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Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): I agree with much of what the Minister has said, but does he not think that it is an absolute shambles that the recent Public Accounts Committee report highlighted the fact that almost half of all forces accommodation is substandard and that there are significant gaps in the Ministrys understanding of its estate and where priority funding is needed? What will the Minister do about that?
Derek Twigg: I welcome the report, but I do not accept the facts. More than 90 per cent. of the accommodation is in category 1 or 2. We recognise the legacy of underfunding over decades, and I hope that Opposition Members accept their responsibility for that, not least in terms of the Annington Homes deal and how it has affected accommodation. We continue to give priority to the worst accommodation. We are doing a great deal to improve provision, with 12,000 family homes improved over the past six years and £5 billion to be spent over the next 10 years. We have made significant inroads into the problems that we inherited and for which we, of course, now have responsibility.
I turn now to the speeches made in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton) made some interesting comments about education, as did the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison). I can assure the House that we continue to work hard with our colleagues in the education Departments on the problems in the system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian also made an important point about the challenge that we face in distributing the resources, and he set out the difficulties that the shortage of skills causes to our efforts to improve housing. He also noted the role of local connections in prioritising service personnel. He mentioned Scottish issues, and I have had discussions with those members of the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly who have responsibility for armed services matters.
Mr. David Hamilton: I realise that time is very short, but will my hon. Friend also have discussions with the Royal British Legion Scotland, which is separate from the UK Royal British Legion and is, of course, older?
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) made some interesting points about the Select Committee hearing on the subject of health, at which a good debate took place. He also mentioned the Annington Homes deal, which has caused so many problems for housing. However, he agreed that the military covenant was not broken and that the Government were doing a significant amount to improve things.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) is a distinguished historian with great experience of the staff college. I always listen to his views, although I am not sure that I agree with his picture of the relationship between chiefs and Ministers. I see the chiefs all the time and, although they are robust and put forward their views, we have a good relationship. If he goes back to Alanbrookes diaries and their account of his relationship with Churchill or of the relationship that
the Adjutant-General had with Churchill, he will know that history offers us some interesting guidelines. I always listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but I do not accept his analysis on this occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) raised some important issues about spending on the armed forces and the public debate that we should have. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made an important point about our service and support for veterans. It is important that we support them, whether with mental health care or priority treatmentthe Secretary of State for Health and I have recently announced some initiatives on both points. Veterans are important, so I hope that all hon. Members will support Veterans day on 27 June next year. We are getting ever more support for that day from local councils and local authorities.
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), of course, has great experience. I always listen carefully to his comments and he made some important points. However, he will know that significant work is also going on in recruitment and retention. I recently met the chief personnel officers for each service to talk about that and we continue to do lots of things to deal with the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) made a point about compensation. The 2005 scheme introduced a lump sum and a guaranteed income payment scheme. It is important that we recognise that, to the most seriously injured, that can amount to significant amounts of moneyhundreds of thousands of pounds during a persons lifetime.
The Liberal Democrats have produced a document called Our Nations Duty that fails to recognise the progress made by the Government or the measures that we have taken. I do not think that they understand the many things that we are doing.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) spoke specifically about health. I visit injured service personnel in Selly Oak, Headley Court and elsewhere, and I also speak to their families. Overwhelmingly, they believe that the Government are providing excellent support and medical care. As for aftercare, Headley Court provides excellent rehabilitation, and good progress has been made elsewhere with welfare for families. To improve matters further, we introduced in October a pathway of care that allows us to follow injured personnel from the time they are evacuated back home right through to their eventual discharge. The pathway of care will be rigorously monitored, by Ministers and by those involved at the centre. I believe that that important step forward will ensure even better standards of service and care for our armed forces personnel.
The hon. Member for North Devon talked about establishing military wards in the medical defence units around the country. Those units have military medical people who work with NHS staff, but we do not believe that they should have solely military wards, as usually there are not more than two wards full of military patients at any one time. However, it is true that we are developing a military-managed ward at Selly Oak. Lots of military people are involved in that, including a military ward master, and we are also in discussions about how the new hospital building there can be used to improve the care that we offer.
In the minute that remains, I want to remind the House about all the things that the Government have done for the armed forces. For example, their pay rise this year was the best in the public sector, amounting to more than 9 per cent. for the most junior ranks. Military personnel also get an operational bonus worth £2,320, as well as council tax relief. The welfare package for our armed forces is the best that we have ever had, and the facilities at Headley Court and Selly Oak offer greatly improved support and welfare provision for casualties and their families. I believe that our armed forces now get the best medical care that has ever been provided.
As I said earlier, significant amounts of money have been spent on housing for our armed forces, and much progress has been made in that regard. Other improvements include the modernisation of terms and conditions for the Gurkhas, which has been welcomed by many people. In addition, we have taken many initiatives to improve recruitment and retention in the services.
I welcome this debate. The Government are doing a great deal to improve the support extended to our armed forces and their families. I believe that it has never been better, but we continue to look at what more we can do, and I am sure that the Command Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced will lead to further improvements in the future.
That this House recognises the commitment, bravery and professionalism of the armed forces in all their operations; further recognises the enormous contribution made by service families to the effectiveness of the UKs armed forces and the debt owed by the nation to veterans; welcomes the major programme of improvements made by the Government to support all of these groups since 1997, including in the areas of medical support and improvement and replacement of sub-standard service accommodation; further welcomes the role played by ex-service organisations and other charities in contributing to the support of these groups and the Governments commitment to working closely with such bodies to improve support in the future; and commends the Governments decision to produce a cross-cutting Command Paper setting out the progress already achieved in this area and what more will be done in the future.
That this House notes with dismay that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has presided over the first run on a UK bank for over one hundred years and that the taxpayer has now made approximately £30 billion worth of loans to Northern Rock without the Government providing evidence of either the exact amount or the security of the loan, over and above deposit guarantees; further notes that the current search for a private purchaser for Northern Rock faces enormous difficulties in the face of the high costs of credit and the conflicting interests of different groups of shareholders; applauds the important role played by the Northern Rock Foundation in the North East and regrets the potentially negative consequences for jobs in the North East should Northern Rock go into administration; further regrets that the Chancellor chose not to recognise the importance of Northern Rock as a large employer in the North East amongst his principles for assessing Northern Rock proposals; calls upon the Financial Services Authority to suspend trading of shares in Northern Rock immediately to prevent insider trading; and calls upon the Government to introduce legislation to allow for Northern Rock to be placed immediately in temporary public ownership as the only action that will guarantee the loans are paid back in full as soon as possible at the lowest risk to taxpayers.
We are very much in the middle of a banking crisis that is without precedent certainly in my lifetime and probably for most of the last century. I was always brought up to believe that banking runs occur in far-off countries and that the lender of last resort is an obscure academic construction that appears in monetary textbooks, not the real world. However, I suspect that when the dust has settled on the Northern Rock affair, future generations will think of it much as people think of the South Sea bubble: a major historical event when a speculative bubble in financial markets burst. If one were to be pessimistic by thinking that the crisis will continue unabated, one could well seek a historical precedent in the Creditanstalt in Austria in 1931. Those events had major financial and economic repercussions.
We are dealing with enormous sums: approximately £30 billion of Government loan, which excludes the deposit guarantees. To try to help Members get their heads around that, I point out that 30 billion is a 3 with 10 noughts. It is impossible to be precise about how much money is involved because the Government do not give the necessary information, and neither does the Bank of England. The information can only be inferred from the Banks balance sheet, but the figure is approximately of that order of magnitude.
To put the amount in context so that we can make sense of such an enormous number, I simply equate it to a little bit less than the annual defence budget. Given that it is a one-off payment, we are talking about six Iraq wars. Such a sum would build a high-speed train route from London to Edinburgh, and enough money would be left to build another one to Glasgow. The sum is the equivalent of about £5 million for every Northern Rock employee.
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