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House of Commons

Monday 14 November 2011

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]


Death of a Member

Mr Speaker: I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Alan Keen, Member for Feltham and Heston. For a number of years, Alan was the chairman of the all-party group on football, and before entering this House in 1992 he was for 18 years a scout for Middlesbrough football club. I am sure that Members from all parts of the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and in extending our sympathy to his wife, Ann, and to his family and friends.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Chief Coroner

1. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the creation of a post of chief coroner to oversee the inquest system in relation to deaths of armed forces personnel. [80068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to pay tribute to the late Private Matthew Thornton, who was killed in Afghanistan last Wednesday, from 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment. He was a brave young man, serving his country, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to send its condolences and sympathy to his family.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had no recent discussions with ministerial colleagues on the creation of a chief coroner’s post. The post is entirely a matter for the Ministry of Justice, although we have of course provided it with every assistance regarding the impact of the issue on military bereaved families, and we have engaged with the Ministry of Justice and with the Cabinet Office on the matter.

Jessica Morden: I should like to associate myself with the Minister’s opening remarks and with yours, Mr Speaker.

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The Royal British Legion thanked hon. Members from all parties for their cross-party support when the post of chief coroner was agreed just two years ago. Does the Minister agree that the issue should unite, not divide, this House, and that appointing a chief coroner in line with the revised proposals from the Royal British Legion and Inquest would send a wonderful message to service families at this particularly special time?

Mr Robathan: I am afraid that I do not entirely agree. The important thing is the results that bereaved families receive at inquests, with which there have been problems in the past, and that is why the Ministry of Defence is, for instance, laying on specific events and continuing familiarisation with military inquests for coroners. We are also ensuring that they are properly trained with regard to bereaved families. People seem to have become hung up on the office of a chief coroner, but it is a Ministry of Justice matter, as I have said. What is important is that bereaved families receive an excellent service from coroners, and we are working very hard to ensure that that happens.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): To what extent does my right hon. Friend believe that the undoubted success in years gone by of the Wiltshire coroner, David Masters, and the Oxfordshire coroner, Andrew Walker, in improving the welfare and safety of troops has been down to their independence and to the fact that they have not had a potentially bureaucratic official standing over them?

Mr Robathan: My hon. and gallant Friend makes a very interesting point, and again the issue is that we do not have a bureaucratic official standing over coroners. Inquests in the past, as the Opposition know, were not always as sympathetic towards military families as they might have been, and indeed they were not particularly good with the bereaved, so we are allowing the Lord Chief Justice to set mandatory training requirements for coroners and their officers, including training in respect of military inquests, and we think that that is the right way forward.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Last month I asked the former Secretary of State whether he had reviewed the Royal British Legion’s proposals to deliver a reformed coronial system at significantly lower cost than the Government estimate. He did not answer the question. May I once again give the Minister, under the direction of a new Secretary of State, the opportunity to put on the record his views about scrapping the office of chief coroner? Will the Minister support the Royal British Legion’s campaign?

Mr Robathan: I think that I am still a member of the Royal British Legion; I certainly have been, and I think that I paid my subscription this year.

I am a great supporter of the Legion. It is a fantastic organisation with fantastic people, but that does not mean that it is right about everything, and on this campaign it has rather overstated its case. It said in its briefing, which I have with me, that when asked in the street two thirds of people thought that a chief coroner was essential, but I ask all Members, “How many of

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their constituents do they think have heard of the chief coroner?” The answer is not two thirds of the population, I can promise you that much.

Libya (Aircraft Carrier Capability)

2. Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effects on operations in Libya of the unavailability of an aircraft carrier. [80069]

8. Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effects on operations in Libya of the unavailability of an aircraft carrier. [80076]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): Thanks to our overseas basing rights, the unavailability of a UK aircraft carrier had no significant effect on the UK’s participation in military operations over Libya. That was clearly demonstrated by the outstanding performance of our armed forces over and off the coast of Libya, and by the civilian and military staffs that supported them.

Difficult decisions had to be made by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), to whom I pay tribute, in order to deal with the black hole that we inherited from the previous Government. The decisions made in relation to carrier capability were painful, but they were the right ones in Britain’s long-term interests.

Mary Macleod: On my visits to RAF bases as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, air service personnel have raised concerns about the lack of availability of an aircraft carrier. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British contribution to the no-fly zone in Libya has demonstrated that we can still project air power effectively, despite having to accept a break in our carrier strike capability?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The performance of British forces in Operation Ellamy precisely demonstrated that we retain such a capability and, indeed, that the aircraft deployed were capable of carrying weapons such as Storm Shadow and the dual-mode Brimstone, which allowed us to deliver a precision response in Libya. That greatly reduced collateral damage and civilian casualties.

Penny Mordaunt: Does my right hon. Friend agree that carrier strike force is a fundamental capability that we must regenerate as it will provide future Governments with both a powerful deterrent and the flexibility to respond to any situation in the most efficient and effective way?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend suggests, the decision to regenerate the carrier capability at the end of the decade will give the United Kingdom a formidable capability in addition to the other capabilities it currently has to project force in areas of the world where basing and overflight rights may not be available. That will be a very welcome and important addition to our overall capability.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that Rosyth in my constituency does the refitting for the current carriers and that it is expected to do the refitting for future carriers that may be used in Libya-style operations. Will he confirm that, if there was a separate Scotland, the Ministry of Defence would have to look again at the long-term refitting options for our aircraft carriers?

Mr Hammond: I was not quite sure where that was going. The hon. Gentleman is of course right: it is unlikely Her Majesty’s forces would wish to use facilities in a fully independent Scotland in the way they would wish to use them within a United Kingdom.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Military action in Libya was, of course, supported in a non-partisan manner right across the House, but there will have been concern about the fact that, over the weekend, there were reports of military incidents in Libya. Will the Secretary of State give us an indication of the scale and extent of those incidents?

Mr Hammond: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a detailed report on the weekend’s news stories, but I can say that having provided the cover that allowed the Libyan people to liberate themselves from a brutal dictatorship that has tyrannised them for the best part of four decades, it is very much in our interests and it is our moral responsibility to help them to make the best of the opportunity they have created. We will be watching very carefully as the situation develops. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be keeping a very close eye on the situation, with a view to assisting in any way we can to ensure a satisfactory long-term outcome for the people of Libya.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the difference—the important distinction—between mounting a no-fly zone and mounting long-range bombing raids in active intervention in a civil war? The latter is what we did in the Libya campaign, and no one would have doubted we could do that from land bases. However, does he not appreciate that a no-fly zone, which involves lengthy routine patrols and the suppression of air defences over a long period, would have been far better mounted from aircraft carriers? It is very important that we do not draw the wrong conclusions from the slightly triumphalist tone that both he and the Prime Minister have adopted in this matter.

Mr Hammond: I hesitate to disagree with my hon. Friend because I know he is very knowledgeable about these matters and I am still a fair way down a steep learning curve. However, I have to say to him that, in the early phases of the Libya campaign, Typhoon operations were mounted in support of the no-fly zone with a view to potentially having to engage in air-to-air operations. From the briefing I have had, my understanding is that it is perfectly possible to mount such an operation from a base that is the distance that Gioia del Colle was from Libyan airspace. Clearly, my hon. Friend is right: if we were seeking to mount an air exclusion operation in a location that was much further away from friendly bases, there would be greater difficulties.

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Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As we have a base in Gibraltar, the use of a NATO base in southern Italy, and Cyprus, of course we can handle Libya from fixed bases. If we have a crisis anywhere else, such as a new Sierra Leone or a new Indonesia, where Royal Navy aircraft carriers went down to protect British forces, we would not be able to do that. Will the Secretary of State simply say that for the next 10 years we are no longer a maritime power in terms of air projection?

Mr Hammond: The right hon. Gentleman is overstating the case. The Government have been very clear that taking the tough decisions that have had to be taken to clear up the fantasy defence procurement programme we were left will leave us with some limitations in capability in the short to medium term. That is to be regretted, but it was necessary to put our defences on a stable and secure basis in the long term.

Terms of Business Agreement

3. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What the timetable is for the next terms of business agreement. [80070]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): The terms of business agreements are unique to the maritime sector and reflect our collaborative work with industry to transform the surface ship build and support, and submarine support, areas. The Department has separate TOBAs with BAE Systems Surface Ships and Babcock Marine, both of which are performing well and currently delivering savings in excess of their targeted benefits. These are 15-year agreements and we have not decided whether or how they will be replaced.

Oliver Colvile: I presume that, under those conditions, the Secretary of State has not had an opportunity to speak to any of the defence industries.

Peter Luff: We have not yet had any discussions with industry about how these arrangements will be carried forward in future—in some 14 years’ time. However, the TOBAs are performing very well and delivering savings in excess of their expected benefits. I promise my hon. Friend that we will talk very carefully to all those involved, including Plymouth city council and him, about any future arrangements when the time comes, but that is not quite yet, I fear.

EU Operational Headquarters

4. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): If he will make it his policy to oppose the creation of an EU operational headquarters. [80071]

10. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): If he will make it his policy to oppose the creation of an EU operational headquarters. [80078]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): It is the policy of this Government that NATO remain the cornerstone of UK defence. We see no justification whatsoever for a permanent EU military operational headquarters, and we will continue to oppose it. We have been clear that the establishment of a permanent

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operational headquarters would be a duplication of existing capability provided by NATO, would permanently dissociate the EU from NATO, and would be an unnecessary and unjustified use of resources.

Stephen Hammond: The lesson from recent military operations is that our operations with joint and existing allies have enabled military objectives to be achieved. The Secretary of State is clearly right that the proposal to create an EU headquarters would be a duplication, but would it not also curtail the involvement of some of our existing allies in military objectives that we may wish to undertake?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is exactly right. It would duplicate and undermine arrangements we have in place that have been demonstrated to be perfectly adequate.

Jason McCartney: Does my right hon. Friend agree that spending money that the EU does not have on these headquarters is an absurd waste that would also cause confusion in the military chain of command in terms of duplication of effort?

Mr Hammond: Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is something that we do not need and cannot afford, and that would be damaging to our overall military capability.

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Anglo-French defence accord has been a success, but let us not forget that it was largely negotiated under the previous Government. May I ask this Government whether other agreements are being discussed with other member states of the European Union?

Mr Hammond: On Wednesday I am going to meet my Nordic and Baltic counterparts, and I have already had discussions with my Italian counterpart. It will be the Government’s policy to seek bilateral arrangements with other European allies where it is appropriate and in the interests of both parties to collaborate.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I realise that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth), who is responsible for NATO matters, is not here, but I am sure that the Secretary of State can respond. I agree with response he gave to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). The Secretary of State is aware that Holland has withdrawn its main battle tank fleet and that Denmark is cutting its navy and ground-based air defences. These are just two examples of defence cuts among our European allies. As a nation, we are part of a European collective, but will he detail what work he and his ministerial colleagues are undertaking to ensure that NATO maintains a coherent capability?

Mr Hammond: I thank the hon. Gentleman for reiterating that there is cross-party support for resisting the temptation or blandishments for an EU operational headquarters. On ensuring that the European part of NATO remains effective, I again pay tribute to my predecessor, who never tired of exhorting our NATO allies to do their bit to maintain NATO effectiveness. I shall certainly continue in his footsteps.

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6. Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): What steps the Royal Navy is taking to tackle piracy off the horn of Africa. [80073]

13. Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What role he expects UK armed forces to play in the protection of naval vessels against piracy. [80081]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): The UK takes seriously efforts to tackle piracy off the horn of Africa and makes a direct contribution to a number of international efforts to counter piracy. We provide the operational headquarters and operational commander to the EU’s Operation Atalanta, we provide the deputy commander and HMS Somerset to the US-led combined maritime forces operation, and RFA Fort Victoria is currently under the command of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield. Successful naval efforts must be complemented by proactive measures by commercial shippers.

Mel Stride: I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensuring that our commercial vessels can carry armed guards. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that that will in no way diminish the assets of the Royal Navy that are applied to tracking down those involved in piracy?

Nick Harvey: Yes, I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that this move is in no way intended to be a substitute for action by the Royal Navy; it is an additional measure. No matter what degree of resource navies from around the world put into the counter-piracy effort, it would not be possible for there always to be a naval presence on hand when a ship is attacked. No ships that have had any sort of security or that have followed best practice have been pirated.

Mr Cunningham: Following the point made by the hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), has the Minister had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport on the arming of commercial vessels? Will he tell us a little more about that, because it should not be a substitute for the duties of the British Navy?

Nick Harvey: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been a lot of discussion between the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. Companies can apply for authorisation to carry firearms on ships. The Home Office will shortly issue guidance. Types of weapons will be considered on a case-by-case basis, but they will have to be appropriate and proportionate. Vessel owners will have a responsibility to ensure that guidance is followed, and necessary safeguards will have to be implemented.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): When were the rules of engagement for royal naval ships off the horn of Africa last reviewed, and when will they next be reviewed? Can we ensure that we are not tying the arms of our armed forces personnel behind their backs when they are fighting piracy?

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Nick Harvey: I assure my hon. Friend that the rules of engagement are kept permanently under review. Having looked closely at this issue, I am confident that we are not in any sense causing our people to fight with their hands tied behind their backs. The rules of engagement are, in my view, entirely appropriate to the task that they are being asked to perform.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) said that the Prime Minister stated two weeks ago that there would be draft regulations on proposals for arming British merchant-registered ships. Will the Minister confirm what the legal status of those individuals will be, what the rules of engagement will be and, more important, how they will interface with UK personnel who are already deployed off the horn of Africa?

Nick Harvey: I say again that the details of how this policy will work are a matter for the Home Office. It will shortly issue guidance that will cover some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The Home Office has taken a view on the legality of the policy and it is satisfied that it is legal within existing legislation. On the interface with the armed forces, the armed guards who might be carried on ships—that is a matter for the owners to decide—are there in a preventive capacity. The Royal Navy and other navies will continue to patrol the entire area. The focus of the military effort is to deter and disrupt. As I said a moment ago, it would not be possible, no matter how much resource navies were to deploy, always to have somebody there in a preventive capacity. All ships that have taken the necessary precautions have successfully prevented themselves from being pirated.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): To follow up the question on rules of engagement, will the Minister ensure that ours are as robust as possible and allow people defending ships to engage the enemy, or the pirates, at the maximum distance possible, to give those ships more time to take evasive action?

Nick Harvey: I say again that I am perfectly satisfied that the rules of engagement provide the armed forces with as much flexibility as they need to deal effectively with the situations that we expect them to find. I have to say that the UK has been pressing international allies for a bolder set of tactics, and we continue to press them to agree to that.


7. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Afghanistan. [80075]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): I have just returned from my first visit to Afghanistan as Secretary of State for Defence. The visit allowed me to see at first hand the fantastic job that our armed forces are doing on behalf of our country, and the progress that they are making both in reversing the momentum of the insurgency and in training the Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I assess that the security situation in central Helmand has improved,

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and that good progress is being made in both the number and capability of the Afghan national security forces.

Mr Bain: Given this morning’s disturbing report that the Taliban are attempting to procure the security arrangements for the forthcoming Loya Jirga, what assistance will the international security assistance force be able to provide to the Afghan security forces to ensure that those participating in that important event can do so free from attack and intimidation by the Taliban?

Mr Hammond: The Loya Jirga will take place in Kabul, and of course ISAF has considerable resources deployed there in support of the Afghan security forces. Also, many ISAF contributing nations have special forces operating in Afghanistan, working in collaboration with the Afghan special forces and special police. All those arrangements will help to ensure the security of the Loya Jirga.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend pay an especially warm tribute to the soldiers of the British Army, and those in other parts of the services, who are contributing so much to the training of Afghan forces? Has he decided in which particular areas we will specialise in training Afghans after 2015?

Mr Hammond: I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to British servicemen and women for their work in training and mentoring Afghan national security forces on the job. Looking forward, the Prime Minister has made a commitment that Britain will take the lead role in the Afghan national officer training academy, which will be established just outside Kabul and will train the bulk of officer recruits to the Afghan national security forces.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The progress at the operational level in central Helmand that the Secretary of State reports has been achieved by the bravery of troops, yes, but also by the fact that in the past year or so they have had sufficient troop density in the area of operations to carry out an effective counter-insurgency operation. Is he now taking decisions that will effectively widen the area of responsibility, but with the same number of troops? That will surely have an impact on force density, which will potentially undermine their ability to succeed in the way they have in the past couple of years.

Mr Hammond: The simple answer to the right hon. Gentleman is no. I understand very well the concern that he expresses. He is referring, I think, to stories about the level and speed of US Marine Corps withdrawal from central Helmand, and indeed from the wider Helmand area. We are very clear that it is the increased force density that has secured the success of the British mission, and we have no intention of allowing that force density to be diluted in a way that damages our future prospects of success.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Over recent years the Afghan national police have been regarded as a threat by the local population second only to the Taliban. Can my right hon. Friend say whether

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significant progress has been made in bringing the quality of the police up to that of the Afghan national army?

Mr Hammond: I believe that progress has been made. The composition of the Afghan national police is different from that of the Afghan national army in terms of the distribution of locally raised forces. There is a greater affinity between ANP forces and local people than between the army and local people, but there is still further work to do, and I fully recognise what my right hon. Friend says.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): We remain committed to the Afghan mission, and we now want to see military might matched by substantial political progress. The Secretary of State will know that reservists will play a bigger role in Afghanistan and beyond, which may require additional mandatory training. At a time when many reservists have lost their full-time jobs, the benefits system might be unintentionally penalising them and hindering their freedom to take on extra reservist training or allowances. It would be a disgrace if a single reservist lost a penny in benefits because of their service. Will the Secretary of State undertake a wider piece of work with the rest of Government and conduct an urgent review to ensure that our welfare state does not punish a single reservist?

Mr Hammond: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for again reasserting the cross-party support for the Afghan campaign, and he is right that reservists are playing an important part in it. Sadly, one of those killed in action most recently was a reservist serving his country.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces tells me that the problem the right hon. Gentleman raises is one that we are acutely alert to and aware of. There is work being done across Government to look at the problem and ensure that the concerns that he has raised are dealt with.

War Memorials

9. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to prevent the desecration of war memorials. [80077]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): War memorials provide a lasting and poignant reminder of all those who have served and died in the service of our country. Most right hon. and hon. Members will have attended a war memorial yesterday to pay their respects to the fallen, both in the first and second world wars and subsequently. It is shocking that memorials are being violated and vandalised in the manner that we have all read about. I support any plan to protect memorials, and I know that the Home Office and local authorities are committed to dealing with the problem.

Stephen Metcalfe: At this solemn time of year, when we remember those who fell to protect our freedoms, there is a small, despicable group of people who go round stealing metal from war memorials. What action are my right hon. Friend and his colleagues across Government taking to bring the full force of the law to bear on those individuals?

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Mr Robathan: For myself—I should say that I am not sure that this is Government policy—if they were caught, I would ensure that they received exemplary sentences, but that is a matter for my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. In the Ministry of Defence, the sponsored cadet forces are being encouraged to participate in project In Memoriam 2014. The project involves locating and logging the thousands of war memorials across the United Kingdom and marking them with SmartWater, a commercial product that should enable the metal components of war memorials to be forensically traced if they are stolen.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The desecration of war memorials is an appalling crime, condemned by Members in all parts of the House. Would the Minister be willing to meet representatives from SmartWater, which is based in my constituency? It is doing a tremendous job protecting metal on war memorials, as part of its wider social obligation to our communities. Would he be willing to meet SmartWater representatives to see what more we can do to protect memorials? All parts of the House would support such initiatives.

Mr Robathan: I would be very happy to hear their submission. I should point out that the something like 100,000 marvellous war memorials in this country are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The War Memorials Trust is doing excellent work on this, but if the hon. Gentleman writes to me, we shall see whether we can have a meeting, perhaps with one or two of the people responsible for the matter.

Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle

12. Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effects on (a) the Army and (b) UK industry of the capability sustainment programme for the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle. [80080]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): The £1 billion upgrade to the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle is an important step towards meeting the requirements for Future Force 2020. Warrior will remain the backbone of the infantry for the next 30 years. The upgrade represents a step change in capability, ensuring that our forces are equipped to counter the threats of the future. UK industry will benefit from the creation and sustainment of some 600 British jobs within prime contractor Lockheed Martin UK and its supply chain, sustaining both skills and capability within the UK’s armoured vehicle sector.

Jack Lopresti: I would like to thank my hon. Friend for his answer and to welcome the announced upgrade that will provide our forces with state-of-the-art firepower for the next 25 or 30 years, but will he also ensure that our troops have the kit they need when they need it to do their job as effectively and as safely as possible?

Peter Luff: I am certainly happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. I pay tribute to his constituents for playing their part in ensuring that that is achieved both at Thales, which is making the battle group thermal imager for the upgrade and at Defence Equipment and

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Support itself. I met many staff at Ampthill a week or so ago to celebrate the great success of the Warrior upgrade programme.


14. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of the UK’s operations in Libya. [80082]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): Our estimate on 12 October was that the net additional cost of operations in Libya would be £160 million. Our estimate at the same date of the cost of replenishing munitions used in Libya was £140 million. That estimate assumed that operations would continue until the end of December. We are currently calculating a new estimate based on the actual end of operations on 31 October, and I expect to make a further statement in early December. I expect the new estimate to be lower than the one previously given.

Andrew Selous: Given Libya’s vast oil wealth, does the Secretary of State think it might be appropriate in due course for Libya to make some form of compensatory payment to the United Kingdom for those costs incurred?

Mr Hammond: The UK’s motivation in intervening and playing a leading role in the Libya campaign was not based on an expectation of financial reimbursement; it was to prevent a humanitarian disaster and to protect the vital interests of this country. The Libyan situation, as hon. Members have already pointed out, remains fragile and our first priority is to assist the Libyan people and the Libyan Government in stabilising the situation. Seeking financial reimbursement is not a current priority.


15. Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of equipment supplied to troops in Afghanistan. [80083]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): The provision of equipment for our forces in Afghanistan is regularly reviewed, with new equipment and capabilities being developed and delivered in response to emerging requirements. The military assessment is that our forces are now being provided with the equipment they need to undertake the tasks they are doing and that no missions are being compromised by the inadequacy or unavailability of equipment. Having met both 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade after their respective tours in Afghanistan, I know that that view is shared by those on the front line who actually use the equipment.

Margot James: I thank the Minister for his response. There has been much criticism of the kit supplied to front-line troops, particularly those on foot patrol in Afghanistan. Will he advise us of any improvements made specifically for those troops on foot patrol to mitigate these threats?

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Peter Luff: As I said in my original answer, constant improvements are being made. One of the two that I would highlight has already happened—tier 1 and tier 2 pelvic protection against blast, which is being well received by our own armed services and is now being emulated by the Americans. Secondly, for the future, there is the provision of the light protected patrol vehicle, Foxhound, which will come into service in the early part of next year.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What proposals does the Minister have to improve the equipment that will reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries among British troops dealing with improvised explosive devices and bombs?

Peter Luff: I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that the third layer of pelvic protection—the tier 3 protection—does precisely that. I can reassure him that work is being done constantly to ensure that those very brave operatives have access to the best possible equipment to do their important task. It is important that they are allowed to disassemble IEDs because they provide vital clues about the tactics of the enemy, which helps prevent further deaths among the widest number of forces serving in Afghanistan.

Service Families (Education)

16. Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): How many children received support through the additional pupil premium for children of service families in the latest period for which figures are available. [80084]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): Some 45,000 service children have been recorded as eligible for the service child pupil premium in 2011-12. We are working to encourage service families to complete the annual school census so that their children and their schools can benefit from this additional payment to recognise the uniqueness of service life.

Stephen Mosley: There are currently 134 children from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh in eight Chester schools, but parents and teachers seem unsure about the purpose and use of the pupil premium in their schools. What has the Minister done to raise awareness of the actions that the Government have taken to support service children?

Mr Robathan: This is a new initiative. We want to raise awareness, and anything that my hon. Friend can do to help in that regard will be very welcome. We have set aside £9 million this year for the pupil premium, and have also set aside £3 million specifically for schools that take a large number of service pupils and may be experiencing problems. We have invited them to apply for the money, but may I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that they look up the details on the Department for Education’s website and then apply?

Defence Manufacturing

17. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to support strategically important defence manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom. [80085]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): The Ministry of Defence’s first responsibility when procuring equipment is to provide the armed forces with the capabilities that they require when they need them, in an affordable and sustainable way. The forthcoming White Paper will set out our approach to acquiring technology, equipment and support for our armed forces, and will explain how we will take action to protect our operational advantages and freedom of action where that is essential for national security.

Diana Johnson: I think that all Members will recognise the vital strategic importance of having defence production lines in the United Kingdom, as well as the importance of rebalancing the economy through modern manufacturing jobs, private sector jobs and jobs in the regions. What is the Minister doing to protect the skilled jobs and apprenticeships that are likely to go at BAE Systems in Brough? Those workers will find out on Boxing day whether their jobs are going to disappear. What is the Minister doing about it?

Peter Luff: I have to disappoint the hon. Lady, because decisions about where redundancies fall must be made by defence companies and not by Ministers. I understand her concern about what has happened at Brough, and she will understand what BAE Systems said, in public, about the underlying reasons for the changes. [Interruption.] I can answer the sedentary question from those on the Opposition Front Bench by saying that the White Paper, which will set out our approach in more detail and will help hon. Lady to understand the issues more fully, will be published next month.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I fully understand the difficult balance that my hon. Friend is trying to strike between securing the best value for our forces and protecting key capabilities, but may I urge him to look carefully at French industrial strategy? When we are collaborating with a country that has an activist industrial policy, there is a real danger that our procurement policy will end up following French industrial strategy unless we are fully aware of what is happening on the other side.

Peter Luff: Some Members may well find themselves in considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. Let me simply say that when I engage in discussions with my French opposite numbers, such issues are always at the forefront of my mind, and they will continue to be so—for instance, at the summit that is to be held in December.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the global financial crisis is causing a number of nations to take defence work back in-house, partly in order to protect their own work forces. Others, such as Italy, are seeking to renegotiate contracts, which is leaving UK firms of all sizes open to potential job losses. The Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) provided no reassurance that the Government were doing everything that should be done to protect British business overseas. In fact, what we heard was far from reassuring: it was about passing the

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buck back to industry. Will the Minister please reassure us that he will do all that can be done to support British industry?

Peter Luff: With respect, the hon. Lady’s question is rather different from the one asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). When it comes to helping British businesses overseas, I think that this Government’s track record compares very favourably indeed with that of the lot opposite when they were in power, and I am happy to tell them that the reason the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth)—the Minister responsible for international security strategy—is not present today is that he is at the Dubai air show doing precisely that. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Japan a couple of weeks ago, making the case for the Eurofighter Typhoon. We are doing a very good job speaking up for British industry overseas: a damn sight better job than the Opposition did.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): One of the most important defence manufacturing businesses in the UK is BAE Systems in Warton, which is in my constituency and is the home of the Typhoon. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s efforts to support that world-leading product?

Peter Luff: We are working strenuously to support the product, although I think that in many senses it speaks for itself. What we are doing is ensuring that the wider world recognises the outstanding performance of the Eurofighter Typhoon in the activities over Libya, where it has shown itself to be superior in all respects to every other aircraft in the world today. That is the message that we are taking to India and Japan, and that we are delivering in our many other export campaigns. I am hopeful that we will achieve success in many of them, for the aircraft certainly deserves that success.


18. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What steps his Department is taking in co-operation with other countries to develop future defence initiatives against Iran and to prevent the build-up of that country's nuclear weapons technology. [80086]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): The MOD conducts contingency planning for numerous possible scenarios around the world. However, the UK continues to work with other countries to achieve a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We want a negotiated solution, not a military one, but all options should be kept on the table.

Mr Hollobone: Do the recent visits by the Chief of the Defence Staff to Tel Aviv and the Israeli Defence Minister to London suggest that Her Majesty’s Government are seeking a closer defence relationship with Israel, with Iran at the top of the agenda?

Nick Harvey: The recent visit to Israel by the Chief of the Defence Staff was part of his long-standing programme of visits. He visited both Israel and the occupied west bank, he was able to speak to both the Israeli chief of

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staff and the Palestinian Prime Minister, and he assessed for himself the security concerns at first hand and urged the two sides to resume direct talks. I have no doubt that during his visit he also discussed the wider security implications in the region.

Topical Questions

T1. [80093] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): My departmental responsibilities are to ensure that our country is properly defended, now and in the future; that our service personnel have the right equipment and training to allow them to succeed in their military tasks; and that we honour our armed forces covenant. In order to discharge those responsibilities, it is necessary to ensure that the Department has a properly balanced budget and a programme that is affordable and sustainable in the medium to long term.

Mr Cunningham: What progress has been made with the Indian Government on the Typhoon deal?

Mr Hammond: As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), just said, UK Ministers have been assiduous over the past few weeks in promoting the case for the Typhoon in India and in other countries that are considering the purchase of new fast jets. We understand that there is likely to be an announcement in the next few weeks on the decision made by the Indian Government.

T2. [80094] Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply irresponsible for certain elements of the press to print untrue scaremongering stories about the future treatment of our armed forces personnel, especially over the Remembrance day weekend?

Mr Hammond: I agree with my hon. Friend. The story that has been running this weekend has been deeply unhelpful to morale in our armed forces, and is based on untruths and misconceptions. There has been no change in the Government’s position on the number of Army posts that will go over the remainder of the decade and no change in the procedure for exempting those recovering from injuries incurred on active service from the redundancy process.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): We fully understand why the dedicated international security Minister is not with us today, but can the Secretary of State not come to a conclusion where he makes this temporary absence permanent and cuts the number of Ministers at the MOD? This is nothing personal against the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth)—he is a good man, he works hard and I am not suggesting that he should be sacked in his absence. However, the Levene review recommended a head count reduction in MOD Ministers and, at a time when the Army is being cut by almost by 20,000 and the Air Force and the Navy by

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almost 5,000 each, why is it that the only place in the MOD exempt from head count reduction is the ministerial offices?

Mr Hammond: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the appointment of Ministers is a matter for the Prime Minister. But I cannot help noticing that the Leader of the Opposition does not appear to have taken note of the right hon. Gentleman’s self-denying recommendations.

T3. [80095] Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need for sustainability. Will he therefore confirm to the House that he will continue the good work of his predecessor in implementing the whole of the Levene recommendations?

Mr Hammond: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have been through the body of recommendations that Lord Levene made and that were endorsed by my predecessor. I am happy with them as a whole and I will pursue their implementation.

T8. [80100] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): The British Legion’s money advice service helped more than 3,000 service families with unsecured-loan problems last year. Today’s Daily Mirror reports that firms such as QuickQuid are targeting military personnel and charging annual rates of more than 1,000%. According to the Daily Mirror, the Minister has never heard of payday loans, so how will he stop those get-rich-quick merchants ripping off our service families?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): May I counsel the hon. Gentleman? In no circumstances should he believe everything that he reads in the Daily Mirror . However, in response to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) who referred to payday loans on Thursday, I made the point that the issue had never been raised with me.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): You said that you had never heard of them.

Mr Robathan: I do wish that the hon. Gentleman would be quiet. I had indeed never heard of them, because the issue is not something that has come across my desk. However, I deprecate these ridiculous, high-interest loans, which are appalling. They are not something that we find in the chain of command. It is true that the Royal British Legion does an excellent job in helping families and, indeed, ex-service personnel when they get into trouble with debt.

T4. [80096] Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): Will my hon. Friend tell the House how many force elements at readiness the joint Harrier force had at the time of the strategic defence and security review, and what his assessment was of the number of trained pilots and the force’s ability to conduct strike operations?

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): At the time of the SDSR, there were eight qualified Harrier pilots trained to operate off an aircraft carrier, only one of whom was trained to do so under night-flying conditions. The previous Government envisaged that the Harrier force would be worked up to support a small-scale

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contingent operation by the end of 2011. The Harrier force did not have the ability to have conducted both the Afghanistan and the Libya commitments at the same time. Indeed, my advice is that it would have taken 18 months to regenerate the Harrier force to support operations in Afghanistan alone.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): In recent weeks, BAE Systems has made it absolutely clear that the reason that there are 3,000 job losses is the slow-down in the Eurofighter order. In the light of that, can the Secretary of State clarify the Chancellor’s comments to the House on 1 November? When asked about job losses by the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who is in his place, he replied that the job losses reflect the fact that

“the US defence budget had an impact on BAE Systems.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2011; Vol. 534, c. 758.]

Will the Secretary of State clarify which UK-US defence cuts the Chancellor was referring to?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): The F-35 joint strike fighter slow-down.

T5. [80097] Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): There are reports that the Department’s medal review has been stopped and that an independent review will now commence. Can the Minister assure me that that will not cause further delays to veterans, such as those of the Arctic convoys, in getting a decision and that no service personnel facing redundancy will miss out on the diamond jubilee medal?

Mr Robathan: Two questions for the price of one. A review of medals is indeed ongoing. It has not yet been finalised. When it is finalised, it will be put before the House in the normal way. No one who is eligible for the diamond jubilee medal on the correct date, which is, I think, 6 February this coming year, will be affected by compulsory redundancy because the qualification date will be before anyone is made compulsorily redundant, although, of course, if they have not done five years on that date, they will not qualify for the medal.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Concern has been expressed about Army recruitment in Swansea because Territorial Army pay is taken off the benefits of Territorial Army personnel, thus undermining demand from those people who are not working to join the Territorial Army. Will the Minister talk to the other Departments involved to try to reconcile that problem?

Mr Philip Hammond: The hon. Gentleman was dozing earlier, but the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) asked precisely that question, and I was able to reassure him, first, that we are very much aware of the issue and, secondly, that a piece of cross-departmental work is going on to ensure that the negative effects that he suggests do not in fact materialise.

T6. [80098] Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend consider introducing legislation to allow councils to give council tax discounts to servicemen returning from duty? At the moment, although that is possible, it is very difficult for them to do so.

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Mr Robathan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. It is within the powers of any local authority to give a discount on council tax, should it wish to do so. I would welcome that if it improves the lot of our service personnel returning from operations.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): If, in the near future, Members of the other place decide once again to remove the chief coroner from the Public Bodies Bill, the Government will clearly have to think again. In those circumstances, will the Secretary of State stand up for the bereaved families of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and encourage the Justice Secretary to adopt the affordable alternative put forward by the Royal British Legion?

Mr Robathan: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was not here or was dozing earlier, but I answered the question—[Interruption.] What I can say to him is that we absolutely care for the bereaved families. That is one of our highest priorities, and rightly so. We wish to ensure that they get decent services inquests, and that is what we are doing. I point out gently to him that it was under the previous Administration that there were problems with inquests.

T7. [80099] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): My family, like many other fans of the Red Arrows, were deeply saddened by the recent tragic loss of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps are being taken to investigate that tragic incident fully and to ensure that similar tragedies are avoided in the future?

Nick Harvey: I can assure my hon. Friend that in addition to a service inquiry, the Military Aviation Authority is conducting a detailed analysis of what went wrong. In the meantime, we have grounded aircraft using the same ejector system, but not those that are currently on front-line operations.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What specific new powers are to be given to local authorities to provide affordable accommodation for service families?

Mr Robathan: The hon. Gentleman raised the matter on Thursday. Only last night the Minister for Housing and Local Government was on television making the point that we are very keen that people returning from operations or from abroad and moving into their home area where they have not lived for some time should have priority in council housing. That is, of course, the responsibility of local authorities, but we are working hard with them to get them to take note that somebody who has been away for six years may be a resident of Islwyn, even if he has been living somewhere else for the past six years.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): This is the first chance I have had to welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his post, which I do with the greatest pleasure and the utmost confidence. Since the Atlanta games there has been an internationally accepted minimal level of protection for the Olympics. Will he confirm to the House that there will be a full range of multilayered defence and deterrence for the London games, including ground-to-air missiles in London?

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Mr Philip Hammond: I thank my right hon. Friend for his generous words. I can assure him that all necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of the London Olympic games will be taken, including—if the advice of the military is that it is required—appropriate ground-to-air defences.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to have raised the consciousness of the Minister about payday loans in our debate last Thursday, and I am pleased to hear his words of condemnation today. May I press him to go a little further? Will he write to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to back calls for a cap on the cost of credit to protect our forces families, so that he can turn his outrage into action?

Mr Robathan: As I said to the hon. Lady on Thursday, I am already investigating the matter, although I make the point again that it has not been raised with me in the past 18 months that this is an issue with service personnel. I think it is an issue, obviously, because the hon. Lady raised it. It is not my responsibility to write to BIS, but if, in the course of investigations, it appears that that is affecting service personnel, I shall certainly take it up with BIS, as I agree with her—surprisingly—that the rates of interest are ridiculously high and should be capped.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Does the Minister understand that any satisfaction there may be in Scotland about the announcement of Army units to be deployed at RAF Kinloss is more than tempered by severe disappointment in my constituency that no such similar announcements have been made in respect of RAF Leuchars? Promises have been made. Is it not time we were told how these promises are to be implemented and some guarantees were given?

Nick Harvey: The announcement in the House on 19 July explained the broad strategic direction that will be taken on rebasing. As far as the particulars of RAF Leuchars or any other base are concerned, further work is currently under way on the detailed site-by-site analysis, but there is a further complication, as the Army is currently conducting a large piece of work on its future shape and structure, so we will not come to any final decisions on basing until that work is concluded, which we expect to be early next year.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The full unit establishment total at RAF Kinloss was about 1,500 posts and the annual gross wage contribution to the local economy was £54.5 million. The planned relocation of 930 Army engineers to Kinloss is welcome, but what economic assessment has been made of their relocation?

Nick Harvey: The decision to move Army units to Kinloss was taken on the basis of military efficiency. I acknowledge that the number of personnel will be slightly smaller than the number who were there previously, but the fact is that the decision was dictated by military considerations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents will welcome the Army into their community and be grateful for the contribution they make to the local economy

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Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): I remind the House of my interests. In the light of the proposed future utilisation of reserves, does the Minister anticipate any need to change their terms and conditions of service?

Mr Robathan: May I first pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend, who continues to serve in the Territorial Army, for which I am grateful? As he knows, there are concerns following the Future Reserve 2020 study, which we are concentrating on, such as the under-recruitment of young officers into the TA, which is extremely important. We are yet to decide on changes to terms and conditions. People join initially for patriotic reasons of service, and secondly, quite rightly, for adventure, excitement and such reasons, but we must of course get the terms and conditions right because finance is also important. We are looking at that closely.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): May I return to the issue of housing? Two weeks ago I was visited by a soldier who is to be invalided out of the Army. He has served in Afghanistan and elsewhere and has local relatives, yet the London borough of Hillingdon is contesting its responsibility to house him. I ask the Minister to liaise with the Minister for Housing and Local Government to get specific advice or instructions on local connection rapidly to local authorities so that they cannot use it to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

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Mr Robathan: I am sorry to hear about that case. If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me about it, I will certainly take it up with the London borough of Hillingdon. It is a great pity—I put it no more strongly—that some local authorities do not take sufficient care in their responsibility towards the armed forces. We are setting up community covenants, which many local authorities are taking up. They are about local authorities liaising with the military so that they take in people such as his constituent and give them priority when they need it.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): A recent ActionAid survey found that 86% of Afghan women worry about the return of a Taliban-style Government when international troops leave. What will the Ministry of Defence do in the lead-up to the planned withdrawal of troops in 2014 to ensure that we leave as a legacy an Afghanistan where there is safety and security for women as well as for men?

Mr Philip Hammond: It is absolutely clear that for Afghanistan to have a stable and sustainable future there must be an inclusive political settlement, and that is this Government’s policy. That means including all the ethnic groups within Afghanistan and ensuring the participation of women in Afghani society. That is the direction of the Government’s policy that we will pursue vigorously.

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Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I bring to your attention the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves)—I have notified them in advance—and seek your guidance on whether a breach of the code of conduct might have occurred during the passage of the Pensions Bill? This follows—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for advance notice of his purported point of order, a welcome courtesy that might not have helped his cause. If, as I believe to be the case, he wishes to raise a matter relating to the code of conduct—

Mr Burley indicated assent .

Mr Speaker: I am grateful for his nod of assent. He should raise such a matter with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and not—I underline not—as I have had occasion to say before, as a point of order for me.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister both asserted on more than one occasion in the House that their relaxation of border controls had not meant that any passengers arriving in the United Kingdom were at any point waved through without even rudimentary checks. However, I have incontrovertible new evidence that that is precisely what happened under a new general aviation policy that started earlier this year. Not only were passports not swiped and the warnings index not checked, but passengers were passed through without even being seen. I have also seen new evidence that the Government have statistics on how often—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is an extremely experienced Member, and he will know that matters of genuine contention and debate cannot be matters on which the Chair will rule. If he wants to avail himself of the mechanisms available to him through the Table Office and the other means by which he can draw his concerns to the attention of the House and seek to probe Ministers, I think that it would be best for him to do that first. In this case, I do not have the advantage of prior knowledge of the detailed content of his point of order—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am not complaining about that; the hon. Gentleman is not guilty of any impropriety. It is no good people going “Ah!” as though I have made some dramatic disclosure. However, I have to make a judgment as to whether this matter warrants the further attention of the House now, and on the basis of the information available to me, my judgment is that it does not.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Various journalists were sent an e-mail from the Ministry of Defence last Wednesday at 6.13 pm informing them of the details of the planned troop deployment to the Kinloss base in Moray. The 930 Army engineering posts at Kinloss, although about 41% lower than the full RAF unit establishment total, will be welcome, but the Ministry of Defence first informed

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me, as a constituency Member, of the decision in a letter from the Armed Forces Minister via an e-mail some 15 hours later, at 9.06 on Thursday morning. Despite my e-mailing him back immediately to ask why the media had been informed some 15 hours in advance, I have yet to have a reply. Mr Speaker, do you agree that it is totally unacceptable for the MOD to operate in this way?

Mr Speaker: I am not sure that I can provide the hon. Gentleman with the satisfaction he seeks on the basis of what I have heard. He has taken this opportunity to put his concern on record, and I do not think that I need to take the matter further—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman is gesticulating at those on the Treasury Bench, using fulsome hand gestures in the process, but the Minister is under no obligation to respond. I would say, for the benefit of those who are interested in our proceedings, that this is not an occasion for debate. These are narrow matters of points of order for the Chair, and that is why I have ruled as I have done.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Please could the House have your ruling on the implications of the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the Department of Health has twice unlawfully withheld key risk indicators relating to the Government’s health reforms and to the Health and Social Care Bill? Can you advise the House on whether the Department’s action was unlawful, as stated by the Information Commissioner, and whether it should also be treated as contempt of Parliament, given that the information was sought through written questions from right hon. and hon. Members, and was withheld during the First, Second and Third Readings of the Bill in this House as well as during its unprecedented two Committee stages?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. On his first question about the action being unlawful, I will not respond, as it is not the job of the Speaker to rule on such matters. On his second point on the issue of contempt, this is in effect a complaint relating to privilege, which cannot be raised first on the Floor of the House. He should write to me if he wishes to pursue the matter. On the question of any further scrutiny, that is very much dependent on proceedings in the Lords, on which the Public Bill Office can advise. I think that I shall leave the matter there for today.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Procedure Committee is very willing to consider references to it of questions that have not been answered. Perhaps hon. Members will wish to know that no such references have been made recently and that we are looking forward to receiving them.

Mr Speaker: As ever, the hon. Gentleman has proved to be most helpful. His enthusiasm for consideration of these matters is widely known in all parts of the House.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Education Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 8 February 2011 (Education Bill (Programme)):

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Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 10.00 pm at this day’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mr Gibb.)

Question agreed to.

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Education Bill

Co nsideration of Lords amendments

Mr Speaker: I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 16, 23, 34, 36, 37, 40, 41 and 43.

Clause 8

Functions of Secretary of State in relation to teachers

3.41 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 18.

Lords amendment 19, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 20 to 22.

Lords amendment 23, and amendment (b) thereto.

Lords amendment 24, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 25 and 26.

Lords amendment 27, and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.

Lords amendments 30 to 35, 37, 38, 40 to 42, 44 to 46 and 72 to 98.

Mr Gibb: It is with great pleasure that I bring the Education Bill back before the House. It received detailed scrutiny here in the spring, in the course of 22 Committee sittings, before it went off to the other place. Their lordships have given it the full benefit of their diligence and expertise and I am pleased to say that its core content is as it was when it left this House. Before I address the amendments, it might be helpful if I briefly remind the House of the core content. Its main purpose is to give legislative effect to the proposals in the education White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, published last November. It also contains some measures from the Department for Business Innovations and Skills, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will discuss in due course.

The Bill has four main themes. First, it seeks to give teachers and head teachers greater freedom and flexibility to use their judgment and expertise to get the best results for their pupils. International evidence shows that greater school autonomy characterises the best performing education systems. The Bill seeks to remove unnecessary legislative duties from schools and extends the benefits of the academies programme to 16 to 19-year-old pupils and vulnerable pupils in need of alternative provision.

Secondly, the Bill seeks to strengthen the powers and authority of teachers in relation to classroom discipline. We want all children to be educated in a safe environment that is free from disruption and we want all teachers and prospective teachers to feel confident that they have society’s backing in tackling poor behaviour. The Bill will allow same-day after-school detentions and will provide a power to search pupils for any item likely to cause harm or injury. It will also give teachers pre-charge anonymity when faced with an allegation by a pupil that they have committed an offence.

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Thirdly, the Bill matches the increased autonomy it seeks to introduce with sharpened accountability and seeks to focus Ofsted inspections on the four most important aspects of a school’s work. It will require Ofqual, the independent regulator, to secure that the standards of English qualifications are comparable with the best in the world, and it will strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in poorly performing schools. It will abolish five arm’s length bodies to reduce wasteful duplication and will ensure that there is accountability to Parliament, through the Secretary of State, for functions that need to be carried out nationally.

Fourthly, the Bill seeks to promote greater fairness in the context of current fiscal constraints. It will give disadvantaged two-year-olds an entitlement to free early-years provision, and for new higher education students it will enable the new student finance arrangements to come into force.

There have been a relatively small number of technical and drafting amendments, but their Lordships have also made a number of substantive amendments to improve the Bill, and I shall now explain them.

3.45 pm

The first four of the amendments made in the other place were all made at the request of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a new power to make interim prohibition orders. That power was always intended for use in the very rare cases where it is in the public interest to bar an individual from teaching while investigation into their conduct is under way, prior to a final decision. Lords amendments 1 to 4 insert into the Bill the planned safeguards for the use of this power. Therefore, regulations would require the Secretary of State to make an interim prohibition order only where he or she considers it necessary in the public interest to do so. The regulations would also require the Secretary of State to review the order every six months if the teacher concerned applies for such a review.

The teacher anonymity provisions in clause 13 are important and sensitive measures. They give teachers protection against the damage to their lives and careers that can result from pre-charge publicity about allegations made by pupils against them. They are one part of the Government’s proposals to back teachers’ authority in the classroom.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Were the Government able to provide any further evidence in the Lords as to the prevalence of such allegations and what proportion of them were found to be malicious?

Mr Gibb: I thought the hon. Gentleman supported these proposals. He will be aware that the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT have compiled figures on such allegations against teachers. The NUT estimates there are about 200 a year, and we gave evidence to the Lords of at least 15 cases in the last few years where there were damaging local reports and publicity about the allegations before charges were brought.

Kevin Brennan: The Minister is right that the Opposition have supported these proposals, but they must also be carefully scrutinised for any possible unforeseen

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consequences. That has been done very effectively in the Commons in Committee and also in the Lords. Is it correct that in the Lords the Government accepted that about 2% of such allegations had turned out to be malicious?

Mr Gibb: Yes, of course, but we are talking about the effect on individuals, and if there is just one case of someone suffering such publicity about what turns out to be a false allegation, that is one case too many, as such allegations can have devastating consequences on teachers both socially and career-wise. The publicity that just one such case receives also reverberates throughout the teaching profession, undermining teachers’ morale and making them unduly cautious about maintaining discipline in our classrooms. If we are interested in the welfare of pupils in our schools, we have to make sure they are taught in ordered and safe environments, free from bullying and other disruptive activities.

I thought, however, that the hon. Gentleman was concerned in Committee less about the prevalence of such allegations and more about the question of whether these provisions should be extended to other sectors of the workforce. We have proceeded extremely cautiously, taking into account the fact that we must preserve press freedom as well as the integrity of teachers and their being innocent until proven otherwise.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, I am sympathetic to the Government’s intentions in this regard as well, but I am concerned about press freedom and I would be grateful if he could set out the case for teachers alone being given this exemption from publicity. Such allegations could be equally devastating to members of a different profession. Might this provision prove to be the thin end of the wedge in that there could be a great deal more press censorship and the public will not be able to know about allegations made against people in their local community?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Education Committee, makes a good point, but teachers are very much on the front line of maintaining discipline in the classroom. We conducted a survey of 116 local authority designated officers—LADOs—and its findings support the view that teachers are particularly vulnerable to false allegations. Some 23% of allegations against staff in all sectors were made against teachers, and almost half of those were found to be unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded. The proportion that related to other staff in schools was significantly low: from recollection I think that it was about 14%, compared with the 23% that applied to teachers.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister may recall that in the previous Parliament the Committee looked intensively at that very area, and I support much of what he says, but in that context we made a range of recommendations to ensure that teachers were protected from false allegations, and that head teachers knew what they were doing. Few head teachers confront the situation very often, but very often they suspend people unnecessarily and start the problem running in the first place. We recommended that a code of conduct should be at the heart of the change.

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Mr Gibb: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and with the excellent work that he carried out when he was the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee and the Children, Schools and Families Committee in the previous Parliament. We have looked at the whole process of investigating teachers when they are subject to such allegations, and we are changing the guidance so that there is not a default position of automatic suspension once an accusation is made. We have also been speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers about the speed of investigations, because we cannot have teachers waiting months or years before allegations are investigated and settled. We want to speed up the process, to remove the automatic and default position of suspension and to enable teachers to continue to have a connection with the school during the course of any allegation, so that they do not feel isolated while the process is under way.

Mr Sheerman: Is it not a fact, however, that the current Chairman of the Education Committee might have a much rosier view of the British press than I do? Anyone who listened to Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning will have heard one of The Sun newspaper’s most senior journalists say that there should be no reform of British press regulation. If the hon. Gentleman has that rosy view of the press, I certainly want to put it on the record that I do not share it.

Mr Gibb: I really do not want to intervene or interfere in this debate between two such august hon. Gentlemen, but we have been careful to tread warily between the two interests: the interest of protecting teachers from the full force of false allegations before they are proven or charges are brought, and from the publicity that might accompany them, and the important interest of protecting press freedom. We are treading cautiously, and that is why we have not extended the measure to other parts of the children’s work force. We want to see how it works in the first instance before making any further decisions.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) made the case for providing protection to groups other than teachers, but he accepted our cautious and targeted approach and suspected that the clause, even in its narrow form, might attract the close attention of, as he put it,

“people more erudite and noble than ourselves”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 557.]

He has been proven correct, but I am pleased to say that the substance of the provision returns to the House intact and with three important improvements. First, through amendment 5, the clause now makes it clear that tentative allegations that a teacher may be guilty of an offence should be treated in the same way as firmer allegations that they are guilty. That was always our intention because even—or, indeed, especially—tentative allegations can have a damaging effect on the teachers involved.

Secondly, through amendment 7, the clause now makes it clear that a judge who is considering an application for reporting restrictions to be lifted should take account of the welfare of both the teacher who is the subject of the allegation and the pupil or pupils who are the alleged victims. We will ensure through amendment 11 that where a teacher decides to identify himself or

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herself publicly as the subject of an allegation, reporting restrictions are lifted altogether. It is right that if a teacher effectively waives their right to anonymity by, for instance, writing in a newspaper about an allegation, others can also join the public debate.

The noble Lords echoed this House’s concern about clause 30, which would have removed schools and colleges from the duty to co-operate with local partners. My noble Friend Lord Hill met a number of peers during the summer to discuss the matter further and he then discussed the outcome of those conversations with me and the Secretary of State. We accept that retaining the duty would provide continuity while we implement the proposals of the Green Paper, “Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.” That point was made forcefully in Committee. In another place, Lord Hill introduced amendments 18, 19 and 42 to remove from the Bill clause 30 and the related clause 31.

Kevin Brennan: When we were in Committee, I recall the Minister saying that he regarded the duty to co-operate as an “unnecessary prescription” on schools—[ Interruption. ] Perhaps that is the Secretary of State ringing up his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) to give him the answer. In Committee, the Minister also said:

“It is not appropriate to delay removing that burden”—

that unnecessary prescription—

from schools.”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 29 March 2011; c. 729.]

What points did Lord Hill make in the Lords that were different from those made in the Commons and how did that persuade the Minister to change his mind? Secondly, is this a temporary conversion or does he intend to remove the duty to co-operate at some further stage?

Mr Gibb: We were never against co-operation. It is very important that schools, academies and free schools continue to co-operate with other state bodies, locally and nationally, that affect children. That was our reason for removing the prescriptive duty. A number of changes are happening in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill and the SEN Green Paper and, having considered the matter further and reflected upon it, it is better to maintain the duty until deliberations over those measures are complete and until decisions about the SEN Green Paper have been taken.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Although some of us are very focused on the duty of schools to co-operate with the local authority, some of us are focused on local authorities’ duty to co-operate with academies and free schools. Will my hon. Friend advise me what in the Bill will enable us to be sure that local authorities provide the same extent of co-operation to free schools and academies as they do to maintained schools?

Mr Speaker: In responding to his hon. Friend, I know that the Minister will not wish to be led astray and that he will have at the forefront of his mind the fact that he should focus on the merits or otherwise not of the Bill as a whole, but of Lords amendment 1.

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Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Co-operation is important, whether it is with children’s trust boards or from local authorities with other elements of the education world, such as free schools and academies. Local authorities that undermine or try to undermine the establishment of new schools that are demanded by parents in that local authority will find their opinions and actions challenged at election time. For a school to be approved by the Secretary of State as a new free school, it has to demonstrate parental demand. It is not in the interests of a local authority not to co-operate when a group of parents, a group of teachers or others are seeking to establish a free school in its area.

4 pm

I know that Labour Members wish to raise a particular concern about admissions, but I thought that it would be useful at this stage for me to explain changes made in the other place. Since we last met, the consultation on the revised admissions codes has closed. The new codes keep protections for those with special educational needs and vulnerable groups. We have expanded on this for children who were in public care—looked after—and have since been adopted. When they are adopted, they will retain their priority status in the admissions arrangements. We are also going to make things simpler for all parents by having a national offer day for primary schools.

The changes we are making on admissions are modest, and the changes made in the other place have been correspondingly so. First, under amendments 21 and 22, local authorities’ annual reports will continue to go to the schools adjudicator in addition to being published locally. Secondly, under amendment 23, a new clause will allow anyone—absolutely anyone—to object to the adjudicator about school admission arrangements. This builds on our decision to bring complaints about admission arrangements at academies and free schools into the remit of the schools adjudicator—a popular move in this House when we last discussed it. My noble Friend Lord Hill made a further commitment that will be of interest to this House. In Committee, the hon. Member for Cardiff West expressed concern about the possible side effects on the admissions system of an increase in the number of academies, which set their own admission arrangements. Lord Hill has now made a commitment that the chief schools adjudicator will include consideration of this issue in her next annual report.

The provisions in clause 37 seek to give maintained school governing bodies greater freedom to appoint governors on the basis of their skills. When we discussed those provisions in Committee, I was persuaded, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), that we should amend them to ensure a continuing role for a staff governor and a local authority governor on all maintained school governing bodies. Lords amendment 24 does precisely that. Of course, governing bodies will be free to appoint additional governors from among the staff of their school if they think that that will help them to work effectively.

In the other place, there was full discussion of the inspection clauses. That led to a number of changes, outside the Bill, to strengthen the proposed arrangements, including enhanced risk assessment procedures for schools and further education providers that will qualify them for exemption from routine inspection. We will debate

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in due course the Opposition amendments on parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations exempting institutions from inspections.

In relation to academies, the Bill retains important measures to facilitate—

Kevin Brennan: In the light of what the Prime Minister has said today about the dangers of schools coasting, is the Minister content, prior to the discussion of our amendment, that the Government’s position on this will not make matters worse, given the potential for schools that have been found to be outstanding to coast and then not to be inspected, with it being difficult to trigger an inspection for them in future?

Mr Gibb: The Prime Minister made some very important points about coasting schools in his article in The Daily Telegraphtoday. We want to see standards rise throughout the education system. There has been a concentration on failing schools, but we must also concentrate on the schools in the leafy suburbs that are not challenging their pupils as well as they should. All schools will now be subject to our scrutiny to make sure that they raise standards. The new performance tables will identify how schools perform in relation to children of high academic ability, as well as how they perform in relation to children of a lower academic ability. We will reflect on some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, but outstanding schools are, by their nature, not necessarily to be regarded as coasting if they have been graded by Ofsted as outstanding. The arrangements I talked about are to do with using risk assessment strategies to pick up on problems, even in outstanding schools. Those risk assessments are what will trigger Ofsted to carry out an inspection in an outstanding school.

Kevin Brennan: My concern is that the exemption from inspection is almost an invitation to coast. There is a danger of that. Does the Minister not accept that it might be worth cogitating on that a little further in the light of what the Prime Minister has said?

Mr Gibb: I am happy to think further about those issues. However, the point of the proposal is that it is difficult for schools to achieve from Ofsted the accolade of outstanding. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) have visited schools that are categorised by Ofsted as outstanding. It is clear why those schools have been so categorised. I was at a school last week in Wiltshire that had been categorised by Ofsted as outstanding in all 27 categories. I believe that it was the first school to be given such a grading.

Mr Graham Stuart: The Minister is absolutely right to have proportionate inspection. We need to be careful to ensure that outstanding schools that may end up coasting or dropping their standards are picked up. If the shadow Minister is suggesting that it would be a better policy to inspect every school, however outstanding, all the time, he is completely wrong. A proportionate approach with the right safeguards and triggers in place and with constant review of those triggers is the right way to go. The Government are right on this issue.

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right that one has to be proportionate in these issues. Ultimately, this is a matter for the chief inspector of schools. If the results of an

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outstanding school start to decline, as was hinted at by the hon. Member for Cardiff West, it will be picked up in the risk assessment. He has made important points and we will, of course, reflect on them in the usual way.

Kevin Brennan: I will intervene one final time on this issue because I do not want to detain the House. The Chairman of the Select Committee knows that what he described was not what the Opposition proposed in Committee. We proposed triggers for inspection that would be appropriate for schools that had been ruled outstanding but may have slipped. Is that not exactly what the new chief inspector of schools, who was just appointed by the Government, has said in relation to checking whether outstanding schools remain outstanding? After all, when outstanding leaders leave outstanding schools, that can often lead to a big change in the performance of those institutions.

Mr Gibb: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. When a new head teacher comes into a school it can have important effects, and not necessarily beneficial ones if the school has been led by a very effective leader. That would be a risk assessment issue. I know that it is an issue that the new chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is concerned about. We will reflect on those points in due course. The principle of having proportionate inspection and targeting the limited resources on schools that have the most pressing need is important. However, we must take it into account if a school that is graded as outstanding is not graded as outstanding in teaching, for instance.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I agree with what the Minister and the shadow Minister say about proportionality in inspection. However, it is important that outstanding schools are inspected by Ofsted as part of the ongoing learning of other schools. I hope that the Minister will ensure that Ofsted continues to do that to spread good practice in the system.

Mr Gibb: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Ofsted inspectors need to learn what an outstanding school looks like. That always was the case. Even when schools are exempted from inspection, inspectors will still see outstanding schools in themed inspections, which might look at how religious education or maths is taught. On those occasions, inspectors will still experience outstanding schools.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Does the Minister agree that the way to deal with coasting schools is not so much through the inspection process, but through the publication of contextual value added evidence from schools?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Performance tables are an important piece of the jigsaw of measures that holds publicly funded schools to account. We are not going to pursue the contextual value added measure, because of its flaws, not least of which is the fact that it tends to entrench low expectations for certain sections of society, which we do not believe is right. All children, from all backgrounds, should be expected to reach the best of their academic ability at school, and schools should deliver a high quality of education to all young people. However, there are other important progress

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measures, such as how a child performs at the end of key stage 2 compared with how they perform in their GCSEs.

As I said earlier, in the performance tables to be published in January, we intend to have separate columns indicating how well a school performs in relation to children who enter secondary school with a level 5 at key stage 2 and those who enter with a level 3.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I say gently to the Minister that I know he is making full efforts to satisfy his audience, and in one sense that is appreciated—if this were a seminar it would be an extremely therapeutic and informative one—but it is important that we tend to the specifics of the amendments with which we are dealing. For the benefit of colleagues who might labour under a misapprehension to the contrary, this is not a Second Reading debate on coasting schools. We are attending to narrow and particular amendments, to the consideration of which I know the Minister will now return.

Mr Gibb: I am grateful for that ruling, Mr Speaker, and I will press on by turning to academies.

The Bill retains important measures to facilitate the Government’s ambitious plan to extend the proven benefits of the academy programme to a much greater number of pupils. One of those measures is the extension of the academy model to alternative provision and the 16-to-19 sector. Lords amendments 72 to 81 are consequential on the creation of those new types of academy, and the Government tabled them in line with a commitment that I gave in Committee to put more such consequential amendments into the Bill. In addition, Lords amendment 89 reduces the reach of the powers given to the Secretary of State by schedule 14 in the case of private land leased to new academies.

In addition, three new clauses were added to the Bill in the other place, the first of which is in Lords amendment 34. Under section 6(2) of the Academies Act 2010, a local authority must cease to maintain—that is, cover all the costs of—a school once it converts to academy status. Some banks and local authorities have asked whether that prohibition on maintenance might prevent a local authority from making payments under private finance initiative or other contracts in relation to schools that have converted into academies.

Local authorities have always been able to use their own resources to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to academies, and to enter into contractual commitments and incur liabilities on their behalf. We are clear that their continuing to do those things would not have been prevented by the wording of section 6(2) of the Academies Act, and that was not the intention behind the Act. All academies are, and will continue to be, maintained by the Secretary of State under funding arrangements entered into under section 1 of that Act. Any assistance that local authorities provide to academies, whether financial or otherwise, will only ever be a proportion of the total expense of running an academy. Lords amendment 34 therefore confirms that local authorities can continue to make payments for academies under PFI and other contracts.

Richard Fuller: This is a slightly specific question, Mr Speaker, but it does relate to the Lords amendments.

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In circumstances in which a local authority had already made an undertaking for capital provision to a federation of schools, and a school that was part of the federation wished to become an academy, would the local authority be able to advise that school’s governors that they would no longer be entitled to the capital aid expenditure promised for schools in that pyramid? Could the local authority make that funding consequential upon a school staying maintained or moving to academy status, or do the Lords amendments prohibit that possibility?

Mr Gibb: I know what my hon. Friend refers to, but I would prefer to get the technical answer to his question absolutely right and will therefore write to him, so that he can be clear when he raises this issue with his local authority that he has a proper analysis of the legal position and not something that I have spoken from memory.

In response to concerns raised in Committee in the House of Lords, the Government introduced an amendment to give Ofqual the power to fine awarding organisations in certain circumstances. Our intention is to ensure that Ofqual has a full range of effective and proportionate powers to use to carry out its duties and responsibilities.

4.15 pm

Mr Graham Stuart: In the Lords, the Government accepted various amendments to limit the impact of such fines on global companies, which is welcome, but the measure was introduced with very little consultation. What is the evidence that we need fines to get awarding bodies to comply with Ofqual? What is the evidence that there is a problem to which fines provide an answer?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend will have seen over the summer some of the errors in the exams. They are unacceptable. We believe that the awarding organisations should not make the quantum and seriousness of those errors again. Other regulators have such powers, and if he bears with me, I will try to set out why we introduced those provisions.

The provisions in Lords amendments 16 and 17 are broadly consistent with the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. As many hon. Members will know, including my hon. Friend, the Act provides many other regulators with a toolkit of sanctions that are risk based, consistent, proportionate and effective. Ofqual currently has only two types of sanction available to it: the power to direct an awarding organisation; and the dramatic, nuclear option of partial or full withdrawal of recognition. In addition, before Ofqual can use its current enforcement powers, it must be the case that an awarding organisation’s failure to comply with a condition has prejudiced, or is likely to prejudice, either the proper award of a qualification or students who might reasonably be expected to seek to obtain such a qualification awarded by that organisation.

The Government believe that those tests unnecessarily limit Ofqual’s powers and could reduce its capacity to take timely and proportionate enforcement action. Removing the tests and giving Ofqual a power to fine will help to prevent the kind of mistakes in exam papers that we saw last summer, which undermine the hard

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work of the pupils who sat them. That is the purpose of Lords amendment 16, and Lords amendment 17 confers similar powers on Welsh Ministers as the regulators of Welsh qualifications.

Mr Stuart: I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government’s thinking, but I am not entirely persuaded. The currency on which awarding bodies trade is their reputation. Notwithstanding the problems this summer, they needed no fine or massive regulatory hammer to bring them to book. All awarding bodies would immediately seek to improve their systems following such errors—I believe they did so. It feels as if we are introducing sanctions that are unnecessary for the workings of that market. The Government have pledged to eschew unnecessary regulations unless there is an overwhelming case, but I am not sure that the errors last summer make that overwhelming case.

Mr Gibb: I must disagree with my hon. Friend, because the seriousness of the errors was not just in their number—I believe there were 13 errors in exam papers this summer. What was particularly serious was the fact that when we asked awarding bodies to check that there were no further errors, they affirmed that they had done so or that they would do so, but then new errors appeared. That is why what happened this summer was so serious rather than the initial errors in the papers.

On reputation and the market, all the main awarding bodies had errors, so there is no market mechanism—no one of them could say, “We had no errors but the others did.” My third argument is that all regulators have such powers. We cannot rely on the nuclear option of ending accreditation.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): There are considerable costs for schools when they switch from one awarding body to another. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the idea of a market operating in the normal way does not quite apply?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right. All kinds of other factors will determine which awarding organisations schools use and why, and there is a “stickiness” compared with the fluidity that might exist in another market situation.

Lords amendment 37 would give the Secretary of State the power to pilot the use of direct payments in education for children with special educational needs. In the Green Paper on special educational needs and disability, we committed to give every child with a statement of SEN or a new education, health and care plan the option of a personal budget by 2014. One element of a personal budget can be a direct payment to a family to buy support for their child. Direct payments are already being used in health and social care, and we want to test how the greater choice and control they give to families can be effectively achieved in education too.

With those brief remarks, I commend the Bill and these amendments to the House.

Kevin Brennan: In this debate on Lords amendment 1 and all the amendments that it is highly convenient—for the Government, anyway—to group with it, I note that the Bill returns to us from the Lords without any

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non-Government amendments. Perhaps that is a reflection of changing times and the new, rigid hegemony in the other place, whereby amendments are rarely passed there without the Government’s say-so.

Mr Gibb: I thought that the hon. Gentleman might be a little more generous about the powers of persuasion of my hon. Friend Lord Hill.

Kevin Brennan: I was indeed going to be generous—about the powers of persuasion of our Front Benchers in the House of Lords. They persuaded the Government—more effectively than my hon. Friends and I in the Commons did—to change their mind on one or two issues, which I shall come to in a moment.

The Minister has taken the trouble to talk us through the Lords amendments, as he said he would, but some questions emerge from what he said that, if he has the leave of the House to speak later in the debate, I hope he will answer. Lords amendments 1 to 4 relate to clause 8 and the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to teachers. The Bill abolishes the General Teaching Council for England. I note that some criticisms have been made of its operations. One year after the publication of the White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, in which the Secretary of State said—I agree with him about this—that there was

“no calling more noble, no profession more vital and no service more important than teaching,”

it is significant that he has taken the opportunity to abolish the professional body.

The Bill transfers some of the General Teaching Council’s functions to the Secretary of State, among which is the power to prohibit a teacher from teaching. In Committee in this House, we debated an Opposition amendment—which, surprisingly, was not successful—that would have required the Secretary of State to keep a list of persons prohibited from teaching. I note that Lord Hill confirmed in the other place that the Government believe that a database of teachers prohibited from teaching will be established. We tabled amendments here and in the other place to require the Secretary of State to keep a register of qualified teachers—again, to our surprise, without success—but Lord Hill indicated that he would consider the matter, saying,

“we have been persuaded by concerns raised in this House and elsewhere that there is a genuine need for the Government to help schools to know who has qualified teacher status and who has passed induction.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 257.]

That is welcome. He went on to confirm that there would be an online database from 2012.

Another concern is the proposal to give employers discretion over which cases of misconduct—those that might lead to the prohibition of a teacher—to refer to the Secretary of State. Again, colleagues in both Houses raised concerns about transparency and consistency. I welcome Lord Hill’s notification to Baroness Jones that the Government are developing advice on the new system to help professional conduct hearing panels determine when a teacher should be prohibited from the profession and that such advice will be available publicly.

Lords amendments 1 to 4 would enable the Secretary of State to issue interim prohibition orders—quickly imposed orders that prevent a teacher from undertaking

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work while the Secretary of State is considering their case—where he considers it in the public interest to do so, and they must be reviewed every six months. The amendments were tabled in Grand Committee in the House of Lords, but I do not think they were debated there. Their rationale was not given, so when the Minister replies he might like to emphasise what the rationale was, what the amendments will achieve, why they are so important and perhaps why they were not included in the first draft.

Lords amendments 5 to 15 relate to restrictions on the reporting of alleged offences by teachers, about which we had an exchange earlier. We have supported the Government’s intention to help protect teachers from malicious allegations, but we have also been keen to ensure that the provisions are properly scrutinised, as there is a possibility of unintended consequences.

The Lords amendments would extend the reach of clause 13 to cover tentative allegations against teachers. As the Minister rightly pointed out, following advice from the trade unions and others, we argued that the clause’s reach could be extended so that the restrictions apply not only to teachers in schools but to other school staff. The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart)—I am sure it is only a matter of time before he becomes a right hon. Gentleman—mentioned this earlier. In our view, other school staff and staff in further education colleges should be included. The impact of a publicly reported unproven allegation, which the Minister eloquently described, applies to those people, too, and is potentially equally damaging. I understand the Government’s general desire to limit the number of people on whom the provisions will have an impact, but I do not understand why teachers in FE colleges should not be covered when teachers dealing with young people of the same age group in sixth forms—quite possibly teaching exactly the same subjects—are covered. This seems to be an inconsistency in the Bill.

I note what the Minister said about extending the provisions to cover tentative allegations. I make it clear that we do not object to that, but we ask him to be absolutely clear about his motives for including the amendments at this stage. Does he have any further thoughts on the desirability of extending the scope to include non-teaching staff and all staff in FE colleges? If he has any compelling reasons why those staff should be excluded, we would like to hear them. Having listened to him earlier, I am not sure what his evidence is for excluding these staff from the scope of the provisions. I understand why he might want to limit the number of people covered—perhaps that is why he has put a ring fence around teachers—but I do not understand the rationale for failing to include the other staff.

Mr Graham Stuart: The hon. Gentleman talks about extending the provision to other staff in schools. Do he and his party believe that it should be extended further to other workers? For example, a social worker dealing with children at risk could be equally devastated by publicity surrounding allegations against them—

Mr Speaker: Order. The disadvantage of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention was that, interesting though it was, it bore no relation to the amendment we are discussing.

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4.30 pm

Kevin Brennan: As always, the hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful point but, as you have confirmed, Mr Speaker, it unfortunately falls outside the scope of the Bill.

Lords amendments 16 and 17 deal with Ofqual’s enforcement powers, which the Minister mentioned earlier. The Labour Government began the reform of the examination system in 2007 with the “Confidence in Standards” White Paper. It proposed the establishment of an independent regulator, Ofqual, which would be separate from the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and would be able to fine exam bodies. Currently, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 allows Ofqual only to direct an examination board to change its practices and, as the Minister said, to withdraw recognition.

I agree that it would be helpful for Ofqual to have more sanctions at its disposal to ensure that examination boards minimise their errors, but to an extent I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. This proposal has appeared at a late stage. I know that Christmas is approaching, but, as I am sure the Government Whips will confirm, using Bills as Christmas trees on which to hang whatever a Government wish to hang on them is not always a good way of legislating, and I had thought the Government had pledged not to do that.

Mr Stuart: As I debated the abolition of independent schools only a couple of weeks ago with the hon. Gentleman, who supported the motion, it is a pleasure to find something on which we can agree. He is right: we need to hear more from the Government to justify the measure. It is like the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Legislating instantly following an incident in the summer, rather than checking and thinking through the principles behind the proposed legislation, could be a mistake.

Kevin Brennan: Let us hope that this will not be another Dangerous Dogs Act.

I am not going to suggest that Labour has not been guilty in the past of hanging proposals on to Bills as they progress through Parliament, and, as a former Government Whip, I am not going to suggest that I have not occasionally tried to lecture Ministers about the practice, but it often causes problems further down the line. We can understand how it happens.

On 22 June 2011, a newspaper headline announced “Cameron promises ‘tough action’ over GCSE and A-level exam blunders”, and a sub-headline added “Prime minister says mistakes are unacceptable and assures Ofqual will rectify system to prevent further errors”. That was converted into a panic in Government, which rippled into the Department for Education, and the Secretary of State said that the Prime Minister was exercised about the issue. “What can we do? Oh, we have a Bill going through Parliament: perhaps we can dream up a few clauses to put into it. Wasn’t there a proposal at some stage to introduce fines? Let us use that: it is already half written.” However, the proposal was never properly scrutinised. It should have been subjected to proper pre-legislative scrutiny.

As I have said, we are not going to oppose the amendments, but I want to record our concern that something that the Government said they would not do is happening now, before our very eyes.

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Mr Gibb: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the previous Administration, of which he was part, considered extending the fining power to Ofqual. Indeed, Kathleen Tattersall lobbied Members of Parliament for it to be introduced during the Committee stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill before the election. Ofqual will launch a consultation when it begins to set out the circumstances in which the new power will be used, and the consultation will last 12 weeks in the normal way.

Kevin Brennan: Not only am I aware of that, but I actually said about two minutes ago that it had originally been in the White Paper that the Labour Government introduced. That does not alter the fact that had the Government intended to do this, they could have consulted on it originally, rather than hang it as a bauble on a Christmas tree Bill and react to newspaper headlines. It seems that these proposals have been rushed. I welcome the fact that there is to be a proper consultation, but consultations should happen before proposals are enacted rather than after.

Lords amendments 18 and 19 remove clauses 30 and 31, which repeal the duties to co-operate with a local authority and to have regard to the children and young people’s plans. We welcome the Government’s support for reinstating the duty to co-operate by removing clauses 30 and 31. Labour Members on the Public Bill Committee voted that clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill, but Government Members defeated us. Baroness Hughes co-signed the amendments to leave out clauses 30 and 31, so we strongly support their removal. Had they remained part of the Bill, the Government would be putting the reduction of alleged bureaucracy ahead of the safeguarding needs of some of our most vulnerable children. In their professed zeal for cutting as many processes, systems and guidance as possible, the Government were in danger of throwing out things that raise standards and improve safeguards for our children. These duties are examples of the latter.

As I said in an intervention, in Committee the Minister characterised the duty to co-operate as an unnecessary prescription and went on to say that it was not appropriate to delay the removal of that burden on schools. In the Lords, Lord Laming spoke eloquently and convincingly to expose the irresponsibility of the Government’s position:

“In every inquiry that has followed a tragedy to a child with which I am familiar, two key messages have permeated every report like the lettering through a stick of rock. The first is that in future each service, including education, must greatly fulfil its particular responsibilities to promote the safety and well-being of each child. The second is that each service must develop the skills to work successfully across organisational boundaries and share information at an early stage.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. GC268.]

I can understand why the Government might have listened to Lord Laming more readily than they listened to us in the Commons, but they were fully aware of the views of Lord Laming and others on these matters.

Lord Laming went on to say:

“The development of children’s plans and children’s trusts under the Children Act 2004 were designed specifically to place the well-being and the promotion of care of children in this wider context. In the letter which the Minister sent to me, he said that the Bill simply reverts to the earlier position.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. GC268-269.]

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So that was what the Government wanted to do: to revert to the earlier position—the one pre-Laming—using this Bill. By including these clauses, they originally showed their disdain for the services and processes that have since been put in place to keep our children safe. It is abhorrent that any Government, not least one who said at one time that they wanted to be the most family friendly ever, should be willing to risk the safety of our vulnerable children just so that they can reduce prescription.

I am glad that the Government have got it, albeit late in the day, but I am concerned that this is a temporary change of mind. I was not assured by what the Minister said in reply to my intervention, because Lord Hill’s letter to Baroness Hughes on 12 October said:

“We are persuaded that the duty in itself provides schools, colleges and others with sufficient freedom to determine the arrangements that work best for them”.

In a letter of 6 October 2011 to Baroness Hughes, he said that the reason for the Government’s change of mind was that this was a temporary measure while they worked through how to achieve better collaboration in the planning, commissioning and delivery of services.

I welcome the Lords amendments, but we want to strengthen them slightly. We have tabled an amendment that would ensure that schools must in all cases have regard to children and young people’s plans created by children’s trust boards, whether or not they are made under section 17 of the Children Act 2004. I should like an assurance from the Minister. Are the Government committed long term to a wide-ranging, overarching duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities and other local partners, which include health and police bodies, to promote the well-being of children? Is that a long-term commitment of the Government, or do they intend to water down or attempt once again to abolish the duty in the future?

Mr Gibb: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by quoting my noble Friend Lord Hill, who said in another place that he accepted the point made by our noble Friend Lady Walmsley that

“at a time when the Government have recently announced pathfinders to test and work through our SEN Green Paper proposals, which seek to encourage greater partnership working, we should not risk sending…any confusing messages about the importance of partnerships. I took their advice and decided that the simplest thing to do was to delete the relevant clauses.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 October 2011; Vol. 731, c. 634.]

Kevin Brennan: The interesting thing is that one reason why the Government became confused or were in danger of sending out confusing messages was the interminable delay in the publication of the Green Paper on SEN, which we were promised well before the consideration of the Bill in Committee and which finally turned up extremely late. Had it been published on time, perhaps the Government would not have been in danger of sending out confused messages, but I simply reiterate that we are concerned that the Government do not appear to have a long-term commitment to give schools an overarching duty to co-operate. We await confirmation from the Government that they believe that such an overarching duty to co-operate is important and should be retained in the long term.

Labour’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 19 would require maintained schools to have regard to children and young people’s plans produced by children’s

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trust boards whether or not that is prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State. We voted in the Commons that clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill. Our amendment to delete clause 31 and insert another clause is intended to extend that opportunity for that omission to be retained.

The Government’s suggested changes to the law on the arrangements to admit pupils to school have been debated throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament. On two occasions—on Report in the Commons and Lords—the Government have introduced amendments that have responded to some if not all the points made by the Opposition. The whole point about admissions is fairness and how we can have a system that gives children fair access to local schools in accordance with their parents’ wishes. In the centrally managed schools system that the Government are creating, it is regrettable that the Government have resisted placing a clear and unequivocal duty on the Secretary of State to work towards fair access to education.

We welcome the reinstatement of the duty on local authorities to send reports to the adjudicator, which is the effect of amendments 21 and 22. The fact that the reports will not now receive the special treatment for such reports, which is removed by amendment 20, is regrettable, although I hope that it does not lessen their importance and that the contents will still receive the full attention of the adjudicator. I trust that that is what will happen.

4.45 pm

A greater problem is the evidence that the reports contain about local authority action to ensure that admission arrangements are compliant with the law and the admissions code. The chief adjudicator himself has been lukewarm about the quality of such local authority reports, indicating that local authorities have been happy to confirm that admissions arrangements are code-compliant when, after investigation by the adjudicator, that has been found not to be the case. He noted in his recent annual report:

“If LAs are truly going to focus on being the champions of children and parents, then they really must put more effort into their ‘policing’ role.”

The amendments, which collectively allow anybody to refer admissions arrangements to the adjudicator, are welcome, although that will be subject to regulations.

There is one area where we believe we can improve on the Lords amendments, in particular amendment 23 and new subsection (7) on objections to admissions arrangements. The subsection adds

“any other person or body”

to the list of persons who must comply with a binding decision, which will include the objector. It does not state the time in which the admissions arrangements must be made compliant. This was debated on Report in the Commons when the Schools Minister seemed interested in the idea of quick compliance, although he described the Labour proposals at that time as

“a mere two weeks’ grace”

in which to allow schools the freedom to implement decisions. The Minister noted: