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House of Commons
Wednesday 12 October 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): The latest youth unemployment figures for Wales are disappointing, and I am sure that there is still much for us to do to ensure that the recession does not leave a legacy of workless young people. We will ensure that young unemployed people get the personalised help that they need to find full-time permanent jobs. As part of our reform of the welfare system, we are introducing a number of measures to support young people in finding employment.
Chris Ruane: Forty-six per cent. of the workers in my constituency, and 45% of the workers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, work in the public sector. The Government want to sack up to 25% of those workers: the theory is that they will be employed by the private sector. Given today’s huge increases in unemployment, where are the jobs going to come from for those public sector workers?
Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government inherited the most appalling economic legacy from the Labour party. That party seems to think that there is a bottomless purse to fund public sector jobs, irrespective of the economic state of the country. However, I am sure he will pleased to know that in his constituency there are, according to the latest figures, 273 vacancies, and I suggest that he encourage his constituents to seek those places.
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Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of the reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Prince’s Trust, which make it clear that the fivefold increase in youth unemployment in Wales is the legacy left to this Government by those on the Labour Benches? Given that context, and bearing in mind the Prince’s Trust’s success in getting 75% of young people into employment, work or training, will he commit the Government to working closely with the Prince’s Trust and involving it closely in the Work programme?
Mr Jones: Like my hon. Friend, I commend the work of the Prince’s Trust, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already had meetings with its representatives. I also remind the House that the Welsh Government have a significant role to play. They are in charge of economic development and are responsible for training, which is key to reducing youth unemployment.
Mr Jones: I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the Work programme, which this Government brought in, has introduced a level of tailored support for young people and others seeking work. The most important thing for people in the position of those he mentions is to regain work as quickly as possible.
Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The Minister will be aware of the excellent work on youth training undertaken by Ceredigion Training in my constituency, which equips young people with the skills they need to gain work. Does he therefore share my concern that the Welsh Assembly Government have cut the work-based learning grant to Ceredigion Training, which means fewer apprenticeships and fewer opportunities for young people to get back into work?
Mr Jones: As my hon. Friend points out, the issue of economic development is firmly in the hands of the Welsh Assembly Government, as indeed is training. That is entirely a matter for them, but I am bound to say that, given the current economic backdrop, I was surprised that the economic development budget was cut last week.
Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): One of the flagship Government policies that was meant to help the private sector to grow in Wales was the national insurance holiday. That was meant to improve the prospects of 45,000 companies in Wales, but it has actually supported just 300—less than 0.7% of them. Will the Minister tell the Chancellor that it is not working in Wales and that he really needs to pull his finger out and help the 16,000 people who have found themselves on the dole as a result of this Government?
Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman will find that the increase in unemployment is directly referable to the incompetent management of the economy by the Government whom he supported. Of course my right hon. Friend the Chancellor keeps such matters under constant review.
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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I am keen to attract more inward investment to Wales, as that is crucial to the recovery of the Welsh economy. I am working closely with ministerial colleagues, the Welsh Government and business to create an environment where companies choose to come to invest. One of our best adverts for Wales is our fantastic Welsh rugby team, and we all wish them well for their game at the weekend. They are a powerful advert for inward investment in Wales.
John Howell: Inward investment can be materially helped through enterprise zones. Does my right hon. Friend therefore regret the Welsh Administration’s delay of six months in making a decision on enterprise zones?
Mrs Gillan: My hon. Friend is right, and echoes what I have said on many occasions. I work as closely as I can with the Welsh Government and I encouraged them to introduce enterprise zones, but we had six months of wasted opportunities. There is every indication that the enterprise zones might look similar to those that have been announced across the border in England. Two tranches have been announced in England and just the one in Wales, but I am delighted that the Welsh Government have finally announced enterprise zones for Welsh businesses.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The Secretary of State is right to mention the Welsh rugby team and the way that it can highlight Wales. When the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom comes in and sits next to her later, for Prime Minister’s questions, will she ask him to put the Welsh flag up over No. 10 Downing street this weekend, as he did with the cross of St George for the England football team during the World cup? [ Interruption. ]
Mrs Gillan: I can heartily endorse that recommendation. Whether the powers that be will be able to fly that flag I do not know, so I cannot give him that guarantee, but it will be flying proudly above Gwydyr house.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): When I meet businesses in Wales, I am always impressed by the resilience they are showing during these difficult times. One issue that they always raise with me is that of business rates. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Assembly to build on the excellent work that local authorities are doing to reduce the burden of business rates to companies that wish to expand?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Welsh Government, but I think the Welsh Government must carefully consider the conditions on the other side of the border in England, and ensure that inward investing companies and other companies in Wales are not disadvantaged in terms of taxation or non-tariff barriers. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to
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make his representations to the Welsh Government himself; I am sure that they will be interested in what he has to say.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): As the Secretary of State will be aware, at least two coal mines in south Wales, Aberpergwm and Unity, have been in receipt of inward investment that is growing their employment and output. May I thank both mines for voluntarily helping to resource the rescue and investigation work following the terrible tragedy at the Gleision mine in the Swansea valley that caused the death of four experienced colliers, my constituents Charles Breslin, Philip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell? May I also thank the Secretary of State for her support over this tragedy, which has included ensuring that the Government have agreed to provide the 25% uplift—equivalent to the charitable gift aid that could have been claimable—to the total raised by the Swansea Valley miners appeal fund, which is now rising towards £400,000, which shows an extraordinary and heartfelt public response? May I also thank the mines rescue service, the principal inspector of mines and the South Wales police for their dedicated and at times heroic work at Gleision?
Mrs Gillan: Like the right hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to those who so valiantly led the rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of last month’s tragedy at the Gleision mine, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his work in his constituency. He and I saw those efforts at first hand, and I know the impact that that event will have had on his local community. As the shadow Secretary of State says, I have agreed that the Government will contribute to the Swansea Valley miners appeal fund to cover the amount that the fund would have been able to claim back as gift aid while its application for charitable status was being processed. I am pleased to say that charitable status has now been secured, and we in the Wales Office are working with the fund organisers on the details of the Government payment.
Mr Hain: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that. I believe that there are a number of important lessons from the Gleision tragedy for the future of mines safety and rescue. Will she therefore ensure that the Government delays the report of Professor Lofstedt, due by the end of this month, on regulations covering mining, among other sectors, so that account can be taken of a submission that I plan for her and her Cabinet colleagues?
Mrs Gillan: I understand that Professor Lofstedt is conducting an independent review of the overall regulatory framework covering health and safety legislation and its effectiveness. He issued a call for evidence in May and is now in the process of writing up his report. As this is an independent review, it would not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for employment or the Government to intervene in the timing of the report. However, I am sure that any lessons that can be learned from the investigation into the tragic events at the Gleision mine will be incorporated into any recommendations from Professor Lofstedt’s report that are taken forward by the Health and Safety Executive. I look forward to receiving the right hon. Gentleman’s submission on this subject.
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Private Sector Job Creation
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues and other interested parties on ways in which we can stimulate job creation in the private sector in Wales. We must create an environment in which the private sector can grow and prosper in order for businesses to create much-needed jobs in Wales, and we will continue to work with the Welsh Government to achieve that aim.
Neil Parish: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Will she look at the Bristol channel and the Severn, where there is the second highest rise and fall in tide in the world? A great deal of power could be produced there and a great number of jobs could be created to harness that power through tidal pools. May I ask her what we are doing about that?
Mrs Gillan: I think my hon. Friend knows that we have looked at this, and we do not intend to review the Severn tidal power situation before 2015—but it would be irresponsible to rule out such an important source of renewable energy for ever, as circumstances are likely to change down the line. As I have said before, to the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, if private funding for this project comes forward, we will consider it particularly seriously.
Mel Stride: As my right hon. Friend will know, under the previous Government there was far too much onerous employment legislation, much of which served simply as a brake on the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises both in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom. Does she therefore welcome, as I do, the fact that the Government will be doubling the period to qualify to go to an unfair dismissal tribunal, and that fees will also be charged thereafter to stop—
Mrs Gillan: I think my hon. Friend knows that we are trying very hard to create the right conditions to encourage private sector growth, and particularly to make life easier for SMEs. He will know that we are also exempting them from audit requirements that will save SMEs in the UK up to £200 million a year. It is particularly important that we are exempting micro-businesses and start-ups from new domestic regulation until 2014. The point that he has raised is just another way in which we are trying to help private business to grow in the UK.
Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): A Sheffield Hallam university report published over the summer estimated that 30,000 people in Wales could lose their incapacity benefit as a result of the Government’s welfare changes, and could therefore be looking for work. How optimistic is the Secretary of State that the private sector will be able to create that level of employment?
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Mrs Gillan: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. I know that the labour market statistics today have not brought good news, but I am pleased to report that there are 90,000 vacancies across the UK at the moment, including 12,638 in Wales. With the excellent job that is being carried out by Working Links and Jobcentre Plus, there are going to be many opportunities for people to find their way into work.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): This morning we have seen a shocking increase in unemployment, with 16,000 more people in Wales desperate to find work—a massive 13.5% increase over the past three months—as a direct result of this Government’s policies. Given this huge rise in unemployment, plus the squeeze on household incomes in Wales as a result of the Government’s increase in VAT, the reduction in the real purchasing power of pensions and the cruel slashing of the winter fuel allowance at a time of rocketing energy and food prices, can the Secretary of State explain how her Government’s policies will stimulate consumer demand in Wales and get growth going? How on earth will they stem the spate of high street shop closures and put some sparkle back into—
Mrs Gillan: May I extend a warm welcome to the hon. Lady, who is now on the Front Bench? She and I have had many conversations, and I wish her well. I am sure that she will complement the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) in her new role, and the Under-Secretary and I would like to extend our good wishes to her.
I take no joy from the figures this morning, but I do take joy from the fact that we have announced sector-based work academies. I hope that the hon. Lady will use her good offices with her party, and explain why the Labour party and the Welsh Government are cutting the enterprise budget, rather than using the money to freeze council tax in Wales, as it is being frozen in England.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): Through our economic policies, we are committed to delivering strong and sustainable growth balanced across the whole UK, including Wales, rather than concentrated in London and the south-east, as it was under the previous Government. We have made it clear that our top priority remains tackling the deficit while creating the right conditions for the private sector to expand in Wales and create jobs.
Albert Owen: I welcome measures taken by the Welsh Government to stimulate the economy in Wales, but the UK Government, at a time of high unemployment, high inflation and rising borrowing, have taken money out of the economy by putting up VAT. Does the Minister agree with the Federation of Small Businesses that it is time to consider a temporary reduction in VAT to stimulate the economy, particularly in sectors such as construction and tourism, to increase employment in Wales?
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Mr Jones: Those are matters that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor keeps under constant review, but I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not appear to regret, as I do, that the Welsh Assembly Government have decided to cut their economic development budget at this difficult time.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Does the Minister accept that enterprise zones could create private sector employment in some of the most needy parts of Wales? Does he not think that the Welsh Government’s approach has been somewhat disjointed at best? Some prosperous parts have become enterprise zones, but some of the most needy parts, such as Barry in my constituency, have not.
Mr David Jones: In all pithiness, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) that enterprise zones are key to economic development, and I regret that the Welsh Assembly Government have still not clarified their intentions in that regard.
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Lloyds TSB’s Wales business activity index for September reported the sharpest decrease in private sector employment for 27 months. What specific countervailing measures is the Minister arguing for with the Treasury to give the Welsh economy a competitive edge?
Mr Jones: I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will welcome today’s announcement of sector-based work academies. That will apply to the whole United Kingdom, including Wales. It will give young jobseekers the tools that they need to find employment more easily.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, the Welsh Government and other organisations on promoting economic growth in Wales. My business advisory group is meeting for the fourth time later this month. We discuss a wide range of issues affecting the Welsh economy, and that is fed into the Prime Minister’s own business advisory group.
Julian Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that as well as exempting small businesses in Wales and the rest of the UK from domestic regulation, the Government must continue their radical approach to reducing red tape and regulation from Brussels?
Mrs Gillan: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely important in this day and age, when we are up against such huge economic barriers, that we ensure that it is easy for businesses to start up and thrive in the UK, so that the UK becomes the best place to do business.
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Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State update the House on how the Wales Office is supporting economic growth in the newly announced enterprise zones, and will she meet representatives of my council, possible employers and me to talk about that? In Blaenau Gwent in the past 12 months, unemployment has gone up by a shocking 11.7%.
Mrs Gillan: I need to remind the hon. Gentleman that the enterprise zones in Wales are a devolved matter that falls to the Welsh Government. I would ask him to make his representations, as I did on his behalf and on behalf of many other Members of the House, to the Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science in Wales. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what we are doing. We are increasing capital spending on roads and railways, creating a superfast broadband network, and cutting corporation tax and regulation. We are doing an awful lot to support businesses, and I want the Welsh Government to rise to the challenge, too. [Interruption.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): We will consult on proposed changes to the feed-in tariff scheme, and will produce an impact assessment setting out the effects across the UK in the autumn. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have spoken to a number of businesses across the UK and understand their concerns in this regard.
Ian Lucas: Labour’s feed-in tariff created 300 jobs in my constituency. The Tories have increased unemployment in Wrexham in the past six months by 12.6%. Why are they reversing the successful Labour policy that is creating private sector jobs, when they are supposed to be favouring jobs and growth?
Mr Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Sharp is an extremely important employer in his constituency. He will be aware that the feed-in tariff scheme favoured large-scale solar farms, not the domestic installations, but I hope—indeed, I am sure—that he will welcome the announcement last month that Sharp has secured a multi-million-pound contract with Wrexham county borough council to install solar panels in 3,000 local authority homes.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): The solar technology industry is just one of the growing green technology industries that could be vital to boosting job creation in Wales. Does the Minister agree that strong Government support for those industries will not put the country out of business, but will stimulate investment in this area and help the Welsh economy to recover?
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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): Yesterday I announced in a written ministerial statement to the House the terms of reference and membership of the commission on devolution in Wales, the Silk commission. The commission will review the present financial and constitutional arrangements in Wales. It will look first at the financial accountability of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government and will aim to report in the autumn of next year. Following that, the commission will examine the current constitutional arrangements and will report in 2013.
Mr Bone: In Wales public expenditure is more than £9,000 per person. In my constituency it is £2,000 less. Yet again, Labour has left Wales in a mess, and Mrs Bone wants to know what the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are going to do about it.
Mrs Gillan: Mrs Bone, I am sure, is absolutely right when she says that the economy of this country was left in a complete mess by that lot over there on the Opposition Benches—but my hon. Friend has asked a fairly complex question about the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula is not being examined by the Silk commission; it is the subject of bilateral communications involving the Treasury and the devolved Administration Governments, because it is a matter that concerns the whole of the UK. The Silk commission is focused on matters affecting Wales directly.
Mr Llwyd: I very much welcome yesterday’s announcement on the commission on devolution in Wales. That was a commitment of the coalition Government in Wales. Why are the Holtham recommendations specifically not being considered by the commission? If all those recommendations are going to be dismissed there will be difficulty in ensuring cross-party support, which is very important for the commission.
Mrs Gillan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to correct him, because I think he has misunderstood the terms of reference, which were agreed across all four parties. I am delighted to see his party taking part in the work of the Silk commission. What the Silk commission will be looking at is the second part of the Holtham report, which I know the First Minister is not keen on because it is about taxation powers. What is excluded is merely the Barnett formula and something called the “Holtham floor”, which is part of the subject of the bilateral communications. May I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I want to move forward, if I can, on the basis of consensus? I am delighted that his party has worked with me on the commission so far.
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Mr Llwyd: As the right hon. Lady says that the report will be produced in 2013, will she ensure that there will be a provisional legislative slot if the commission says that some legislative changes are necessary within this Parliament?
Mrs Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman has enough experience of legislation in this House to know that that is not something I can commit to, but let me tell him that the report will come in two parts. The first report will, we hope, come at the end of 2012, and the later report on the shape of powers between the UK Government and the Welsh Government will come towards the end of 2013. I will bear in mind what he has said.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Lance Corporal Jonathan McKinlay from 1st Battalion the Rifles and Marine David Fairbrother from Kilo Company 42 Commando Royal Marines. They were both extremely committed and courageous servicemen who have given their lives in the service of our country. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies should be with their families, friends and colleagues.
Sir Alan Beith: The whole House will want to endorse the Prime Minister’s words about our heroic service personnel and their families, and I think that most of us also want to see the earliest possible withdrawal of our combat troops from Afghanistan.
What will the Prime Minister do about that group of women already in their late 50s who have seen their state pension age rise from 60 to 64 and now face a further two-year increase from 64 to 66? The coalition had to reform the pension system and will be fairer to women, but this anomaly needs addressing.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is right to identify that it is of course right to equalise men and women’s state pension ages. That has been a long-term goal shared across the House of Commons. I also think that it is right to raise the retirement age to 66, as we have done. We know that a large group of people are affected by this transition and that some people will potentially have to work for an extra two years. We are looking at what transitional help we can give to this group of people and will make an announcement shortly.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lance Corporal Jonathan McKinlay from 1st Battalion the Rifles and Marine David Fairbrother from Kilo Company 42 Commando Royal Marines. They were exceptionally courageous men who died serving their country and our deepest condolences go to their family and friends.
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A year ago, during our exchanges, the Prime Minister justified his economic policy by saying that unemployment would fall this year, next year and the year after. Given that unemployment has risen by 114,000, is it not time he admitted that his plan is not working?
The Prime Minister: First of all, these are very disappointing figures that have been announced today and every job that is lost is a tragedy for the person concerned and their family. That is why this Government will do everything we possibly can to help get people into work. That is why we have the Work programme, the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s, which will help 2.5 million people. That is why we have welfare reform to make sure that it always pays for people to be in work. That is why we are reforming our schools, including raising the participation age to 18 so that we end the scandal of 16 and 17-year-olds left on the dole, and that is why we have a record number of apprenticeships—360,000 this year. I accept that we have to do more to get our economy moving and get jobs for our people, but we must not abandon the plan that has given us record low interest rates.
Edward Miliband: We hear the same script month after month. It is not working. Does the Prime Minister not realise that today’s figures show that it is not working? It is his failure that means today in Britain we have nearly 1 million young people out of work. Why does he not accept some responsibility for doing something about it?
The Prime Minister: I accept responsibility for everything that happens in our economy, but I just sometimes wish that people who were in government for 13 years accepted some responsibility for the mess they made. This Government have pledged to do everything we can to get our economy moving. That is why we have cut petrol tax and corporation tax, why we are reforming the planning system, why we introduced the regional growth fund, why we are forcing the banks to lend money and why we have created 22 enterprise zones. I know what the right hon. Gentleman wants: he wants us to change course on reducing our deficit. If we changed course on reducing our deficit, we would end up with interest rates like those in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece and we would send our economy into a tailspin.
Edward Miliband: I want the Prime Minister to change course so that he has a credible plan to get people back to work in this country. What he does not seem to understand is that month after month, as unemployment goes up and the number of people claiming benefit goes up, the costs go up and fewer people are in work and paying taxes. To have a credible plan on the deficit, you need a credible plan for growth, and he does not have one. It is not just young people who are suffering. Can the Prime Minister tell us when was the last time that unemployment among women reached the levels it has today?
The Prime Minister:
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on his figures. There are 50,000 more women in work than there were at the time of the election, there are 239,000 more people in work than at the time of the election, and there are 500,000 more private sector jobs. He specifically asks about a credible growth
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plan. I would ask, where is his credible growth plan? Why is it that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said this:
“If you don’t have a credible economic policy, you are simply not at the races”?
Mr Speaker: Order. Whatever people think of what is being said on either side of the House, they must not shout their heads off. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will be heard, and that is the end of it.
The Prime Minister: The fact is that our plan is supported by the CBI, by the Institute of Directors, by the business organisations, by the IMF, and by the OECD. The right hon. Gentleman cannot even get support from his own former Cabinet Ministers. The former Home Secretary says this:
“I think the economic proposition that Labour puts at the moment is unconvincing.”
Of course, typically, the Prime Minister did not answer the question on women’s unemployment, so let me tell him: women’s unemployment is at its highest since 1988—the last time there was a Conservative Government in power. I have to say that instead of apologising four months late to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for saying, “Calm down, dear”, he should be apologising to the women of this country for what he is doing to our economy.
Let me ask the Prime Minister another question that maybe this time he will answer. Last year, in his Budget, the Chancellor announced a flagship policy on growth. He said that the national insurance holiday for start-up firms would help 400,000 businesses. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many businesses have actually taken part?
On the issue of women in work, of course I want to see more women in work, and there are 50,000 more women in work than at the time of the last election. It is this Government who have introduced free child care for all vulnerable two-year-olds, who have extended child care for three and four-year-olds, who have increased the child tax credit by £290, and who, for the first time, have announced that we will be giving child care to all people working fewer than 16 hours, helping hundreds of thousands of women and families out of poverty into work and into a better life. That is what we are doing.
The question the right hon. Gentleman must address is the big picture, which is this: he cannot convince the former Home Secretary, the former Trade Minister or the former Chancellor that he has got any idea of what to do with the economy. The reason is that if we adopted his plan, we would not be working with the IMF to sort out the eurozone—we would be going to the IMF to ask for a loan.
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Edward Miliband: In case the Prime Minister has not realised, when the Chancellor says that 400,000 firms will benefit and only 7,000 are, that should tell him something: it should tell him that his policies are not working. That policy is not working; his plan is not working. Why does he not, just for once, agree with us: cut VAT and put more money into people’s pockets, help the construction industry to get moving, and invest in getting young people back to work by having a bankers’ bonus tax?
The Prime Minister: When is the Labour party going to learn that one cannot borrow one’s way out of a debt crisis? It left us the biggest deficit, the most leveraged banks and the most indebted households, and what is its answer? It is to borrow more money. Is it any wonder that the former Trade and Investment Minister, Digby Jones, described the Labour leader’s conference speech as
“divisive and a kick in the teeth for the only sector that generates wealth that pays the tax and creates the jobs this country needs.”?
Edward Miliband: What a terrible answer. I will take on the companies in this country that are not doing the right thing, such as the energy companies. We are seeing change in the energy sector today because of what I said.
On the day of the worst unemployment figures in 17 years, the Prime Minister is fighting to save the job of the Defence Secretary, but doing nothing to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people up and down this country. There is one rule for the Cabinet and another rule for everyone else.
The Prime Minister: The previous Labour leader thought that he had saved the world; after that answer, I think that this Labour leader is Walter Mitty. The Labour party has to accept some responsibility for the mess it made of the economy. It is the party that borrowed too much, spent too much, left us with unregulated banks and left us with the mess that we have to clear up. When one sees those two sitting on the Front Bench who worked for so long in the Treasury, one has to ask, one would not bring back Fred Goodwin to sort out the banks, so why would one bring them back to sort out the economy?
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend noticed that since I put the point to him last month, the head of our Serious Fraud Office, Mr Richard Alderman, has publicly deplored the fact that no senior British bankers have been prosecuted for their irresponsibility, and has urged that legislation be introduced as soon as possible to empower his office to prosecute such offenders?
The Prime Minister: It is important that inquiries are conducted into what went wrong at RBS and HBOS, because we are left clearing up a mess made by the irresponsibility of others. If there is room for criminal prosecutions, of course those should happen. Our responsibility is to ensure that we regulate the banks and the financial industry properly in future. That is why we have put the Bank of England back at the heart of the job.
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Q2.  Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister publish a full list of all the Ministers and Downing street staff who, since May 2010, have met Mr Adam Werritty in an official or social capacity, including whether he as Prime Minister has met him?
Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that in the light of the difficult times encountered by some of my constituents in South Ribble who work for BAE, it is even more important that this Government continue their excellent support for exports and their continued investment in the development of the Typhoon and new unmanned aerial vehicle systems?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. Obviously, the position at BAE has been of concern. That is why we immediately put in place plans for an enterprise zone on each side of the Pennines to help with that important business. BAE is a great British company. It has a huge forward order book, not least because of our defence budget, through which we are investing in Typhoons, aircraft carriers and unmanned aerial drones. I will do everything I can to support that company, including promoting its exports abroad. I have had conversations with the Japanese and will soon be talking to the Saudi Arabians and others to do all that we can do to make sure that this great British company goes on being a great British success.
Q3.  Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Imperial Healthcare Trust, which offers outstanding clinical care and research in three major hospitals in west London, is being forced to make 5% per annum cuts for five years, so that is 25% of its £900 million a year budget. How does that fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise not to cut health services to my constituents?
The Prime Minister: We are increasing NHS spending throughout this Parliament, and, I have to say, that is a complete contrast with the Opposition’s policy. They now have a new health spokesman. I was worried that I would not have the same quantity of quotes from the new health spokesman, but he has not disappointed. He said this—very clear, very plain:
“It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms”.
Q4.  James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Too many children in Britain today live in families that do not provide them with the loving and stable environment that they deserve, and that has led to many of our most pressing social problems. Would the Prime Minister agree that this Government need to do all they can to help some of Britain’s most problem families?
The Prime Minister:
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. If we look at the evidence, we see that some of the most troubled families in our country get a huge number of interventions from the police, social services, education and the rest of it, but no one is really getting in there to help turn those families around, change what they do and give them a better chance. So we are establishing a new unit under the leadership of Louise
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Casey, who I think has been a superb official over the past decade, and we are going to be putting huge resources into turning around the 120,000 most troubled families in our country. I think we can make a huge difference for those families, and we can reduce the burden that they place on the taxpayer at the same time.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister instruct our ambassador in Kiev to make representations on behalf of the Government and Parliament about the appalling show trial and prison sentence handed down to Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister? Prime Ministers do make mistakes and lose elections, as she did, but she has been put on trial for policy decisions that she took. Will the Prime Minister make it clear—I am glad the Foreign Secretary is briefing him—that Ukraine will not be able to open membership talks with the EU, and that any hopes of liberalising visa access will go out of the window because of this disgraceful Stalinist show trial and sentence?
The Prime Minister: We completely agree that the treatment of Mrs Tymoshenko, whom I have met on previous occasions, is absolutely disgraceful. The Foreign Secretary has made a very strong statement about this. The Ukrainians need to know that if they leave the situation as it is, it will severely affect their relationship not only with the UK but with the European Union and NATO.
Q5.  Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Small business, not more Government debt, is key to job creation, and entrepreneurship is a noble endeavour, so will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the support of Bedfordshire university, Cranfield university, Colworth science park, Bedfordshire on Sunday and 100 business leaders in my constituency for setting up an investment fund and mentoring scheme to support early-stage businesses in Bedford? Will he ask his Ministers to work with me to see whether that can be replicated in other towns across the country?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for what he is doing in Bedford. This Government recognise that it is going to be small businesses that will provide the growth, jobs and wealth that this country needs. That is why we have an agreement with the banks to increase lending to small businesses, why we are providing extra rate relief to small businesses, why we are giving the smallest businesses a holiday from new regulation and why we have got the one-in, one-out rule for new regulation. I applaud all efforts at a local level to give small businesses the mentoring, help and support that they need to grow.
“We don’t agree with the committee’s report. It mis-states a number of very significant points.”
Given that the Home Office’s financial case was 50% adrift, and that it has now agreed with our argument that the national archive should be protected, will the Prime Minister urgently intervene and review the decision to close the Forensic Science Service? The country and the profession are now losing key scientific staff.
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The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at what the hon. Gentleman says, but I looked at that decision in some detail at the time, having known well the Forensic Science Service from when I worked at the Home Office many years ago. The evidence was pretty overwhelming that the model was not working and that change was needed. That is what has happened. Sometimes it is better to make that change rather than endlessly review it.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): The Prime Minister inherited a welfare system in which families were able to claim £2,000 a week in housing benefit, and in which some working families were worse off than those who were on benefits. What can he do to help those hard-working families in Sherwood who get out of bed and work hard because of their self-pride and responsibility?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks for millions in the country when he says that what people want is a welfare system that helps people who want to put in, work hard and do the right thing. What we are doing, first, is putting in place a cap so that we do not have those absurd amounts of money in housing benefit going to individual families—as he says, sometimes, it is £2,000 a week. Secondly, universal credit will ensure that it is always worth while people working and always worth while working a little harder. Let us see whether the Labour party, after a decade of giving people something for nothing, are prepared to back that by voting for the tough caps in the Welfare Reform Bill.
The Prime Minister: The ministerial code is very clear that, in the end, it is for the Prime Minister to decide whether someone keeps their job or not. In the case of the Defence Secretary, when the Leader of the Opposition has called for an inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary, and when I have established such an inquiry, it is very important that we allow him to do his work to establish facts, and then a decision can be made. However, let me be clear: I think that the Defence Secretary has done an excellent job clearing up the complete mess that he was left by Labour.
Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Retirement ages must go up, but the timetable in the Pensions Bill is too fast for many women. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say earlier that he was looking at transitional arrangements, and I would hope that those will result in a significant slowing down of the increase in retirement age for many women.
The Prime Minister: As I have said, we have looked at this issue very carefully and we will be making an announcement shortly. We have to look at the most difficult cases of people who will have to do quite an extra amount of working time, but clearly it is right—one must look at the big picture—to equalise men’s and women’s pension arrangements, and to move to 66, given the extra longevity that we enjoy as a country. Given that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased when the announcement is made.
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Q8.  Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are on record as supporting gender equality for future royal successions. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the consultation that he and the Deputy Prime Minister are having with other Commonwealth leaders on this issue? Does he agree that it is better that we resolve this matter before rather than after any future royal children are born?
The Prime Minister: I certainly believe that this issue should be sorted out—I am on the record as believing that, and I am sure that across the House there will be widespread support for it. In the consultation, I have written to the Heads of State and Prime Ministers of the other realms concerned, and we will have a meeting on the matter at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference. This is not an easy issue to sort out. Many may have worries about starting a parliamentary or other legal process, but I am very clear that it is an issue that we ought to get sorted, and I would be delighted to play a part in doing that.
Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree with the recent advice from the shadow Treasury Minister, who said that we must not and cannot pick good winners and losers? To conceive of such a simplistic “sinners and winners” model shows a distinct misunderstanding of business?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The greatest need in our economy right now is to generate wealth, jobs and investment. What did Labour do at its conference? It just launched a big attack on British business, when that is what will help us out of these difficulties.
The Prime Minister: As I have said, this whole issue is being looked at by the Cabinet Secretary, and he will produce his report. I would ask people to have a little patience—let the facts be established and the questions answered, and then we can move ahead.
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that nearly 40 Government Members have signed an amendment in my name requiring that all offenders convicted of using a knife in a threatening or endangering fashion will receive a custodial sentence, not only those over 18? Will he consider supporting this amendment?
The Prime Minister: I shall certainly look closely at what my hon. Friend says. I know that the Justice Secretary is doing this too. We want to move ahead with a mandatory sentence for adults, and we shall look very closely at the arguments that my hon. Friend makes.
Q10.  Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Sir John Major said four days ago that the Government should use the euro crisis as an opportunity to loosen EU powers over Britain. His first priority was the common fisheries policy. When will the Prime Minister take Sir John’s advice and tell the EU that Britain intends to withdraw from the CFP?
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The Prime Minister: I always listen carefully to Sir John’s advice, and he gives me some excellent advice. In the short term, Britain desperately needs to get behind the solution to the eurozone crisis, because it is having a chilling effect on the whole of the European economy, and the American economy as well. That is the first priority. I accept, however, that at the same time as doing that it will be important to get some safeguards for Britain. As eurozone countries go ahead and sort out their problems, we need safeguards to ensure that the single market goes on working for the United Kingdom.
Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Last weekend, B&Q opened a new store in Pembroke Dock creating 25 jobs and Ledwood engineering advertised 25 new jobs in the town. Jobcentre Plus in Pembroke Dock has 249 jobs on offer. Does the Prime Minister agree that there would be further good news if the banks honoured their pledge to commit to credit flow, and will he keep the pressure on and encourage businesses in Wales to advertise even more jobs?
The Prime Minister: We shall certainly keep the pressure on the banks. It is worth making the point that in spite of the difficulties, there are 500,000 new private sector jobs in our economy compared with the time of the election. However, we need to have in place all the things that help businesses to expand and grow. Bank finance is just one of those things. We have the Merlin agreement, which is increasing lending to small businesses, and we also have what the Chancellor has said about credit easing to ensure that we consider other ways of expanding credit in our economy.
Q11.  Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): This week, I had the privilege of meeting Hafsah Ali and Joseph Hayat from the Ready for Work campaign. They are impressive young people campaigning against rising youth unemployment. Will the Prime Minister tell us what has happened to his vow earlier this year to reverse the trend of rising youth unemployment? Will he also tell the House when he last met a young unemployed person?
The Prime Minister: Youth unemployment has been rising since 2004—it went up during the growth years as well as in the difficult years. We need a comprehensive strategy that deals with all the problems of youth unemployment, including the fact that there are too many people leaving school aged 16 who spent 13 years under a Labour Education Secretary—so the Labour party needs to take some responsibility—and who left school without qualifications to help them get a job. This is about ensuring that we have better education, a welfare system that helps people into work and a Work programme that provides not phoney jobs, as the future jobs fund did, but real work for real young people.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): A recent TaxPayers Alliance report revealed—[Hon. Members: “Ahh!”]—that 38 union leaders were remunerated at more than £100,000 each, including Derek Simpson of Unite, who received more than £500,000. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time for union boss pay restraint?
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The Prime Minister: It is interesting that Labour Members always listen to the trade unions, but never to the TaxPayers Alliance. One reason is that they do not want to hear about excessive pay in the public sector, local government or among their paymasters, the trade unions.
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Here is another question that the Prime Minister will not want to answer. Will he get a grip of his Back Benchers following last night’s debacle in the Chamber relating to the business of the House on 17 October? Does he understand that the perception out there in the real world is that some MPs would rather talk about their own pensions than discuss a 22-year-old injustice and the deaths of 96 men, women and children?
The Prime Minister: Let me answer the hon. Gentleman directly. We are going to protect the time for that absolutely vital debate. On the issue of MPs’ pensions, it is very clear that we have to show restraint at a time when the rest of the public sector is being asked to show restraint. So because of what happened last night, there will have to be a debate, but it will not eat into the time for the very important debate that he mentioned and which I know many Members care deeply about.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): What action is my right hon. Friend taking to reintroduce rigour into the education system and end the ridiculous situation under the previous Government of 22% of students doing proper academic studies?
The Prime Minister: The Education Secretary is doing a superb job of focusing schools on results, including in English and maths, ensuring that we look at the English baccalaureate, which includes the core subjects that employers and colleges really value, and doing some simple and straightforward things that were not done for 13 years, such as ensuring that punctuation and grammar actually count when someone does an exam.
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will he now reflect on the comments made by an Taoiseach in relation to that meeting and the outcomes, and the agreement made by both Governments at the Weston Park talks in 2001 that there should be an independent public inquiry?
The Prime Minister: Of course I have reflected incredibly carefully on what was said yesterday, and I have reflected on this whole issue for many months since becoming Prime Minister. I profoundly believe that the right thing for the Finucane family, for Northern Ireland and for everyone in the United Kingdom is not to have another costly and open-ended public inquiry, which may not find the answer, but instead for the British Government to do the really important thing, which is to open up and tell the truth about what happened 22 years ago. We do not need an inquiry to do that; that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be making a statement explaining exactly how we are going to do it and who will be involved. In the end, the greatest healer is the truth. Frank acknowledgement of what went wrong, an apology for what happened—that is what is required. Let us not have another Saville process to get there; let us get there more quickly and do the right thing.
Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the news that it seems that Gilad Shalit will be released in the next few days, which could well go a long way towards peace in the area?
The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case. What that young soldier has been through for those weeks, months and years is something that anyone in this House would find difficult to contemplate. If it is the case that he will be coming home soon, I wish him, his family and everyone in Israel well.
Mr Speaker: Order. The following statement is on an extremely important matter. May I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, so that I and those remaining can hear the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?
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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): With permission, I would like to make a statement. Following my statement to the House last November in relation to the murder of Mr Patrick Finucane, I have considered this case very carefully. I want to set out today how the Government intend to proceed.
The murder of Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor, in front of his family on 12 February 1989 was a terrible crime. There have been long-standing allegations of security force collusion in his murder. The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens was asked to investigate the murder in 1999. He published his overview report in 2003, concluding that there was “collusion”, that the murder “could have been prevented” and that the original investigation of the murder
“should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.”
“strong evidence that collusive acts were committed by the Army…the RUC…and the Security Service.”
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited the family to Downing street yesterday so that he could apologise to them in person and on behalf of the Government for state collusion in the murder of Patrick Finucane.
The Government accept the clear conclusions of Lord Stevens and Judge Cory that there was collusion. I want to reiterate the Government’s apology in the House today. The Government are deeply sorry for what happened. Despite the clear conclusions of previous investigations and reports, there is still only limited information in the public domain. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have committed to establishing a further process to ensure that the truth is revealed. Accepting collusion is not sufficient in itself. The public now need to know the extent and nature of that collusion. I have, therefore, asked the distinguished former United Nations war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva QC to conduct an independent review to produce a full public account of any state involvement in the murder.
Sir Desmond is an internationally respected QC who will carry out his work completely independently of Government. He has worked for the United Nations on major international issues in Serbia and Sierra Leone. In 2005, Kofi Annan appointed him to be chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In 2010, he was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to the independent fact-finding mission to investigate the Israeli interception of a Gaza aid flotilla. His track record in carrying out this work speaks for itself.
“from the extensive investigations that have already taken place, to produce a full public account of any involvement by the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Security Service or other UK Government body in the murder of Patrick Finucane. The review will have full access to the Stevens archive and all Government papers, including any Ministry of Defence, Security Service, Home Office, Cabinet Office or Northern Ireland Office files that”
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“by December 2012, for the purpose of its publication.”
I have agreed the terms of reference with Sir Desmond, and I would stress that he is being given unrestricted access to these documents. He will be free to meet any individuals who can assist him in his task. It is, of course, open to him to invite or consider submissions as he sees fit.
The review will have the full support and co-operation of all Government Departments and agencies in carrying out its work. I have spoken to the Chief Constable, who has given his assurance that Sir Desmond will have the full co-operation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This Government have demonstrated in the Bloody Sunday, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson cases that we will publish independent reports without delay. The same checking and publication arrangements will be put in place.
This has been an exceptionally long-running issue. The previous Government sought to resolve the issue after the 2004 commitment to hold an inquiry but were unable to reach an agreed way forward with the family. I am disappointed that the family did not feel able to support the process that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I outlined to them yesterday. I fully recognise that the family have pursued their long campaign to find out the truth with great determination. We do not need a statutory inquiry to tell us that there was collusion. We accept that, and my apology in the House today reflects this. The task now is to uncover the details of this murder. The public should not be kept waiting for many more years for the truth to be revealed.
The Government have taken a bold step by asking an internationally respected figure to produce a full public account. Details in papers and statements that have been kept secret for decades will finally be exposed. The House will be aware of the extensive investigations that have already taken place in this case. I am clear that we do not need to repeat all the work that Lord Stevens has already carried out for the truth to be revealed. The investigations into the murder of Patrick Finucane have produced a huge amount of material. One man, Kenneth Barrett, was prosecuted and convicted of the murder in 2004. Taken together, the Stevens investigations took 9,256 witness statements. The Stevens documentary archive extends to more than 1 million pages; 16,194 exhibits were seized. This was one of the largest police investigations in UK history.
Lord Stevens carried out a police investigation to bring forward evidence for prosecutions. A 19-page summary report was produced in 2003, but the Stevens investigation was not designed to provide a public account of what happened. That is why Sir Desmond de Silva will now have full access to the Stevens files and all Government papers to ensure that the full facts are finally set out. The House will not want to pre-empt the details of Sir Desmond’s report. When the report is published, the Government will not hide from the truth, however difficult.
I strongly believe that this will be the quickest and most effective way of getting to the truth. Experience has shown that public inquiries into the events of the troubles take many years and can be subject to prolonged
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litigation, which delays the truth emerging. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have made clear for some time, we do not believe that more costly and open-ended inquiries are the right way to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.
I am acutely conscious that the conflict in Northern Ireland saw over 3,500 people from all parts of the community killed and tens of thousands more injured. We should never forget the many terrible atrocities that took place. More than 1,000 of those killed were members of the security forces. I want to be clear that the overwhelming majority of those who served in the security forces in Northern Ireland did so with outstanding courage, professionalism and even-handedness in upholding democracy and the rule of law. The whole House will agree that we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
The murder of Patrick Finucane has been one of the longest-running and most contentious issues in Northern Ireland’s recent history. The appointment of an internationally respected and wholly independent figure to produce a full public account demonstrates the Government’s determination that the truth about this murder should be finally revealed. The House will recognise the spirit of openness and frankness with which we are dealing with this difficult issue. I would encourage everyone to judge the process we have established by its results. I commend this statement to the House.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): May I first thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and for the welcome that he has on many occasions extended to me in my new post? I greatly appreciate it, as I do the welcome I have received from many others, too. I am delighted to have been appointed the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I look forward to working in a bipartisan way with the Secretary of State whenever possible, as well as to working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, and all their parties and representatives. I will, however, hold the Government to account and challenge them, where necessary.
Every community in Northern Ireland has suffered outrages, atrocities and murders, but today we are reflecting on the murder of Pat Finucane. His wife was wounded in the attack and his three children witnessed what no child ever should—the murder of their father.
Thirteen months ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward), to whom I pay tribute today for all the work he did in Northern Ireland, asked the Secretary of State to honour the commitments of a previous Prime Minister and previous Secretaries of State to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. That commitment was made as a result of an agreement between the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park in 2001. If peace and reconciliation are to be taken forward, we need to respect such agreements. The progress that has been made in Northern Ireland is built on trust. As we have heard from Judge Cory’s report, public inquiries have been held into the cases of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright, but not into that of Pat Finucane.
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take place under the Inquiries Act 2005, but today the Secretary of State has told us of his decision that there will no inquiry at all. Instead the Government have announced an inadequate review, although the whole country will welcome the apology. We are disappointed by that decision, and think that the Secretary of State should honour commitments that have been made.
The incredible scenes yesterday of the Finucane family at Downing street expressing their feelings of anger and outrage at having been completely let down by the Government show that this is no way in which to deal with such a difficult and sensitive issue. Will the Secretary of State tell us why he allowed the Finucane family to believe for so long that an inquiry would be offered to them? What discussions did he have with them before informing them of his decision? What advice did he give the Prime Minister that led the Prime Minister to invite the family to Downing street? They clearly believed that they would be offered something that would be acceptable to them; otherwise, why raise false hopes? What discussions had the Secretary of State had with his counterpart in the Irish Government before he made his decision?
Why, on the day on which the Irish Government extended by six months the Smithwick inquiry into the murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan regarding alleged Garda collusion, did the Secretary of State choose to deny an inquiry to the Finucane family? Does he accept that, while any form of inquiry takes time and carries a financial cost, it is possible for such inquiries to be both reasonable and not, in themselves, a barrier to the pursuit of justice? As for the proposed review of the Finucane papers, will he tell us how representations—including any from the family—can be made, what the expected cost of such a review will be, where the hearings will be held, whether any will be held in secret, and whether witnesses will be called?
Everything that has been achieved in Northern Ireland since the mid-1990s has been achieved with consensus. The Belfast, St Andrews and Hillsborough Castle agreements were all achieved by means of consensus. The Northern Ireland Executive operate by consensus. There are many horrors from the past, many atrocities, many outrages on the part of both loyalist and republican terrorists, but there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland to escape the grip of the past by confronting the truth about past events. Will the Secretary of State therefore tell us what the Government’s policy is for dealing with the past? Having denied a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane, will he tell us what additional resources he will provide for the Historical Enquiries Team?
The people of Northern Ireland have made real progress, but we must never take such progress for granted. It has taken real effort, commitment and trust. I agree with the Prime Minister: let us do the right thing. May I ask the Secretary of State to think again about an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane because it is the right thing to do? Seeking the truth and honouring agreements means that the cause of justice is served, and with it the cause of a better future for Northern Ireland.
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Northern Ireland issues in a bipartisan manner. He is sitting next to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). The right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward)—who are also present—all played a distinguished part in bringing Northern Ireland to where it is now, continuing work which, in fairness, began under Sir John Major, whose role is often forgotten. I very much hope that we shall continue to work closely with one another. We met privately on Monday, and we have talked today. My door is always open, and I hope that we shall discuss these matters together.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the chronology. I wrote to the Finucane family within weeks—on 28 June last year—asking to meet them. I met Mrs Finucane in November last year, and I think I was the first Secretary of State to meet her since the right hon. Member for Neath met her in 2006. I said then that we had inherited an impasse. We entirely respected the position of the Labour Government, who had committed themselves to a public inquiry, but the right hon. Member for Torfaen had introduced the Inquiries Act 2005, and there appeared to be a jam. We wanted to unlock that jam, and we went into the process in a genuinely open-minded way.
On 11 November last year I issued a written ministerial statement, which the hon. Gentleman will have read, setting out various criteria against which we would make a judgment and inviting representations. It was a very open process, and we took representations. We were still in discussion with the family at the end of the two months, and we extended the period for a further two months. Until yesterday, I last saw Mrs Finucane in Washington on St Patrick’s day. I gave her an assurance that we wanted to come to a conclusion and resolve the impasse, but we could not do so during the Assembly election period. I promised that that would happen soon after.
It has taken longer, however. This has not been an easy issue to resolve, but what we have done is incredibly bold. We believe that by inviting the family to Downing street so that the Prime Minister can make an apology in person, we have moved the whole argument on.
The original justification for a public inquiry was, bluntly, to put the British Government on the spot and to prove that collusion had happened. We have accepted Stevens and Cory, and by making this bold apology—the Prime Minister made it in a full and frank manner, and I have repeated it today on the Floor of the House—we believe we have created an opportunity to move the argument on.
The question now is how do we get to the truth. That was clearly stated towards the end of today’s Prime Minister’s questions. As we have made clear in the build-up to this statement, we firmly believe that costly open-ended inquiries are not necessarily the best way to get to the truth. Speed is also an issue. Past inquiries have taken a long time. The hon. Member for Gedling mentioned Smithwick. That offers a classic example of the trouble we can get into with an inquiry. It had to be extended. The new Government tried to get an interim report in June and to limit the process to November, but it looks as though they will have to extend that.
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documents and there will be more than 9,000 witness statements. That is where the truth lies, and we want to get the truth out. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will come round to agreeing that our approach is novel, bold and brave. It will cost approximately £1.5 million. The main offices will be in London, but obviously that is up to Sir Desmond, and he will certainly be visiting Belfast.
I met Sir Desmond this morning. I have appointed him, and his letter of appointment will be in the Library. He is very keen to get going and to meet the family. How he relates to the family and others is entirely up to him. He can invite people to attend. He does not have the power to demand that witnesses attend, but he will have powers—real powers, I hope—to get access to a huge archive of data. That is where the truth lies—we know the truth is in there—and we now all have an interest in getting to the truth.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the past. As he knows, that is, sadly, a fraught issue. The Minister of State and I have been holding talks since we came into office last June; we have talked to all the political parties and to numerous interest groups. I know about the debate in the Assembly this week. Sadly, as the hon. Gentleman will find out when he goes there on Thursday, there is no consensus on the past. He mentioned the Historical Enquiries Team, which is looking into 3,268 deaths. We are very supportive of it and have always supported it, and we know that it is giving extraordinarily high levels of satisfaction to the families who have so far received reports, but oversight of it is a devolved responsibility, so the hon. Gentleman should discuss funding issues with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford.
The Government in Westminster do not own the past. The solution to the past lies very much in the hands of local politicians. We will help to facilitate things, however. I will continue our talks and I will make further statements on our approach soon.
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for providing me with early sight of the statement, and I agree with him that accepting that there was collusion is not in itself enough, and that we need to get to the truth of who did what. If that is established, will he confirm that any necessary prosecutions will go ahead? Although it is totally right that we praise the quality of the people who served in the security forces in the past and the outstanding way in which they carry out their work now, we must find out the truth in order to protect the image of those people, who deservedly have a high reputation.
I do not believe that it was necessary to spend so much money on past inquiries. It was the Prime Minister’s response to the Saville inquiry that satisfied people in Northern Ireland. Since then, we have had inquiries that were, perhaps, expensive and that did not reach the truth. I therefore support the Secretary of State’s decision and agree that what is important is not how we get to the truth, but actually getting to the truth.
I am grateful to the Select Committee Chairman for his support for what we propose to do. Decisions on prosecutions are entirely in the hands of the local Director of Public Prosecutions, so if this review reveals information that justifies the DPP taking
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action, that is entirely down to him. As I am sure the Chairman knows, on seeing the Stevens papers the previous DPP found that not enough cases met the threshold requirements. I entirely endorse the Chairman’s comments on getting to the truth so that we can honour the vast majority of those who worked in the security forces, bravely defending law and order and democracy. That is exactly what we want to do. There is no offence of collusion, so we need to get to the detail, and I am confident Sir Desmond will do so.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He said: “The public now need to know the extent and nature of that collusion” and the “task now is to uncover the details of this murder.” How can that possibly be achieved when Sir Desmond cannot compel witnesses to give evidence to his inquiry—which is not really an inquiry? That has created grave disappointment in Northern Ireland. I ask the Secretary of State to review yesterday’s decision and to establish an independent public inquiry that will empower witnesses to give evidence about the true nature and extent of collusion.
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. However, the simple answer to it is no; we are cracking on. We think we have found a solution to the conundrum that was not resolved by the last Government. They had the clear policy of holding a public inquiry, but that was not acceptable under the 2005 Act. We think that through our bold measure of a public and personal apology to the family and going ahead with a review of this huge archive—1 million pages, 9,000-plus witness statements, 16,000 exhibits—we will get to the truth. We strongly believe that this is the right course of action, and that we can then move on from this impasse, which we must do because the situation has been festering.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and share his view that the independent review should be conducted by such an honourable, experienced and reputable figure as Sir Desmond de Silva; I believe this is the right way forward. I also appreciate the Secretary of State’s commitment that all arms of the Government will offer unrestricted access to Sir Desmond. The murder of Patrick Finucane was a desperate and despicable act and I applaud the Government’s determination to get to the truth. Finally, may I ask the Secretary of State to keep the House informed of the progress of Sir Desmond’s investigation?
Mr Paterson: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Sir Desmond is an independent figure, and it is not for us to interfere in any way in how he conducts the review and the manner in which he proceeds. We have to get the message across that he is an independent figure, and a man of extraordinary integrity and international standing. He is not going to take any advice or accept any interference from the Government. That is not his role. We have appointed him, he is independent, and it is up to him to report back to us in December 2012.
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up by Tony Blair as part of the peace process, and in breaking the promise that we gave, we are damaging the very foundations of that process. The independent inquiry was fair to everyone; it was fair to the family and the soldiers.
Let me set out my fear. The Secretary of State has said today that he has reached a verdict: there was state collusion. No account has been given of the process by which that verdict has now been reached, however, and we do not know collusion by whom or collusion about what. In this process, we must be fair to the armed forces: we must be fair to those soldiers and members of the police who may need legal representation now. What are they meant to do? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that any men and women who may face prosecution in the future because of his verdict today will be able to have a fair trial?
Mr Paterson: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not supported what we have done. I pay tribute to his work as Secretary of State. He managed to pull off the great coup of seeing the final plank of devolution put in place. Getting the devolution of policing and justice was not an easy task. We worked together, supporting him strongly at the time, and it was a considerable achievement. The House should recognise that and be grateful.
Obviously, given the right hon. Gentleman’s knowledge, I am disappointed by his comments. I do not wish to make a tiresome point, but I did write to Mrs Finucane and met her—he did not. He had three years to resolve this and did not do so. We talked about it privately and we both know how extraordinarily difficult the conundrum was. He stuck to the line, which we have heard again from his successor—it is totally understandable and coherent—that a public inquiry was offered, under the Inquiries Act 2005. We inherited a logjam; I really felt that this issue was festering. People must get hold of the boldness of what we have done. The Prime Minister has invited the family in to apologise in person. We are going to have a really thorough review. Sir Desmond is not a patsy; he is a man of extraordinary integrity and international repute. I fear that the report may be very difficult for us, but we will come to the House, as we did with Saville, with Nelson and with Wright, and make appropriate comments.
“I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that”—
of Patrick Finucane…could have been prevented.”
“I conclude there was collusion in”—
“and the circumstances surrounding”
it. The problem is that there is no offence of collusion, which is why we have appointed Sir Desmond. As I said in answer to a previous question, should evidence come forward that, in the opinion of the DPP, goes over the threshold, the legal process will take its course.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con):
This widespread though not unanimous support for the statement by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister has been seen before when other Prime Ministers
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and Secretaries of State have taken initiatives to break logjams. I put it to the Secretary of State that getting to the truth is an important part of coming to terms with history. May I end by saying that we should respect and support lawyers, journalists and families who stand by those who are victims or potential victims, those who are accused and even those who have been convicted, because representing the unpopular and the marginal is an important part of an open and democratic society?
Mr Paterson: I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. He served as a Northern Ireland Minister and is aware of the sensitivities of issues in Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right to say that lawyers and politicians who stand up for unpopular, controversial views have every right to speak and every right to life. That is why this murder is shocking, and it is why we want to get to the truth and find out what happened.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I begin by welcoming the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) to his post as shadow Secretary of State, and I look forward to working with him. He has good experience of Northern Ireland and I am sure that we will have useful exchanges in the weeks and months ahead.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today in the House. The murder of Pat Finucane in my constituency was an atrocious, terrible, despicable crime. Every person involved, either in carrying out that murder or complicit in it, deserves to be brought to justice—let there be no mistake and equivalence on this issue. Does the Secretary of State accept that across Northern Ireland reasonable people on all sides agree that the idea of more costly, open-ended inquiries into such crimes is simply not reasonable, not least on the grounds of expense, but also because it has been proved that they do not bring closure and elevate certain crimes above others? He has already referred to the fact that more than 3,000 people have been murdered, 1,000 of them in the security forces. We owe it to all the victims to ensure that all murders are investigated, that their relatives are equally cherished and that there is justice for everyone. In going forward, an absolute assurance must be given for those who have died that the interests of terrorists and those who carried out terrorism are not elevated to the same status as those who protected communities and who were totally innocent.
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for welcoming our proposals, and I admired his wholehearted denunciation of this terrible crime. I agree with him; I think that the approach of the Historical Enquiries Team is correct. It is treating every one of these appalling deaths—3,268 deaths is a dreadful number—in an equal manner. In some cases, its attempts meet with great difficulty, as there is limited evidence—limited forensics, no DNA and so on. I admire the consistent record of satisfaction that the HET has given to the families who have received reports so far.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):
I commend my right hon. Friend’s selection of Sir Desmond de Silva for the task. Sir Desmond is an outstanding international lawyer. He prosecuted war crimes in Sierra Leone in very difficult circumstances, and it is worth the House recalling that he managed to indict Charles Taylor for war crimes, establishing for the first time under international law that Heads of State did not have immunity from prosecution
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for war crimes. Sir Desmond is a fearless lawyer. May I ask my right hon. Friend for some clarification? Will Sir Desmond be treated by the machinery of government, and by everyone involved, with the courtesy that would be extended to a High Court judge? What exactly are his powers?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome of Sir Desmond’s appointment and I wholly endorse the description of him as fearless. The House perhaps does not know that as a young barrister, aged 28, Sir Desmond represented 16 individuals facing death at the gallows, and that he saw off several assassination attempts and the 16 people were acquitted. He is someone of real international integrity and repute. I did say that I would place his letter of appointment in the Library, and it is for a distinguished lawyer such as my hon. Friend to decide whether the powers are similar to those of judges or other lawyers. The Government have said that we will make available all the papers that Sir Desmond wishes to see, and I do not think that I can make a more open or clear statement than that.
Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): In 2004, I announced the inquiries into the deaths of Nelson, Billy Wright and Hamill, and in September of that year I also announced an inquiry into the Pat Finucane case. It seems to me that we were under an obligation to do that because of agreements that had been held, and anything that falls short of that obviously will not get the support of the Finucane family. They did not support the idea of an inquiry under the 2005 legislation, but they certainly will not support this so-called “inquiry”. However distinguished the lawyer, it simply is not going to work. I urge the Secretary of State to think again.
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute, again, to his distinguished work in Northern Ireland, but I would remind him of the position that I just described to one of his successors, the right hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward). We were facing an impasse. We fully respected what he had done and the reasons for introducing the 2005 Act, following the Saville inquiry, which was getting out of control—everyone understood that. We understood the commitment he made at Weston Park, but this was going nowhere. It is no good having a Mexican stand-off, with things going nowhere, because we want to move Northern Ireland on. This is an extraordinarily fraught and difficult case. I think that we have been very bold and courageous in making this apology—a full, frank apology to the family, given face to face with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in Downing street—and then working with the family to establish the truth.
Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the leadership offered by the Prime Minister, as well as his bold apology. I think it is absolutely right that we do that. I offer my sympathies to the Finucane family, as I do to the 3,500 other families out there who lost loved ones in a tragic period of the history of these islands. The truth is important, but I have a school in Ilkley that needs to be rebuilt, and after the obscene amount of money that has been spent on previous inquiries, I say to the Secretary of State that I would rather see taxpayers’ money spent there than on filling the pockets of lawyers in Belfast. Does he agree with me?
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Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to him as someone who served in the armed forces in Northern Ireland at a very difficult time, trying to maintain the peace and to preserve law and order and democracy. He and I, as Conservatives, were elected on a platform of no more costly and open-ended inquiries and we are quite clear about that. I am more concerned, however, about the effectiveness of the inquiries. My worry, having met Mrs Finucane, is the time they take and the complication that they cause. I believe that our solution will get to the truth quicker than a public inquiry would have done.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): We all feel for Geraldine Finucane and her family today after what they found to be a pretty insulting and insensitive experience yesterday with the let-down in Downing street. We also feel for all the victims of the troubles, many of whom still deserve truth and not just from the state. Will the Secretary of State explain how the Finucane family clearly had a different understanding or impression of what was going to be offered yesterday? Will he also explain whether the Irish Government were fully briefed as the full partners of the Weston Park commitments on what was afoot and what was to unfold? Will the Secretary of State stop patronising the family and this House by talking about a bold move to resolve an impasse, because all he has done is bypass the case for an inquiry by setting up a twilight-zone review that will not be able to compel witnesses?
Mr Paterson: I resent that statement. I wrote to Mrs Finucane on 28 June, three weeks after we came to power, inviting her in. Unlike my predecessor, I had a meeting with her and her son and we set out very clearly in a written statement, which the hon. Gentleman saw on 11 November 2010, the criteria against which we could make a decision. It is most unfortunate—and we were genuinely very disappointed yesterday at the reaction, because we have looked at all sorts of options and we have been working on this. We made it clear—[Interruption.] We made it clear in our statement to the House that there was a range of criteria against which we would make a decision, bearing in mind the commitments and the position of the family. We talked about delays, we mentioned the political developments that have happened since in Northern Ireland. A whole range of criteria were very clearly laid out in a transparent manner in a written ministerial statement and at no stage did we give them any misleading information about where our decision was going. There has been nothing said in public.
I am in regular contact with the Irish Government. I was in Dublin last week, where I saw the Tanaiste, and the Prime Minister spoke to the Taoiseach yesterday. I spoke to the Tanaiste twice, I spoke to the Minister for Justice and Equality and I am in regular contact with the Irish ambassador. We are in regular contact and they knew that we were getting nearer a solution, but it is an incredibly sensitive subject and we made it quite clear to everyone that we had to talk to the family first.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he confirm that all the material and all the conclusions of Sir Desmond’s report will be made fully available to this House and the public regardless of how embarrassing that might be to Her Majesty’s Government?
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Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We are absolutely clear. We have been quite open about previous reports—Saville, Nelson, Billy Wright. They were uncomfortable, difficult reports but we came straight to the House of Commons as soon as we could and made a statement. We intend to do that, whatever Sir Desmond uncovers.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): As others have said, the path to peace in Northern Ireland has been based on a willingness to negotiate and to honour agreements. I regret, as others do, the fact that the Finucane family would not accept a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act, but does the Secretary of State not accept—I say this not to score points, but as a genuine supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland—that there is a real risk that public confidence in the Government’s good faith will have been undermined by this decision and that cracking on, as he put it, is not always the best way in Northern Ireland? What I learned there was that it is never too late, and I urge him again to reconsider.
Mr Paterson: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question and give credit to him for the work he did in his years as Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland. We remain in touch—we even saw each other at the Conservative party conference last week, which he might be embarrassed to have on the record—and I am sorry that he does not agree. We had a problem. It was no good saying that we had inherited the Labour position of offering an inquiry under the Inquiries Act, which the family would not accept. We had to do something. We had to look at a way of resolving the issue, as we want to move on. I made it very clear to Mrs Finucane when I met her that we wanted to find a solution. Our solution was not to carry on with the impasse but to be imaginative. As I have said, I think our solution is bold and brave. I have great confidence that Sir Desmond will get to the truth and that we will come back here in December 2012 with a very robust report that will help move Northern Ireland on. It is not satisfactory that we do not know what happened in this case.
Mr Speaker: Order. These are matters of the utmost seriousness and I very much appreciate the Secretary of State’s attempt to engage with each questioner, but may I gently point out that progress has been, to put it mildly, leisurely to date and if I am to accommodate all colleagues, which I wish to do, there is therefore a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike from now on. We will be led in this exercise by Mr Mel Stride.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall indeed be brief. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, not least his reiteration of the apology to the Finucane family for collusion. Will he confirm that although we will not be seeking uncosted and open inquiries in the future, sufficient resources, as deemed by Sir Desmond, will be made available to enable a full and serious review?
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Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I first pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of security forces who served in Northern Ireland with great professionalism and bravery. Last week, my family received the review summary report on the brutal murder of my loved ones, Robert and Rachel McLernon, on 7 February 1976. We are studying that at this present time. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that all innocent victims of violence—including those at Darkley, Teebane, La Mon and so on—have a right to justice rather than our yielding to the endless demands of a select few?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and I wholly endorse his comments on those who served. I have already said in previous responses that I admire the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which treats every one of these victims the same and does its very best under difficult circumstances and sometimes, tragically, with limited evidence, to get as near as it can to the truth.
John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government might have got this badly wrong? Will he also concede today that it was a crass misjudgment to invite the Finucane family across yesterday, raising hopes and expectations, only to tell them that the pledge of a proper public inquiry had been withdrawn? So that the House can be clear about the responsibility, was the misjudged decision his or the Prime Minister’s?
Mr Paterson: I regret the tone of that question. Sadly, the right hon. Gentleman has completely missed the point. We came in and inherited an impasse—I do not want to vex you, Mr Speaker, by repeating this. The previous Government, whom the right hon. Gentleman supported, was going nowhere on this and we had to break the logjam. I made the approach, I met the family, I put out the written statement and I discussed this with the Prime Minister. We are a collegiate Government and we worked this out together, but it was the Prime Minister’s personal apology in Downing street that was a very bold gesture to move this on.
Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State accept that cracking on in the wrong direction may not be the right thing to do and that this tragic case has roots that lead right back to this House and a previous Government? A Home Office Minister in this House pointed the finger at lawyers a few days before Pat Finucane was murdered and that was sufficient endorsement for a few people—elements in the police and security forces—to send out lunatics in the loyalist paramilitaries to plan the murder of three lawyers, two of whom, now deceased, were friends of mine. The dogs in the street knew this at the time. In doing that, disrepute was brought on hon. Members across the House and those elsewhere who were members of the security forces and of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
We now accept that there was collusion. May I ask the Secretary of State whether the proposed review will confine itself to the narrow details of the murder of Pat Finucane, or will it include investigations into the wider collusion and plotting to kill those other lawyers? Does
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he know of the destruction of any papers? He will be aware that papers are brought in. I am concerned that Sir Desmond, who is a very honourable and highly reputable man, does not have the power to summon people and papers; his teeth have been removed and many of the papers have been taken out.
Mr Paterson: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I read out the terms of reference, but they are very clear that the review is to draw on the extensive investigations that have already taken place—I have listed the organisations—into the murder of Pat Finucane. That is quite clear.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): The former intelligence officer and private investigator Philip Campbell Smith has admitted to hacking the computer of another intelligence officer on behalf of Alex Marunchak of News International. Campbell Smith was arrested for witness intimidation of the very same intelligence officer, who was supposedly the only officer from the intelligence community co-operating with the Stevens inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. It is alleged that when he was interviewed by the police he admitted that a special branch officer working on the Stevens investigation gave that personal information. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to allowing Sir Desmond access, presumably, to the police statement that was given, but if Sir Desmond wants to interview that special branch officer and that officer refuses, what powers will Sir Desmond have to get to the truth?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful for that question, and the hon. Gentleman has made some interesting comments. These are issues for Sir Desmond to resolve, but we believe that he will find the truth in the 9,000 statements taken under caution. We should not be under any illusion that some of the previous public inquiries got all witnesses to come forward. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) did not turn up to an inquiry and was fined £5,000 because, on a point of principle, he did not want to give information. We need to get away from the idea that a public inquiry will always bring witnesses forward and will always be more effective. We have 9,000 witness statements and 1 million pages to investigate as a route to the truth. I think that is a quicker way of doing things.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and his recommitment to recognising the dedication and bravery of the security forces, 99.9% of whom have obeyed, kept and upheld the law. Nothing that is said today should sully the names of those people. Does the Secretary of State understand that in Northern Ireland the track record of public inquiries is not perceived as good? Even where Governments have indicated that inquiries should not be expensive, they have been, and where Governments have said that they should bring closure, they have not brought closure. Does he accept that today’s statement and announcement should mean that we start spending scarce resources on the future rather than wasting them on the past?
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more costly and open-ended inquiries. We believe this is a swifter and better route and I agree that if we can resolve some of these outstanding issues—I have gone on about the impasse—we can all begin to address problems of the present and the future. That is what we are trying to do.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): All the atrocities committed were condemned at the time, during the 1980s and 1990s, and there was no selective condemnation. Whatever the sources of the murders, they were condemned by both sides of the House. However, will the Secretary of State recognise that this case is different, because of the extent of collusion by the state, and that the integrity of the state itself is in question. Bearing in mind that there have been two previous one-person inquiries—by Stevens and Judge Cory—that have not reached a satisfactory conclusion, is it not understandable that the family who have fought so hard for justice are so disappointed by the decision that has been reached?
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): May I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and express my disappointment that the anger that has been expressed by the family is being used to indicate that the peace process in Northern Ireland is so fragile that it will somehow fall apart as a result of the disappointment of one family? The Secretary of State has given us details about the inquiry, but will he also tell us the cost of the inquiry so far and give us an assurance that this marks a permanent end to the expensive public inquiry process of dealing with the past, which has done nothing to heal wounds but has filled the wallets of lawyers?
Mr Paterson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. This is not an inquiry—it is a review—and I appointed Sir Desmond only this morning. To repeat, we estimate the cost to be £1.5 million. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s opinion that we need to move on. Let me pick up on an earlier comment. A few weeks ago, I was in Enniskillen, where I met about 100 young people who were asked their three priorities. Not one of them mentioned the past. I think there is a generational issue here. For those affected—the 3,268 people and any of their relatives and for the Finucane family—these events are absolutely, shatteringly appalling. Their whole adult lives have been dominated by them and we have to recognise that, but there is a new generation coming through and we have to think about them. That is why we have to resolve these outstanding issues and move on.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):
Soon after I was elected in 1997, I led an Adjournment debate on the Finucane case and I do not doubt the Minister’s wish to move on. However, one thing I learned in that debate and afterwards was that unless the family sanctions
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the process of moving on, this will be a futile exercise. No one doubts the abilities of Sir Desmond de Silva, but, as has been pointed out, he will not have the legally enforceable right either to access papers or to demand the appearance of witnesses. I believe that unless the process has the family’s approval it will be tainted from the outset. The family was shocked yesterday. May I ask the Minister, before he takes the next step, to take a pause to allow the family to consider its position, come back and enter into more dialogue with the Government before we blunder into yet another mistake?
Mr Paterson: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that attitude. I do not want to repeat myself too often, but we inherited an impasse. The solution proposed by his Government was going nowhere; indeed, it was not a solution and this was festering. We fully appreciate the horror of this murder and the international significance of it. We honestly believe that getting the Prime Minister to invite the family over and meet them in person was a bold, brave move, and we sincerely believe that the appointment of this international lawyer of impeccable integrity will get to the truth faster than would have happened under a statutory inquiry, which the family would not have accepted.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): It seems strange for the Secretary of State to say that the truth lies in the archives. It would then have lain in the archives for over 22 years; if the truth is there, why is someone not already in jail? Witnesses need to be called in a proper way, and that could happen only through a public inquiry. Clearly, this is more about the Conservative party looking to its manifesto and saving money than about justice being done.
Mr Paterson: I regret the tone of that contribution, which reduces the level of our debate, and I wholly reject what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that the Prime Minister took a bold step. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s views will be refuted in December 2012.
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The Secretary of State said that his party was elected on a platform of no more expensive or open-ended inquiries, but I am not convinced that the coalition came into government with that stance. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has apologised for state collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane, but I was a bit disconcerted when the Secretary of State said in his statement that collusion was not itself a criminal offence. Representatives of the state have acted criminally; a criminal investigation should ensue. Prosecution of those complicit in the murder of Pat Finucane should come after that. May we have some guarantees that that will take place?
Mr Paterson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that the Director of Public Prosecutions is, and should remain, wholly independent of Government. The previous DPP found that some cases did not achieve the necessary threshold. Obviously, should Sir Desmond reveal evidence in his report, in line with the independence vested in him, it will be entirely for the DPP to investigate and pursue it.
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Points of Order
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, the BBC announced 2,000 job cuts. That is a direct result of the licence fee imposed on it by the Government. We were expecting some form of ministerial statement on the subject—at least a written one, if not an oral one. Have you had any indication from the Government that a Minister will come before the House to give some form of statement on the subject?
“I’m not aware—my colleagues may be—where trusts are seeking to manage their costs by downgrading of existing staff. If you are aware of that, please, by all means, tell us but I’m not aware of it.”
“the Royal College of Nursing has raised the issue of downbanding with the Secretary of State on a number of occasions, alongside other concerns such as recruitment freezes and redundancies in the NHS.”
Mr Speaker: The short answer is that I am aware of neither, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and advance notice of her intention to raise it. The issue, in so far as we are talking about appearances before a Committee, is a matter for the Committee rather than the Chair, unless and until the Committee draws the matter to the attention of the House. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has registered her concerns forcefully on the record.
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United Kingdom Bioethanol Industry
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay before Parliament an independent report on methods for supporting the domestic bioethanol production industry; and for connected purposes.
“Whatever it takes to help our businesses…we’ll do it.”
Well, now is his chance. The UK bioethanol industry has invested more than £500 million over the past five years, and a lot more is planned. That is based on the UK’s commitment to implementing the EU renewable energy directive and having biofuel content in our petrol.
Ensus has built Europe’s largest bioethanol refinery in my constituency, and it started up in February 2010. More investment is planned in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). However, the Ensus plant came offline at the end of May and remains shut. The situation is uncertain. The jobs of 2,000 people at the plant and in the supply chain are at risk. This is not a tale of commercial gross misjudgement; it is mostly a tale of being let down by politicians. Sadly, it is a common story. Instead of leading the world in green technology, we are way behind and playing catch-up, but other countries are moving even faster. In 2010, we slipped from third to 10th in the world green investment league.
So what are the problems affecting the bioethanol industry? First, the previous Government repeatedly delayed and watered down the renewable transport fuel obligation. They had form, with similar dithering bankrupting the early investors in biodiesel production. The original 2003 target was 8.8% by 2010-11. The target now is 5%, which will not be reached until 2013-14, so there has been major delay. That has radically moved the goalposts for an industry that has a long lead time for investments coming on stream.
Secondly, there are issues to do with UK fiscal policy, which actually discriminates against biofuels. Those fuels are, by their nature, energy products, but they are taxed by volume at the same rate as the fossil fuels that they are intended to replace. As biofuels have a lower energy content by volume, they face a heavier tax burden despite being the greener option. That is hindering the uptake of biofuels in the UK.
The EU Commission has announced proposals to revise the energy taxation directive, which are now being negotiated by the European Council. Under the revised directive, transport fuels would be taxed, at the minimum level, according to energy content and carbon content, rather than by volume. The UK should support the adoption of the revisions to the directive at EU level and reform UK fiscal policy. Transport fuels with the best carbon and sustainability performance should be available to the consumer at the pump at the lowest cost, in terms of pence per mile.
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their production. Bioethanol used for blending with petrol in transport fuel is imported to the UK already partly blended. It is then classified as a chemical product and dealt with under chapter 38 of the UK trade tariff. The customs duty payable is much lower than it ought to be, especially when comparison is made with many other EU member states. Bioethanol imported under that code is able to undercut the market, with damaging consequences for our industry. Many other EU states such as Germany have ensured that only unadulterated ethanol qualifies towards their targets under their renewable transport fuel obligation. That is imported under the equivalent of chapter 22 of the UK trade tariff classification, which carries a much higher tariff. Through that method, they shield their domestic market from the aggressive and unfair import of bioethanol that we experience here.
It is clear that the tariffs present a major problem for the industry. A new operator, Vireol, claims that it has already missed out on a significant multi-million-pound equity investment from a major industry player because of our approach to tariffs, as compared with the approach taken by competing member states. It sees our stance as a serious impediment to the development of a thriving industry in the United Kingdom.
There is a vote on the issue today in Brussels. It beggars belief that only last week a Department for Transport official seriously suggested that the UK should vote against our long-term national interest based on a short-term, tactical, economic assessment. That would mean supporting the US in undermining our industry, based on its subsidised material, which is chemically doctored to exploit a tariff loophole. We need real strategic thinking.
One final issue: the Department of Energy and Climate Change is not always clear about sustainability criteria. Some products are less green than others, and investors need clarity on that vital policy issue. There is a serious lack of joined-up thinking across government when it comes to green technology. The issues are very likely to involve the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Treasury. They will sometimes involve the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and in this case they involve the Department for Transport.
I welcome the recent formation of the green technology council to address the problem of co-ordination. Here is what the Government need to do: I want the green technology council to look urgently at the bioethanol situation. Using this example, it should formulate how to get all Departments and the civil service joined up, fighting together ruthlessly for the national interest as we forge our green future. I want to see the Department for Transport implement the renewable transport fuel obligation as soon as possible and in a predictable way to give the industry the market that it plans for when making major investment decisions. I want to see the Treasury tax biofuels by energy or carbon content, not by volume, and I want to see the UK take action on US imports, get them properly classified and stop this material being dumped here.
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of sustainability. The feedstock is animal feed wheat. The products are bioethanol for use in road fuel, carbon dioxide which, in a separate £20 million investment by another company, is collected for use in the food and drink industry, and animal feed which contains all the protein in the original wheat. It is highly valued by farmers and replaces the import of high protein soya-based animal feed from South America, which is most likely grown on former rain forest land. Those who worry about land use should remember that under the crazy common agricultural policy we are currently paying our farmers not to grow things.
“the NFU has been made acutely aware of the current damage being created to the development of the UK biofuels industry from ethanol imports which can exploit loopholes in the tariffs structure and classification definitions, undermining sustainably produced domestic biofuels.”
“additional implications for UK agriculture; reducing market diversity which supports our farm investment, agricultural jobs and rural development while additionally putting at risk availability of useful by-products such as protein for livestock feeds, continuing our increasing reliance on imported products.”
This is an excellent business to have in the UK. Our feed wheat yields are some of the highest anywhere in Europe and the high starch varieties typically grown in the UK are ideally suited—[Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there are far too many private conversations going on in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has the Floor for his ten-minute rule Bill. Conversations should go on outside the Chamber.
Ian Swales: This is an excellent business to have in the UK. The wheat grown here is ideal for producing bioethanol. We can have a more efficient and cost-effective business than that of Germany, France or Belgium, yet we are significantly lagging behind those countries. The UK has a proud record in process industries and bioethanol should be a key part of our industrial future.
There are many benefits to taking action. A thriving bioethanol industry will help us meet our climate change targets. Energy security will be improved by literally growing our own. Action will encourage further investment in green manufacturing and technology development. There are already other exciting possibilities, above all growth. When fully running Ensus has a turnover of around £250 million. To supply future UK needs there is a £3 billion business out there.
The Bill should be seen as part of the Government’s vital growth agenda and requires that the Chancellor lay before the House a report on the industry. It should cover the specific tax and tariff issues mentioned earlier in my speech, how to encourage further rapid investment in this green industry so that the UK can match the activity of its competitors, and how to ensure that the UK Government and civil service are properly lined up in support. The Government now have a golden opportunity to show that they are serious about their commitments to being green, to promoting manufacturing
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and, above all, to growth. We should be supporting our jobs, supporting our growth and supporting our bioethanol industry.