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House of Commons

Wednesday 8 February 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

IT Procurement

1. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What recent progress he has made on bringing forward proposals on Government IT procurement; and if he will make a statement. [94020]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): Soon after the coalition Government came to office, we introduced strict controls on ICT spend that saved £300 million in the year to March 2011 alone. We have opened up procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises, we are moving towards open standards and interoperability, and we are examining some of the incredibly expensive and burdensome ICT contracts that we inherited from the previous Government.

Charlie Elphicke: Will the Minister tell us more about how open source, getting computers to talk to each other through common standards, and smarter procurement can help to save billions of pounds, secure better computers, and break up the IT cartel that was fostered under the previous Government?

Mr Maude: It is becoming increasingly clear that the Government have opportunities to handle their IT and increase their digital offering in transactional public services very differently from that which we inherited. It is also becoming increasingly clear that it will be possible for both the quality of those public services and public interaction to be massively improved, at a fraction of the cost incurred by the previous Government.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read the latest report on IT procurement by the Select Committee on Public Administration, which includes the Government’s response to our original report? We commend the Minister for that response, but there is further progress to be made. In particular, how will the Minister tackle the cartel-like behaviour of the large prime contractors?

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Mr Maude: The reports produced by my hon. Friend’s Committee are my regular reading, and I enjoy them enormously. I commend the Committee’s work, especially its conclusions on Government ICT. I also commend the work of the Public Accounts Committee, which has focused on the subject. I think that we are making progress, but I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point: there is much, much more to be done. The previous Government left the taxpayer in hock to an oligopoly of ICT suppliers, and we intend to move on from that.

Social Action Fund

2. Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): What criteria his Department uses to determine allocations made under the social action fund. [94021]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The social action fund exists to scale up projects that have proved their ability to inspire people to take social action. We recently announced the first investments for the fund, which are worth £9.4 million and have generated a further £9 million in match funding. We believe that those combined investments will generate more than 200,000 volunteering opportunities.

Nicky Morgan: A registered charity in my constituency, Fourtwelve Ministries, which runs the Carpenter’s Arms residential rehabilitation centre and a food parcel handout service, was recently turned down for funding by the Social Investment Business, which administers the social action fund. One of the reasons given was that it was part of a Christian charity. Can the Minister assure me that the Government fully recognise the role played by Christian groups in delivering social action projects?

Mr Hurd: Yes, I can, but I should clarify one point. The charity was not turned down for the social action fund; it was turned down for another fund.

We all know from our constituencies that many churches and faith groups are very active in generating opportunities for people to become involved and give time to help others, and the social action fund is open to bids from faith groups that make social action possible. In the first round we invested in the Cathedral Archer Project, a Christian group in Sheffield that is enabling homeless people to volunteer to help other homeless people.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): A recent report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations showed that, according to the Government’s own figures, charities face cuts of over £900 million. Does the Minister agree that the £20 million managed by the social action fund is a drop in the ocean in comparison with what charities need?

Mr Hurd: Let me make two points. First, the sector would have faced cuts under any Administration, as the leader of the Labour party has made clear. Secondly, the £20 million social action fund exists to do something very specific. Its purpose is to scale up successful, proven projects in order to inspire social action.

Big Society

3. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many big society projects were under way in the most recent period for which figures are available. [94023]

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The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): Our big society agenda involves putting power into the hands of individuals and communities, and it is emphatically not a programme driven from the centre of Government. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that there is not an army of bureaucrats going around counting big society projects; that would entirely defeat the purpose.

Mr Bone: I am grateful to the Minister for telling me that he has no idea—I appreciate that.

Big society projects have been one of the many successes of this Conservative-led Government. In my constituency we have the Hope project, led by the superb Simon Trundle, which is transforming one of the most deprived areas in the constituency. However, it is experiencing problems as local funding is cut, and it may even have to be closed. How can the big society initiative help it to obtain more funds?

Mr Letwin: I am aware of the Hope project, which is to be greatly commended, and I am happy to be able to say to my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister for civil society, will meet him to discuss this. I have a terrible feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) might even succeed, because I did some research and discovered that he managed to get community first funding for two of the wards in his constituency. I wish him luck in this endeavour, too.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): Patrick Butler said in The Guardian recently:

“For many in the charity world, the Big Society…has become a toxic sign of Government hypocrisy, broken promises and ineptitude”.

What are the Government doing to change that?

Mr Letwin: I hope the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will help me to do so, because distinguished members of his party totally back the big society, including the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), who tells him and his colleagues:

“We should be for the Big Society.”

I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in putting across the idea that we should welcome the giving back of power to communities and individuals to change their own lives for the better.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): One of the ways the big society will succeed is through the dissemination of successful projects, for which the big society awards were intended to be one of the vehicles. What progress has been made with the awards?

Mr Letwin: I am happy to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the big society awards are alive and well and happening, with successive tranches of people coming in to get them. The Prime Minister is hugely devoted to this. It is important to recognise what communities and community groups are doing the length and breadth of the land.

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Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The Minister is a keen follower of my website, so he will know that I support initiatives to build social capital in communities. When I visit voluntary groups, I am very struck by the extent to which they have benefited from the future jobs fund. From a big society point of view, was it not a mistake, therefore, to abolish that fund?

Mr Letwin: I am indeed an avid follower of the hon. Gentleman’s website, and a most interesting document it is, too. The fact is that, alas, the future jobs fund offered only a very temporary fix. By contrast, we are trying to create a framework within which the voluntary community sector has long-term prospects that it can build on through achievement and by providing the taxpayer with value for money.

Efficiency Savings

4. Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): What efficiency savings the Efficiency and Reform Group has identified across central Government. [94024]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): We have made huge efficiency savings in the spending we inherited from the previous Government. In the 10 months to March 2011 we delivered £3.75 billion in savings by reducing waste. For the first time, the savings were verified by the Public Accounts Committee and by the National Audit Office in its report last week, but this is only the start and further significant savings will derive from the Efficiency and Reform Group’s programme of long-term, sustainable reform.

Tom Greatrex: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am a keen follower of his Department’s website and I noted that its jobs section last week advertised eight jobs with a salary of more than £100,000 before bonuses, perks and who knows what tax arrangements. Will the Minister explain how that fits with his freeze on non-essential and non-front line jobs in the public sector, and at a time when public sector workers are under increasing pressure?

Mr Maude: It is completely consistent with that, because we need particular skills to drive out the waste we inherited. Particularly, there is a need for commercial and IT skills. While those skills exist in Government, we do not have enough of them. Every single one of those external recruitments by the Cabinet Office will have been approved by me personally, and I make absolutely no apology at all for approving them. Where those skills are needed and a rigorous search has shown that they are not available within Government, we will recruit from outside and we will pay people properly for work that is essential.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): Is it not a fact that the Minister’s Efficiency and Reform Group will achieve no savings at all if the most senior officials in Government are distracted into chaotic breaches of the Cabinet Office code of conduct? Will he confirm that the Cabinet Secretary has now restored efficient Government by launching an investigation into such destructive breaches

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of the code as that reported in

The Times

yesterday of a senior No. 10 aide saying the Health Secretary should be “taken out and shot”?

Mr Maude: Frankly, coming from the hon. Gentleman—the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the previous Prime Minister, who operated in a No. 10 that was widely reviled as a snake pit of back-biting and anonymous briefings—that is pretty rich.

Big Society

5. Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): What the Government’s objectives are for the big society initiative. [94025]

6. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What the Government’s objectives are for the big society initiative. [94026]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): Our objectives are to build social capital by transferring powers to communities, opening up public services and encouraging more social action.

Lilian Greenwood: Last year, the Prime Minister included community empowerment among his three big society aims, but this year the Communities Secretary has already been forced to write to the Conservative leader of Nottingham county council following reports of disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector. Can the Minister tell me exactly how this Tory council’s decision to cut voluntary sector funding by a huge 34% will empower communities in our county?

Mr Letwin: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has written in extremely uncompromising and tough terms to the county council in question, reminding it that there is statutory guidance, and that the proportion by which the voluntary and community sector is cut should be the same as the proportion by which the council’s own budgets are cut. I am delighted to pay tribute, unusually, to the hon. Lady’s own council, which, despite coming from a different political party from mine, has actually followed that rule, cutting both by roughly similar proportions.

Jessica Morden: The Public Administration Committee report on the big society described it as lacking clarity and leadership and ways of measuring progress. Why does the Minister think this cross-party group is so critical of the big society idea?

Mr Letwin: As a matter of fact, the Committee’s report is an admirable work that brings out extremely clearly the value of our big society agenda and urges us to push it further and faster, and we agree with that. Actually, the evidence clearly shows that it is on the ground that people will measure success. When they see more free schools educating their children better, mutuals delivering better health care, and communities taking charge of their own neighbourhood planning and making their environment better, then we will know it is a success.

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Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The shadow spokesman on London and the Olympics said that the big society “should be Labour territory”. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the whole point of the big society is that it is not just for Labour but for everyone?

Mr Letwin: Yes, I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend, and I should like to pray in aid the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who said that the big society is

“something that the Labour party should instinctively understand as part of its own DNA”.

The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), told the Labour party:

“We shouldn’t be afraid of the Big Society; we should claim it for our own”.

I hope this can bring the whole House together.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): If my right hon. Friend wants to see the big society at work, may I suggest that he look at the snow in winter clearance initiatives of East Riding and North Lincolnshire councils? They have devolved money down to local communities, enabling them last weekend to sort out snow clearance in their own way, as they wished.

Mr Letwin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is a classic example of what I see in my own constituency, in many other rural constituencies up and down the country and increasingly in the suburbs. People are taking charge and making sure that they get what they actually need delivered locally, by people who understand the local circumstances, and in many cases much more cheaply than was previously possible from the centre.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Given what is really happening, the objectives for the big society would appear to be huge funding and job cuts across the third sector, charities walking away from the Work programme and health service mutuals not getting health service contracts. Given the lack of influence that Cabinet Office Ministers clearly have across the rest of Whitehall, is the Cabinet Office not now merely the place where the emperor’s new clothes get spun?

Mr Letwin: Unfortunately, what the hon. Gentleman fails to reckon with is that not only this Government but any Government currently trying to run the United Kingdom would be faced with the need to clear up the fiscal mess that he and his colleagues left this country in, and that certainly entails cuts. We are very clear about that, and as matter of fact his own leader is now beginning to be clearer about that—although we are still not clear how clear he is. The fact is, therefore, that the voluntary and community sector does suffer some reduction in funding, but we are determined to create vast new opportunities for that sector, so it can compete to provide public services effectively and for the sake of the taxpayer.


7. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): How much his Department spent on consultancy in the last year for which figures are available. [94027]

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The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): During 2010-11, the Cabinet Office spent just over £9 million on consultancy. The figure is down from £27.5 million in 2009-10, the last year of the previous Government. That is a reduction of more than two thirds and we anticipate further reductions in the current financial year. Across central Government, expenditure was reduced from £1.234 billion in 2009-10 to £361 million in the last financial year—that is a 71% reduction.

Chi Onwurah: In August 2010, the most recent month for which figures are available, the Cabinet Office spent almost £120,000 on consultants for advice on judicial reviews. Does the Minister agree that spending hundreds of thousands of pounds defending this Government’s mistakes is not the best use of taxpayers’ money?

Mr Maude: The Government are obliged to protect what they do in the interests of the taxpayer. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that spending on consultants was spiralling completely out of control under the previous Government. That was providing very bad value for the taxpayer and it was very demoralising for mainstream civil servants, who felt that they were undervalued by the previous Government, whose default setting when anything difficult came up was to hire consultants. We will put our faith in the work that civil servants do. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. A large number of very noisy private conversations are taking place in the Chamber, even as I speak. Some involve very senior Members who ought to know better.

Public Procurement

8. Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effects of changes to public procurement on the ability of small and medium-sized enterprises to secure contracts. [94028]

9. Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of new suppliers to Government working groups in making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for Government contracts. [94029]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): We want 25% of the value of Government contracts to be awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises, and we have made significant progress towards that. This has so far led to a more than doubling in the amount of direct spend awarded to SMEs in the first half of the current year.

Ann McKechin: The Minister will be aware that his own commercial representatives of SMEs have said that it will take up to two years before SMEs stop being excluded from Government contracts. Does he agree that that is utterly unacceptable? What is he going to do to make better use of EU exemptions that protect local economies?

Mr Maude: I fully accept that it will take a little time to get things fully sorted out following the mess left after 13 years of the hon. Lady’s Government, so rather

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than chiding us for the progress that we are making why does she not congratulate us on our progress and start apologising for the mess her Government left behind?

Luciana Berger: Further to the Minister’s answer, the leader of one of the Government’s own working groups, Mark Taylor, who is the chief executive officer of Sirius, has said:

“There are SMEs being taken out of procurement, not put into it.”

He said that that is “simply not acceptable.” Are not Government policies, as Mr Taylor points out, making it more difficult for SMEs to take part in Government procurement projects, rather than easier?

Mr Maude: No, that is the reverse of the truth. The arrangements we inherited made it incredibly difficult for SMEs to bid, because the procurement processes were so bureaucratic, so clunky and so expensive, both for the taxpayer and for bidders, that many SMEs and voluntary and community sector organisations were, in effect, excluded. We are addressing that. There is more to do, but I would be grateful for some support from the hon. Lady’s side, particularly in encouraging Labour-led local authorities.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): My constituent, Mr Isham, who runs a business in Willington, is also finding it difficult to break through the barriers to obtaining Government contracts. May I encourage the Minister to come to South Derbyshire for a question and answer session with local business people, so that they can learn at first hand from the master how to apply?

Mr Maude: I would obviously be delighted to meet my hon. Friend’s constituents, but I would urge them to look at the Contracts Finder website, where, for the first time, Government and public sector contracts are available for scrutiny. If they find that procurement is still being done in the old-fashioned, outmoded way that we inherited from the Labour Government, they should phone our helpline and we will get on the case, as we have done in many cases already, and put improvements in place.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Manufacturing companies in my constituency are slowly dragging this country out of the mire in which it was left by the previous Government. Will the Minister please advise my manufacturing companies how, other than by looking at the website, they can find out about getting on the list to provide the national Government with products?

Mr Maude: We inherited some very rigid arrangements that militated against UK-based suppliers and at the same time provided very bad value for taxpayers. We are making reforms that make it easier for local businesses, particularly manufacturing businesses, to compete effectively, but I will happily consider the issue raised by my hon. Friend.

Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): The Government promised that 25% of Government contracts would be awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises, yet figures on the Minister’s departmental website show that the percentage of procurement spend with SMEs at the Cabinet Office has fallen from just under 11% to

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7%, a decline replicated across Whitehall. At a time when net lending to SMEs is falling and the number of companies going under is increasing, why are things getting worse, not better, for small businesses on his watch?

Mr Maude: It is simply not the case that things are getting worse. The value of contracts being given to SMEs is rising and rising markedly from the very low base that we inherited. The other issue that we have had to deal with is the fact that the quality of information left by the previous Government was deplorable.

Topical Questions

T1. [94035] Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): My responsibilities are for the public sector, the Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

Julie Elliott: Will the Minister explain how the Government’s action in allowing the chief executive of the Student Loans Company not to pay tax or national insurance on his £182,000 salary is in line with his own Government’s report, “Tackling Debt Owed to Central Government”? Does the Minister agree that this Government have one rule for the rich and another for everyone else?

Mr Maude: The answer is that that is not consistent and it is being dealt with.

T2. [94036] Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In reply to a question I tabled last July, my right hon. Friend emphasised the importance of reforming the civil service appraisal system. Will he update the House on what changes have been made?

Mr Maude: We have already put in place new arrangements for the senior civil service and they will be rolled out for the whole civil service at the delegated grades. It is really important that appraisal identifies the very best performers, rewarding them with promotion and proper pay, and pays serious attention to those who underperform, who cause massive demoralisation to the hard-working majority of dedicated civil servants.

T3. [94037] Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Given the fact that the report of the Public Administration Committee, “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”, has recommended that owing to allegations of anti-competitiveness and collusive behaviour by some large IT suppliers, the Government should establish an independent and external investigation into those claims, will the Minister agree to implement the recommendations and set up an investigation into the oligopoly of large suppliers?

Mr Maude: The hon. Gentleman is completely correct that an oligopoly of IT suppliers has, to far too great an extent, dominated Government ICT contracts. We seek to change that by having smaller contracts and much

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quicker and better procurement processes, but we have a legacy of huge contracts with that oligopoly of suppliers and are looking at how we can deal with that.

T8. [94042] Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Europe’s most energy efficient data centre was recently opened by Ark Continuity near Corsham on the edge of my constituency, providing resilient top-tier security infrastructure. Given the Minister’s interest in improving public sector information, communications and technology, can I interest him in joining me on a site visit to see that world-leading technology for himself?

Mr Maude: I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and that installation. There are now ways of providing much better ICT at a much lower cost and in a much greener way. We are exploring all of them and I would be delighted to share our thinking with my hon. Friend—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise. We can scarcely hear the Minister’s answers, which is unfair on the Minister and unfair on the House.

T4. [94038] Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Sixty per cent. of Welsh Government public procurement contracts are awarded to SMEs, half of which are in Wales. In England the figure is less than 10%. Given that SMEs invest more in local jobs, pay more tax and create more growth, what is the Minister doing to ensure that SMEs get business in England, instead of the money being siphoned off abroad?

Mr Maude: We are radically reforming procurement to cut the cost to businesses. Bidding for public sector contracts has been far too expensive, both for the taxpayer and for bidders, and it is entirely right to say that too many SMEs have simply been frozen out of the process. We are determined to open that up and to enable more SMEs, which will tend to be UK-based, to bid successfully.

T9. [94043] Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s wise decision to accept a bid from the Hastings Trust and other charities to the social action fund to build community volunteers and to promote the big society in Hastings. May I urge him to visit us in Hastings, to see the good work that is being done?

Mr Maude: The allure of a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency is hard to resist. I can undertake that I or my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister for civil society, will fulfil that engagement.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [93967] Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 8 February.

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The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—in this historic week marking the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Her Majesty’s 60 years of remarkable leadership and dedicated public service are an inspiration to us all and something that the whole country and the whole Commonwealth can be immensely proud of. Members will have the opportunity to pay individual tributes during debate on the humble address on 7 March.

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

Mr Slaughter: I am sure the whole House, and not least myself, will wish to join the Prime Minister in his warm tribute to Her Majesty. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

In March last year the Prime Minister said:

“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line police officers.”—[Official Report, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 335.]

Will he confirm that front-line officer numbers have been cut in 40 out of 43 police forces?

The Prime Minister: The proportion of officers on the front line is up, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to join me in congratulating Mayor Boris Johnson on his excellent record on crime in our capital. Total crime is down, violent crime is down on buses and tubes, 11,000 knives and guns have been taken off our streets, and there are 1,000 more officers on the streets of London at the end of his term than at the beginning. That, together with his reminder of the rule on the dangers of tweeting, is a good start to the day.

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment at the overthrow yesterday of the first democratically elected President of the Maldives in a coup d’état? Given our historical links with the islands, will the Government, by way of a message, do all they can to ensure that no violence results and that the democratic institutions remain?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. This country does have strong links with the Maldives and a good relationship with President Nasheed, but we have to be clear. President Nasheed has resigned, and we have a strong interest in the well-being of several thousand British tourists and in a stable and democratic Government in the Maldives. Our high commissioner is in the capital now and meeting all the political leaders. We call on the new Government to demonstrate their respect for the rights of all political parties and their members, and to ensure that the constitution is upheld. We advise British tourists to avoid non-essential travel to Malé island, and those using Malé airport and the tourist resorts should exercise caution.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen as we celebrate her diamond jubilee. Her dedication to the country and to public service is an inspiration and an example to us all, and we all look forward to the official celebrations later this year, which will enable us to celebrate both Her Majesty and our country.

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On the day the Prime Minister completed his NHS listening exercise, he said:

“some of the people who worked in our NHS were sceptical of our changes. Today, we are taking people with us. It’s in this spirit of unity that we want to continue.”

Why does he think he has failed?

The Prime Minister: Today, 95% of the country is covered by general practitioners who are not actually supporting our reforms; they are implementing them. Just today—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. The House must calm down. There is a long way to go, so let us hear the answers. There will be plenty of time. Calm.

The Prime Minister: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Just today, 50 foundation trusts have written to the newspapers in support of our reforms and objecting to what Labour is proposing, and the signature at the top of the list, which the right hon. Gentleman might not have noticed, is that of one Anne Campbell, the former Labour MP for Cambridge. She, running her local foundation trust, supports the reforms. That is what happens: Labour MPs leave this House and start implementing coalition policy.

Edward Miliband: Even the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that nonsense he just came out with. Last Friday the Royal College of General Practitioners said that his health Bill would

“cause irreparable damage to patient care and jeopardise the NHS.”

[Interruption.] The Health Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position—from some distance away, I notice. It is nice to see him here. The Prime Minister says that he wants the voice of doctors to be heard in the NHS. Why does he not listen to them?

The Prime Minister: It is always good to get a lecture on happy families from the right hon. Gentleman. I care passionately about our NHS, not least because of what it has done for my family and because of the amazing service I have received. I want to see that excellent service implemented for everyone, and that means two things: we have to put more money into the NHS, which we are doing, but we also have to reform the NHS. He used to be in favour of reform. Let me read him something. Who said:

“to safeguard the NHS in tougher fiscal times, we need sustained reform.”?

That was in the Labour manifesto at the last election. Because the NHS is important, we are committed to £12.5 billion in this Parliament, yet his health spokesman, who is sitting right there, said that it would be “irresponsible” to spend more money on the NHS. The Opposition are not in favour of the money. They are not in favour of the reform. They are just a bunch of opportunists.

Edward Miliband: Isn’t this interesting? The Prime Minister says that this is all about reform, but the Tory Reform Group has come out against these proposals. It comes to something when even the Tories do not trust the Tories on the NHS. Let us hear what Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]So when the people Government Members want to put at the heart of the NHS say

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things about their Bill, they just groan. That says it all about those on the Government Benches. Clare Gerada said:

“This bill is a burden. It makes no sense, it is incoherent… It won’t deal with the big issues… and it will also result in a health service that certainly will never match the health service that we… had 12 months ago.”

Which part of that does the right hon. Gentleman not understand?

The Prime Minister: Let us look at what has happened to the NHS over the past 18 months—[ Interruption. ] Yes, let us look at the figures: 100,000 more patients treated every month; 4,000 extra doctors since the election; the number of clinical staff up; the level of hospital-acquired infections down; the number of people who are in mixed-sex wards down by 94%. That is what is happening, because there is a combination of money going in and reform.

Now, we know what happens if we do not put in the money and do not undertake the reform, because there is one part of the NHS which is run by Labour, and that is in Wales. Let us have a look at what is happening to the NHS in Wales. Labour has cut the money, and one third of people are waiting longer than 18 weeks. That is what is happening in Labour’s NHS, and if we did not put the money in and did not have the reform, it would happen right here, too.

Edward Miliband: I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is getting so agitated, because he thought that the NHS was his way to modernise the Conservative party, and I am afraid that it is coming apart. I will tell him why: it is because the promises he made before the election are coming back to haunt him. We all remember the promise of no more top-down reorganisation. Now he says that he knows better than the doctors, better than the nurses, better than the midwives and better than the patients associations—people who day in, day out rely on and devote their lives to the health service. This is a matter of trust in the Prime Minister. Can he honestly look people in the health service in the eye and say that he has kept his promise of no more top-down reorganisation?

The Prime Minister: What we are doing is cutting the bureaucracy in the NHS. We are taking out £4.5 billion of bureaucracy which will be ploughed into patient care. If you don’t support the reform, you won’t see that money go into operations, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health care assistants. That is what is actually happening in the NHS, but there is one group of people I will not listen to, and that is the people who ran the NHS under Labour. This is what they did: £6 billion wasted on the NHS computer; £250 million spent on private sector operations that were never carried out. We still have private finance initiative agreements whereby we pay £300 every time someone changes a light bulb. That is what we got from Labour. We are putting the money in, we are putting the reform in, the number of operations is up, the waiting times are down, the NHS is improving, and that is the way it is going to stay.

Edward Miliband: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman about our record on the NHS: the shortest waiting times in NHS history; more doctors and nurses than ever before; the highest level of patient satisfaction ever in the health service.

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But everyone will have heard a Prime Minister unable to defend the promise that he made: the promise of no more top-down reorganisation—a Prime Minister who has broken his word. The reality is this: all his attention is on this pointless, top-down reorganisation, and the front line is suffering: the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks—up, under him; A and E targets being missed; cancelled operations. Why will he not just give up, stop wasting billions and drop his Bill?

The Prime Minister: If the Opposition’s record was so good, why were they thrown out at the last election?

Now, let me just—[ Interruption. ] Let me— [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I am worried about Opposition Members. They must calm themselves and do so straight away.

The Prime Minister: Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of the clear test that he set for the reforms and for the Government. He said that the test was whether waiting times and waiting lists would come down. Let me now give him the figures: in-patient waiting times, down; out-patient waiting times, down; the number of people waiting more than a year, down to its lowest ever level; the number of people waiting for six months, down to its lowest ever level; and, indeed, the number of people on the waiting list—what he said was the clear test—is down. This is what it proves about the Labour leader: even when he moves the goalposts, he can’t put it in the back of the net.

Edward Miliband: The person who is moving the goalposts is the Prime Minister. The reality is that the key test that was set for the health service was the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks, and that number is up 43% since the general election. However much he twists and turns, that is the reality.

In his heart of hearts, the Prime Minister knows that the Bill is a complete disaster. That is why his aides are saying that the Health Secretary should be taken out and shot, because they know it is a disaster. The reality about the Bill is this: the doctors know that it is bad for the NHS; the nurses know that it is bad for the NHS; and patients know that it is bad for the NHS. Every day the Prime Minister fights for the Bill, every day trust in him on the NHS ebbs away and every day it becomes clearer that the health service is not safe in his hands.

The Prime Minister: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that the career prospects of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary are a lot better than his. That is what this is about. This is not a campaign to save the NHS; this is a campaign to try to save the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership. I make this prediction: the NHS will go on getting better and his prospects will go on getting worse.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): When the Work programme was introduced in Burnley in October 2010, 66% of people there were economically active; since then, the figure has climbed to 75%. Would the Prime Minister like to congratulate the people of Burnley—and in particular, Vedas Recruitment—for that success?

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The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating not only the people in Burnley but the people conducting the Work programme and our welfare reforms. What we are seeing is more people becoming able to work and therefore able to enter the work force and raise not only the country’s living standards but their own, too.

Q2. [93968] Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): The people of Preston are furious that the Indian Government have selected a French company as their preferred bidder for the Indian air force jet contract. The Prime Minister repeatedly talks about rebalancing the British economy, but this is a major blow to manufacturing in this country. Other European leaders go to help their companies get major contracts. Why is this weak Prime Minister not doing that and why have we not got the contract with the Indian Government?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman ought to think about the fact that all European leaders are backing the Eurofighter project—it is a German project, an Italian project, a Spanish project and a British project, and that is how it should be. I am very disappointed by what has happened in India, but Eurofighter is not out of the contest and we need to re-engage as hard as we can to make sure that we get the best deal for all those workers in Britain who make Eurofighters. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position, but this is something that ought to unite parties in this House—getting behind our great defence producers.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): In order that a constituent of mine could access the drugs and treatment that she was entitled to under the NHS constitution, her GP, her consultant, her specialist oncologist, the Secretary of State for Health and I had to write a total of 70 appeal letters. When will health care professionals be able to decide what treatments their patients get?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Since the introduction of the cancer drugs fund under this Government, 10,000 more people have been able to get cancer drugs, which are so essential. Let me tell the House one thing that would really damage cancer treatment in this country—it is the proposal from the Labour party to cap at 5% any private sector involvement in our hospitals. The Royal Marsden, one of the best cancer hospitals in the country, would have to cut by a quarter the services that it delivers. What a crazy, left-wing plan, which only the Leader of the Opposition could come up with.

Q3. [93969] Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): In three months’ time, just before the Olympics, Abu Qatada, a truly dangerous man, will be roaming the streets of London with his mobile phone and internet access, thanks to the Prime Minister’s having abolished control orders and house arrest provisions. How can the Prime Minister justify putting the public’s right to life at risk to give over to the Liberal Democrats on their demands to abolish control orders? It is disgusting.

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The Prime Minister: The situation with Abu Qatada is completely unacceptable. As I said when I went to Strasbourg to make a speech to the Council of Europe about this issue, it is not acceptable that we end up with a situation where we cannot try, detain or deport someone in our country who threatens to do us harm. That is why the Government will do everything they can, working with our Jordanian friends and allies, to make sure that he can be deported. Again, instead of the hon. Gentleman sniping about this, the whole House ought to unite to help sort this out.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): As recently as last September, only a tiny handful of the 165 acute mental health adult in-patient beds in Hampshire were vacant, yet the trust concerned proposes to cut those 165 beds to 107, replacing them with something called a hospital at home, or a virtual ward. Given my belief that the statistics on which that decision is based are inconsistent and unreliable, will the Prime Minister support my call for independent experts from the Audit Commission to look at those figures before those beds are closed?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we are putting extra resources into the NHS, but there needs to be a clear series of tests—as there is now under our plans—before any facilities are changed or closed. That is about ensuring that there is GP backing for what is proposed, and ensuring that any such changes will improve the health of the area. I will happily look at the issue that my hon. Friend raises, and ensure that the Department of Health engages on it with him.

Q4. [93970] Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Four police authorities, including one that I share with the Chancellor, have just started buying Hyundai cars imported from Korea. Add to that the Thameslink fiasco and that of the Olympic tickets—when will we see some leadership from the Prime Minister on public procurement in this country?

The Prime Minister: The most important thing in police procurement is that police forces get together and procure together to cut their costs. We have all lost count of the times spent wandering through police stations and seeing countless different types of vehicle, all costing a large amount of money. What the public want is police on the streets, not money spent on unnecessary procurement.

Q5. [93971] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): The Prime Minister will have seen this morning’s Defence Committee report on Libya. What steps is he taking to ensure that the UK will be fully able to evacuate all UK nationals from conflict zones, and reduce our reliance on civil charter aircraft?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I think that the Libya evacuation, and other potential evacuations in a dangerous and unstable world, have brought home to us the importance of having transport aircraft in the Ministry of Defence and the RAF. I can announce today that because the MOD’s finances are now better run and better managed, and because we have found savings, we will be able to

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purchase an additional C-17 for the RAF. This aircraft is becoming an absolutely brilliant workhorse for the RAF, bringing men and material into a war zone such as Afghanistan, and evacuating civilians in times of need. It is an important investment for the country, and I am glad to announce that we can make it today.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): May I first associate myself with the tributes to Her Majesty the Queen?

Yesterday, the all-party independent group on stalking published its report. The Prime Minister knows of my interest in that subject, and the Government consultation concluded yesterday. Will he please meet me and a small group of members of that all-party group to discuss the urgent need for a stalking law?

The Prime Minister: We take this issue seriously, and I would be happy to meet with the right hon. Gentleman and discuss it. I know that he has had conversations with the Home Office. We all want to get the issue right, and if there is a need for legislative changes, there may well be opportunities in the next Session for that sort of criminal justice legislation. I will happily meet the right hon. Gentleman and talk with him about it.

Q6. [93972] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): During apprenticeship week I am proud to highlight the fact that Macclesfield college has increased its number of apprenticeships from nine to 160 over the past three years, and that the Government have increased the number of apprenticeships by 177,000 in the past year alone. Does my right hon. Friend agree that achievements such as those illustrate the importance of apprenticeships, and the commitment that is required to give them the focus, attention and recognition that they deserve?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. One of the most important investments that we can make in the future industrial base of this country and in helping young people is in apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships has increased by a staggering 60% over the past year, and 457,000 people are starting apprenticeships. In apprenticeship week, it is important to stress what we are doing to get over the objections that people have had in the past, and to ensure that apprenticeships are more easily taken up by small businesses through the payment of a simple fee. We must ensure that we have more higher-level apprenticeships to show that apprenticeships are every bit as good as having a university degree, and often involve a university degree. We must also cut bureaucracy by allowing big businesses to run apprenticeship schemes themselves, rather than doing it via a training provider. All those things will make a big difference.

Q7. [93973] Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Why have the Government not lodged an appeal against the Abu Qatada judgment? Aren’t you being dangerously complacent, Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: We are doing everything we can to get this man out of the country. The absolutely key thing is to get an agreement with Jordan about the way he will be treated, because the European Court of Human Rights has made a very clear judgment. I happen to think it is the wrong judgment, and I regret

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that judgment. This guy should have been deported years ago. Nevertheless, if we can get that agreement with Jordan, he can be on his way.

Q8. [93974] Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Complex employment law makes small businesses nervous about hiring new staff. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need a simpler alternative for our smallest firms on dismissal rules?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. If every small business in the country hired an additional worker, that would go a long way to curing both long-term youth unemployment and total unemployment at one stroke. We have got to make it easier for businesses to take people on. One of the key considerations for businesses is how difficult it is to let someone go if it does not work out. That is why extending to two years the amount of time that someone has to work before they get access to a tribunal will make a real difference in small business employment.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): We have heard from the Prime Minister how the Italian and German Governments are out there fighting for British jobs. Will he tell us exactly how many phone conversations he had directly with the Indian Prime Minister about the Typhoon bid, and when the last conversation took place?

The Prime Minister: I raised this issue with the Indian Prime Minister repeatedly on my visit to India, and indeed at the G20 in Cannes, but let me remind the hon. Lady of one important fact. When I loaded up an aeroplane with British business people, including from businesses like Rolls-Royce, and took them around the Gulf to sell our defence equipment, who was it that attacked me? Who was it that put out press releases? Who is it that does not stand up for British industry, British defence companies and British jobs? It is Labour.

Q9. [93975] Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): On Monday I visited the offices of the Bucks Free Press to hear what my constituents have been saying about proposed changes to health services at Wycombe hospital. I can tell the Prime Minister that Labour’s tragic legacy in my constituency is distrust and despair. Does he agree with me that the right way to deliver local accountability in health care in our constituencies is clinical commissioning and foundation trust status?

The Prime Minister: I think my hon. Friend is entirely right. The whole point of the reforms is to put the power in the hands of local doctors, so that they make decisions on behalf of patients and based on what is good for health care in their local area. We may well find that the community hospitals that were repeatedly undermined by Labour will actually get a great boost, because local people and local doctors want to see them succeed. That is what our reforms are all about.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): The PIP implant saga has left 40,000 women sick with anxiety because of faulty medical products, and now they are being failed by private clinics and by an NHS that is dithering about what to do with them. In this saga we can see the future of a privatised NHS, so will

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the Prime Minister pledge to support those women in the NHS now and claim against the clinics later, and will he drop the Health and Social Care Bill so that we do not have this happening again across the NHS?

The Prime Minister: Let me take the hon. Lady’s question in two halves. She is entirely right about the scandal of the PIP implants. The Government have made it absolutely clear that we will offer every one of those women a free consultation and ensure that we do everything we can on the NHS to help them. It is an absolute scandal, and the private clinics that carried out those operations should feel the maximum pressure to undo the harm that they have done.

On the issue of greater competition and choice within the NHS, I think the hon. Lady should listen to past Labour politicians who have themselves said that actually, greater choice, greater competition and the involvement of the private sector can help to raise standards in our NHS system. That is why we should support it.

Q10. [93976] Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): The threat to shipbuilding jobs at Portsmouth dockyard places a question mark over not only 1,500 livelihoods at BAE Systems but 32,000 jobs in the wider regional supply chain. I know that the Prime Minister shares my concerns about that, but will he commit to do all he can to protect that site, where they have been building warships for more than 500 years?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for Portsmouth, for her constituents and for shipbuilding. BAE Systems has not approached the Government with any proposal to rationalise shipbuilding in the UK. As far as I am aware, no decisions have yet been taken by the company. On this Government’s commitment to the Royal Navy, we are building the new frigates, the global combat ship and the hunter-killer submarines. We have plans for replacing Trident, and plans for aircraft carriers are well under way. That is a major punch for the Royal Navy, which I strongly support.

Q11. [93978] Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Treasury tax raids on North sea oil and gas are putting 1,500 jobs at Offshore Group Newcastle in North Tyneside at risk. I ask the Prime Minister not to be complacent about north-east jobs, but to incentivise offshore development and guarantee tax relief on platform decommissioning in the Budget, and to meet me and others about the job situation in the north-east.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. I saw for myself when I went to Aberdeen how vital this industry is and how much investment is taking place in the North sea. Let me remind her, however, that the reason we put up the tax on the North sea was to cut petrol duty for families up and down the country, but we will make sure—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not know why Members are falling about unable to contain themselves. I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer.

The Prime Minister: We will make sure there is a good tax regime for the North sea, whether that is servicing jobs in England or, indeed, in Scotland.

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Q12. [93979] Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Last Wednesday, the Commons rejected the Lords attempt to wreck the Welfare Reform Bill. On seven occasions, the Commons voted. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister voted, but the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who has responsibility for children, refused to support the Government and has spoken against the policy. On occasion, I have spoken against the Government and not supported them, but I am not a Government Minister. Why is she still a Government Minister? [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. We want to hear the Prime Minister’s verdict on the hon. Member for Brent Central, and we will not if there is too much noise.

The Prime Minister: I thought my hon. Friend was going to say that he was not a Government Minister “yet”. The hon. Lady is a Government Minister and supports Government policy, as all Ministers do.

Q13. [93980] Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Fifteen thousand young disabled people will be affected by the changes to contributory employment support allowance. The worst 10%—1,500 new claimants —will lose £4,900 a year. Is this the Government of values that the Prime Minister spoke about in May 2010?

The Prime Minister: The important value with respect to employment support allowance is that we are saying that there are two groups. The first group—the support group—is for people who are not able to work, who deserve to get that support over and above jobseeker’s allowance, for as long as they need it, without any element of means-testing. The second group—the work-related activity group—is for people who need help to get work but who will be able to work. That is why they are in that group. They will get tailored help and support under the Work programme to get them into work. I know the Labour party has set its face against all welfare reform, but it is making a massive mistake in doing so.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): What confidence can we have that unilateral intervention by Russia will put an end to the terrible violence in Syria?

The Prime Minister: I think we can have very little confidence in that. Frankly, Russia and China set themselves against Arab opinion and world opinion when they set themselves against passing what would have been a strong and good UN resolution. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was absolutely right to push for that resolution.

What we now need—Britain will play a big part in this—is real engagement with the opposition groups both inside and outside Syria, bringing together the strongest possible international alliance through a contact group, so that we can co-ordinate our efforts with respect to getting rid of that dreadful regime. We should make sure, through the EU and other bodies, that we continue the sanctions and pressure.

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The bloodshed in Syria is absolutely appalling. The Russians have to look at their consciences and realise what they have done, but the rest of the world will keep fighting as hard as we can to give the Syrian people a chance to choose their own future.

Q14. [93981] Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday, I heard a health expert who is visiting the UK say that the NHS remains a beacon for care and effectiveness in the world, and that it needs to be improved and perfected, not changed. Will the Prime Minister accept that advice and abandon the health Bill?

The Prime Minister: What needs to be abandoned is Labour’s approach to the NHS in Wales.

Alun Michael indicated dissent .

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I will tell him what Labour is doing in Wales. It has cut health spending in Wales by £400 million, which is a 6.5% cut; and 27% of people in Wales wait more than six weeks for diagnostic services, whereas the figure for England is just 1%. As I said earlier, one third of people wait more than 18 weeks for an operation in Wales. That is what we get from Labour: no money, no reform, no good health service.

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Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Mr Martin Vickers.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Many of my constituents are among the 337 redundancies announced by Kerry Foods, based at Europarc industrial estate, which straddles the Cleethorpes and Great Grimsby constituencies. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and I have approached various Departments for support, which I am sure will be forthcoming. One possibility is the extension of the recently announced enterprise zone. Will the Prime Minister give some comfort to my constituents by considering the proposal sympathetically?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. He is right to speak up for his constituents in this way. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is happy to consider expanding the enterprise zone and see what else we can do to help my hon. Friend’s constituents and ensure that they can get into work.

Mr Speaker: We now come to the ten-minute rule motion. As always, I appeal to hon. and right hon. Members leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly so that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) can be respectfully heard by all who remain in the Chamber.

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Health and Safety (Amendment)

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

12.37 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to give health and safety inspectors the power to apply for a court order to freeze the assets, or parts thereof, of a company under investigation following a death or serious injury at work; and for connected purposes.

I start by declaring an interest: I am a proud member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians.

Many in the House take our safety at work for granted. We are lucky enough to be in an environment where the risks that we are exposed to are limited, but thousands of people in our country are not so lucky. They do their jobs in dangerous situations every day. When we think of danger, our armed forces often spring to mind, but in a whole range of industries, such as construction, workers are placed in harm’s way—those who work with heavy machinery, large vehicles or electrics, for example. In these environments, there can be serious consequences if accidents happen. It is vital, then, that we have laws in place to ensure that every precaution is taken to keep people safe at work, and that employers who ignore their legal responsibilities are properly deterred and punished when they do wrong.

My reason for bringing this motion before the House today is simple: a worrying number of companies are not only ignoring the laws designed to protect their employers but exploiting legal loopholes to avoid proper punishment following a death at work resulting from their malpractice. In the brief time I have today, I want to mention two companies abusing these loopholes.

In 2007, construction worker Mark Thornton, aged 46, was killed on a building site in my constituency. A 6 tonne steel column struck him on the head and shoulders after the crane carrying it buckled and toppled over. Mark worked for Bryn Thomas Crane Hire. When the Health and Safety Executive investigated, following Mark’s death, it concluded that a

“series of health and safety warnings and procedures were ignored. The crane was simply not capable of lifting the steel column, when it was nearly 18 metres away, without it being overloaded. If the work had been properly planned, and the crane had been properly maintained, then Mr Thornton would still be alive today.”

In December 2010, shortly before the case came to trial, the company that Mark worked for went into administration, despite its paying out dividends of over £200,000 in each of the three financial years following Mark’s death. During the trial, the judge stated that he was unable to impose the appropriate fine of £300,000 for flouting health and safety legislation because the company was in administration. Instead, he was able only to issue a fine of just £4,500. While in administration, the company was bought out by two of its directors, and is now operating under an almost identical name. It is still run by the same people, and still using the same equipment. It is, to all intents and purposes, the same company. To date, inquires made by UCATT to the administrators about the moneys owed by Bryn Thomas and the huge dividends paid to the directors have not been adequately answered.

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As I have said, the case of Mr Thornton is sadly not an isolated one. In February 2008, Noel Corbin was just 29 when he suffered fatal head injuries after falling from a roof in the course of installing a satellite dish for his employer, Foxtel Ltd. The ladder that he was provided with was too short and he had not received adequate training for the task that he had been asked to do. In fact, the property that he was working on had previously been visited by other installers and the job designated as impossible without a specialist team. His employer knew that, yet sent him to do the job alone anyway. Again, an HSE investigation took place and, just like Bryn Thomas, Foxtel entered administration shortly before the trial. Foxtel was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws, but because it was in administration, the court was able only to impose a fine of just £1. Just like in the case of Mark Thornton, Foxtel has since been resurrected, and continues to trade under virtually the same name.

Noel’s family were kind enough to join me in Parliament on Monday to launch this Bill. They bravely shared their tragic story and their sense of deep injustice. I can only begin to imagine how they must feel.

Mark and Noel are just two examples of people who should be alive today but are not, and I could have named more. The HSE has numerous powers to carry out investigations and inquiries where it considers that there may have been a breach of health and safety regulations. However, those cases clearly demonstrate that its powers are limited where a company under investigation for a serious breach of health and safety law goes into liquidation. The loopholes that that has created are wrong. They are exploited by negligent employers unwilling to take responsibility for the tragedies that they have caused, and they deny the victims’ families and friends the justice that they deserve. We have a responsibility, to the families and friends who have lost loved ones, to close those loopholes.

Giving health and safety inspectors the power to freeze a company’s assets when it is under investigation following an accident at work would help to prevent the sort of manoeuvrings illustrated in those cases. If the assets of Bryn Thomas Crane Hire Ltd had been frozen, it would not have been possible to run the company down by paying huge dividends to the directors while it was under investigation. Such powers would also send a clear signal to other employers that they cannot avoid being punished for breaking the law. Freezing orders are already used widely in cases of suspected fraud or drug crimes. They prevent the disposal or removal of assets before a judgment has been made. Those rules could apply equally to health and safety law.

There may be circumstances where it is not appropriate or desirable for the HSE to freeze all the assets of a company—if that would lead to its being unable to continue trading or to a loss of jobs, for example. In those cases, the Bill would allow the HSE to freeze part of a company’s assets, allowing it to continue trading, but preventing it from avoiding the correct level of punishment if found guilty.

All too often, our health and safety laws are maligned; they are attacked as pointless and obstructive, and characterised as regulations gone mad. When incorrectly applied, there could be some truth to that, but no one could disagree that Noel Corbin deserved the proper

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sized ladder or that the crane that killed Mark Thornton should have been properly maintained and fit for the task.

The Government have launched a red tape challenge, which they say is an attempt to cut unnecessary regulations for business. As part of that they are examining health and safety laws. I urge Ministers not to remove regulations that protect our workers. In the construction industry, strong health and safety laws save lives. If our laws were stronger, more lives might be saved. Last year, 50 people died on construction sites—that is 50 people too many.

Employers who wilfully avoid protecting the lives of the people who work for them must never be able to walk away without punishment or to continue trading and endangering others. That is why I have brought this Bill forward. In doing so, I hope that the Government will look at the issue and be persuaded that the time has come to put this modest but vital measure into law.

Question put and agreed to .

Ordered ,

That Luciana Berger, Steve Rotheram, Joan Walley, Huw Irranca-Davies, John Cryer, Angela Smith, Mr David Hamilton, Natascha Engel, Kevin Brennan, Julie Elliott, Mr Stephen Hepburn and Jim Sheridan present the Bill.

Luciana Berger accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April 2012, and to be printed (Bill 305).

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12.47 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2012-13 (HC 1797), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.

This Government inherited the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history. The deficit needs to be reduced, which means less spending across the public sector, and the police service must play its part. The reductions we are making in police funding are not through choice; they are a direct response to the situation in which the country was left. On 8 December, I laid before this House a written ministerial statement, which set out the Government’s proposed allocations of grants to police authorities and, from this November, police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. Following that, the Government held a public consultation on the proposed allocations, to which we received 21 responses.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Nick Herbert: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman—at a very early stage.

Mark Hendrick: Will the Minister tell us why the Lancashire constabulary is losing 500 police officers?

Nick Herbert: I will come to all those issues in the course of my remarks. Naturally, I intend to address all these issues.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Herbert: Let me make a little more progress, and I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman later.

Following careful consideration of all those responses, I have decided that force level allocations will remain as announced in my written ministerial statement of 8 December. Each police force in England and Wales will face an equal percentage reduction in core Government funding in 2012-13. I believe that that is the most transparent, straightforward and equitable means of apportioning the funding reductions. It is important to note that the allocations were set out last year and have remained the same.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister is talking about the level of cuts and maintaining the figures as originally set out. Does he accept that although it might not be his choice, it is the Government’s choice that the reductions are front-ended, and therefore place an additional burden which is more difficult for police forces to meet?

Nick Herbert: The profile of the reductions for police forces was set by the spending review. There are larger reductions in the first and second years than in the third and fourth years, and that reflects the overall need for the Government to get on top of the deficit and build credibility in this area. The position and allocations I have announced remain the same, so there are no surprises for police forces, which have been working on that basis since the spending review was announced.

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John Healey: The Minister talks about choices, but will he talk about consequences? South Yorkshire has been forced to cut more than 100 police officers since the election and will have to cut another 300. Will he rethink these Government funding cuts for the police instead of stripping us in south Yorkshire of the police we need?

Nick Herbert: I will come to the issue of police numbers, although the previous Home Secretary in the Government whom the right hon. Gentleman supported said just before the election that he could not guarantee the number of police officers. One of the points I will be making today is that the Opposition are committed to reductions in spending that mean they too would produce a situation in which police forces were losing officers—the question is how forces adapt to that. Anyway, I do not think we should just play the straightforward numbers game.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Does the Minister share my confusion about the fact that when police numbers in my police force in Humberside were cut by 137 in 2009 under the Labour Government, not a single Labour politician, local council or local MP criticised those cuts? Instead, they defended them, saying, “It’s not about numbers; it’s about what you do with your police officers.” Does my right hon. Friend think that is a bit weird?

Nick Herbert: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is certainly true that we do not hear much of that from the Labour party now. Some 27 police forces were reducing police numbers at the time of the last election, but that is not frequently admitted by the Opposition.

One-off funding will additionally be provided to the Mayor’s office for policing and crime in 2012 from outside the police spending review settlement. That payment will help to maintain the operational capabilities of the Metropolitan police while they are policing the Olympics, the Paralympics, WorldPride and Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee celebrations. It will help to maintain resilience during this unique period and, crucially, it comes on top of the police spending review settlement, which means that no police force will see its funding reduced as a result.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): If I heard the Minister correctly a few moments ago, he said that the cuts, while regrettable, were equitable. May I ask him to address an issue that we from the west midlands and some cities have been saying for some time? For forces that are more dependent on grant, the cuts are much greater and deeper than for other forces. Why is it that the West Midlands force is suffering a reduction of 7.3% while Surrey has an increase of 3.8%? Is that his definition of us all being in it together?

Nick Herbert: There is an equal share in the reduction in central Government funding, and the decision that confronted the Government, which we have discussed in the House before, was whether to adjust that reduction for the contribution that is made by the local taxpayer. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to make this point as a west midlands Member of Parliament, but had we followed his advice and given a smaller reduction

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to his force because it raises less money from the local taxpayer, we would have penalised the forces that raise more from the local taxpayer. Why should forces that have over the years increased the amount of local funding they receive be penalised more and why should their taxpayers be penalised more? Furthermore, police forces were expecting an even share of the reduction. For all those reasons, we thought that the proper and fairest course was to give an even reduction across the forces. The hon. Gentleman might not like that explanation, but it is a credible and proper response to the situation in which we found ourselves.

I appreciate that there are differences of opinion about the use of damping and I understand why some forces wish to see it phased out while others welcome its retention. I know that many police forces and authorities are keen to have more clarity about the damping arrangements for the last two years of this spending review period, and I want to reassure the House that I intend to consider this issue very carefully and will take into account the wide range of views before making a final decision later this year.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The Minister has repeatedly said that the front line does not have to be affected, but does he accept that the evidence is clear that it is being affected and that front-line officers are going each day?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman is making the mistake that I think is the mistake of the Labour party of equating the quality of the front-line service purely with numbers. I shall address precisely this issue later, and if he feels that I have not done that I will be happy for him to intervene on me again.

On capital funding, I have carefully considered the consultation responses and have decided to top-slice the Home Office police capital allocation to support the establishment of the National Police Air Service. That service will give all forces access to helicopter support 24 hours a day, 365 days year, in contrast with the current system in which some force’s helicopters are grounded for days at a time while being repaired. It will mean that 97% of the population of England and Wales will remain within 20 minutes’ flying time, and it will save the police service £15 million a year when fully operational.

The plan for the National Police Air Service has been led by Chief Constable Alex Marshall and has the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police service’s operational leaders and the vast majority of police authorities. The funding proposal I have set out is the right way to ensure that this key national service is established on a sound basis. Each force will face an equal percentage reduction in the previously indicated level of capital grant; this is the most transparent and equitable means of providing for the capital requirements of what will be a national service. All forces will benefit from the savings.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome what the Minister has done on the helicopter issue, especially in using the powers to mandate South Yorkshire, but what about unexpected events? Last Saturday, the English Defence League marched through the middle of Leicester at a cost to the police authority of £800,000. Where

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does it get that money from at a time when budgets are very tight? It cannot prevent people from marching unless there are reasons to do so, but that puts it under huge pressure.

Nick Herbert: First, I note the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the National Police Air Service, which is important given his position as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. This move is a significant step forward and shows that police forces can collaborate to improve the quality of service and reduce cost. On events that occur in police force areas and incur particular costs, there are established procedures under which police forces can apply to the Home Office for special grant. Forces and authorities are aware of the criteria for such grants and we will always consider such applications very carefully.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): In Greater Manchester, we were genuinely grateful for the moneys that flowed from the Home Office as a consequence of the riots. However, will the Minister address this point about the front line? During the riots, the Home Secretary ordered that all leave be cancelled, and the thin blue line was very stretched. Can the Minister honestly say that with the current cutbacks, if there were large-scale disorder such as that last August, which nobody wants to see, the police service could cope, even with the cuts that are still coming?

Nick Herbert: I am absolutely confident that the police service could cope in those circumstances. In such situations, police forces will always rely on additional support from other services and will take special measures, such as the cancellation of leave, to maximise the resources available to them. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that the inspectorate of constabulary report on this issue did not suggest that the reduction in police spending and numbers was going to leave police forces more vulnerable in that regard. It talked about the importance of more effective and rapid deployment, and those are the issues on which we should focus.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): The Minister said that he did not think there was any need to lose front-line police officers, and quoted the inspectorate in that context. Has the inspectorate not said that up to 10,000 police on the beat will be lost because of his cuts?

Nick Herbert: I shall deal with precisely what the inspectorate said in a minute.

Funding for counter-terrorism policing has been prioritised in the police funding settlement to ensure that the police have the necessary resources to respond to the demands posed by the continuing terrorist threat. We have allocated £564 million to counter-terrorism for 2012-13, and that follows a considerable increase over previous years. Forces will receive their allocations shortly. Delivering a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games is a priority for the Government, and preparations remain on track. As we indicated last year, the Government are confident that the Olympic policing and wider security programme can be delivered in full for £475 million, although £600 million remains available if required.

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We have set aside sufficient funding for the election this November of police and crime commissioners, who will ensure that the police become fully accountable and responsive to the demands of their local areas. That funding is additional money, which will not come from the police settlement. [Interruption.] As hon. Members seek to interrupt me from a sedentary position, let me observe that it is very gratifying to note the number of putative police and crime commissioners on the Opposition Benches. Indeed, more and more Labour Members of Parliament are jumping from the sinking ship every day in the hope of seeking refuge in elected local office.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) rose—

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady will soon be on her own.

Yvette Cooper: Given that the Minister is so isolated as he sits there on the Government Front Bench, I think that he may want to reconsider that remark. Will he tell the House how many constables could have been paid for with the money that is to be spent on police and crime commissioners?

Nick Herbert: I have said on a number of occasions that we do not expect the running costs of police and crime commissioners to be more than those of police authorities. The only additional cost will be the cost of elections, which will represent 0.1% of annual police spend. Having got itself into the position of opposing this democratic reform over the last 18 months, the Labour party is now putting up candidates, and some would-be candidates are on the Benches behind the right hon. Lady. I think that she needs to catch up: she cannot go on criticising this policy while at the same time fielding candidates.

I believe that the challenge of maintaining and improving policing as budgets fall is manageable, provided that forces do not treat this as “business as usual”. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has set out how forces can save over £1 billion a year if those that spend more than others reduce their costs just to the average. The savings identified were in such areas as legal services, estates—buildings, maintenance and services—criminal justice and custody, training, control rooms, business support, investigations, community safety and community relations. However, it is important to appreciate that the Government and forces are identifying savings well beyond the scope of HMIC’s report.

Pay accounts for the bulk of total police spending, which amounted to about £11 billion last year, so there is no doubt that pay reform and restraint must form part of the police savings package. That is why we have asked the police—along with the rest of the public sector—to accept a two-year pay freeze, which could save them at least £350 million a year. I note that the official Opposition now support that pay freeze. The first part of the Winsor review also made a number of recommendations, and the House will be aware of the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that the Government will approve the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal. I note that the official Opposition also urged the Government to implement the tribunal’s findings. Once they have been fully implemented, those changes will save forces about £150 million a year.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I am listening with great interest to what the Minister has to say. He said that he did not believe that front-line policing was just about police numbers, but we believe that the front line will be badly affected by the cuts that he is making, especially in such places as Halton in Cheshire. Can he give a guarantee that the front-line response to incidents will not deteriorate over the period of this Parliament?

Nick Herbert: I believe that chief constables—including, notably, the chief constable of Cheshire—are committed to maintaining the quality of their front-line service, and to finding new ways of delivering that service, in the light of the reduced resource that they confront.

The police do important, often difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and we should continue to value police officers and staff. I appreciate that changes to pay and pensions are difficult for them, but reform is necessary. The changes in police pay will not reduce basic pay, and, crucially, will help to protect police jobs, keep officers on the streets, and fight crime. Together, the changes in pay and conditions will save half a billion pounds a year on top of HMIC’s savings.

The second way in which savings beyond those identified by HMIC can be achieved is through forces working together, harnessing their collective buying power and rationalising where duplication is wasteful and inefficient. The 43 forces of England and Wales have between them 2,000 different IT systems and 300 data centres, and employ 5,000 staff, yet—as officers frequently tell me—the IT systems in forces are still not good enough. We are therefore enabling forces to introduce better, more cost- effective IT arrangements, for instance through the proposed new ICT company.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): In the context of smarter and better procurement, can the Minister give us an update on the HMIC figure, which suggested that if all the 43 forces were as efficient procurers as the most efficient, £1.5 billion a year could be saved?

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend has made a good point. HMIC savings were predicated on forces becoming as efficient as the average. One of the points that the Government have been making is that there is no reason why we should not raise force performance to the level of the best. That is not some arbitrary target; we know that some forces are already achieving greater efficiency. We believe that there is potential for at least £180 million of savings per annum through ICT. Forces have already made substantial savings. Police spend was some £73 million lower last year than in 2009-10, and there are opportunities for forces to go further. We are using the national buying power of the police service—indeed, the whole public sector—to do things better and more cheaply. We are requiring the police to procure more and more equipment together. Those changes alone could save a further £200 million per annum by 2014-15.

Yvette Cooper rose—

Nick Herbert: I will of course give way to the shadow Home Secretary, but I wonder whether she will confirm in her intervention that she supports the savings that we seek to make through collective procurement and better IT.

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Yvette Cooper: We do think it right to make savings from procurement, but will the Minister explain why, if all these things are happening, 16,000 police officers are still being lost? Will he also confirm that 4,000 officers have already gone from the front line alone since the election?

Nick Herbert: All these changes mean that there will be a smaller work force. The Government have always accepted that. Some £2 billion a year needs to be saved, and most of the spending is on personnel, although a significant proportion is not. The savings that I have described can be achieved through more efficient working and, in many cases, fewer personnel. The question is, what will be the impact on the service and the performance of the forces? That is what the right hon. Lady simply will not focus on.

Several hon. Members rose

Nick Herbert: I will give way to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.

Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for the second time. Has he seen the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee by Dame Helen Ghosh? We were pushing the recommendation that we had made in a previous report that there should be a catalogue—Dame Helen kept referring to it as an Argos catalogue, but something more up-market would be more appropriate—[Interruption.] I will not refer to John Lewis, for obvious reasons. The catalogue in question, which would be approved by the Home Office, would ensure that police forces did not procure separately, but obtained the best possible national deal.

Nick Herbert: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that that is effectively what we are doing. We are passing new regulations—we have just introduced the latest raft—which require forces to buy certain goods and items of equipment together. The savings that they are making are accumulating, and, as I have said, will eventually reach £200 million a year. I shall be happy to provide the Home Affairs Committee with an update on that, because I think it is a good story which shows that forces can make savings by working more effectively together. I note that the Opposition have conceded that savings can be made in that area. Those savings, too, are in addition to the savings identified by HMIC.

The third way in which the police can find savings beyond those originally identified by HMIC is through transformation of the way forces work. HMIC said that savings of £1 billion a year could be found if the high-spending forces simply reduced their costs in a range of functions to the average of that spent by a similar force. However, if all forces achieved the efficiency levels of the best forces nationally, that would save a further £350 million a year. Why should not all forces be as efficient as the best?

Outsourcing can also play a major role in effecting this transformation. The Government have been supporting Surrey and West Midlands forces and authorities in a joint programme exploring the value of business partnering. Broad areas of service can be covered, including a range of activities in, or supporting, front-line policing such as dealing with incidents, supporting victims, protecting

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individuals at risk and providing specialist services. This is not about traditional outsourcing; rather, it is about building a new strategic relationship between forces and the private sector. By harnessing private-sector innovation, specialist skills and economies of scale, forces can transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for the public. Every police authority in England and Wales bar one could join in, should they choose to do so. Under its own steam, Lincolnshire is about to sign a £200 million contract over 10 years with G4S. That contract for support services is available to the other forces named on the procurement notice.

These are highly significant developments that open up the possibility of new savings across policing. The published potential value of the Surrey and West Midlands contract is between £300 million and £3.5 billion. I look forward to hearing whether the Opposition believe that such business partnering is the right way forward for policing.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): May I take the Minister back to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary’s point that HMIC has calculated that police numbers will fall by 16,000? Has the Home Office estimated how many of the posts that will be lost will be from the back office, because we know that 4,000 jobs have been lost from the front line in the first year of the Minister’s cuts alone?

Nick Herbert: The HMIC report said there had been a 2% reduction in the number of front-line officers. Judging by the hon. Gentleman’s face, he has not read that report, and I suggest he does so.

Taken together, these reforms will result in far in excess of a 12% real-terms reduction in central Government funding. They will save over £2 billion a year. In fact, they will save more than the reduction in central Government grant of 20% in real terms. Let me repeat the following, therefore: the savings identified by HMIC are over £1 billion; the savings from pay are £0.5 billion; the savings from collective procurement and IT are £380 million; and the savings from bringing every force’s performance up to the level of the best are £350 million. The total savings, therefore, amount to over £2.3 billion, exceeding the reductions in police funding while protecting front-line services.

Yvette Cooper: According to the Minister, everything is hunky-dory, because if his figures are to believed there will be no negative impact on services. Why, therefore, has the Lancashire chief constable now had to decide that his force will have to change its response times? He has said:

“If someone is absolutely insistent that they need to see an officer, they’ll see an officer. But…it might be that we negotiate either a delay or no deployment at all.”

That is clearly an example of an impact on front-line policing, and the service provided to people who live in Lancashire, as a result of the scale of the Government’s cuts.

Nick Herbert: I very much doubt that the chief constable of Lancashire police—who is one of the best chief constables in the country, and who heads a high-performing force—would accept the right hon. Lady’s characterisation of his decision. Her entire contention is that front-line

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services are bound to be damaged simply because police numbers are falling. That is the equation that Labour always makes, but the fact is that the latest official figures show recorded crime falling, and according to the British crime survey the crime level is stable. There are areas of concern, and chief constables are fully aware of that. We all need to work hard to stay on top of crime. However, the Opposition cannot claim that overall crime is rising, or that falling police numbers are causing crime to rise. They cannot claim that because it is not true.

In any case, Labour cannot attack falling police numbers as a result of these savings when it is committed to the same savings. The shadow Home Secretary backs over £1 billion-worth of savings as recommended by HMIC, but the shadow police Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), has told this House that when he was in office he planned to save

“£500 million to £600 million from overtime and shift patterns”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 722.]

That is far more than the HMIC’s £90 million of savings from better management of staffing rotas and overtime. Further, 12 days ago the shadow Home Secretary finally admitted that Labour backed the pay freeze for police officers and staff that is worth £350 million, and she said that that was not just for the next year but for future years as well. To be added to the £1.2 billion of savings recommended by HMIC, the savings from overtime and the pay freeze are the £150 million of savings recommended by the police arbitration tribunal and endorsed by the Labour party. In total, therefore, Labour has backed more than £2 billion-worth of cuts to police funding. Let me say this plainly: the Opposition cannot attack the cuts when they back cuts on the same scale. They cannot go around criticising falling officer and staff numbers when their savings would result in a smaller work force, too.

Yvette Cooper rose—

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab) rose—

Nick Herbert: I give way to the shadow Home Secretary.

Yvette Cooper: The Minister can put up all the smokescreens he wants, but he knows that we will back a 12% reduction in the policing budgets over the course of the Parliament, not the 20% cut that he wants. Will he confirm that his 20% cuts are leading to 16,000 police officers being lost, and that HMIC took into account his pay freeze and all the savings that he has outlined when it projected that 16,000 police officer posts will be lost? Will he now ditch his 20% plan, change instead to our 12% plan, and save those 16,000 police officer posts?

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady has been caught out. The fact is that the HMIC savings did not include the pay freeze or the savings from collective procurement, which just a few minutes ago she said could be made. [Interruption.] Two weeks ago, she was forced to admit that she backed that pay freeze. Her colleague the shadow police Minister tried to disagree with that, but she has confirmed that she backs the pay freeze. Those savings are in addition to the £1 billion. [Interruption.] They are in addition to the 12%. [Interruption.] It is no

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use the right hon. Lady just hectoring. If she pays attention for a second, she will learn that these pay restraint savings are on top of the HMIC savings. That is the whole point. The Opposition are attacking the cuts while backing the same scale of cuts themselves; it is just that they will not admit that to police officers or the public.

Yvette Cooper: Does the Minister agree that if he shifted from 20% to 12%, he could save thousands of police officer jobs across the country and improve front-line services? If he does agree with that, why will he not switch to the far more sensible 12%?

Nick Herbert: If the right hon. Lady agreed with that herself, why does she remain committed to these 20% cuts? That is what she is committed to: the HMIC savings plus the pay savings, the procurement savings, and the savings her shadow police Minister has identified through overtime. All of that adds up to far more than 12%. [Interruption.] She is shaking her head in denial, but that is the truth of the matter. The Opposition are pretending that they are not committed to the same level of cuts, but when pushed, they have to admit that they are. Police officers will know it, and the public will know it. The Opposition cannot credibly campaign against cuts when they remain committed to these levels of reductions in spending themselves.

Mr Ruffley: According to the House of Commons Library, if we take the spending review presumption that police authorities will choose to increase the precept at the level forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, there will not be a 20% reduction by 2015; instead, there will be only a 14% reduction in real terms.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is, of course, right. If forces choose to increase the precept, under the OBR expectation, the reduction would be less than 20%. Even if all forces froze the precept for the next three years, the reductions in police force budgets would be less than 20%. There is not a single force in the country that is facing a 20% reduction in budget. This is another way in which the Opposition either fail to understand what is going on or seek to present a different picture to the public.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): A few minutes ago, the Minister said that the crime figures were not rising, but in York they are. According to an answer from his junior Minister, the figure for York in the last year of the previous Labour Government was 14,480; it rose in the first year of the Conservative Government to 15,199. What, therefore, is the Minister’s strategy in areas such as mine, where he is cutting £5 million from our local police force budget, even though we need additional resources to counter the increase in crime since the Conservatives came to power?

Nick Herbert: I did say that there were areas of concern that forces would have to attend to. Overall, the figures were clear that recorded crime is down. If other forces are working within the available resources, why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the solution is to increase resourcing in his area? Perhaps the solution is better policing, better partnership and a focus on driving down crime in those areas. The question he must ask is:

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if other forces and areas are doing it and have had the same level of funding reductions, why cannot his? Labour Members instantly assume that there is a need to increase spending, and it is precisely that attitude that got the country into this mess in the first place. They simply will not focus on how money is spent—only on the call for more money to be spent.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Minister is being incredibly generous; he has given way many times, and it is appreciated. By their very nature, police community support officers provide front-line policing and support functions to the police. What is his estimate of the reduction in the number of PCSOs? They have been incredibly popular in the West Mercia area, yet the HMIC report says that we might lose up to 90. Does the Minister think that will happen?

Nick Herbert: The Government and I are strong supporters of PCSOs, and as I will mention in a minute, we continue to provide a substantial sum of money through the neighbourhood policing fund. In future, police and crime commissioners will decide how they wish to deploy that money, which will be rolled into the police main grant. I hope they will pay attention to views such as the hon. Gentleman expressed about the importance of PCSOs in providing a visible face of policing in neighbourhoods, and in offering that reassurance. They are a valuable addition to the police work force.

Therefore, although the Opposition do not want to admit it, there is agreement about the need for savings in the police budget, and it is about time we all started to focus on how money is spent. Of course, visibility and availability of police officers matters, but that is affected by how officers are deployed, shift patterns and bureaucracy. If officers waste time filling in forms or doing a task which could be done more efficiently, they are kept from front-line duties. That is why we have announced a package of measures that will cut police bureaucracy and save up to 3.3 million police hours a year—the equivalent of putting more than 1,500 police officers back on the streets. That is why we are piloting live links technology, so that police officers can give evidence from their stations rather than wasting their time hanging around in court.

However, police forces themselves can make the changes to improve front-line services within the available resources. HMIC’s report “Demanding Times” was clear about the need to match resources better with demand. It found that, on average, police forces had more officers visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night, and the best forces had twice the visibility and availability of those at the bottom of the table. By changing shift patterns, targeting resources better, reducing time-wasting bureaucracy and using initiatives such as “hot-spots” or problem-oriented policing, forces can not only continue to deliver within reduced budgets, but continue to cut crime.

Julie Hilling rose

Mr Watts rose—

Nick Herbert: The evidence from HMIC also showed that a third of the police work force, including some 25,000 police officers and PCSOs—a quarter of all

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police officers, in fact—were employed in the back and middle offices. There is plenty of scope to make savings while protecting the front line, even if the overall number of officers has to fall, and this is what is happening. HMIC’s most recent data show that the proportion of the policing work force in the front line is expected to rise over the spending review period. The Government’s commitment to helping to protect visible policing is clear, not least in the neighbourhood policing fund, through which we are making £338 million available to ensure that forces can continue to provide a dedicated, consistent and visible presence in their communities through PCSOs. Crucially, maintaining the fund in 2012-13 will ensure that police and crime commissioners inherit a fully functioning neighbourhood policing framework in November. From that time, the decisions about such resourcing will be for them.

I now give way to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who has been patient.

Julie Hilling: I thank the Minister for giving way. I have been listening very carefully and I am somewhat confused. My understanding was that the Government were saying there would be no cuts to front-line services, but he seems to be acknowledging that there may be a cut to PCSO and officer numbers. My officers tell me that it now takes them much longer to deal with any case that they have to attend, because they cannot then get through to report it. Each case should take 10 minutes to report, but it is actually taking an hour because of the cuts to back-room services. What is the Minister’s view of the fact that cases are taking much longer for police officers to resolve?

Nick Herbert: I certainly think it important that forces guard against what is sometimes called reverse civilianisation—the idea that reducing the number of staff will increase the demand on officers. It is about re-engineering policing to make sure that processes are more efficient. Actually, there has been a huge growth in the number of staff in police forces over the past 10 years, and there has been scope to reduce that. The simple point is, of course, that if the number of staff had not been reduced by rather more than the number of police officers, that would have impacted on the latter. There is balance to be achieved here. Furthermore, police officers cannot be made redundant anyway.

We have to get away from the idea that the quality of a front-line service can be measured only by the number of staff or how much money is spent on it. The National Audit Office’s report on mobile technology in policing, published two weeks ago, showed that under the last Government, £71 million was spent to deliver only a “basic level” of benefits. Four years later, the scheme has still not delivered value for money to the taxpayer. The NAO found that

“not enough consideration was given to how forces would use the mobile technology, how much local spending was required or how realistic were the announced deadlines”.

Let us hear less, in the constant demand to spend more money, about the focus on inputs, and rather more about value for money and how well this money is being spent.

The fact is that across the country, forces are reducing budgets while protecting, or indeed improving, front-line services. Hampshire, for example, is saving money and

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reducing crime, and has made a public commitment to retaining local visible policing levels. Thames Valley has reduced business support costs such as HR, removed a layer of management and is collaborating with other forces. It has saved money and is to re-deploy officers to front-line roles in neighbourhoods or on patrol. Kent police has better matched staffing levels with demand, increased police officer availability, restructured the way it provides policing services, collaborated with Essex police, streamlined support services and is realigning some of its specialist policing functions. As a result, it has been able to deploy more officers to uniformed street patrols. It has increased police visibility with the public, the head count of neighbourhood officers and staff has increased by 50%, and public satisfaction levels have increased.

It is therefore clear that, through changing the way forces do things, they can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities.

Yvette Cooper rose

Nick Herbert: I will give way one last time.

Yvette Cooper: The Policing Minister has been generous in giving way. He boasts about the improvements in getting more police officers on to the street and into front-line jobs. Will he therefore admit that it is a serious problem that, since the election, 4,000 front-line officers doing front-line jobs have gone?

Nick Herbert: I really think that “boasting” is a silly word to use about what I am saying these forces are doing. I am describing what chief constables have done in adjusting to reduced resources, reconfiguring how policing is delivered and protecting the front line. That is not a boast from the Government; it is an explanation of how policing services can be transformed. [ Interruption. ] I suggest—if the right hon. Lady will draw breath—that she would do well to meet some of these chief constables and hear how they are achieving these aims.

It is clear that forces, through changing the way they do things, can make savings and maintain or improve the service they provide to their communities. Our reforms will support this change: a police professional body, to be up and running by the end of the year, setting standards, improving training, equipping professionals to do the job and helping to reduce bureaucracy; a police ICT company to help the police deliver better value to forces for their ICT spend; and a new national crime agency, a powerful new crime-fighting force working across different police forces and agencies, defending our borders, co-ordinating action on economic crime and protecting children and vulnerable people. Police and crime commissioners will ensure that the police tackle local priorities and hold the chief constable to account, and they will drive value for money.

This is a coherent agenda to build a modern, flexible and responsive police service, delivering value for money for the taxpayer and fighting crime. I commend this motion to the House.

1.29 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Today, the Government are asking Parliament to support an 8% real cut in their funding for police forces

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across the country next year. An 8% cut in one year alone is more than any other service is expected to make next year. Manchester’s chief constable has said that it will be

“the most difficult financial year for policing in living memory”.

Gloucestershire’s chief constable has said that his force now faces “a cliff edge”, and the Dyfed Powys police chief has said that he is

“genuinely concerned about how we will be able to effectively protect our communities and bring criminals to justice”.

Chief constables in Lancashire, Norfolk and South Yorkshire are all warning that the cuts will make it harder for them to fight crime—they are even warning that in some cases crime may rise as a result. Serious warnings are being sounded to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice by chief constable after chief constable, but nobody in the Government is listening. Time and again, we have called on Ministers to think again and reopen the policing budget, but time and again they have refused to do so. Time and again, they have said that the police do not need the cash.

Some £31 million has been cut from Manchester’s force, with cuts of £33 million from the West Midlands police and £13 million from the Devon and Cornwall police. Big cuts are being made to force after force next year, except in London. Three months before the mayoral election, and three weeks after the polls show Boris Johnson falling behind, the Government suddenly decide to reopen the budget for London—they suddenly decide to come up with a pre-election £90 million bung. The London Mayor has spent years cutting the Met police and the number of officers in London, yet suddenly the Conservative party has panicked and is trying to bail him out. Suddenly, the party has noticed that the public are angry about the cuts that Boris Johnson has agreed to their safer neighbourhood teams, their CID units and their police officers based in schools.

Nick Herbert rose

Yvette Cooper: I will give way to the Policing Minister if he can explain why he has suddenly decided to increase this funding just three months before the mayoral election.

Nick Herbert: I did explain why this coalition Government have increased the funding, and I should point out that both parties will be fielding candidates in the election. Will the right hon. Lady tell me clearly whether she supports the increase in funding for the Metropolitan police this year—yes or no?

Yvette Cooper: We certainly support extra funding for the Metropolitan police and for forces in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Humberside and across the country, which the Minister has abandoned because those areas do not have an immediate election where a Tory candidate is starting to struggle and fall behind.

Mr Watts: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a scandal that the Government parties are bribing the London voters because there is a crucial election, while at the same time they are cutting funding to areas such

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as Merseyside and to other police authorities that face major problems? Those problems are now not going to get dealt with because of the cuts.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is exactly right. This is happening from Merseyside to Norfolk and Gloucestershire; it is happening right across the country. We have been warning that the Government should reopen the funding formula for not only the Met, but other forces across the country, because the Minister’s plans are doing nothing for those other forces, which are facing those pressures. We have to wonder what the chief constables in other parts of the country have to do to get a break. Do they have to put on a blonde wig, jump on a bike and become a struggling Tory candidate to get the money they need? The Home Secretary should be more concerned about public safety than about the safety of Boris Johnson. This is a con for Londoners, it is a rip-off for the rest of the country and it is pork barrel politics at its worst.

Andrew Percy: The shadow Secretary of State will, as ever, wish to be honest with the House. If she were Secretary of State today, would she be coming to his House to cut the budget for Humberside police, in my area—yes or no?

Yvette Cooper: As we made clear, we believe that the force should have a 12% cut over the course of the Parliament. So, yes, forces would face reductions and would have to make savings, but that figure has been supported by chief constables across the country, by work done by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and by work that the former Home Secretary did before the election. That is why we think that ours is a reasonable approach to take, as opposed to making the deepest cuts in police funding seen for a generation—cuts of 8% in one year alone and cuts of 20% altogether. The hon. Gentleman’s local force is losing 500 police officers as a result of his Government’s plans. Will he be putting that on his election leaflet?

Andrew Percy: Does the shadow Secretary of State therefore agree that it may be seen as a little dishonest of local Labour politicians, who did not oppose police cuts in Humberside in 2009, under a Labour Government, to be on the streets now campaigning against police cuts, given that she has just admitted to the House that if she were Secretary of State she would be cutting my local police force today?

Yvette Cooper: Let us, again, be clear that Labour would not be cutting by 20%—we do not think that that is right. We think that the Government are going too far, too fast. They are hitting the economy and pushing it into reverse, but they are also hitting policing. The hon. Gentleman did not say whether he would be putting the cut of 500 police officers on his election leaflet, but I can tell him that we will be putting it on ours.

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady was a Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so I wonder whether she could assist me now. Will she confirm that the £1 billion of spending cuts that HMIC recommended, which she supports, and the half a billion pounds of pay freeze and pay reform through the Police Arbitration Tribunal

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decision, which she also supports—that is £1 billion plus half a billion—equals £1.5 billion, which is more than the spending reduction of 12% that she claims she is supporting?

Yvette Cooper: No, we are very clear that we support a 12% reduction and not the 20% reduction that the Minister wants. I have to say to him that if his fantasy figures added up, no police force across the country would be reducing the number of front-line officers, but forces are doing that and 4,000 officers have already gone as a result of his figures and of what he is doing. All the smokescreens in the world that he puts up will not stack up, given that police officers are being lost across the country. The reason why we believe that 12% is the right figure is because we want to protect the 16,000 police officers that his Government are getting rid of. That is why we think that we should have a balanced approach to the policing funding for the future. It is true that a 12% reduction requires pay restraint, procurement reforms and cutting bureaucracy and back-office processes—all those things have to be done within the policing budget to deliver the 12% savings. That is what police officers and chief constables are doing right across the country, but he knows what the consequences will be if he pushes them beyond that 12% because we are already seeing them. Some 4,000 front-line officers have gone already and 16,000 are to go in total. Why does he still want to support that number of police officers going?

Nick Herbert: This is an important debate and I am not clear whether the right hon. Lady does not understand HMIC’s report or whether she is seeking to present the savings in a way that is not justified. She has just said that the 12% savings—HMIC’s savings, which she has supported—include pay restraint, but they do not, as is absolutely clear from reading the report. I strongly suggest to her that she goes away to read it. Will she now accept that the HMIC savings did not include pay restraint and that by supporting pay restraint of half a billion pounds, as she has done, she is therefore going further than HMIC’s savings? Why does she not understand that?

Yvette Cooper: I am afraid that the Policing Minister is living in fantasy land. His figures simply do not add up, because 16,000 police officers are going as a result of his plans. We have made it clear that pay restraint was built into the Labour Government’s proposals from the beginning and we have supported it since; we need pay restraint to deliver the 12% savings. But if we want to protect the number of police officers, we need to have 12% savings and not 20% savings.

The Minister will also know that when HMIC carried out its report that projected that 16,000 officers would be lost, the pay freeze he introduced was already in place. So HMIC has taken into account his pay freeze in saying that 16,000 officers would go and front-line services would be hit. That is happening across the country.

The right hon. Gentleman needs to get in touch with what is happening in police forces across the country, because his coalition partners and Back Benchers are. What are they saying? Across the country—from London to Lancashire, from Norfolk to Devon—MPs are campaigning against cuts and against station closures. Listen to this, from an MP campaigning to stop station closures: