26 Jun 2012 : Column 263

9.29 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I wish to start by talking about the young men and women who serve in our front-line services. I pay tribute to all members of the armed services, be they in the back room or on the front line, but special consideration has to be given to those on the front line, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq. I went to Afghanistan in 2007 and met some of the young men who were fighting for us. They were 18, 19, 20, and they were being faced by and had to see all sorts of cruelties. They had to face so much hurt and they had to see so many injuries among their comrades. When they come back, we need to look after their physical and psychological needs. That means that if they have been injured in combat, all the best treatment should be made available to them. Even if they have not suffered any physical harm, they must be treated in respect of their emotional and psychological needs as well. They must be supported appropriately when they leave the Army and come into civilian life. That means that if they want to go to university, they should be given free tuition. Although we rightly always pay respect to our fallen heroes, we forget that what people are exposed to in war and in battles is an experience that nobody else is ever going to see and hear. So we should spend a lot more money on looking after our armed personnel who have served on the front line when they come back.

It is also important to equip these people properly when they are on the front line. They should be properly trained, and the armour, the helicopters and everything else that is required for them to do their job properly should be in place. That also means that the right amount of personnel should be there; 100 people should not be sent to do a job that requires 300 soldiers to do it. That means that the Government should reconsider the abandoning of certain regiments. The fighting force, the infantry and the regiments that go out to fight should not be reduced. One of my constituents who served in the Yorkshire Regiment, which was founded by the Duke of Wellington, says that it is one of the best regiments and has received many Victoria Crosses for the services it has rendered to the country, so I ask Ministers to reconsider reducing the number of soldiers on the front line.

We are told that some of these re-evaluations of our defence expenditure are to do with the money. I want the Minister, and indeed Labour Members, to consider whether we really need Trident. I know that people think that this is a debate of the left, but everyone knows that four years ago a number of generals and senior people in the Army and the Air Force said that Trident is actually irrelevant and is no longer required, as a result of the end of the cold war. They have also said that it is not ready to deal with the current levels of international terrorism. The generals set that out in a letter to The Times in January 2009. I have copies of the documents where they have asked that more money be spent on conventional forces, which we require to deal with the imminent threats we face. As I said, those people are not pacifists and they are not people who do not know what they are talking about; they are—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for her contribution. I call Oliver Colvile.

26 Jun 2012 : Column 264

9.33 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Thank you very much for calling me in this debate, Mr Speaker.

I agree with the comments that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces made about how important this weekend is going to be, as it is national armed forces weekend. Not unnaturally, I am delighted to have this opportunity, because my constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, more affectionately known as “Guz”, is going to be the national focus for the armed forces weekend. Plymouth is the home of 3 Commando Brigade, the Royal Marines and flag officer sea training, and it has an enormously big heritage, of which we are incredibly proud. I pay tribute to Commander Crichton for all his hard work in putting together the national armed forces weekend.

During this debate we have heard a great deal about how we need to make an assessment of where we are going. In my submission to the strategic defence and security review, I made it clear that Britain is a maritime nation, and we need to protect our sea routes. That means that we have to ensure that we are not sea blind. The Royal Navy’s role is to ensure not only soft diplomacy but that we can engage as and when Parliament decides where to go. It is a tool of foreign policy; indeed, some people would say that it could be a provisional tool in foreign policy, too.

I welcome the building of the aircraft carriers, but we need to ensure that when we move on to the next tranche of the SDSR we look long and hard at how to ensure that the supporting frigates are included.

Plymouth has a good story to tell about its harbour, which is the finest natural harbour in the world. It sits on the western approaches and is the one place in the United Kingdom that can deliver the refuelling and refitting of our nuclear submarines. That is our stake in the ground. I believe it is important that we retain our nuclear deterrent, because it is important not only strategically for our country but for my local economy, as 25,000 people are dependent on the defence industry.

Our dockyard was consistently under threat for the time that the Labour party was in power and I am delighted by the hard work my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have been able to do in government to ensure that we can secure its future. The Government have been successful in ensuring not only that we will retain our Type 23s but that the £350 million refit of HMS Vengeance will take place in Devonport. The Government have been rebuilding confidence in Plymouth and Devonport, ensuring that we can do the very important job of engineering research, too, and making us one of the global leaders in maritime activity.

I am surprised by the Labour party’s approach and ask them to reconsider it. We need to ensure that those involved in our armed services have support in education, that they have decent housing and that they have provision to deal with mental health issues. We must work hard on that. This has been an important debate and we must ensure that we continue with the armed services covenant. I will welcome the opportunity to listen to the next debate on the subject, which will be important.

26 Jun 2012 : Column 265

9.37 pm

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Britain has a proud military history and throughout that history, sailors, soldiers and airmen served our country with a courage and bravery that has become synonymous with the British armed forces. It is a pleasure to place on the record tonight my appreciation for our armed forces, as I will when I attend a ceremony in Liverpool town hall on Saturday. I will be remembering the eight brave men from Liverpool who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, but of course the deaths of those brave men do not tell the full story. Countless others from the Merseyside area have been killed or injured in the line of duty during other conflicts and it should be recognised that Liverpool produces more men and women in our armed forces per capita than probably any other area of the country. As people will know, the Mersey is the lifeblood of our great city and Liverpool has a long history with the Royal Navy and the merchant navy. Its maritime history is a reminder to us all of the sacrifices and bravery of our ancestors.

In the somewhat limited time I have left, I want to talk about the lack of consideration that this Government have recently shown to our armed forces. I am primarily referring to the widespread reports that the Defence Secretary is to make soldiers who are currently serving redundant on their return from their tour of duty. What kind of Government would do that to their own brave soldiers? Decisions taken today, matters of life or death, spending commitments and diplomatic negotiations can and invariably will have ramifications for generations to come. What is more, some of the policy decisions made by the Defence Secretary today are likely to take decades to become manifest.

Yes, we need reform—that is why my right hon. Friend the shadow Defence Secretary outlined £5 billion-worth of reforms recently—but a reduction in Britain’s capability based on opinion polls is irresponsible. Controversy is not an excuse for carelessness or, dare I say, callousness.

The Defence Secretary should not underestimate the part that morale plays when it comes to our soldiers and armed forces. He would do well to remember the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.”

Our armed forces deserve a Defence Secretary who understands defence and does not use it for political expedience. Our British armed forces deserve a Secretary of State who demonstrates compassion for the mission, empathy for the families and a determination to stand up for defence in Parliament.

9.40 pm

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): It has been a pleasure to listen to this evening’s debate on defence reform, in which hon. Members have spoken on a number of topics. Let me say at the outset that the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) posed some very pertinent questions to Government Front Benchers.

I am pleased that we are having this debate in the week before armed forces day because it gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the bravery of our forces and the sacrifices they make, as has been mentioned

26 Jun 2012 : Column 266

by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) among others. Our forces do what is asked of them without question or hesitation and they often place their lives on the line to protect others. I am sure that the national event taking place in Plymouth this Saturday will be a great success. In West Dunbartonshire we celebrated armed forces day on Sunday past with a march-past in Dumbarton high street and a service in Riverside parish church.

There is no doubt that the armed forces will face challenges in the coming years, not least as part of the new employment model and the Future Force 2020 plan. Some 30,000 troops will have been removed by 2020. That will have an enormous impact on the UK’s capability, and clarity from Ministers on the decisions they have taken about future capability would be welcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made some excellent points about our maritime capability.

Recent reports have raised concerns that certain regiments are at risk of being scrapped. Belonging to a regiment is a very strong part of many soldiers’ identity. That is why the shadow Secretary of State launched our “Respect Our Regiments” campaign last month. I know that many Members are concerned about regiments and battalions being scrapped, including colleagues from Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland and Staffordshire. I apologise if I have missed anyone out. The Government intend to rely much more heavily on reservists in future, and the Minister knows I am concerned that he and the Government plan to scrap employment protections for reservists while asking for more from them.

Mr Robathan indicated dissent.

Gemma Doyle: The Minister shakes his head but I raised this with him last year and again last week. I know he is going to write to me and I await that letter because our understanding of the situation differs.

Last year, we reached agreement across the House on the armed forces covenant. I will resist the temptation raised by the contribution of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher). As he knows and as the record shows, his party and the Minister had to be dragged kicking and screaming into putting the provisions we now have in law into the Armed Forces Act 2011. Anyone can read the record of the Committee proceedings to see that that is correct. The hon. Gentleman’s recollection was frankly a little wobbly. The Minister knows that I do not think the armed forces covenant is yet being taken seriously enough across all of government and the public sector in accordance with the principles set down. I do not doubt his commitment but more work needs to be done to make sure that it is a reality and that it works in practice.

I want to raise the issue of discrimination towards our forces. This concern is highlighted in the recent report by Lord Ashcroft, “The Armed Forces and Society”, which states that one in five members of the forces reports have been refused service in a bar or hotel while wearing their uniform and that around the same number reports being verbally abused while wearing their uniform. That is clearly unacceptable discrimination and if we take the covenant seriously we should be looking at how to tackle such behaviour.

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Mr Gray: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gemma Doyle: I am afraid that I really do not think I have time, but if I have time later I will.

The service community can face indirect discrimination, creating difficulty with day-to-day matters that we take for granted such as getting credit, mortgages or even a mobile phone contract because they have moved around so often. We should not accept that as inevitable. The principles of the armed forces covenant should apply throughout society, and where those principles are routinely or blatantly breached, it may be necessary to consider introducing measures to deal with the matter. Routine disadvantage or discrimination should never go hand in hand with serving one’s country.

Mr Gray: The hon. Lady claims credit for having forced the Government to bring the covenant into law. Perhaps she can remind me of any step taken by any Labour Government in 13 years to bring the armed forces covenant into law?

Gemma Doyle: Great strides were made under the previous Government through the Green Paper and the service personnel Command Paper, which set up the provisions we now have.

Legal protections are in place for other groups in society and we believe that consideration should be given to whether they should be extended to our armed forces. I thought the Minister agreed to cross-party talks in our Westminster Hall debate last week, but that does not appear to be what is on the record. I hope that he is willing to take part in such talks and I would welcome confirmation of that today.

When referring to the wider service community, we must of course mention forces’ families. They put up with an awful lot and we do not do enough for them. We have to make many improvements, particularly in housing, on which the hon. Member for Tamworth made some welcome comments. The Minister has side-stepped concerns about the missing £41 million for forces’ housing, so I urge him to take cognisance of today’s report from the Select Committee on Defence, which sets out the concerns about housing very well. In last week’s Westminster Hall debate, I urged him to think carefully before making any changes to the rules on service accommodation. As he knows, leaked plans to change the entitlement to married quarters were not well received earlier this year. Perhaps he will tell us tonight whether those changes are still being considered.

Our motion makes specific reference to pensions. There are concerns that some individuals have been made redundant with only a few weeks to go before being entitled to a full pension. It has been suggested that that was done deliberately to cut cost. The Minister has the opportunity to say today that that is not the case and that getting rid of people from the forces before they qualified for a full pension was not a deliberate policy. Will he also comment on media reports last week that the Government may be considering raising by five years the age at which forces personnel can receive a full pension?

Many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), have highlighted the importance of the defence industry in the UK. That includes a range of industries—shipbuilding,

26 Jun 2012 : Column 268

manufacturing, maintenance, aerospace, technical support, clothing and optics. Let me say to the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who raised some specific issues, that reports about Portsmouth dockyard have appeared in the media and the shadow Defence team has responded to those reports. I assure her that we share her concerns and we are on the side of her constituents and the people of Portsmouth. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) made some excellent points about defence procurement and in particular about the successor deterrent programme.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) asked us to explain some of the savings that we have identified. He will be pleased to hear that details of a full £5 billion have been published on The Guardian website, if nowhere else, and I refer him to that site.

I want to say a little about defence in Scotland. This week saw the launch of the “Better Together” campaign—Scotland’s cross-party campaign making the positive case for staying part of the UK. It is a shame that the nationalist spokesperson for defence has chosen not to be present tonight. For more than 300 years, service men and women from Scotland have served alongside their countrymen and women from the rest of the UK, with a shared identity and goal—protecting the people of the UK and defending those unable to defend themselves around the world. The defence sector is extremely important across the whole of Scotland, supporting around 50,000 jobs and in the west of Scotland pumping about £270 million a year into the local economy.

On the “Better Together” website, Members can hear Craig and Tanya, both from Dumbarton, and Robert from Cumbernauld, who all work in the shipyards on the Clyde, talking about why they want to stay part of the UK. If any Members are in any doubt about the importance of MOD contracts to the people of Scotland, I suggest they listen to those whose jobs depend on them. Although breaking Scotland off from the UK is a reform too far for me and for the majority of Scots, we have had a good debate this evening on many aspects of defence reform.

9.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): May I say what a pleasure it is to agree with the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) in rejecting any idea that Scotland would be better off independent, and how much stronger we are—both Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole—as a Union?

Many of the contributions to the debate today show how wide and how deep the admiration and respect for our armed forces runs in the House, and that reflects the feelings across the country. We should not forget that the purpose of our armed forces is to succeed on operations, to protect our national security and to provide the ultimate guarantee of our country’s security and independence, as well as helping to project its values and interests abroad. In Afghanistan today, that is what our soldiers are doing, risking life and limb to keep us safe as we sit in comfort in Westminster.

Operations remain the No. 1 priority for the Ministry of Defence and we will do everything we can to achieve success not just in Afghanistan, but in standing operations

26 Jun 2012 : Column 269

around the world and in helping to deliver a safe and secure Olympics this summer. But to make sure that this success continues into the future, we have to make sure that our services are structured properly, that the equipment programme is funded and that the needs of our forces are looked after.

That is why the programme of implementing the SDSR is so necessary—putting the years of Labour mismanagement behind and sorting out the mess. Although it appears that the Opposition recognise the need for change, they still do not appear to understand why there is such a need for change. The shadow Secretary of State for Defence—I am sorry he is not here—has written:

“In beginning to develop future policy we have to be honest about the past.”

Today, not one Member on the Opposition Benches has been honest about the mistakes that the Opposition made in the past. Not one has said sorry—sorry for 12 years without a defence review, sorry for the £38 billion black hole in the budget—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) should stop digging. He has been digging quite enough today. Not one Opposition Member has said sorry for ducking the tough choice required to put our armed forces back on track.

I am afraid that in the limited time available I will not be able to address all the contributions to the debate. The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) yet again made an impassioned case for RAF Leuchars. It remains our intention that the Army move to Leuchars and the RAF move to Lossiemouth. He asked some very detailed questions. Will he please take those up and I will make sure that my excellent civil servants in the Box bring them to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who would be better at answering than I would be this evening?

Sir Menzies Campbell: The questions were rhetorical. The answer is yes in every case.

Mr Robathan: In which case I do not think my hon. Friend the Minister will be writing to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made a point about the Nimrod MRA4. It was a procurement disaster. The aircraft were never in service and never flew in service. I say to the hon. Lady and to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) that the Government value the Welsh regiments that she spoke about. I have Welsh antecedents. I had a great uncle killed in Gallipoli in the Welsh Regiment and other relatives in the Welsh regiments, so I can assure her that we value the Welsh regiments. I do not know what is in the report. We must wait until General Carter’s report is published, which it will be, shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) drew attention to misleading statements on the naval base that she attributed to the Labour press office. If that is the case, it is regrettable. We have no intention whatsoever of closing the Portsmouth naval base.

26 Jun 2012 : Column 270

The hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) raised an important point about audit, accountability and the need to reform NATO. I suggest that he takes that up—I am looking again at my excellent civil servants—with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth), who is responsible for such matters, and I am sure that he will get back to him on that.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for his sensible look at defence strategy and the future of the reserves. I am sure that we are looking forward to seeing him in uniform tomorrow as a serving officer. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) was keen to encourage the defence industry and exports. Three Defence Ministers spend their time going around areas trying to encourage defence exports. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was widely criticised, including by Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, when he tried to encourage exports to the middle east. I am very glad to have the hon. Lady’s support. She referred to the economic difficulties that the Government have got themselves into since 2010. I do not think so. I really do not think so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) made a good point about housing. We are working on banks and mortgages, as he asked, and BFPO addresses will now be accepted as proper addresses for security. I am very much looking forward to seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) on armed forces day in Plymouth this weekend.

I must tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) that we are not making reductions in the armed forces out of callousness, but with huge regret, and it is painful to us. We are doing it because of the appalling financial situation that the Government received when they took office in 2010.

The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire is not correct that there is any intention to reduce protection for employment of reservists deployed. I am delighted to hear her praying in aid again my noble Friend Lord Ashcroft. I have never heard praise from the Labour Benches for Lord Ashcroft before, but I am pleased to hear it now. Perhaps she will bring forward an analysis of discrimination. I draw her attention to a letter that has been sent to the shadow Defence Secretary from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which says:

“I welcome the work conducted by Lord Ashcroft…I was reassured that that public support for our Armed Forces remains ‘very high’”.

He particularly says:

“I would welcome a discussion with you on how we can ensure that everything we do in Parliament emphasises our cross-party support for the Armed Forces and the people who serve in them.”

The Opposition probably rather regret calling this debate today. They have made themselves look somewhat foolish. While I remember, may I say how sorry I am to hear about the shadow Secretary of State’s relation in Australia? I understand that he is very ill and we wish him the very best in that illness, and I mean that sincerely. However, having been nice to the hon. Member for North Durham, let me say that he admitted that Labour was planning savings in restructuring the Army and then attacked us for doing just that. The Opposition remain in denial. They seem to say that everything was great in defence at the general election. It was not. As

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the shadow Secretary of State has identified, the Opposition’s greatest weakness remains the black hole that they left us. Today, the team has been revealed in all its glory. The Opposition have shown that they have no real defence policy. They have no answers to the problems in defence. They have no acceptance of the difficult position that we are in and no acceptance of the mess made by the Labour Government of the Government finances and of the defence budget.

In conclusion—

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided:

Ayes 210, Noes 294.

Division No. 27]

[9.59 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thornberry, Emily

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Yvonne Fovargue and

Nic Dakin

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Stephen Crabb and

Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

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26 Jun 2012 : Column 275

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Companies

That the draft Statutory Auditors (Amendment of Companies Act 2006 and Delegation of Functions etc) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 15 May, be approved.—(Bill Wiggin.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

European Semester in the UK

That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 10834/12, relating to the Commission Communication: Action for stability, growth and jobs; No. 10557/12 and Addendum, relating to the draft Council Recommendation on the United Kingdom’s 2012 national reform programme and delivering a Council opinion on the United Kingdom’s convergence programme for 2012–2017; and No. 10846/12, relating to a Commission Staff Working Document: In depth review for the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 5 of Regulation (EU) No. 1176/2011 on the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances; welcomes the Commission’s support for the Government’s efforts to reduce the deficit and set the public finances on a sustainable path, which is consistent with the conclusions reached by the IMF and the OECD in their recent reviews of the UK economy; takes note of the Commission’s efforts to address timing difficulties with the European Semester; welcomes the Government’s approach to promoting growth domestically and at EU level; and welcomes the Government’s policy of securing assurances that the UK cannot be subject to sanctions in respect of the Stability and Growth Pact or the new Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure [4th Report of Session 2012-13, HC 86-iv, Chapter 3].—(Bill Wiggin.)

The Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 27 June (Standing Order No. 41A).

Welsh Grand committee

Motion made,

That—

(1) the Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration;

(2) the Committee shall meet at Westminster on Monday 2 July at 11.30 am and 4.00 pm to consider—

(a) a Ministerial statement by the Secretary of State for Wales, proceeded with under Standing Order No. 105 (Welsh Grand Committee (ministerial statements));

(b) the matter referred to it under paragraph (1) above; and

(3) the Chair shall interrupt proceedings at the afternoon sitting not later than two hours after their commencement at that sitting.—(Bill Wiggin.)

Hon. Members: Object.

Sir Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Motion 3 on the Order Paper includes the words,

“welcomes the Commission’s support for the Government’s efforts to reduce the deficit and set the public finances on a sustainable path”.

Is that an issue on which the Opposition could have called for a debate, rather than just a vote?

26 Jun 2012 : Column 276

Mr Speaker: I think that the matter has already been debated in a European Committee. It is therefore not immediately obvious to me how a debate would have been sought today. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question—

Sir Peter Bottomley rose—

Mr Speaker: I do not require any further point of order. The answer to the question is no.

Sir Peter Bottomley rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I have made the point. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers, have announced this evening that the Coryton refinery has been sold, not as a refinery, but as an import and export terminal, meaning that most of the 850 jobs will go. Have you had any indication from Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change that they intend to come to the House to make an urgent statement on the implications of that announcement for UK fuel security and energy resilience?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As of now, I have received no such indication. I recognise the importance of the matter to the hon. Gentleman and to others. What he has said will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench.

If the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), having exercised a modicum of restraint and patience, wishes to pursue a different point of order, he may do so.

Sir Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question that I put to you was whether the Opposition could have had such a debate, rather than whether they should have had one. The answer may be the same, but the answer that the House was given was not relevant to the question that I had put.

Mr Speaker: The answer is no. I am grateful for the linguistic clarification, but the answer is the same.

Petition

Housing Benefit (York)

10.17 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Private tenants on low incomes in York face a particular problem because their housing benefit is based not on rents in York, but on rents in a broad market rental area that includes towns and villages 20 miles from York, where rents are much lower. I therefore present a petition on behalf of residents of York. The petition is signed by two of my constituents, Helen Graham and Graham Martin, and is supported by the signatures of almost 1,000 people.

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The petition states:

The Petition of residents of York,

Declares that York is facing a housing crisis, with homelessness in York in 2010/2011 40% up on the previous year; further declares that the Government’s reforms to Housing Benefits mean that of 6,299 private rented properties previously affordable in the city, 3,700 will be lost, a reduction of almost 50%; declares that this is effectively driving people out of York and away from their jobs, families and friends; and declares that York’s Broad Market Rental Area, which determines the level of Housing Benefit currently available, should be based on the York Unitary Authority area and not on neighbouring towns including, Tadcaster, Selby, and Pocklington, all of which have lower rents than York, in order to reduce the pressure on people to move away from the city which is their home.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to make changes to the boundary of the York Broad Market Rental Area to include only the York Unitary Authority area.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001101]

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Decent Homes Programme (Nottingham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

10.19 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I feel a mixture of pride and anxiety speaking about Nottingham’s decent homes programme. I am proud of the difference it has made to the lives of my constituents, but anxious for the future, because the final two years of investment have yet to be confirmed.

I want to explain my pride that, thanks to a unique study produced through the knowledge transfer partnership between Nottingham City Homes and Nottingham business school, we can measure the impact of Nottingham’s decent homes programme. I shall also set out exactly what is at stake for my constituents, including tenants, their neighbours and the wider city of Nottingham. If the promised funding is not delivered, the objective of bringing all council homes in Nottingham up to a decent standard is at risk.

Twelve years ago, the Labour Government set out their vision in a housing Green Paper and made a commitment to tackle chronic under-investment and to bring all housing up to an acceptable standard. In 2010, the National Audit Office found that, although the decent homes programme had probably had a wider beneficial impact, a lack

“of data on these wider benefits means that it is not possible to identify the Programme’s true impact throughout its life.”

The impact study helps to prove what MPs knew: that the programme was making a difference on the ground.

In January 2011, the House debated “Beyond Decent Homes”, a report from the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. MPs on both sides of the House, including me, described what good-quality housing meant for their constituents. NCH was awarded funding by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2008 and work began to complete £187 million-worth of planned investment to tackle the 32% of council homes in Nottingham classified as non-decent. The work was carried out under three streams to maximise efficiency and match tenants’ priorities. The secure stream was to replace all single-glazed windows with secured-by-design double-glazed units and replace any old or damaged doors; the warm stream was to improve heating and insulation; and the modern stream was to make internal improvements, including replacing outdated kitchens and bathrooms. Adaptations to meet the special needs of some tenants, including level-access showers or wet rooms, would also be undertaken alongside the secure, warm and modern—SWM—programme.

When the 2010 general election brought new uncertainty, tenants and leaseholders launched their “Nott Decent” campaign, and I was proud to join them in presenting a petition to No. 10 to ask the new Government to honour the commitment that had been made to them. We were pleased and relieved when the Minister re-allocated funding—albeit reduced funding over a longer period—to complete the programme. By January 2012, 15,900 properties—more than half of all council homes—had new windows; 3,400 doors had been replaced; 10,200 heating systems had been upgraded; 2,900 lofts were properly insulated; 9,000 kitchens and 7,200 bathrooms

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had been replaced; and 284 aids and adaptations had been made to make properties more accessible for their disabled tenants.

The impact study measured the effect of those changes to tenants’ homes. On crime and security, the results are dramatic: burglary fell by 42% between 2007 and 2010 on two sample estates where single-glazed windows were replaced, compared with a 21% reduction across the city. The study identified that timber doors were a weak spot in houses’ overall security, which provided evidence to support replacing all external doors, not just those that were especially old or damaged. Tenants reported feeling safer in their homes—an important contribution to improved mental health and general well-being.

Together with the installation of energy-efficient central heating systems and loft insulation, the new windows have raised the average energy efficiency rating of NCH homes from 60 to 68 points. That represents a 15% decrease in carbon emissions from NCH properties, which is equivalent to taking 2,700 cars off the road or planting 360,000 trees and growing them for 10 years. By the time the SWM programme is completed in 2015, energy efficiency from NCH homes will be saving 43,500 tonnes of carbon per year and achieving 17% of the city’s target for carbon reduction from domestic properties.

Of course, not only are energy-efficient and better-insulated homes good for the environment; they have a real and immediate benefit to the people who live in them. Tenants not only report that their homes are warmer, suffer less damp and condensation and give them pride in their neighbourhood, but that they are saving money—and given that an estimated 12% of all city residents were in fuel poverty before the programme began, that is money they desperately needed.

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that new windows alone can save £95 to £223 a year, and new boilers up to £225 a year. In total, improved homes are saving Nottingham tenants £3.5 million each year, making a significant contribution to reducing fuel poverty, which fell to 6.8% of city residents by 2010-11—after the programme upgraded thousands of properties. The improvements also enable tenants to get rid of extra appliances such as old electric heaters, which can often present a health and safety hazard. Combined with better security, these changes to the physical fabric of their homes have a marked effect on the health and well-being of NCH tenants.

The impact study estimates that, as a result of the SWM programme, two lives a year are saved by protecting vulnerable tenants from the cold; that the respiratory health of 1,000 children is improved; that, every year, 12 hospital admissions resulting from falls are avoided; that 144 accidents requiring medical attention are prevented; and that, as a result of providing warmer homes and reduced fuel bills, more than 1,400 tenants have better mental health. Based on just those examples, where a measurable change and cost impact for the NHS in Nottingham could be calculated, the savings are almost £700,000 per year.

In a time of economic austerity and public sector spending cuts, the benefits accruing from public capital investment matter more than ever. Nottingham, along with the rest of the country, is feeling the devastating impact of a double-dip recession: 19,000 people are out of work and there are six jobseekers for every vacancy.

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Construction, the fifth largest employment sector in the city, has been badly hit by the economic downturn and reduction in house building. The decent homes programme is providing vital work, and of the 560 people currently delivering SWM in Nottingham, about one third live in the city and over half in Nottinghamshire.

Investment in decent homes is not only providing much-needed jobs for joiners, plumbers, and other workers in the construction industry; the analysis shows that every £1 of investment in the programme generates £1.36 in Nottingham city or £1.46 in Nottinghamshire as a whole, which means that the £37.6 million spent on the decent homes programme in 2010-11 generated an extra £17.3 million of additional spending in Nottinghamshire, £13.5 million of which came into the city.

The SWM programme also makes an important contribution to training and skills development through the “One in a Million” scheme, which requires contractors to take on an apprentice for every £1 million of their contract. That has already created 105 apprenticeships, with a target of creating a total of 200 by 2015. In addition, staff on the SWM team have completed 2,000 hours of training, including externally accredited qualifications. As a result of this investment in skills, these staff can expect to earn an extra £13 million in additional lifetime earnings.

The impact study shows that investment in decent housing works both for tenants and the wider community. However, the benefits accruing from decent homes are not secure. The funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the decent homes programme remains indicative for the final two years of Nottingham’s programme. In the reallocation of funding in January 2011, 53% of NCH’s allocation was weighted towards those two final years, amounting to a total of £45.6 million.

If that investment does not go ahead, the consequences for our city will be dire. For every £1 million spent, 21 jobs are created, so cutting the funding could result in more than 950 job losses over the two years. Furthermore, NCH is committed to taking on an apprentice for every £1 million spent, so the reduction in funding would result in 45 fewer local people starting apprenticeships. If remaining heating upgrades are not completed, savings of 2,440 tonnes of carbon and £600,000 from tenants’ fuel bills will no longer be made, and a cut in funding would mean the loss not only of the original investment of £45 million into the construction industry, but of an additional £21 million of re-spending in the local economy. Most importantly, of course, if the funding is not confirmed, 7,000 tenants and their families would be left living in substandard housing.

The loss of the investment would hit some harder than others, and one neighbourhood in Nottingham that stands to lose most is the Meadows in my constituency. Before the last election, the Meadows, one of the 5% most deprived wards in the country, was due to benefit from £200 million of new investment, which would have transformed the area. The incoming coalition Government cancelled the housing PFI scheme, and I raised my concerns about that decision back in December 2010. Subsequently, together with representatives of the local community and the council’s regeneration team, I met the Minister for Housing and Local Government to discuss the impact of his decision, and he agreed to visit

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the Meadows to see for himself the needs of our neighbourhood. Unfortunately, he has not found time in his diary to make good on that commitment, so I would like to use this opportunity to reissue that invitation.

Nottingham City Homes was forced to reallocate funding within its decent homes budget so that Meadows residents were not left behind—to ensure that, having been let down by the new Government, they would still get their new doors and windows, boilers and insulation, kitchens and bathrooms, even though their hopes of transforming their neighbourhood were dashed. Thanks to the hard work of the SWM team, every NCH property in the Meadows has new windows, a third of the homes have better heating and insulation, and NCH hopes to complete the other two thirds before the end of this financial year. Those promised doors, kitchens and bathrooms, however, rely on those last two years of funding. The Minister really should come to Nottingham and meet some of those families in my constituency so that he can understand what his decision will mean to them.

I also want to touch on the wider impacts. A cut to this funding would also have knock-on effects on NCH’s self-financing position under the housing revenue account, and on other investment programmes that need to be match funded by investment from the decent homes programme. Nottingham City Homes and Nottingham city council are currently making proactive use of the community energy saving programme started by the last Labour Government to insulate hard-to-heat properties in our most deprived neighbourhoods.

Although it was right to focus resources, individual low-income householders in more affluent areas also face fuel poverty. These are often social housing tenants, and social landlords such as NCH have a strong track record of working with utility companies to help stop such homes leaking heat, making a huge contribution to the country’s carbon reduction obligations. Social housing providers need the maximum ability to retrofit their homes under the new green deal with its associated new energy company obligation arrangements. This will include the ability to match fund ECO money with housing investment programmes to get better value in tackling excess cold, helping reduce fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions from domestic properties.

I hope the Minister will address the following questions in his response. In 2008, a third of Nottingham’s council housing failed to meet the decent homes standard, but if funding is confirmed, all council homes will meet it by 2015. Can he confirm that the £45.6 million of indicative funding for Nottingham City Homes for the last two years of the decent homes programme will be forthcoming? If he cannot provide that assurance tonight, can he tell us when housing providers will know, so that they can plan work, keep contractors on schedule and avoid the waste of winding down programmes only to have to start them up again? Can he explain how the Government will ensure that social housing tenants benefit from the green deal and ECO work to improve hard-to-heat homes and to tackle fuel poverty?

The Minister has said outside this House today that Nottingham receives substantial housing funding. The truth is that, as a deprived city that suffered from a lack of investment during the ’80s and ’90s, this funding is

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needed. The impact study proves that the money has been well spent. Our homes should be the places where we can shut out the world and feel safe, but if our home is cold, damp, overcrowded and outdated, there is no escape.

Decent housing matters; investment in good council housing changes lives. This study shows that investing in social housing delivers real, tangible benefits to whole communities, including jobs and growth. Surely the Government will not turn its back on this chance to do the right thing. Good council houses are not just bricks and mortar; they are homes to my constituents, who are entitled to a decent standard of living. I hope that the Minister will confirm the funding and enable Nottingham City Homes to finish this essential work.

10.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on her speech, and on securing the debate. She spoke with great eloquence, and presented a very thorough picture of the circumstances in Nottingham and the value of the decent homes programme. I am very much on the same page as her, given the improvements that the programme can make to the health and well-being and security of tenants, and the impact that improvements in the insulation and energy performance of homes can have on carbon reduction. I also know that Nottingham has an excellent record of tackling climate change at local level.

I think that, before dealing with the intricacies of the situation in Nottingham, I should say something about the decent homes programme in general. The Government believe that all social housing should meet the decent homes standard, which, according to the technical wording of the definition, means that it should be free of category 1 hazards, should be in a reasonable state of repair, should have reasonably modern facilities and services, and should provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

I must tell the hon. Lady that the present Government inherited not only a decent homes programme, but a huge deficit and a £3.2 billion backlog in capital investment in housing. The Government have already announced plans to invest £2.1 billion in the completion of the decent homes programme, of which £1.6 billion will be allocated to 46 local authorities—including Nottingham—and £500 million will go to registered social landlords in the form of gap funding. Those funds will make 127,000 council homes decent by the end of 2014-15, which will cover nearly 60% of the council housing that remains non-decent. The final slice of those non-decent homes will be made decent by local authorities using their own resources, and, as the hon. Lady said, Nottingham will be able to do that.

We have already been very successful in reducing the number of homes that are not fit for people to live in. In April 2010, shortly before the general election, local authorities had 291,600 non-decent dwellings. By April 2011 the number had fallen by 26%, to 217,000. Figures for the past year are being collated, and the Homes and Communities Agency predicts that we will prove to have reduced the number by about a further 20,000 during that period. As the hon. Lady said, more is being done even as we speak.

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We believe that our funding—together with the introduction of self-financing for housing authorities and the increases in allowances that that brings them—will give local authorities the means to deal with any newly arising non-decent stock from within their own resources. In other words, they have the finances with which to maintain a steady state once we have achieved a high standard of decency.

Let me now deal with the position in Nottingham. Nottingham City Homes is a strongly performing arm’s length management organisation. Incidentally, my area of Stockport contains an ALMO which also performs very well. Only last year, Nottingham city council extended its agreement with Nottingham City Homes for a further 10 years, which I think constitutes a very good vote of confidence. That ALMO has been able to demonstrate an increase in tenant satisfaction; it has reduced rent arrears from £5 million to £1.8 million; and it was given a two-star rating under the old regime which unlocked its original decent homes funding programme.

When the time came for us to allocate funding to Nottingham, we recognised that the city had a significant backlog of non-decent homes—the hon. Lady has given the figures on that. That is why we allocated £86 million in indicative funding with the first two years confirmed—£40.5 million committed in the first two years. That is the largest award to any council outside London, and the Homes and Communities Agency is putting £78 million of additional investment into new housing and regeneration across Greater Nottingham by 2015, to produce 536 new homes.

As the hon. Lady said, the impact of the decent homes funding has been substantial. It has produced a big improvement in many people’s lives, not just in better homes, but in all that flows from that. The hon. Lady eloquently explained some of those benefits, and I entirely agree that this programme has brought, and can continue to bring, real benefits to tenants in Nottingham.

The hon. Lady referred to the study, undertaken by Nottingham City Homes with Nottingham Trent university, of the wider impact of decent homes. That study has made a very useful contribution to our knowledge, and ought to be required reading for those who doubt the importance of investing in our social housing stock. It shows why the coalition Government were right to fund authorities to make homes decent. As the hon. Lady said, every £1 million spent has created 21 jobs in Nottingham. The study gives a series of impressive statistics about the benefits that have been secured, not least reductions in crime. There are health benefits as well, of course, but some of those listed are, perhaps, a little tenuous; reductions in falls is one thing, but improvements in the respiratory health of children and in the mental health of tenants are more clear-cut.

We have already confirmed almost half the allocation we set out in the comprehensive spending review. I know that Nottingham and others are keen to get certainty on their budgets for April 2013 onwards.

The hon. Lady was, perhaps, wearing rose-tinted spectacles when she spoke of the performance of the previous Government. The Labour Government cut the decent homes programme by £150 million in July 2009, cannibalising one part of the housing programme to pay for new housing policies elsewhere. They also failed to meet their decent homes target. They pledged in 2000

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that they would ensure that all social housing was of a decent standard within 10 years. Sadly, that was not the case by 2010.

Labour also made it clear in the general election campaign that they considered investment in housing, and social housing in particular, not to be a top priority. The then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), told “Newsnight”:

“Housing is essentially a private sector activity. Let’s be honest about this...I don’t see a need for us to continue with such a big renovation programme.”

Therefore, although Labour started the programme, it has to be reported that they were throttling it back and were planning to do so more.

When this Government came to power we were borrowing an additional £400 million every day in order to close the gap between what we were spending and what was coming in. It is absolutely right that the Government should keep a tight hold on all their spending. The economic circumstances that have unfolded since show the sense of taking that initial decision and the importance of continuing to keep a tight grip on what we spend and how we spend it. That does include the decent homes programme.

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are expecting to make an announcement on the decent homes allocation for the final years in due course. I very much take her point that it would be sensible to ensure that the timing of that allowed continuity of contracts and employment. That is a point I will take away from this debate.

I also want to say on behalf of the Minister for Housing and Local Government that his undertaking to visit the Meadows was given in good faith. He is very busy and very active, and I am happy to confirm that he will in due course visit the Meadows, as he undertook to do.

I understand the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm to get ahead, and I share it. The Government are still supportive of all the work that the decent homes programme is doing and all the benefits that it brings. We remain committed to supporting backlog authorities such as Nottingham in making its homes decent, and to supporting some of the most vulnerable in society who live in those homes.

Lilian Greenwood rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. Is the Minister giving way or sitting down?

Andrew Stunell: Apparently, I am giving way, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a generous fellow. I call Lilian Greenwood.

Lilian Greenwood: I thank the Minister for giving way. I obviously listened carefully to his response, although I should say I am rather disappointed with its lack of clarity. Can he confirm how many tenants of Nottingham City Homes he expects to be living in non-decent housing by the time this Parliament comes to an end in 2015?

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Andrew Stunell: Like the hon. Lady, I very much hope that the programme we originally announced will have been completed and that the successes we predicted will have been achieved.

On that note, Mr Speaker, I am sitting down.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask that the House and you accept my apology? During a point of order I used the word “could”. You sensibly used the word “would”. I thought that you had said “should”. I was wrong and misrepresented what you had said, and I apologise.

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Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is courtesy and good grace itself. I did not think that an apology was necessary but it is very much appreciated, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. This is the first time that the question of the Adjournment being moved has been punctuated in this way during my tenure, but I thank him.

Question put and agreed to.

10.47 pm

House adjourned.