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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP):
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. He will know that Government statistics show that, since 1997, 9,500 defence jobs have been lost in Scotland, bases have closed, regiments have been amalgamated, and in recent years £4.3 billion less has been spent on defence in Scotland than has been contributed by taxpayers in Scotland-and today the cuts have continued. RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth in my constituency will be significantly affected. The MOD must have worked out the manning and spending implications of today's announcement. Will the Secretary of State confirm the
staffing implications of the announcement for RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth? What are the projected cost savings at both bases? Taking into account the changes in the statement, how many service personnel and civilian MOD staff will be based in Scotland? How much will the defence underspend in Scotland grow by?
Mr. Ainsworth: All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that if the policies of his party were pursued, short of his policy of independence, there would be massive reductions in MOD-related jobs in Scotland. If he then got his own way on independence, one can only imagine the calamity in terms of the defence footprint north of the border. We are not going to close Kinloss, but obviously Nimrod MR2 activity there will cease, and that will have a significant impact on the levels of activity out of the base.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): A few moments ago, my right hon. Friend said to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) that if the Chinooks came in on time and at the right price, he would not turn his back on British workers. Will he agree to meet my hon. Friend, with Unite colleagues, to talk about that issue?
Mr. Ainsworth: I am prepared to talk to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members at any time, and I had some discussions with the Unite trade union yesterday evening. Within the parameters of what I have said, of course I will talk to my hon. Friend and others.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The Secretary of State deserves respect for taking some very tough decisions that his predecessors should perhaps have taken many years ago. Nevertheless, he said in his statement that from the £900 million to be raided from the core budget, he is funding body armour, night vision goggles, Bowman tactical radios and counter-IED capabilities. By no stretch of the imagination is that justified, because he is raiding future defence capability to fund current operations, which the Treasury should be paying for directly.
Mr. Ainsworth: The close combat support package needed for our operations in Afghanistan is already in place and being provided, and we have additional capability for pre-deployment training. What the Army would ideally like is that suite of capability right throughout the Army, and this change takes us a step towards that so that it has equipment such as night vision goggles before pre-deployment training. We cannot reasonably ask the reserve to fund that and to re-equip the Army completely.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): On behalf of the 2,000-plus workers at the Scotstoun yard in my constituency, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement about the carriers? Can he allay some of my concerns about servicemen and women who come back from Afghanistan or any other theatre, and those who retire? I am concerned that they may not receive the help, financial support and training that they sometimes need when getting back into civilian life. Will he assure me that the cuts will not affect those people?
Mr. Ainsworth: First, carriers are a very important capability that we remain committed to. With regard to the ongoing welfare needs of our armed forces, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), is looking seriously at how we can enhance the situation and protect people. We take the matter very seriously.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): It is a central tenet of military life that time spent in training saves lives on operations, even if that training is of a more generalised nature, as the Secretary of State said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). What precise cut in the training budget is he looking for?
Mr. Ainsworth: I am looking to maintain all the training necessary, if at all possible. That includes both pre-deployment training for Afghanistan and the kind of training that we undertake in perfectly relevant theatres such as Kenya. There has been an emphasis on Kenya, and therefore we have done less training elsewhere in recent years. We have to give priority to the kind of training that is necessary for our current operations, and that is what we will do.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): When will the Secretary of State be in a position to make a statement to the House about the future of HMS Endurance? Is he aware of the debilitating effect that the continuous drift of the carrier programme is having on the work force in Portsmouth dockyard? They were led to believe that dates for the carrier build would be given this year, but they are now going further and further away and jobs are at risk. Is he certain that there will be no further drift in the carrier programme as far as the Government are concerned?
Mr. Ainsworth: I do not know about "continuous" delays to the carrier programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows and as we have acknowledged, we delayed the programme, but there is not a continuous delay, and there will be no further delay as a result of my statement today. We are cutting steel now for the carriers, so work is progressing. We are still assessing the situation with regard to HMS Endurance.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): As recently as 28 October, the Secretary of State came to the House under considerable pressure and claimed that he had attracted some additional ring-fenced money from the Treasury for Territorial Army training. Since then, we have heard of cuts and a lack of finance getting through to the Army Cadet Force, the officer training corps at universities and the TA itself. Will he look into that and confirm that there will be no cuts to the reserves' training, as he articulated as recently as October?
Mr. Ainsworth: There are no cuts to the TA in the package announced today.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State think again about withdrawing the minehunter from the Gulf? Does he remember the signals that were sent out and what happened when the survey ship Endurance was removed from the south Atlantic?
Mr. Ainsworth: Of course, I will bear in mind the points made by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). However, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) should not exaggerate the situation. We have minehunters active in the Gulf area, as we have had for a considerable time. They are very valuable assets that a lot of nations appreciate.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The need for this statement and the shambles around the TA statement in October are signs that the management of defence is in the most desperate straits. The price of that is being paid by service personnel as well as by the equipment and training budget. Will the Secretary of State give more details about the reductions in service personnel numbers? The statement says that that will involve "releasing some personnel", but how many is "some"?
Mr. Ainsworth: The details are still being worked on, but I find it hard to square the hon. Gentleman's allegation with an announcement that pushes another £900 million in the direction of our forces deployed in Afghanistan. How on earth can he square what he says with that?
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. He describes helicopters and the strategic air bridge as key capabilities. Can he outline what beneficial difference there will be to troops on the ground within the next two to three years before the first Chinook arrives?
Mr. Ainsworth: We continue to deploy the Merlin fleet and I believe that there are now five or six Merlin in theatre. They have given us a considerable uplift-we have more than doubled helicopter hours. We will continue to try to be as efficient, and to get as many of our existing helicopters into theatre and as much use from them as we can. Of course, the Chinook will provide yet more in-theatre lift, which will be very valuable. As I have said, we will get 10 of them in the financial year 2012-13. The additional C-17-the seventh-will be a real boon to the strategic airlift, which is so important to getting troops and supplies in and out of theatre.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Nobody is fooled. This announcement is about very serious and possibly savage cuts in our overall defence capabilities, and indeed downgrading our armed forces. That is a direct result of the antipathy towards defence funding and the appalling economic stewardship of the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the Secretary of State read the National Audit Office report today that talks about a possible defence deficit of £36 billion in this decade, who did he blame?
Mr. Ainsworth: There has been a 10 per cent. real-terms increase in the core defence budget since 1997 supplemented by £14 billion for our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from the Treasury reserve. Not a single penny has been cut in the defence budget this year, but we are dealing with the pressures that exist and redirecting money towards current operations.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): My constituents at RAF Lyneham will no doubt welcome the extra defensive aids suites for their C130Js, and indeed the extra C-17, but it is very hard to imagine how, when they are fully stretched, as they are at the moment, they can possibly get any more out of the very limited C130J fleet. Is it not time that the Secretary of State cancelled the A400M and the ridiculous closure of RAF Lyneham?
Mr. Ainsworth: I am told that we can get more out of them. Of course, if we have a greater proportion of them fully fitted with defensive aids capability, they will be more deployable. I think we can get more use and more deployability out of the Hercules fleet.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given the Secretary of State's answer to an earlier question, how exactly are the Merlin and Hercules going to cover the gap caused by the withdrawal of Nimrod, given the pressure on resources?
Mr. Ainsworth: The sea rescue capability can be provided, as it has been in the past, by platforms other than the Nimrod. I am told that that can happen and that we can meet all our obligations through the use of other platforms.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Will the new vehicles being deployed to Afghanistan include tracked versions of the Mastiff family of vehicles to provide greater flexibility and manoeuvrability, not least because the Mastiff has saved the lives of hundreds of British service personnel?
Mr. Ainsworth: We have no plans for a tracked version of Mastiff. The hon. Lady will know that we have almost doubled the number of Mastiffs available to commanders in Afghanistan since August of this year.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Will the Secretary of State now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) about how hollow this announcement sounds in relation to the announcement in 2004 about a £1.4 billion cut to our helicopter fleet?
Mr. Ainsworth: The situation in 2004 was very different from the situation today. If the hon. Gentleman recalls, our operations in Iraq had only just begun and we were not even present in southern Afghanistan- [ Interruption. ] We were not even present in southern Afghanistan. The decision today will be very welcome as an appropriate shift of priorities in favour of current operations.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): MOD civilian staff give loyal and long service, which is not always very well paid, in places such as the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency in Bicester in my patch. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to the House that those employees will be properly briefed by the line of command about what will happen to them, and about who will be retained in core functions and who might be at risk of being privatised? There is a lot of uncertainty around, and the very least that is owed to them is that the MOD-as a good employer-should tell them what is happening.
Mr. Ainsworth: We will seek to do that, and that is in marked contrast to some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Woodspring about massive cuts in civilian headcount in the MOD which could, if not properly structured, lead to uniformed staff doing civilian jobs at increased cost, not at a saving. We will look at this, plan properly and consult our staff.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Secretary of State's announcement of 22 additional Chinooks will be very welcome, and it gives this House an opportunity to praise the professionalism and skill of the Chinook pilots and their aircrews, who risk their lives day in and day out in Afghanistan. Is the Secretary of State planning to increase the number of pilots and aircrews who fly Chinooks, or will he ask the existing pool to fly more often and make more visits to Afghanistan?
Mr. Ainsworth: When we commit ourselves to providing increased helicopter lift, we are not committing ourselves just to buying the frames. A lot of work needs to be done in terms of logistics supply, training and the provision of crews for that fleet.
Mr. Speaker: I thank all right hon. and hon. Members and congratulate them on their co-operation, because 38 Back Benchers were able to question the Secretary of State, which is a very good record.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): With permission, I shall make a statement on the Employment White Paper and the consultation document on housing benefit that we are publishing today.
Families across Britain have been affected by the worst global recession in living memory. We made clear last year our commitment to help people through the recession-through wider support for the economy, but through strong active labour market policies too. We set out £5 billion additional investment this year and next to help people back to work. We expanded the help in Jobcentre Plus, and set out funding for 300,000 youth job and training places and more apprenticeships. We also pressed on with welfare reforms to avoid the big increases in inactivity that we saw in past recessions.
The claimant count for November stands at 1.64 million, and we expect it to rise further in the new year. The International Labour Organisation's measure of unemployment stands at 2.46 million. However, the action that we have taken has made a difference. It has kept unemployment lower than people expected, and lower than in previous recessions too. The claimant count is about 400,000 lower than predicted at the time of the Budget. Employment has not fallen as far as in previous downturns, despite the fact that the overall shock to the economy from the global recession has been greater, and the claimant count currently stands at about 5 per cent., compared with peaks of about 10 per cent. in the 1980s and 1990s.
We need to do more, however. Previous recessions left deep scars, as those hit by long-term unemployment found it hard to get work even once the economy started growing again. In the 1990s, youth unemployment in particular kept rising for more than a year after the recession finished, and in the 1980s it rose for more than four years after the recession ended. At times, 350,000 young people were on the dole for more than a year.
To prevent the recession from leaving permanent scars that could damage young people for many years, we believe that more, not less, help is needed as we move into recovery. We are setting out extra help for young people who have been most heavily affected by the recession. We already provide extra support for young people from day one of their claim, but we will now deliver a youth guarantee of work or training for every young person who has been on the dole for six months.
To deliver that support, we will fund an extra 100,000 youth job and training opportunities, on top of the 300,000 extra youth opportunities we are already funding this year and next. Young people will be required to take up the help on offer as a condition of receiving benefit. That help will include expanding the future jobs fund, which is already supporting thousands of people in jobs that are good for them and their communities-sports coaches, housing officers and jobs in child care and energy efficiency. More jobs are planned, including hundreds of new jobs working with the police in the Met, jobs in the NHS, and jobs developing the national cycle network across the country.
For 16 to 17-year-olds, we are making available further funding to subsidise 5,000 additional apprenticeship places, so that more young people can get invaluable
work experience under their belt. We expect youth unemployment to keep increasing in the new year, but our aim is to work with employers across the country, who also need to do their bit to get the youth claimant count falling. We aim to get it falling in the second half of next year.
Older workers also need extra help, so we are announcing today plans to provide tailored support for the over-50s, including help to tackle age discrimination. We will also provide more help for those experiencing repeated short spells of unemployment and expand help from private sector recruitment agencies for professional workers. We also know that lots of people want to start their own business, so we will provide more help and advice to do so from day one of becoming unemployed, with a self-employment credit available from three months of unemployment.
Ninety per cent. of those on jobseeker's allowance still leave it within 12 months, but for those who become long-term unemployed we are rolling out the innovative flexible new deal through which specialist providers deliver personal help, paid by their results. We will trial new ways to incentivise providers to help the hardest to reach, to ensure that contracts can be delivered in a way that is good value for the taxpayer as well. We are also determined to keep up the pace on welfare reform to pursue our long-term goal of full employment.
This recession has not seen the big increase in inactivity that we saw in the '80s and '90s, when the number of people on long-term sickness benefits trebled. Today, the number of people on inactive benefits is about 375,000 lower than in 1997. Many people still need help with skills, finding child care or getting health support to ensure that they can work. Programmes such as the new deal for lone parents and pathways are already providing wide-ranging help to get people back to work. However, we want to go further, not just to help people into jobs but to support them into sustainable employment where they can progress up the skills ladder and balance work and family life.
We will do more to fund travel and child care costs for jobseekers in part-time training and through jobcentres and outreach workers in schools to promote flexible and part-time opportunities for parents and carers. We are reforming and extending the work choice and access to work schemes, and introducing mental health co-ordinators to help thousands of people with mental health conditions back into employment.
We are also setting out further measures to improve skills opportunities, including skills accounts and a single joint budget to help the unemployed between my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. With greater support come greater responsibilities, so from next year we are extending the new work capability assessment for those currently on incapacity benefit. We are also extending jobseeking requirements to lone parents with children aged over seven, but we want to go further, so we will also bring forward requirements for partners of benefit claimants to seek employment.
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