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House of Commons

Thursday 10 May 2012

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

Committee of Selection


That Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Alan Campbell, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Michael Fabricant, Yvonne Fovargue, Mr Mark Francois, Mark Hunter, Mark Tami and Angela Watkinson be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Session.—( Mr Randall .)

Speaker’s Statement

10.34 am

Mr Speaker: In accordance with Standing Order No. 122D I will now announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for the new Session.

Nominations should be submitted in the lower Table Office from 10 am to 5 pm on Wednesday 16 May.

Following the House’s decision of 12 March, only Members who do not belong to a party represented in Her Majesty’s Government may be candidates in this election.

If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place in the Division Lobbies from 11 am to 1 pm on Thursday 17 May.

A briefing note with more details about the election will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.

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Business of the House

10.35 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Following the brief—sorry. Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): We got there in the end.

Mr Speaker, you informed the House on Wednesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be:

Monday 14 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be business and the economy.

Tuesday 15 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be foreign affairs and international development.

Wednesday 16 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be the cost of living.

Thursday 17 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be jobs and growth.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 May will include:

Monday 21 May—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill.

Tuesday 22 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill (Day 2), followed by Third Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Wednesday 23 May—Second Reading of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, followed by a European document relating to the proceeds of crime.

Thursday 24 May—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 May will be:

Thursday 24 May—Debate on the operations of the family courts.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and apologise for my slightly unfocused beginning; I was lost in admiration for the work that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) has done as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and rather wondering whether, and hoping that, she would consider standing again.

Following the brief announcement yesterday of the Government’s legislative programme, the Deputy Prime Minister said in a letter to his party activists that it showed that

“Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight”.

At last, we have an acknowledgement from them—that they are in the political lightweight division. After all, this is a party that was beaten at the polls last week by a man dressed as a penguin.

The Deputy Prime Minister added in desperation that the Queen’s Speech

“has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”—

and he was right. It had nothing to say on the economy; nothing to say on getting people back to work; nothing to help hard-pressed families. All that Liberal Democrats want to do is sit around and debate House of Lords

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reform. The Leader of the House has announced six days of debate on the Government's packed legislative programme. Will he find time for a debate about how the Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight?

Will the Leader of the House find time also for the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), to participate in that debate? After all, he said of the Government last year:

“We don’t know what we’re doing”

after 2011, and

“we’ve run out of ideas”.

Will the Leader of the House coax the right hon. Gentleman out of whatever cupboard they have put him in and get him to the Chamber so that we can congratulate him on being correct?

Before the Queen’s Speech the Conservative Chair of the Public Administration Committee said that the Government lacked a compelling vision. Today it is clear: the problem is not that they lack a compelling vision, but that they lack any vision at all. The Leader of the House was unable to find time for a debate on the Committee’s report before the Queen’s Speech. Will he now finally do so?

While his economic plan is failing, the part-time Chancellor is focused on his other job of managing the Conservatives’ election strategy. As Thursday’s local elections showed, that is going very well. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the new Chipping Norton set of Labour councillors elected in the Prime Minister’s constituency last Thursday? They join more than 800 other new Labour councillors elected up and down the country.

After last week’s polls, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to listen. Why does he not meet his new Labour councillors, who will be able to tell this out-of-touch Prime Minister what the electorate are really saying? He will not even have to ban photographs of that meeting. On that very point, we learned this week that the Prime Minister arranged to meet Rebekah Brooks at a point-to-point meeting so long as they were not seen together. Meanwhile, the Culture Secretary hides behind a tree so that members of the press do not spot him meeting James Murdoch. That sums up the Government—wrong choices, wrong priorities.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that prior to appearances before the Leveson inquiry, Ministers still have to account for their actions to the House and that the ministerial code still covers them? Following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the Institute of Directors said that the Government were beginning to lose the confidence of UK plc, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers complained that there was no industrial strategy, and the British Chambers of Commerce wanted more support for jobs and growth. Even today’s edition of The Daily T elegraph asks, “Why was there no plan for growth?”

Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement on the Government’s elusive plan for growth? Slashing employment rights is no substitute for a growth strategy. The Government’s disastrous economic policy has led to massive unemployment, growing inequality and a double-dip recession. The out-of-touch Chancellor thinks that the solution is a huge tax cut for millionaires. A Cabinet Minister says that the Government have no

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ideas, while a senior Back Bencher says that they have no vision. It is little wonder that, abandoning the No. 10 rose garden, the Prime Minister and his deputy went this week to a factory to relaunch the Government. It was a factory where big blue tractors pulled small yellow trailers. What an apt metaphor for this Government.

Sir George Young: Mr Speaker, before I address the issues raised by the hon. Lady, I should say that you will have seen today’s announcement of the death of Lord Glenamara, who, as Ted Short, was Leader of the House from 1974 to 1976—my first two years in the House. He has left his name as the author of Short money, an important constitutional reform that enables Opposition parties better to hold the Government to account. As Leader of the House, he gave the shortest answers at business questions; whatever was asked for, the answer was “not next week”. The answers today may still be the same, but they are at least couched in more user-friendly terms when people ask for a debate.

The local elections did not produce a famous set of results for the governing parties, but if we add together the votes for the two coalition parties, we find that we comprehensively beat the Labour party. The Labour party was, of course, beaten by a monkey in Hartlepool and it did not even put up a candidate in more than 110 wards—the penguin did not even have a chance to beat the Labour party because the Labour party did not stand.

I move on to the Queen’s Speech. The hon. Lady complains that there is not much in it; if that is right, I hope that we will have no complaints from her on a Thursday that the Government have not allowed adequate time to debate the legislative programme. If she looks at that programme, she will see that we are addressing a whole range of issues that her party simply ducked when it was in government—energy, electricity market reform, public sector pensions, House of Lords reform, adult care and executive pay. Her side ducked all those policies, but we are now dealing with them.

On high rates of tax, the fact is that for 13 years Labour’s top rate was not 50% or 45%; it was 40%. Labour left us with a legacy of a 50% tax rate that raised no money at all and a letter saying that there was no money left. As a result of the Budget, those earning above £150,000 will pay £1,300 a year more, which means that there will be less pressure on those who are not in the top tax bracket, who will obviously pay less. The question to which we have not had the answer is whether, if Labour Members know that that rate raises very little, they are pledged to reinstate it.

Turning to the question of Ministers, of course Ministers remain subject to the ministerial code, and of course they are accountable to Parliament for the actions that they take.

On growth, if the hon. Lady looks at the Queen’s Speech she will see that it contains some good Bills for businesses. There is an enterprise Bill giving employers more confidence to hire new staff and grow, there are repeals to save businesses time and money, there is a £3 billion green investment bank to stimulate the green economy, and there is an energy Bill delivering long-term, affordable electricity. Also, we have just had the Budget, and the Finance Bill is going through the House at the moment. That is the main vehicle for economic policy rather than the Queen’s Speech. The Budget included

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cuts to corporation tax, more funding for the Business Finance Partnership, the scrapping of health and safety legislation, investment in technology, and more investment in infrastructure—all in addition to the measures that we announced in the autumn statement last year. Of course there is more administrative action that we can take and will take. We have set our course and we must stick to it. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting higher growth in the UK this year than in Germany, France and the eurozone. I very much hope that we will have the hon. Lady’s support for the measures in the Queen’s Speech, which promote growth in this country.

Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): Southeastern has just opened a consultation on its December rail timetable, which presents the Department for Transport with an opportunity to give commuters in Orpington the fast services during peak hours for which they have been crying out for a long time. May we please have a debate on the urgency of providing Orpington with a service that is commensurate with the town’s importance and its sizeable commuter base?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend speaks for the large number of commuters in his constituency who need a fast train service into the centre of the capital. As a former Transport Secretary, I understand the importance of what he has said. My understanding is that the Department for Transport has to sign off any revised timetable, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that it meets the aspirations of my hon. Friend’s constituents. I will certainly pass on his concern to her so that she can be aware of it before any such validation takes place.

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I think we would all agree that we owe the late Ted Short a debt of gratitude as a former Leader of the House and deputy leader of the Labour party.

May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for drawing my attention to the colour of the tractors and the trailers in Basildon? I now have a mental picture of the wheels coming off.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government intend to make time available for a debate on the report by the Joint Committee that considered the beleaguered draft Bill on the so-called reform of the House of Lords? Given the comprehensive trashing of the draft Bill not only by those who are opposed to reform but by anyone who has any constitutional understanding whatsoever, it would be quite useful if we could have a debate to expose its weaknesses.

Sir George Young: Listening to that question, one would not have believed that the right hon. Gentleman stood for election on three manifestos committed to House of Lords reform. The Joint Committee reported a few days ago. The Government want to reflect on the recommendations in its report in order to see whether we need to amend the draft Bill that was published last year. There will then be a House of Lords reform Bill, and so there will be a debate on that. I anticipate that the Bill will be introduced before the summer recess.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the regional growth fund? Yesterday I got a letter from the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation

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and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), saying that the National Audit Office is going to find that the money from the regional growth fund has been very positive for jobs and growth. There is a further £1 billion available for growing businesses that is due to expire this month. A statement from the Minister would be very valuable in publicising that opportunity.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that £1 billion is available. We are a month away from the deadline for bidding under round 3. I am sure that all hon. Members with prospects in their constituency for the regional growth fund will encourage businesses to put bids forward. On her bid for a debate on this matter, there will be such an opportunity on Wednesday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will update the House on the steps that we have taken to promote growth and employment in regions of the country that need further help.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Leader of the House share my view that the recent trial and conviction of nine men for child abuse in Rochdale should lead us immediately to have a thorough debate in the House on what on earth was going on? I have a long-held interest in this matter. Indeed, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on it back in January 2009. It surprises me that the Secretary of State for Education has not indicated that he will be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this terrible case of child abuse, but has leaked his reaction to it to the press. He should be here at the Dispatch Box, leading a debate on the matter.

Sir George Young: I am sure that the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the offences that have been revealed and about the need to take action to ensure that vulnerable girls are not subjected to the abuse to which those ones were subjected. I hope that it will be possible in today’s debate on home affairs and justice for hon. Members to intervene on the issues that he has mentioned. He will have seen the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on the steps that he has taken to ensure that those in care homes are not subjected to the abuse to which those girls were subjected.

Mr Sheerman: He should be making that statement to the House.

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend should be here. The subjects for the Queen’s Speech debate are chosen by the Opposition, not by the Government, so I resist his accusation that we have not found time for a debate on this matter.

There is recognition from leaders of the Pakistani community that there is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an issue that the Government take seriously, as he will have seen from the statement by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the next time my right hon. Friend appears for questions, he will have an opportunity to update the House on the steps that are being taken.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): May we have a debate at the start of this Session on the future of

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business statements? As is demonstrated by serious contributions such as that of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), Members have an appetite for something more than the tiresome trivia that have become a habit at these events. At the least, could we reform the business statement to make it an opportunity to put the deliberations of the Backbench Business Committee centrestage in the House?

Sir George Young: When, in due course, we establish a committee that deals with Government business as well as having a Backbench Business Committee, it will be a good opportunity to look at business statements, because if the regime for fixing the business of the House changes, we may need to change the way in which the business statement is made. I defend my hon. Friends from any accusation of the trivial use of business questions. I find them helpful to find out what concerns there are, certainly on the Government Benches, and on many occasions they influence the structure of debates.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): Would it be possible, although I appreciate that it might not be next week, to have a debate about the way in which the arrangements for transferring child-related benefits from one parent to another are failing? They are failing fathers in particular. A number of constituents are coming to me to say that there are such delays with child benefit and other child-related tax benefits, and that they are finding themselves in severe financial hardship. The system is allowing bureaucracy to win over child welfare. It is time for us to have a debate on this matter, so that I do not have to go to a Minister every time it happens.

Sir George Young: The hon. Lady raises a serious issue. Where there is no agreement between the mother and father about who is the recipient of child benefit, it falls to the Department to resolve the matter. In the absence of agreement, the receipt of benefit often stays where it is. That is often not with the parent who cares for the children. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see whether there are proposals to cut through the bureaucracy in coming to a fair decision, and to ensure that the parent who has the child gets the benefit that should go with them.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May we have a debate on the economic impact of prolonged roadworks? We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the roadworks on the M1 between junctions 6 and 14, which are having a major impact on businesses in Milton Keynes. Although I appreciate that the programme has been speeded up under this Government, can we please bring it to an early conclusion?

Sir George Young: I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Speaking from memory, these contracts are let on lane rental terms, which means if they overrun, the contractor is out of pocket because he is paying rent for the lanes that are out of use. I take seriously the issue that my hon. Friend raises and I will share it with the Secretary of State for Transport and ask her to write to him.

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Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I encourage the Leader of the House, as a former Transport Secretary, to seek the support of his successor for a debate on airport capacity in the south-east. I ask that in the context of speculation about the future of RAF Northolt, which is adjacent to my constituency and whose flight paths go across it. There has been much speculation about a substantial increase in business jet usage of RAF Northolt, about which many of my constituents are understandably concerned, so they would want to participate in the broader debate on that issue.

Sir George Young: If the hon. Gentleman is ingenious, he may be able to raise the issue when we deal with the remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill, when there will be a two-hour debate. Subject to what the occupant of the Chair decides, it may be possible to raise the issue of Northolt during that debate; I will certainly forewarn the Minister replying to it that she is likely to get this matter coming in to land.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Vidal Sassoon, who passed away yesterday, revolutionised hair styling. This son of immigrants rose from a humble upbringing to become one of the best-known brands in the world. Emelia at Studio 21, Zak and Gennaro at Jagged Edge and Sugar at Sugaz in my own constituency are, in their own way, emulating that ambition. May we have a debate on behalf of the National Hairdressers Federation, which is based in Bedford, and in memory of Vidal Sassoon to talk about the positive role that hairdressers and barbers play in promoting entrepreneurship, supporting apprenticeships and making all of us, even given some challenges, look and feel a little bit better?

Sir George Young: The whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to that noble profession of hairdressing. I am afraid I do not require very much time in the hairdresser’s chair to have my hair dealt with. There may be an opportunity in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to debate hairdressing, the role it can play in raising the nation’s morale and, of course, the contribution many hairdressers make to style—making even Members of the House look more attractive than they would otherwise.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Liver disease in young people is a rapidly growing problem. May we please have a debate on public health and the advertising and sponsorship of alcohol? We need to reduce alcohol misuse among young people.

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. He will know that the Government have proposals to minimise the damage done by alcohol through proposals for minimum prices and more expensive duties on the drinks that do the most damage. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, but I hope there will be an opportunity, perhaps when the Backbench Business Committee gets up and running, to have a debate on the serious issue of liver disease.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on British manufacturing? In North Staffordshire, the success or otherwise of JCB has a great impact on the economy in Staffordshire Moorlands because of the number of

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people employed by JCB and the number of local businesses that supply JCB. It was great news to learn of last year’s record results—the best in the business’s 66-year history.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises a good issue, and I am delighted to read of JCB’s results, with turnover at a higher level and more than double the sales of 2009. That helps to provide jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency, while many other smaller firms also benefit from what is happening. What she says shows that some of the steps we have taken to promote growth and bring down unemployment are taking root. I hope that many others will follow in the steps of JCB.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): On Tuesday 29 May, people in Nottingham and beyond will use the social media site Twitter to promote our fine city by tweeting about its very many attractions and attempting to get Nottingham trending. There is a limit to what one can say in 140 characters or, indeed, at business questions, so will the Leader of the House make time for a debate about why Nottingham is such a great place in which to live, work and invest, and how the Government can support the city’s economic growth plan?

Sir George Young: The city can be proud of the hon. Lady for using prime time in the House of Commons to promote the city she represents. As I said in response to an earlier question, it may be possible during the debate on the Queen’s Speech to find time for a speech in which, in more than the 140 words that she has just used, she may be able to pay tribute to the great city she represents, to encourage investment in it, tourism to it and further promote its prosperity.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Regional growth and enterprise zone policies are helping companies such as the Motor Industry Research Association and Jaguar Land Rover to create thousands of manufacturing jobs in the midlands, and, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Engineering Employers Federation, extending “above the line” research and development tax credits will have a similar effect. Given that 22% of the work force in my constituency are engaged in manufacturing, that is obviously excellent news. May we have a debate on midlands manufacturing and the progress that it is making? That would help us to establish what more can be done to embed the present renaissance.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend may be able to speak in next Thursday’s debate. However, he has reminded the House of the success of the motor manufacturing industry in this country, with Jaguar Land Rover and some of the Japanese companies investing, succeeding and exporting. That is exactly the sort of rebalancing of the economy that the Government seek to promote, and I was delighted to hear of the success in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I recently met my constituent Stephen Fletcher, who is a victim of thalidomide. He is concerned about the Government’s intentions in respect of maintaining financial support for thalidomide victims. Could the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health to offer reassurance to Stephen, and to many others like him who are concerned about their futures?

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Sir George Young: Many of our constituencies contain thalidomide survivors, and I know that they are worried about what will happen after the three-year pilot fund of some £20 million runs out in March next year. The current pilot will be evaluated, and discussions are being held with the Thalidomide Trust’s national advisory council. When the discussions have ended and we have the results of the evaluation of the pilot, it will be possible for a statement to be made about the way forward. We do take seriously the problems of thalidomide survivors, who need reassurance that help will be available when the fund runs out.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have a debate on standards in our schools? I know from my work as a local school governor that there are many extremely dedicated teachers in my constituency, but I was concerned to learn from a mother recently that the marking policy in her children’s school is for teachers not to correct more than three spelling mistakes for fear of harming the children’s self-esteem. I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that that policy puts many young people at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs that require correct spelling. I think that it may be a hangover from national guidance in the past, and that the present Government would not be keen for it to continue.

Sir George Young: That sounds to me like political correctness taken to excess. I am sure that it is in children’s interests for any spelling mistakes to be put right at an early stage, when they are at school, rather than possibly counting against them at a later stage. I hope that many of the steps that we have taken to promote the authority of head teachers to make schools more responsive to the needs of parents will encourage the adoption of the approach suggested by my hon. Friend, and that teachers will put mistakes right at an early stage rather than, out of misguided kindness, allowing them to fester and, perhaps, prove more damaging subsequently.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included a commitment to a draft Bill on adult social care, which is a hugely complex and important subject. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have debates on it during the new Session to ensure that the momentum of this important policy is not lost?

Sir George Young: I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, this was one of the issues that the last Government did not address. My hon. Friend may have heard Lord Warner, on this morning’s “Today” programme, basically saying that the Labour party had fought the last election on a false prospectus, holding out the prospect of a national social service but being totally unable to fund it.

We commissioned the Dilnot report, and a White Paper will be published this spring containing proposals on adult care. As my hon. Friend mentioned, there will then be a draft Bill to take the agenda forward. In the meantime, resources have been put into the national health service and adult services to give more support to social services departments, which I recognise are under pressure.

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Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): This morning I spoke at the UK and European symposium on addiction disorders, an issue which I know is of great concern to Mr Speaker. May we have a statement about Government policy on addiction, and its impact on families and on wider society? I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have dealt with casework in which addiction has been an issue, and have observed at first hand both its huge human cost and its financial cost, which is estimated to have been £110 billion in the UK last year alone.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. As he will know, we set out our drugs strategy in December 2010, and we are in the process of updating it. We will shortly publish a report on the achievements in the first year of the strategy, and it might be possible to “pin” a debate once the report becomes available. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having spoken at the symposium this morning.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that last week voter turnout in London was 7% above the national average, and I am sure the whole House will wish to congratulate Mayor Boris Johnson on his re-election and Ken Livingstone on his retirement from front-line politics. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on devolving much more power to the Mayor of London so that Londoners can fully see and feel the benefit of having Boris Johnson as our Mayor?

Sir George Young: Without wanting to put too much pressure on my coalition colleagues who sit on the Front Bench with me, I do, of course, congratulate Boris on his re-election, which was achieved with the support of my party and many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches who worked tirelessly to get him re-elected. We have recently devolved more powers to the Mayor: powers under the Homes and Communities Agency have been transferred to the Greater London Authority; we have abolished the London Development Agency and transferred its activities to the GLA; and we have enabled the Mayor of London to establish a mayoral development corporation to oversee the long-term development of the Olympic park. I hope my hon. Friend will therefore see that we are in the process of devolving more powers to the Mayor of London.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): In Great Yarmouth, the energy industry and the engineering industry that support it are growing exponentially, with companies having made and received investments of hundreds of millions of pounds: Perenco, Seajacks, ODE and Gardline are just a few of the companies that are struggling to keep up with demand. This is a good problem to have, so may we have a debate in Government time to examine and highlight the growth opportunities, particularly given what this Government have done for the energy sector and business in general?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises a good point. The green investment bank is coming on-stream, with billions of pounds available for investment, and the energy Bill, with its electricity market reform, will provide an opportunity for fresh investment in electricity generation. I am delighted that firms in my hon. Friend’s constituency are well placed to take advantage of the growth that has been achieved.

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Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, 200 years ago tomorrow Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the House of Commons, yet the only thing marking where he fell are a few irregularly placed floor tiles. May we have a statement on whether we might put in place a more fitting memorial to that statesman?

Sir George Young: The question of whether to have a statue or memorial is a matter not for the Government but for you, Mr Speaker, and the Commission. Spencer Perceval’s family used to live in my old constituency in Ealing, where a church, All Saints church, has been built in his memory and a concert is held to remember him. The mayor of the constituency he represented—Northampton, I think—will lay a wreath in his memory at the weekend. I will pursue, through the Commission, my hon. Friend’s suggestion of having a more fitting memorial to Spencer Perceval.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of the results of Thursday’s elections to Rugby borough council. By focusing on the efficient delivery of local services, the controlling Conservative group increased its proportion of councillors. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate to make the point that local elections should remain exactly that: local?

Sir George Young: I am delighted to hear of the good results in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that much of that was due to his tireless work on the doorstep, and I am sorry that I missed those results on the night. He makes a good point: local elections should be local. There is a lot of evidence that where local councillors perform well, that gets recognised in the ballot box and they outperform their party, which may not be doing so well. I am delighted that Rugby will continue to enjoy the benefits of having a Conservative-controlled local authority.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Total UK automotive exports have reached just under £30 billion, which is a record, and they increased by 15% last year alone. Our car trade deficit is now at its lowest since the mid-1970s. May we have a debate on the success of the automotive industry, its role in our national economy and—running through all of that—the Government’s work in promoting exports as a whole?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Again, there may be opportunities in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to develop the theme, but he reminds the House that on 3 May Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to invest £200 million at its factory in Castle Bromwich. Nissan is creating more than 1,000 new jobs in Sunderland, Bentley is creating 500 jobs thanks to the regional growth fund, and Jaguar Land Rover is creating 1,000 new jobs on Merseyside. It is a good example of how we are winning export orders in a competitive world market, but also rebalancing the economy so it is less dependent on financial services.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I join the many small food and drink manufacturers in my constituency in welcoming the announcement of a groceries adjudicator in the Queen’s Speech. Bearing in mind that

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Longley Farm dairy, in my constituency, exports more than half the products it makes, may we have a debate on the wonderful contribution our small food and drink manufacturers are making to our economy?

Sir George Young: I am delighted to hear of the export success of my hon. Friend’s constituency firm. There will be an opportunity when we debate the Bill to which he refers to look more closely at the role of the adjudicator, and there will be opportunities during the remaining days’ consideration of the Queen’s Speech to highlight the efforts of small firms in the food manufacturing industry to help turn the country round and create sustainable jobs.

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Carrier Strike Capability

11.11 am

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the carrier strike programme. The strategic defence and security review considered the carrier strike programme, put in place by the previous Government, as part of a wide-ranging review of options for delivering effective future defence while dealing with the black hole in Labour’s defence budget and the unaffordable “fantasy” equipment plan bequeathed to us by the Labour party. While the review confirmed that carrier strike would be a key capability in delivering Future Force 2020, it also recognised the unsustainability as a whole of the defence equipment plan we inherited.

The strategic decision on carrier strike that emerged from the SDSR process was to convert one carrier with catapults and arrester gear to operate the carrier variant of the joint strike fighter, facilitating greater interoperability with allies, with a decision on the future use or disposal of the second carrier to be taken at the 2015 SDSR. The decision was also taken routinely to embark 12 fast jets while retaining the ability to surge up to the previously planned level of 36 aircraft. As the House would expect for such a complex and high-value project, the strategic decision taken at SDSR was followed by the commissioning of a detailed programme of work to look at the costs, risks and technical feasibility of all aspects of the proposed solution. That study was expected to take 18 months, completing by the end of 2012.

Since I took on the role of Defence Secretary in October last year, my overriding concern, after current operations and the welfare of our armed forces, has been to ensure the deliverability of the MOD’s equipment plan and the achievement of a balanced and sustainable budget. That will give our armed forces the assurance they need to carry out the massive transformation that will deliver Future Force 2020—the concept for our armed forces set out in the SDSR. The carrier project is a large element of the equipment programme, and I have worked closely with the new Chief of Defence Matériel, Bernard Gray, to assess the technical and financial risks involved in it.

It quickly became clear to me that a number of the underlying facts on which the SDSR decision on carriers was based were changing. First, as the programme to convert a carrier to operate with a catapult system has matured, and more detailed analysis has been carried out by suppliers, it has become clear that operational carrier strike capability, using the “cats and traps” system, could not be delivered until late 2023 at the earliest—considerably later than the date envisaged at the time of the SDSR of “around 2020”. Britain’s carriers will have all-electric propulsion, and therefore will not generate steam like nuclear-powered vessels, so the catapult system would need to be the innovative electromagnetic version, EMALS—the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System—being developed for the United States navy. Fitting that new system to a UK carrier has presented greater design challenges than were anticipated.

Secondly, and partly as a result of the delayed timetable, the estimated cost of fitting this equipment to HMS Prince of Wales has more than doubled in the past 17 months, rising from an estimated £950 million to

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about £2 billion, with no guarantee that it will not rise further. Given the technical complexity involved and given that the cost of retrofitting “cats and traps” to HMS Queen Elizabeth—the first carrier out of build—would be even higher, it is unlikely that she would ever, in practice, be converted in the future.

Thirdly, at the time of the SDSR there was judged to be a very significant technical risk around the STOVL—short take-off, vertical landing—version of the joint strike fighter, and some commentators were speculating that it could even be cancelled. Indeed, the STOVL programme was subsequently placed on probation by the Pentagon However, over the past year, the STOVL programme has made excellent progress and in the past few months has been removed from probation. The aircraft has now completed more than 900 hours of flying, including flights from the USS Wasp, and the US marine corps has a high degree of confidence in the in-service date for the aircraft. The balance of risk has changed, and there is now judged to be no greater risk in STOVL than in other variants of JSF.

Fourthly, further work with our allies on the best approach to collaborative operation has satisfied us that joint maritime task groups involving our carriers, with co-ordinated scheduling of maintenance and refit periods, and an emphasis on carrier availability, rather than cross-deck operations, is the more appropriate route to optimising alliance capabilities.

When the facts change, the responsible thing to do is to examine the decisions you have made and to be willing to change your mind, however inconvenient that may be. It is about doing what is right for Britain, not burying your head in the sand and ploughing on regardless, as the previous Government all too often did. A persistent failure to observe that simple principle is at the root of many of the MOD budget problems that we inherited from the Labour party, and I do not intend to repeat its mistakes.

The decision taken in the SDSR to proceed with a carrier strike capability, despite the massive challenges we faced with the MOD’s budget, was the right decision. The decision to seek to contain costs by going for “cats and traps” on a single carrier, with greater interoperability with allies, and the cheaper carrier variant version of the JSF aircraft was also the right decision, based on the information available at the time. However, the facts have changed, and I am not prepared to accept a delay in regenerating Britain’s carrier strike capability beyond the timetable set out in the SDSR. And I am not prepared to put the equipment plan, which will support Future Force 2020, at risk of a billion-pound-plus increase in the carrier programme and unquantifiable risk of further cost rises.

So, I can announce to the House today that the National Security Council has decided not to proceed with the “cats and traps” conversion, but to complete both carriers in the STOVL configuration. That will give us the ability to use both carriers to provide continuous carrier availability, at a net additional operating cost averaging about £60 million per year. As we set out in the SDSR, a final decision on the use of the second carrier will be taken as part of SDSR 2015. We will switch the order for JSF aircraft from CV to STOVL, which we can do without delaying delivery and, by

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making this announcement today, we can plan on the basis of the first operational aircraft being delivered with a UK-weapons-fit package.

We expect HMS Queen Elizabeth to be handed over to the Navy in early 2017 for sea trials. We expect to take delivery of our first test aircraft in July of this year, and we expect the first production aircraft to be delivered to us in 2016, with flying from the Queen Elizabeth to begin in 2018, after her sea trials are complete.

We have discussed this decision with the French Government and with the United States. The French confirm that they are satisfied with our commitment to jointly planned carrier operations to enhance European-NATO capability. The United States, on whose support we would rely in regenerating either type of carrier capability, has been highly supportive throughout the review and I would like to record my personal thanks to the Secretary of Defence, the Pentagon, the navy and the marine corps for their high level of engagement with us. I spoke to Secretary Panetta last night and he confirmed the US’s willingness to support our decision and its view that UK carrier strike availability and our commitment to the JSF programme are the key factors. The Chief of the Defence Staff and his fellow chiefs of staff—all of them—endorse this decision as the quickest and most assured way now to deliver carrier strike as part of an overall affordable equipment programme that will support Future Force 2020.

This was not an easy decision to take, but our responsibility is to make the right decision on the basis of the facts available to us. Neither I nor any of my colleagues came into government expecting decisions to be easy or pain-free. I have a responsibility to clear up the financial mess we inherited in the MOD, just as we are clearing up the mess we inherited across Government as a whole, and to set a balanced budget and an affordable, deliverable equipment programme with manageable and bounded risk. This decision addresses one of the last impediments to my announcing the achievement of those objectives to the House, and I hope to be able to do so very soon.

This is not just about balancing budgets, critical as that is. It is about the UK’s defence, secured by an appropriate and sustainable military capability. This announcement delivers an affordable solution to securing that capability and, with two useable carriers, gives us the option of continuous carrier availability. It confirms the expected delivery of the first test aircraft this summer, of the first production aircraft in 2016, of the first carrier into sea trials in 2017 and of the first flight of the JSF from the deck of the carrier in 2018, with an operational military capability in 2020. It confirms the support of our principal allies, the US and France, and that of the defence chiefs. It shows that we, at least, are not afraid to take difficult decisions when they are right for Britain and I commend the statement to the House.

11.22 am

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Let me start by saying again that when the Government do the right thing on defence they will have the support of Labour Members. In politics, however, one can often judge what a Government genuinely feel about their own policy not just by what they say but by when they say it.

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They have told the media that this is positive news and yet they announced it here in the Commons the very first day after the council election defeats. It must be the first ever example of a Government waiting until the polls close to announce good news.

It is worth reminding the Secretary of State how he got here. The Government were elected promising a bigger Army but are delivering the smallest Army since the Boer war, they have curtailed anti-piracy duties owing to Royal Navy cuts and the RAF has lost long-term surveillance capabilities. On the defence budget, decisions this Government have taken have increased costs. Changes to the Astute class submarines added a further £200 million and the carrier U-turn has cost up to £250 million. On top of that, they are failing on reform with the defence procurement plan delayed for two years. Last year, the largest defence programmes were delayed by a combined 30 months adding £500 million to their costs and while hundreds of defence workers across the country are losing their jobs the Government have no defence industrial strategy to speak of whatsoever.

The biggest blow to the Government’s defence credibility is this chaotic carrier programme. Standing at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister announced his plans to U-turn on Labour’s carrier strike policy, scrap the Harriers, sell Ark Royal, build two carriers but mothball one, sack trainee pilots and downgrade British sea power. But that U-turn has now come full circle. Nothing has been gained and two years have been wasted. In tough times, £250 million have been squandered while the forces are having their allowances cut. Harriers are being sold to the Americans for a fraction of their value, we are subject to international ridicule and there will be no jets on carriers for a decade. Mr Speaker, you do not have to be a military strategist to know what aircraft carriers are meant to carry—the clue is in the name.

The Government say their policy is cheaper, but it is more expensive. They said there would be interoperability with the French but their chosen jet cannot land on the French carrier. The Prime Minister personally derided a policy that he is now defending. The Government said that Britain did not need jump jets and Ministers scrapped the expertise needed to operate STOVL aircraft only now to decide to buy a new fleet of jump jets. We now need to retrain people and redevelop the skills that were so carelessly cast aside just two years ago. That is as incoherent as it is ludicrous.

The Secretary of State’s defence today is that the facts have changed, but that is not the full story. I know the advice that the Prime Minister received—that the defence review policy was high risk and high cost—but the Prime Minister overruled that. The Public Accounts Committee warned of rising costs, the National Audit Office said that the Government had an “immature understanding” of the costs, and the Select Committee on Defence warned against strategic shrinkage. The Prime Minister’s decisions have cost British time, British money, British talent and British prestige.

I know the Secretary of State always likes to blame someone else, and he has done that again today. He recently accused British families of causing the financial crash, but he cannot scapegoat the former Defence Secretary for this decision. He has to take some responsibility for the Prime Minister’s mistakes. The Secretary of State has carefully nurtured a reputation as a spreadsheet king who is most at home over his paperwork,

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so he needs to share some of it with us today. Will he publish a full breakdown of the costs of the plans being abandoned? Will he confirm that the cost of the U-turn is greater than the income from the sale of the Harrier jump jets? How many of the new aircraft does he plan to purchase? Will he confirm that Ministers were warned 18 months ago about the risks and costs inherent in this decision? If Britain will have two aircraft carriers, will the Royal Navy have to increase the number of its personnel? Finally, there is another question that the Secretary of State did not cover in his statement: what will now be the total cost of the carrier build programme?

In conclusion, the Secretary of State has said the Government will do the right thing when the facts have changed, but the previous Labour Government got things right whereas this Government’s policy has unravelled. In recent weeks we have seen incompetence piled upon political hubris. Only a Government who started a petrol crisis when trying to avoid one and whose idea of putting more police on the streets is having thousands demonstrating outside Parliament would have a policy of building two carriers, mothballing one immediately, selling the Harriers and having no planes to fly off aircraft carriers for a decade. Describing the Government’s defence strategy as an “omnishambles” would be a compliment. It is time the Prime Minister started to take responsibility. He should be at the Dispatch Box apologising for his and his Government’s incompetence.

Mr Hammond: Before the right hon. Gentleman climbs too far up his high horse, perhaps we should, to give a bit of context, remind ourselves of the role that his party played in the history of this project. It was Labour’s fiscal incontinence that created the black hole that we are trying to climb out of and Labour’s decisions that left us facing the challenges we faced at the time of the strategic defence and security review. It was Labour that ordered two 65,000 tonnes carriers, three times the size of a typical STOVL carrier, without cats and traps.

It was Labour who let the contracts on a sweetheart deal, which meant that cancelling the second carrier would have cost more than going ahead and building it. It was Labour who ordered the ships without having the money to pay for them, and then drove costs of £1.6 billion into the carrier programme by delaying the build to accommodate a £250 million cash-flow problem—a performance described by the Public Accounts Committee as setting

“a new benchmark in poor corporate decision making.”

Let me turn to the couple of specific questions buried at the end of the shadow Defence Secretary’s rant. He asked me about the timing of the statement. I have come to the House at the earliest possible date after the National Security Council took the decision to make the change. He said that £250 million has been squandered. I tell the House frankly that expenditure has been incurred in appraising the option of building a CV carrier and fitting it with cats and traps, but it has been nowhere near the £250 million that the right hon. Gentleman referred to. He asked me if I would publish details of the costs involved.

Mr Murphy: You don’t know.

Mr Hammond: The right hon. Gentleman says that I do not know. If he had ever been a Defence Minister, or inside the Ministry of Defence, he would understand

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why I do not know. These are complex contracts. I can give him an approximate idea. We think the cost of the design work that has been carried out and the appraisal work will be between £40 million and £50 million. There may also be some exit costs payable to the US contractors responsible for the EMAL system. We will be negotiating around those issues, and I give the right hon. Gentleman this commitment: once we have a definitive figure, I will make it available to the House.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we will have no jets on our carriers for a decade. I do not think he was listening to the statement. We will take delivery of the first test aircraft this year. We will receive the first STOVL variant aircraft in 2016 for operation off land. The carrier will go into sea trials in 2017 and, as soon as she has completed them in 2018, flights will begin from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. It will take us two years to work up full military operational capability, but it is important that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is shaking his head, understands what that means. It is the gap between getting from the point when we fly the jets off the carrier to the point when the military are satisfied that we have full operational capability.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of aircraft that we will be purchasing. The plans for deployment of aircraft have not changed as a result of this announcement. We will routinely embark 12 aircraft and we will be able to surge that number to 36. On the purchasing of aircraft in the joint strike fighter programme, I can tell him that there is no requirement for us to go firm with numbers at this early stage of the programme. Where we can retain optionality, we will do so, as part of prudent budget management.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about risks and costs in this project and in the carrier variant project. We are talking about a project with a total cost of around £10 billion. It is hugely complex, probably the second largest industrial project under way in this country today. There will always be risks, and there will always be risks of cost escalation in such a project. The challenge is not to eliminate risks, but to manage them. That is what proper management of the Ministry of Defence is all about.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the operation of two carriers. If at the next strategic defence and security review, the Government and the National Security Council take the decision to operate two carriers in order to give us continuous carrier availability, there will be an additional cost of about £60 million a year on average for additional crewing and maintenance to keep the two carriers in high readiness.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): Will the Secretary of State accept that there were two optimal mixes for JSF and carrier? We could either have a 65,000 tonne carrier and use the carrier variant, with a longer range and bigger payload, or, as the American marine corps are doing, choose the jump jet variant and have smaller carriers. Is the position we are in today sub-optimal, and not the result of industrial policy leading military policy? Does he accept that the real difference, and the reason why he has come to this decision, is that the

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extra time required for the EMAL system to be put in actually breaches the risk that we were willing to take at the SDSR?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that at the SDSR, a view was taken about the amount of risk that was tolerable, about the horizon to which we could accept an absence of carrier capability and, as I have said, I am certainly not prepared to see us go beyond 2020 without the carrier strike capability.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the question for Opposition Members to answer: why did they order two 65,000 tonne carriers without cats and traps, which anyone involved in naval aviation operations knows is itself an absurdity? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), assisted by his colleagues, is chuntering repetitively from a sedentary position, in breach of the conventions of the House. I ask the hon. Gentleman to exercise what modicum of self-restraint he is able, in the circumstances, to muster.

Mr Hammond: We inherited this programme, and frankly I am not interested in trading insults with the Opposition about what happened in the past. What I need to do now is take the carriers that are in build and that are being built under a contract that makes it more expensive to cancel them than to complete them, and put them to the best possible military use for the defence of this country.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Secretary of State has taken, and is announcing, the right decision today, and I understand how difficult it is to perform that kind of U-turn and how uncomfortable it must be. But I cannot go along with him on the excuse—the reason—that both he and the Prime Minister decided to give for that decision. That is that the facts have changed and therefore we are changing the decision.

I reviewed this decision, taken by my predecessors. The fundamental facts were there at the time and have not changed. We have been up an extremely expensive cul-de-sac for the last 18 months as a result of a shambles of an SDSR, and I can only congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing some sanity to it; but he ought to understand the problem that he will give himself in sorting out procurement work—which, yes, is problematic and was in our time—if he cannot find a way of being straight about why the decision is being taken and the fact that the previous decision was taken in the face of clear advice to the contrary.

Mr Hammond: I refute that last comment absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is in a better position than many in the House to understand the complexities and the challenges of defence procurement, but to say that the facts have not changed is simply wrong. The risk profile of the STOVL aircraft is dramatically different now from what it was in 2010, when there was a very real risk that the variant would be cancelled. The cost estimates for fitting the EMAL system, and the understanding of the complexity of that task, have matured through the work that we have done since the SDSR. Although I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of the substantive decision, he is simply wrong when he says the facts have not changed.

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Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): To make an announcement like this takes real courage and I commend the Secretary of State, and the Prime Minister, for making what I agree with the former Secretary of State is the right decision. Is my right hon. Friend able to say how much it would have cost to have converted the second carrier to cats and traps, because was there not a real risk that we would end up with a carrier that we could neither use nor sell?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend is correct to focus on that point, and I thank him for his comments. As I think I said in my statement, fitting cats and traps retrospectively to the Queen Elizabeth, after her completion, would undoubtedly be significantly more expensive than even the current £2 billion estimate for fitting them to the Prince of Wales in build. It is therefore not unreasonable to think of a likely cost of between £2.5 billion and £3 billion for retrospective fit to the Queen Elizabeth, making that project, as I suggested in my statement, in practice unlikely ever to occur.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the terms of business agreement signed in 2009 provide that on completion of the carrier build, the UK will be spending perhaps only £230 million a year—0.7% of the MOD budget—to maintain essential shipbuilding skills? More important, will he tell us whether, as a result of the additional costs announced in today’s statement, he envisages that very small figure being reduced further in the future?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the terms of business agreement with the shipbuilding consortium commits the MOD to underwriting overhead costs of about £230 million a year to maintain skills. The challenge for the MOD is so to manage the shipbuilding programme as to recover as much of that as possible. After the carrier programme is finished in the shipyards covered by the TOBA, we will move on to the Type 26 programme and recover costs in that way. As far as I am aware, there is no mechanism for reducing that £230 million—it is a contractual figure.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Is it not abundantly clear that any discomfort or embarrassment the Government may feel is more than outweighed by the fact that the decision the Secretary of State has announced today is right both tactically and strategically? When the sound and fury have died down, that is what will concern those members of the Royal Navy who have the responsibility of looking after these ships and the aircraft that fly from them. Is it not important that today’s announcement will help to close earlier the yawning gap in capability left by the decommissioning of the Harrier aircraft and the carriers from which they were deployed? That shows commendable flexibility on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will show the same flexibility in respect of other matters, not least, for example, the role of the Royal Air Force at Leuchars in my constituency.

Mr Hammond: I knew my right hon. and learned Friend would get that in somewhere, but I thank him for his question. In the interest of tri-service harmony, I should make it clear that responsibility for the aircraft will be a combined responsibility of the Royal Navy and the RAF.

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My right hon. and learned Friend refers to the Harrier question. Perhaps I need to remind him that it was the previous Government who sealed the fate of the Harrier in 2006, when they scrapped the Navy’s FA2 Sea Harriers, leaving only the ground attack version; and then in 2009 cut the size of that fleet, so that by the time of the SDSR in 2010 the fleet was simply too small to sustain operations in Afghanistan, never mind in Libya as well. We therefore had to take the difficult decision to end the Harrier’s service with the Royal Navy in order to sustain the Tornado, which continues to serve in Afghanistan and which acquitted itself so well in Libya.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I agree that the Secretary of State has made the right decision, particularly given the current financial climate, but I want him to clarify a comment he made. He said that the option of cancelling the carrier programme was not open to him. If it had been open to him, would he have cancelled it?

Mr Hammond: The SDSR in 2010 considered the possibility of cancelling the second carrier, to deal with the huge budget challenges we inherited, but the terms of business agreement was such that cancelling the carrier at that point would have cost more than delivering it.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I have long argued that if we are going to spend money on carrier strike force, we need to ensure that we have that capability all year round. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, in terms of capability, one advantage of the programme he has announced today is that it puts two operational carriers back on the table?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right. I made the precise point, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), that the cost of converting the second carrier to EMALS cats and traps was likely to be prohibitive; that has emerged from the work that has been going on. Completing the two carriers in STOVL configuration gives us optionality. It means that they can both operate the STOVL aircraft; that the 2015 SDSR can decide whether to bring the second carrier out of extended readiness and deploy it during periods of refit or extended maintenance of the first carrier; and that subsequent SDSRs can decide whether finding the extra crew and meeting the maintenance cost is an appropriate use of naval resources, depending on our assessment of the threat risk.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am still trying to understand precisely what the new facts are that the Secretary of State so recently discovered. He mentions risk profiles and cost estimates, but surely they were known. Would it not be wise of him either to be more specific or, even better, to publish the advice that would show us what those new facts are?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Lady will remember that I spent three and a half years in a shadow Treasury brief, during which time I developed a healthily jaundiced view of the Ministry of Defence’s procurement process. Now that I am inside the Department and see the process from the other side, I understand that it is a little bit more complicated than nipping down to the local supermarket to buy a carton of eggs or a bottle of

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milk. These are immensely complex projects. The way they typically work is that they start with a high-level estimate, informed by the best information available. One then commits funds—this costs money—to do a more detailed appraisal that identifies the technical and financial challenges and risks around the project. That is precisely what we have done. In terms of the appropriate management of a large, complex project, the MOD has followed exactly the right process. It has delivered us the facts to which I referred, and we have drawn the appropriate conclusions from them.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): The Opposition should show a little more humility and gloat less on the subject of their responsibility towards the Royal Navy. It was Labour that quibbled over the design for 10 years, and Labour that told the workers to down tools, which cost £1.6 billion. It was Labour that sacked the Sea Harrier—and indeed the Ark Royal—and Labour that cut the number of Type 45s from 12 to six. That is the maritime legacy that this Government have inherited.

Mr Hammond: I agree.

Mr Speaker: We can leave it at that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), but in future, a question mark would be appreciated.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State confirm if he has investigated whether Mr Adam Werritty met any companies or lobbyists involved in the original very bad decision?

Mr Hammond: I have answered a number of parliamentary questions on the information that the Department holds on meetings held by, and contacts made with, Mr Werritty. As far as I am aware, I have disclosed in parliamentary questions the full extent of the Department’s knowledge.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Amphibious capability is a key part of our defence strategy. I thank my right hon. Friend for making sure that we clarify the timetable, but will he explain what impact the decision will have on amphibious capability, so that we can ensure that our Royal Marines are protected when they go on to land?

Mr Hammond: The STOVL configuration of the carrier in the carrier-enabled power projection model means that the carrier will embark both fast jets and helicopters—Chinook, Lynx and Merlin. It will also be able to embark Marines. It is a very large ship, as we have mentioned this morning. It will have the capability to carry troops and embark helicopters and fast jets in a way that will facilitate amphibious warfare.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Even a first-week midshipman could tell the Prime Minister that adopting two 180° U-turns takes us back to where we started two years ago. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that the Government will continue to stand beside the use of Rosyth dockyard for the long-term maintenance of the carriers when they

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enter service? Will he tell the House what we will achieve, except squandering he knows not how many millions of pounds, by flogging our Harrier fleet for spare parts for a peppercorn, scrapping a generation of fast-jet Harrier pilots, and leaving the nation with—

Mr Speaker: We have got the gist. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Hammond: A first-week midshipman could probably tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not normal to order a 65,000 tonne STOVL carrier without any cats and traps. With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s question on Rosyth, no decision has been taken on where the carriers will be maintained in future.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): It is widely alleged by some that the through-life costs of the F-35B could compare unfavourably with those of the F-35C. What rigorous assessment has my right hon. Friend undertaken to ensure that we achieve value for money, having made this decision, and what wider lessons on the defence budget can be drawn for similarly important and large decisions in future?

Mr Hammond: To answer the last question first, I am drawing some very interesting conclusions about how to manage the defence budget on an ongoing basis and hope to share them with the House shortly. It is precisely because the F-35C variant, on the face of it, has a lower purchase cost and a lower through-life maintenance cost that this option was pursued at the time of the SDSR 2010, but operating the carrier variant will of course require the installation upfront of the catapults and arrester gears, which we now know will cost in the order of £2 billion and rising. On the basis of a properly discounted cash-flow analysis over 30 years, I am clear that the STOVL variant, given the current estimate of the cost of cats and traps, will now be cheaper.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): At the Royal Air Force officer training college at Cranwell we were taught that flexibility is the key to air power. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on showing the flexibility to make the right decision for our nation and our future military capability. Will he confirm that his decision has the support of the Chiefs, unlike the previous Government’s decision to scrap the Sea Harriers, which reportedly led to two of the Chiefs standing down?

Mr Hammond: I am very clear that my job is about supporting the military and our armed forces in defending our country. When I make decisions, I will work with the Chiefs to reach an outcome that works for the military. I can confirm that the Chief of the Defence Staff and all three single service Chiefs support the decision and have confirmed their support in writing to the Prime Minister.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): Those on the Labour Front Bench have short memories. The pages of Hansard will show the debate that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I had in 2009 on the previous Government’s decision to withdraw the Harrier from Afghanistan prematurely so that it could be subjected to the programme review the following year and potentially cut. Of course, that is now ancient

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history and they seem to have forgotten it. I commend my right hon. Friend for his brave decision, which is undoubtedly the right one, to minimise the capability gap for carrier strike. Will he confirm that the STOVL version is easily a superior aircraft to the Harrier it replaces and equally comparable to anything it might meet in the air?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a point that perhaps I should have made before. The STOVL variant—indeed, any variant of the JSF—is a fifth-generation aircraft and represents a step change in capability. It is a stealth aircraft with an autonomous intelligence-gathering capability, and the STOVL variant has significantly greater range than the Harrier had. It is an aircraft with greater capability, greater range than the Harrier and a range of capabilities that previous generations of aircraft simply did not have.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I have received a good deal of correspondence from constituents, both those serving in and those retired from the armed forces, who for a long time have expressed huge concern about the strategy and direction of our procurement. They will be relieved and delighted to hear today that my right hon. Friend has been able to continue to assess the strategy and come up with the right decision and brave enough to announce it to the House. Will he reassure the House that he will never let the woolly thinking and loose purse strings shown by the previous Government undermine our armed forces again?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Fiscal incontinence undermines the support that we can offer our armed forces. Doing this in a disciplined way is not, as the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) would try to present it in a rather sneering fashion, some sort of obsession with spreadsheets; it is about doing our job as politicians, which is to ensure that the support for our armed forces is there, is sustainable and can actually be delivered to them.

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Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): The Ministry of Defence has a long and tawdry history of overspend in procurement, timelines that are well in excess of those originally planned and of ploughing on regardless. Will the Secretary of State confirm that his decision today demonstrates a change of culture that really shows that we are getting to grips with the budget and the timelines to provide guarantees to the armed forces and our nation?

Mr Hammond: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and assure him that we will take the decisions that need to be taken in the interests of the nation’s defence, however awkward or inconvenient. I will come to the House however many times I need to and make however many announcements I need to make to get the Department back on track. I want the MOD to stand tall among the Departments of State, with a normal relationship with the Treasury and with the centre of government, and with proper contingency arrangements in its budget so that the armed forces can be confident that the promises that are made to them will be delivered, unlike those of the previous Government.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What steps is my right hon. Friend taking on defence procurement to ensure that the Government do not risk repeating the mistakes of the previous Government, who even in their last financial year in office, 2009-10, oversaw a huge increase of £3.3 billion in the cost of the 15 largest defence projects?

Mr Hammond: I think that the announcement I have made today demonstrates for my hon. Friend and the House that we will put prudent management of defence projects ahead of playing politics. It would have been easy to avoid making this decision today, and politically much less uncomfortable, but this is about making the right decisions for the future of our armed forces and I can assure him that that is what we will continue to do.

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Health Transition Risk Register

11.56 am

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of the Department of Health’s strategic and transition risk registers. In November 2010 the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) submitted a freedom of information request asking for the publication of the transition risk register relating to the planned Health and Social Care Bill. A similar request by Nic Cecil, a journalist with the Evening Standard, for publication of the Department’s strategic risk register followed in February 2011. The Government refused both requests on the grounds that the risk registers related to the formulation and development of policy and, as set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, were not required to be published.

Appeals were then made by the applicants to the Information Commissioner. In both instances, the commissioner ruled against the Government, arguing that the balance of the public interest lay in public disclosure. The Government’s view, to the contrary, is that the public interest is best served in this instance by officials and Ministers being able privately to consider such issues, including any risks. We therefore appealed the commissioner’s decision, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, to the first-tier tribunal.

The tribunal was asked to consider whether the Information Commissioner was correct to find that, on balance, the public interest required disclosure of the risk registers. On 5 April this year the tribunal made public the reasons for its decision. For the Department’s strategic risk register it found in favour of the Government and so did not order its disclosure, but it came to the opposite conclusion with regard to the transition risk register.

I have carefully considered the tribunal’s decision and discussed it thoroughly with Cabinet colleagues. Following these discussions, I have decided to exercise the ministerial veto, as allowed by the Freedom of Information Act, in relation to the disclosure of the transition risk register. This decision represents the view of the Cabinet. I have decided to veto rather than appeal the decision to the upper-tier tribunal, because the disagreement is on where the balance of the public interest lies and is a matter of principle and not a matter of law, as would be the focus of any further appeal. I recognise that this is an exceptional step; it is not one that is taken lightly. There is no doubt that reform of the NHS has attracted huge public interest, but my decision to veto, while an exceptional case, is also a matter of wider principle and not just about the specific content of the transition risk register.

In all Departments, Ministers are required to balance the public interest in terms of disclosure with the need properly to consider complex areas of public policy. Good government demands that the analysis and management of risk is thorough and robust, whichever party is in power. It is an essential aspect of good government, in the formulation and development of policy, that officials have a “safe space” within which to formulate sensitive advice to Ministers, that they feel free to use direct language and to make frank assessments, and that the Government should, in exceptional circumstances, be able to reserve such privacy absolutely.

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The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said in his evidence to the Select Committee on Justice last month:

“There has to be a space in which decision makers can think thoughts without the risk of disclosure, and not only of disclosure at the time, but of disclosure afterwards.”

He said also that there have been

“some rather extraordinary decisions by the Freedom of Information Tribunal, in which they suggested that it”—

the exemption—

“can apply only while policy was in the process of development but not at any time thereafter. That is crazy and it is not remotely what was intended.”

The Freedom of Information Act was drafted specifically to allow a safe space for the development of policy, and I have acted throughout in strict accordance with its provisions.

The risk assessment process, carried out by civil servants and detailed in those registers, is an integral part of the formulation and development of Government policy. It is strongly in the public interest that this process be as effective as possible. When the request for the transition risk register was made, many aspects of the policy were still at an early stage of their development: the Command Paper, responding to the consultation, had not been published; and the Bill had not been published. It is therefore incorrect to say that the transition risk register does not relate to the development of policy, because it fed, and continues to feed, directly into the advice given to Ministers.

The Bill may have become an Act in March, but we are still developing policy at the next level of detail. The value of risk registers is directly linked to the form and manner in which they are expressed—with the use of direct language. They do not, however, show the benefits of a policy, and they are not, as impact assessments are, intended to reflect considered calculations of both costs and benefits. They are simply about identifying possible risks in order to stimulate action to mitigate them.

If such registers were disclosed at sensitive times in relation to sensitive issues, as would have happened in the case before us, it is highly likely that they would be open to misinterpretation and misuse, with the impact that future risk registers would become anodyne documents of little use. Potential risks would be more likely to develop without adequate mitigation, and that would be detrimental to good government and very much against the public interest. Reflecting that, a detailed statement of reasons for my decision to exercise the ministerial veto in this case has been laid before Parliament.

This decision to veto the disclosure of the register is not in any way a criticism of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act always envisaged times when the Government would need to protect the process of policy development. This is one of those times. The Government’s right to make just such a veto is written into, and is a proper use of, the Act.

We have always been as open as possible about the risks and issues involved in the modernisation of the NHS. There was the full public consultation, a thorough examination by the NHS Future Forum and 50 days of detailed debate in both Houses, in addition to the detailed risks published in the impact assessment. Very few pieces of legislation have ever received that degree of public and parliamentary scrutiny.

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On Tuesday I went further and published a separate document that includes the risk areas covered in the transition risk register, as previously set out not least by my noble Friend Lord Howe in another place on 28 November 2011. That document also includes the actions taken to mitigate those risk areas.

I have also published a “Scheme for Publication”, which sets out our proposals for reviewing and releasing material relating to the transition programme in future. Both documents are available in the Library and on the Department’s website. They further confirm that the purpose of the veto was not in any sense to restrict public access to relevant information, but was to establish that publication of the risk register in December 2010 would have been contrary to the public interest. This Government, more than any before us, are committed to openness and transparency. Across government we publish business plans, departmental staffing and salaries, full details of departmental contracts and summaries of departmental board meetings. In the national health service, we have published more information about services than was ever the case—not only shining a light on poor performance, but helping to root it out. We now publish the NHS atlas of variation, exposing variations in outcomes throughout the country; we have published data on mixed-sex accommodation, leading to a dramatic 95% reduction in breaches; and we have invested in new information collections on A and E performance, on ambulance performance and on clinical audits.

The decision to veto is about long-term principles and good government, not about limiting in any way the scrutiny of NHS reform. Information relating to much of the content of the risk registers is now in the public domain, but the important principle of the right not to publish has been maintained, and I commend this statement to the House.

12.5 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): Back in the rose garden, the talk was of the most open and transparent Government ever. Today, those words are as worthless as “no rise in tuition fees” and “no top-down re-organisation of the NHS”. We have heard self-serving rubbish today from a Secretary of State who does not want patients and the public to know the whole truth about his NHS re-organisation, but he has been brought here by the sheer tenacity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).

My right hon. Friend has been completely vindicated by the Information Rights Tribunal, which was scathing about the way in which the Government have conducted their re-organisation of the NHS, their failure to give an indication of their wide-ranging plans before their hastily drawn-up White Paper, and their decision to implement them on the ground before a Bill had been presented to the House.

After last Thursday, in interviews following the local election results, Government Members all promised to listen, but what is the first thing that they do? They take this unanimous ruling from a judge-led legal tribunal and tear it in two with trademark arrogance—a Government who believe that they are born to rule and above the law. In doing so, they have made a major departure from the established policy on freedom of information, and from the precedent set by the previous Government.

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Hitherto, the ministerial veto has been used on only three occasions, all related to Cabinet discussions; applying the veto to operational matters of domestic policy breaks that precedent. As such, it is a major step backwards towards secrecy and closed government. Is there not now a real risk that other Departments will cite this shoddy decision as a precedent and seek to withhold public information that, in the spirit of policy intention of the Freedom of Information Act, should be placed in the public domain?

Where does this decision leave the Information Commissioner and, indeed, the Information Tribunal? Have they not been completely undermined by the Cabinet’s decision? The truth is that there is confusion in government about the decision, and the Secretary of State has failed to clear it up today. In his statement on Tuesday he said clearly that the risk register would not be published following Cabinet agreement and that it was a “final decision” by the Secretary of State, but just hours later on the “Today” programme the Health Minister Earl Howe said:

“We have every intention of publishing the risk register in due course, when we think the time is right”.

I have a simple question: will it be published or not? Was the Secretary of State’s Minister speaking for him and his Department when he made that statement, and if so will the Secretary of State tell us what his Minister means by “when…the time is right”? Most people, including those on the tribunal, felt that the time was right when the Bill was going through the House of Commons—before the right hon. Gentleman shamelessly rammed it on to the statute book.

The shambles is not just in the Department of Health, however; it is right across government. The shadow Leader of the House has just left the Chamber, but in a blog post earlier this week he said—

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): The Deputy Leader of the House.

Andy Burnham: The Deputy Leader of the House said that

“it would also be right to publish as much of what is contained in the risk register as possible”.

He said that this week—that the risk register should have been published. How many more Ministers and coalition MPs do not agree with the Cabinet’s decision?

Most worrying, however, is the confusion over freedom of information policy. The Secretary of State, in his statement earlier this week, said:

“If such risk registers were regularly disclosed, it is likely that their form and content would change”.

But later in the same statement he said that this was an “exceptional case”. Which is it? Do the Government now have a blanket ban on the publication of any risk register, even if ordered to do so by a judge, or was this an exceptional case? If it was the latter, how did it meet the exceptional criteria that Government rules require? We need answers, as again this Government are breaking the precedent set by the last Government. Following a ruling from the Information Commissioner, we released the Heathrow third runway risk register. We never called for the publication of all risk registers, but said that each case should be judged on its merits. Inconveniently for the Minister and the Conservative party, that ruling

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makes a clear differentiation between the strategic risk register on the one hand and the transition risk register on the other, as I have argued all the way through this discussion.

The Secretary of State’s argument today hinges on the “safe space” argument—he says that if we did not have a safe space, it may change future risk registers. Is he aware that the tribunal considered that point in detail but concluded that there was no evidence presented to us that the release of the Heathrow risk register had a chilling effect on their use by Government? Was the Secretary of State’s argument not tested in court and did it not fail in court? Is he not now showing a blatant disregard for the law? He said today that it “is a matter of principle and not a matter of law”, but it is a matter of principle and of law—freedom of information is the principle and the Freedom of Information Act is the law. He should be following the law that enacts that principle, but he has taken a step away from it today.

The Treasury website still has this statement on risk policy:

“Government will make available its assessments of risks that affect the public, how it has reached its decisions, and how it will handle the risk. It will also do so where the development of new policies poses a potential risk to the public.”

I ask again: if that is no longer the Government’s policy on risk management, when will it be removed from the Treasury’s website?

In conclusion, the Government are in disarray on many fronts. The NHS belongs to the people of this country, not Ministers. If Ministers cannot be open about the risks that they are taking with the NHS, they should not be taking those risks. That is a simple principle.

The truth is that this has been a cowardly decision from a Government on the run who are now too frightened to face up to the consequences of their own incompetence. The real reason for the veto is that publication would have shown that the warnings from doctors, nurses, midwives and patients were echoed in private by civil servants but the Government just ignored them. This is a Cabinet cover-up of epic proportions—a Government closing ranks and covering each other’s backs because they know that the public would never forgive them if they could see the scale of the risks that the Government are taking with the national health service.

Mr Lansley: Most of that was synthetic indignation. I am really surprised; the right hon. Gentleman cannot have read any of the review of the risk register that I published on Tuesday. That set out, in detail, all the risk areas carried in the risk register and the mitigating actions that have been taken. There is in no sense any area of risk identified 18 months ago that has not been put into the public domain in a proper form—one that reflects not only the character of those risks, but how those risks have been subsequently addressed.

The right hon. Gentleman is completely confused about the issue. The point of the veto was to confirm that it was not in the public interest for the risk register in December 2010 to be published in relation to the November 2010 document. That point was made very clearly. Acting as we did was not in any sense above the law; it was absolutely in accordance with the law. It is in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and

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with the structure of the management of risk. For the further clarification of the House, on Tuesday I published the risk management strategy associated with the transition programme, so the right hon. Gentleman can see that it is exactly in line with how the Government manage such risks.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about our intention to publish the risk register. We will publish it at a point when it would not prejudice the exemption for officials for the formulation and development of policy. There will come a time when it is appropriate to do so, when doing so will not prejudice that exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.

The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to suggest that no evidence was presented to the first-tier tribunal relating to the potentially damaging effect of publication under these circumstances. As the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell made those risks very clear to the tribunal. Who is better placed than him to say that? He must know that in another place, during debates on this precise issue of publication and relevance to the legislation, other Cabinet Secretaries and Members clearly stated their view that the publication of the transition risk register would run that risk.

The right hon. Gentleman is speaking directly contrary to his own view. When he was a Minister, he said in relation to a request for publication of a departmental risk register:

“Putting the risk register in the public domain would be likely to reduce the detail and utility of its contents.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1192W.]

He is making an absolutely spurious distinction between the transition register and the strategic register. [Interruption.] It is no good him shouting. The overlap between the two registers and the character of the formulation and development of policy—

Mr Speaker: Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. I say to the shadow Secretary of State that he has asked a series of questions and must await the answers. I say to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), a distinguished practitioner at the Bar, that if she conducted herself in the court room as she has here, the judge would not be amused—and I am sure that she would not do it.

Mr Lansley: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me be clear. The right hon. Gentleman, as a Minister, refused requests for the publication of risk registers. This risk register, the transition risk register, at the point when it was requested and formulated, was absolutely part of the formulation and development of policy and has continued to be used as part of the development of policy.

To make it clearer what the Labour party actually thinks about the issue, I should say that a Conservative party member recently submitted a request for a risk register to the one place where the Labour Government remain in power—in Wales. What did the Labour Government say? On 12 April 2012, less than a month ago, the Welsh Assembly Labour Government said:

“Release of the risk register would inhibit the way in which such risks are expressed, which potentially makes the management and mitigation of risk more difficult. This in turn would impair the quality of decision making when determining the most appropriate response to an identified risk. Ultimately this could impede the delivery of Ministerial priorities and inhibit the effective management of NHS performance, in both delivery and financial terms.”

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That request to a Labour Government for an NHS risk register was turned down for precisely the reasons we have rejected the request for risk registers in relation to the NHS. The Labour party says one thing, but in government it did another and in government in Wales it does another.

Instead of spending his time debating an 18-month-old document—it is now out of date, frankly—the right hon. Gentleman ought to be recognising the reality of what is happening in the NHS. Instead of the risks that he keeps talking about happening, NHS performance is improving, and he should celebrate that. Waiting times are down, there are more diagnostic tests, and waiting times for diagnostic tests have been maintained. There is extra access to dentistry, cancer drugs and new cancer medicines. Health care-acquired infections in the NHS are at their lowest-ever level and the performance of the NHS is continually improving. As shadow Secretary of State, he would be better off celebrating the performance of the NHS than trying to run it down.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): My right hon. Friend quoted some of the evidence that the Justice Committee is receiving, including very interesting evidence from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). It would help the Committee if it had an understanding of whether this instance is a special and particular case or whether it is seen by quite a lot of people in the civil service as a test case of whether there really is a safe space in which they can freely advance arguments about risk.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. This case is seen and was judged by me and my colleagues on its particular circumstances; as I made clear, it is an exceptional case. One of the arguments that underlay our decision was necessarily the one about the principle that we were assessing. That principle is very clear: the Freedom of Information Act envisages that there should be an exemption for the formulation and development of policy, and that under those circumstances the public interest in the proper development of policy could outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

In this case, we are very clear—and my colleagues have been very clear—that the risk register, when it was produced, was at that time instrumental to the formulation and development of policy and that therefore the public interest did not require its disclosure.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): On Tuesday, the Health Secretary said that the veto was justified because the NHS risk register case is exceptional. On Wednesday, Earl Howe, the Health Minister, said:

“This isn’t just about the NHS. The Cabinet collectively took a decision that this was a matter that extended across Government.”

On Tuesday, the Health Secretary said that he was blocking publication, but on Wednesday, the same Health Minister said:

“We have every intention of publishing the risk register”.

This is a conspiracy and a cock-up. Is it not typical of this Government—too incompetent even to organise a decent cover-up?

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Mr Lansley: I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I took the decision to veto the publication of the risk register, in justification of the Government’s view that it should not be disclosed, in December 2010. I am now making it very clear that I have put all the risk areas covered in the risk register in the public domain in the document that sets them out. The issue is not about the publication of the risk register now; it is about whether it was right to refuse its publication in December 2010. He knows perfectly well that that is the question and that is the judgment we made.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): If the position of Labour Members is that the ministerial veto should apply only to Cabinet discussions, is it not odd that the legislation they passed does not contain that description? Is it not the case that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) spoke for the reality of government rather than the opportunism of opposition?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Blackburn is not here; I told him that I would quote from his evidence to the Justice Committee. I will therefore not attempt further to interpret what his view might be. I think that what he said to the Justice Committee was consistent with the view that those implementing the FOI Act should bear it in mind that there was an exemption for the formulation and development of policy, as my hon. Friend implies. There was not an exemption for Cabinet collective discussion; there was an exemption for the formulation and development of policy. In each case, we have to weigh the public interest very carefully. Clearly, there will be many circumstances in which the public interest in disclosure outweighs the necessity for there to be a safe space for private discussions about issues of risk. In this case, in December 2010 my colleagues and I were clear that it would have been wholly wrong, and disruptive and damaging, to the policy development process for the document to be published at that time.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): What does the Secretary of State so fear about what is in the risk register that he refuses to show it the light of day and defies a tribunal ruling?

Mr Lansley: I know that I cannot ask the hon. Gentleman a question, but I wonder whether he has read the document I published on Tuesday about what is in the risk register. I bet he has not.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): Has the Secretary of State of State seen any previous risk registers, and does he think that their early publication may have affected the policy development of the previous Government?

Mr Lansley: I have seen many risk registers. Of course, I do not have access to the documents of the previous Government, so I cannot judge what the precise circumstances were in which the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) refused to publish a risk register, his predecessor as Secretary of State for Health refused to publish a risk register, or, indeed, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) refused to publish a risk register when he was a Treasury Minister.

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Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): In my constituency, the future of our hospital services, especially our accident and emergency service, is deeply uncertain. GP commissioning is colliding with massive cuts to social care budgets, creating considerable uncertainty about how that will pan out. Our ambulance services are being reconfigured—we are losing an ambulance to Salford—and our community services are being broken up and contracted out in penny parcels. Given all this uncertainty as transition begins to take its course in Trafford, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give to my constituents that they will be fully informed of the risks associated with such change when he is setting such a bad example nationally?

Mr Lansley: If the hon. Lady had looked at the document I published on Tuesday, she would realise that none of the issues she is talking about—quite properly, on behalf of her constituents—was addressed in November 2010 in the risk register. In so far as there were issues concerning the transition, not only have they been addressed but we have set out how we have mitigated them, with the specific objective of ensuring that during the process of transition there is not only business as usual in the NHS but performance is improved. That is why Labour Members should take on board the point that I made at the end of my response to the right hon. Member for Leigh: the performance of the NHS is improving during this process of transition.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend received any representations from Labour Front Benchers about releasing the 2009 risk register, which they refused to publish when they were in office?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend may be surprised to know that I have received no such representations from Labour Members.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Is not the real reason the Secretary of State is vetoing publication of the risk register that it shows what the doctors, the nurses and the midwives warned of all along—that this reorganisation is dangerous and reckless, and actually puts patients at risk?

Mr Lansley: It does not say that. Before Labour Members get up to read out the Whips’ handouts, why do they not read the document that was published on Tuesday about what is in the risk register and how we have mitigated these risks? The hon. Lady’s point is unjustified, not least as regards nurses, because the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, in April 2011 and again in December 2011, sat in my office and told me, “We support the Bill.”

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend detail the changes in Department of Health policy on the publication of risk registers before or since May 2010?

Mr Lansley: The Department of Health’s risk management strategy is the same now as it was in 2009 or 2010.

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Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The risk register that the Government fear publishing apparently points to potential major failures, including financial ones, in their plan for the NHS. Within weeks of coming to power, the Government ditched Labour plans for a new hospital for my constituents as it was considered too costly or financially risky, yet several hospitals could be built with the money wasted through their reorganisation. When will they recognise that and give their backing to the new financial plan for our hospital?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the reason we refused that support is that his local trust is a foundation trust. It was never contemplated that foundation trusts undertaking major capital projects in excess of £400 million should simply expect the Department to supply a capital grant for that purpose. Without commenting on the merits of the proposal, I think that his trust has since developed new and improved proposals. I am not sure that they have come to me in any sense at this stage, but when they do I will certainly be willing to look at them very carefully with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns).

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many times, under the previous Government’s many reforms of the NHS, risk registers were routinely published as a matter of course?

Mr Lansley rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The difficulty with that question, although I am sure that it was sincerely intended, is that it relates to the policies of a previous Administration, for which of course the Secretary of State has no responsibility.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Should the Information Commissioner and the tribunal decide to approve the release of other risk registers, be it those that cover other work by his Department or the work of other Departments, such as the Work programme, has the Cabinet already decided also to veto their release?

Mr Lansley: No. The hon. Gentleman should know that in accordance with the FOI Act, if a ministerial veto were to be considered, it would be considered on the merits of any individual case.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has followed the policy laid down by the previous Government on the application of the Act and that nothing has changed in that respect in policy terms?

Mr Lansley: Of course, Mr Speaker, I cannot comment on the policies of the previous Labour Government. I would be happy, if the right hon. Member for Leigh agrees, to publish the risk management strategy that the Department of Health had in place in 2009, which was not placed in the public domain at that time.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): It is no surprise that the Secretary of State is running scared of publishing the risk register, because, as the House should not forget, an awful lot of measures now come through secondary legislation because the Government left a lot of detail out of the Health and Social Care Bill. In his statement—this is not from a Whips’ spreadsheet, let me add—he said: “If such registers were disclosed at sensitive times in relation to sensitive issues, as would have happened in the case before us, it is highly likely that they would be open to misinterpretation and misuse”. At what point does he think that there will cease to be “sensitive times”, and will he publish before the next general election?

Mr Lansley: I will repeat what my noble Friend Earl Howe said: we have every intention of publishing the risk register, but will do so when it is no longer directly relevant to the formulation and development of policy.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Having been involved in the production of risk registers for many years, I know that they are pertinent to the point in time at which they are produced and require free thinking by those who put them together. There must then be a mitigation strategy to prevent the risks from ever happening. The key issue is this: what does my right hon. Friend think would happen to the policy advisers who put together risk registers for Ministers if these highly sensitive documents were put in the public domain?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. To be absolutely clear, some risk registers are designed to be published. For example, strategic health authorities publish risk registers, and have done for a period of time, because they are designed to be published. The way in which the Labour party used the risk registers published by strategic health authorities, I think at the last Health questions, amply demonstrated that not only are they open to misrepresentation and misuse, but that the Labour party is very keen to misuse and misrepresent them. Even more so would it misrepresent and abuse the information in risk registers that were designed for the frank expression of advice if they were published. I do not need to speculate further in reply to my hon. Friend, because Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, made it very clear that we would end up with bland, anodyne documents that did not serve the management purpose for which they were created.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)? If civil servants did not trust that what they said to Ministers was said in confidence, we would get poor advice. Some things must remain confidential until the time is right for their publication. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I do agree with him. The Freedom of Information Act recognises explicitly that what he says is true, and that a judgment should therefore be made by Ministers about where the balance of public interest lies. That is what we have done.

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Bills Presented

Electoral Registration and Administration Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

The Deputy Prime Minister, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Kenneth Clarke, Mr Secretary Moore, Mr Mark Harper and Mr David Heath, presented a Bill to make provision about the registration of electors and the administration and conduct of elections.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).

Civil Aviation Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mrs Theresa Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Hague, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Vince Cable, Secretary Justine Greening, Mr Secretary Paterson, Secretary Michael Moore, Mrs Secretary Gillan and Mr Francis Maude, presented a Bill to make provision about the regulation of operators of dominant airports; to confer functions on the Civil Aviation Authority under competition legislation in relation to services provided at airports; to make provision about airport security; to make provision about the regulation of provision of flight accommodation; to make further provision about the Civil Aviation Authority’s membership, administration and functions in relation to enforcement, regulatory burdens and the provision of information relating to aviation; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 30 January); to be read the Third time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).

Defamation Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57),

Mr Secretary Kenneth Clarke, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr David Willetts, Mr Edward Vaizey and Mr Jonathan Djanogly, presented a Bill to amend the law of defamation.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).

Finance Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80 B )

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Davey, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Miss Chloe Smith, presented a Bill to grant certain duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance.

Bill read the First and Second time, clauses 1, 4, 8, 189 and 209 and schedules 1, 23 and 33 as reported from a Committee of the whole House were laid upon the Table without Question put, and the Bill stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 7, 9 to 188,

10 May 2012 : Column 165 190 to 208 and 210 to 227 and schedules 2 to 22, 24 to 32 and 34 to 38 (Standing Order No. 80B and Order, 16 April); and to be printed (Bill 1).

Financial Services Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke, Miss Chloe Smith and Norman Lamb, presented a Bill to amend the Bank of England Act 1998, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Banking Act 2009; to make other provision about the exercise of certain statutory functions relating to building societies, friendly societies and other mutual societies; to amend section 785 of the Companies Act 2006; to make provision enabling the Director of Savings to provide services to other public bodies; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No 80A) and Order, 6 February); to be further considered on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).

Local Government Finance Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mr Secretary Pickles, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Mr Oliver Letwin, Andrew Stunell, Robert Neill and Mr David Jones, presented a Bill to make provision about non-domestic rating; to make provision about grants to local authorities; to make provision about council tax; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 10 January); to be considered on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).

10 May 2012 : Column 166

Debate on the Address

[2nd Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 9 May).

Question again proposed,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Home Affairs and Justice

12.34 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): In justice and home affairs, the coalition Government achieved a great deal in the first parliamentary Session. We legislated to bring in elected police and crime commissioners, giving proper public accountability to policing. We brought in reforms to reduce reoffending and started paying by results. We rolled back unwarranted state intrusion into private lives through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. We placed successful investigation and prosecution, once again, at the heart of our strategy for countering terrorism. We reduced the cost of legal aid, while protecting the vulnerable.

In the second Session, we are bringing forward further reforms to strengthen public protection; to better tackle serious crime and defend our borders; to make justice swifter, fairer and more comprehensive; to maintain and modernise our communications data capabilities; and to improve the oversight of the security intelligence agencies that keep us safe.

The Gracious Speech included the Crime and Courts Bill, which was introduced into another place earlier today. Current estimates suggest that serious, organised and complex crime costs our country between £20 billion and £40 billion a year. Law enforcement figures suggest that there are more than 7,000 organised crime groups that impact on the UK, involving about 30,000 individuals. Even those figures may underestimate the impact. Behind those statistics is the human misery that serious and organised crime inflicts on our communities. The drug dealing on street corners, the burglary and mugging by addicts, and the credit card fraud that robs so many are all fundamentally driven by serious, organised and complex crime.

As well as growing, that threat is changing. That means that our law enforcement response must also change. Visible neighbourhood policing is vital, but it will not deal with the cyber-criminal who is raiding bank accounts directly from overseas. Arresting drug dealers is important, but it will not stop the flow of drugs from abroad. Vetting and barring are important, but they cannot protect a child from the dangers that lurk online. To deal with those new threats, we need a new crime fighting force—a force that is capable of working across police boundaries and organisational divisions; a force that can defend our borders and deal

10 May 2012 : Column 167

with the economic consequences of complex crime; a force that protects children and vulnerable people and is active in cyberspace. That crime fighting force will be the National Crime Agency.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Home Secretary has used the phrase “serious and organised crime” a number of times. Is she aware of the high reputation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency internationally in south America and many other places around the world that are involved in combating the people trafficking and drug trafficking to which she has referred? How will she ensure that, with the changes in organisation and the new name, we do not lose the brand and the reputation that have been built over many years?

Mrs May: I am well aware of the good name that SOCA has across the world. When I visit other countries, I try to speak to local SOCA liaison officers, where we have them, and I have met some of our liaison officers from south America when they have been in the UK.

I know the value that other law enforcement agencies across the world place on the work that SOCA does. That is why the National Crime Agency will build on the good work that SOCA has developed. SOCA will become the serious and organised crime command within the NCA, so we will develop the good work that has been done. I believe that being within the NCA will give SOCA a greater ability to deal with these issues. Linking SOCA with the border police command, the economic crime command and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will give us a greater ability to act across the various types of serious and organised crime. Criminals do not compartmentalise their crime. Serious and organised crime groups are often involved in many types of crime and we need to reflect that in our law enforcement capability.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): There are a couple of areas of anxiety concerning the NCA. The first is that it has no clear line of accountability to the general public. Perhaps the Home Secretary can give some information on the mechanisms of accountability to local communities. Secondly, as I understand it the NCA will have fewer staff than SOCA. Which of SOCA’s responsibilities will therefore disappear? If I am wrong, perhaps she can clarify how the staffing and financing of the NCA will compare to those of SOCA. The ambiguity and confusion around those issues have not been cleared up.

Mrs May: I visited SOCA some weeks ago and spoke to its staff about the situation that will pertain when it comes into the National Crime Agency. Discussions are obviously taking place with staff about the arrangements for the transition. There is a limit to what can be done until we are in a position to introduce and take forward a Bill, but those discussions will take place. I recognise that at a time of transition there is always a degree of uncertainty for individuals. That happens because of the process of transition, but we will make every effort to continue discussions with staff about what will happen when SOCA comes into the NCA.

In terms of accountability and responsibility, the NCA director general will be responsible to the Home Secretary and through the Home Secretary to Parliament.

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I have every confidence that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who has already shown a significant interest in the matter, will make every effort to ensure that his Committee has the opportunity to look into the workings of the NCA—

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On that point—

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman has started talking before I have sat down.

Mr Sheerman: I missed the first two minutes of the Home Secretary’s speech, but I am keen to get into the debate because I have been outside talking about the dreadful case of criminals preying on children in Rochdale. My constituents do not really care what an agency is called; they want an effective mechanism. When I led a debate on child prostitution and the curse that we had across the northern region, I pointed out that one of the central problems is the not-joined-up relationship between different police forces in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

Mr Sheerman: Is this going to be stamped out by this new—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will sit down when I say “Order”. Interventions should be brief, and it is customary to ask a Minister to give way before launching into an intervention, although the Home Secretary is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

Mrs May: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I recognise that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) passionately believes in, and cares greatly about, the issue he raised—and, frankly, so should we all. Sadly, child sexual exploitation takes place across communities and across the country. It is a matter of growing concern, given the number of cases identified by the police.

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of police forces working together. One feature of the National Crime Agency will be its greater ability not only to bring the agencies within the commands of the NCA together, but to work with police forces up and down the country. One aim is to get a more joined-up approach towards crime fighting at this level. That is why I am pleased that CEOP will be within the NCA because CEOP has a hugely respected reputation for its work—but I think it can do more, and being located within the NCA will enable it to do more.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) rose

Mrs May: I have already been generous in giving way, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.