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When we look at the future regeneration and ecology of sport in London, it is our responsibility-I direct these comments also at the Mayor-to recognise that there is much to do in the east as regards the Olympic stadium and the West Ham bid. The future of athletics
is also hugely important in that regard. However, we must also acknowledge that there is still a tremendous amount to do in my constituency and in the Enfield constituencies. That is why I have campaigned for many years with my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) for improved transport links. I wanted a Victoria line extension to link us up in a much bigger way-not only for the sake of the club, but for regeneration in my very poor part of London. I remind hon. Members that my constituency is the second poorest in London. That is hugely important.
What will be the prospects for Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield if the club makes this drastic switch? Such a decision would also be a great shame for West Ham over the next decade, because it would clearly cause the club great financial harm. That would be a real tragedy for the ecology of the premiership.
The Government face a very big decision, and I hope that they will reflect very hard when they get the recommendation from the Olympic Legacy Trust. It does not make sense to spend taxpayers' money on a stadium-obviously, as a Minister in the Department at the time, I know that the amount involved was in part disputed, although I suspect that it is not any longer-and then destroy it four weeks later. That would resurrect real concerns about value for money. I suspect that the National Audit Office would want to look into it, and colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee certainly would.
At this time, when MPs such as me are seeing cuts to education maintenance allowance for our young people, the extension of tuition fees, cuts to housing benefit, hikes in unemployment and cuts to the future jobs fund, it cannot make sense to dismantle a stadium in that way. I must put that in the strongest possible terms.
It is also important that the Minister listens to fans and not just the club's current custodians. I have seen the club change hands twice in my period as an MP and four times in my lifetime. Tottenham fans are already concerned about what is happening, and well over 4,000 have signed a petition. It is true that most think this will not happen. Most Spurs fans think, "Oh, this is a try-on, it can't be serious." Well, if it is serious that would be a great travesty.
I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, will he say something about the timetable for the decision? I am informed that the Olympic Legacy Trust board will meet on 28 January and hopes to make a recommendation to him after that. Will he confirm that the decision will be his, alongside the Mayor and the appropriate Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government? Who else will make that decision? Will he also confirm that he would expect the club to pay a bond, deposit or guarantee in the event of it winning, so in that sense the decision would be final? For example, West Ham would not be able to win the bid and say a few weeks later, "We've changed our minds and we want to stay at Upton Park," and Spurs could not win and say a few weeks later, "Oh, we changed our mind and we want to stay at White Hart Lane." That would make this a moment of urgency for both clubs as they reflect on their future. I am grateful for the opportunity to put those remarks on the record.
Miss Anne McIntosh (in the Chair): Order. I am going to try to give everyone who wants to speak an opportunity to do so. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) informed me in advance that he would like to speak, so I shall try to fit in the last two speakers in the 10 minutes after he has spoken.
Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing the debate and on introducing the important topic of the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. It is important to stress that both are included; often the Paralympics are overlooked.
The issue of the legacy is crucial because, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) said, the Olympics are not about a few exciting weeks of sporting and cultural extravaganza in London and a few other places. They are about the legacy that can come from the work that is being done and has been done; as the hon. Gentleman said, the real judgment about whether we have succeeded will be made in 10 years' time. I was lucky enough to be in Singapore, and I saw the brilliant work that Seb Coe and his team did in inspiring the world to get behind us, support our bid and ensure our success, when Jacques Rogge pulled London's name from the envelope-it took him an interminable time to do it. The fact that I and the Minister-who at that time was the Opposition spokesman-were there showed how from the very beginning support for the Olympics and Paralympics has been cross-party. It is important to recognise that although I may have disagreed with the previous Government in some matters, broadly speaking everyone has worked together.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), who in her role as Secretary of State and Olympics Minister did a huge amount of work to drive forward the preparation for the games and to build up the plans for a lasting legacy. The one area that rarely gets touched on, although it featured heavily in the bid-in the inspiring videos referred to by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy)-is the issue of inspiring the world. Everyone will remember how we made a commitment to use the games to inspire the world to get involved in sporting activity and all the benefits that come from it. The right hon. Lady deserves huge credit for her work in establishing the International Inspiration scheme, which has been so successful, and which helps our work in the aid programme in many places around the world. I have been particularly impressed by something with the awful acronym ICES-the International community Coach Education Standards-which has brought people from all around the world together to share expertise in developing coaching skills. That is part of the legacy that is often forgotten.
The right hon. Member for East Ham put forward a powerful case for the West Ham solution for the future of the stadium. His arguments about the business case and the huge business benefits for his community and the surrounding area were very powerful. However, the most powerful argument of all is the simple one concerning the commitment made at the time of the bid, that there would continue to be an athletics track there, and opportunities for an athletics centre of excellence. The
decision is with another body, not the Government, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be successful and that that is the solution that will be reached. It is interesting to hear two Members supporting major football clubs who have both reached the same conclusion, despite representing very different parts of London. The right hon. Gentleman's case is powerful, but of course we shall have to wait and see. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say.
While we are inspiring people around the world, it is interesting to note that we are still inspiring people in this country. Tens of thousands of people have already given their names as potential volunteers to help during the Olympics and Paralympics. That is very encouraging. Two million people have already registered on the tickets website, which shows that there will be very significant take-up by people from within the UK, who want to come and enjoy the games. However, the legacy is about many things. Of course it is to do with the issue that the right hon. Member for East Ham raised about buildings and what is happening in the east end of London, but we must not forget that there has been regeneration elsewhere as well; for example, in Weymouth, the centre for sailing. That is very important. Also there will be a legacy from the significant improvements being made to transport systems in London. The right hon. Member for Tottenham may have wanted even more, but let us not forget that those improvements will produce a significant legacy.
There will be a real legacy in business and employment, as has already been mentioned. Huge numbers of contracts have gone out through the Olympic Delivery Authority for building the Olympic site and the Olympic village, which in turn will provide the legacy of more affordable housing-urgently needed in that part of London. There are opportunities still to come, even though the site is nearly complete. There will be opportunities in the contracts to be awarded through the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. In the next 12 months there will be £250 million of contracts, for everything from seating to whistles and DayGlo vests and there will be job opportunities from security to ticketing; the list goes on. There will be a large number of opportunities. What is pleasing is that well over 50% of the £450 million of LOCOG contracts that have already been awarded, or that are being finalised, have gone to small and medium-sized businesses, many of which are in London. That is of real benefit to those businesses. Very pleasingly, 95% of the contracts have gone to organisations, businesses and companies in the United Kingdom; it has been a real opportunity. I was interested to see that even the Royal Mint has got in on the act, with the contract to provide the 2,700 medals that will be needed for the games.
There are a couple of areas of concern. The first is to do with the legacy that we hope to get from tourism. We all understand that we are in financially difficult circumstances. I do not want to argue about who is responsible for that, but we all know the situation. It is understandable that budgets and funding, even to tourism organisations, have had to take their share of cuts. However, there is one thing I am particularly concerned about. The Government, rightly in my view, propose to end the regional development agencies and replace them with local enterprise partnerships. Those will in many cases-they will decide-have responsibility for tourism.
Unfortunately, however, we will have a gap between the ending of the work that is being done by the RDAs and the work that will begin to be done by the local enterprise partnerships. In that gap of up to two years, tourism may lose out if action is not taken.
In my region, the South West of England RDA established South West Tourism, which did a lot of important work to promote tourism in our region. However, the contract for that work cannot be renewed and it comes to an end on 31 March 2011, even though the RDA does not end for another 12 months after that. Because the contract cannot be renewed, that work will finish. The South West RDA maintained one responsibility in-house, which was for marketing, including tourism marketing, but because all marketing by the RDA has already ceased, tourism marketing in the south-west has already ceased, too.
There is a real problem with the gap between the ending of the RDAs and the formation of the local enterprise partnerships. What will happen during that gap in respect of tourism, which seems to be crucial in the run-up to 2012?
The other area where I have some concern is the school sport partnerships, although I am delighted that there have been some recent announcements about them, which were referred to by the right hon. Member for East Ham. I am very supportive of the coalition Government, but I stood up in a debate on the Floor of the House to point out that I was deeply concerned that while money was to be transferred to schools through the ending of ring-fencing-something I very much welcome-there was still a problem, in that schools did not know what their budgets were. Therefore, they did not know whether they could use any of that money to support sporting activity, and we would have had a situation where the framework of support provided by the SSPs would have disappeared long before the schools could decide whether to put money into them.
As I said on the Floor of the House, it seemed absolutely critical that we maintained a framework that would enable schools, when they knew what their funding allocation was, to determine whether to put money into SSPs; if not, clearly we would have to look for other solutions anyway. I am pleased that a decision was made to find a way of maintaining that framework.
However, I put it to the Minister that we can still go further to make the network more secure; I genuinely believe that we can do that. The other organisations that are already operating very successfully indeed are the county sports partnerships. In some cases, the SSPs are already linked to the county sports partnerships and it seems to me that we could strengthen the framework for schools to bid into by examining ways of more effectively merging the activities of the county sports partnerships and the SSPs, to enable them to do their incredibly valuable work. More work needs to be done in that regard.
I want to be brief, so I shall end by saying just one more thing. Very often, when we talk about legacy, we do exactly what I have just done; we refer to "legacy" in different pots, whether it is building legacy, transport legacy, tourism legacy or sporting legacy, but very often, the truth is rather different-they are all interlinked. The work that we have been doing in the west of England, where I have the honour to be the co-chair of Team West of England, involves finding ways of
integrating all the legacy issues. For example, we have got the British Paralympic Association to use the wonderful facilities at Bath university as their training ground. That has not just been good for Bath university; it has been good for local businesses, hotels and bed and breakfasts, and many other service industries in the area. That project is bringing all these things together.
In the same way, when the very first training camp deal was done by Bristol university to bring the Kenyan team in, the university had a 10-point plan, of which the Kenyan team coming to train in Bristol in the run-up to the 2012 games was the last item. The other items were much more about developing links between Bristol and places in Kenya, including schools links, business links, professional team links and so on. Those are the sorts of things that we can still do and that we need to do much more of. However, I am very optimistic that we shall have a great legacy from what will be a fantastic set of Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing the debate. Unusually, I make a declaration. It is not in the register, but I have to declare an interest as a Tottenham fan, although my focus in this debate is on what is in the best interests of supporters.
I have only three minutes to speak, so I will restrict my remarks. I agreed with much of what has been said in the debate today, particularly that there needs to be a long-term legacy; it is not just about what happens in the short term.
As I see it, there are four issues in relation to the legacy of the Olympic stadium. First, we need a world-class stadium; secondly, the stadium needs to combine community use with athletics; thirdly, it needs to provide diversity, by staging other types of events, including concerts, and fourthly, of course, the issue of viability has come to the fore. We know what has happened in previous instances with other Olympic games. Indeed, I was interested to see that, at the short-listing for the bidding, the chair of the company said that the company was obviously looking for an anchor tenant, but that it was interested in mixed use and that there should be a legacy for athletics. Those will be important considerations.
First of all, we need a world-class stadium. The contentious issue is whether the track should be retained. We have arranged our bid on the basis of commitments to the International Olympic Committee; indeed, the athletes' letter, which was mentioned earlier, talked about that issue. Of course, the legacy company reaffirmed that.
In relation to athletics events and community use, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham ticked all the boxes as far as West Ham is concerned. The real concern is the decision by Spurs to demolish the stadium
and replace it with an exact replica of the one they intend to build in Northumberland Park. In order to address the issue of the athletics legacy, Spurs has come up with the idea of refurbishing Crystal Palace. I do not have time to go into the details, but the reality is that it is not in the most deprived part of London, where the original commitment was given. We need to continue to reaffirm that commitment. Currently the proposal does not match the criteria.
The importance of other sports and cultural uses goes without saying. How do we ensure that schools and others can use the stadium in the future? There are real difficulties. The Spurs bid is very commercially oriented and I worry about how that would fit with the other types of events that are being suggested for the stadium.
Finally, on viability, the Spurs bid is viable; that is clearly the case and I am sure that as has been suggested, the West Ham bid is also viable. However, we need to take account of the fact that it is very much option B for Spurs. Option A is the new stadium in Tottenham. That proposal has been cleared by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Mayor of London and the planning authority. It is also supported by Spurs fans, not only the "We are N17" group but supporters in N18, N9, and EN3 in my constituency and indeed in the whole of Enfield. There are long-term historical ties; the club would not be Tottenham Hotspur if it was not in Tottenham. Those are important considerations for the club.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, begin by declaring an interest. I am desperate for West Ham to win at Fulham on Boxing day and then at home to Everton and at home to Wolves. I have been a season ticket-holder in the Bobby Moore stand for many years. I have supported the club for 50 years and I know that there is a long tradition of fans being attached to our current ground. Indeed, there are some West Ham fans who do not want West Ham to move to the Olympic stadium either.
However, the fact is that if West Ham moves to the Olympic stadium site, it will fulfil not only the commitment made to athletics, but for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has given, it will be a commitment to the regeneration of east London and to the priorities of the community there.
If Tottenham Hotspur moves, it will be like Milton Keynes Dons; presumably, the team will rebrand itself as the "Stratford Spurs". It will become a peripatetic football team, losing its roots and traditions. By contrast, if West Ham moves, it will still be a team from the east end, a team in the borough of Newham and a team with roots in the community, proud to have the claret and blue flying over the Olympic stadium in Stratford and proud to serve the community of east London, including the community in Ilford, where I live and where my constituency is located.
There are a few Tottenham fans in Ilford-not many-but I have not found a single Tottenham fan who wishes to travel to Stratford to go to football matches. I believe that Spurs fans should continue to travel to N17 and West Ham fans should continue to travel to the east end, to grounds in the communities from which they come and which represent their values for the future. One real winner will come from the West Ham bid: the legacy. That is why it is important that West Ham and Newham council's bid is successful.
It was an enormous pleasure to be at the stadium yesterday as the lights were turned on and to see the spectacle of the virtually complete stadium. We saw the structural evidence of progress and had conversations with many of the work force who built the stadium. They took pride in having the opportunity to be part of it and to do something much more than just going to work. The Prime Minister made the point well yesterday that the whole country has built the stadium. The steel came from Bolton, the steel for the aquatic centre came from Newport, some of the planting came from Norfolk and the steel cabling came from Doncaster. Businesses all over the country will reflect with pride on their contribution to the Olympic park. Equally importantly, their order books have been kept busy during the downturn, and they have not had to lay off staff; in many cases, due to the mandate that supply chain contractors must build the skills of their work forces, they have hired apprentices whom they might not otherwise have hired.
The London that will greet the world in just over 18 months will perhaps be different from the stereotypes. It will not be a London of Beefeaters and well-recognised historic monuments but the London reflected in part in the Olympic bid that won us the games. Those young people from Langdon Park were the face of London, representing 20 nationalities and speaking 22 languages. The London that welcomes the world will be a creative London of diversity and tolerance. We will also be proud that businesses around the country have benefited from the investment.
I challenge the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field): I think that scepticism is always a good discipline in relation to such a big project. We won the bid because we said that these games would be the legacy games. We must be kept true to that ambition, which will continue to be realised long after the games are over. We will achieve things that we would never have achieved but for the Olympics and the scale of the ambition that has been unlocked: to be fourth in the Olympic medal table and second in the Paralympic medal table. Our two big legacy ambitions are to transform a generation of young people through sport, and to regenerate east London. Another is, through the Paralympics, to change for ever attitudes toward inclusion, the entitlement to a full place in our society and opportunities for disabled people.
The big and immediate challenge, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said clearly, is to reshape east London's economy. This
debate has been supported by many right hon. and hon. Members for whom that is a burning concern. I welcome the fact that the Olympic Park Legacy Company has taken a strong lead that can give us all confidence in the commercial future of the Olympic park. The ambition is that the Olympic boroughs, in which too many have been workless for too long, will become the digital equivalent of the square mile in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, and that the economic heart of London will broaden to incorporate the entrepreneurial and creative talent of Hoxton and Shoreditch and the new studios and workshops of Hackney Wick. It is encouraging that there is already commercial interest in investing in the park. It demonstrates the lasting impact of the Olympics: the hard legacy of the park and the soft legacy of a local population better skilled to take the new jobs brought by the new investment.
Two years before the games, the private sector is already responding, even at this difficult time. Canadian pension funds are investing in Westfield Stratford City, which would not have happened without the games investment. Nine world finance groups are bidding for the athletes' village, and we have heard plenty about the two remaining contenders for the Olympic stadium.
The important point is that the OPLC will decide whether the eventual winner of the competition provides good value for money in the broadest possible sense. It is also important that whichever club wins the prize, it does not crowd out or put at risk the potential for other investment. It is important that the stadium is reopened rapidly after the games, that the proposal is financially credible and that the community will not be bystanders pressing their noses against the plate glass that excludes them. They are entitled to be full citizens enjoying the park's facilities. If the OPLC approaches the decision in that way and builds on the commitment to the legacy of jobs, the promise of the legacy will continue to be realised.
Will the Minister reassure us that there will be a continued drive to develop skills and new jobs despite the Government's proposal to abolish the London Development Agency? Will they realise, as hon. Members have mentioned, the full impact of the tourism legacy?
On school sport, we welcome the second major legacy promise. Will the Minister assure us that in the context of an 80% reduction, the number and range of sports offered will not be reduced, that competitive sport will continue to increase and that the Government will move towards the target that we set in government of 60% of young people participating in at least five hours of sport a week?
The challenges are great, and it is right that there is a clear cross-party commitment to running the Olympic games. I conclude by paying tribute to the Minister and to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who speaks for the other part of the Tory-led coalition, for the way they sought to ensure, certainly during my time as Secretary of State, that we maintained that spirit, because London deserves it.
The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson):
I join other Members in congratulating you on your debut appearance in the Chair in this Chamber,
Miss McIntosh. No one has mentioned it, but we all ought to congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) who has just been elevated to the Privy Council.
I add my personal thanks to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) for the extraordinarily constructive and inclusive way she managed the process when she was in charge. The past six months must have been difficult for her; to start a project of that sort, be as closely involved as she was and then, for reasons beyond her control, see it pass to someone else must have been difficult. I simply say that I am grateful to her for everything she did and for the way she has conducted herself since. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing the debate and on the way he made his points.
Given that time is short, I will try to answer the various questions that have been asked as best I can, rather than read the prepared speech, which I suspect might be rather familiar to the right hon. Lady. The right hon. Member for East Ham should have no fear about the political aspect, if that was a worry behind anything he said. The Olympic Park Legacy Company, chaired by Baroness Ford, is doing a fantastic job. She was appointed by the Government in which the right hon. Gentleman served and is a Labour peer-I think she may be a Cross Bencher now-so he should have no worries on the political front.
The right hon. Gentleman asked some good questions about jobs on the site. There are currently 10,333 people working either on the park or the village, of whom 25% and 29% respectively come from the six host boroughs. Genuine employment opportunities have been created, even before the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games brings forward its opportunities, or Westfield starts to recruit for the Stratford City development, which I am told will bring another 20,000 jobs to the area. If those forecasts are correct, the position looks reasonably promising. I enjoyed his suggestion about local residents and a local food court, and hope that he will manage to persuade his borough to take that up.
I absolutely take on board the right hon. Gentleman's points about school sport. I think that we are all much happier with the position we are in now than the one we were in a week ago. To be fair to the Secretary of State for Education, it was a difficult decision. He had a budget that was subject to a 10% cut and had decided to hand the budgets over to schools, as the hon. Member for Bath noted. Once he had done that and given the schools a 0.1% increase above inflation, he was left with a very small pot, out of which he had to make his 10% cross-departmental cut. At the same time, he was trying to fund the pupil premium, which I guess will benefit many young men and women growing up in the borough of the right hon. Member for East Ham. It was an extremely tight financial settlement, and although I take on board the many points that have been made by the sports lobby, not a single one of them came forward and said, "Save this and cut the other"; it was all, "Save this spending". Anyone who has had to go through a major deficit reduction plan will know the difficulties involved.
The stadium was the major part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He made a powerful case for West Ham, but I hope that he will not be offended if I say
that it was not the first time I have heard that speech, or indeed the counter-offer from north London. He is absolutely right to say that I visited the West Ham community scheme about a year and a half ago when I was in opposition. It is a powerful scheme that does fantastic work in the community, and I pay tribute to it again, as I did at the time.
We are currently in the middle of a legal process, so I am unable to say a great deal more about that now, but I will come on to the dates and who is making the decisions in a moment. Clearly, it is massively to the benefit of the public purse that two extremely good and competitive bids are going forward. If I were to comment in too much detail one way or the other, however, I would open myself up to judicial review. Having been a distinguished Minister in the previous Government, the right hon. Gentleman will know that landing the Government in the High Court is not normally a role for junior Ministers, so I will leave it at that and simply say that the process is ongoing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) talked about the financial aspects. On the village, I can assure him that there are nine high quality bids, as the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood said. I do not think that I am breaking any confidences when I say that that was considerably more than we expected. There is a great deal of interest in what is being built on the park, and almost everyone who goes there is-to use a nasty, modern phrase-blown away by it. There is considerable investor interest in large parts of it, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured. The right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood is right about the hotel rooms; they are not being paid for from the public budget, and many of the bodies occupying them-the international federations and the rest-are simply billed for them. It is not some great state-sponsored beano in which people will be living at the Dorchester at huge public cost.
In a very good speech, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke of his passion for the bid. I was lucky enough to be with the hon. Member for Bath and the right hon. Lady in Singapore at the time, and I thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham for the role he played. He made a powerful speech about Tottenham. I hope he will be impressed to know that I have also visited the Tottenham Hotspur community scheme; indeed, he will be doubly impressed to hear that I did so during black history week. There were many people in the stadium at Tottenham studying the very first black player to play for Tottenham.
Hugh Robertson: The very man. They had all drawn him, were learning about him and putting that into context. Crucially, I was told that there was a reading skills course, which I think had been running for seven weeks when I visited, and the average literacy age increased by 18 months over that period. It is a fantastic scheme, and the right hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to it.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the time, but he will appreciate that the remarks I made earlier apply to what I can and cannot say about the process. He is absolutely right that the initial decision will be
made by the OPLC board on 28 January. It will then be confirmed, and eventually due diligence will start. I am absolutely sure that some form of deposit or bond will be taken from whichever preferred bidder emerges from that stage, and the decision will then come back to the founder members of the OPLC board-the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Mayor of London. Those three bodies will take on that scheme, and that arrangement was set up under the previous Government. I hope that answers all the right hon. Gentleman's questions about the process.
Hugh Robertson: The current timetable, all being well-clearly that depends on due diligence and the various things that have to be gone through with the preferred bidder-is for the decision to be announced by the end of the financial year, so by the end of the first quarter of 2011. I would imagine that 1 April 2011 would be a good planning date. Like all decisions, it will be a balance; value for public money, the legacy and promises that we have made will all be considered.
The hon. Member for Bath made a customarily good speech. With regard to tourism, he is right to identify the gap between the ending of RDAs and the start of LEPs as a concern. We are looking at that process with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I absolutely take on board his remarks about county sports partnerships. One of the things that has come out of the slightly tortured process of the past three months is the question of whether we are making enough use of CSPs, which tend to vary in quality, depending on the area in which they are sited, who is in them and who is running them. There is certainly room to bring the two closer together.
The hon. Gentleman also touched on international inspiration, which has not formed part of the debate. I do not know how many Members picked it up, but we were able to confirm the full funding from the Department for International Development for the remainder of the international inspiration scheme, which is a considerable step forward.
I thank the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) for his contribution. He made the case for Spurs to remain at White Hart Lane. I am probably in danger of overreaching my brief, but I am not sure that that is an option B, as all the information I have seen indicates that Spurs is pursuing that option very seriously indeed. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) made a powerful case in favour of West Ham, and I wish him well for the Boxing day fixture. Time is running out, so I thank all Members who have spoken in the debate for their contributions, particularly the right hon. Member for East Ham, and wish everyone a happy Christmas.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): In these final hours of a momentous parliamentary year, I am grateful to be able to put on the record my concern about the consequences of local government funding cuts for my constituency. To make the case fully about what a hammer blow the cuts will be, I have to put those cuts into context.
Parents and young people in Hackney are still reeling from the consequences of the cuts in the education maintenance allowance. The east end of London, particularly Hackney, has one of the highest proportions of young people claiming the EMA of anywhere in the country. In one of the further education colleges in my constituency, BSix, more than 75% of the students claim the EMA. Yesterday, I heard the Secretary of State for Education claim that the EMA was tokenistic. I put it to the Minister that the sums involved-£10, £20 or £30-are not tokenistic in the east end of London. Those sums have made it possible for young people to stay on at school. Losing that money will be a blow to household budgets and will be a slap in the face for those young people and their aspirations.
We will also be hit by the health reorganisation, contrary to the claims of Ministers that the health budget is protected. Hundreds of redundancy notices will be issued by the primary care trust in my constituency, as in others throughout the country, as part of the reorganisation process. Ministers have promised that 45% of management jobs will be lost. Those are real jobs held by real people, some of whom live in my constituency and many of whom are women.
The context of the local government cuts also includes the figures this month on rising unemployment and the big cuts in the public sector generally. The Minister knows that the public sector is a major employer in Hackney, particularly of women.
As if all that was not enough, there will also be changes to housing benefit, which will affect claimants in Hackney, who numbered 7,829 as of November. Based on the current caseload, the average shortfall for a claimant in Hackney due to the caps will by £22.96, but the highest shortfall could be as much as £250 a week. Those calculations do not take into account the further shortfalls that will also arise from the 30th percentile rule, which will mean that people can only get housing benefit from the bottom percentile of private sector rents in their area.
We are not looking at local government cuts in isolation. In Hackney, one of the poorest boroughs in the country, local government cuts should be seen in the context of cuts in the EMA and housing benefit, job losses in the health sector and rising unemployment. On top of these things comes the local government funding cuts.
I sought this debate because Government grants to Hackney are being cut by 14.9%, the equivalent of £44 million. That is the biggest cut in London and one of the highest in the UK, putting Hackney 26th out of 152, in percentage terms. If I put nothing else on the record, I wish to put on the record that the Government figure showing an 8.9% reduction was misleading, because it includes moneys that do not come from the Government, including council tax revenue, transitional grant funding,
which is only available for the first year, and £3.7 million NHS funding for new activities. The real figure is 14.9%, which is more than £44 million.
In responding to the 8.9% figure, I must say that the Government have made much of the fact that funding per head for residents in Hackney in 2011-12 will be £1,043, compared with only £125 per head in Wokingham. That seems like a huge gap. Some, perhaps even the Minister, will say, "Clearly, Hackney is being treated generously and maybe with undue generosity." But I am grateful to be able to put the truth about the cuts on the record. Hackney has more than £1,000 per head in local government funding because it has a very low tax base per head-the last major factory moved out of Hackney when I first became a Member of Parliament, more than 20 years ago-whereas Wokingham has a very high tax base.
The London borough of Hackney's need assessment is one of the highest in England-I have worked in Hackney for 20 years and have personal understanding and knowledge of that-whereas Wokingham has one of the lowest. To illustrate that, in case the Minister is not persuaded, 33% of children, or more than 6,000 pupils, in the London borough of Hackney take free school meals, whereas in Wokingham only 3.9% of pupils-just 491 children-take free school meals. In Hackney, 44% of children are in out-of-work families in receipt of child tax credit, but in Wokingham the figure is only 6.7%. In Hackney, the proportion of older people on the income support element of pension credit is 53.7%, whereas in Wokingham it is only 9.2%.
I beg Ministers to stop making misleading comparisons between Hackney and shire counties, because the need in Hackney is so much greater than in the areas that they are referring to. It is misleading and unfair and it seems as though they do not take seriously the huge social need in the inner city.
The cut of 14.9% is being imposed on top of all the other cutbacks that Hackney is facing. What will be the consequences of such a cut in local government funding to Hackney, together with the changes in the apportionment of what used to be called neighbourhood renewal funds? Inevitably, because the local authority is such a huge employer, there is a threat to jobs and services.
We in Hackney-myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and our elected mayor, Jules Pipe-will be fighting to save jobs and services, but already we know that five youth clubs that we were promised under schemes promoted by the previous Government will not happen. There is concern that the Government are carelessly stopping that youth provision with the stroke of a pen, although Hackney faces so many issues to do with youth culture, gangs, antisocial behaviour and criminality.
We know, partly because of the nature of the schemes that we spend the neighbourhood renewal funds on, that youth offending work and youth work is threatened, as is work with young people not in education, employment or training and on child obesity.
Posts will be deleted. It will suit civil servants and even some council officers to claim that they are not making redundancies-some will be agency posts and others will be voluntary redundancies and I suspect
that, at this stage, only a small proportion of posts deleted will be involuntary redundancies-but a post that is deleted is a job that is not there. Just because somebody is an agency worker does not mean that their need for employment is any less. They may not figure in a column headed "Redundancies", but people who had jobs will lose them.
The hundreds of posts that are deleted, even if they are not officially regarded as redundancies, will mean fewer jobs for young people leaving Hackney schools and colleges who have worked hard and hope to make some sort of life for themselves. In the opening weeks and months, as Hackney local authority draws up its budgets, we will know exactly where the axe will fall. There is no question but that both jobs and services are threatened.
I have heard a number of Ministers in the Tory-led Government talk about local government bureaucracy. The mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, is aware of that issue and 36% of posts at tiers 1, 2 and 3 are being deleted-that is 20 positions altogether. In debates such as this, mention is often made of how much chief executive officers in local authorities are paid. Let me put on the record that I do not defend those salary levels, and I do not accept the argument that the salaries earned by some chief executive officers in London are due to the market; it is a cartel driven by recruitment agencies. I have discussed that issue with colleagues in local government who say that they cannot attract the people and that they need to bring people in. I argue, however, that it cannot be satisfactory to have so many leaders of inner-city local authorities who do not live in inner cities; some of them commute from far outside the M25. Local authorities need to invest in second and third-tier officers, so that it becomes more normal to recruit at the highest levels from within. Those authorities would then not have to pay inflated salaries via recruitment agencies, and they would be more likely to attract people who, instead of travelling hundreds of miles to their place of work, are local, have roots in the area and understand the authority.
I do not defend the high, inflated salaries that, in my view, have been paid to some chief executive officers over the recent decade. Such salaries would be more acceptable if those officers accepted what many of us in the House would consider to be proper accountability. Some seem to have difficulty with the notion that together with such a considerable salary-three times that of a Member of Parliament and more than that of the Prime Minister-comes accountability. Sadly, the case of Sharon Shoesmith is an example of that. I am not here to defend high salaries, but even if we got rid of every first, second and third-tier officer in Hackney, it still would not make up for the £44 million of cuts that we face.
In conclusion, we are all aware that savings have to be found in the aftermath of the credit crunch. However, the Labour party does not accept the argument put forward by Ministers and their supporters that the cuts are inevitable in their totality. The cuts are ideological, and the fact that boroughs such as Hackney will be hit so much harder than boroughs such as Richmond points to what is going on. It is wrong and distressing for Ministers to compare Hackney with Wokingham as if they were in any way comparable. It is wrong to mask the scale of the cuts by adding in council tax revenues as if those are given to Hackney from central Government,
when in fact the money is raised. It is wrong for Ministers to turn away from the real need that exists in boroughs such as Hackney.
Over the past few decades, remarkable work has been done by community organisations, local authority leaders and the Government in the east end of London. In my local authority, there are five new academies; there is the brand new east London line, which is the brain child of a former Mayor of London. However, the east end still struggles with the legacy of Britain's industrial past. It is no coincidence that some of the most historically significant local government leaders emerged out of the politics of the east end in the 19th century-George Lansbury, for example, and the councillors of Poplar. It has been clear for over a century that the issues and challenges that face communities in the east end of London cannot be solved by individual charity alone. They cannot be solved by, "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate", or by charity at the appropriate time. Such problems can be solved by the aspirations and ingenuity of individuals, but only if there is a strong local state. Those of us who live in the east end of London and represent the area, look with apprehension at the clear intention of the Conservative-led Government to whittle away at the local state in the east end, to delete posts and services and leave families and children unprotected against the stormy economic times that we are passing through.
These are almost the final hours of 2010. It has been a momentous Parliament. For the first time in many years we have a coalition Government, and for the first time ever, I am on my party's Front Bench. The year has ended in a way that many of us could not have foreseen. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am pleased to put my concerns about the cuts on the record, and I assure the Minister and the House that when it comes to fighting to defend the interests of the people of Hackney, I will stand side by side with my colleagues and we will give no quarter. We were elected to fight for people who have no voice and for a better, stronger community. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, the mayor of Hackney, and I believe that the wave of cuts that is coming towards the east end from all quarters poses a real threat to communities and to the changes made by recent generations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for providing hon. Members with the opportunity for this debate. As she said, it has been a momentous year for her and also for me-I, too, did not expect to be where I am. However, that gives me the opportunity to address the concerns raised by the hon. Lady, and those in a wider context that relate to the economy and local government.
When the coalition Government took office, they had clear objectives. Right at the top of those objectives was the desire to shift power from Westminster-and more particularly from Whitehall-to people and communities at grass-roots level, and to promote decentralisation and democratic engagement. We are doing that by giving new powers to councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.
The backdrop of the economic crisis that we inherited meant that we also needed to identify better ways of funding local government. The spending review and the provisional settlement provide opportunities to do that, and we are working hard to ensure that it happens. Managing the impact of the funding reductions requires tough choices.
I do not accept the hon. Lady's view that the cuts are ideologically driven. I am sure that if someone comes to her surgery and says, "I am having difficulty paying my rent or my electricity bill but I'm going on holiday to Corfu next week", her advice would be to cancel the holiday to Corfu and concentrate on delivering the essentials. That is what the Government are doing. Each day, £400 million must be borrowed-perhaps the figure is even larger. We are increasing income and we must reduce expenditure. We are doing that to the best of our ability by protecting the most vulnerable people. I understand the hon. Lady's points; they are heartfelt and based on her experience as a vigorous and active constituency Member. However, we need to put that in a context where the revenue funding to local government from central Government must be reduced. The comprehensive spending review confirmed that the revenue would reduce by 26% in real terms during the CSR period, excluding expenditure on schools, the fire brigade and police. However, it is very important to understand-and I am sure that the hon. Lady does understand-that local government spending will reduce by far less than 26% because councils also get money from council tax. She is wrong to discount the contribution that council tax will make to the spending power of Hackney.
Andrew Stunell: I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making, and I will come on to the detail of the sums in a minute or two, if I may. However, the Government, the Department and the Secretary of State have made it clear that we are talking about the spending power available to councils, which is what is crucial to the council's delivery of services and its employment of staff, as I am sure she understands. It is about how much money the local authority has to spend. She is right: the contribution from central Government is reducing and will reduce further over the period of the CSR. However, the capacity of the council to spend money will not fall below the figures we announced.
Even in these difficult financial times, we have protected those in most need of support. We have provided £1 billion of NHS funding to support social care services, which will build up by 2014-15 and is front-loaded, with £800 million of it coming in the next financial year. That includes £650 million paid through PCTs next year, and Hackney will benefit from a share of that money-as will all social services authorities-by receiving approximately £3,700,000. In a throw-away remark, the hon. Lady said that that would be for new duties; it is for managing the junction between health and social services, which service deliverers on both sides understand can make real economies and add common sense to their joint budgets, as well as improve care. In addition, the Department of Health is rolling £2.4 billion of social care funding into the formula grant over the next
three years. That is made up of existing social care grants, which will rise in line with inflation and reach £1.4 billion by 2014, and an additional £1 billion, which will come from the funding to the NHS to councils to support social care.
We have protected investment in the homelessness grant and are prioritising services with the Supporting People programme over the spending review period. We are also giving more flexibility to local authorities. We are ending the ring-fencing of all revenue grants from next year, except school grants, and there will be a new public health grant from 2013. We have simplified and streamlined grant funding, and have shifted a wide range of other budgets, including GP and police and crime commissioner budgets, to the local level where they can be pooled and aligned. An important further step will be the creation of community budgets starting in 16 pilot areas next year, but it is possible to extend that to all local authority areas by 2013.
Turning to Hackney, I welcome what the hon. Lady had to say about high-powered salaries in the local government sector. I think that she and I are of the same mind on that. I hope her words will be widely listened to across London and elsewhere. We have produced a settlement that ensures that no council will see its revenue spending power decrease by more than 8.9% either next year or the year after and is progressive in its impact-I will come to that in a moment. It also confirms the transfer of control of finances from Government to local authorities, giving local authorities discretion. It is in that context, and the context of the council tax freeze and next year's supporting grant, that I want to assure the hon. Lady that we have responded to the pressures that undoubtedly exist in Hackney for public services and for strong local government.
Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): Is there not a danger in the local government settlement that we are inadvertently penalising local councils that are already running a very tight ship? As the Minister may know, Bromley, which includes my constituency of Orpington, receives the second lowest local government formula grant-just £216. That is being cut by 14.3%, even though the council has very little to cut as it is.
Andrew Stunell: I can if necessary fight a war on two fronts, but that intervention probably makes the point for me. The settlement that we have produced protects Hackney and, it perhaps could be said, at the expense of Bromley. We have subdivided local authorities, in relation to the allocation of grants, by what we have described as banded floors. There are four bands, based on their dependence on Government grant as a fraction of their total spending.
If the local government settlement is as benign as the Minister says, why have leading Liberal Democrat councillors and local government leaders and leading Conservative local government leaders attacked it? I believe that one Liberal Democrat local authority
leader went so far as to refer to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Local Government as Laurel and Hardy. I would not dream of being so disrespectful, but those are not the words of people who are happy with the settlement.
Andrew Stunell: The hon. Lady and I have been around for longer than probably either of us wants to admit. With every local government settlement, every council finds a reason to complain that it has not been dealt with fairly. I understand that. This is the local government settlement in which every local authority faces a reduction, so it is not unexpected that the pain is felt and sometimes expressed.
However, we are protecting Hackney through the introduction of the banded floors, which means that its proportion of grant reduction is less than the proportion of grant reduction for those in the most independent sector of the local government family. In fact, Hackney is 3% better off than it would have been if we had stuck to the previous Government's grant formula system.
We have adjusted the distribution of grant to give greater weight to relative needs, raising the figure from 73% to 83%, so that the per capita element is reduced and the element dependent on the deprivation of the area is increased. We have also introduced the transitional fund. That directly benefits Hackney to the tune of about £5,800,000. The introduction of the transitional grant means that we have been able to limit the losses of the councils that would otherwise have been most severely hit. The transitional grant goes to Hackney; it goes to some 70 councils in all over the two-year period, ensuring that any council that in either year would go over the 8.9% threshold will receive transitional grant funding to bring it back to that level. We are currently consulting on that and, in making our final recommendation, we shall look with interest at the feedback that we get from councils.
I want to deal with the hon. Lady's point about the comparison between Hackney and Wokingham. That is not to say that Wokingham is like Hackney. It is to point out to hon. Members that the Government understand that Hackney is more vulnerable than Wokingham, which is why for every pound of grant going to a person in Wokingham, £8.36 goes to a person in Hackney-a multiple of 8.36. That is the amount of Government grant going to Hackney compared with Wokingham. That is not because we are saying that they are the same, but because the Government freely acknowledge their differences and the need to respond differently and appropriately.
The hon. Lady suggested that there was some kind of conspiracy, perhaps at the expense of her party. The formula grant reduction for Conservative single-tier authorities is 11.9%. For Labour authorities, it is 10.9%. For Liberal Democrats, as she might think is appropriate, it is an 11.3% reduction. Therefore, there is no political conspiracy. Labour authorities have on average £1,092 spending power per head; Conservative ones £862; Liberal Democrat ones £929. Those figures come from the House of Commons Library.
Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): I am grateful for the chance to hold this debate, which will be the last in Westminster Hall this year. I am indebted to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) for sparing time in the pre-Christmas rush to be here, as well as to the Minister for indulging my interest in the subject in a conversation in the Tea Room a fortnight ago, during which he suggested that I apply for this debate. I hope he is not now regretting that I was successful in the ballot.
The subject is undeniably topical. Anybody doubting the transformational impact of the internet on diplomacy need look only at how the dissemination of hundreds of thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables through the WikiLeaks website is rocking Governments throughout the world. That was why I entered the ballot, because I wanted to see whether I could draw some preliminary lessons from the WikiLeaks affair. Before I turn to WikiLeaks directly, however, I want to point out that the internet presents opportunities for, as well as threats to, our diplomats. New internet tools have extended the reach of our ideas by circumventing politically motivated censorship and enabling citizens living in oppressive regimes to exercise their rights of free expression, if unfortunately only on a stop-go basis.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, like many other diplomatic services, has developed a substantial "digital diplomacy" initiative in recent years. A more web-savvy FCO has our diplomats blogging and tweeting away as they make Britain's case in an informal way with audiences around the world. The FCO is also experimenting with intensive online campaigns, notably its Nuclear 2010 campaign in support of UK objectives for the review of the non-proliferation treaty, the campaign to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the campaign to shape global opinion during the London G20 summit. However, there is no easy-to-download app for every diplomatic challenge the UK faces. Adapting to new technologies is never easy for big organisations.
Recent events have shown how easily the same internet technologies can usher in as many diplomatic disasters as breakthroughs. The fateful decision in June 2010 of a former US army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, to give some 260,000 US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, the website dedicated to publishing confidential material, has been a wake-up call to foreign services around the world. I would like to reflect on some of the lessons that we might learn from the recent experience, which I believe marks a watershed in the relationship between diplomacy and the internet.
It is three weeks since The Guardian, along with four other news organisations-The New York Times, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel-began publishing extracts from the cables that Julian Assange had directly or indirectly made available in the first instance just to them. As yet, they have neither dumped the entire dataset into the public domain, nor published names that would endanger innocent individuals. I believe they have so far acted in a responsible manner. I have spoken to other newspaper editors who said they would have behaved in exactly the same way. I fundamentally disagree with Senator Joseph Lieberman, who accused The New York Times of
"at the very least an act of bad citizenship".
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the language of both Senator Lieberman and my friend Vice-President Joe Biden, who described Assange as a terrorist. None the less, the names were given of three senior Thai officials animadverting on the sexual and other behaviours of the Crown Prince. If a courtier in Buckingham Palace did that, presumably not an awful lot would happen to him, but I am not so sure about Thailand, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right to say that all the revelations are harmless. In the Kremlin, Putin's people have said that they now know the names of some of these people and they will be taking action. I would be quaking in my boots thanks to The Guardian and Assange because of some of the names put on the web.
Joseph Johnson: It is regrettable if people have been put in a position that makes them vulnerable to reprisals. I was not aware of the instance to which the right hon. Gentleman refers or of the fact that Putin had said that he was in a position to take action. I suspect that part of that may be bluff. Perhaps he wishes that he knew who was responsible.
Foreign policy in this country and in many democracies that are otherwise healthy is fundamentally and woefully underscrutinised. In Britain, for example, a Prime Minister can sign international treaties and take a country to war without a vote in Parliament. Foreign Office questions in Parliament come round only once every five sitting weeks. The culture of bipartisanship and the parochial nature of domestic politics stifle scrutiny of foreign policy making, but WikiLeaks is starting to change some of that. We can see that millions of people around the world, many of them in countries that have been denied a free media, have glimpsed truths about their rulers and Governments that had previously been hidden from them or that they had merely suspected. The Guardian is right to claim that the cables have revealed
"wrongdoing, war crimes, corruption, hypocrisy, greed, espionage, double-dealing and the cynical exercise of power on a wondrous scale."
The fact that there has been public interest in an airing of these documents-or a large majority of them-is beyond question. We have learned from the revelations, among thousands of other things, that Saudi Arabia and other Arab Governments sided with Israel in urging the US to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb; that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN leadership, demanding e-mail addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers, credit card details and frequent flyer numbers; that there could be a shift in relations between China and North Korea, with suggestions that Beijing might not intervene if the reclusive regime in Pyongyang collapsed; that there are concerns over Pakistan's growing instability, the security of its nuclear weapons and suspicions that the Inter-Services Intelligence is backing the Taliban in the war in Afghanistan; that there are suspicions of corruption in the Afghan Government, with one cable alleging that Vice-President Zia Massoud was carrying $52 million in cash when he was stopped during a visit to the UAE; that Russia and its intelligence agencies are using mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations, with one cable describing the country as a "virtual mafia state"; that there is a close relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, which is causing intense US suspicion; and that US commanders, the
Afghan President and local officials in Helmand have privately been critical of the UK's military operations in Afghanistan.
Those are just a few of the highlights that have been picked up and republished by thousands of newspapers and all other forms of media organisations all over the world. There will be more to come, but what is clear is that there is massive global interest in this extraordinary deluge of information. That is not because Assange and the "information-must-be-free" brigade at WikiLeaks have given these documents a global circulation, but because thousands of editors at hundreds of media organisations in dozens of countries throughout the world have all judged that there is a compelling public interest justifying publication.
It is possible to start drawing some lessons from the WikiLeaks saga. Just as the Supreme Court ruled in the Pentagon papers case more than three decades ago, it is, first and foremost, for Governments to protect their own secrets. It is not the job of the media to do so, unless there is a compelling national security reason to hold back from publication. The WikiLeaks affair has reignited the debate about where the line should be drawn between the right to a free press and freedom of speech, and the interests of national security. It has intensified what is an eternal and essentially unresolvable conflict. On the one hand, we defend and demand freedom of expression and the ideal of a free press but, on the other hand, we accept the limits to those freedoms in the interests of national security.
Those at the freedom-of-expression end of the debate have hailed Assange as a hero for revealing double-dealing and hypocrisy around the world. He is called the new Jason Bourne by Jemima Khan, the Ned Kelly of the cyber age by members of the press in Australia, and a libertine 007 by those who note his fondness for martinis. They point out that people living in countries with repressive Governments who lack a free media have a great hunger to read what their rulers have been saying and that we deny them that right at our peril.
To such people, it must appear hypocritical for the US to argue that the internet can be a force for transparent and democratic Government, and for accountability and democracy around the world, and then to condemn as "nihilists" those who use internet technology to allow greater scrutiny of US foreign policy making. I have considerable sympathy for that line of argument-what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
I have not been persuaded by those on the national security side of the argument who have accused the WikiLeaks founder of being an information or info-tech "terrorist", to use the word cited by Vice-President Biden, which was mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Rotherham, and of putting the lives of civilians and troops in danger. Thus far, as I said earlier, I think that the redaction of names and other sensitive information by The Guardian and the four other media organisations entrusted with the cables has been extremely diligent and painstaking. Of course, any broader distribution of the cables beyond this core group of responsible media organisations might considerably increase the risks to individuals named, especially if standards of care drop. For the moment, however, I am yet to be
convinced that the release of the cables will increase the vulnerability of the US to attack, as has been rather melodramatically suggested.
I also take with a pinch of salt the way in which US diplomats have been touring TV studios invoking the sanctity of diplomatic communications, as per the Vienna convention on consular relations. That international treaty was signed in 1963 by 172 countries. Among other things, it guarantees the inviolability of the diplomatic bag and other communications from embassies back to their home countries. I am sceptical, first, because it is states that are signatories to that convention, rather than media organisations, and, secondly, because of the revelation in the leaked cables that the US seems to use staff in some of its embassies as part of a global espionage network tasked with obtaining not only information from the people whom those staff meet, but a wealth of personal details, including even DNA material.
A second lesson is that it would be dismaying if there were now to be an attempt in the US to prosecute Julian Assange for his role in publishing the documents. I say that because I think that such an attempt would conflate the role of the media with that of espionage, which in turn would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism, the purpose of which is to unearth "what they don't want you to know". It would be one thing if Julian Assange had encouraged, helped or conspired with Bradley Manning to leak the material, but Assange claims-and there is no reason at this point to disbelieve him-never to have even heard the informant's name until he read it in an article in Wired magazine that mentioned Manning's arrest. I am no lawyer, but unless it can be established that there is a bona fide ground for Assange to be charged under the US Espionage Act, he surely deserves to be regarded as a publisher and a journalist, which in a US court of law would entitle him to protection under the first amendment to the US constitution. From the limited information that is publicly available, I see little substantive difference between Assange's role and that of The Guardian, The New York Times and others in running the story contained in the cables that he passed on to them. Neither he nor they were the original leakers.
Thirdly, the WikiLeaks affair shows us that technology is making it much more difficult to keep information confidential. It has exposed the extent to which internet technology makes possible security breaches on a scale that was unimaginable in an era of paper-based communication. As Sir Christopher Meyer, the British ambassador to the US in the Blair years, has pointed out, paper would have been impossible to steal in such quantities. The cables themselves came from a huge secret internet protocol router network-a database that was kept separate from the ordinary civilian internet and run by the Department of Defence in Washington. Since the attacks of September 2001, there has been a move in the US to link up archives of Government information in the hope that key intelligence no longer gets trapped in information silos or "stovepipes". This database can be accessed not only by anyone in the State Department, but by anyone in the US military who has security clearance up to the secret level, a password and a computer connected to the database, which astonishingly covers more than 3 million people, including Private Bradley Manning.
The US Government have now announced a thorough review of the principles on which they share the information that they collect-I am sure that the Saudi King, for example, will be relieved to hear that. Safeguarding sources is critical to any information-gathering exercise and after such a breach, rebuilding the trust of many thousands of sources will be a painstaking exercise. The US's experience is therefore a salutary lesson for all other diplomatic services around the world. I will be interested to know whether the Foreign Office proposes a similar review.
We are at a watershed in relations between the Government and the new internet media. The UK Government have a clear choice as to whether to promote a transparency agenda or to seek the false comfort of the old culture of secrecy and repression. I would prefer Britain to choose to become a more open and less secretive society, rather than to leave it to the likes of Julian Assange to force openness upon us. Rather than tightening further our draconian Official Secrets Act and threatening to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers, Governments should focus on making more information available and protecting only that which can cause substantive harm.
It is worth noting that none of the released documents were classified as top secret and much of the information in the 6% of documents classified as secret was already publicly known. Furthermore, these documents were likely to be released anyway in the course of freedom of information requests.
Of course, media organisations must exercise caution when revealing possibly sensitive information that could endanger lives, and this country should respect defence advisory notices when they are reasonably issued. However, new technologies have the potential to transform diplomacy and foreign policy making for the better in the long run. Studies of the effects of right-to-information legislation in numerous countries have found that there has been little impact on the amount of information that is recorded and that opinions have not been blunted following an increase in transparency. There is no chilling effect. In fact, according to Article 19, an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, the quality of some documents has improved, because the people writing them know that they will become public one day. They therefore focus on the provision of real political analysis rather than tittle-tattle and colour.
Officials have a duty to pass on important information, and that is not lifted because of fears that it one day may become public. By forcing greater transparency in foreign policy making, I believe that WikiLeaks will ultimately have a beneficial effect on the conduct of diplomacy. Let us continue to embrace the new technologies, not smother them at birth.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab):
I have consulted the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) on this debate, both in the House and by e-mail. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, a distinguished former correspondent of the Financial Times, on raising this issue. One of the most thoughtful Foreign Office Ministers is here with us. His colleague, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Taunton
Deane (Mr Browne), mentioned in the main Chamber the concept of a private realm of information, which was new "dip speak" to me. I do not know whether the Minister will expand a bit on that.
I agree in part with the argument made by the hon. Member for Orpington: the victimisation and the turning of Mr Assange into some kind of hero are wrong. He is quite a squalid customer who is lapping up all the publicity that he is getting at the moment. The quicker we can forget about him, the better.
I do not agree that private communications should be made readily available, for the simple reason that the British diplomatic service is understaffed and one of the smallest, although of the highest quality, in the world. It works on complete frankness in paper communication. If that becomes impossible because people think that their real-time thoughts-which may be relevant on the day but perhaps not so accurate with the hindsight of longer reflection-cannot be transmitted because they can end up on the front page of a paper, the decision-making process here in our nation's capital will suffer.
Most of the material that I saw as a Minister could have been put straight on to the web. In that sense, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but equally, he comes from a paper that takes foreign affairs seriously. It is extraordinary that we now learn that the International Committee of the Red Cross provided concrete evidence-
Miss Anne McIntosh (in the Chair): Order. I remind the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who speaks from a sedentary position, that he did not request permission to speak from the hon. Gentleman who introduced the debate, the Minister or the Chair.
Alistair Burt: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) for his considered words on this issue, for raising topical and challenging questions, and for his immense courtesy in letting me have sight of his remarks before the debate so that I did not have to take them unwittingly from his computer.
There is no doubt that our information world has changed. The internet can be accessed from most homes in the UK and can be used as a force for mass communication and mobilisation. Much more information is published by the media, and government is more transparent than it has ever been. The internet has changed how we all communicate, the audiences that we can reach and the manner in which we speak to them. All that has happened at the same time as, although it is unconnected with, a loss of trust in those in authority and those who govern, and a deepening scepticism about what is kept private or secret by Governments, or indeed anyone.
I do not intend to comment on specific information released into the public realm in recent weeks, or on any legal issues affecting Julian Assange. What I want to
discuss, and what I believe is essentially at issue in this debate, is the question of how much privacy there should be in the public realm-if I may gently correct the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), for whose presence at such an important debate I am grateful.
I think that my hon. Friend and I agree that there is a need and a place for some privacy in the public realm and other areas of life. Otherwise, it would be impossible for lawyers, doctors, journalists, scientists and other professionals to keep confidentiality in their work and before they reach conclusions that are ready to be made public. Premature exposure could threaten the integrity of such conclusions or prevent them from being reached at all. "Work in progress" is not a term to discard lightly.
An important distinction must be drawn between journalism and history. It is essential for information to be published and made accessible in due course to complete the historical record, uphold accountability and contribute to our understanding of the past. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office considers many documents ready for release after 30 years of storage, and most are, but journalism is not yet history, although perhaps it is history in progress. Live journalism shapes and influences events as they develop. When journalism breaches the confidentiality of diplomacy, it can threaten the ends that that diplomacy seeks to achieve. In diplomacy, the ability to negotiate in private confers freedom to broker agreement, and it is essential that that space remains. The basis of effective diplomacy continues to be trust between individuals and between states. There is thus space and reason for privacy.
The importance of free, frank and strictly confidential communication between Governments, and between Ministers and their diplomats, has been proved many times in history, from the formation of NATO to the western response to the Soviet Union, recent events such as climate change, peace and security debates at the UN, and the future of NATO. Diplomatic confidentiality has been severely strained by the release of sensitive diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks. The Government unequivocally condemn the unauthorised release of classified information. The leaks and their publication are damaging to national security in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. They are reckless, because they compromise the vital ability of Governments and diplomats to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information.
WikiLeaks confuses transparency and accountability with irresponsible attempts to undermine Government. The leaks undermine the trust and relationships that allow us to gather sensitive information as we pursue objectives in the UK's national interest on such issues as one might expect-Iran, the middle east peace process, counter-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation-and as individuals put their jobs, livelihoods and lives at stake to give us honest accounts of what is happening on human rights, politics and governance. Simply removing names from documents does not put that right. Sometimes, in a context unknown to an unsighted editor, the source of a comment is instantly recognisable, even with no name, to the parties involved. Security is thus unwittingly but recklessly compromised.
As my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his speech, it is those who bravely and candidly tell us what is happening under repressive regimes-those who offer insights that enrich our understanding and improve our policy, and without which we would be poorer-who are betrayed by WikiLeaks. I do not think that he is arguing with me about the need to keep some things private; the issue is what is kept private. To respond to his question, we are alert to the threat of unauthorised access, and we are doing all we can.
When WikiLeaks gives newspaper editors the power to choose which cables to release, what stories to write and how to spin them, it transfers a crucial power away from a democratically elected Government into the hands of an opaque elite. Governments are elected with a mandate to keep everyone's interests at heart; editors are employed with a mandate to sell news. The internet may be democratic at the point of download, but it does not have to be democratic at the point of upload.
We must also consider the unintended consequences for the conduct of diplomacy of the leaking of sensitive and secret diplomatic cables. The inability to hold conversations in private, in the confidence that they will remain private, will mean diplomats are more guarded about what they say to each other. That point has been made. They will inevitably commit fewer of these exchanges to paper, and our historical record will be severely damaged as a result. Transparency is therefore not well served.
It is also important to emphasise that WikiLeaks must be judged quite separately from the internet. My hon. Friend is right: the internet has in many ways empowered the individual and provided otherwise impossible insights into closed societies. There is no doubt that in many ways diplomacy has benefited from the internet age. Our ambassadors tweet, our Ministers blog and our main web pages are viewed, on average, more than 4.2 million times a month. Thousands of British citizens rely on our website for up-to-the-minute travel advice and foreign policy news. During the ash crisis in April this year, the FCO's social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter enabled us to listen to stories as they developed and to dismiss inaccuracies. Digital tools offer us the means to take diplomacy further into the public arena and reach audiences-in the blogosphere, in social media-with whom we could otherwise make no connection.
The job of diplomacy is to influence, explain and facilitate the delivery of our foreign policy goals. Increasingly that is not done state to state. Multiple global organisations that are not part of a Government impact constantly on our lives, whether they are multinational corporations or terrorist groups. Such digital conversations-often taking place in the local languages, from Vietnamese to Tagalog-open up new opportunities for diplomacy and enable us to talk about our work in new ways and in new places. Look, for example, at the Foreign Office blogs on human rights day, when members of staff around the world described their human rights work. Look, too, at the work of Ambassador John Duncan in bringing the mysterious world of the negotiations on the non-proliferation of nuclear arms into the light. That digital commentary explained, enlightened and ultimately strengthened wider support for our position in the negotiations.
The best of the web is where one engages and listens, not just where one broadcasts. Through blogging and social media, we can listen to how people view our work and monitor how the world views us, giving us the ability to adjust our behaviour accordingly. The internet age will continue to open up new possibilities and we will change the way we work as the world changes around us.
Our Government are open. We are committed to the principle and practice of freedom of information, and we handle the release of information routinely. In contrast to leaked documents, those releases are governed by a transparent system-a system of balanced judgment and careful consideration, which takes into account the interests of all, by the elected and not by the self-chosen. The positive and negative consequences of releasing information into the public realm are weighed against each other, and if it is in the public interest to release information, that information is released. If we as politicians and civil servants are accountable for those judgments
about the public interest and the release of information, that helps to ensure that, for the public, the system is open, fair and democratic.
It has become fashionable but lazy to assume that anything done behind the curtain of democratic government is done against, not for, the common interest, and that there is only self-interest, not public interest. The work of thousands of people on behalf of this country demonstrates that that is simply not true, and it is time for elected Members and democratic Governments to say so.