|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) mentioned the £30 figure. It may seem a trifling sum to some Members, but for a great many people, including many of my
constituents, it is a considerable amount of money. There has been some discussion of why individuals on low incomes might have chosen to spend such a sum on an ID card, and whether many did so. We must consider the fact that alternative forms of identification are more expensive-for example, a provisional driving licence is an accepted form of ID commonly used by younger people as proof of age and it costs £50. There is a cost reason that led some people voluntarily to choose to buy an ID card, therefore. People on lower incomes who needed to prove their age would naturally be inclined to opt for an ID card, but whether the person who bought the card was on a low income or a millionaire is, in fact, irrelevant because the behaviour of this Government in not addressing the unfairness and injustice contained in the Bill is deplorable.
I cannot see why the cards that have already been issued cannot in some way remain valid until their expiry date. The parties in the coalition Government have only a handful of policies on which they truly agree and I accept that not continuing with the ID card is among them, but not enough care has been given to reimbursing cardholders or to making some attempt to maintain already issued cards, perhaps with some reduced functionality. There remains a database for passports, and this card could perhaps, at least in some way, remain an authenticated identification document. Did the Minister seek any advice on possible functions for the already issued cards, or was he content just to allow them to fall? There seems to me to be no reason why the cards cannot remain valid until the expiry date.
The Government are abandoning ID cards without any concern for the expenditure that has already been incurred by the taxpayer or any consideration for current ID cardholders, and with little thought for the future of British passport security and the use of biometric data. The Minister has had every opportunity to address the issues Opposition Members raised in Committee, and it is a shame that he was unable to work with us, at least to try to improve some aspects of the Bill.
Damian Green: We have heard a festival of synthetic indignation from Labour Members over the past hour or so. We know they do not mean it because they did not even vote against the Bill on Second Reading, so they do not oppose it very hard. They are scratching around to find ways to express some opposition.
As has been amply illustrated by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), there are, however, some glimmers of light in the authoritarian dark that was the Labour Government. One or two of the leadership candidates, including the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), have said the previous Government were wrong about ID cards. The right hon. Gentleman says he thinks his party should move on from that idea. As that has been stated several times during the debate, I feel it is only fair also to record-
I will in a moment, after I have paid tribute to the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who has consistently been against identity
cards. As we are mentioning the Labour party leadership candidates who are virtuous in this regard, I should mention her too, because no Labour Member did.
Steve McCabe: I hate to interrupt the Minister when he is in such fine flow, but I just want to suggest to him that he has misunderstood our position. This is not synthetic indignation and nobody on our side is rejecting the Government's right to abolish ID cards-in fact, a number of us have acknowledged it. We are objecting to the mean-minded attitude that sets out to punish the relatively small number of people who bought ID cards in good faith.
Damian Green: The hon. Gentleman made that point, with characteristic eloquence, in his speech, and I will address it shortly. I am pleased to report to the House that, as those who sat through the Committee stage will be aware, the Labour party has come up with no new ideas to defend the ID cards scheme since then; we have heard all these arguments before.
This group of amendments, which groups together all the arguments that the Opposition can make against the Bill, is a series of impractical and expensive suggestions, made, I suspect, with varying degrees of seriousness. If I were to be kinder than I have been up to now, I might say that some of them may excite genuine feelings among Opposition Members, but others have been tabled for the sake of it.
First, I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and repeated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) about refunds or passport-related refunds. We debated this extensively in Committee, and I recognise that £30 is a significant sum to many people, particularly those who are struggling economically in these difficult times, when the Government have had to absorb a terrible economic inheritance from their predecessor.
I do not have any data on the socio-economic status of the very small number of people who bought ID cards, nor, as far as I am aware, do any Labour Members. Before anyone stands up to ask me about this, I shall say that I do not propose to waste any public money by undertaking a survey of who they are. There are times when even those in this House need to step back and apply some common sense to the matters before them. I do not think that anyone in really difficult economic and financial circumstances would have thought, "What is the best thing to spend £30 on this week? I know, a very controversial ID card that will enable me to travel to Europe, but not anywhere else in the world. That's the most important thing to spend my last £30 on." I do not believe that one person in this country took that decision, and I have heard nothing from those on the Opposition Benches during our discussion of this Bill to convince me that that is any way a realistic proposition.
I further point out to the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who leads for the Labour party on this, that the charging system for ID cards introduced by her Government took no notice of the ability to pay. It set a flat fee, which took no account of whether someone was unemployed, an old-age pensioner or in full-time employment, like the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). Sadly, he is no longer in his place, but he was asking us whether he should
have claimed for his ID card on expenses. I would have thought that, at the time, that would have been a seriously terrible idea.
The only exception made on this flat fee of £30 that these allegedly struggling people were paying was for those who were in employment and working at one of the airports, where the then Government were anxious to foist the scheme on people in its early days. Anyone in that position would have been one of the 3,000 or so who were given a card free of charge. Those 3,000 lucky people-all, by definition in full-time employment-represent almost 20% of those to whom any card was ever issued. Of course, those cards were paid for by the taxpayer, so when one actually looks behind the indignation expressed by Labour Members, one does not find any substantial argument on this, which they have made the main point of their attack on this Bill.
The Government inherited an ID card scheme that has found very little favour with the public. That is a key issue. Many Opposition Members have talked about the costs, and the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) advanced the extraordinary proposition that even though he accepted that the coalition Government had the perfect right to get rid of the ID cards scheme, we should have carried on with it because the longer it went on the further the costs would be spread. That seemed to me an extraordinary attitude to parliamentary democracy. This is a key issue as the taxpayer has already paid £292 million with fewer than 15,000 cards having been issued-20% of them paid for by the taxpayer. So the calculation at the moment is that the cost to the taxpayer so far is about £20,000 per card. If we exclude the cards issued free of charge, it is £25,000 per card. That is by any standards a scandalous waste of public money that lies squarely at the door of Ministers in the previous Government.
The argument has come from the hon. Member for Easington that the scheme would have become self-financing over time. Based on public demand, there is no evidence to support that, particularly when the cost report in 2009, produced by the Labour party when it was in government, showed that a further £835 million was to be spent on ID cards by 2019, either by the taxpayer or by individual citizens having to sign up for those cards.
In the light of those facts and the already excessive spending of taxpayers' money on an unpopular and deeply intrusive scheme, we have proposed this Bill. That is why we opposed ID cards in opposition and why we have introduced this Bill so quickly. We do not see why the taxpayer should have to pay yet again. During the debate, several of my hon. Friends asked how much the cancellation would cost, and the answer is about £400,000. As I have illustrated, enough has been spent on the scheme and the taxpayer should not face a further bill of the best part of half a million pounds. That is why we have been clear that refunds will not be offered.
There are practical difficulties with the amendment. It would require the keeping of identity card records for many years to come to ensure that only those who were entitled to a refund could apply for one. I shall come on to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak about the destruction of data, but we have made it very clear that we will destroy all the data obtained under the ID cards scheme and that we do not wish to retain any data for this reason or for any other.
I observe in the group of amendments that we are discussing that the twin threats are unnecessary data retention and cost to the taxpayer. Those are the two things that Labour Members who proposed the amendments seem to be concerned about. I assume that new clause 4 is intended to be helpful in avoiding the need for an individual to provide further personal information in the event that they should subsequently apply for a passport. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) is, I am sure, aware that, as I have just said, the vast majority of ID cardholders are or were passport holders, so the information relevant to a passport application will already be held on passport records.
In any case, the proposed new clause misses the point of the Bill. The Identity Documents Bill is about scrapping the ID card scheme and destroying the national identity register. We are opposed to the register in principle on the grounds that it is a database holding huge amounts of personal and biometric data simply because a person has applied for an identity card. We do not believe that holding the data is either necessary or proportionate for the purpose for which they were obtained. Instead, it represents a significant intrusion by the state into the lives of our citizens. That is why we are looking to destroy all the information recorded on the NIR. Officials are currently finalising work with contractors on how that will be achieved and the Information Commissioner's Office has been notified of the destruction process.
Keith Vaz: That is very reassuring, but in his mind and that of the Home Secretary is there a time scale by which this should be done? We appreciate that contractors have been instructed, but has the Minister said that the Government would like that done in a certain number of months?
Damian Green: It would be slightly premature for me to give too much detail now because the legislation has not been passed. We have tried to be as clear as possible in saying that we will do it as quickly as possible after the Bill has passed through all its stages, but I do not wish unnecessarily to annoy or provoke the other place by saying anything else.
The hon. Gentleman has ingeniously asked the same question as his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, to which I shall therefore give exactly the same answer, or revert to an old parliamentary phrase and refer him to the answer
I gave some moments ago. We are in contact with the Information Commissioner's Office about the destruction process, as I have said, precisely to ensure transparency and openness about the physical destruction process.
The Chairman of the Committee made the point that I had jokingly suggested that we might have a sort of auto-da-fé of all that unnecessary information. I was only half joking when I said that and, sadly, it is not possible because the information is on various databases, so we are going to have to delete it. To answer the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak's technical question, that is like any other act of removing information and involves deleting it from the various databases. That is why we are doing it in conjunction with the Information Commissioner. The hon. Gentleman is waving the Bill at me, so I will say that it must be done within two months of Royal Assent. The reason I cannot give the exact answer that the Chairman of the Committee wants is simply that I do not know when Royal Assent will be, but I hope that it is soon. We will then do it as soon as possible within the two months set out in the Bill. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. There is a serious point here: if one believes, as we on the Government side do, that this information has been held unnecessarily, it is sensible to get rid of it as soon as possible, and Parliament needs to know about that.
Damian Green: Let me anticipate what the hon. Gentleman is about to ask. It has always been my intention that when that had happened, Parliament would be informed by way of a written ministerial statement about both the process and delivery of destruction. I could not be more open or transparent about this. We will do it within two months and as soon as possible after Royal Assent. When we have done it, I shall produce a written parliamentary statement that will say not only that we have done it but how we have done it. I hope that I have finally satisfied the hon. Gentleman on all those points.
On new clause 4, I suspect that hon. Members may not have considered its cost implications. There are significant costs associated with establishing whether a person wants their record to be retained, what information he or she is content to be transferred, the security and data transfer costs and, finally, future storage costs-particularly if the person does not subsequently apply for a passport. I am afraid that this is another amendment that seems intent on adding again and again to the cost of the ID card scheme. We want to scrap the scheme at minimal cost to the taxpayer. The new clause would not achieve that aim and would not remove the state's ability to retain data without good reason.
That profligate approach is evidenced in another of the amendments before us, supported by the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South. We covered the issue of the life expectancy of the card during earlier stages of the Bill and indicated then that the cost of implementing that amendment would be between £50 million and £60 million over 10 years.
I note that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch has not added her name to the provision, despite tabling something similar in Committee. She indicated in Committee that she thought that figure was at the top end of the estimates, but I am not sure of the
basis on which she reached that conclusion. The estimate is a reasonable reflection of the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer that would be incurred by providing a service over the next decade for fewer than 15,000 people, almost 3,000 of whom did not pay for their card in the first place. Leaving aside the cost, the proposal would mean retaining the whole national identity register for another decade, which would involve holding the fingerprints of 15,000 innocent people.
The proposal would mean that cardholders would run the risk of their card's usefulness diminishing even further over time because of the very small number in circulation. That would be likely to result in little or no future engagement or investment by travel operators, carriers and other agencies in accepting ID cards. The provision would give cardholders the false hope that their ID card would continue to be useful, if they had found it useful in the past. I recognise that the amendment to retain the national identity register has been tabled as a consequence of the proposal that ID cards should remain extant for 10 years.
The national identity register sits at the heart of our opposition to the whole scheme. We do not believe that it is the role of the state to gather huge amounts of personal and biometric information about its citizens unless there are proportionate and necessary reasons for doing so. Such reasons could involve the prevention and detection of crime, or national security and safety, but part of the underlying problem with the ID card scheme has always been that its purpose was ill defined, with the reason behind its introduction moving over time from dealing with terrorism to accessing local services.
The national identity register is nothing but a database containing data on individuals who have, by choice, applied for an ID card. The holding of such data represents a significant intrusion on the privacy of the individual. Scrapping the scheme and destroying the national identity register are major steps towards returning power to the public and reducing the intrusion of the state. We are opposed to building up banks of data that neither serve a specific purpose nor deliver a specific outcome. The national identity register fails on both counts.
I have dealt in some detail with all the new clauses and amendments tabled by Labour Members. Each of them fails on practicality, and many of them fail because they would create an extra charge on either the public purse directly, or the citizens of this country indirectly. They all fail, however, because behind them lies the desire to intrude far too much on the private lives of people that was at the heart of the previous Labour Government. As a civil libertarian, I genuinely hope that the future Labour party will reject that in its entirety.
I was puzzled by the Minister's speech because it sounded more like a rallying cry to a group of students than an attempt to address the new clauses and
amendments. I should say, however, that I have no problem with rallying cries to groups of students in their place. In fact, not long before the election-when the Minister and I sat on opposite sides of the House-we addressed students together, and he announced that a Conservative Government would remove ID cards to an audience of about 25 people.
Let me make it absolutely clear that we tabled new clauses 2 and 4 as alternatives for the Government to consider as we try to find a way of providing some recompense to those members of the public who bought the cards in good faith. We would have preferred to have tabled a measure providing for a refund but, because there is no money resolution attached to the Bill, we could not. With that in mind, we intend to press both new clauses to Divisions, although if the first is agreed to, we will not need a vote on the second.
I need to pick up on a couple of points that the Minister made. We were not suggesting in the amendments-perhaps he should look more closely at them-that we expect the national identity register to continue. They were carefully worded to suggest migration of data to the existing passport database. In fact, the identity register would have been a modern passport database, had the Government had the courage to continue that approach.
New clause 4 is not about being helpful to those who already had passports or wanted a passport. It would allow cards to continue, but would attach them to the existing passport database. Accepting that the Government's intention is to destroy the national identity register, it sought to find a solution to that. The Minister has not given very good answers about why that could not be done. Had the Government included a money resolution, it would have been possible-instead of sending two letters out to everybody-to provide a refund to those who had paid or those who had applied for a refund, which would not necessarily have been everybody. The Government's approach is mean-spirited.
The Minister spoke about the state holding huge amounts of information. I hope that his Government still believe that the NHS should hold information on people, that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency should hold information, and that the passport database should exist. The national identity register was a modernisation of the passport database.
I assure the House and anyone else who may be watching proceedings today that there is nothing synthetic about our indignation. We recognise that both Government parties had clear policies on the issue, and we can do the maths. We know that we have limited options to improve the Bill, and we are trying to make the best of a bad job because the Bill does many things of which we disapprove. New clauses 2 and 4 attempt to provide some recompense to the people affected.
We have heard some disparaging comments. The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) spoke about politics being tough. It is clear that his Government are saying that it is tough on members of the public who bought a card. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) spoke about the mugs who bought a card. That disparaging attitude may well be reflected in the Lobby, so let us be clear who is on the side of the consumer in this case. It is certainly not the Government.
The Minister used his cod maths when talking about the cost of the identity card scheme. It does not behove a Government Minister to be so flippant and free with figures when he well knows that the cards had to be paid for by fees. As is the case with the first issue of anything, when the first Mini rolled off the production line, it probably cost several million, if not billions of pounds, but for the last Mini, by definition, the cost per item was much lower because many thousand would have been produced. Identity cards had been issued for a few months at the time of the general election, but under Treasury rules they had to be paid for out of fees, just like passports, as the Minister knows. It ill behoves him to take that approach. I wish to divide the House on the new clauses.
Damian Green: The amendments address an issue that was much discussed in Committee. They are not central to the Bill itself, but they are an important part of the wider picture. As we have already discussed at all stages, the Bill is about scrapping ID cards, destroying the data held on the national identity register and, as a result, removing the disproportionate hand of the state in the gathering of personal and biometric data for the purpose of issuing an ID card. It removes the ability of the state to require that a cardholder informs the state for the next 10 years of their personal circumstances, and it removes the threat of a heavy fine of up to £1,000 should they fail to do so.
Most of the clauses in the Bill re-enact the parts of the Identity Cards Act 2006 that were useful and proportionate. Clause 10 re-enacts the provisions of section 38 of the 2006 Act, which allows the Secretary of State to require relevant information to be provided to verify information provided in a passport application or to decide whether to withdraw a passport. In this context, "relevant information" includes identity information to confirm that the applicant is a real person and the person whom they claim to be. It enables the Identity and Passport Service to obtain information relevant to the application and considered necessary to conduct an effective interview with first-time applicants. That may include records from the credit reference agency that will show how long the person has lived at an address and at how many addresses they have lived. It would be unlawful and a breach of the Data Protection Act to require information that was not relevant to the passport application.
During the oral evidence sessions in Committee, two pressure groups-Liberty and Justice-supported the provisions in the clause, which is a welcome and envious position for any Government when bringing new legislation before Parliament. However, I indicated in Committee that I would welcome representations from members of the Committee on the scope of clause 10-in particular, on ensuring that information obtained is indeed passport-specific-and on the retention policy on data obtained.
Many points were made in Committee, and I have reflected on them. Many of the most cogent points were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is sadly not in his place today. As he indicated in the fifth sitting of the Committee, clause 10 would benefit from greater clarity about the Secretary of State's ability to require information. The amendments before the House would place a statutory limitation in the Bill, requiring that information be obtained only in respect of the passport application.
It would not be appropriate for two reasons, still less practical, to list what that information may be. First, doing so would obviously alert potential fraudsters to the categories or sources of information being used, and may give them an indication of what information sources they should satisfy to ensure that a fraudulent passport application might be successful. Secondly, the format and source from which information could be obtained is not exhaustive, and it would be unnecessarily restrictive on the operational ability of the Identity and Passport Service not to be able to make use of verification sources that would support the main aim of preventing and reducing fraud. Importantly, we believe that we have strengthened the legislation by clarifying in the Bill that any information required must be relevant to the passport application.
The amendments to clause 10 also place a requirement on the Secretary of State to destroy any information obtained under the clause within 28 days of the passport being issued. That is already current practice in the Identity and Passport Service, but placing the requirement on to a statutory footing will increase transparency and accountability. Where information has been obtained in consideration of a possible withdrawal of the passport, any information gathered must be destroyed within 28 days of a decision not to withdraw the passport. Where a passport has been refused, the information will be retained only for as long as is necessary for possible investigative and prosecutorial purposes. We believe that that is a proportionate approach to data retention, and it is appropriate that the retention policy should be set out in the Bill. Amendment 1 is a technical amendment, proposed in the light of the changes to clause 10 that I have outlined.
The passage of the Bill through this House has served to illustrate the level of support for our overall policy of scrapping the ID card scheme. The Bill went through unopposed on Second Reading. I commend the wisdom of the Opposition in not seeking to oppose the principle of the Bill, although their rhetoric has not quite matched the practicalities of their votes. However, one thing that does not divide me from the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who leads for the Opposition on this issue, is that we both recognise that we must continue to do everything that we can to tackle identity fraud. We recognise the importance of clause 10 in preventing and combating fraud, and in maintaining the effectiveness of counter-fraud investigators in achieving successful prosecutions against those who seek to make fraudulent applications. With the amendments, the revised clause 10 will achieve that, at the same time as increasing transparency and accountability. I hope that hon. Members from all parts of the House will welcome the improvements that the amendments propose.
In general terms, Her Majesty's Opposition support the amendments, but I have a number of small points to make and questions to ask of the Minister. I understand his reasons for not publishing the list of organisations that might be referred to. I recognise the valid security reasons for that, but it does rather go against his desire for transparency. I wonder how he will try to square that circle, to ensure that safeguards are in place with respect to which organisations are approached. I am aware that internal audits take place on a routine basis in passport offices up and down our different
countries. However, the Minister has made much of the need for transparency and safeguards, and the two do not work well together.
I reserve judgment on the proposal to retain data for 28 days. I recognise that the current practice in the Identity and Passport Service works quite well, and it is interesting that the Government want to put those arrangements on to a statutory footing. It is interesting partly because passports are issued under the royal prerogative, an arrangement that is not on a statutory footing. I also wonder whether such a move might limit any necessary flexibility. What conversations has the Minister had with those who deal with the security of our passports, in particular the excellent team based in the Glasgow passport office, who often put themselves at great risk while investigating and uncovering fraud? I am aware that data relating, in particular, to withdrawn passports can be especially important in uncovering rings of individuals trying to help others fraudulently to obtain passports. Generally, I support the principle of not holding information any longer than is necessary for this purpose, but we need to ensure that the Government are not unnecessarily restricting action on fraud.
In passing, I must also add that the Bill is a lost opportunity to tackle fraud. Had we still been pursuing the inclusion of fingerprints in passports, which the Minister is throwing out under the terms of the Bill, that would have helped to reduce fraud more generally. If the Minister can answer those two points, it would reassure me considerably.
Damian Green: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. As I understand it, in one of them she is suggesting that I am being too transparent, and in the other that I am not being transparent enough. I appreciate the difficulties of opposition, having had 13 years of it, just as she will appreciate some of the pressures on Ministers. She asked me to reveal internal conversations within the Department, particularly with people who are involved with difficult and dangerous anti-fraud operations. She will know as well as I do that it would be hugely inappropriate and unwise for me to answer that question directly.
Meg Hillier: I fully appreciate that, but I did not actually ask the Minister to answer that question directly. I shall take him to be a man of honour and a man of his word if he can tell us that these issues have been fully explored and that he is personally content about them. It is important that the House knows that that is the case, partly because those individuals put themselves in harm's way when doing their job.
Damian Green: Indeed so. This is not an adversarial climate, but the hon. Lady will know as well as I do that striking a balance between transparency and flexibility on the one hand and security on the other lies at the heart of much of what the Home Office does, and, indeed, of much of what the Bill seeks to do. She and I would probably find ourselves on different points of that particular spectrum, but we both recognise that it is a spectrum within which we both have to operate. I can only say that it would clearly not be appropriate for me to set out for the benefit of potential fraudsters which organisations they would have to satisfy in order to be issued with a passport, so I shall decline the opportunity to talk to her about the individual organisations concerned.
Meg Hillier: If the Minister is not hearing what I am saying, perhaps there is an issue about how he is answering questions generally. I was not asking him to do that, so that is fine; we agree. I simply want to know whether he feels personally reassured that these measures will not detract from the ability of the UK Passport Service to carry out the security checks that normally take place. If that was not clear before, I hope that it is now absolutely clear. I do not think that we are asking for different things; I am just seeking reassurance from the Minister that he has done his job as thoroughly as I expect he has.
To answer the hon. Lady's other point, information relevant to future investigations would be retained under the proposals before us, with the amendments here. I hope that she will agree that that strikes an appropriate balance. Genuine concerns were expressed-not just by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), but by Members of all parties-to the effect that the simple repetition of the original clause might put us at the wrong side on the spectrum between transparency and security. That is why I agreed to put the 28-day provision directly in the Bill. The hon. Lady asked about that, and I see no reason to believe that this will in any way inhibit or impede anti-fraud operations. What the amendments will do by changing the clause is to allow operations to be properly conducted while at the same time reassuring individual applicants that any information they give is not kept for an unnecessarily long period of time. That is what this set of amendments is designed to achieve. I commend the amendments to the House.
(2) For the purpose of making the verification or determination mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b), the Secretary of State may require the person within subsection (4) to provide the Secretary of State with the information by a date specified in the requirement.'.
'of relevant information to the Secretary of State'
'to the Secretary of State of information that could be used as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b)'.
(8B) In a case within subsection (1)(b) where a passport is not withdrawn, information provided in accordance with this section must be destroyed no later than 28 days after the determination is made not to withdraw the passport.
It is a huge pleasure to move Third Reading. The Bill has now proceeded through the scrutiny stages of this House. I appreciate that this is a short and simple Bill, but it is a genuinely historic one-not only because, as mentioned, it was the first Bill introduced by the coalition Government, but because its content is historic and marks a significant shift in direction in the relationship between the state and the citizen in this country. That in itself represents a significant step forward.
The House has agreed to destroy data held by the state without condition or distinction. Consigning the ID cards scheme and the national identity register to the scrapheap reflects the absolute commitment of the coalition Government to reduce the interference of the state and return power back to the people. I am very proud of what the Bill will achieve and I am encouraged by the support for it in all parts of the House. I emphasise "all parts" because we have had some fairly partisan debates this afternoon, but even Labour Members have admitted that the Conservative party had a clear commitment in its manifesto, as did the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties in their manifestos.
Many of us welcome the fact that two fifths of wisdom is beginning to creep into the Labour party in that two of the five leadership candidates have decided that the ID card scheme was a mistake. I fear for those who have expressed such strong support for that scheme; if the wrong Miliband wins, they could be in trouble. I also fear for the peace of the dinner party in that the civil libertarian/authoritarian divide is beginning to open up in the Labour party and has even opened up in the Miliband family. This will be an issue that they will have to resolve in a few weeks' time.
This Bill has sought to repeal parts of the 2006 Act that dealt with the ID card scheme, but we have been careful-I want to emphasise this-to re-enact the important powers on fraud prevention and detection available to protect the public. There is no reduction in public security as a result of the Bill; rather, it is about seeing an enormous increase in public freedom.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the Bill's scrutiny. We have taken on board the concerns raised on Second Reading and in Committee on information verification, and we have successfully tabled amendments to strengthen safeguards for the public and raise accountability. We noted the comments made in Committee about transgendered people, and will engage in further work with international colleagues in relation to the points raised about passports.
The Bill should also be seen as part of a wider programme to increase individual freedom. Along with Bills such as the freedom Bill, it will, as I have said, alter the balance irrevocably, giving us more powerful citizens and a less than all-powerful state. That is one of the significant changes for the better that the Government will be able to achieve for the country.
There was a discussion about who was responsible for the ID card scheme: about whether it was a new Labour creation, or, ingeniously, the creation of my noble and learned Friend Lord Howard of Lympne. The truth is that it was neither. We had ID cards in this country during the second world war. They were abolished in the 1950s, to great public acclaim, by a Conservative Government who concentrated, as we have done throughout the decades, on the importance of maintaining the power of the citizen.
In times of crisis, Governments often return to ID card schemes, and it was clearly the view of the last Government that Britain was at war after 9/11, that we were at war with terrorists permanently, and that we therefore needed to be put on a permanent war footing. It is at the heart of the contention of those of us who voted against the original Bill, and campaigned successfully against it-as has now been proved with the passage of this legislation-that we cannot and should not lead our lives as though we are in a state of permanent warfare: that if people's freedoms are restricted so much in an attempt to defend those freedoms, those who threaten our freedoms have already won.
This is a significant victory for the British people. I pay tribute not only to Members on both sides of the House who have supported the Bill, but to the various pressure groups involved. Liberty and Justice have been mentioned, but I also pay tribute to the NO2ID campaign, which can chalk itself up as one of the most successful pressure groups in history. It was formed less than 10 years ago, and within a decade of its formation it has achieved its principal aim.
No doubt all the pressure groups that I have just praised will spend the next few years complaining that we have not gone far enough in various directions. However, I look forward to constructive discussions with them. The broad conclusion that the country can draw from the passage of the Bill is that the march of freedom is happening again, and the British people are beginning to recover their historic freedoms and gain new freedoms. That is one of the many ways in which this Government will improve the lives of people throughout the country.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): In a speech on Second Reading, when there was a time limit, I paid tribute to campaigning groups that had been extremely effective in swaying opinion in the media, at least-if not the opinion of the country-against the idea of new forms of biometric recording and an up-to-date and verifiable national register showing who was in the country and their identity. I now pay tribute to the Minister for his dedicated work in opposition, and in the four months of the coalition Government, in implementing the commitment of the coalition partners.
I do not, however, pay tribute to people who believe their own rhetoric. I have done it myself, and it is not a good idea. Eventually one comes to believe things that are not true, such as the idea that the last Government took away our civil liberties and were intent on strengthening the authoritarianism of the state. I am very sad that people who are standing for senior office in my party have also bought the myth that a second-generation biometric register somehow took away the civil liberties of the British people. However, we lost the election, and those of us who believed that we were doing the right thing lost a level of the debate that was crucial to the continuation of the scheme.
I am very happy to pay tribute to Lord Howard as the father of the modern scheme. We did not have the facility of second-generation biometrics when he advocated the scheme in 1996. However, he at least understood that if we were going to control unwarranted immigration, deal with the rising level of fraud, which was minuscule compared with the level today, and tackle the verification and authentication of genuine identity not least in respect of access to what are, uniquely, free public services such as the NHS, we needed something better than the passport as we had it then, and, it has to be said, as we have it today even with the improvements in the photographic evidence.
I wish the Government well in implementing e-Borders in their border police force. I do not know how that will enhance the sophistication of addressing illegal entry into the country or the identification of those who are already illegally here given that when in 2004 we introduced the registration system for the extended European Union A8 nationals we found that 40% of the people who registered were already in the country before the freedom of movement regulations had come into being for those new EU entrant countries. I do not know how the Government are going to do this, therefore, but I wish them well in trying.
This evening, I merely want to say that I speak as someone who has spent years persuading their senior colleagues in Cabinet to go in a particular direction and who has taken the slings and arrows of being accused of being authoritarian because they genuinely believe that updating the evidence that is already taken for the passport and the driving licence makes sense as it will be genuinely authentic-as opposed to the myth we peddle that somehow the identity documents we use are genuinely verifiable when they are not. In short, I speak as someone who has been told that they have betrayed the civil liberties and historical rights of people in this country when they have not, yet my only regret is that, having spent so much time having to put up with the black looks of Lord Prescott and the grumbles of our former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), and having eventually won the decision in government and started to implement the policy, I find that I am defeated at the last hurdle.
All I can say is congratulations to those who have won and commiserations to those who were misled into believing that ID cards would cost £2.5 billion and there were therefore going to be major savings from scrapping them, rather than the sum of £84 million over four years. I say commiserations to those who feel they were taking a great step yet find that that step has not led them anywhere new at all.
The Minister said on 9 June that the civil libertarians were in the ascendant in the Conservative party today and that is true, but let us not confuse libertarianism with liberty. Let us not confuse being concerned about out and out libertarianism with authoritarianism. These are not opposites; they are nuanced issues and they are difficult to deal with in government at a time of-whatever Ministers may feel-continuing risk. I should also point out that we must ensure that we move as the international community moves, because I guarantee that within 30 years second-generation biometrics will be used for international passport purposes.
Keith Vaz: It is a great pleasure to follow the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who took us all the way back to the birth of ID cards and has now read out their last rites in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I do not think he should take the criticism of the last Labour Government personally. People say many things in leadership election campaigns. Let us see what happens next week when, in opposition, we have an opportunity to fashion our new policies. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all he did as Home Secretary on so many issues to do with his portfolio.
I also pay tribute to the Minister. Anyone who has followed Home Office debates over the past few years since he has been on the Front Bench will have noted the enthusiasm, delight and intellectual vigour that he put into the campaign against identity cards. I am sure it gives him great satisfaction to be here to read the last rites of the identity cards and to do so very modestly. I suppose that when faced with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party, the Scottish National party, Justice and Liberty-a very odd combination-it is probably right that the official Opposition have, in a sense, thrown in the towel. The shadow Minister accepted that there was no appetite among Labour Members to oppose the Bill on Second Reading and she tabled some carefully thought-out amendments, but the Government, with their majority and with this Bill as a central part of their Home Office agenda, have got their Bill through, after only 12 weeks.
I hope that the Minister will take seriously-I know that he will-the concerns expressed about the destruction of data. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will be writing to him in two months' time. I know that he did not give that as the absolute timetable, but he mentioned two months and then a further two months, and he then said that this would depend on what happens in the other place. I do not think that it will be a problem there, so by Christmas or, at least, by the new year we should be in a position to know that these data have been destroyed. I am sure that we will be writing to him to ensure that now that the funeral is over, the ashes will be scattered in about four months' time.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):
This is indeed an historic occasion and it is gratifying that the coalition has been able to deliver so early in its life such a significant change and such an improvement in
our civil liberties. This is clearly the first stage in a much wider programme. Members on the Government Benches have been accused of being obsessed with civil liberties, but it is a sign of how regressive or repressive the Labour Government had become that they characterised supporters and defenders of civil liberties as people, or Members, who were obsessed with that subject over and above any other.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) spoke of the so-called myth that the previous Government had an agenda that was contrary to civil liberties. However, they gave us identity cards, which we no longer have. We also had pre-charge detention, control orders, fingerprinting in schools and DNA retention. In my view, that constituted a full-frontal assault on our civil liberties, and we are right to try to redress the balance. He also said that there might be only £84 million-worth of savings-I do not know whether he actually used the word "only". Even if that figure is indeed right, in the current context those are savings that we need to achieve.
In my view, and that of the coalition Government, this Bill is just the first step in a programme of rebuilding and restoring our reputation as a nation that values civil liberties and is willing to defend them whenever they are under assault.
Pete Wishart: Good riddance to the most thoroughly bad rubbish. Thank goodness we are standing on the brink of getting rid of the pernicious and hated ID cards. They were new Labour ID cards-NLID cards, as I called them in the previous debate-created solely by the previous Government. They are now thankfully being abolished, and I give great credit to the coalition Government for being able to introduce this Bill so quickly. Thank goodness we are getting shot of these cards today.
I also wish to pay tribute to the many campaigners who fought so hard and long to ensure that we never saw ID cards introduced in this country. I am referring to NO2ID, Liberty and all the other groups that were out there campaigning. This became a real election issue, and I am sure that other hon. Members also found that it was regularly raised in the hustings. People talked about Labour's creeping authoritarian state and its anti-civil libertarian agenda, and how Labour must be stopped. Thankfully, today is the day that we can put to bed not just ID cards but, I hope, the whole anti-civil libertarian agenda that the Labour party tried to foist on us.
This Bill has been relatively easy for the Liberals and Conservatives as well as for those of us in the Scottish National party and other national parties. We opposed these things-we hated them and we wanted rid of them. This has been a real challenge for Labour Members and I have watched their agony throughout this Bill. I did not know whether they were going to oppose it or support it. I had to wait for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) to get to his feet to know whether it would be the first line of the next Labour manifesto or whether they were going to support the scrapping.
I still do not know what Labour Members' response to ID cards is. They have not opposed them in any way. They supported Second Reading-or abstained-and they proposed tame, minimal amendments in Committee. We have heard a lot of huff and puff today about compensation, but I still do not know what the Labour party's approach to ID cards is. I would like to hear-perhaps in the summing up-whether it has now dropped the whole idea. I hope that it has, because Labour should come home. We need the Labour party in opposition to come home to its civil libertarian past.
Julie Hilling: When poor people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency want to open a bank account or do any of the many things for which people need to prove their identity, if they do not drive and do not have utility bills how will they prove their identity in his new free world?
Pete Wishart: This is the thing that the Labour party consistently refuses to appreciate and understand. ID cards were an attempt to change the whole nature of the relationship between the individual and the state. That was what they were about. People in groups such as Liberty and NO2ID did not oppose ID cards because they were a nice cuddly little thing that would help people to access services-they opposed them because they were a new element to the relationship between state and individual. That was why ID cards became so hated throughout the nation.
Mr Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman is emotionally attached to the idea of the perniciousness of the scheme, but I want gently to test how far his libertarianism would go. There are two states in the United States where a blind person can obtain a licence to own a gun. One of those states does not require a blind person to have a driving licence-
Pete Wishart: It was a good point, and you have rescued me, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I would have found it pretty hard to respond to it. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) for intervening, because I want to pay tribute to him, too, in the course of all this. Of course, ID cards were his child. He argued them through Cabinet and, as he said in his speech, he had all sorts of opposition and he fought his corner. However, he has left the Labour party a dreadful legacy. I hope that it can join the rest of us-where it should be-in ensuring that we can continue to hold this Conservative Government to account.
It was great when the Conservatives were in opposition-of course they were against the anti-civil libertarian agenda-but we will have to watch them like hawks in government, and we need the Labour party on board for that task. We need the Labour party to help to hold the Conservatives to account, because I have a sneaking suspicion that once they have had a good start and once they have their feet under the table, they will start to consider several issues and the old Conservatives
will start to come back. We will start to see that move towards the authoritarianism that was a trademark of so many previous Governments. I appeal to the Labour party to help us to hold the Government to account and to get rid of the opposition to this. They should say, "Good riddance" and be thankful that we have got rid of ID cards.
This runs through the whole history of Labour and ID cards. We never even knew what they were for-that was the great thing. We did not know what they were supposed to achieve. When the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough introduced them-he can correct me if I get this wrong-his intention was that there would be a fully compulsory scheme, so that everybody in the UK would have to hold an ID card. That, I believe, was his intention and that was what he wanted to try to deliver. As he tried to get the scheme through, the opposition started to kick in. Opposition to the idea seemed to be growing and growing, so we saw the reasons behind ID cards changing. The scheme changed into a voluntary scheme that not only would keep us safe but could be used to make sure that we could buy services. I believe that being able to play the lottery was one of the great reasons we were given to have an ID card. They became not so much ID cards as super cards that would solve all society's ills.
Pete Wishart: It might not have been the right hon. Gentleman who said that and I am sorry if I have characterised him in that way. I believe that his true intention was to have everyone signed up to a mandatory ID card; that was the first attempt and agenda of the Labour party when it introduced the idea. All the way through the difficult conception and birth of the ID card, there was no real consistency in the way in which Labour tried to get it through. That has been the difficulty throughout the whole experience.
Labour's opposition to the Bill has been woeful-not knowing whether to support it or not and making some caustic comments about compensation; that has been its attitude-but there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to all the opinion polls, it looks as though the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) might win the Labour leadership election and he has said that ID cards were a step too far. He talks about the fact that they were not a good idea and says that there should be no further backing for them. Perhaps we will start to get the Labour party back on board; I certainly hope so.
Today has been a thoroughly good day. I congratulate the Minister on taking the Bill through in his usual manner-with good grace and listening to some of the arguments and representations-and on a job well done. This day is the end of ID cards, and thank goodness for that. Good riddance to them and let us hope that we never see their likes again.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has done exactly as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and
Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) said and has begun to believe his own rhetoric, entertaining though it was to listen to. It might be helpful if I explain to him and to the rest of the House the position of the official Opposition. I remind the House that although many things are said in election campaigns, what happens in reality when people have power is often very different. We have a good example of that in front of us in the form of the coalition Government, but I shall say no more on that.
Her Majesty's Opposition recognise the Government's clear position and the reality of the maths. We know that both parties were elected on manifestos to get rid of ID cards and that the Bill is the fruition of what is a fairly rare point of agreement. Indeed, only on Monday the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), was speaking with enthusiasm about her position when she was in opposition and had to be quickly reminded of something by her Parliamentary Private Secretary, who passed her a note. She then swiftly began to read an alternative position from the coalition agreement, so we know that sometimes things are said but then change. However, the reality is that both parties agreed on this point and we recognise that that gives the Government a mandate. We are not here to oppose for the sake of opposition, but we feel that the Bill sweeps aside many important things.
On Second Reading, the Minister said that the Bill is symbolic-and it is for him and his Government. It is also ideologically based and very rushed. Had he been in his Department a bit longer and had other Ministers in that Department and in government thought things through, they might rue the day they swept away the baby with the bathwater. The Bill has the serious consequence of removing the option to have fingerprints in passports, which the identity register allowed. That would have updated the passport database to allow for the very secure retention of that important biometric.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is very exercised about data being held by the state. I am sure that he must have a passport for travel and I wonder whether he has ever given a moment's thought to where passport information is held. As I reminded members of the public and others up and down the country during many of my roadshows, visits and talks about this issue over three years, 80% of us have a passport and that information is held securely. We have a good Passport Service, but what we proposed was a more secure approach. I shall not dwell on what we could have done or what we would do differently again, but it is an important principle of the Opposition that the passport should be secure not only now but in future. The new design for a more secure physical passport that I signed off earlier in the year has been unveiled and produced in the Blaydon constituency. We wanted greater security with fingerprinting, but the Government have effectively abandoned that.
Interestingly, the Bill sets the tone for the way in which the Government wish to work. It was brought forward in quite a rush. We finally managed today to extract from the Government the fact that there was no consultation on the Bill, so mentions in manifestos and on individuals' blogs seem to be the way in which the Government choose to consult. We also know that the Bill's impact assessment was inadequate, which is sad, given that one of the Ministers responsible for the Bill is
also the Minister for Equalities. Labour Members will watch closely to ensure that such sloppiness does not take place in the future, and I hope that Ministers acknowledge that they have a responsibility to do their jobs thoroughly and properly.
We look forward to hearing more about the transgender issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). We tried to put in place something that would make the best of a bad job in this regard, but the Government removed that option overnight without any recognition of that fact. No full solution is forthcoming, so we ask the Government to report to Parliament as progress is made on the issue. I ask the Minister with responsibility for passports to write to me around Christmas or in January to let me know what progress has been made, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library. I have been contacted by many people who would be grateful for such information. A lot of them do not have voices of their own, but they will be looking closely at how the House scrutinises the issue and have made it clear that they want to know what is going on.
The Bill prevents the Government from collecting and storing fingerprints, which means that the British passport will fall behind international standards relatively quickly, although international passports improve over years. Over time, British citizens will be forced to pay for visas when they make certain international visits. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have indicated that they favour biometrics on passports and increasing passport security, so I wonder whether the Bill has been fully squared in government. We hear that the Government are halting the use of fingerprints, but we do not know for how long. I hope that they will consider putting that back on the table because we all have a genuine interest in ensuring that the British public are safe when they travel and that our identity documents are as secure as possible. The use of fingerprints also helps to tackle identity fraud because many criminals have multiple identities, yet fingerprints are one of the surest ways of prevention.
I know that Ministers take seriously the Home Office's responsibility to do everything in its power to protect people-that is the Department's raison d'être-but the Bill throws out the baby with the bath water. The Opposition would revisit the issue of biometrics on passports, even though I give no commitment about what we would do on identity cards, given that we will shortly be under new leadership. However, if we were to get into power in five years' time, we would be in a different place than if we were not to get into power-heaven forefend-for 10 years. We recognise that we will have to deal with the landscape that we face at the time. I would hope that that landscape would involve fingerprints for passports, but the Bill does not make that look likely.
The Bill's refusal of any recompense to those who bought cards in good faith is mean-spirited, as is the fact that we have had no opportunity to press for refunds, which was why some of the new clauses that we tabled were complex. As I said, no proper account was taken of the equalities impact. If I was to be particularly mean, I would suggest that the mean-spirited nature of the Bill is a metaphor for the Government as we approach tough spending decisions.
I thank hon. Members who have played an important part in developing our policy and supporting my Front-Bench role. The Opposition's redoubtable team has mostly consisted of newly elected Back Benchers, who have been committed to addressing the Bill. I put on record my thanks to the former right hon. Members for Redditch, for Norwich South and for Airdrie and Shotts, the last of whom will no doubt give the Bill a run for its money in the other place, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. It is rare that a junior Front-Bench spokesman has such support from a series of former Home Secretaries, but they have been incredibly supportive and helpful.
We are not yet dancing on the grave of identity cards. I live in hope that the Government will see the error of their ways and that, despite this Bill, they will revisit the issue of passport biometrics. I look forward to seeing how the Bill progresses in the Lords.
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): My constituent, Alice Cheney, from Great Clifton near Workington, brought me this petition because she feels strongly that there is a need to raise awareness both nationally and internationally about the slaughter of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dolphins each year in the waters around Japan. She notes that it is estimated that some 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year just in the area of Taijii. She is also concerned that the dolphin meat produced after the slaughter is contaminated. The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to raise awareness of the slaughter of dolphins and urges the Foreign Secretary to call on the Japanese Government to prevent the distribution of contaminated dolphin meat.
Declares that the petitioners believe that there is a need to raise awareness both nationally and internationally about the slaughter of thousands of dolphins each year in the waters around Japan; notes that it is estimated that some 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year in the area of Taijii; further declares that the petitioners believe that there is a need to raise awareness for the majority of Japanese citizens, who are unaware that this is going on in their country; and notes that the petitioners believe that the dolphin meat which is highly contaminated is being distributed to an unaware Japanese public protected by a government that knows the dangers of this practice and the risks to health it poses.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to raise awareness of the slaughter of dolphins and urges the Foreign Secretary to call on the Japanese Government to prevent the distribution of contaminated dolphin meat.
Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for granting me the time and the opportunity to hold my first Adjournment debate. It may be my first Adjournment debate, but the topic is one on which I have spoken many times, both in the House and locally in the constituency. It is no less a subject than the future of UK military aircraft production.
The debate could not be more timely. Only last week, unfortunately, BAE Systems, which has its military headquarters in Warton in my constituency, announced potentially 1,000 job losses. I know that BAE Systems and the trade unions are working hard to minimise that eventual figure, but it serves as timely notice to us that the issue is not one of numbers or technology. It concerns people's lives, jobs and the UK maintaining a sovereign capability in an area in which we are currently world leaders.
I refer to comments made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer shortly after the election, when they said that one of the most important things that we had to do as a nation was to rebalance the economy, and rebalancing the economy was about being less reliant on services and moving on to manufacturing. It was about jobs being in the north rather than in the south. It was about jobs with high export potential that earned serious money for this country. I can think of no other sector that ticks all those boxes more than the UK military aircraft division.
I know that you, Mr Evans, and your fellow Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), are precluded from taking part in the debate by the office that you hold, but both of you have a long-standing record as doughty defenders of the UK military aircraft sector.
In the north-west the industry is the engine room of the entire regional economy. From Warton, Samlesbury and the other plants that we have, tens of thousands of component suppliers and many, many small shops and taxi firms gain a living from the work that is done there.
In this debate I shall focus on a few key areas-the future of the Typhoon programme, the exports that we can derive from that, and the unmanned aircraft programme, which, I am proud to say, is being developed at Warton. There are some Members in the House who say that we should not be concerned about having a UK military aircraft capability, that sovereign capability was for yesteryear, and that we should be buying off the shelf. What they seem to forget is that the UK is the shelf. We are world leaders in most of this technology. When it comes to unmanned aircraft, the work is not done in the United States. The Americans are not the world leaders, they are not at the cutting edge and they do not have the talented people. The work is done here in the United Kingdom-in the north-west, in Lancashire, in Warton and in Samlesbury. That is where the talent lies, and those are the people whom I am here to represent this evening.
I therefore call on the Minister, when he makes his remarks, to reflect on the importance of the future of the unmanned aircraft industry to this country, because
it is not just an industry that we lead, but one of huge potential growth both in the realm of military technology and for civilian use. We live in an unstable world, and as part of the security and strategic defence review we have considered all sorts of threats. They include an increased risk of piracy, the need to defend key oil installations and tackling human trafficking. Unmanned aircraft in their various forms are a fantastic way of including flexibility in one's military capability in order to address a number of those risks. Aircraft such as HERTI are flexible enough to allow civilian operators to take on some of those roles, leading to less reliance on Governments.
Typhoon, or the Eurofighter as some people may know it, is primarily built at Warton, but work has also been done at Samlesbury, and there has been talk recently about the importance of tranche 3B and why it is crucial for the RAF to place orders. I appreciate that when it comes to the lack of money in the defence budget, we are in unprecedented times, and I know that the Minister has to take some incredibly difficult decisions. Members will not like some of those decisions, but I believe that tranche 3B is very important and Typhoon is a first-class aircraft, so I make an appeal to him once again. When he looks at it, he should do everything that he can to ensure that there is the potential in the RAF for 3B.
However, we have to look beyond 3B, because the real prize is in Typhoon's export potential, because that is where the jobs, the foreign currency and the futures of people in my constituency will lie. Many Members will be familiar with the export orders that have been placed with Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems' work in that country and throughout the middle east, but I call upon the Government to continue that excellent work and gradually drive forward the work of BAE Systems and its work force in securing those export orders. I refer the Minister to the Prime Minister's recent visit to India, where we secured a substantial order for Hawk jets, because I do not believe that BAE Systems, great though it is, could have achieved that without significant Government help at the highest level.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. Does he agree that UK defence contracts with BAE Systems also importantly enhance our export capability, and that any reduction in UK defence contract spending will affect our capacity to export?
Mark Menzies: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We cannot be totally reliant on exports, because, if the RAF buys and uses something, that is a more powerful pitch than any sales brochure, so we have to ensure that the UK armed forces continue to place significant orders for UK military aircraft. I agree that exports are not the only solution, but, in a tough economic climate, we need to invest a considerable amount of energy in securing such exports.
I say to the Minister, please let us not be shy about getting behind BAE Systems when securing exports. The French are not shy, the Americans wheel out Barack Obama and the Russians wheel out Vladimir Putin. So, let us leave no stone unturned and use every weapon in our armoury to ensure that the United Kingdom is out there putting forward what I passionately believe to be a world-class product built by a world-class work force,
securing defence orders for this country and vast amounts of foreign currency potential. I call upon the Minister to support me in that.
We have 6,500 people working at Warton and about 5,000 at Samlesbury, but it is not just about numbers-it is about the quality of those jobs. Two hundred apprentices are currently going through BAE Systems military aircraft division.
Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a huge impact in terms of knowledge and skills that are transferable throughout manufacturing as a result of the aerospace industry, that many of the techniques and technological advances that are developed feed through into manufacturing in the UK generally, and that having a thriving, successful aerospace industry will have a huge impact on British manufacturing?
A layman could be accused of thinking of the jobs at Warton as being about metal-bashing and nuts and bolts, but far from it. We are talking about people who are at the cutting edge of design and computer technology-the sorts of things that I, as a mere Member of Parliament, struggle to get my head around. They are absolute world leaders in their field, and they are our people-Lancashire people, on the whole. They have spent their whole lives honing their skills at Warton-they were not invented: they were grown. We need to recognise the contribution that those skills make to the economy, as well as their transferable nature and the fact that many component manufacturers can look to the military aircraft division and take some of the lessons from that sector to use in their own sectors.
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Does my hon. Friend accept that not only the people at Warton and Samlesbury are involved in this, but the people at Rolls-Royce who develop and build the engines and avionics? In making his comments on the Eurofighter, would he like to include the F-35, which is being developed, alongside in the USA, at Samlesbury and at Warton? It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister, or even the Prime Minister, could get some clarity from the American Administration on how they intend to progress development of the engine for the F-35. That would create thousands of jobs, because that aeroplane is needed in vast quantities by the USA. Those are the very products that are being built in the UK, at Rolls-Royce and in Samlesbury, for the new F-35 fighter.
Mark Menzies: I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the F-35. Indeed, we are very lucky this evening to be joined by members of the trade union movement from Samlesbury who are in the Public Gallery. Before I came into the Chamber, I was reminded of the importance of the F-35. Were I to forget to mention it, I would have very much failed in my duty to represent their wishes.
One of the worries is that if the Eurofighter is withdrawn to a significant extent from Samlesbury, we run the risk of part of the development of the F-35 being withdrawn to the United States. There
is always a risk, especially with high unemployment in the US, that the Americans will be looking to US manufacturing to take on what are essentially US jobs. The Eurofighter keeps that anchor in the UK and in Lancashire.
Mark Menzies: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting concern. However, I am sure, from my conversations with BAE Systems, that the nature of the contract is robust enough, and the commitments from this Government are clear enough, that there will be a good future at Samlesbury. The Minister is bound by a difficulty in being able to give details about the F-35, but any that he can provide will be incredibly welcome.
I want to be generous in giving others time, because I know that colleagues wish to make some points. My final point is that the future of the UK military aircraft division, which is based at Warton but also has a significant element at Samlesbury, is not just about the regional economy of the north-west, or about jobs, vital though those matters are. It is about the UK being serious about ever again being able to play a role through a strategic, sovereign capability to manufacture our own aircraft, own our own technology, develop our own high-tech skills base and continue to be a world leader in what we do. It is also fundamental to achieving the objective of rebalancing the economy that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have set out. If we fail to take that into account and to get behind the UK military aircraft sector, not only will the north-west lose out but the entire UK economy will be much the poorer. I ask the Minister to get behind exports, do what he can for the future of the F-35 and the Typhoon, and let us really make a difference.
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my neighbour, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), on securing the debate. I reiterate his point that I am sure your fellow Deputy Speakers would have loved to speak in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, I am sure that you would have been keen to take part as well, given the constituency interest.
Aerospace is an industry that touches every part of the UK economy, including the south-west, but nowhere more than the north-west. We in the north-west are extremely concerned about the job losses that will almost definitely occur there in the coming months, particularly at Samlesbury and Warton. We know that 149 jobs are likely to go at the former and 298 at the latter. Having spoken to both management and the unions, we are aware of the reduction in work on Airbus components at Samlesbury. I am sure that that matter also affects your constituents at Filton, Madam Deputy Speaker. We know about the valuable work on the Tornado, the Harrier and the Hawk that has taken place at Warton in the past. I will be honest in saying that the announcements about reductions in the Tornado and Harrier fleets were made before the general election, but we are also concerned about future plans. I shall touch on that later.
The work force have been given about 90 days to be consulted by the management on jobs. Hundreds of jobs were lost in the industry last year, including at the Warton and Samlesbury plants. We hoped that there would then be a tailing-off of job losses, and I am angry
that they are continuing and are likely to continue further as a result of the Government's strategic defence review.
We must attempt to minimise job losses where possible. I do not want anybody from either plant to be made compulsorily redundant. However, I understand that they just about scraped through last year with voluntary redundancies, so it will be much more difficult this year. Many workers there who are friends of mine, and their families, are concerned about their economic future and their careers, having spent decades at the two plants that are going under.
It is particularly heartbreaking that many skilled manufacturing jobs have gone abroad over the past five decades, especially with the growth of the European Community, now the European Union, and globalisation. The north-west is proud that we still have a much higher percentage of the population engaged in manufacturing than elsewhere, and in the Preston and central Lancashire area the percentage is the highest in the country. That is under threat now.
We have been making aircraft in the Preston area for more than 100 years, and aircraft that fought in both world wars were built in and around my constituency. They used to be built to fight against countries such as Germany. We now build aircraft in co-operation with Germany. Europe has been at peace for decades and we want that to continue. Indeed, we want peace on a global scale, but while there is no guarantee of that, defence equipment will always be needed, and it must be manufactured. This country is particularly good at that and has an extremely high technological base.
I trained as an electronics engineer and computer scientist. I worked in those jobs in my professional life in both the public and the private sectors before entering politics. As the hon. Member for Fylde said, engineering is not about metal-bashing. Of course, many skills, including metal-bashing, have survived for generations, but many of the skills that are coming on stream are highly technical and advanced, particularly in computer-aided design, and we are the envy of the world in many areas of manufacturing. We lead the world in stealth technology-I have seen the world-beating stealth technology manufactured at Warton-and are ahead of the Americans, the Israelis and the French. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the unmanned vehicles that we are developing.
We have already lost many manufacturing industries to countries such as Germany, Japan and China, particularly in the consumer electronics field, but one area in which we excel is the manufacture of defence equipment. We need that to continue, which is why we should do everything in our power to protect jobs and the high-tech industries such as those in the north-west.
Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the loss of manufacturing jobs overseas. Does he agree that in 13 years under the previous Government, there was an unprecedented collapse in manufacturing in this country, when it declined three times faster than under Margaret Thatcher?
I accept that there has been a loss of jobs in manufacturing, but that trend has continued since the 1960s under Governments of both persuasions. I say that as an engineer rather than as a politician. As technology advances, computers can do many jobs that
humans used to do, and a section of an aircraft that used to be made of 100 parts can now be made of two or three. I would not try to be party political on manufacturing. Nobody did more to defend jobs than the previous Labour Government. Every contract that could be given to British Aerospace, which is now called BAE Systems, was given to it, and order books were full. We were looking forward to decades of further production at the company, so we will not take any lessons from the Conservatives.
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend's point about general manufacturing is important, but does he agree that defence industry manufacturing has been completely different from much of the rest of the picture? Defence manufacturing has been a strength in the past 10 years, especially given the number of jobs that have been created. The danger is that we could lose capacity over the next decade and the capability to lead the world in a range of areas, including, of course, shipbuilding.
Mark Hendrick: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are not here to talk about aircraft carriers, but they are important to the future of both Warton and Samlesbury. Manufacturing the two aircraft carriers in places such as Barrow would support many industries in the north and north-west, but they are under consideration in the strategic defence review. Bluntly, if the carriers do not go ahead, the need for the aircraft to go on them will be called into question, as will our share of the F-35 joint strike fighter programme. We are currently guaranteed 12 to 15% of those contracts with Lockheed Martin. The Government are sailing close to the wind when it comes to maintaining our share of that work unless a commitment is made to the aircraft carriers.
We are playing for high stakes, because at threat is the future of Britain as a defence manufacturing nation. We have lost a lot of consumer manufacturing to the likes of Germany, Japan and China, and it is essential that we maintain our expertise and technological base in defence manufacturing. Otherwise, not only will the jobs and livelihoods of people in the north-west economy suffer, but the nation will suffer, because we will not punch the same weight or have the same GDP. We will be a much poorer nation as a result. Aerospace is the jewel in the north-west's economic crown.
On the strategic defence review, the Typhoon programme is extremely important. Exports are important, as is take-up by the four partner nations in that programme. Before the general election, I was disappointed to see the Liberal Democrats make it plain that they would not continue tranche 3B of the Eurofighter Typhoon, against the wishes of many in the north-west. It is a disgrace that so many Liberal Democrats can take a view that threatens so many jobs in the north-west, especially when so many were silent on the issue during the election, especially my opponent in Preston. The Labour Government signed up to tranche 3A, so we showed our commitment, and I call on the Government to show their commitment not only to Typhoon, but to the aircraft carriers, the design and preparation for which are well under way.
The skills of a generation of the work force at Warton and Samlesbury will be put at risk. Last year, 200 jobs went at Samlesbury, leaving only 4,200 jobs. The hon.
Member for Fylde mentioned the figure of 5,000, but 4,200 is the actual figure-a loss of more than 25%. The situation is similar at Warton. I do not want to see anyone lose their job, but it is surprising that executive jobs have not been greatly affected. Only one executive job will be lost over both sites, which seems unbalanced.
The announcement that 1,000 jobs will be lost across the country in BAE Systems is a tragedy, but I shudder to think what the strategic defence review will reveal after November when it is completed. That announcement may be just the tip of the iceberg of job losses, and the Government will rue the day if they make significant cuts and these major programmes disappear, as those decisions will be reflected at the ballot box at the next general election.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this debate. Unlike the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick), I do not intend to tempt the Minister to prejudge the outcome of the strategic defence review, nor will I engage in self-indulgent scaremongering about possible outcomes. There are more than enough armchair generals, bath-tub admirals and heaven knows who else opining in the letters columns of the national press about what form the future force configuration should take, and we do not need to debate that tonight.
Mark Hendrick: I do not want to hog the debate, as I have already spoken at length but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that before the general election we made it plain that we would cut the deficit by 50% over four years. With a party now in government saying it will attempt to cut the deficit totally in five years, hon. Members can draw their own conclusions.
Paul Maynard: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but people's jobs depend on decisions being made now, and I do not intend to engage in self-indulgent scaremongering. He may wish to do so on behalf of his constituents, to whom he is responsible, but I do not intend to adopt a similar position.
We are here to discuss the UK military aviation industry, not the outcomes of the strategic defence review. There are two important aspects to consider. First, there are the potential changes to UK Government orders that we do not know about, and which we will not find out about tonight, however much Opposition Members may wish otherwise. I do not expect that, and I am sure that many other Conservative Members do not expect it either. However, we can discuss the important steps taken by the Government to promote exports. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) discuss the need to improve exports. The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said it was no substitute for investment by the UK Government. We had 13 years of a Labour Government who failed to
take seriously the promotion of UK exports. I heard it time and time again, even from active trade unionists, that BAE Systems-
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde said, a recent trip to India resulted in a much improved Hawk order. However, I would like to make one observation to the Minister that I hope he will bear in mind. There is no finer advertisement for the British military aviation industry than the Red Arrows. I hope that he will bear that in mind when he is considering the wider issues of the strategic defence review.
Tonight's debate should not be about BAE Systems only. I realise it is a major player in the UK military aviation industry, but it is not the sole player. In the north-west, we have the North West Aerospace Alliance, which has made an enormous effort to develop a world-class supply chain that includes not just BAE Systems-
Graham Jones: Put simply, if the RAF or the British Government will not buy Typhoons, why should any other country? It is a really poor advert. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the strength of our exports will come from our confidence in our own products and UK manufacturing base? He seems to be arguing the opposite, which I do not fully understand. That is an important point that he needs to focus on-
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This is an Adjournment debate, which is going a little longer tonight because of the time. The debate is in the name of the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). [Interruption.] Will the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) please resume his seat while I am on my feet? Thank you. Interventions are to be brief. It is a Back-Bench debate and should refer to the title and subject of the debate. If Members want to speak, they should stand and hope they get in.
I want to talk about the importance of sovereign capability in terms of our military aviation industry. Many people might regard the notion of sovereign capability as something nostalgic. At the moment, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the battle of Britain, and many people are saying how fortunate we were in those days to be able to generate our own aircraft, make them within our own shores and defend our shores against our enemies, and that we should continue that in the future. I would be cautious, however, about basing any arguments for sovereign capability on nostalgia, tempting as that might be, but sovereign capability matters. It is an important concept that the Government have to buy into, because we do not know what is around the corner or what the future holds. We do not know whether we can rely on those on whom we have relied in the past. The world is full of unknowns, and sovereign capability is our sole protection from them.
I therefore ask the Government to consider carefully the ways in which they can support sovereign capability, and to look beyond defining it simply in terms of whether shipyard X or aircraft factory Y remains open. With regard to military aviation, I ask the Minister to consider how the Government can use some of the things that they are already doing to protect sovereign capability, in particular through the important changes being made with the introduction of local enterprise partnerships. It is important that the Ministry of Defence speak to other Departments to consider how the newly emerging LEPs can best be allocated to strategic areas, which can then underpin particular subsections of the defence industry. A good example would be the application by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre to have a local enterprise partnership focusing on the aeronautical supply chain, which I discussed earlier. That is one way in which Government innovation can help to support sovereign capability without having to invest just to keep things open.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): One thing that must also be considered when talking about the area of north-west England for which my hon. Friend is a Member-quite a few Members are from there-is that places such as Samlesbury and Warton form an area of excellence that is the silicon valley, as it were, of the defence aviation industry. We have only to look back at what happened in the 1960s when the Wilson Government cut the TSR2. We had a world-beating product, but it was shredded because of what was happening at the time in the political framework. My hon. Friend is correct about the allocation of funding. We have to preserve not just the jobs, but the scientific-
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I said just a moment ago that interventions needed to be brief. That is a general rule of the House. The hon. Gentleman should not use the opportunity of an intervention to make a speech. I am sure that his hon. Friend has got the gist of his point now.
The other Department that I would like the Minister to talk to is the Department for Education. It is a common complaint across Government as a whole that
science education is somehow in decline. When I was fortunate enough to tour BAE Systems in Warton, I saw many highly skilled people who had engaged in scientific educational training. They had their physics and their chemistry: they knew what they were doing when it came to science. That is one important reason for ensuring that we emphasise why more students should get science-based qualifications that lead to careers in important defence-based industries-in particular military aviation-and underpin the protection of our sovereign capability.
I hope that the Minister will take both those ideas away and do something with them. Sovereign capability matters. It needs to be more than just a phrase that gets deployed in debates such as this, and we need to do more than depend on nostalgia to underpin it. I hope that he will consider that. We have something that we can be enormously proud of in the UK military aviation industry but, like anything, it must be constantly burnished and kept up to scratch. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he intends to do that when he responds to this debate.
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I had not originally intended to speak in this debate. I will try to make my contribution brief, but it is important to make a contribution, in part to correct some of the misconceptions spread by the previous speech and, to an extent, by previous interventions.
First, I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) on sovereign capability. It is important that we maintain that in the years ahead. The aviation industry in the north-west offers prime examples of the ways in which we have been able to lead the world, and it is vital that we continue to do so. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind as we approach at breakneck speed the conclusions of the strategic defence and security review.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House should support the Government's drive to improve the standing of our exports. We can sustain many jobs by increasing our exports, not only in the aviation industry in the north-west but right across the defence industry. We can also improve the UK's standing in the world, and our military and diplomatic influences, by doing so. Let us not pretend, however, that the situation is dire at the moment, or that the previous Labour Government ran us into the ground. I am sure that the Minister is aware-although I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys is-that this country punches roughly three times above its natural weight in its exports industry. We should be proud of that, and the kind of partisan remarks that the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys has just made do the defence industry and those who work in it a disservice.
I want the Typhoon to play an important part in the areas that I have just mentioned, and in sustaining the economy. It will do so, however, only if we take a mature attitude to exports and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) said, if we buy this kit ourselves. The first question that any foreign Government will ask when we rock up at their door and try to sell them this kit or anything else is, "Are you
using it yourself?" If we are not, why on earth should they buy it? I very much hope that the laudable rhetoric that is coming from the Government at the moment will be sustained by a proper strategy that will enable us to acquire this kit and help us to export it overseas.
I want to mention scaremongering in regard to jobs. There is an important role for Members of Parliament in standing up for employment in their constituencies and their regions, and I think that many hon. Members on the other side of the House get that. I hope that the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys understands it as well. It is not dishonourable to speak up for the potential industrial consequences of the decisions that are about to be made. I am a member of the cross-party Defence Committee, which has just concluded that some of those decisions could put at risk our long-term security, as well as our defence industry and the industrial base that it sustains.
Graham Jones: I note that, yesterday, the Minister said that the UK was the second most successful exporter of defence products in 2009, with orders worth more than £7 billion. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that?
John Woodcock: My hon. Friend provides evidence for what I was saying earlier. We are a successful country, but we want to become even more successful. We shall need to do that in an environment that is going to be very tough in the years ahead. Other counties are retrenching their budgets just as we are, but it is important that we take a mature attitude to this.
Returning to my point about jobs and about the industrial base that the defence industry sustains, I wonder whether the Minister and the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys are aware of the evidence that the chief executive of BAE Systems and other senior members of the defence industry gave to the Defence Committee last week. They pointed out that we are on the verge of decisions that we risk getting wrong. Alarm was expressed within the industry among the speakers who gave evidence to the Defence Committee last week. If we get this wrong, they said, we could lose our capability in the north-west-in aviation, shipbuilding and right across the piece-in a way that will have devastating consequences for employment. If in five or 10 years' time, we decide that we need this capability, we will find that the employment base needed to sustain it has gone-never to return. If the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys believes that those people were scaremongering when they said that, I hope he will stand up and make his view clear. I certainly do not think that they were, as this is a serious issue that will have to be dealt with.
In conclusion, it is so important to sustain capacity at Samlesbury and Warton-for the reasons I have just set out, but additionally because if the north-west takes the right decisions and the Government support it, and developing a defence and industrial policy following the strategic defence review will be critical-that could strengthen and augment its position as playing a leading part in the country and the world in producing world-class industrial products to serve our armed forces here and to export across the globe. The decisions made now and in the coming weeks and months will be critical.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this important debate. I agree with everything he said; I know he has worked tirelessly on this issue for many months. I am also pleased that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) struck a slightly more positive note. I do not think that all is doom and gloom; we should celebrate the success stories as well, so I am grateful that some Members have reflected that.
I shall start by focusing on some of the positives in the north-west of England. The aerospace sector there has long been recognised as one of Europe's leading industrial clusters and as a model for development within the aerospace and other industries. In my Pendle constituency, a number of significant firms are dependent on the aviation industry and on military contracts in particular.
As recently as Defence questions on Monday this week, I raised the importance of military aviation. I was reassured by what the Minister had to say. I pointed out to him that on the previous Saturday I had visited Euravia, a company that repairs and overhauls aircraft engines located in Kelbrook in my constituency. I was there to attend the event at which the company was presented with the Queen's award for enterprise in the international trade category. Despite the recession, that firm had seen a growth in orders and was significantly increasing its overseas trade, starting to explore new and exciting opportunities. I believe that such businesses are leading the way in showing how other firms in the aerospace sector should behave-developing the skills of their workers, attaining an international reputation for high standards and good customer service, and always looking for new contracts abroad in case contracts in the UK dry up.
In underlining the importance of the aviation industry to my constituency, I point out that Rolls-Royce is the largest employer, with more than 1,000 workers in Barnoldswick producing engine fan blades. I was particularly delighted to have been able to take my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to visit Rolls-Royce prior to the election; I know that he is acutely aware of the importance of the aviation industry in Lancashire. I find it encouraging that in recent months Rolls-Royce has announced a string of deals, including one worth £1.1 billion at the Farnborough airshow. In July, the company unveiled detailed plans for a new £30 million aerodrome at its site in my constituency. This extension of the current site is where it will build fan blades for the F-35 joint strike fighter, which colleagues mentioned earlier in the debate. The extension will create about 100 new jobs in my constituency, although that will depend on approval from the President of the United States, Barack Obama, for the Rolls-Royce F-35 engine.
I know that the Government have already been working closely with Rolls-Royce to help it to secure more business. I was particularly pleased to see bosses from Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems accompanying the Prime Minister on his recent visit to India. I really do see aviation exports as key, and I am therefore delighted that unlike Ministers in the last Government, Ministers in the present Government are proactively helping our businesses to win contracts abroad.
Graham Jones: I question that last point. All the previous tranches, up to 3A, went through under a Labour Government, but tranche 3B, on which many Members are now focusing, is in doubt under the coalition Government. How can the hon. Gentleman justify his comment, given that all the previous contracts were honoured by the Labour Government, whereas the new Government are considering reviewing and perhaps cutting a future contract, 3B?
Andrew Stephenson: I am happy to justify my comment by asking how the hon. Gentleman justifies the Labour Government's huge overspends, and the massive deficit that they built up when their expenditure was out of control. Clearly they should have got spending under control, and should have conducted a strategic defence review instead of delaying the pain until now.
The importance of big aerospace contractors such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems to Pendle, Lancashire and the United Kingdom economy should not be underestimated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde pointed out, there is a significant number of subcontractors and support companies. The average job in aerospace contributes £75,000 gross value added to the economy, and the figure rises to £115,000 at BAE Systems, compared to only about £15,000 gross value added per job in other sectors in Lancashire. I have noticed when I have spoken to business men in my constituency how many of them started off as apprentices at either BAE Systems or Rolls-Royce.
Many Opposition Members have expressed concern about the potential impact of the strategic defence and security review on the military aviation industry. We have already had a debate today about who has been fuelling scare stories in the press. I believe that hon. Members have a responsibility not to fuel scare stories: I do not think that they do anything for workers' morale. I suggest, however, that the biggest risk to our military aviation is not the strategic defence and security review, but the muddled and incoherent programme left by the last Government.
Before Opposition Members lecture the coalition Government on the financial implications of reviewing certain defence contracts, they should remember that with a defence budget of some £35 billion a year, they left behind an overspend in the equipment programme that will amount to £38 billion by 2020. That is what we must deal with now, and that is why we are carrying out a full review of all the current contracts.
I used my maiden speech to explain the need for us to build a high-skilled economy, and I specifically mentioned the importance of the aviation industry. So far I have been very encouraged by the measures that Ministers have taken to support military aviation, but I urge them to do even more to support that vital sector.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing what has turned out to be a longer debate than we might have expected. It has given many more Members a chance to make speeches, some more political than others.
I want to break the Lancashire stranglehold on the debate-or rather the north-western stranglehold. I used to teach geography too, so I apologise to the hon.
Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). My constituency has been very much affected by the proposal for job losses at the BAE Systems site at Brough. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) have been engaged in cross-party work in relation to that proposal, and over the past few years they have also worked closely together to help to secure contracts for the continuation of the site.
The BAE Systems site at Brough has a huge impact on our area. In recent years we have struggled in respect of manufacturing jobs, as has the rest of the country, and the continuation of the Brough site is greatly valued by local people. It gives young people in the area some aspiration that they might have a future job in manufacturing. I know all about that. I grew up in the area, attending a comprehensive school in Hull, and one of the most secure prospects we had was the possibility of going into apprenticeships at either BAE Systems at Brough or BP at Saltend.
I cannot over-emphasise the value of BAE Systems and the Brough site to our local economy and education facilities. It is heavily involved in local schools in my constituency and across the East Riding, and probably beyond that. Its educational roadshow is run from Brough and it has thus far received about 5,000 young people from the ages of nine to 13, bringing them on to the site to see what the possibilities for them there might be, and perhaps sparking an interest in manufacturing and in pursuing that interest in their own educational futures. BAE Systems is also heavily involved with the local secondary schools and every year provides a number of apprenticeships to local schools. All that is a success story for our region, so I do not want anybody to leave this debate with any impression other than that the existence of the Brough site in our local area is entirely positive.
The links go far and wide. The current mayor of Goole is an employee at Brough BAE Systems, as is the husband of my secretary in the constituency. Perhaps I should therefore declare an interest, although many more people than just those two are employed there-and, in fact, the mayor of Goole is a Labour party member so I am working cross-party in that respect.
There have been a number of challenges to the Brough factory in recent years. It is heavily reliant on Hawk contracts, for instance, and a couple of years ago there were a number of job losses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle worked incredibly closely to try to alleviate the pain of that. Following the problems back in 2008 and earlier we got an assurance from BAE Systems that the over-reliance on the Hawk contracts at Brough would cease and that it would seek to broaden the work undertaken there. However, I can only repeat what the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle has said in response to the latest threats to Brough:
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|