities on all sides they are moved on somewhere else, and a new officer comes in and that process starts all over again.

Having said that, I pay tribute to our police officers at both senior and rank-and-file level. They do a very good job in very difficult circumstances, but they need to be backed up with the assurance that whatever resources are needed to combat the threat of terrorism will be given to them. They must be assured that they will not have to scrimp and save, because the public in Northern Ireland are entitled to the ordinary benefits of policing as well. Northern Ireland faces serious issues to do with not only the troubles, but drugs, burglary and community policing. Our constituents must not suffer in those regards because resources are diverted to tackle terrorism.

On the issue of crime in general, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as a consequence of our history of paramilitary activity, racketeering is a particular problem in Northern Ireland, as many people who have moved away from their paramilitary past have not moved away from its associated criminality?

The hon. Lady and I both represent Belfast constituencies, so we know very well the problems that remain. She is right to highlight the link between criminality and people who were formerly heavily engaged in paramilitary activity. That has been an enormous problem. Although many people formerly involved in paramilitary organisations are today making genuine efforts to move their communities forward, unfortunately others try to have a foot in both camps. We must ensure that the full rigour of the law comes down upon those who want to have it both ways, but we should help those who have genuinely changed.

There is no doubt that the overall security situation is very different now from what it was 25 years ago. However, although the dark days of the past have gone, it would be reckless to ignore the significant challenges we face. We must therefore debate these matters, as we are doing today. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State, and I commend the motion to the House.

It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who made a very considered speech in which he set out some of the serious concerns that are felt about security in Northern Ireland. I welcome his emphasis on the positive achievements as well, however, and the steps that have been taken to transform the security situation for the better over recent years.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Democratic Unionist party colleagues for providing the House with this opportunity to debate what is a very important subject not only for Northern Ireland, but for the entire United Kingdom. Sadly, it is inevitable that our debate this afternoon has been overshadowed by the despicable murder of Prison Officer David Black as he drove to work one morning after 30 years of dedicated service to his community. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that act of brutality serves to remind us all of the continuing threat posed by the individuals who reject the principles of democracy and consent, and instead seek to pursue their aims by violence and murder. In answer to the questions the right hon. Gentleman put to me in his speech, the UK Government’s efforts to combat that terrorist threat remain resolute.

I know that all Members in the House today will continue to keep the family, friends and colleagues of David Black in our thoughts as they seek to cope with their devastating loss. I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the dignified and courageous response of Mrs Black. I also want to update the House on the investigation. Of course, I can share few details with colleagues in this public forum, but the news this morning is that two further arrests have been made and searches have been carried out in the Coalisland area. I repeat the appeal I made previously in my statement to the House: anyone with information on this crime or any other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland should come forward and contact the police as a matter of urgency.

As well as being a personal tragedy, this cowardly murder represents an attack on the wider community. Yet contrary to the ambitions of the so-called dissidents, such attacks serve only to strengthen the determination of the vast majority in all parts of the community to move forward and to see violence and terrorism left behind as part of Northern Ireland’s past, and not its future. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in praising the response of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister who were resolute in their condemnation of Mr Black’s murder. Similar condemnations came from the rest of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, demonstrating the widespread revulsion at what happened that morning on the M1 motorway. They also demonstrate our unity of purpose in ensuring that these terrorists will never succeed in wrecking the progress that has been made, or in dragging Northern Ireland back to its troubled past.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in acknowledging the tremendous dignity of the Black family in calling on the community to ensure that there be no act of revenge for the murder of David, we must also acknowledge that the family has also demanded that those who perpetrated this act be brought to justice?

I, too, believe that every effort must be made to bring to justice the people responsible for this despicable murder, and I am sure the PSNI is doing everything in its power to ensure that that happens.

As the Secretary of State will know, with the murder of David Black, 30 prison officers have now been murdered in Northern Ireland. The Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation has a beautiful memorial garden at police headquarters in Belfast. Please will the Secretary of State support the establishment of a memorial garden for murdered prison officers in Northern Ireland? Organisations including the Prison Officers Association have long campaigned valiantly on this issue, and its chairman, Finlay Spratt, has given sterling leadership. Plans were afoot seven years ago. Such a garden would be a wonderful tribute to David Black and the other prison officers who have been murdered through the years of terrorism. It would be a fit and proper gesture and acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by prison officers through 30 years of terrible events in Northern Ireland.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that thoughtful suggestion. The Minister of State and I will certainly reflect on it, and I am happy to discuss it with the Northern Ireland Executive.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North referred to the new grouping that has apparently formed in Northern Ireland from a number of different terrorist groups. My emphasis would be on the fact that however they brand themselves, these groupings are condemned across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. The numbers involved in dissident activity continue to be small. The dissidents have almost no support, they despise the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the past two decades and they act in defiance of the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Ireland, north and south, who voted overwhelmingly to back the political settlement we have today. Yet it is all too clear that these disparate groupings can still cause damage and ruin lives.

I am not suggesting, in any way, that the Secretary of State’s words imply any level of complacency about the strength of support in the community for dissident terrorists, but in the last elections dissident republican terrorist candidates achieved 2,000 votes in the two west Belfast wards of the Falls—that is in the heartland of Sinn Fein. We must recognise that if this beast is not dealt with decisively now, it will grow. We saw that in the past with the provisionals, who were small in number but are now the largest republican party—nationalist, constitutional party—in Northern Ireland. It could happen again.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government remain vigilant on the terrorist threat; we are taking it extremely seriously. As he will see as my remarks conclude, we believe that tackling the terrorist threat effectively requires not just a security response, but a wider strategy designed to choke off any potential support for the so-called “dissident groupings”. I think there is widespread acceptance that securing a prosperous Northern Ireland and breaking down sectarian barriers is also an important way to respond in order to eliminate the terrorist threat on a long-term basis. As I say, I will come back to that subject later.

The threat level in Northern Ireland remains “severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely. No alteration has been made to that Security Service assessment, although, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North recognised, the threat level in Great Britain has been adjusted. We remain vigilant in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain, because the terrorists have capability and they have lethal intent. This year has seen 22 national security attacks in Northern Ireland. Although some may have lacked sophistication, they all had the potential to be deadly. Many involved crude pipe bombs, primarily used to target PSNI officers or their families. The right hon. Gentleman highlighted an attack in his constituency, and another particularly reckless attack was the abandonment of a large improvised explosive device containing more than 600 lb of home-made explosive near the Irish border at Newry—the device was successfully defused, but if it had detonated, it could have led to a significant loss of life. Terrorists continue to seek access to funding and weaponry, and they have been undertaking training as well as targeting. Both republican and loyalist groupings are still involved in a range of criminal activities—mention has been made of this—to fund their activities and individual lifestyles.

Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to say publicly where the main sources of funding for terrorism are coming from?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that there is a limit to what can be said publicly, but there can be no doubt that these criminal activities are playing a significant part in funding terrorist activities.

The republican and loyalist groupings also continue to carry out paramilitary-style assaults on members of their own community. Such attacks are sickening and show a complete disregard for the victims and their families. Terrorists also seek to capitalise on any instances of public disorder or unrest. During rioting in north Belfast on 12 July a number of shots were fired at police officers. That should be considered as nothing less than the attempted murder of police officers, who were there simply to uphold the law and protect people from all parts of the community. I would like to assure the right hon. Member for Belfast North that the PSNI gives the highest priority to protecting the safety of its officers. Indeed, one way in which the £200 million that the UK Government allocated as additional spending to counter the terrorist threat is being deployed is in enabling the PSNI to enhance measures to protect its officers. Measures to protect police officers are, of course, kept under constant review by the PSNI. The Chief Constable takes all the steps he can to protect his officers from the terror threat they face, while retaining his firm commitment to community policing.

The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the importance of the home protection scheme. As he said, the Northern Ireland Office has important responsibilities in relation to the scheme, and we keep those under constant review, too. Our scheme exists to protect people in certain occupations or positions in public life who are assessed to be under “substantial” or “severe” threat. The Minister of State considers other applications where an individual is assessed to be under a real or immediate threat, under our obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights. The PSNI also runs the criminal threats scheme and home security aid scheme, in addition to the Northern Ireland Office’s programme. A range of security measures are provided depending on the threat in each case—I am afraid that it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail.

Intelligence does not always specifically target the correct person; sometimes it does not target the person who has been the subject of a murder attempt or indeed the person who has been murdered. People have come to my office who did not have a specific threat yet travel the same road where people have been murdered or where a murder attempt has been made. Is there not sometimes a need for more flexibility in the system when it comes to assessing not only someone’s individual circumstances, but whether to issue a protection weapon?

Of course in all these cases it is important to look at individual circumstances, and I recommend to anyone who considers that they are under threat that they approach the PSNI about the matter to see what mitigation steps can be taken.

PSNI officers remain the repeated focus of dissident attack planning, with prison officers targeted as well. Terrorist groupings have continued to use hoax devices, acts of criminal damage or orchestrated disorder to create fear in the community and to draw police into situations where they might be vulnerable to attack. That tactic is designed to make it harder for the PSNI to provide community-style policing. It is also, bluntly, aimed at deterring people from joining the police, particularly those from the Catholic community. Yet we should recognise that confidence levels in policing across Northern Ireland have actually risen steadily. Chief Constable Matt Baggott continues to place community policing at the heart of his approach, and the proportion of Catholics in the PSNI has gone up from 8% in 2001 to more than 30% today. The PSNI is genuinely representative of the community it serves, it is one of the most transparent and rigorously scrutinised police services in the world, and I believe that it has the confidence of a significant majority of the people of Northern Ireland. I pay the fullest tribute to the work that Matt Baggott and his officers do in exceptionally difficult circumstances. They carry out their duties with professionalism, impartiality and bravery—that is also true of the Prison Service.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking yet another intervention. She quite rightly mentioned the additional resources given to the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and to the PSNI. We are absolutely thrilled that next year the G8 summit will come to Fermanagh. That is not in my constituency, however—could the summit come to North Down next time? Although we are thrilled about that, will the Secretary of State confirm—to the relief of us all—that additional resources will be made available to the PSNI for the increased security commitment? I am sure that the PSNI will deliver on that commitment to the best of its ability, but it needs finance to do so.

We are committed to ensuring that the policing and security operation for the G8 summit is a success. Of course, appropriate resources will be allocated and we will make an announcement in due course, probably in January, about the budget.

As I have said, Prison Service officers also carry out their duties with dedication and courage and I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work they do. They play a vital role in keeping people in Northern Ireland safe from harm and the Northern Ireland Prison Service keeps arrangements for the personal security of its officers under constant review. The director general of the service, Sue McAllister, is actively considering what further measures might need to be taken in the wake of the attack on David Black and the PSNI has a programme of security briefings under way for prison officers.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and I apologise for not being in the Chamber from the start of the debate. She explained to the House how she and her colleague the Minister of State have responsibility for the home protection scheme. She is now discussing measures to be taken by the Prison Service and has mentioned measures to be taken by the police service, and following devolution they are the responsibility of the Justice Minister and the various agencies. Will she reassure the House that, although the responsibilities are separate, every effort is being made to ensure that the effectiveness of all the measures is joined together wherever possible?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I emphasise that working relationships between the Northern Ireland Office and the Justice Minister are very close and I discuss these matters with David Ford regularly, as well as with the Chief Constable. As the right hon. Gentleman said, a united effort that co-ordinates our respective areas of responsibility is crucial in combating terrorism. I have held a number of discussions about the David Black murder with the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister, and the Minister of State has been in discussions with the Prison Service, too.

The SPED scheme has been mentioned. It falls within the devolved space but I am happy to pass on the comments made today to the responsible Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. I am sure that they will wish to reflect carefully on the comments that have been made and I am sure that they take their responsibilities in this matter very seriously.

Personal protection weapons were also mentioned. Issuing or withdrawing personal protection is a matter for the Chief Constable, as the matter is devolved, and the only NIO involvement is when someone appeals against a decision made by the Chief Constable. The director general of the Prison Service met the PSNI recently to ensure that any prison officer who feels they need a PPW can apply to the police under the normal procedures. Following concerns raised after the murder of David Black, Sue McAllister said:

“I have checked and to my knowledge no prison officer has been told that his or her personal protection weapon is to be withdrawn”.

She went on to say:

“I will certainly be making sure that any prison officer who wishes to have a personal protection weapon will be able to apply to the police service as per our procedures.”

The Secretary of State referred to serving members. Will she also take into consideration those men and women who have served their country faithfully and also deserve to receive personal protection weapons in some shape or form?

I am certain that in making decisions on personal protection weapons, the PSNI will have careful regard to the security issues relating to not just present members of the Prison Service but to former members. I am confident that we have a process that is rigorous in assessing those risks and I am sure that they are taken into account by the PSNI. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will also consider them in the appeals process.

May I remind the House that it is not just about police officers and prison officers? Sometimes people work more indirectly for the Prison Service or military; they might be a civilian driver, educate the children of people who work there or provide a service, such as cleaning an establishment. Those people are under threat, too, more often than we realise.

I am confident that the PSNI will carefully consider the risks associated with anyone who applies for permission to have a personal protection weapon, whether they carry out the roles described by my hon. Friend or are involved directly in the Prison Service or PSNI.

I apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber earlier. I do not need to talk further on the subject of weapons in this company, but I believe that many of my former RUC colleagues feel that it is only a matter of time before the PSNI is outgunned by one set of dissidents or another. Does the Secretary of State feel that she has access to enough military resources that can be quickly deployed in the Province?

The PSNI has been very clear that it has the resources it needs to combat the terrorist threat, which includes certain technical support from the military.

For our part, the Government are determined to everything we can to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure. On coming to power we endorsed an additional £50 million for the PSNI. In 2010, our national security strategy included countering Northern Ireland-related terrorism as a tier 1 priority and, as we have heard, an additional £200 million over four years was provided to the PSNI to tackle the threat from terrorism.

The right hon. Member for Belfast North asked what will happen at the end of the period covered by that funding settlement. Those are matters for the forthcoming spending review, but the Government will continue to do all we can to support the PSNI and its partners in their efforts to tackle the terrorist threat. I am sure the points made in the debate today will be carefully considered when decisions are made on future spending reviews.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) made a very specific point about the SPED scheme moneys being drawn out of the Department for Social Development’s money. The specific issue affects Northern Ireland, but the security of Northern Ireland is a matter not just for Northern Ireland but for the whole United Kingdom. Will the right hon. Lady consider providing extra funding for the DSD in Northern Ireland to cover the movement of people from house to house through the SPED scheme?

I am sure that when decisions are ultimately taken on the Northern Ireland block grant and future spending reviews, appropriate consideration will be given to the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Ministers and security advisers meet regularly to review our counter-terrorism strategy and to ensure that everything that can be done is being done. Although the threat level remains at “severe” in Northern Ireland, real progress has been made. Excellent co-operation between the PSNI and its partners has put the terrorists under strain in recent months. There have been significant arrests, charges and convictions. In fact, so far this year there have been a total of 143 arrests in Northern Ireland, in addition to a number by An Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland. There have also been 52 charges against those involved in national security attacks brought since January 2012, including a number for serious terrorism-related offences. In addition, 25 caches of weapons and improvised explosive devices have been seized.

We remain committed to supporting the PSNI, its partners and Justice Minister David Ford in countering the threat and preventing the so-called dissidents from causing death and destruction. I regularly meet the Tanaiste and the Irish Minister of Justice and discuss these matters, and I am in no doubt that the Irish Government and their police service remain fully committed to tackling terrorism. The relationship between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI is better than ever and it continues to save lives.

As for the question asked by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on the disclosures about commissioning, she will be aware that the body that carried out the decommissioning process was an independent one. It chose not to publish the inventory of its work, so the Government do not actually have the information to which she referred.

I was involved in the negotiations leading to the Belfast agreement, and in the legislative process here in Parliament. The Government have a statutory duty in relation to decommissioning. The legislation made provision for the publication of an inventory of the weapons that had been decommissioned at the end of the process, so I do not think the Secretary of State can simply evade the issue by saying that the commission was independent. The commission had legislative force from this Parliament and surely, therefore, there is an issue of accountability.

I am happy to look at the matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised and discuss it further with him.

We are resolutely determined to bring an end to the senseless violence that can still cause such pain and loss in Northern Ireland, but as I said earlier, security measures alone will not bring an end to terrorist activity, although of course they remain essential. We also need to build a more prosperous and less divided society if we are finally to force out those violent groupings completely. Northern Ireland still faces many serious economic and social challenges after the troubles. We need to continue efforts to rebalance the economy and revive the private sector, and we must tackle sectarianism and the causes of division in society, which can fuel the discontent on which terrorists will try to capitalise.

Addressing ongoing community segregation is not just a social and political priority; it is a security priority as well. That is one of the reasons why, in his speech to the Assembly last year, the Prime Minister emphasised the crucial importance of building a genuinely shared future for Northern Ireland. The UK Government remain committed to working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive in their efforts to deliver that shared society.

However, we must not forget how far Northern Ireland has come since the dark days of the troubles. As rightly highlighted by the right hon. Member for Belfast North, we have unprecedented political stability. For the most part, people go about their daily lives in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past; and in so many ways Northern Ireland is now projecting itself on the world stage for the right reasons.

This year we have seen Northern Ireland host the Irish golf open, the Olympic torch relay, the Titanic centenary events and, of course, the fantastically successful visit by Her Majesty the Queen. Next year will see the world police and fire games bring more than 20,000 competitors and spectators to Northern Ireland. Derry-Londonderry will be the UK city of culture. It will host the Fleadh which is being held in Northern Ireland for the first time. Also, as we have heard, it is now officially, according to “Lonely Planet”, the fourth best city in the world to visit.

As announced yesterday by the Prime Minister, the Government are recognising once again the transformation that has taken place in Northern Ireland by bringing the leaders of eight of the world’s largest economies to County Fermanagh. County Fermanagh will genuinely be the centre of the world in June next year. The G8 conference will showcase Northern Ireland as an inspirational setting for world leaders to discuss ambitious solutions to pressing global problems. As the First Minister said yesterday, that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. It demonstrates a modern, confident, forward-looking Northern Ireland.

This Government in no way underestimate the severity of the ongoing security threat. We remain vigilant. The House should be in no doubt that we will do everything we can to protect the people of our country from terrorism; and we will continue to support the PSNI, the Executive and the community in ensuring that the terrorists do not succeed in their aims. The people of Northern Ireland have achieved so much over the past 20 years and they are determined to continue the hard-won progress that has been made. The overwhelming majority stand by the principle that Northern Ireland’s future will only ever be determined by democracy and by consent, and not by violence. The Government will continue to be vigilant in combating the terrorist threat as an essential part of our wider efforts to deliver a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland, of which all its citizens can be proud and in which everyone has a genuinely shared future.

I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on bringing these important matters before the House today; I commend the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for the very measured way in which he introduced the debate, and I thank the Secretary of State for her remarks.

Northern Ireland’s security and stability affect and are the responsibility of every Member of Parliament, from every party and every part of the United Kingdom. Yesterday’s announcement that the G8 summit is coming to Northern Ireland next year is very welcome news for everyone in Northern Ireland. Fermanagh, which I know is close to the heart of the right hon. Member for Belfast North, is a beautiful county, which I have been privileged to visit. I was last in Enniskillen for the church service at St Macartin’s cathedral on the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland to mark the diamond jubilee. But of course we also remember the horrific Remembrance Sunday killings of 25 years ago. I have also spent time in Fermanagh visiting community groups and businesses, including the Fermanagh Trust which does such good work to promote shared education in the county.

The announcement that this hugely significant event, attended by eight world leaders, will be held in Northern Ireland is proof indeed that things have changed considerably for the better. Only a short number of years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an occasion of this significance, with all its security implications, could be held in Northern Ireland. Indeed the Prime Minister, at Prime Minister’s questions today, made that very point. Given that Derry-Londonderry is also to be the city of culture next year, I firmly believe, as the Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman said, that 2013 can be a great year of tourism, investment and togetherness for a vibrant and confident Northern Ireland taking its place on the world stage. A huge amount of progress has thus been made, as we and the Secretary of State recognise.

However, as the motion rightly identifies, there are still those who wish to destroy the peace and progress made and take us back to the dark days of conflict. The murder of Prison Officer David Black just a few weeks ago is a stark reminder of the need for us to be vigilant and realistic about the threat from terrorism. As I said in the House of Commons in the days afterwards, it was the cold-blooded, evil murder of an ordinary, decent man, going about his ordinary, decent business.

I, and some Members who are present in the Chamber this afternoon, stood with many other ordinary, decent people in Cookstown for David Black’s funeral—the Secretary of State was there as well—and was overwhelmed by the courage and determination of his family, and by what his very proud children said at his funeral. They showed that those who murdered a husband, a father and a friend did not succeed and will not succeed. It was good to hear from the Secretary of State this afternoon that there have been further arrests by the PSNI, and that the police have taken other action, including searching properties. That is very welcome news to all of us, I think, as we would all wish to see the perpetrators brought to justice as soon as possible.

We must not, however, think that sentiments alone will ensure that no other family is bereaved and no other home, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) rightly said that day, has an empty chair and a loved one gone. There can be no complacency about the threat from the small number of people engaged in violence, and there must be total support—financial and political—from both sides of the House to help the security forces in Northern Ireland to keep the people safe. Will the Minister in his closing remarks again assure the House that those protecting the public, particularly the PSNI, the Army technical officers and the security services, have all the resources needed to tackle terrorism and the threat to national security?

Unfortunately, David Black’s murder was not an isolated incident, as the Secretary of State said. It was part of a pattern of dissident republican terrorist activity across Northern Ireland, targeted primarily at the security forces. A gun attack on police took place in west Belfast at the end of July; two pipe bombs and a booby-trap device were left at the offices of Derry city council in September; mortar bombs were found in north Belfast in October; then, just last week, what is believed to have been an under-car bomb was found in Belfast, having fallen off the vehicle of the intended target. Loyalist paramilitaries are also engaged in creating discord within and between communities: their involvement in some of the public disorder seen in Belfast this summer and continuing sectarian attacks and criminal behaviour must also be condemned and challenged robustly.

In both working-class Unionist and working-class nationalist areas, joblessness among young people is a real concern, and the Secretary of State mentioned this. Not only does it damage our young people by denying them work, opportunity and aspiration, but it makes them vulnerable to exploitation and indeed recruitment by paramilitaries. We should never underestimate the impact on the security situation of unemployment and social and economic deprivation. Only rarely does any of this make the news here in London, but it is happening and we in Westminster have a duty to take note and to act to deal with it. That is why I so warmly welcome the topic the right hon. Member for Belfast North has brought to the House for debate today.

I believe, as do the Secretary of State and all Members of this House, that the PSNI is to be congratulated on its diligence and success in preventing attacks and catching the perpetrators. The Army technical officers in the bomb disposal units also deserve huge credit for their bravery and tenacity in dealing with suspect devices. Prosecutions relating to terrorist activity have continued, but the risk to police officers, prison officers, soldiers and the entire community remains very real.

Responding to remarks I made in the House earlier this month, the Secretary of State said:

“the PSNI is completely focused on maintaining the safety of prison officers, as it is on maintaining the safety of police officers, who are sadly also targeted by dissident terrorists. I am sure that every lesson will be learned, and that the PSNI and the Prison Service will look with care at whether any changes need to be made as a result of yesterday’s tragedy.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 513.]

I am following closely the comments being made by the shadow Secretary of State. Will he take a moment to support publicly the calls we have heard from this Bench this afternoon for the publication by the Government of the inventories of weapons already decommissioned by republicans and by loyalists, as agreed under the Belfast agreement? To hide behind the independence of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning simply will not do. Will the hon. Gentleman please publicly endorse those calls for publication?

Because of the way the hon. Lady has pursued the matter and raised it in this debate, she has already got a commitment from the Secretary of State to consider her request and to see whether anything more needs to be done. The hon. Lady had mentioned the publication of inventories several times this afternoon and the Secretary of State has—rightly, I believe—given a commitment to see whether anything further can be done to ensure that the weapons and other materiél that are said to have been destroyed actually have been. I am sure the House welcomes the Secretary of State’s commitment.

May I ask the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, what his assessment is of the lessons that have been learned and whether any changes are needed to ensure the highest levels of personal security for police officers, civilian police staff and Prison Service personnel? The Police Federation for Northern Ireland says that there have been 73 gun or bomb attacks since the start of this year—a startling and worrying figure—and last week its chairman, Terry Spence, said that 1,000 more officers were needed to combat what he described as a growing threat and to stop us “sleepwalking into disaster”. Following the previous Administration’s commitment, in 2010 this Government gave the police an extra £200 million, to be spread over the following four years, specifically to combat terrorism; and the Executive have provided £45 million for the same purpose. I know that, like me, the Minister of State has regular discussions with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable. What representations has he received regarding the extension of that funding beyond 2014? What is his assessment of the call for additional police officers to meet the national security threat outlined by the PFNI chairman?

I know that there is ever-closer co-operation between the Irish Government and the UK Government, and between the Garda Siochana and the PSNI. The support of the Irish authorities in tackling terrorism is hugely important, and I commend in particular the Tanaiste, the Irish Justice Minister and the Garda commissioner for their hard work and determination. We all want that to continue.

On the day of the terrible murder of Mr Black, I was in Dublin and met the Garda commissioner, who reaffirmed his commitment to working with the PSNI to stamp out such action. There was an air of despondency around everyone I met in Dublin that tragic day. They really do stand with us in fighting against such incidents.

The remarks of the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee are welcome and will be heard clearly both here and in Dublin. I am sure that everyone across the whole Republic of Ireland, the whole of Northern Ireland and, let us be clear, the whole United Kingdom, was absolutely horrified by the murder and supports all the efforts of the Government, the parties in Northern Ireland and the police and security services in the Republic and Northern Ireland to bring to justice those who committed that terrible crime.

In my first exchange across the Dispatch Box with the Secretary of State, during Northern Ireland questions on 24 October, I said that I wanted

“to work with her constructively and in a bipartisan way, particularly on issues relating to security.”

I asked her to

“assure the House and the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no downgrading of the Government’s commitment to combat terrorism anywhere in the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, 24 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 907.]

The Secretary of State has reaffirmed that commitment and needs to do so constantly, because, as the right hon. Member for Belfast North said, any suggestion of a downgrading must be combated. I reaffirm my commitment to maintaining a bipartisan approach, to working with the Government on security matters, and to supporting the Northern Ireland Executive, the Justice Minister and the PSNI. This afternoon’s debate gives us the opportunity, here in Westminster, to say that tackling terrorism, wherever and whenever it occurs, should remain the responsibility and priority of us all.

I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) for securing this Opposition day debate. I know that many colleagues in parties on the other side of the Chamber have far more expertise and experience than I have and that they want to speak, so I will be brief.

I join the Secretary of State and the others who have spoken so far in paying tribute to Mr David Black. His murder was a heinous crime, which calls to mind the dreadful situation many years ago, of which I have some experience. One of my uncles was a police officer; the IRA attempted to assassinate him and once actually came to his house. Fortuitously, neither the children—my cousins—nor my uncle and aunt were harmed, but it was an absolutely desperate situation. I remember so well what it was like all those years ago. Things have moved on apace, almost miraculously. I still visit my relatives in Northern Ireland and it is a very different place from what it was many years ago.

The security issue, however, is clearly still relevant, as the crime against Mr Black only a few weeks ago demonstrates. Periodically, dissident groups materialise suddenly and cause mayhem by harming, frightening and intimidating people, and, to be frank, some of the loyalist dissident groups almost have a racketeering contract over parts of the north. Things are not yet quite where we want them to be, but I want to affirm and confirm just how far they have come.

I remember being in Belfast when the troubles started. I was only 12 and, as hon. Members will be able to imagine, as a young child I thought it was very exciting. There were helicopters everywhere, guns going off and lots of noise, but it did not take me long to realise just what a dreadfully black period the whole country was going to go through. The situation now compared with then is almost miraculous. It is tremendous that it has advanced to the extent that, today, all sides in Northern Ireland, where a difficult sectarian divide involved a lot of death and pain, are sought out by other countries around the world to help them get through similarly difficult situations. That is a tribute to all the people of the north and to the UK Government for the progress that we have made.

It is striking that a number of Northern Ireland Members have reminded us of the ongoing threat, to the extent that people have had to move house. I urge the Government to keep focused on two things, along with everything else. First, there must never be any cuts in the budget, so that ample money is available to ensure that people who work in the public security services—whether they work in prisons, the police or similar—are protected in their own homes in the north. Secondly, and equally—this strong point has already been made—if they are forced out of their own homes, which is dreadful, they should not suffer financially, because that seems completely against the whole concept of natural justice. As a spokesperson for my party within the coalition, I add my wholehearted support to what has already been said on that issue. It is important that the Government keep focused.

The security angle is complicated and I know that the Government are working very closely with the devolved Government in Northern Ireland. This issue clearly is not going to go away any time soon, but I remind hon. Members—not that I have to remind Northern Ireland Members—that we are in such a different place compared with 20 years ago. If we ever allow the dissident groups, of whatever stripe, to force us into a defensive posture, that tiny percentage of people will have won. I do not think that they are worth it—they are not worth a hill of beans. We need to deal with them firmly, ensure that the security capacity is there, and keep doing what I know the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want, which is to keep going forward towards a very secure future.

I rise in support of my honourable colleagues and this important motion. I want to tread the same fine line as previous contributors and outline the significant and beneficial progress that has been made in Northern Ireland in recent years, while balancing it with the need not to become complacent. Unfortunately, we have seen in recent days and weeks the ramifications of what happens whenever dissident terrorists are able to carry out their dastardly objectives.

The progress that has been made has been alluded to during Prime Minister’s questions today and in other locations recently. It is remarkable—there is absolutely no question about that. In 2012, there are many villages and towns in Northern Ireland where there is no discernible evidence of violence, dissension or trouble at all—none whatsoever. Unfortunately, however, as has been said, the capacity of dissident terrorists—who now come under the umbrella of the IRA—to carry out their activities cannot and must not be underestimated. The fact that those terrorists have carried out six or seven gun or bomb attacks each and every month of this year is evidence of their capacity.

The Chief Constable has said that the terrorists do not have the capacity for a sustained campaign. They are not in the same category as the Provisional IRA and it appears at present that they are not even intent on a sustained level of bombing and shooting on every day of every week of every month, for a number of reasons. They do not have the manpower—or the woman-power either—or the expertise, although they are gaining in that regard. What they are doing, however—unfortunately, Mr David Black and his family were at the receiving end of their capacity—is allowing a week, a fortnight or a month to go by and then hitting a target that they know will get a headline and generate adverse publicity. For example, they are aware that Londonderry will be the first ever UK city of culture next year, which is why they targeted the cultural offices in the city of Londonderry. They knew that that would get a headline of some magnitude.

In treading the fine line between the significant progress that has been made, which we must not underestimate, and the need to ensure that vigilance remains the watchword, I want to draw attention to the benefit that we will gain, I hope, over the next 12 months and, at the same time, ensure that the Secretary of State, the Government and the security forces at home remain vigilant to ensure that people are able to enjoy the many occasions that will come our way over the next 12 months.

Let us consider those occasions for a moment. The G8 has been announced and we congratulate the Prime Minister on, and thank him for, his work in delivering it. There will be an unprecedented arrival of people in, and attention on, Northern Ireland for all the good reasons. People will come to Fermanagh and there will be intense publicity not just for the three days that they are there, but for the weeks that lead up to it and, I hope, subsequent to their departure. That has to be and must be a force for good, and yet there is the potential—just as dissidents have targeted other occasions that were a force for good—for the dissidents’ force for evil. They will undoubtedly be looking at ways to undermine that significantly beneficial event for Northern Ireland, so we must be aware of their capacity to do so.

The Secretary of State has alluded to the world police and fire games, which will also be held in Northern Ireland next year. The potential significant benefits for tourism and inward investment as the result of many thousands of people—both participants and spectators—coming to Northern Ireland and enjoying their stay should not be underestimated. Again, dissidents will want to target that event. We cannot rest on our laurels and just think that the police will deal with any problems. Unfortunately, we must prepare for the possibility that dissidents may want to disrupt these events.

I have alluded to Londonderry being the first ever UK city of culture. There will be a whole sequence of events, starting in six weeks’ time and running throughout next year. Again, dissidents will see the opportunity to target those events. They will pick and choose the events that they want to disrupt. Thankfully, their attempts in recent months have failed, but trying and failing in the past has not deterred them from repetition. They will undoubtedly attempt to cause disruption again.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Northern Ireland could see as much transformation again as it has seen over the past 20 years, provided that we take the necessary action to ensure that those who are intent on disrupting these events are not allowed to do so, and provided that the community rallies behind all the events, gives them total support and ensures that there is no hiding place for anyone who tries to disrupt them or attack the participants. Last year, when the Olympic torch made its way across the United Kingdom, the only location where it suffered a minor re-routeing was Londonderry. That was at the hands of several dozen dissident political protesters. There was no violence, but there were negative headlines because they targeted an event that everyone else thought was tremendous and that thousands of people were there to support. We must confront that kind of attitude over the next 14 months.

The shadow Secretary of State made an important point about unemployment, particularly among young people. Just like the Provisional IRA before them, the dissident elements are undoubtedly targeting young people who are unemployed and saying to them, “The peace process has brought you nothing. It has not benefited you with employment, in getting you out of the ghetto or in improving your lifestyle or standard of living. Therefore, join us in trying to finish the job that the provos started but could not finish.” That is the message that the dissidents sell, in different ways, to young people who are unemployed and who, in many cases, are following generations of unemployment.

I therefore encourage other Members to follow the avenue that I will be pursuing next week with Invest Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, the Prince’s Trust and others. We are targeting unemployed young people and giving them the information on the training, skills and adaptability that they need to get into employment, so that they do not become fodder for the dissident elements that are, unfortunately, targeting our young people.

I want to close with the issue of personal protection weapons and the home protection scheme, which has been alluded to by a number of Members. David Black was not under any specific individual threat on his life. He died as a result of the dissident terrorists targeting him none the less. The day, the week and the month before that fateful day when he was making his journey along the motorway, he did not believe that he was under threat any more than many of his colleagues. I say that not to diminish the threat that he thought he was under, but to point out that he was told that he was under no specific individual threat.

That means that there are hundreds of serving and former members of the police, the prison service, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment who, because of where they live and because of their job, feel themselves to be under a certain kind of threat. I encourage the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State and others to do whatever they can to ensure that those personnel have adequate protection, in the form of both personal protection weapons and the home protection scheme, so that they and their families have some form of security. They need to know that the Government and the rest of us understand the threat that they are under and will do what we can to help them in their hour of need.

It is good to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell).

The recent murder of Prison Officer David Black presents us with a stark warning that we cannot ignore. It shows that although society in Northern Ireland is moving forward, peace and stability are fragile commodities that need to be protected from dangerous people who go about with murder in their hearts. We cannot take our security for granted in any corner of this United Kingdom; nor can we assume that the threat of republican terrorism has passed completely into the history books.

Personal protection weapons and the assessment of risk have been raised a number of times today. I believe that there is an issue with how assessments are made that needs to be addressed by the security forces or through the Northern Ireland Office. I would like the Secretary of State to take that on board.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry referred to David Black. David Black was murdered in my constituency. I pay tribute to his family and to his wife for her courageous statement about no retaliation. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said, they also said that they wanted the perpetrators to be brought to justice to pay for their crime. As I said earlier, while we are genuine in our tributes to him and his family, there is an empty chair that will never be filled, so we must get to grips with the matter.

I believe that a different line must be taken in the assessments on serving officers in the Prison Service and the other security forces, and on those who have served the community and put on the uniform of the Crown forces for a long time. Time and again, prison officers and people from the security forces come to my office. The letters that they receive state continually: “Our assessment on you is moderate.” What does that mean? There was no specific intelligence on David Black. There was no specific intelligence on Constable Stephen Carroll, who was also murdered in my constituency. But their lives were taken.

We need to address this issue. The Government need to realise that we are dealing with human lives. We are dealing with people who have to go out in the morning to do a day’s work and who are looking over their shoulder. All of us on these Benches live with that every day. People will say that we are well paid for it, and perhaps we are. However, there are people out there who get up in the morning, leave their families and go out to check their vehicles. The word for the problem is complacency. We all get lax when nothing has happened for a while, and we do not check under our vehicles or look over our shoulders as we should. That happens, but some day it will be too late—there will be a device and it will all be over.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the targeting of security force personnel, whether in the police, Army or Prison Service. Is he also aware of the announcement that the name and address of every prison officer was known to dissident republicans, and does he feel that security for everyone who serves in uniform needs to be upgraded and stepped up?

Yes, and over the years we have been made aware of security leaks, and documents relating to members of the security forces have been found in the possession of certain people. People have been arrested because material has been found that could be of advantage to terrorist organisations. We must be vigilant and ensure consistent upgrading and assessment of all those issues, and I ask the Secretary of State to keep that in mind. I do not totally blame the Northern Ireland Office for the situation; the PSNI of course has responsibility for making an assessment. People should not just be dealt with as being under moderate threat, when all of a sudden their lives are taken. As has been said, David Black was driving down the motorway outside Lurgan in my constituency. He was on his way to help his country by serving in the Prison Service, and to earn a living for his wife and family. He did not return. We must address urgently the issue of how people’s protection is assessed.

On a more positive note, no one in this House, or anywhere in Northern Ireland, would deny that Northern Ireland has made remarkable progress in recent times. This has been a fantastic year for our Province, and the announcement yesterday that Ulster will host the G8 summit next year was the crowning glory in an incredible period of positive headlines. I thank the Secretary of State for attending my constituency yesterday—of course, she brought the Prime Minster with her—and it was good of her to be there to make an announcement about the G8. I am sure she will agree that the warm reception that both she and the Prime Minister received from the NACCO work force in the Craigavon area was tremendous. It was a positive day for my constituency, for Northern Ireland and for NACCO, which had its tweets all ready. They were not allowed to go because of security issues, but I assure the Secretary of State that the moment the Prime Minister left, wires were hot across the whole world to promote that company and the Craigavon area.

This year has been an excellent showcase for all that is good about Northern Ireland. No longer is our part of the United Kingdom referred to in the same breath as Palestine or other trouble spots in the world, and the Province is receiving global recognition for the right reasons. That success has been built on the sure foundation of support for the rule of law among all those who carry the responsibility of political leadership. People who once swore that they would never support the police or the rule of law, now do so.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about support for policing. Does he share my concern, and that of many others, about the recent developments following an arrest made under proper policing processes, when Sinn Fein organised a protest outside police headquarters and accused the PSNI of “political policing”? Does my hon. Friend believe, as I do, that that retrograde and dangerous step plays into the hands of dissidents?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention; he is absolutely correct. Such events send out the wrong message and seem to give support to dissident republicans which, as was mentioned earlier, encourages young people to believe that the war is not really over. In the words of one famous republican, “We haven’t gone away you know.” We must remember that.

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that a dangerous precedent has been set by members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP on Dungannon and South Tyrone council? A person has gone through the due process of the law as a result of an action to murder a member of the DUP—Councillor Sammy Brush—yet now we find that their release is being demanded.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In fact, he must have seen my speech—[Interruption.] He probably thought he wrote it for me. He is right to say that the call from the SDLP is despicable, and I will soon refer to that case in my speech.

A generation of young people are emerging in Northern Ireland for whom the worst days of the troubles are something they hear their parents talk about at the fireside. Mercifully, these young people have no real first-hand experience of such things themselves. I welcome that changed dispensation and the fact that our society has become less accustomed to violence and less accepting of it than during the dark days. At stake, however, is the maintenance of peace and prosperity for all our people.

I pay tribute to Kate Carroll, the wife of Constable Stephen Carroll who was murdered in my constituency. She is a very brave lady and I understand that in January next year she will launch in the Stormont buildings an initiative for disfranchised young people. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry referred to young people who are unemployed and find themselves in difficult circumstances, and Kate Carroll is bringing forward an initiative that will help such people to find work, get involved in youth projects, and remove them from the scene and criminal activity, and from the leeches that try to tap into their lives and take them away. I pay tribute to Kate Carroll; she is a brave lady who has been outspoken on many issues and come a long way since the death of her husband. She should be congratulated on that.

There was a time in Northern Ireland when a person’s losing their life as a consequence of terrorism was sometimes read out on news broadcasts with the tiresome repetition of the weather forecast or the market report. Those terrible times are gone, except for a tiny, crazed element that seeks to take us backwards. That element does exist, and we learn from the past that if it is not confronted, it will persist. It is a sign of how far forward we have moved as a society that the community, right across the traditional divides, was genuinely convulsed in shock by the recent murder of David Black. People who lived through the dark days do not want to go back to them, and their children do not want to endure what their parents had to endure. We must not let our people down through a weak response to that grave threat. We must have peace, but it can only be guaranteed through strength.

Peace will be preserved in our country only if those who threaten its continuation are confronted and harried at every opportunity by the legitimate forces of law and order. My point again to the Secretary of State is that we need to provide any resources that are needed. We need to take those people on, defeat them and remove them from our society. We need to remove their political ideology—or whatever ideology—to try to bring them to their knees. Republicans tried for many years in Northern Ireland, but they found that the people of Ulster are very resilient, despite all that was thrown at them over the years. The people of Northern Ireland did not give in to the Provisional IRA, and I can assure the House that they will not give in to any so-called dissident republicans. They will continue to fight and continue to remain members of this United Kingdom no matter what is thrown at them.

The latest incarnation of republican terrorism considers itself to be the keeper of an old republican flame—the armed struggle. Those people believe that, if they can keep alive the twisted tradition of anti-democratic violence, it will eventually burn as strongly as it did in the past. The psychopathic delusion required to sustain such a nightmare vision ignores the pain and suffering that would be inflicted on the wider community were it ever to become a reality. It can never be allowed to become a reality. Too many people have suffered as a consequence of politically motivated violence. It is essential that the Government do all in their power to defeat those who would seek to reignite the flames of division and bloodshed. Every tool at our disposal should be deployed.

The news that the disparate and scattered remnants of physical-force republicanism have joined together under a single banner—one local tabloid referred to it yesterday as a coalition, but I will not go into that—shows why the current policy of allowing dissidents to segregate in prisons must be ended. It is beyond dispute that the warnings given in 2003 on where that policy would ultimately lead have been fulfilled. The policy should be reversed, and I hope the Secretary of State joins us in calling for that.

It is more important now than ever that all democratic parties in Northern Ireland stand together to oppose the dissident agenda. That is why I have found some of the actions of the SDLP very disappointing. I have a lot of respect for many SDLP members, but recent comments have been disappointing. It sends out a mixed and confused message if the leader of the SDLP and his party colleagues campaign for the release of Marian Price and Gerry McGeough. McGeough was convicted by a court of law for the attempted murder of my party colleague, Councillor Sammy Brush. Had Sammy Brush not been in possession of a personal weapon, he would have been dead today. He was able to return fire, but he would have been dead had the personal protection weapon not been issued to him.

It was appalling to hear the leader of the SDLP claim that McGeough has been victimised. It was equally appalling when his party backed a call for McGeough to be released. Let us imagine the scene at Dungannon and South Tyrone borough council on that night: Councillor Brush was sitting in his place in the council chamber while one nationalist speaker after another rose to demand the release of the man who had tried to murder him. Such behaviour is an affront to any innocent victim of terrorism. McGeough should not be released until he has served his full sentence. That is the end of the story.

Marian Price had her licence revoked by the previous Secretary of State for encouraging support for the very same terrorists who would seek to plunge Northern Ireland back into the violence and bloodshed of the past. At this juncture, there can be no question of setting her free. I hope the Secretary of State reiterates the Government’s support for the decision taken by her predecessor in that regard.

I hope the Secretary of State provides an assurance that any PSNI request for additional resources to tackle the threat posed by dissident republicans will be looked on favourably by the Government. When we are talking about protecting the safety and security of British citizens, there can be no question of penny pinching. Prison officers, who are currently the focus of attention, need protection. Whatever package is required—whether PPWs or home protection—needs to be provided.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that Ulster has lost too many young men and women, and men and women who have served their country for many years. We do not want to see any more.

Order. I should inform Members who wish to take part in the debate how it will run for the rest of the afternoon. Five Members wish to participate, and we are due to start the wind-ups at around 4 o’clock. I am not putting a time limit on speeches now, but asking each of you to consider the clock to ensure that the time is allocated fairly between you. Otherwise, I will do it for you.

I suppose there was a certain nervousness about this debate. It has been a measured debate, but as many hon. Members have said, we do not wish to paint a picture of Northern Ireland as being back in the 1970s and 1980s. Considerable progress has been made. I was glad that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) introduced the debate, he gave a balanced picture of a Northern Ireland that has moved on considerably. The Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and all hon. Members who have spoken, have echoed that.

The one thing that would give great consolation to those who murdered Prison Officer Black would be that their vile act is used to try to destabilise Northern Ireland further—economically, politically and in all other ways. That has not happened. The family have acted with dignity, and the community and security forces have been responsive, which is important. For Northern Ireland to succeed, and for us to move in the direction we want—to a normal and prosperous society that gives hope to young people who are looking for jobs, and families who want to bring up their children in a stable environment—we cannot allow the cancer of terrorism once again to push Northern Ireland into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

This year, we have had more tourists than ever, and we have succeeded even in the middle of a recession in attracting more foreign direct investment to our economy than any other region bar the south-east of England. Despite that and all the other changes, some people would love to wallow and say, “Things are just as bad as what they ever were.” I do not want this debate to give credence to such a view of life: that is not where Northern Ireland is today. We have already referred to the events that have happened this year and the events we are looking forward to next year. Even in Londonderry, with its republican and nationalist majority on the council, they are going to celebrate the UK city of culture next year. That is how Northern Ireland has changed. We may even have the Deputy First Minister going to the Brit awards—