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Jacqui Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those words and, most significantly, for his thanks to those in our law enforcement and security agencies who work
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hard, day in, day out, to keep this country safe. I can assure him that my highest priority will continue to be the security of people in this country.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has rightly praised the police. No one would dispute the important role that they play in securing our country and protecting it from terrorism. However, would she also bear in mind the fact that there is much concern about one or two individual police officers who have acted in a way that is totally incompatible with policing? We have seen outright police brutality shown to some of the demonstrators. Will she take the opportunity to make a statement as early as possible—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman applied for an urgent question on this matter and he is now trying to raise it. That is totally out of order and he knows it. I call Mr. Evans.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Home Secretary says that she does not want to see legitimate students from Pakistan being hampered because of what has happened, but is it not the reality that they are going to be? The fact is that Pakistan is a problem, and terrorists have come into this country from there. We want to do all that we possibly can to assist legitimate students who are coming in, but there are going to be real issues. As she will know, two of those involved were arrested in Clitheroe in my constituency. That is not a town that would normally be associated with terrorism. Does not that spell out to everyone in this country that no part of the United Kingdom is immune from the threat of terrorism, and that anyone who sees anything suspicious should pass it on to the police immediately, irrespective of where they live?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I have previously said that public vigilance and, alongside it, the important work of the security agencies and the police are the ways in which we will do our best to keep this country safe from terrorism. He is right to identify the need for continued public vigilance, and to make it clear that the terrorist threat is not isolated in any particular part of the country. I am sure that he will want to join me in congratulating the north-west counter-terrorism unit on its work, which forms part of our approach of bringing together on a regional basis the
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Security Service and policing staff in order to ensure that the whole of England, Wales and Scotland have the law enforcement coverage necessary to counter terror. The hon. Gentleman has made a very fair point.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): When the Home Secretary made her statement on 4 December about the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I immediately tabled a question for written answer, asking her to list any security issues that might have been compromised. I accept that she might not have wanted to answer that question. I had a holding answer on 9 December, and I had to wait more than 15 weeks—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This has nothing to do with the statement.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In my constituency surgery every week, I see people who want to apply for indefinite leave to remain in this country. When I ask them how they got in originally, they say that they simply came in on a student visa and overstayed. If that is happening in Wellingborough, I am sure that it is happening across the country. Will the Home Secretary give the House her estimate of how many people come into this country on a student visa and deliberately overstay?

Jacqui Smith: That issue is precisely the reason for strengthening the conditions through the points-based system, as we have done, and for introducing the e-borders system that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) opposes.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): If I heard the Home Secretary aright, she said that 200,000 visas in total were issued to Pakistani students in the last academic year. How many Pakistani students who were legitimately issued with visas failed to complete their university or college course last year?

Jacqui Smith: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, it would be well nigh impossible to know that statistic. However, it is important for us to know whether someone who has overstayed is still in the country or whether they have left. It is precisely for that purpose that we are rolling out the e-Borders programme, which is opposed by Conservative Members.

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Points of Order

4.23 pm

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that we know that no proceedings are to be taken against the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), have you had a request from the Leader of the House to come and make a statement on the future of the Committee which was to consider the implications for the rights and privileges of Members arising from the raid on the hon. Gentleman’s office, and, in particular, on whether she is now willing to abandon the condition that would oblige you to ensure that there was a Government majority in the selection of members of that Committee—an unnecessary restriction on your discretion in a matter that concerns the whole House and not just the Government?

Mr. Speaker: I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am looking into this matter and I will return to the House on it.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In column 998 of Hansard on 8 May 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said the following in relation to the disclosure of documents on Hillsborough:

My right hon. Friend was very strong on that, and he was very helpful during that debate.

Therefore, while I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that she will allow full disclosure of Hillsborough documents, is it not a scandal that we have had to wait 11 years for further information when we were told that all the relevant information was published back in 1998? Can you, Mr. Speaker, do anything to investigate why this information was not given to the House as promised, and will you ensure that the information that has now been promised gets as quickly as possible to Parliament?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has put this matter on the record. I realise the difficult situation that he is in, as he has to represent his constituents as best he can, but he will understand that this is not a matter for the Chair. Those in authority who have responsibility will have heard what he has had to say regarding this matter.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not having been skilful enough to have linked my earlier question sufficiently closely to the statement, but I say as a point of order that I know that you have many times expressed your concern about ministerial answers taking too long. I would like to hear your view on this one. I put down a question for a written answer on 9 December. I asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department

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I received a holding answer on 9 December, saying that I would get a reply as soon as possible. I received a reply more than 15 weeks later, on 26 March this year. This reply was from one of the Home Secretary’s junior Ministers, referring me to the statement of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 4 December and giving the same column references that I had given in my question in the first place. Is not that a pretty contemptible way to treat hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker: I will not comment on the content, but questions should be as helpful as possible to right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Answers.

Mr. Speaker: Pardon me. The hon. Gentleman is right—I mean answers. Forgive me; I have been out of practice, having had a bit of a holiday. The answers should be helpful, but the questions should be as well.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the context of the police’s entry into the offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I raised with the Leader of the House in business questions just before the House rose the question whether the Attorney-General’s opinion could be made available in the Library of the House. That was deposited the day after we began the recess. My point of order is that this whole issue raises matters of freedom of speech for Members of this House; the question of the confidentiality of our correspondence; and questions of national security. In particular, I have in mind the case of Mr. Duncan Sandys in 1938-39. Regrettably, the Attorney-General has not referred in her opinion to this case or, indeed, to several other precedents and conventions that apply. In those circumstances, I would be grateful if you would be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that a motion coming before the House is allowed to be debated, and that the matter is referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that the hon. Gentleman is legally qualified, so he will know that an opinion does not always provide the answer that someone wants. The same applies to the opinion of the Attorney-General; it may not necessarily be what the hon. Gentleman wants. I am not responsible for the reply that a Law Officer gives.

Mr. Cash: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is well established, as I said in business questions, that it is the Attorney-General’s role to advise the House and Parliament as a whole in matters of this kind. Furthermore, the fact that the Attorney-General is in the House of Lords perhaps creates certain difficulties in appreciating the effects of such actions on the freedom of speech of Members in this House and, indeed, of our constituents.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has the same length of service in the House as me, or almost the same, and there has often been a situation—I shall choose my words carefully—where a Law Officer has been in the other place. I have no responsibility for the answers that a Law Officer gives. It is up to the Law Officer to give the response.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, and as the House knows, there is a large demonstration going on outside the Palace of Westminster, in Parliament square, involving the friends and relatives of thousands of Tamil people who are being killed in Sri Lanka. That demonstration has gone on for some time, but today it is blocking part of Parliament square and Whitehall. Have you had any intimation from the Leader of the House as to whether she has agreed that the topical debate for Thursday will be on the situation in Sri Lanka, or any indication from the Foreign Office as to whether a statement is to be made to the House?

The demonstrators met the Foreign Secretary on a previous occasion, and the Prime Minister’s envoy is having discussions at the United Nations at the moment, but to bring the demonstration to an end, is there any possibility of the matter being discussed in the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Speaker: It is up to the Leader of the House to decide, in consultation with others in the House, what the topical debate should be. It has been reported to me not only that a demonstration has been blocking off our entrance, but that young children—little children, and sometimes toddlers—have been put at the perimeter, or the outside, of the demonstration, which puts the police in a very difficult situation.

Policemen who have been under criticism for the way in which they have handled adults are being put in a situation whereby they cannot make any clearance because little children have been put to the perimeter of the demonstration. That is very sad and not an act of democratic demonstration—the type of demonstration that I have been used to as a Member of Parliament and as a former trade union officer. I am saddened that the police have been put in this situation and that little children have been put in their way.

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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What powers do you have to order the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to secure what used to be taken for granted in the House—that we, as Members, would have free access to Parliament? That used to be the Sessional Order that was passed at the state opening of each Session of Parliament. I submit that it is completely outrageous that Members of the House have been subjected to this inconvenience, and that the people of London have been subjected to it.

The situation in Sri Lanka is nothing to do with the House and it is an affront that we should have been subjected to this inconvenience. Is it going to continue? I have just spoken to a police officer. He tells me that there is no police officer out there who will take action because the police are fearful that the television cameras will be on them and that if they show anything other than a softly, softly approach, they will find themselves in court. Surely law and order has broken down outside the Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker: My contact with the Commissioner is the Serjeant at Arms. I will take the matter up with the Serjeant at Arms to find out what is happening today.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your comment about what is happening in Parliament square, does not all this start with our being lenient about allowing three or four tents to be permanently encamped in Parliament square? If we are not tough on an operation of that sort, how on earth can we expect to control something as large as what is happening today?

Mr. Speaker: That matter has been going on for some years, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows my views on it. However, each and every one of us has to abide by the law. I stop there as I had better get on to the main business of the day.

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Defence Procurement

4.34 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move,

Providing good equipment is a fundamental component of the military covenant. We ask our armed forces to risk all on our behalf and in return we must support them properly, giving them the equipment and the training that they need to do the job that we ask them to do today, and the job that we may ask them to do tomorrow.

We are committed to that, which is why the defence budget has risen consistently at a rate above inflation since 2000. In real terms, by 2010-11 it will be over £3 billion, or 10 per cent., higher than in 1997. That is why defence spending has risen by about £1 billion a year over the past five years—a clear contrast with the last five years of the Tory Government, who cut defence spending by £500 million pounds per year.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con) rose—

Mr. Ainsworth: I will give way in a while.

Separately and additionally, since 2001 the Treasury reserve has provided about £14 billion to ensure that our forces are properly trained and equipped for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, including £4.2 billion approved for urgent operational requirements, the majority of which related to force protection equipment. In allocating funds, we must give priority to current operations. However, we cannot take that too far, because we must continue to insure against the threats that we may face in the years to come.

The national security strategy, published in March last year, highlights the sheer range of potential security threats facing the United Kingdom, from international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, conflicts and failed states to pandemics and transnational crime. We live in a complicated and unpredictable world. It is that unpredictability which makes it so important that in fighting today’s war we do not irreparably damage our ability to prepare for tomorrow’s, whatever it may be.

No matter how good the equipment package that we procure through our core budget, the unpredictability of conflict means that we need a rapid procurement system of some kind to allow us to tailor and supplement the kit that we give our forces. Our urgent operational requirement programme has done that job. Working with industry, we have used it to slash procurement lead times dramatically and to fast-track equipment tailored specifically for the demands of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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