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The money is not there according to the hon. Gentleman’s leader, but he says he will spend more.

That is not the end of the confusion. In the last defence debate, the hon. Member for Woodspring criticised our defence spending but could not come up with a figure for how much defence spending should be, despite the fact that at the beginning of his speech he had suggested he had been ready to go into a general election a week beforehand. He was not in a position to give us a figure despite what he had suggested; he said we would need to wait for an election. Yesterday, when he was pressed on the issue on BBC South West, he also refused to give a straightforward answer. We cannot have such posturing. If the Opposition’s policy is to spend more on defence, they must clearly tell us that that is the case; otherwise, we should look at what they do rather than at what they say—which is what they suggest we do in terms of others. What did they do when in government? They cut defence spending.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State comes back neatly to the point on which I wanted to intervene. Does he not accept that the context becomes very different between the end of the cold war, when defence expenditure was rightly cut—with the support of the Labour party—and the embarking on two new wars?

When the right hon. Gentleman says that expenditure is being increased by 1.5 per cent. above inflation, is he not ignoring the testimony of those defence finance experts who point out that for most major defence projects, inflation rises at a much higher rate than the average? The 1.5 per cent. above inflation increase will not enable us even to continue to pay for what we are already funding, let alone have any real increase.

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman needs to be consistent with the logic of his intervention. He should have told the House the figure that those experts say defence inflation sits at: 7.7 per cent. Is he suggesting that the Conservatives would increase defence spending by 7.7 per cent.? I do not accept any of the facts that he asserts, but he has to accept them. He has to have a policy that responds to the arguments that he himself trots out. My point is that there has been a real increase in defence spending in the period in which we have been in power. That is unequivocal—it is a fact.

Regardless of how much resource is available, the defence programme is always a balance between current and future needs, as we have heard some speakers point out today. Our focus is on success in current operations and ensuring that those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have the capabilities they need. Since 2001, £6.6 billion has been provided from the Treasury reserve to cover the cost of those operations. I
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accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that committing troops to operations carries a cost, which has to be met. We have delivered equipment valued at more than £10 billion to our armed forces over the past three years alone, with priority given to equipping people on or training for operations. We continue to review that balance between current and future needs in terms of both equipment and military force structure.

We cannot afford not to invest for the future, but the CSR settlement gives us the opportunity to do just that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomed our decision to acquire two new aircraft carriers and to provide funds to cover the additional costs of sustaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the Trident submarines.

Dr. Lewis indicated assent.

Des Browne: I see the hon. Gentleman nod in approval. Obviously, we got the rate of inflation right on both of those substantial investments.

Mr. Ellwood: The Secretary of State is right to say that a lot of defence spending has gone into Iraq and Afghanistan. The question is how much money has been spent on defence while we were there? We are just about to withdraw from Iraq, and what has changed? Had we managed to get the reconstruction and redevelopment right, there would not be the pressure on the defence budget that we have now. Exactly the same is true of Afghanistan. We are facing these pressures now because of the failure of DFID, the FCO and the MOD to work together. That is what is having an impact on the MOD budget.

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman has said several times during the debate that there have been failings on the part of other Departments to respond to the opportunities generated by the military, but he knows, probably better than many right hon. and hon. Members because he spends a lot of time in Afghanistan in particular—it is to his credit that he goes there to see conditions on the ground—the nature and the scale of the challenges. He knows that the time scale that he imposes for the purposes of the debating point that he has made today is unrealistic, but he knows also that the situation in Iraq is improving—it is fragile, but improving and moving in the right direction. Fundamentally, he knows—this is the argument that he makes in respect of Afghanistan—that the long-term future of the Iraqi people, the stability of their country and their economic opportunities can be provided only by Iraqi solutions. The development of the Iraqis themselves, through their own security forces, politics and governance, will be their future, rather than, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, the failure of one Department of one country that was involved in the situation over a comparatively short period. That false argument is not worthy of him, given his knowledge and understanding of the complexity of these issues. I do not think he is right and I reject his thesis.

Mr. Hendrick: Clearly, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) is not willing to say what his party would spend on defence if there were a Conservative Government. Now that the right hon.
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Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is back in his place, will he clarify his earlier point about whether, in the event of a Conservative Government and the European reform treaty having been passed in both Houses, he would put it to a referendum? Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State invite the shadow Foreign Secretary to clarify his position?

Des Browne: I am happy to be a channel for that question to be put to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. He has heard it, and if he chooses to intervene in order to answer it, I shall give way to him. I see that he wants to stay in his seat, and that does not surprise me.

I shall try to deal with two matters that are exercising people considerably. The hon. Member for Woodspring asked me to explain urgent operational requirements. For those who do not understand how this system works, I must say that it is quite simple. When the armed forces deploy in operations, no matter how well equipped they are, we know that they will always face challenges unique to the specific geographical location or adversaries that they face. That is why Treasury funds are available to supplement existing capabilities. The facts are that since 2001, we have spent £2.2 billion doing just that. No urgent operational requirement has ever been refused on cost grounds; money is not the issue.

Increasingly, however, we find that the threat that our troops face is evolving at a more rapid rate than previously envisaged. It is no exaggeration to say that the threat from improvised explosive devices evolved more quickly in 12 months in Iraq than it did in 30 years in Northern Ireland. This threat is no longer bounded in one place because al-Qaeda —[Interruption.] I shall come to the Defence Export Services Organisation in a moment, and if hon. Gentlemen do not interrupt me, they will get their answer. Al-Qaeda tries to pass knowledge on to terrorists around the world.

I think that everybody agrees that the equipment programme needs to adapt to reflect this reality, and that means that we need platforms that can be easily upgraded and the funding flexibility to do just that. We need to rely less on what is, by definition, an ad-hoc arrangement to provide such capabilities, but we need time to build this into our plans. That is why we have agreed with the Treasury a new approach, and I shall explain it. Over the three years of the comprehensive spending review period, the reserve will continue to pay all additional costs up front and will pay outright for urgent operational requirements up to a mutually agreed total. Beyond that, the MOD and the Treasury will split the costs 50:50, with the MOD only having to repay its share two years later, by which time we will have begun to adjust the equipment programme. The Treasury has given us an extra £200 million in 2010-11 to ensure that the new arrangements are cost neutral to defence across the CSR period.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex raised DESO, asking again many of the questions that have already been answered. Just to be clear, yes, I knew about the decision before it was announced and no, we did not consult on the principle of the decision because it was entirely a matter for Government and it was only right for us to set the strategic direction. As the Prime Minister said in his July announcement, we made this decision to enable greater institutional alignment
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across Government and to build on the success of UK Trade and Investment and DESO. This should improve the support that we give the defence industry, not detract from it, and it will do so. We are working across industry and across Government to implement the new arrangements as quickly as possible.

Lord Drayson’s name has been mentioned frequently in this debate. Some have implied—the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex indeed stated—that they knew why my noble Friend resigned and that it was not for the reason given in his resignation letter. My noble Friend is an honourable and honest man, and the explanation that he gave in his letter is the true reason. I do not recognise any of the other incidents that people are praying in aid, because they simply did not happen.

I want to take the last minute to ensure—it is the first time that I have had the chance to do so in this House—that I record my appreciation of the contribution that Lord Drayson made to procurement. He was an excellent procurement Minister and he did a great job getting fantastic equipment out to our troops in the operational theatre, and he did it much quicker than any previous procurement Minister ever has.

Today’s debate has been wide ranging and it has highlighted the numerous and complex challenges we face.

Debate adjourned.— [Mr. Watson.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow .



Question agreed to.









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Public Information (Commercial Use)

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

10 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): The first question I need to answer is why I should take up the Minister’s time so late at night on a subject that many would see as somewhat narrow. The answer is that a wider context of policy formation is involved that deserves wider currency. The Office of Fair Trading examined the issue of the reuse of public sector information earlier this year and that was followed by a valuable report, “The Power of Information”, commissioned by the Cabinet Office. The Government have responded to both reports and, in addition, a review has been in progress of the future of trading funds, an issue to which I shall come later as it has a particular bearing on this subject matter.

Public sector information is gathered and held for a wide variety of purposes and is critical to both the direct provision of services and our understanding of many aspects of modern Britain. It also earns money in its own right. The OFT worked out in its study that it earned some £590 million in direct income, but the economic impact of public sector information can be calculated in various ways. The Ordnance Survey has done a study that estimates that it alone underpins revenues of some £100 billion a year in the provision of mapping data to a wide variety of businesses which then utilise that data for their own purposes to generate revenue. Those examples, from just one part of the Government information business, give some idea of the scale of what we are talking about.

If we consider the issue first on a strategic level, we see that as our society and public services grow more complex, more data are collected on the Government’s behalf to manage that process and measure what we are attempting to achieve. Those data are increasingly stored in accessible formats. Instead of a lot of paper files of various kinds or the maps that people would recognise, digitised information is now commonly available across a wide range of Government activity. There are both more effective and ubiquitous tools that allow search, selection and compilation of information almost at will.

The longevity of our public data collection is almost unique, and that produces generally high-quality data compared with those held in many other countries, as well as data sets with long historical potential use. We have some of the most powerful brands in their field in the information world, such as the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. In our long period of empire, our understanding of the sea bed and navigational matters was critical, and the office continues to be a world leader in its field. Ordnance Survey was originally set up to provide information so that we could defend the country against an invasion by Napoleon, but over time it spread its wings much further, providing maps of our country to a standard that is envied around the world. The Met Office has set extremely high standards in the provision of weather data, which are commonly used well outside our country. We have built on a legacy of global reach, stable long-term governance, the self-confidence of the Victorian age and the spirit of innovation that founded those bodies.

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Increasing numbers of citizens seek information for themselves, and are prepared to compile it using their own resources; I have referred to the increasing availability of the tool sets that allow them to do that. Our relatively free communications marketplace has provided diverse channels for the distribution of the information. Other than any cost of the data, the entry barriers to an information business are now extremely low, promoting high levels of competition and innovation. Web technologies are evolving extremely rapidly, and that evolution will accelerate. Information business models will change rapidly as technologies and customer capabilities change over time. Of course, underpinning that, and of particular advantage to us, is the fact that the use of the English language remains a powerful asset in any information business.

In sum, the UK is extremely well placed to generate businesses based on information; we hold significant competitive advantages. However, businesses that rely on the use of public sector information face significant barriers. Data are dispersed widely across central and local government. There is no common understanding of the value of data, or what defines their quality. There are no clear principles on how to share data to produce information within Government, let alone how to provide it to an external third party. To focus on geographical information, it would be valuable to have an agreement on how data can be shared by local government, which holds a significant proportion of localised information of various kinds. I have already mentioned Ordnance Survey. The Land Registry stores information on property transactions, the Post Office controls the use of postcodes, the Environment Agency maps issues such as flood risk, and there are many other kinds of information. However, there is no framework in which that can all work together. That, of course, hinders the development of public sector information, as well as the availability of much of the data in the private sector.

There is no strategic framework in which to determine the various policy goals of considering the use of public sector information. There may be social value in allowing relatively ready access to data, in maximising the use of data collected in the public sector so that it performs multiple functions, in the recovery of costs, in generating a return on investment, in controlling the context of any reuse, in maintaining and developing data quality—I will come back to that point—and in fostering economic growth. Those are all perfectly legitimate policy goals, but the Government have not given those who hold data an adequate framework in which to determine which are the most important, and how to value them.

There have been tentative attempts to establish ground rules on how to trade information, but the regulatory framework is neither resourced appropriately to address the diverse demands of the sector, nor empowered to enforce any guidance on fair trading. Without a governing strategy, decisions on the future governance, or even ownership, of some of the sector’s key players, such as the trading funds, Ordnance Survey, the Hydrographic Office and the Met Office, are at best premature, and at worse risk damaging the development of the sector.

To give an example, some of those businesses—and businesses they really are—would have significant value in the marketplace if they were ever disposed of. That
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would be an attractive prospect for a Government seeking to create an additional stream of money for other purposes. However, without a clear understanding of what the organisations were supposed to do and of how they might trade with others, such judgments would be dangerous and risk damaging the developing marketplace in public sector information and its reuse in the private sector.

What do I want? First, I want a recognition of the possible scale of our lost opportunity. The OFT reckoned that another £600 million might be generated each year if public sector information were properly understood and sold, with the important qualification that only a relatively small proportion of that lay within the responsibility of the various trading funds that have already developed businesses in trading public sector information. For example, a large amount of that lost revenue lies in local government, in which the mere existence of much of the information is not known about and it is certainly not possible to make it available to third parties.

The first requirement is a clear strategy with proper Government ownership. One of the difficulties is that a variety of Departments have a role to play; there is no clear, coherent leadership, as was evidenced in the preparations for responding to this debate. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has been passed the parcel of answering at 10.15 or thereabouts, but to be honest the task could have gone to a number of other Ministers. Indeed, I was asked which Minister I thought it appropriate should answer the debate. There is a lack of clarity at that level that needs to be resolved.

The strategy should at least address how the various policy goals that I set down should be balanced in any policy on pricing and rights control. It should explicitly set out the duties of key holders of public information in respect of accuracy and comprehensiveness. As an example I cite the annual report of Ordnance Survey, which has to

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