Previous Section Index Home Page

25 July 2007 : Column 861

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I commend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the consensual way in which they are attempting to approach the issue? However, may I also observe that if the leader of the Liberal Democrats can contemplate lowering the threshold of evidence required to charge a terrorist suspect, and if even Liberty can contemplate extending the period of detention—albeit by declaring a state of emergency—then there is no magic number of days that resolves the issue of principle when it comes to how we deal with non-state actors who are prepared to commit mass-casualty attacks on the British population? Therefore, will the Prime Minister undertake at least to allow the inquiry that he is setting up to consider Lord Carlile’s proposal? There is a case to be made that setting a higher and higher threshold of days creates more alarm among the public than the exceptional circumstances in which we might have to detain someone for more than 28 days.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes the powerful general point that we are in unique circumstances, which he has described. I am glad that he put his case in the way that he did. Opinion is moving in this country. For example, post-charge questioning has also been proposed by Liberty, which we would perhaps not have expected it to do a few years ago. The very fact that Liberty has joined the debate on what might happen in circumstances in which we need to go beyond 28 days suggests that it is possible to find a consensus on the issues across the spectrum. I do not know that I necessarily agree with him that some authority other than Parliament should set the final or ultimate number of days for which people can be detained before a charge is put, but of course that, too, can be a matter for the debate, because there are four options in the discussion document. He may wish to make his own representations during discussions over the summer months.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome the introduction of e-borders and the electronic screening proposals, but will my right hon. Friend consider London Luton airport’s offer to pilot some of the initiatives, which will increase passenger safety and speed up proceedings at airports? Will he also undertake to look into international co-operation, so that we can ensure that websites that exist to recruit and train terrorists are taken down as a matter of urgency?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is not only a member of the Home Affairs Committee, but represents a constituency with an airport, Luton, which is a very important part of our airport network. She is right to suggest that where airport authorities want to work with us to increase security, and want to pilot some of the means by which we do so, we are very happy to co-operate. I can see the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), who has responsibility for immigration; he will talk to my hon. Friend about how we can co-operate on those projects.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): The Prime Minister has announced that he is publishing the Intelligence and Security Committee report on extraordinary rendition
25 July 2007 : Column 862
today. I regret that he decided not to make a full statement on that important subject, too. Did the US authorities ignore vigorous protest from our security authorities about the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, and will the Prime Minister take this opportunity unequivocally to condemn the policy of extraordinary rendition—that is, the practice whereby many people have been kidnapped by US authorities and taken to places where they may be tortured?

The Prime Minister: Where people are at risk of being tortured, we have been very clear about our objections to such a policy, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should read the report. There will be other chances for us to debate the details of it, and I am not going to condemn the US authorities in the way that he suggests.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister explain a bit more about the existing repatriation agreements with non-convention countries, and other such agreements that are due to be signed? Will he give an undertaking that in future we will sign such agreements only with convention countries, and that there will be monitoring of what happens to prisoners who are returned to a country, and of any charges or ill-treatment that they might face on their return?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises very important points, but it is in the interests of this country for more countries to be prepared to sign repatriation agreements with us. Over the next few months, I hope that we will be able to report to the House—there will be chances to debate this—that countries that hitherto have not been prepared to sign these agreements will do so. I think that that is for the benefit of us and of those countries, in the long run, so I will not wholly go down the road that he suggests. I will say, however, that when we sign these agreements, we will report to the House so that the House can debate them.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): The whole House will support my right hon. Friend in his efforts to secure consensus among the leaders of the political parties on the issues that we are discussing, but does he agree that there will be occasions when the Government and the Prime Minister will have to take decisions on security without consulting other politicians?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend has experience of Government, and he rightly suggests that decisions that have to be made, and made quickly, will be made. However, on this particular issue, which has been contentious for the House, and on which there has been a big national debate, I believe that there is movement in opinion, and I believe that it is the duty of the House to see whether we can reflect those changes in opinion by trying to reach consensus. I do not apologise for trying to seek consensus on the issue.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Does not the six-month threshold for the requirement for foreign nationals to have biometric ID leave a large loophole for would-be terrorists, who
25 July 2007 : Column 863
might seek to come to the country for a shorter period? Obviously, there is a serious issue of cost, and we cannot get away from that, but apart from cost, is there any reason why that threshold should allow a period as long as six months?

The Prime Minister: I hope that we can join the debate, because the hon. Gentleman appears to be supporting identity cards.

Mr. Paice: No.

The Prime Minister: Well, the hon. Gentleman supports biometric visas, which are the equivalent of identity cards for people who have been in the country for more than six months. I hope that we can debate the issue in future, because it seems to me that e-border controls, which we can tighten up, and border controls—we have made proposals on them today—can work properly only if we complement them with an ID system, such as the one that he proposes for foreign nationals in this country, and such as the one that we propose for British citizens in the long run. Let us join the debate and see whether we can get consensus, although it may not be with the Front Benchers of the two Opposition parties. It may be that we can draw on the changes that are taking place in the Conservative party, and that some Members on the Opposition Back Benches will support us.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome today’s statement, but I ask the Prime Minister to accept that in the debate on the scrutiny of intelligence and security, there appears to be a desire for inquiries to be more open and accessible. The Intelligence and Security Committee regularly and scrupulously takes evidence from the security agencies. Is that not a valuable part of open democracy that should be maintained?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. She has done a very valuable job and has distinguished herself in taking up the work of that
25 July 2007 : Column 864
Committee, which has resulted in today’s report; we have also had very good reports from it in the past. The reason why I favour a reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee is not to lose the uniqueness of what she describes, which is the ability of parliamentarians to talk to the security services about matters that it would clearly not be in the interests of the country to report widely. There is a second reason why the Committee should take the form that we suggest: it ought to be able to tell the country, through its work, about the important efforts made, and energies used, by the security services in the interests of our whole country. That is the part of the work of Select Committees that other Committees can undertake, and we must find the means by which the Intelligence and Security Committee can do that, in the interests of the security services and parliamentary accountability. I applaud the vital work that is being done, and I know that the security services appreciate it, from our discussions with them of some of the big challenges that they face, but we ought also to think about a public role, which I think will enhance the security services and the reputation of Parliament.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I urge the Prime Minister to look again at the plans for e-borders, which are based around the check-in process. Technology already in use in America frequently does not pick up problems until after the aircraft has taken off. I urge him to look instead at the technology available off the shelf, much of it developed in Britain and in use in countries such as New Zealand and some of the Gulf states, which starts the process at the point at which people purchase their tickets.

The Prime Minister: We are looking at that, and if the hon. Gentleman has particular expertise that he wishes to bring to bear on these matters, I know that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for immigration will be very happy to talk to him about it. We must benefit from all the new technology that is available, but I appeal to the hon. Gentleman as someone who I know has thought a lot about the issues: we must recognise that a combination of e-borders, border control and some form of identity management will be necessary for the future.

25 July 2007 : Column 865

CSR and Aircraft Carriers

1.48 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am pleased to inform the House that the Ministry of Defence has agreed with Her Majesty’s Treasury a comprehensive spending review settlement for the next three years. The total departmental expenditure limit for Defence over the CSR period will be £34 billion in 2008-09, £35.3 billion in 2009-10 and £36.9 billion in 2010-11. That is an additional £7.7 billion for defence by 2011, and a 1.5 per cent. average annual real terms increase against our CSR baseline, excluding the costs of operations that are met from the reserves and the time-limited defence modernisation fund. The Treasury will, of course, continue to fund from the reserves the additional cost of operations over and above the defence budget, having already provided some £6.6 billion from the reserves to support the front line since 2001.

The settlement continues the longest period of sustained real growth in planned defence spending since the 1980s; that is evidence of the Government’s commitment to defence and to the men and women who serve with the utmost bravery in our armed forces.

The result of Labour’s consistent funding for defence is that the defence budget will be significantly higher in real terms than the budget that we inherited in 1997—on average, a billion pounds more for defence every year, for 10 years. Compare this with the last five years of the Tory Government, when the defence budget was being cut by around £500 million a year.

Our priority remains success on current operations. This settlement gives the MOD the financial certainty required to continue delivering that success. Over the past year I have been able to announce to the House important enhancements in protected vehicles, in helicopters and in surveillance. The settlement will enable us to do more in all these areas and others. It also allows for additional investment in the support that our service personnel deserve, building on recent improvements in pay, in the new tax-free operational bonus, in medical care for our wounded personnel and in accommodation.

At the same time as ensuring success on current operations, and support for our people, this settlement enables us to invest in the capabilities that we will need for the future. I am pleased to be able to confirm today that we will place orders for two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers to provide our front-line forces with the modern, world-class capabilities that they will need over the coming decades. These will be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. They are expected to enter service in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

This delivers on the Government’s promise in the 1998 strategic defence review. The carriers represent a step change in our capability, enabling us to deliver increased strategic effect and influence around the world at a time and place of our choosing. They will be a key component of the improved expeditionary capabilities that we need to confront the diverse range of threats in today’s security environment. They are evidence of our commitment to ensuring that our armed forces are modern, versatile and equipped for the future.

25 July 2007 : Column 866

In parallel, we will continue to work closely with France. Our co-operation has already yielded real benefits. We have shared the costs of developing the common baseline design to which we are committing today and we have capitalised on our huge collective technical and military experience. Our industries are exploring further opportunities for mutual benefit, including joint procurements of equipment for the carriers, and shared support arrangements. We look forward to making a joint announcement on further co-operation in the next few months.

The carrier programme will sustain and create some 10,000 jobs across the UK, but we have always been clear that the carriers cannot be built without change in the maritime sector. As we set out in the defence industrial strategy, we need further improvements in efficiency to ensure that the taxpayer is getting value for money. We need to ensure that the UK maritime industry is the right size and shape, so that it is sustainable in the longer term, so I am pleased that VT Group and BAE Systems intend to form a joint venture in naval shipbuilding and support.

The creation of such a joint venture will enable the Royal Navy to work with industry to deliver the infrastructure that the Navy will need to support the fleet in the future while retaining all three of our existing naval bases at Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane. This will be good news for the three communities and the service, civilian and contractor personnel employed at the bases. None the less, some reductions in the 17,600 personnel currently employed will be necessary and will be taken forward in consultation with trade unions in the usual way. We aim to rationalise infrastructure and spare capacity, streamline processes and build on partnering and other commercial arrangements. For example, today we are also announcing a £1 billion partnering arrangement with Rolls-Royce for the in-service support of the nuclear steam raising plant that powers the Royal Navy’s submarines over the next decade.

I am determined to ensure that more of our money is spent where it is really needed, reducing overheads to put more into the front line and into supporting our people. To enhance the spending power that this settlement gives us, we will make savings against the Department’s overheads, including a 5 per cent. year-on-year saving in our administrative overhead over the next three years and a 25 per cent. reduction in our head office. These are additional to the £2.8 billion efficiencies delivered over the spending review 2004 period.

A priority through the CSR period will be the continued investment in improving accommodation for our people and their families. We expect to spend some £550 million on this over the three-year period, including plans to upgrade over 18,000 barrack-type bed spaces. This builds upon the achievements of recent years in providing upgrades to our service families homes and our plans to spend £5 billion over the next 10 years on upgrading and maintaining accommodation. We also intend to explore with the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government how best we can support the wish of many servicemen and women to own their own homes.

25 July 2007 : Column 867

Full details of the CSR settlement for defence will be announced in the autumn, alongside the outcome for all Government Departments. Today, however, I am providing a summary for the Library of the House.

Our armed forces are admired and respected world wide. I am conscious that with operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are currently asking our armed forces to do a lot. In return we must ensure that the Government do all they can to support them and their families. This significant additional investment shows that the Government are determined to do just that, and to ensure that in the years ahead they maintain their well-earned and much deserved reputation for being the best armed forces in the world.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior sight of it.

There has been widespread support on both sides of the House for both the carrier programme and the joint strike fighter, and I am pleased that we finally have the decision that we have been promised since February 2004. Indeed, the carriers have been in planning and design for twice the length of the second world war.

Although it is welcome, let us not forget that the decision has come at a high price for the Navy. Since 1997 the Royal Navy has faced significant cuts in force levels completely at odds with the Government’s strategic defence review, which called for 32 surface combatants. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Minister with responsibility for security that

Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee today that we will see no further reductions in the surface fleet from its current inadequate numbers?

If we are to have the new carriers, they will need adequate protection. The Government initially assessed the need for eight of the new Type 45 destroyers. Will the Secretary of State guarantee today that all eight will be procured? If we are to have the carriers, they will need to carry the appropriate aircraft. Can he tell us how many F35s it is currently intended to have on each of the carriers, and how many helicopters will complement that number? I presume that the Government know what they want to have on their carriers.

It is disappointing that the carriers will enter service at least two years later than expected. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that any co-operation with France in order to reduce costs will not result in a further delay for the carriers’ introduction? If we are to have the carriers, they will have to be based somewhere. What does today’s statement tell us about the Government’s longer-term plans for our naval bases? Where will the carriers be based? If he can be so specific about job cuts, can he be more specific about his wider intentions?

There is no suitable dry dock for a 65,000 tonne 900 ft carrier at Portsmouth or Devonport. Construction of a new dock or the lengthening of the existing docks would be a very expensive process. What are the Government’s plans?

Next Section Index Home Page