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Mr. Hain: The issue of corporate manslaughter has concerned the Government for some time. We are trying to get our proposals right. I think that my hon. Friend will be encouraged by the progress that we are making and by our intention to take the matter forward with a view to legislation.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for not hanging me out to dry. My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 1845, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen).

[That this House welcomes the judgement in favour of the Meadows family in their case versus London North Securities; and urges the Government to bring forward legislation to prevent similar activities by loan sharks.]

My right hon. Friend will know about the Meadows family, whose £5,000 debt was multiplied by a factor of 30. Can he arrange for a debate on the subject of loan sharks in the relatively near future—or, instead, will he submit those among his Treasury colleagues who believe that there should be no limit to interest rates and charges to a rugby tackle?

Mr. Hain: I would never dream of hanging my hon. Friend out to dry—I might get very wet in the process if I tried.

By modernising consumer credit markets, we are driving out the rogues and giving consumers many more rights. My hon. Friend is right to identify the scandalous role of loan sharks, which was exposed in a recent court case. Extensive consumer credit reform is in progress. When time permits, we plan to introduce legislation that will make it much easier for people to challenge unfair loan agreements so that they do not have to face the added burden of a lengthy and expensive court battle to rid themselves of the dreadful burden inflicted on them.
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4 Nov 2004 : Column 467

Point of Order

1.22 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Page 799 of "Erskine May", which deals with the membership of Standing Committees, says that

should be "properly reflected" in the Standing Committee. And of course we know that the Committee of Selection never makes mistakes.

The Leader of the House admitted a few moments ago that there has been criticism of the Standing Committee considering the Gambling Bill, which, it has been suggested, is packed with cronies. None of the 70 Labour rebels—more than the parliamentary membership of the Liberal Democrat party—appears to have been appointed as a member of the Committee. In that light, Mr. Speaker, I ask your guidance as to whether "Erskine May" needs to be reviewed on that point. What is particularly surprising is that I am quoting a brand new edition from 2004 and there it is in black and white. Can you help us on this matter, Mr. Speaker?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can answer that point of order. My understanding is that the vote on Second Reading took place largely along party lines, so I assume that the Committee of Selection took that matter into consideration.

Mr. Hain: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the information of the House, I have been advised that none of the 29 Government Back-Bench Members who voted against the Bill applied to sit on the Committee. Similar accusations were made in respect of the Higher Education Bill, but they proved to be groundless as there was vigorous debate during the Committee stage.

Mr. Speaker: In my days as a Back Bencher, a Committee of Selection sometimes invited Back Benchers to sit on a Committee, but I shall not be drawn further on that one.

4 Nov 2004 : Column 468

Defence Procurement

[Relevant documents: The Sixth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 572, Defence Procurement, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6388]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Watson.]

1.24 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The professionalism and bravery of the men and women who serve in our armed forces are beyond question. We are rightly proud of the job that they do. The Government are committed to providing them with the capabilities and the support that they need in today's increasingly dangerous world. That is why we are investing in defence.

This July's spending review saw the defence budget increase by £3.7 billion over the next three years. That is the longest period of sustained real growth in planned defence spending for more than 20 years. It is our job to make sure that that extra money is spent in the best way possible. We must ensure that it makes a difference at the place where, every day, our armed forces make a difference: the front line.

We will spend more than £6 billion this year on new equipment and more than £8 billion supporting it. The management of those resources is a huge task. In giving our armed forces the best equipment that we can, we are also committed to delivering value for money to the taxpayer. In doing so, we support the British economy, helping to maintain key parts of our manufacturing and technology base.

Our procurement performance and the armed forces' equipment are rightly subject to a huge amount of scrutiny. However, sometimes there is unfair and unbalanced criticism. Yes, there have been disappointing delays and cost growth on some of our major legacy projects, but there have also been significant achievements.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP) rose—

Mr. Ingram: No, let me get on with the statement. It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, as he did not participate in the last debate and did not attend Defence questions. I know that he is the SNP's defence spokesperson, so he has obviously realised that he has a job to do. I will allow him to intervene later.

Let me provide some recent examples from Operation Telic in Iraq. First, we have seen the successful employment of the devastatingly accurate Storm Shadow missiles for the first time. Then there has been the delivery of the Mamba artillery locating radar system six months early, allowing troops to identify enemy positions, which saves soldiers' lives. Also, the world-leading Bowman personal role radio provided a significant boost to our infantry's capability. The US Marines were so impressed that they bought some of that equipment.

Angus Robertson: I want to pick up on a point of scrutiny. Is it the case that the UK Government, unlike the US Government, still do not publish a comparative
4 Nov 2004 : Column 469
report on defence offset and its impact on the economy and defence manufacturing base? Are not foreign contractors obliged to submit regular reports to the Ministry of Defence every six months, updating their progress on UK offset obligations? If it is possible for the US to publish those details and scrutinise offset there, why is it not the case here?

Mr. Ingram: I think that the best thing would be for me to write to the hon. Gentleman about that. There are reasons why we adopt our particular position. It is not because of the lack of intensity of pressure on companies to deliver, or an unwillingness to see the achievement of all the objectives of a procurement stream being implemented within the UK. My experience tells me that there are good reasons why we do not necessarily put these matters under public scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders as if this were a great mystery. My experience in Government tells me that we do not do things lightly, but after long and careful consideration. Sometimes there are good established practices, but it does not mean that we do not consider whether there might be a better way of doing things. I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but as ever, there is more depth to the issue than the headline that he is obviously chasing.

The National Audit Office report on Operation Telic concluded that our equipment performed well and was effectively supported, and that the numerous items of new equipment that we deployed proved their effectiveness. But we are not complacent. We believe that we can do even better and that industry can do better, too. We have set ourselves demanding standards and today's debate will help to explain how we will    deliver against those standards. Equipment procurement is not just about today's operations. We have to plan over decades, predicting the challenges that our servicemen and women will face in the future and then equip them to meet those challenges. That is no easy task and there is no simple formula for success.

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