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6 Dec 2007 : Column 994

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Following the question from the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government inherited in 1997 a perverse formula funding system, which favoured certain categories of local authority over others? Can he reassure the House that this announcement will at long last level the playing field for all categories of local authority, particularly those in SIGOMA, of which Barnsley and Doncaster are but two?

John Healey: My hon. Friend is right. He is a former Barnsley council leader and he knows just how unfair and rigged the funding system was under the previous Government. Achieving more fairness in the formula system was part of the consultation we conducted over the summer. Some of the changes that I have announced this afternoon will help to make the system even fairer. I hope that my hon. Friend and the current council leader, Steve Houghton, will welcome the fact that in Barnsley the increase in formula grant—the core grant from central Government—will be, over the next three years, 6 per cent., 3.7 per cent. and 3.1 per cent.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Will the specific grant for the extension of the excellent concessionary travel scheme fully compensate councils such as Essex for their costs—yes or no?

John Healey: The extra money that we are putting in through a special grant, as local government wanted, in each of the three years will compensate local authorities for the extra costs in making a local free travel scheme a national one from April this year.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I add my welcome for the year-on-year increases which are, as has been pointed out, in stark contrast to the situation until a decade ago. I also welcome the abolition of double damping. Can my hon. Friend clarify further the phasing out of double damping, which—if I understand him correctly—will take place over six years, and will he say a little more about the mechanisms that will be in place over the next three years to assist places such as Birmingham, which have been facing pressures of some £28 million? Will he also address the point about the working neighbourhoods fund being applied to areas below the level of wards, because funding at ward level is not always appropriate for targeting the pockets of deprivation found in many areas?

John Healey: The new working neighbourhoods fund is based on criteria that start from the neighbourhood level, as my hon. Friend wishes, not the ward level. He asks also about the double damping. Damping on the formula is removed with immediate effect. It is the full changes that flow from the implementation of the formula that will feed through over the next few years, and it is the general system of floors that will ensure that that happens, but over a manageable period. Finally, he asks how we will help Birmingham in particular, and I hope that he will welcome the fact that next year the total grant increases from central Government to Birmingham council will be more than £100 million.

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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): In his alter-ego as flood recovery Minister, the Minister will know that one of the big financial pressures on Gloucestershire county council is the huge damage caused by the summer’s flooding to our highways network. The bill is estimated at £25 million. We have had £10 million from the Government, for which the county is grateful, but does he have any news on the remaining £15 million?

John Healey: The hon. Gentleman is right: we have given an interim payment of £10 million to Gloucestershire in recognition of the damage caused to the highway infrastructure and in response to the request that it made to us. We are working with the county at present on the final costs of the damage, but the principle is well established that although central Government will step in to support and help local government—as we are doing in a big way—it is right to expect local councils to cover a certain amount of the costs.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The Minister said that this was a fair settlement, but how can he apply the word “fair” to the treatment of Derbyshire police authority, which has been underfunded for many years? Two years ago, the Government acknowledged that, but have refused to implement the formula that would remedy it. The statement today means that the authority will be £3 million short each year for the next three years, on top of the £4.5 million efficiency savings that it has to make. It already has 230 police officers fewer than the family of authorities with which it is compared. Now it seems that the authority will have to make cuts that will make that situation even worse. How is that fair?

John Healey: Fair for Derbyshire is an increase of more than £50 million in the total grant coming from central Government in the next year.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Does the Minister not accept that his announcement today also leaves Greater Manchester police—the second largest force in the country—considerably short of funding and having to make yet more cuts in the number of front-line officers? Does he think that that is acceptable?

John Healey: Having announced the settlement, I have made it clear that decisions on spending—on how to manage the pressures in the next three years and how greater efficiencies can be gained through council activities—are properly a matter for local authorities, not for central Government. Greater Manchester police will have to face those pressures and those challenges, just like every other police authority and local authority.

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Peter Grant Peterkin CB OBE

1.37 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): I beg to move,

I move this motion on behalf of the whole House, not just the Government or those on this side.

I understand that Peter Grant Peterkin is the 38th holder of the post since its establishment in the early 15th century. His appointment here followed more than 30 years of distinguished and senior military service, with his regiment—the Queen’s Own Highlanders—and at the Royal College of Defence Studies, including work with the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe missions in Iraq and Kuwait, and in Kosovo.

I know that Mr. Grant Peterkin’s work in the House since his appointment in 2004 has been valued and appreciated by Members. During his period of office, he has overseen a range of important repair and refurbishment programmes. These include the major repairs of Westminster Hall, and the refurbishment of the Press Gallery areas recently reopened by the Speaker. And Mr. Grant Peterkin has helped in the move towards a long-term estate strategy embracing both Houses and facing up to the enormous challenges of preserving and enhancing this unique building.

Mr. Grant Peterkin has helped also to see through the valuable developments made to the security of the Chamber and the building. Those have been achieved while improving the experience of visitors who come to Parliament by encouraging a welcoming style from police and security while at the same time maintaining protection. Under his watch, the visitor assistants have been introduced; they have been well received in their work meeting the public and helping with educational visits.

I know also that Peter Grant Peterkin’s leadership and personal commitment, supported by his wife Joanna, to his colleagues and staff in the Serjeant at Arms Department have been well regarded and appreciated. This is an opportunity to thank also all those in the Serjeant at Arms Department for the work that they do on our behalf in the Chamber, in the provision of services, in relation to security, and in respect of the buildings.

As the House will know, following the review of the administration of the House by Sir Kevin Tebbit, which reported earlier this year, there are to be significant changes to the organisation of departments in the House. The Serjeant at Arms Department will undergo a major transformation, continuing the constant process of evolution in the Serjeant’s office since the 15th century and in the House’s administrative services generally. The new Serjeant, soon to be appointed, will be coming into a post that is very different from that of her or his predecessor, heading a new directorate in the new Department of Chamber and Committee Services. Other staff from the existing Serjeant at Arms Department will form part of the new Department of Facilities. I am sure that all the staff will continue to provide the high level of service that we
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have come to expect and appreciate from Mr. Grant Peterkin’s time in post. I hope that the whole House will join me in thanking him and wishing him and his wife all the best for the future.

1.40 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): It is with great pleasure that I add my thanks to Major-General Peter Grant Peterkin for his services to Parliament since 2004. The role of Serjeant at Arms is not widely known outside this place, but it is an important job that ensures the good functioning of our Parliament. Peter Grant Peterkin has served Parliament in the way he served his country beforehand. The Deputy Leader of the House referred to a number of Peter Grant Peterkin’s roles during his distinguished career in the Army, which included being commanding officer of the 5th Division and acting in a senior role in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission to Kosovo.

Those who see Parliament only briefly—perhaps they watch the Speaker’s procession or see ceremonial occasions such as the state opening—may go away with the view that the role of the Serjeant at Arms is largely ceremonial, but that is very far from the truth. The Serjeant at Arms has in his responsibility many significant sections of the support services, without which the House simply could not function. Over the years, the role has indeed changed. In recent years, there has been a much greater necessity for the Serjeant at Arms to look at issues of security in the House. We have seen the throwing of purple powder at the Prime Minister and the invasion of the Chamber. That has led to increased responsibilities for the Serjeant at Arms in ensuring the security of those who participate in debates in the Chamber and who visit our House.

In recent years, and during Peter Grant Peterkin’s time as Serjeant at Arms, we have also seen an enormous change in our attitude to visitors to this place, as the Deputy Leader of the House said. The way in which visitors are welcomed, and the experience that they are given and will be given when changes in the building are completed— [ Interruption. ] The Minister for Local Government said from a sedentary position, “Especially schools.” He is right. Parliament can be proud of the fact that it has been extending its outreach and ensuring that schools and others have a good experience when they visit Parliament. That is an important part of the role of the Serjeant at Arms. Peter Grant Peterkin can be very proud of the changes that have taken place under his watch.

Peter Grant Peterkin has, as I said earlier, given distinguished service to his country. Indeed, his life has been one given to public service. We applaud and honour him for that. On behalf of everybody on my side of the House, and I am sure across the whole House, I wish him a very happy retirement and wish him and his wife all the best for the future.

1.44 pm

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I just want to say a few words as Chairman of the Administration Committee, because that is the capacity in which I have got to know Peter Grant Peterkin best. I endorse the comments that have been made by both Front Benchers
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who have spoken so far. They accurately reflect the contribution that he has made. Over the time that I have held this post and have got to know him—just over two and a half years—he has provided invaluable support and help. I came to the post knowing not a lot about the way this place is run—like, I am afraid, a lot of Back Benchers—but I learned a great deal from him, particularly about accommodation issues.

We held a major inquiry last year into accommodation in the building and we have come up with a report that is quite important for the future of the House. It includes the recommendation that there should be a 25-year strategy, which has been accepted by the House of Commons Commission, and mentions minimum standards of accommodation for Members and a number of other issues related to priorities. The input into that report from Peter Grant Peterkin, and his department under his lead, was massive and I am grateful to him for that.

There is one area for which I think Peter Grant Peterkin would like to be remembered. It is not an issue that is in the public domain in a major way at the moment. Over the past year, he has been pushing me very hard to have a proper look at how we can “green” Parliament and make it an example that the rest of the country can follow. Some of that has trickled out into the press over the last few weeks. He is the initiator of many of the ideas that we will discuss and I thank him for the contribution he has made and the thinking that I hope will develop into this being the greenest Parliament in the world, and a leader in this country.

Like everyone else who has spoken and will speak, I wish Peter Grant Peterkin and his wife the happiest of retirements.

1.46 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I associate myself and my colleagues from the Liberal Democrat Benches with the motion on the Order Paper and the tributes already paid to the Serjeant at Arms. I checked the chronology, as one does, and found that the Deputy Leader of the House was right to say that the post of Serjeant at Arms goes back to 1415. There have been 38 known holders of the post, of whom this Serjeant is the last. When he took over three years ago, there had been almost 590 years of the Serjeant at Arms doing jobs for the Speaker and the House of Commons. If ever there was a job that one would expect to be different at the end from the start, that must be it.

Peter Grant Peterkin came to what some people have described as being a slightly different role for somebody who was a major-general—in fact, it is more like being a sergeant-major. That is what the House clearly needs in some respects. It needs somebody who is, on the one hand, chief housekeeper and, on the other, chief security officer—a combination of roles that he has fulfilled extremely well. It is a tribute to him that it is obvious from all the comments that he has been extremely popular with parliamentary colleagues who have worked with him, with his staff, who to a person were outside yesterday to salute him as he brought in the Mace on his last formal Wednesday supporting Mr. Speaker, and with the press. That must be a triple success that not all his predecessors secured.
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Colleagues have paid tribute to Peter Grant Peterkin’s extremely eminent military service, after an academic career in which he got not just a first degree but a second degree, at the great northern university of Durham. He has a Scottish and English background and has not only served his regiment, the Queen’s Own Highlanders, but has served in almost every part of the world where British forces have been deployed: Belize in Latin America, the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong in Asia, and Australia. Probably most eminently, after his period in command he served in Kosovo, as part of the important recent international task there. We pay tribute to him for that.

I notice that, in Peter Grant Peterkin’s Who’s Who entry, one of his preferred recreations is cleaning ditches—not something that I have ever seen in anybody’s Who’s Who entry before. I sense that that might have been good training for a job that the Serjeant at Arms has to do all the time: mending fences. He did that well. As the Deputy Leader of the House said, as part of the great transformation over which Peter Grant Peterkin has presided, of which the most visible outward sign has been the new staff team who look after our visitors—they do their jobs extremely well and courteously and provide very good information—there have been many changes behind the scenes, to which the Chairman of the Select Committee referred. Some of those changes are not yet in the public domain. It has been a period of huge transition, but he will be the last Serjeant to preside over a significantly large staff. I understand that there are about 400 people in the present Department, whereas the person who replaces Peter Grant Peterkin will have only about 40 people under their direct command.

As we pay tribute to Peter Grant Peterkin and wish him and his family all the very best for the future, we ought to observe that the old order changeth and giveth way to the new. The job of Serjeant at Arms will never be the same again.

1.50 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I should like to add a very short footnote to the tributes already paid to Peter Grant Peterkin. I chair the Standards and Privileges Committee, which has had a fair amount of traffic with the Serjeant at Arms Department. He has been unfailingly fair and courteous in his dealings with us and in helping to administer the rules of the House.

As has been said, Peter Grant Peterkin’s three years in post have coincided with a general election, a massive security programme and a lot of building activity. However, it has also coincided with the House’s determination to reconnect with the world outside, and he has played a key role in helping to build bridges.

I know that he is enormously popular and respected in his Department, and he can look back with pride on his three years in the House. I wish him and his wife Jo all the best in the years ahead.

1.51 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): May I add the best wishes of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru groups to the Serjeant at Arms on his retirement? In particular, I should like to communicate the best
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wishes of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who I know has written to him personally.

I am very pleased that the Deputy Leader of the House laid out in some detail the Serjeant’s efforts in this House and his previous record in the military, all of which should be commended. He was unfailingly courteous and wholly professional in all his dealings with our groups. I suspect that the House will miss him sooner than we think, and we wish him all the very best for the future.

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