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House of Commons

Tuesday 29 January 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Motion made, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be considered on Tuesday 5 February.

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 5 February (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Private Sector Job Creation

1. Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): What fiscal steps he is taking to encourage private sector job creation. [139712]

6. Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): What fiscal steps he is taking to encourage private sector job creation. [139717]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): More than 1 million private sector jobs have been created since the first quarter of 2010 and employment is at a record high. We are supporting more job creation by further reducing the rate of corporation tax to 21%, and since 1 January we have been helping businesses large and small to invest, with a temporary tenfold increase in the annual investment allowance. We can afford these tax reductions in part because we are taking tough action on tax evasion. I can confirm to the House that last night Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs received £340 million from the Swiss Government, a first instalment of the deal we have struck, and the first time in our history that money due in taxes has flowed from Switzerland to the UK, instead of the other way round.

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Jessica Lee: I warmly welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend has just made. I am sure the fact that a fairer share of tax is being paid will also be warmly welcomed by my constituents in Erewash. Does my right hon. Friend agree that another important aspect of private sector job creation is the role of apprenticeships? Companies such as Derwent Analytics and TecQuipment in my constituency have an important role and are enriching young people with opportunity and skills for the future.

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend is right, and I am glad she welcomes the deal we have struck with Switzerland—a deal, by the way, rejected by the previous Government. Apprenticeships are vital in helping to create that skilled work force. More than 1 million people have started apprenticeships since 2010 and in her constituency alone there has been a 42% increase. I am delighted that successful businesses in her constituency are helping to train the work force of tomorrow.

Mr Newmark: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s generous tax incentives provided by the seed enterprise investment scheme not only stimulate investment by angel investors for start-ups, but help create jobs in the private sector?

Mr Osborne: I do agree. The seed enterprise investment scheme has succeeded in getting money into start-up businesses and we currently have the fastest rate of business creation in our history. I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done, going around the country promoting the scheme.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): If everything is going so well in the jobs market, why is the number of people on the dole long term the highest for 15 years? Why has the number of young people in Rotherham out of work for more than 12 months tripled over the past year? When is the Chancellor finally going to act to give people real help with jobs?

Mr Osborne: Of course, we are clearing up the mess that Labour left behind. As we do that, the private sector has created over a million new jobs, unemployment has been falling, employment is at a record high, and female employment is at a record high. I would have thought the right hon. Gentleman should celebrate that, rather than talking it down.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Private sector job creation is not working for young people. In January 2011 I asked the Government how many young people they would be paying out the dole to by the end of this Parliament. They said 279,000. In December 2012 they had to up that figure to 310,000, an extra 31,000 young people who they predict will be on the dole by the end of this Parliament. Who does the Chancellor blame for that planned increase in welfare spending—himself or the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions?

Mr Osborne: The claimant count has fallen on the most recent measure, which was published last week. As I said, 1 million jobs have been created in the private sector. We are also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) reminded us, creating the apprenticeships to give these young people the skills

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they need, which the previous Government were not providing, to compete in the modern economy. I would ask the hon. Lady to get behind the education and welfare reforms needed so that people have the right incentives to work and the right skills to get a good job in future.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): The recent cancellation of the rise in fuel duty in the autumn statement was very welcome news for all our constituents, and it will help with jobs. Our constituents now need greater certainty about future rises, so will the Chancellor accept the Treasury Committee’s recommendation, published today, that he should use the Budget to set out a clear medium-term strategy for fuel duty?

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend is right to remind us that fuel duty is 10p per litre lower than it would have been if we had stuck with Labour’s Budget plans. We have also, as a medium-term measure, abolished the fuel duty escalator that the previous Government put in place. He mentions the Treasury Committee’s report. I hope that, as Chair of the Committee, he will welcome the fact that we have got the money in from Switzerland, because one of the issues that the report raised was whether that money would be forthcoming, and the fact that it came last night was very welcome.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): While the headline rate of unemployment is falling, is not rising long-term unemployment bad for society, as my hon. Friends have been saying, but bad for the Exchequer too, because it is one reason why so far this year the deficit has been going up, with £7 billion more borrowing than in the same period last year? Can the Chancellor at least bring himself to admit that?

Mr Osborne: Unemployment rocketed because of the disastrous economic policies of the Labour party, and the deficit rocketed too. The good news is that 1 million jobs have been created and that the deficit has come down by 25%. Perhaps one day we will get an economic policy from the Labour party and we can make comparisons with what it would do in office. Until then, the hon. Gentleman should get behind the measures to clear up the mess that he left behind.

Child Benefit

2. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): How many households no longer eligible for child benefit have opted not to receive it. [139713]

8. Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): How many households no longer eligible for child benefit have opted not to receive it. [139719]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Government estimate that in the 2013-14 tax year over 1 million out of 8 million families are affected by the new charge. As of 24 January, over 340,000 recipients have opted not to receive the payment. The charge will raise over £1.7 billion each year to tackle the deficit.

Ian Lavery: The Government pride themselves on their fairness. Can the Minister explain to this House what is fair about a one-earner family making up to

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£50,000 having their child benefit cut while a two-earner family making up to £100,000—twice the amount—is able to retain their child benefit?

Sajid Javid: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a man of principle, and I have respect for him, particularly since he refused to work for the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman); I do not blame him. I note that on his website he says that he has

“a strong commitment to supporting the…less well off in society.”

He is absolutely right and I agree with him, so perhaps he can explain why he is against a measure that is targeted at the 15% of people who are the highest earners in society. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Question Time must be conducted in an orderly way. It is not for a Minister to suggest that a Member should start getting up and answering questions. It is Ministers who answer questions, and that is the end of it.

Barry Gardiner: Will the Minister discuss with his colleagues in the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions the effect of the combined changes that those Departments and the Treasury have made, which mean that a young child in my constituency—a British child whose mother has leave to remain and work in the UK but who is estranged from their British father as a result of his domestic violence—will now not be able to receive child benefit for at least 10 years?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific issue. I think he will understand that I have not looked at that particular concern of his constituent, but I will be happy to look at it in more detail if he provides me with more information.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Can the Minister explain why, at a time when we are having to make such difficult decisions on public spending, it is fair to argue, as Labour does, that we should pay child benefit to millionaires?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. In the 13 years of the previous Government, the welfare budget went up by 62% in real terms; it was out of control. If we are going to deal with the problem that they left behind, we have to make sure that everyone makes a contribution.

Long-term Youth Unemployment

3. Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s fiscal policies on the level of long-term youth unemployment. [139714]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): Despite difficult economic circumstances, more people in the United Kingdom are in work than ever before in our history. Unemployment, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment are now falling. Through initiatives such as our city deals programme we will work with local communities to respond to particular local challenges.

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Mr Wright: Back in the real world, long-term youth unemployment in Hartlepool has risen by 86% since this Government took office. How much of that increase can be attributed to the Government’s economic policies and which of those policies will the Minister now change to help the jobless youth in my constituency?

Greg Clark: I know that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the previous Government who left the mess that we are clearing up, but I would have thought—[Interruption.] I take an interest in Teesside, as he knows. In his article for the Hartlepool Mail, he said:

“The town’s economy has the makings of a modern, innovative and highly skilled manufacturing”

town. The hon. Gentleman should get behind his town and support the city deal for Teesside that his colleagues are campaigning for.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the combination of rising private sector employment in this country and the number of measures that we are taking, including the largest apprenticeship scheme for almost 50 years, is one reason why our youth unemployment is at a much lower level than that in large parts of Europe? It is now past 60% in Spain.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we make sure that our young people have the skills available, and the expansion of the apprenticeship programme is a key feature of that. It is important to send the right message to young people, which is that there is a 90% chance that a young person who joins the jobseeker’s allowance scheme will have a job within a year, and a 60% chance that they will have a job within three months. It is very important that that message gets out and that young people should not be demoralised by the Labour party.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In parts of the United Kingdom that are highly dependent on the public sector, such as Northern Ireland, does the Minister agree that we need to maximise the private sector to ensure that the hard core of young people who are unemployed get into skills and training programmes so that when jobs become available they are best placed to get them?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. What he says for Northern Ireland applies to the rest of the country as well, and that is what we are pursuing with our policies.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One of the best ways to tackle youth unemployment is to encourage the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. In that regard, may I share with the Minister the good news that Northamptonshire has recently been declared the most enterprising county in Britain, and that in Kettering in the third quarter of last year there were 154 new company formations, a record for the borough?

Greg Clark: I am very pleased to hear that from my hon. Friend, who has to count as one of the House’s most enterprising Members. He will know that Northampton came out very well of the recent cities survey with regard

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to its record of growth, and it is very important that we support that by getting more jobs and more people into work there.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), the Minister made it absolutely clear that he is completely unaware of the fact that the cuts in the north-east total £4 billion, greater than those in Spain. Is it any wonder that youth unemployment is third only to Spain and Greece?

Greg Clark: The hon. Lady should reflect on the fact that the fall in unemployment in the north-east of nearly 25% is greater than that in any region in the country. She should be celebrating the turnaround in the north-eastern economy to which she and I have been aspiring for many years.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): To go with the enterprise taking place in Northamptonshire, may I urge colleagues throughout the House to consider having an apprentice in their own office? I have had apprentices for two years now, both of whom were school leavers from Northamptonshire schools. They do a brilliant job and there are all sorts of facilities available to support that.

Greg Clark: If the apprentices that work in my hon. Friend’s office contribute to her own productivity and innovation in policy production, she is a standing example of the success of the scheme.

Cost of Living

4. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What steps he is taking to help people with the cost of living. [139715]

5. Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): What steps he is taking to help people with the cost of living. [139716]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The Government continue to take steps to support households. The personal allowance will be increased to £9,440 in April 2013 to support hard-working individuals. The cash increase in that year is the largest ever. The 3p fuel duty increase planned for January 2013 has been cancelled, as a result of which fuel duty will have been frozen for two and a half years.

Henry Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and warmly welcome the fact that more than 1,700 people in my constituency have been taken out of paying income tax altogether by the raising of the threshold, and that more than 42,000 people in my constituency have had their income tax reduced as a result. May I urge him to be bold and go further?

Danny Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. We are increasing the tax allowance towards the bold and ambitious goal of £10,000, which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have joined together in coalition to deliver. We will certainly be bold and ambitious, and I will take his comments as a Budget submission.

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Mr Marcus Jones: For the third year running, the Government have provided additional funds to councils to allow them to freeze council tax, which doubled under the Labour Government. I am aware that Warwickshire county council intends to freeze council tax, but will my right hon. Friend join me in urging Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council and North Warwickshire borough council, which are Labour controlled, to get on board, freeze council tax and give the hard-working people in my constituency a break?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have provided funding to local authorities to enable the council tax freeze to be delivered. Of course, councillors in those areas will be answerable to their constituents if they fail to deliver the substantial financial benefit that that offers. He is right to say that council tax doubled during the Labour party’s time in office.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the cost of living increases have hit the poorest hardest, including the man I mentioned last week in Prime Minister’s questions? Should we not therefore follow the US in taxing the top 2% more, having net investment and generating an extra 1% growth, rather than hitting the poor hardest?

Danny Alexander: In that case, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the wealthiest in society are paying more in every year of this Government’s time in office than they ever did under the Labour party.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Analysis by Citizens Advice shows that the Chancellor’s cuts to tax credits and benefits will

“swamp any gains from the change in personal tax allowances for almost all low income households…and many middle income families”.

How can that hit on working families be justified on the same day as millionaires are getting a tax cut?

Danny Alexander: The hon. Lady will know that working people in this country are net beneficiaries of the measures announced in the autumn statement. I would have thought that she would welcome the fact that 2.2 million Scots will gain from the increase in the personal allowance. It is a massive policy to ensure that the working people of this country have more of their own money back in their pockets to use for themselves.

Tax System

7. Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): What progress HM Revenue and Customs has made in closing loopholes in the tax system. [139718]

9. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What plans he has to tackle corporate tax avoidance and to close the tax gap. [139720]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Over this Parliament, we have introduced 31 measures to tackle tax avoidance, including loophole closures. This year, our work will focus on strengthening the disclosure regime, consulting on new sanctions for avoidance promoters and introducing the general anti-abuse rule. HMRC will also increase its risk assessment and

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specialist transfer pricing resources to target multinationals. Combined, those measures will strengthen our commitment to tackling tax avoidance and reducing the tax gap associated with it.

Jeremy Lefroy: I thank the Minister for that answer. How will the Government use the presidency of the G8 this year to tackle international tax loopholes that have an effect on receipts to the UK Treasury?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. The Prime Minister has said that he wants to use the G8 for this purpose and to have a serious debate about tax avoidance. The OECD is looking at this matter. We are encouraging it to do so and have provided it with additional resources. It will report back on solutions that could be developed to tackle profit-shifting by multinationals and the erosion of the corporate tax base.

Charlie Elphicke: May I say how welcome it is that the UK is using the presidency of the G8 to tackle international tax avoidance, after a decade in which the Government of this country stood by while industrial tax avoidance was allowed to run rampant? I urge the Government to focus on the issue of tax presence, particularly for companies such as Amazon, which we all know are in this country and should be paying tax in this country, but are playing the rules to avoid it.

Mr Gauke: I will not get into individual cases. As I have said, the OECD, at the urging of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, is looking at these issues. We want to ensure that there is an international tax system whereby economic activity is taxed where it occurs. That has been overlooked for too long and we are determined to address it.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in calling on all political parties in this country to refuse or return any donations from tax avoiders?

Mr Gauke: I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman might want to have a word with those on the Opposition Front Bench before he ventures into that territory.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the Minister say why there are fewer people in the offshore investigation and affluence investigation units in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs than there are working on cutting child benefit for families?

Mr Gauke: I should point out that those units were not in existence under the previous Government and were introduced as a consequence of our reinvestment programme. On enforcement and compliance more generally, I also point out that if we are looking only at numbers, under the previous Government the number of people working in HMRC’s enforcement and compliance department fell by 10,000. Under this Government it will increase by 2,500.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The managing partner of Ernst & Young has dismissed the concerns of the House about aggressive tax avoidance by stating:

“The simplest solution is to stop banging on about morality and change the law.”

Does the Minister share my view that in a civilised society we do not live by rules and regulations alone,

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but by what we consider to be right? Should not boards of companies that operate in this country be asking themselves a key question about all their activities, including their tax policy: is this the right thing to do?

Mr Gauke: Increasingly, artificial contrived behaviour is something that all of us, including the public, simply do not accept. My hon. Friend is right to say that this is a board matter, and boards should take tax policy seriously. Companies should think very seriously about aggressive, artificial, contrived behaviour and there is low tolerance for such behaviour.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Did the Minister see the footage that recently came to light of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then in opposition, appearing on the “Daily Politics” programme and advising the public about how to take advantage of tax loopholes?

Mr Gauke: This Chancellor has done more to tackle tax avoidance than any of his predecessors, and this Government have taken tax compliance much more seriously. I will give one more statistic: when we took office the yield from HMRC’s enforcement and compliance activity was £13 billion. We expect that number to have increased to £22 billion by the end of this Parliament. We are taking real steps to address this matter.

VAT (Colleges)

10. Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): How much VAT was paid by (a) sixth-form colleges and (b) further education colleges in 2012. [139721]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not collect data on the VAT paid on individual goods or services at a sufficient level of detail to indentify the amount paid by sixth-form colleges and further education colleges. VAT costs, like all other costs, are taken into account as part of the up-front funding allocation.

Dr Huppert: Sixth forms and further education colleges such as Hills Road and Long Road sixth-form colleges and Cambridge Regional college do excellent work. However, they face a large VAT burden—some £300,000 for sixth-form colleges and well over £1 million for Cambridge Regional college—that schools do not face, as well as receiving less funding than the school sector. Will my right hon. Friend agree to investigate whether that anomaly can be corrected, so that sixth-form colleges and FE colleges can have a level playing field?

Danny Alexander: As my hon. Friend will know, when we took office we found a situation in which sixth-form colleges were considerably less well funded for that group of pupils than schools. We are taking steps, year by year, to equalise the funding arrangements, and we will look again at that in the spending round in the first half of this year.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): As a governor of Luton sixth-form college for 20 years and a former teacher of A-levels, I am convinced that sixth-form

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colleges are the most successful institutions in our education system. Is it not time for the Government to stop punishing them for their success?

Danny Alexander: I dare say that the hon. Gentleman’s comments on sixth-form colleges will be echoed by many Members of the House. That is why, as I said in answer to the earlier question, the Government are taking steps year by year to equalise the funding arrangements. I am sure he will welcome that.


11. Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the extent of underemployment in the work force. [139722]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): The latest assessment was given in last week’s employment figures and showed that 90% of new jobs created were full time, and that the number of involuntary part-time workers fell by 23,000.

Valerie Vaz: The Minister will know that 70% of the jobs that have been created—the new jobs—are part time. The Office for National Statistics has said that 3.5 million people are underemployed. Is the figure of one in 10 people underemployed rising or falling?

Greg Clark: The hon. Lady is not quite right. In fact, the greater number of jobs created have been full time rather than part time. It is important to understand that the term “underemployment” refers to people who would like more hours even if they are employed full time. The fact is that 90% of people in work say they do not want any more hours. Most of the rise happened before the election. Since the election, the number of full-time jobs has increased faster than the number of part-time jobs.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): The Minister and I met local enterprise partnership members in Newcastle 10 days ago and discussed the city deal and the increase in job numbers. Does he agree that, with a 9,000 increase in job numbers in the north-east in the last quarter, all jobs should be welcomed, whether they are part time or full time?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number of hours being worked in the country is at a record level. We should not sneer at people who choose to work part time. That is their option, and they have more opportunities to work part time and full time than they had before.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Unemployment in my constituency went up last month and is up on last year, and underemployment is increasing. People in employment want to work more hours and are not working the maximum amount to be classed as people in full-time employment. How will cutting benefits for those people—they receive in-work benefits and are on low pay—help?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman will know that, under the Labour Government, the benefits system was a barrier to people increasing their hours. The reforms this Government are making through universal credit will remove that important barrier.

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Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to incentivise people back into work is to cut taxes for lower earners? Will he consider reintroducing the 10p income tax rate that was abolished by the previous Government?

Greg Clark: I note and receive my hon. Friend’s bid for consideration in the Budget, but he will know that we have taken people out of tax, which has been important in restoring incentives and the rewards people have for going back to work.

Infrastructure Investment

12. George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to increase the level of infrastructure investment. [139723]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): By making the hard choices to save money in areas such as welfare, this Government have been able both to reduce the deficit and to increase capital spending on the infrastructure that is vital to our economic future. That is funding more roads and rail, and faster broadband, than in the years of the previous Government, when money was wasted. Indeed, public investment as a percentage of gross domestic product is higher on average in this Parliament than under the previous Government.

George Freeman: I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to upgrading our infrastructure, which was so woefully neglected in Labour’s 13 years of waste. In particular, I welcome the £5.5 billion in the autumn statement for science, roads and free schools. We will never build a 21st-century economy on 19th-century infrastructure. Given the pressure on public finances, does he agree that we may need to be bold in unlocking new models in private investment? I am thinking particularly of mutual and local investment such as the tax increment financing that has financed so many American cities.

Mr Osborne: I agree with my hon. Friend. In East Anglia, where his constituency is, we have invested more than £280 million in life sciences, and are providing infrastructure by, for example, upgrading the A11. He is completely right that we should look at new forms of financing. We have introduced tax increment financing, as he suggests. From April this year, all authorities will, within prudential limits, have unfettered access to standard tax increment financing.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Is the Chancellor aware that Mr John Cridland of the CBI said yesterday that the Government have a national infrastructure plan but were just incompetent at delivering it? That incompetence, which characterises the Government, is leading to a situation in which the Government will have achieved, by the end of this Parliament, about half the level of national infrastructure investment of 2008, which will cripple the competitiveness of the British economy. What is the Chancellor going to do about it?

Mr Osborne: It is an inconvenient truth to the hon. Gentleman that public investment as a percentage of GDP is higher on average in this Parliament than under the entire last Labour Government. That is because this Government are making the difficult choices on welfare,

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which Labour Members oppose, to save money and reduce the deficit, and to spend more, for example, on roads than they did during their period in office. That is the right priority for the taxpayer.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Can the Chancellor confirm that Labour’s last Budget planned to cut capital spending by 50%?

Mr Osborne: Yes I can. Again, it is an inconvenient truth that we are spending billions of pounds more on capital spending than was setout in the Budget that half of them opposite, who were in Parliament before the last election, voted for. We are making those choices: they oppose everything because they have nothing to offer in this place.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): That is an incredibly complacent answer from the Chancellor. Does he not agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that the coalition Government in fact cut capital spending in infrastructure projects too far and too fast, and that this has hampered growth and the economic recovery?

Mr Osborne: We are spending more on capital than the plan set out by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling)—the plan that the shadow Chancellor voted for. We have increased capital spending in the 2010 spending review and increased it in autumn statements since. That is why we are spending more money on roads, and it is completely hypocritical for the Labour party to complain about capital spending cuts that would have been deeper if they had stayed in office.

Rachel Reeves: It is simply not correct to say that the Government have matched the plans of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that in the first three years this Government are spending £12.8 billion less on infrastructure than the plans that they inherited. It is £6.7 billion lower in this year alone. But if the Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister are now so concerned about the shrinking economy, why do they not listen to the advice the International Monetary Fund gave them last week and use the Budget in March to rethink their failed economic plan?

Mr Osborne: I do not think that the hon. Lady is being completely straight with the House about the numbers she is using—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw.”]

Mr Speaker: Order. Hon. Members may leave this to me. The Chancellor is very versatile in his use of language and he can rephrase that. No Member would be other than straight with the House. He should withdraw that term and use another, and I feel sure that he will do so.

Mr Osborne: Of course I withdraw it and would simply say that the hon. Lady has been very creative in the use of the numbers that she has put before the House. The number she is using is the amount of money that Labour was spending on capital before the general election, but it set out plans to cut capital after the general election. We have exceeded those plans, and

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it is completely hypocritical for the Labour party to claim that it would have spent more on capital when it clearly would not have.

Working Households (Payments)

13. Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): How many working households will be affected by the changes to the uprating of tax credits and other payments announced in the autumn statement. [139724]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The 1% uprating of working age benefits and tax credits is estimated to affect 1.65 million working age households in 2015-16. Of this total, around half of the households have no individual in work and half are households in which at least one individual works at least an hour a week.

Mrs Glindon: Can the Minister confirm that his Government’s own figures show that, shamefully, cuts to tax credits and other benefits will push hundreds of children in North Tyneside—and 200,000 children nationally—into poverty?

Sajid Javid: What I can confirm is that the Government are taking a very focused approach to welfare. Under the previous Government, nine out of 10 families with children were eligible for tax credits. No wonder our welfare budget was out of control. Through the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill and other reforms the Government have introduced, we are making our welfare system affordable and more focused.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Can my hon. Friend confirm that working families will be, on average, £125 a year better off after the announcements in the autumn statement?

Sajid Javid: I can confirm the figure used by my hon. Friend. Indeed, if we take account of all the tax changes we have made in the personal allowance, I can also say that an individual on the minimum wage and in full-time employment will see their tax bill halved under this Government.

23. [139734] Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): More than 50% of children in my constituency are living in poverty, with the Child Poverty Action Group warning that the Government’s tax and benefit changes will push 1 million children into poverty by 2020. Why did the Minister and his Department decide not to publish the child poverty impact assessment alongside the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill?

Sajid Javid: As a child, I lived in a two-bedroom flat with seven people, and I saw child poverty on my street every day. I know that the hon. Lady cares passionately about this issue—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The House must calm down. The Minister’s answer must be heard.

Sajid Javid: I respect the hon. Lady for caring passionately about this issue. She served as a commissioner on child poverty in London and has considered the issue deeply, so I hope she agrees that there is no sense in having a

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measure of child poverty that just looks at relative income. It is far more important that we all come together and look at education, jobs and access to health services, and have a proper measure of child poverty if we are to truly eradicate it.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The Minister is surely right to focus on the most important elements for our young people, which include considerable Government investment in apprenticeships and taking so many people, including many of those apprentices, out of income tax altogether. Four thousand people, including many young people in my constituency, will be taken out of income tax in April. Does he agree that it is extraordinary that no one on the Opposition Benches realises the importance of this measure?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and the help it brings, particularly with regard to apprenticeships. In fact, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), there has been a more than 100% rise in apprenticeships because of this Government.

Beer Duty Escalator

14. Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): How much revenue will accrue to the Exchequer from the beer duty escalator in each of the next three years. [139725]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Government have inherited plans to increase alcohol duties by 2% above inflation until 2014-15. The extra 2% is forecast to increase beer duty receipts by £35 million next year and £70 million the following year.

Mr Turner: What proportion of that money is collected through pubs? Is it a relatively small amount? Will my hon. Friend consider removing this tax from pubs, many of which are central to community life in our towns and villages?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and he has contributed to many debates on it in this House. Making the change would mean lost revenue, and we would have to find another way to cover that loss. He may find it useful if I point out some Government measures that have helped pubs, such as the changes in the annual investment allowance, the cut in the small profits rate of corporation tax and the extension of small rate relief holiday.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Why does the Chancellor refuse to review the impact of alcohol taxation? Is he worried that it will show the effect of VAT on the prices in our pubs, and the impact that is having on our pub sector?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Lady will know that the beer duty escalator was introduced by her Government. This Government have inherited those plans and are carrying them out. If she does not like this tax, perhaps she could make a stronger case if she tells us how she would cover the lost revenue.

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Tax Simplification

15. Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): What plans he has to simplify the tax system. [139726]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The Government are committed to simplifying the tax system. Since 2010, we have set up the Office of Tax Simplification and have acted on a range of its recommendations. The Government are improving tax administration for small businesses and, from April 2013, will introduce a new cash basis for calculating tax, benefiting up to 3 million small self-employed businesses.

Priti Patel: Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective way to simplify the tax system and to maximise tax yield is to reduce the burden of taxes through lower taxes?

Mr Gauke: It would be right to say that the Government have taken 2.2 million people out of income tax—that is certainly a simplification for them. We have reduced the small profits rate of corporation tax and reduced the main rate of corporation tax. We have taken steps, wherever possible, to reduce taxes.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): Can the Minister reassure the House that these attempts at tax simplification will be more successful than last year’s attempts, which saw U-turns on caravans, pasties, charities and the oil and gas sectors? Can he reassure the House that these attempts will work a lot better this year?

Mr Gauke: I can remember one particular tax simplification from the last Government, which was the abolition of the 10p rate. I think we have a better record than that.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who made her case well, given that the Exchequer benefited from the courageous decision to reduce the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, may I encourage the Chancellor to go even further in the Budget and reduce the top rate of tax to 40p, in order to see more funds come into the Exchequer?

Mr Gauke: I will take that as a Budget representation. The point is that the 50p rate was not effective in raising revenue—my hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point—and it was damaging to our competitiveness. There are better ways in which we can get more money from the wealthiest, and that is exactly what this Government have done.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Perhaps the Minister could explain how the changes in child benefit have simplified the tax process in this country.

Mr Gauke: A moment or so ago we heard lots of shouting about the 50p rate, yet the Labour party is the first to defend the idea that those very people should continue to receive benefits. Ensuring that child benefit is targeted best meant either looking at this on a household basis—which would have meant putting

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8 million households into the tax credit system—or adopting the approach that we have chosen, but the Labour party is always there, ready to spend taxpayers’ money where—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are obliged to the Minister, but we will move on to one more question.

Equitable Life

16. Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): What progress has been made in making compensation payments under the Equitable Life payment scheme. [139727]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The scheme continues to make good progress. A detailed report will be published next week, which I am pleased to announce will highlight the fact that the scheme has paid more than £500 million to policyholders. I know that the resolution of Equitable Life is an issue that interests many Members, so I can announce that the scheme will now be moving to quarterly progress reports, with the next one published in May.

Dr Coffey: I welcome that answer from my hon. Friend. I am proud that our Government have started the payment scheme, although there are still some people who have not yet been assessed. I would encourage him to work with his officials to ensure that that happens as quickly as possible.

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is right to be proud of the Government’s achievements on Equitable Life. The previous Government had a decade to help victims of this scandal and did absolutely nothing. As mentioned, more than £500 million of payments have already been made. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am in regular contact with the scheme administrators, and I will work closely with them on a regular basis to ensure that things can be improved.

Topical Questions

T1. [139737] Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the economy.

Mr Amess: My right hon. Friend will recognise the valuable work that public sector workers do, by and large on our behalf, but he will also acknowledge the fact that their earnings have increased by only 1%. Is it the Government’s policy that benefits will not increase by any more than the increase in public sector pay?

Mr Osborne: It is the Government’s policy that both should rise by 1%. It is a rather bizarre argument advanced by the Labour party—that public sector pay should go up by 1%, but benefits should go up by more than 1%. The Opposition are the people who will have to explain it to the hard-working public sector taxpayers who have to pay for the welfare system.

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Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): May I start by welcoming the Chancellor back from his winter mini-break in Davos? I do not know whether he got any skiing in, although he and his chums certainly went out on the piste.

Back to Britain: in August 2010, the Chancellor also made a speech at Bloomberg, in which he claimed that his economic plan would secure the recovery. A few weeks later, his spending review said that by now we would see growth of 5.2%. Let me ask him: since his spending review, how much growth have we actually had?

Mr Osborne: I am glad the right hon. Gentleman noticed that I went to Davos, where I met the last two Labour Prime Ministers as well—and I could not help but notice that both of them were talking about the global economic problems. Of course we have to sort out those problems abroad, but we also have to deal with our problems at home, and of all the people now in Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman bears primary responsibility for putting Britain into this mess. The reason his economic argument is not making more traction is because no one believes that the problems that got us into this mess are the things that will get us out of it.

Ed Balls: How complacent is that? The economy is flatlining and borrowing is rising on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch. Let me tell him the facts. Since the spending review, growth has been just 0.4%, which is 13 times lower than he forecast. Our growth is slower than that of America, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Turkey—the list goes on and on. Let me ask him this: now that the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, the Deputy Prime Minister and even his dining chum the Mayor of London are losing faith in his plan, when will he listen, stop being so complacent and finally act to kick-start this flatlining economy?

Mr Osborne: There is no complacency about dealing with the mess that the right hon. Gentleman left behind. He talks about the economy over the last couple of years. Let me tell him what has happened in the Morley and Outwood constituency. In his area, the unemployment claimant count went up 190% under the last Government; it has fallen by 7% under this Government. The youth claimant count was 161% up under his Government; it has come down by 10% under this Government. We are fixing the problems that he created. The only job that he is interested in saving is his own. The truth is that while he remains in the post that he is in, he is a reminder to everyone of all the mistakes that Labour made when it managed the economy.

T4. [139740] Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): A number of my constituents—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. This is a considerable discourtesy to the House. The hon. Gentleman must have his question heard.

Steve Brine: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

A number of my constituents have been caught out by the high interest rates charged on payday loans. At a

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time when many families are struggling with high levels of personal debt, what are the Government doing to ensure that consumers are protected against bad practices in that industry and the often extremely high interest rates that are charged on such loans?

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this issue, and he is right to raise it today. The Government are committed to ensuring that people who borrow from payday lenders are protected against bad practices. Last January, we announced our intention to transfer the regulation of consumer credit from the Office of Fair Trading to the new Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA will have powers and sanctions to address consumer detriment in the consumer credit market, and we will shortly be publishing consultation on this very issue.

T2. [139738] Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Chancellor’s excellent judgment in supporting Labour’s spending plans up until November 2008? Will he therefore accept that the deficit he inherited was caused not by the spending plans supported by those on both sides of the House but by the worldwide recession?

Mr Osborne: The idea that Labour irresponsibility had nothing to do with the fact that Britain had a higher budget deficit than almost any country in the world is fanciful. The truth is that my predecessor as Chancellor has accepted that Labour was spending too much, as has Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister during that period. The only person who will not accept that is the person who was chief economic adviser at the Treasury at that time—the man who Labour have now been landed with as shadow Chancellor.

T5. [139741] Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): The last Labour Government presided over a decline in manufacturing industry in west Yorkshire, which fell from 23% of local economic output in 1997 to just 14% in 2010. What steps is the Chancellor taking to reverse that trend and to support constituencies such as mine, which have relied on manufacturing for jobs and growth?

Sajid Javid: That is a shocking reminder of the economic incompetence of the previous Government and of the damage that they did to our economic base. The revitalisation of manufacturing is important for the rebalancing of our economy. Keighley in west Yorkshire has an important manufacturing tradition, and it is benefiting from the manufacturing advisory service and from the £2.7 billion of regional growth money that is going to the entire nation. Also, the announcement in the autumn statement of more money for UKTI will benefit the help that UKTI gives in Yorkshire.

T3. [139739] Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Today, we saw the Government unveil their “pile ’em high, teach ’em cheap” approach to child care, hot on the heels of cuts to tax credits for poor working families and cuts to child benefit. When is the Chancellor going to unveil his supposed plans for a tax benefit for child care? What are the Government doing to support working families?

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The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): If the hon. Lady were concerned about child care, I would have thought she would welcome the fact that under this Government the free offer for three and four-year-olds has been increased from 12.5 hours to 15 hours and that this Government have put in place a new offer for the 40% most disadvantaged two-year-olds for 15 hours’ free nursery education at that age. We will bring forward the proposals to which she refers very shortly, and I hope that when she sees them, she will welcome them.

T8. [139744] Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Will the Chancellor update the House on a subject on which all Members receive a great deal of correspondence—funding for small businesses? Will he in particular update us on the funding for lending scheme and other similar initiatives?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): I can tell my hon. Friend that in the most recent period, net lending under funding for lending has increased by £500 million. It is also the case that the average interest rate on small business loans has declined by 0.33% since the scheme was introduced.

T6. [139742] Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Families living with a disabled member are going to be hardest hit by tax credits and benefit cuts. That is not according to a third-party briefing, but according to the Government’s own assessments. What do this Government have against disabled people in this country?

Danny Alexander: I think that is a very poor way to phrase the question, especially when the hon. Lady will know that disability living allowance payments, for example, are continuing to be uprated in line with inflation, even as we have to take more difficult decisions on other parts of the economy.

T9. [139745] Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): A recent article in MoneyWeek suggested that raising the minimum wage would cut the cost of tax credits and benefits and increase employment. What work has the Treasury done on the interrelationship between the level of the minimum wage, the cost of benefits, tax revenues and employment levels?

Sajid Javid: It is not clear that tax credits are being used to supplement lower wages, but what I can say is that the Government have taken action to bring unsustainable levels of tax credit spending under control. It has already been reduced in respect of eligibility from nine out of 10 families with children to six out of 10. Our reforms are also making work pay. Universal credit will unify the current complex system of welfare and make sure it always pays for people to go into work. The withdrawal rate will aim to smooth that transition into work.

T7. [139743] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): Last Friday, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Bishop of Hallam and other faith community and civic leaders came together to launch a campaign for a fair deal for Sheffield. Will the Chancellor recognise their concern that the combined effect of his austerity programme with unevenly distributed cuts and benefit changes that

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hit the poorest hardest is having a disproportionate impact on our urban areas and our big cities? Will he listen to those concerns?

Greg Clark: Yesterday, I met the leader and chief executive of Sheffield and we were discussing the very good progress made in the Sheffield city deal, which all parties, including the hon. Gentleman’s, strongly support as being key to the economic prosperity of Sheffield in the future. I would hope that he would welcome that.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): We already know that in April the personal tax allowance is going to be raised to £9,400—the largest rise in history. By the time we next meet for Treasury questions, the Chancellor will have put the finishing touches to his Budget. I now urge him to take the final step and deliver £10,000 of tax-free pay in time for April 2014.

Mr Osborne: We have a very clear commitment to reach that £10,000. We have not put a time scale on it, but even under the plans we have already put forward, that level will be reached with inflation increases before the end of this Parliament. This is a good example of two parties coming together to help working people across this country.

T10. [139746] Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): In the autumn statement of 2011, the Chancellor allocated £5 million to combat metal theft, which through Operation Tornado has been highly successful. With that funding coming to an end, was that a knee-jerk reaction or is the Chancellor going to continue it?

Mr Osborne: I am happy to look at the funding for the metal theft initiative, but I know that the Government have introduced regulation to clamp down on this crime, which can of course endanger people’s lives.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): In a debate in this Chamber, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) accepted this Government’s spending envelope, but was quickly shot down by the shadow Chancellor. Is not the real problem here the fact that to be credible on the economy, the Labour party needs to come up with a policy that stands up?

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend has described the comments of the right hon. Member for South Shields as a speech. I think we could describe them as an audition.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Chancellor of the Exchequer is being lobbied heavily by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, for a massive increase in infrastructure spending in London. Does he realise that if he really wants to get our economy going, he should be investing in the infrastructure of the towns, cities and regions of our country, particularly Yorkshire and the north-west?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman may not have been aware of it, but an announcement was made yesterday that was germane to his point: the announcement of the extension of High Speed 2 to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, which, in 13 years in government, his party never got around to delivering.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): The Minister may be aware of the report on football governance which was published today by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I want to record my thanks to him

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and to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for their help in dealing with Portsmouth football club. Will he assure us that his Department will play its full part in ensuring that prospective owners who are not fit and proper do not get their mitts on these important community assets and destroy them?

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The Government will, of course, look closely at the Committee recommendations. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport has made clear, it is time for football to get its house in order.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The Chancellor is well known for trying to help us Back Benchers to do our job. Would he be so kind as to place in the Library the criteria that he uses to define whether or not the economy is in the danger zone, and will he tell us whether it is in the danger zone today?

Mr Osborne: There is a pretty simple definition. Every day and every week the British Government have to go and borrow money to fund the extremely large deficit that was left behind, but we can command record low interest rates because of the confidence that the rest of the world has in our economic plans.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds in my constituency is 15% lower than it was in December 2011, but does the Chancellor agree that we still need to do more to improve young people’s skills, especially in the context of the black country city deal, which is focusing on skills in advanced manufacturing? May I commend that proposal to the Treasury team?

Greg Clark: I was in Wolverhampton recently, meeting business and civic leaders from the black country. The proposals to increase skills to help the advanced manufacturing sector in the area to expand are well under way, and I look forward to responding to the bid very soon.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): In opposition, the Chancellor was fond of quoting the Institute for Fiscal Studies in support of his policies. Does he accept

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the finding by the IFS that because of all the changes that he has made following his autumn statement, the average one-earner family with children will be £534 worse off by 2015?

Mr Osborne: I am fond of quoting the IFS in government as well, and it says that Labour’s plans would add £200 billion to borrowing.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): What assurances can the Minister give me that if shale gas production is given the go-ahead in Fylde it will not be just the Treasury or the company that will benefit, and that substantial benefits will flow to the local community?

Mr Osborne: I know that my hon. Friend has a strong constituency interest in this issue. We want to see the shale gas revolution come to the United Kingdom—it has done wonders for the United States economy—but that must, of course, happen in a way that does not damage the environment and enables communities to benefit. I shall be happy to work with my hon. Friend, and other Members of Parliament throughout the House who may be affected, to ensure that communities share the benefits—which I hope can be shared by the whole economy—of this new form of energy extraction.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): On the many other occasions on which the economy has gone into reverse under this Chancellor, he has blamed the snow, and he has blamed the floods. When people took time off in the summer to go on holiday, he presumably blamed the sun. He has blamed the Americans, and he has blamed the Europeans. He blamed the Queen’s jubilee. He even blamed her grandson for getting married. Whose fault is it this time?

Mr Osborne: I think that I have been pretty consistent in blaming that lot opposite.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues. It is always box office, and demand has greatly exceeded supply. We must now move on to the urgent question.

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Deployment to Mali

12.34 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on deployment to Mali.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): On 14 January the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), made a statement to the House outlining the UK’s deployment of two C-I7 transport aircraft to provide logistical support to France, as well as a small detachment of technical personnel deployed to Bamako airport to assist with the reception of the C-I7 aircraft. Since that announcement, we have decided to extend our support to the continued provision of one C-I7 in support of the French for a further three months. There are currently about 20 people deployed in Bamako supporting liaison with French forces and, following a French request for additional surveillance support, we have deployed a Sentinel R1 aircraft to Dakar, Senegal, with supporting ground crew and technical support staff of about 70 people.

EU Foreign Ministers agreed on 17 January to establish an EU military training mission to Mali—EUTM—and work is ongoing to scope that mission. Today in Brussels, representatives from EU member states, including the UK, will meet to discuss the individual member state contributions to the mission. The UK is prepared to contribute up to 40 personnel to the EUTM, either in an HQ or training team role. We do not envisage UK personnel fulfilling a force protection role, and it is quite possible that all 40 personnel will not be required, dependent on the contributions from other member states. I can assure the House that we will not allow UK personnel to deploy on any mission until we are satisfied that adequate force protection arrangements are in place.

Today in Addis Ababa the African Union is hosting a donor conference to discuss how the international community can support the African-led intervention force, AFISMA, in delivering the role that the United Nations Security Council has mandated it to fulfil. The UK will today offer £5 million for two new UN funds to support the strengthening of security in Mali, with £3 million directed to AFISMA and £2 million to activity in Mali that facilitates and supports political processes for building stability. The UK is also prepared to offer up to 200 personnel to provide training to troops from Anglophone west African countries contributing to AFISMA, although the numbers required will be dependent upon the requirements of the AFISMA contributing nations. To establish those requirements, we have deployed a small number of advisers to Anglophone west African countries that are likely to contribute to the AFISMA mission, to assess their needs and to gain situational awareness.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers will provide an update to the House on the outcome of the discussions in Brussels and Addis Ababa at the appropriate moment.

Mr Baron: I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and thank the Secretary of State for his answer.

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British involvement in Mali and the wider region is deepening, and it is clearly in everyone’s interests that we do not allow legitimate Governments to fail, particularly when faced with extremists. It is no secret that I opposed our recent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, because I fear that one can be drawn into ever-deepening conflicts. Afghanistan illustrated the dangers of being sucked into larger deployments. That mission morphed into something much larger: it changed from a mission to defeat al-Qaeda or deny it the use of Afghanistan to one of nation-building.

Drawing on our lessons in Afghanistan—and, perhaps, on other interventions—will the Government clarify the following points? We need greater clarity on the role of British troops. The Government have said they will not be placed in a combat role, but there are a host of grey areas between combat roles and support roles. What exactly will these advisers do? Will they be involved in logistics or training, or will they advise on strategy? Equally importantly, how will they be protected? Are we deploying troops on the ground to protect these advisers, or are we relying on our French colleagues to provide that protection?

May I also ask the Secretary of State what exactly is the exit strategy? It is very easy to get drawn into these situations, but it is not always clear what the endgame and exit strategy are, and even what the endgame looks like. What are the contingency plans if military progress does not go to plan? Is there talk on the table that we should perhaps be deploying or committing, or be prepared to commit, more troops if the fighting goes badly? At the moment, that is all going well, but the situation can change very quickly.

Finally, what lessons should we learn from United Nations Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed last year and called on local African nations to lead the combat role in defeating these extremists in northern Mali? There was tremendous delay in the implementation of that resolution. What lessons have we learned from that, because we seem to be playing catch-up? On a related but slightly separate issue, what is the international community’s broader strategy on encouraging local forces to play a more proactive role, not only in Mali, but in the wider region, in combating these extremists? These are legitimate questions and the British public and we as a House need to ask them, because there is a real danger of getting drawn into a much larger deployment, particularly if things do not go to plan on the ground.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his questions. First, the UK has a clear interest in the stability of Mali and in ensuring that its territory does not become an ungoverned space available to al-Qaeda and its associates to organise for attacks on the west. Secondly, we have established military co-operation with France, which is an important part of Britain’s strategy for the future, and this situation, along with the Libya campaign, is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the validity of that working relationship with France. The role of British troops, as I set out in my response to the urgent question, is clearly not a combat role, and it will also not extend, as we envisage it at the moment, to a force protection role. We are looking for force protection arrangements to be put in place, probably by the French, but certainly by the European Union in relation to the EU training mission.

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My hon. Friend asked me about the exit strategy. France has made it clear that it envisages a short intervention to stabilise the situation on the ground while the African forces from neighbouring countries and the Malian army deploy to sustain the situation in the longer term. We concur with that strategy. I should say, again, that it is not our intention to deploy combat troops; we are very clear about the risks of mission creep and we have defined very carefully the support that we are willing and able to provide to the French and the Malian authorities.

My hon. Friend referred to UN Security Council resolution 2085 and the time delay in deploying African forces. I think it is well known that the intention was to deploy African forces in support of the Malian authorities later this year, but the situation on the ground has become more urgent, hence the decision by the French to intervene. Some of these forces require equipment and some require additional training, and the response time to the mobilisation envisaged by resolution 2085 has perhaps been longer than we would have liked. The lesson we can learn from that is that if we want local forces to be able to deploy and respond to resolutions of this nature, we may have to take a more proactive role in resourcing them to do so.

On the broader strategy for encouraging local forces to tackle extremism, part of our defence posture, set out in the strategic defence and security review 2010, is to devote an increasing proportion of our defence resources to upstream engagement, building capacity in fragile nation states to allow them to deal with early threats to their security, rather than waiting for the situation to degenerate to the point at which it requires outside intervention.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving us the opportunity to discuss security in north Africa today, and I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. It is essential that Mali does not become a haven for terrorism, which would allow militants to oppress a people, hold territory, destabilise a region and threaten UK interests. It is therefore vital that the international community enables Mali and its neighbours to defend themselves.

Let me turn to six specific issues. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that no UK personnel will be redeployed to Mali from Afghanistan? What other European allies plan to commit trainers and at what level?

There will be broader worries about mission creep. The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region. It appears clear that Islamists have chosen to abandon population centres and might now melt away across near-non-existent borders. It is possible that they will be able to regroup and return to carry out the type of terror attacks we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the ability and intent of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its associates to do so?

I want the Secretary of State to say more about force protection. If UK trainers are based in Bamako, which has not to date been the centre of violence, that might make them and the capital a target. Our forces will, I assume, be armed, so what will the rules of engagement be? UK trainers might be non-combat, but that does

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not mean that they are without risk. They are deployed and will need to be protected in a hostile environment, so what security guarantees has he received from French forces about protecting UK trainers as a condition of this deployment from day one?

We all know that lasting stability will be achieved through a political process, so will the Secretary of State outline the strategy to achieve that? In particular, will he give his assessment of whether the Tuareg people will be part of the process?

While we consider the importance of winning hearts and minds in Mali, there is another country where public consent must be retained and that is here in the UK. The public are wary and weary of conflict as a consequence of recent history. There will be worries about mission creep and the safety of UK trainers and it is essential that the Secretary of State allays those fears today.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, although I have to say that there was a little bit of fence sitting. Although we all recognise that the public are wary and weary of conflict, I did not hear a clear indication of whether he supports the actions that the Government propose to take in support of this French mission.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the redeployment of troops from Mali to Afghanistan and I assume he meant Afghanistan to Mali. We are acutely conscious of the primacy of the operation in Afghanistan and the limits of what we have been able to offer the French in this operation are defined largely by the need not to degrade our capabilities in Afghanistan. We are looking all the time at what we can do without impacting on the air bridge or the operation in Afghanistan. As he noted, our initial response was to offer logistical support as that was what was urgently required to get French troops and equipment into Mali. The French ask has evolved to include additional surveillance capability, which we have now provided with the Sentinel R1. Over the next weeks and months the requirement will be for training of the Anglophone African troops who will provide the force in support of the Malian army in due course.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for an assessment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It is fair to say that our situational awareness of the Maghreb is not as great as we would like it to be. It is not an area where Britain has had traditional involvement, but we are making strong efforts to obtain awareness of what is going on there. We should not underestimate the potential for terrorist threats to emerge from the Islamic Maghreb, but nor should we overestimate the strength of the Islamists in this region.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about our forces on the ground in Bamako. Bamako is well to the south of Mali and the problems are in the north. I agree that it is not impossible that Islamists could penetrate the south of the country in small groups, but there are many reasons why it might be difficult for them to operate there. The rules of engagement for British personnel will be on the basis of self-defence when they are based at Bamako. Force protection is provided within the airfield at Bamako by the French forces on the ground. As I said earlier in relation to any UK training mission,

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we will not allow any UK trainers to deploy until we are satisfied that adequate force protection measures are in place.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the political process, and of course a political process is essential. I envisage that the European Union will be engaged in economic and political development in Mali in the future. The involvement of the Taureg people, of course, is essential to a sustainable and lasting peace in that country.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said unavailingly to his five Labour predecessors as Defence Secretary that the more frequently western forces intervene in Muslim countries, the greater will be the spread of jihadism throughout the whole Islamic world and the higher the threat of terrorism in this country?

Mr Hammond: I hear my right hon. Friend’s warning loudly and clearly, but of course precisely the problem that we are dealing with is that Mali is not an Islamic country. Mali is a country with a majority Christian population, with a significant Islamic minority. It is a country of two halves geographically, climatically, religiously, culturally and ethnically. That is the challenge, but the solution must be a democratically elected Government in Bamako who effectively represent all parts of that country. That is the long-term aim that we all aspire to achieve.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Our commitment to Mali and the region has grown considerably over the past few days. Notwithstanding the relatively positive news that is coming from the country, no one really believes that the security issues will be addressed in the short term. How long does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the deployments that he is confirming today are likely to be? The relatively small numbers that he is reporting to the House need to be supported by far larger numbers if such an operation is to be sustained. How many people overall will be necessary to sustain the commitment over time?

Mr Hammond: I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s last point. The numbers that we have outlined are the numbers that we envisage sustaining the Sentinel aircraft based in Dakar, Senegal—about 70 people. That is the requirement to sustain the aircraft there. We have about 20 people on the ground in Bamako. The C-17 we envisage staying for up to three months. We have not set a time limit for the surveillance capability; it will stay for as long as we can provide it without impact on other operations and as long as it is useful. The training mission has not yet been defined, so it would be premature for me to talk about a time scale, but it clearly will be a finite time scale in preparing the African Anglophone nations’ forces for deployment to Mali.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): The liberation of Timbuktu and other towns in the north is, of course, very much to be welcomed, but my right hon. Friend will remember from the precedent of both Iraq and Afghanistan that the liberation of towns and cities is the easy part and that there is every probability that

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there will be many years of asymmetrical conflict in Mali unless a political solution is achieved. Will he advise the House whether he is having discussions with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that Britain can make a contribution that, in particular, would try to divide the jihadi terrorists from the other local insurgents who do not have international aspirations, thereby making the prospect of ultimate peace that much more foreshortened?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. and learned Friend is right of course to warn of the prospect of asymmetric conflict. Although it is reassuring that towns such as Timbuktu have been taken by French forces, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that that is equivalent to the defeat of the Islamist forces in the area. They have melted away and will, no doubt, regroup and return in one form or another.

My right hon. and learned Friend is also right in saying that the key strategic imperative is to separate the jihadists from those northern Malian rebels whose discontent with the Government is more secular in nature. There is some evidence that that is already happening and that the presence of Malian Government and French forces in the area will encourage and accelerate that process, but I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is acutely aware of the need for rapid political progress, as well as rapid military progress.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister bear in mind that, whatever the merits of what is presently proposed, the American catastrophe in Vietnam started with the deployment of American troops in a training and advisory capacity?

Mr Hammond: I am sure that those lessons have been taken firmly on board and are part of the military folklore that informs decision taking today.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Although my right hon. Friend may be able to justify in the short term the step change in Britain’s commitment in Mali that he has announced this morning, what account is being taken of the long-term implications of such a commitment, not least if there is success in Mali followed by displacement of al-Qaeda to other more favourable countries in north Africa? How far are we willing to pursue them?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. and learned Friend talks about a step change in Britain’s commitment in Mali. Let me set this in context. In the SDSR, we made it clear that a greater part of Britain’s defence effort in future would be devoted to training, supporting and upskilling local forces in fragile areas, to prevent the breakdown of order in such countries. We are proposing to deploy up to 200 troops in a training role to support four Anglophone countries in west Africa to prepare forces to intervene in Mali. That seems to me to be a very well leveraged use of British forces, British resources and British capability to deliver effect at minimal cost and risk to ourselves.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Secretary of State has drawn attention to the fact that discussions involving other countries are taking place in Brussels

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about the commitment that they are prepared to make to Mali. Will he update the House on commitments that have been made thus far by EU neighbours, including countries such as Denmark, and confirm that those discussions also involve countries that are not in the EU, such as Norway and Canada?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is right; some offers of assistance have already been provided—I have just had a discussion this morning with the Belgian Defence Minister—but it would be better, if he does not mind, to await the completion of the discussion today. I can assure him, as I have already assured Mr Speaker, that one of my colleagues from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will come to update the House as soon as we have the readout from that discussion and the one in Addis Ababa.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) was entirely right to urge on my right hon. Friend extreme caution in this matter. However, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the EU training mission to Somalia is a useful precedent here? That is one of the areas in EU defence that has actually been rather successful, unlike most of the rest of it, and that is therefore a proper course to follow. Will he give us an indication of what the Nigerians intend to do? That is a Christian and Muslim country; it should be able to help out in Mali; and it has well trained troops as well.

Mr Hammond: I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend that the EU training mission in Somalia has been a success. Indeed, I see some similarity between the situation in Somalia and that in Mali. What is required in Mali is military training, economic development support and rule of law and civil governance reform, to help that country to achieve stable and sustainable government in the future. That is something that I believe the EU is well positioned to lead on and to deliver, and we look forward to supporting it in that effort.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Now that the Defence Secretary is talking about sending in troops and weapons, will he bear it in mind that when the intervention took place in Libya—at a very low level, we were told by the Government at the beginning—and when those Benghazi rebels were provided with large numbers of weapons, we found that al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Mali and north Africa were using the same weapons that Britain and other countries had supplied. That is mission creep, and if he is not careful, it will get even worse.

Mr Hammond: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I did not refer to weapons. We have talked about troops in a training role. Our preference would be that that training is carried out in the countries that are providing the troops—Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ghana—and if not, that it is carried out in Bamako. It will not be in the forward regions where the fighting is taking place.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I support the deployment of a Sentinel R1, but may I urge my right hon. Friend to be slightly careful about the use of language? We have already deployed a C-17 to Bamako,

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and that C-17 has a section of the RAF Regiment within it—for force protection. Force protection personnel are combat troops. They may not be used in combat, but they are combat troops.

Mr Hammond: Yes, I hear what my hon. Friend says. The C-17 is currently carrying out missions moving equipment and troops from France to Bamako and from Dakar in Senegal and other capitals in the region into Bamako, so its mission is into the country, rather than within the country.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): After 11 years of warfare in Afghanistan, does the Secretary of State accept that there is no appetite whatever in this country for British troops to be sucked into a new war, a war far away, and a war that could easily escalate? Does he also accept that arising from what he has said today, there should be another statement as quickly as possible next week on what has occurred?

Mr Hammond: I have already made a commitment that there will be another statement on the outcome of the meetings today. It may be next week; it may be sooner. As soon as we are in a position to inform the House, we will do so. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course there is no appetite to be sucked into another war—there never is—but there is an appetite to be safe and secure. There is an appetite to ensure that terrorists cannot establish freedom of movement in an area such as the Sahel in order to attack us in the future. I say again that this appears to me to be a very limited and well-leveraged intervention by Britain in support of the French, who have deployed significant numbers of troops and equipment, and who are doing the heavy lift alongside the Malians. What we are now proposing to do is help to reinforce the English-speaking African countries which have also indicated that they are prepared to contribute forces to deal with this as a regional problem. That is the right way to solve such a problem, and our limited support for it is a highly effective way of Britain leveraging its capabilities.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Non-interventionism is in vogue, but does the Secretary of State agree that because of the nature of the UK, our trade routes and our status, we have huge interests across the world, and consequently, that this sort of capacity-building exercise is time and money well spent?

Mr Hammond: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I remind her and other hon. Members of the risks to our society and the societies of our allies if we allow areas of ungoverned space to fall under the control of al-Qaeda and its associates and to become a place where they can plan and execute attacks on our interests.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State recognise that Mali is in a post-colonial situation and there is great tension between the north and the south, and that the failure of successive Governments in Mali to address the wishes of the Tuareg people has led to this conflict, as has the exploitation of the country’s minerals? Does he not accept that unless there is a political solution to those issues in Mali, western forces will be there for a very long time

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and we will be sucked into a horrible war from which we will end up ultimately having to make a humiliating retreat?

Mr Hammond: I do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I of course accept that, for there to be a sustainable peaceful situation in Mali over the longer term, there will have to a political solution to the tensions that exist between the north and the south of the country—tensions that, frankly, were created by a colonial map drawer and were pretty predictable when one looks at the ethnic and religious make-up of that country. But the fact that the regional powers are prepared to deploy in support of the Malian army is something that we should very much celebrate and support. Let there be a regional solution to the short-term problems in Mali, and by all means let us be active and forward-leaning in our support for a long-term political solution to the problem.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I strongly support the Defence Secretary’s announcement today, which I believe to be well judged in every particular. I welcome the fact that other countries in the EU recognise the threat to all of our security that would be represented by ungoverned space in that part of the world, and their willingness to join in this training mission. So long as we are being guaranteed that there is no question of our moving into a combat role, I do not think we should view these or any subsequent requests for practical help as mission creep. We should be willing to make a long-term contribution in west Africa, building up regional capacity so that on future occasions western troops will not be required to move in.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with the sentiments that he expressed. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we have no intention of entering a combat role in Mali. The French have taken the lead and supporting them is the sensible and the right thing to do.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Thirteen years ago I went to Sierra Leone with the Defence Committee and saw British troops and Gurkhas training the Sierra Leonean armed forces. I am therefore very pleased that Sierra Leone is one of the countries that is prepared to take on the African mission, but does not this raise a wider question of long-term co-operation between the European Union and the African Union to make sure that we do not have to have ad hoc intervention forces, which might take a year or maybe longer to establish, but that when necessary we can intervene to preserve democracy and defend people against extremism?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The EU training mission in Somalia and the support arrangements for the African Union intervention in Somalia have come to work very well, but they took a while to get together at the beginning. Now we are embarking on a new activity on the other side of the continent and we are starting from scratch again. His point is well made. Is there a mechanism by which we can create some standing apparatus to ensure that when the need arises for local or regional intervention, supported by outside expertise and resources, we can

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provide it quickly and effectively? I am happy to pass on those thoughts to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s reassurances about the very limited commitment in Mali not cutting across our capabilities in Afghanistan, but he well knows that the C-17s play a central role in the air bridge and in our commitment to withdrawing by the end of next year. Is he absolutely certain that there will be no possible diminution in that determination if, for example, the commitment of the C-17s were to be extended beyond the three months to which he is committed?

Mr Hammond: The commitment that we have made on the C-17 is for three months and the reason that we have limited it to three months is precisely because we would want at that point to review what impact, if any, any extension beyond that time would have on the air bridge to Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains our principal focus and we will not do anything that will impinge upon success there.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Nobody welcomes the deployment of British troops abroad, but the UK is right to provide support to France and to the Anglophone west African countries, which, in long run, ought to be giving the security guarantees that are needed in Mali. Will the Secretary of State explain why this is an EU security lead rather than a NATO security lead, what liaison there is between the EU and NATO, and what both bodies are doing to assess where the rebels and their armaments will go next so that we can have a regional response to the crisis?

Mr Hammond: My view is that this type of operation, where there is a military component and a much wider dimension within the country—a need to establish the rule of law and proper civil governance, and an ongoing need for economic development assistance—is ideally suited to EU involvement. At the moment, the French operation is a national operation, but the fact that the EU has been prepared to propose a training mission is welcome. There is, as yet, no NATO activity around this operation. It is a French operation first, then an EU and an AFISMA operation.

I should correct something that I said earlier. I said that the majority of Malians were Christians, but in fact the majority of Malians are Muslims. The ethnic split, not the religious split, puts the majority in the south.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Things go wrong in war. While I absolutely understand all the rightly cautious points that the Secretary of State has made, what forces are earmarked and what contingency plans are in place for when those things do indeed go wrong?

Mr Hammond: We do not expect things to go wrong. We are talking about deploying a small, 200-strong-maximum training force, probably to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia, and, as I have outlined, we have a very small number of forces on the ground in Bamako. As my hon. Friend would expect, permanent joint headquarters continually makes plans for contingencies, although he would not expect me to outline in detail what those plans are. He will know from his own experience that the

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military are almost obsessive-compulsive about having contingency plans for every operation that they are engaged in, and I can assure him that they will have contingency plans for this one.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Why have the Government not honoured the pledge that the Foreign Secretary gave me a fortnight ago when he gave a broad assurance that we would discuss in this House, and vote on, whether we deployed soldiers abroad? When the Government decided to go into Helmand province in 2006, they hoped that not a shot would be fired. Then, only two British soldiers had died in combat after five years of warfare; now, the figure is 440. Is not there a grave danger that Mali could turn into another Helmand?

Mr Hammond: No, I do not think so. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to an answer that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave in relation to the use of war powers. The troops that we are talking about deploying will not be used in a combat role, and the war powers issue does not arise. They will be deployed in a training and support role.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Limited military engagement in a supportive capacity to the French and African forces is a precursor to the nation building that is likely to be required, alongside what has been achieved in Somalia, in order to reduce the Islamist al-Qaeda threat. Does my right hon. Friend agree that compared with Afghanistan, Mali and the wider Sahel region is in Europe’s back yard and is a direct threat to our common security?

Mr Hammond: Allowing ungoverned space in Afghanistan would also represent a direct threat to Europe’s security. We know that a significant proportion of the security threats to the UK arise, and have arisen in the past, from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. What is a threat to Europe’s security and Britain’s security is ungoverned space in which terrorists can organise, exercise freedom of movement, and launch attacks. Wherever ungoverned space arises, whether it is in Somalia, the Sahel, or the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, we have to take appropriate action to close it down so that that space becomes properly governed and properly monitored.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State kindly for clarifying many of the issues that concern us. There is a great humanitarian crisis developing in Mali, with 230,000 people displaced and 150,000 people having left the country. Will the deployment involve help for the deepening humanitarian crisis and for the infrastructure rebuild?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is very much engaged with this issue. The deployment that I have talked about today is a training mission, but we are also looking to provide humanitarian support in the short term to deal with the movement of people in response to conflict, and in the longer term as part of an EU initiative to support the development of civil governance and economic development, particularly in the north of the country, thus addressing some of the underlying problems of at least part of this insurgency.

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Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): In this increasingly troubled world, will the Secretary of State reflect on whether it is prudent and in Britain’s interests to cut the size of our armed forces?

Mr Hammond: I can tell you my view on that, Mr Speaker. It is prudent to have a balanced defence budget and to be able properly to equip the troops that we have and seek to use to defend this nation’s security. I am afraid that given the state of the defence budget that we inherited from Labour, we have taken the only responsible set of actions that we could take in order to secure Britain’s defence for the future.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I support and welcome the steps taken by the Government, which I am sure are welcomed by countries near Mali? The Secretary of State mentioned ungoverned space. One country with a lot of ungoverned space is Yemen, where yesterday eight people were killed in a suicide bomb attack by affiliates of al-Qaeda. If the Government of Yemen request the same support that those other countries near Mali have requested, will our Government be prepared to give them that support?

Mr Hammond: We have good relationships with the Government of Yemen and we provide advice and support to them. The President of Yemen was in London a few months ago, and we had very constructive discussions. The action proposed by the AFISMA countries is mandated by a UN Security Council resolution, and the action that we are taking is to support these countries in the discharge of that mandate.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that it has for some time been the intention to provide training in a number of west African countries as a form of upstream engagement? For the clarity of the House, will he elaborate on the differences between AFISMA, Operation Newcombe, and the EU training mission?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This training support should be seen in the context of our ongoing and very good relations with the Anglophone countries of west Africa, where we already have in place excellent military-to-military relationships and provide some training to them. This is very much a continuation and a stepping up of an activity for which there is established precedent, and I hope that the House will support it on that basis.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The Secretary of State will have seen the report in Friday’s Le Monde about atrocities that have allegedly been committed by Mali Government forces as they have seized back territory. Will he explain why we are not making it an absolute requirement on the Malian Government to investigate and co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court before we give them a single shilling?

Mr Hammond: We are making the point very clearly to the Malian Government that if they want to benefit from the support of the United Kingdom and other members of the international community, they must respond swiftly and effectively to the allegations that

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have been made. The French forces command in Mali is also very focused on the need to address this issue promptly.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend envisage 3 Commando Brigade playing a part in this initiative?

Mr Hammond: No.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): May I press the Secretary of State? Will he tell us more about the relationship between the European Union training mission and the French military mission? Will he also tell us what is happening to the Sentinel security system, which was going to be cut under the strategic defence and security review? Will it be reprieved?

Mr Hammond: To answer the last question first, the ongoing use of Sentinel is not currently funded beyond 2015. It remains one of the candidate programmes for the—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) cackles from the Opposition Front Bench, but he was a Defence Minister in the previous Government who left us with a £38 billion gap between the equipment they had ordered and the budgets available to pay for it. We are having to prioritise and identify the programmes that are most important to maintaining Britain’s national security. Sentinel is a candidate programme for funding after 2015, and we will continue to look at its run-on costs and whether we can justify the investment in them.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I welcome the rounded and proportionate response that my right hon. Friend has outlined. Has the National Security Council asked the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other relevant Departments to talk to their French counterparts about how we can flesh out this mission as a whole so that it is not purely a military one?

Mr Hammond: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that DFID and Foreign Office officials and Ministers are in touch with their French counterparts and that there has been a great deal of traffic backwards and forwards between London and Paris over the past 10 days.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The Secretary of State mentioned £5 million being contributed towards United Nations funds. What proportion of that will come from the Ministry of Defence budget and what proportion, if any, will come from DFID budgets? Will he also tell us when we can expect an announcement on what kind of humanitarian assistance the British Government will provide and when?

Mr Hammond: I will alert my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary to the hon. Lady’s last question and ensure that when a further statement is made to the House—I anticipate that it will be made very shortly—that issue will be covered in it.

I am not absolutely certain, but I assume that the £5 million that I referred to will come from the conflict pool, which is a cross-Government, tri-departmental

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pool of money. If I am wrong about that, I will write to the hon. Lady and place a copy of the letter in the House.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): My right hon. Friend has emphasised the issue of ungoverned spaces. Mali is five times the size of the UK, or thereabouts, with a quarter of the population, and Algeria ten times the size with a population three fifths the size of ours. What are his expectations for the proper governance of these vast, empty spaces?

Mr Hammond: Governance should not be confused with policing. Proper governance is about a system for bringing the people of the northern part of Mali into the overall governance of the country, making the Tuareg population feel part of the overall structure and having a demonstrably fair system for sharing the nation’s resources and wealth. That will be the key. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the sparsity of population and the vast spaces defy any aspiration to be able to police them in the conventional sense.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): If there were ever an example of mission creep, this is it. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), at what point will the Secretary of State test the will of Parliament?

Mr Hammond: I do not accept that this is an example of mission creep. What we have done is extremely modest. We are providing strategic air-lift support for a limited period and one surveillance aircraft, operating from a neighbouring, friendly country, and we are now talking about deploying up to 250 troops in a training role, most of which will be carried out in the countries donating the troop forces. I do not consider that to be an escalation of the scale characterised by the hon. Gentleman.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Given the difficult terrain in Mali and the surrounding area, is the United Kingdom likely to provide drone assistance, as it did in Libya and Afghanistan, either as surveillance or on a front-line basis?

Mr Hammond: We currently assess that we could not provide drones or unmanned aerial vehicles of any sort in support of the French campaign in Mali without it having an unacceptable impact on our operations in Afghanistan, so we have declined to do so.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has rightly referred on a number of occasions to the need for political reform, economic development and humanitarian relief, but he will know that people have been saying that Mali has needed that for years and warning that if Mali did not get it, we would have problems with that country. It would be all too easy, after, I hope, a quick military success, for those long-term commitments to be forgotten, so what guarantees can we have that there will indeed be the sustained support that is undoubtedly needed from Britain and the European Union?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is an unfortunate fact of life that it is only when countries force themselves to the top of the news agenda, sometimes for completely the wrong reason, that everybody recognises that we have known that

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there was a problem there for a long time and that we knew what needed to be done, but did not quite do it. I would hope, having now focused on the challenge and seen in Algeria the week before last the potential consequences of allowing terrorist organisations to gain ground in this area, that the EU in particular will have the will and the tenacity to see this through and to do what needs to be done over the medium to longer term.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is surely right to raise the high human and financial cost of earlier interventions under the previous Government, but there is a danger of seeing everything through the prism of previous experience. I support the Defence Secretary’s commitment today to deploying considerable British military training capabilities alongside allies, with the support of neighbouring countries and with full awareness of the dangers of mission creep in Mali, for the better security of Europe. Does he agree, however, that training in fragile areas comes under the heading of conflict resolution and that it would, therefore, be appropriate for DFID to make a wholesome contribution to the costs of this training mission?

Mr Hammond: My ears are always open to any suggestion that anybody else might contribute to activity that otherwise falls on the defence budget, but as I said earlier the funding for this operation will come from the conflict pool and from pooled funds that are available for precisely this type of intervention. This is an arrangement that is working extremely well across Government and is one of the successes of the past couple of years.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said, he will understand that many will remain concerned about the quick-sand syndrome overtaking these deployments, particularly in the absence of the political and economic engagement developing a more visible and viable profile. He is right to characterise so darkly the terrorist threat, but he must also acknowledge that Malian Government forces face allegations of serious human rights abuses, including recently. How is he proofing those whom he is deploying in a support role against any future suggestion that they will be implicated in supporting such abuses in the future?

Mr Hammond: British forces have clear rules of engagement. The forces we have deployed so far will be limited to engagement on the basis of self-defence only if they are attacked. I have already acknowledged our concerns about the allegations that have been made about Malian forces, and I know that our French colleagues have similar concerns and are addressing them with the Malian Government and the Malian forces on the ground. This situation is in a state of flux on the ground. The Malian forces are regrouping. Some of their command and control systems are currently inadequate, but the French are seeking to make a difference on the ground.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What is the extent of military co-operation between Algeria, Mali and Nigeria? Will the South Africans provide any troops? With America increasingly looking to the Pacific, will European support for an African solution to this problem be enough without substantial American involvement?

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Mr Hammond: I should tell the House that the United Kingdom has agreed to the use of US bases in the UK for the provision of refuelling support for the French forces, should the US choose to provide it. That is a decision for the US, but we would be comfortable with US aircraft operating from US bases in the UK for that purpose.

Nigeria is committed to providing troops to support the mission in Mali. I do not believe that the Algerians are committed in the same way, but they have an interest in security on the Algerian-Malian border. As far as I am aware, there is no commitment from South Africa.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British forces are deployed on training missions not only in Africa but around the world? Will he also confirm whether the intelligence gathered by the Sentinel aircraft will be used in support of French offensive operations or just to safeguard our troops on their training mission?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that British military training missions are taking place in many countries around the world. British military training is highly sought after by many foreign Governments. It is one way in which we punch above our weight by having a degree of influence on foreign militaries and Governments that we might not otherwise have.

The intelligence output from Sentinel will be deployed principally not for the protection of British forces on the ground, but to deliver intelligence to the French to increase their situational awareness of what is happening over these vast tracts of land.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that an ethical foreign policy means one of muscular enlightenment, and that as a democracy we have a moral duty to intervene where possible to stop extremism and dictatorship, not just for the benefit of the world community, but for the people of individual countries?

Mr Hammond: I think that we have an absolute duty to intervene wherever there is a threat to Britain’s national security and the security of Britain’s interests around the world. This is exactly such a case. This is a well-judged, well-leveraged intervention that will deliver efficiently a result that is in Britain’s national interests.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I am sure that everyone welcomes the fact that Malian and French troops entered Timbuktu without resistance, preventing further damage to its people and fabric. Nevertheless, the city is in desperate need of support to rebuild its medical and educational facilities and its local economy. Will the Secretary of State ensure that British training and advice are given to Malian and African troops on how best to work with agencies to provide them with security and safety so that they can carry out their work?

Mr Hammond: My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is heavily engaged in activities in Mali. I suspect that many people in this country thought that Timbuktu was a mythical place until it

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popped up on their television screens three days ago. My hon. Friend talks about an urgent need to rebuild medical and educational facilities. This city has not been occupied by rebel forces for years; they were only there for a few days. However, he is right that there is an urgent need to provide development support to towns and cities in the north of Mali, where the level of economic development is very low. I know that that is a focus of my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary.

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Point of Order

1.33 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As chairman of the British-Brazil all-party parliamentary group, I tabled early-day motion 981 on the nightclub fire in Santa Maria, in which sadly at least 230 Brazilians lost their lives. Are we able, as a House, to send our condolences to the Brazilian Parliament and to open a book of condolences here?

Mr Speaker: I will certainly reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. I accept the seriousness of the issue and the sincerity with which he has addressed it. I shall revert to him in due course.