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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): At the beginning of January, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning confirmed a major act of decommissioning by the UDA. We applaud the leadership and courage behind that decision and those responsible.

Miss Kirkbride: The Secretary of State- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. These are important and serious matters we are discussing, but on both sides of the Chamber there are far too many private conversations taking place. If people want to have private chats, the answer is simple: leave the Chamber.

Miss Kirkbride: The Secretary of State rightly says that there has been welcome decommissioning by the UDA, but he will also be aware of the worrying number of loyalist dissident assaults, which are up by almost 250 per cent. on the same time last year. What is his Department doing to ensure that the people who orchestrate and authorise such assaults face justice?

Mr. Woodward: First, this is a matter for the Chief Constable. That being said, we are ensuring that the resources are available for him to deal with all those who are engaged in crime. If the agreement that we are trying to work through at Hillsborough succeeds, an additional £800 million will be available to policing and justice in Northern Ireland to help with these things. If the agreement is not reached, that money will not be available and the police will have to suffer the consequences of a failure to reach agreement.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Along with others, my right hon. Friend has played a major part in the decommissioning talks. They have certainly brought safety to Northern Ireland, but does he believe that there is more to come from decommissioning, and has he any news that he can share with the House today?

Mr. Woodward: Let us reflect on the success of the decommissioning policy. We have seen full decommissioning from the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, and limited decommissioning is reported from the Loyalist Volunteer Force. It has been an extremely successful programme, but I should share with my hon. Friend the fact that next week, on 9 February, it comes to an end-the process will be over-and that will be that on decommissioning.

PSNI (Recruitment)

6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What his most recent estimate is of the level of recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland of (a) Catholics and (b) Protestants; and if he will make a statement. [314142]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): Since the introduction of the temporary recruitment provisions in 2001, there have been 3,751 appointments to the PSNI-1,888 Catholic, 1,831 Protestant and 32 not determined. Catholic composition within the PSNI has increased from 8.3 per cent. to 27.68 per cent. We remain on track to reach the target
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of 30 per cent. Catholic composition by March 2011, and today I am laying before Parliament an order that will renew the temporary provisions for a further final year.

Mr. Turner: What further measures will the Minister take to ensure that the required level of membership will be met from both denominations?

Paul Goggins: It was necessary to introduce the temporary provisions to deal with the historical imbalance in the representation in the PSNI. As I said, in 2001, 8 per cent. were Catholic, but now that figure is 27.68 per cent. As we move forward, however, it is important to ensure that, with confidence in policing shared across all communities, we can expect applications and people of high calibre from all communities and that they will be recruited. Of course we also need strategies to ensure that women apply to join the PSNI, and people from ethnic minorities too.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The Minister will be aware that over the past 12 months a number of PSNI and prison officers and former security force members have had to leave their homes following dissident republican threats. Does he agree that, if that continues, it will be a hindrance to encouraging young people to join the PSNI?

Paul Goggins: It is important, of course, that the Northern Ireland Office stands alongside the PSNI and provides support and protection where appropriate to police officers who may be under a serious and individual threat. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we all bear a responsibility to ensure that we create an environment in Northern Ireland in which those who seek to carry out the kinds of attack that we have seen are isolated from the mainstream community and stand unsupported and alone, so that they can have no further impact. All of us, including the hon. Gentleman and me, bear a responsibility.

Paramilitary Groups

8. Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the level of activity by loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [314144]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Although I welcome the positive leadership that has delivered decommissioning in Northern Ireland, some individual members of loyalist paramilitary organisations remain involved in criminality, as reflected in the latest IMC report.

Mr. Binley: In January, youth workers warned that social networking sites were being used by both Catholic and Protestant groups to foment violence. May I ask what steps the Government are taking to ensure that such sites are not so used?

Mr. Woodward: That is primarily a matter for the PSNI, which is looking at how such websites are used. Where there is illegal use of such sites or material, it will pursue the matter. However, I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that the talks taking place right now in
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Northern Ireland will do more than anything to ensure that in the future young people find no interest in such activity. I ask him to urge his hon. Friends to do all they can to help the talks succeed.

Fuel Smuggling

9. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the level of fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland. [314145]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): The latest assessment by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs confirms that the amount of revenue lost through the non-payment of UK duty is reducing. We are not complacent, however, and in the past year HMRC has seized 1.09 million litres of illegal fuel.

Bill Wiggin: In 2002, the Chancellor's Budget targeted fuel smuggling, yet in a written answer on 14 November 2008, column WA150, the noble Lord Myners pointed out that £210 million in diesel revenue had not been collected, and that in 2005-06 it was also £210 million. Given the importance of fuel smuggling to terrorist organisations, why has there patently been no progress whatever since 2002?

Paul Goggins: The most important thing that we need to do is ensure that we find those who smuggle and deal in illegal fuel in Northern Ireland, seize their assets and bring them to justice. Under the remit of the Organised Crime Task Force, the PSNI and other law enforcement agencies are deeply involved with that. Operations now take place week after week to seize equipment and bring people to justice.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Further to that question-and indeed, to all the questions that have been asked today-does my right hon. Friend believe that conducting clandestine negotiations exclusively with Unionist politicians in a stately home in England helps or hinders the process?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I was listening intently to the hon. Gentleman. I was hoping that he would refer to fuel smuggling, and he did not.

Paul Goggins: Tempted, as I often am by my hon. Friend, to respond to the question that he asked, there is a serious point, and it is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made previously. This is not a moment for party political advantage in this place; it is a moment for the parties of Northern Ireland, with our support, to strive for and find the agreement that can pave the way to permanent peace in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [314797] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 3 February.

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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the service and sacrifice in Afghanistan of Lance Corporal Graham Shaw and Corporal Liam Riley, both from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. We think of their families and their loved ones, and we will never forget the sacrifice that they have made and the service that they have given.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be in contact with the Northern Ireland parties later today.

Mr. Evennett: I add my sympathy and condolences to the families of those brave servicemen who have lost their lives in the service of our country.

All our constituents are rightly concerned about transparency, expenses and cleaning up politics. With that in mind, now that it is clear that there was a £50,000 fund solely for the Prime Minister's use at his headquarters, will he explain why he did not declare this in the Register of Members' Financial Interests?

The Prime Minister: I know nothing about what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Q12. [314808] Jacqui Smith (Redditch) (Lab): Across the country, police officers and their community partners are working immensely hard to tackle violent crime. Who does my right hon. Friend think they should turn to, to monitor their success: to the Opposition, who have been caught bang to rights issuing dodgy crime statistics, or to the authoritative and independent British crime survey, which suggests that violent crime has fallen by 41 per cent. in the past 10 years?

The Prime Minister: I think that we all have a duty in the debate about law and order to give out all the facts that are relevant. To misrepresent facts that have come from the police and the British crime survey is not to allow us to have a fair debate in this country. The police have said that the use of the figure of 71 per cent. by the Opposition is "extremely misleading", while the BBC home affairs editor has said:

I think that there is a duty on everybody to report the facts accurately.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Liam Riley and Lance Corporal Graham Shaw, who were killed in Helmand on Monday. They were both very brave men. Everyone should be proud of their service and we should all honour their memory.

Is it not becoming clear from the Chilcot inquiry that the Government in general, and the Prime Minister in particular, made a series of bad decisions that meant that our armed forces were not equipped properly when they were sent into harm's way?

The Prime Minister: I will welcome the opportunity to speak to the Chilcot inquiry, but the right hon. Gentleman must know that defence spending rose every
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year, with the fastest rises for 20 years, and that our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan received £14 billion from the contingency reserve to enable the fighting there to take place. Not only did we prepare the Army, Navy and Air Force with proper funding; we also funded every urgent operational requirement that was made. I do not believe that it is in the interests of this House to tell people that they were not properly equipped when funding was provided.

Mr. Cameron: What the Prime Minister has just said is completely at odds with what witness after witness has said to the Chilcot inquiry. Let us listen to what they have said. The former Defence Secretary said that we now have fewer helicopters because of the decisions that the Prime Minister took as Chancellor. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walker, said that

Soldier after soldier has complained about the lack of body armour, vehicles and equipment, and we now know that the service chiefs threatened to resign en masse. Is it not time that the Prime Minister admitted to the mistakes that he made when he was Chancellor?

The Prime Minister: First, the Conservatives do not even know what their policy is for 2010 on spending on anything. Secondly, I have always taken seriously the need properly to fund our defence forces. In the 2002 spending review, which is the subject of discussion here, the defence estimate was the best for 20 years. The Defence Secretary at the time said it was an excellent settlement that allowed us to modernise the forces. In 2004, the defence management board made its own decisions. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he stood on a platform at the last election to cut defence spending by £1.5 billion.

Mr. Cameron: As ever, this Prime Minister is in complete denial of the facts. He just said that he always took defence seriously. Another former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie, said that this Prime Minister

Just today, in front of the Chilcot inquiry, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Kevin Tebbit, said that while troops were in Iraq, and while that man was Chancellor of the Exchequer, his budget was subject to "arbitrary" cuts and a "guillotine." He said that he

Is not the evidence mounting that the Prime Minister ignored the welfare of our armed forces right up until the moment it became politically convenient to do otherwise?

The Prime Minister: I repeat: the Conservative party went into the last election wanting to cut defence expenditure by £1.5 billion. We continued to increase the defence budget every year and we made every urgent operational requirement that was necessary for Her Majesty's forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. That has included £14 billion of extra expenditure from the reserve. Expenditure on Afghanistan was £600 million a few
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years ago. It will be £3.5 billion this year. Defence expenditure is rising this year, as it is rising in the next financial year. The right hon. Gentleman cannot portray a picture of defence cuts when defence expenditure has been rising. The only Government who cut defence expenditure recently were the last Conservative Government, who cut it by nearly 30 per cent.

Mr. Speaker: I call Jamie Reed. [Interruption.] Order. I am sure Government Back Benchers want to hear Mr. Reed.

Q14. [314810] Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): It is true. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be aware that he is the only leader of any political party to support nuclear new build in this country. What certainty can he give my constituents, businesses and the supply chain in my constituency that we will make the necessary changes to the planning system to enable them to invest with confidence and certainty?

The Prime Minister: I hope that there is all-party support for the nuclear expenditure that is necessary to give us security in our power. It is 8 minutes past 12 and I understand that the current Conservative party policy is that nuclear power is a last resort. That is not the basis on which one can plan for the future. The Conservatives can change their policies every day. We will remain consistent in support for the energy needs of our country.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Corporal Liam Riley and Lance Corporal Graham Shaw from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, who tragically lost their lives serving so bravely in Afghanistan this week.

I would like to return to the issue of defence spending. The Government are about to make a statement on the future defence needs of this country, yet the Prime Minister has already excluded the Trident nuclear missile system from the strategic defence review. How can that review be taken seriously if the most expensive weapons system that we have is to be excluded from it?

The Prime Minister: One can either take a unilateralist or a multilateralist attitude to defence. We take a multilateralist attitude that we are prepared to work with other countries for nuclear disarmament. We do so on the basis of being prepared to discuss the future of Trident as part of multilateral talks. We are prepared to look at and discuss the scientific evidence for reducing the number of submarines from four to three. The defence review paper will state all these things. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in a very unsafe and insecure world where countries are acquiring nuclear weapons, breaching the non-proliferation treaty, it is better for us to be part of multilateral discussions to reduce nuclear weapons around the world.

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