3.1 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I do not know whether you care to cast your mind back to May 1997, Mr Hood, but you drew the short straw of being the hon. Member who had to respond to my maiden speech. That speech was about nuclear weapons—Trident—and I fear that this one will be on the same subject. Indeed, I suspect that it will not be the last one that you or other hon. Members hear from me on the subject. I sometimes think that I should go into a sort of partnership with the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). We have debated this subject many times over the years. He never changes his tune, and I never change mine, but the debate remains live. It relates to procurement, in addition to strategy and the ethics or otherwise of nuclear deterrence, because of course the procurement process for Trident has been much disrupted.

The hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that Parliament has not yet had the debate. Well, excuse me, I think that Parliament did have a debate. If I remember correctly, it was in the spring of 2007, and both the Labour party and the Conservative party were wholly in favour of the next generation of Trident being constructed. I recall the then Leader of the Opposition—now the Prime Minister—to whose speech I had contributed, passing me an Order Paper on which he had inscribed the words “Julian gets his way”. Sadly, of course, there’s many a slip between cup and lip or, indeed, between a vote in Parliament and the deployment of a successor generation. The slip concerned came in the failure of the Conservative party to win an overall majority at the last general election. That ought not to have been a problem for the procurement process for Trident, given that the Labour party had gone into the election pledged to renew the nuclear deterrent and so had the Conservative party. Only the Liberal Democrats were opposed to that.

Jeremy Corbyn: I know that the hon. Gentleman loves the fact that the Conservatives are in a coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats—it is what gets him out of bed every morning and into work—but in his discussions with his Liberal Democrat colleagues, has he reached any conclusion about whether they do or do not want a nuclear missile or whether they want a different type of nuclear missile in the review that apparently is being undertaken?

Dr Lewis: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman—I am tempted to say “my hon. Friend”—that the Liberal Democrats really differ from both of us, because he

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knows where he stands on nuclear weapons and I know where I stand, but the Liberal Democrats stand firmly with a foot in both camps. They know that they do not want Trident, but they do not want to put themselves in his camp by telling the truth, which is that the majority of their activists are one-sided nuclear disarmers and do not want a strategic nuclear deterrent at all. Therefore, they come up with this fiction that it is possible to have a viable strategic nuclear deterrent with an alternative system to Trident.

That ought to have made no headway at all when the coalition was formed. The reason for that was that I and all the other Conservative Members of Parliament, who were being addressed by the Prime Minister-to-be at a meeting in Committee Room 14, were told what the terms of the coalition agreement would be, or some of the basic outlines of the terms. We were told that we would have to accept certain things that the Liberal Democrats wanted that we did not want, such as a referendum on the alternative vote, but that the Liberals would have to accept things that we wanted that they did not want, such as the renewal of Trident—that was the very example chosen. I remember my friend and colleague the future Chancellor of the Exchequer looking up at that moment, catching my eye—because at the time I was still the party spokesman on the Royal Navy and the nuclear deterrent—and nodding vigorously in confirmation of what the leader of the party had said. You can imagine, Mr Hood, my surprise and dismay—

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): On the issue of discussions and debate, does the lesson of someone nodding vigorously in agreement with a position, only for that subsequently to be replaced by a cold, hard dose of reality, ring a bell in relation to other issues?

Dr Lewis: There is always the possibility that people will change their mind when they see different circumstances, but I genuinely feel that that has not applied in this case as a result of what I was about to explain and what hon. Members will remember. Out of the blue, even though the procurement of a replacement and successor system for Trident had specifically been excluded from the terms of the security and defence review, on the day when the statement was made, publishing the review and presenting it to Parliament, we were told that the main gate decision, the contracts for Trident would be put off until after the next election. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), there was no doubt at all that that had nothing to do with hard facts or realities creeping in, and everything to do with politics, as the letter subsequently sent out from the president of the Liberal Democrats, crowing in triumph at the delay of the Trident decision, made clear.

I must not wander too far from the procurement emphasis of this debate. Therefore, I would like to put a specific question to my hon. Friend the Defence Minister with responsibility for procurement issues. It relates to the study that is being done about alternative systems to Trident as a possible nuclear deterrent. That is being done as a gift, a present, a political offering to the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, and I believe that

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the study is being carried out by the Cabinet Office rather than the Ministry of Defence, although the Ministry of Defence is supplying the material to the Cabinet Office.

I have to say to the Minister that any halfway competent assessment team, facing the problem of examining the existing and the potential systems for carrying a nuclear deterrent in the future, could do a comprehensive study over a period of probably not more than two or three months and arguably over a few weeks, on the basis of the accumulated knowledge of half a century that we have in the business of strategic nuclear deterrence. I would therefore like to know what progress such a study is making or whether it will in fact be spun out until the next general election. The reality is that there is no alternative to Trident for the next generation of the strategic nuclear deterrent, and I suspect that my political opponents in the CND ranks would agree.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): Just as an aside, does the hon. Gentleman have any concerns that the study was one of the documents put in the waste paper bin in the park?

Dr Lewis: I do not mind so much when unclassified documents are thrown away, but I do mind when this country’s basic protection is thrown away. I really do not want to see another hung Parliament, with both major parties having gone into an election proclaiming their commitment to the next generation of the nuclear deterrent, only for a small third party that is adamantly opposed to that deterrent, but which does not have the guts to wear its unilateralism openly, to blackmail the leaders of those two parties in turn, saying, “You get rid of this weapons system and we will make you Prime Minister.”

Stephen Gilbert: I feel loth to interrupt my hon. Friend as he expands on how a small but effective team can punch above its weight in the coalition, because he is doing a splendid job. Does he not see, however, that the threat facing the United Kingdom has changed hugely over the 20 or 30 years since the end of the cold war? Does he not agree, therefore, that it is right and proper to examine whether we need to change our plans in response to that changing environment?

Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. We are now moving from a procurement debate into a pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear debate.

Dr Lewis: I shall briefly deal with the point, as it is out there, and then I shall move back to procurement in the narrow sense, if I may.

Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. I would much prefer you to carry on with your very interesting speech.

Dr Lewis: Thank you very much. I would simply say that punching above one’s weight and getting a result that reverses the mandate of the two large parties are very different things.

The question is what happens in the procurement process for a weapons system that Parliament has already voted in principle to bring into existence. The hon. Member for Islington North says Parliament should

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debate and vote on the issues again and again at every stage of the procurement process. As the Minister will confirm, however, procurement does not work that way; there are certain set stages in the procurement of a weapons system at which Parliament may have its say and at which contracts must be signed. The fact is that the contract in this case has been put off until after the election, and the result is that the entire procurement project has been put in jeopardy.

The systems we are worried about—whether nuclear systems or aircraft carriers—will be built over a fairly long period, but they will be in service over a very long period. The lifespan of the new super-carriers will be 50 years, and that of the next generation of the nuclear deterrent will be about 30 or 35 years. Therefore—I would not dream of returning to our earlier debate—the circumstances that have changed in the world over the past 15, 20 or 25 years might well change again over the next 15, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. That is why we have armies, navies and air forces in times of peace, when there is no apparent threat on the horizon, and why we need systems such as the nuclear deterrent—to prevent us from being taken by surprise.

I must draw my remarks to a conclusion, as others will not have time to speak otherwise. However, I would not like today to pass without paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the former Secretary of State for Defence, and wishing him all the best. I served under him and three previous shadow Secretaries of State, and I know that defence specialists across the parties are bound by a common world view and a common realisation that decisions taken in the defence portfolio, above all others, will determine whether the people of this country remain safe and whether our forces, when they go into action, sustain great casualties or emerge triumphant, bearing few, if any, casualties. The responsibility for those issues is fearsome. My right hon. Friend had a passionate belief in the importance of the Anglo-American alliance and of procuring a future generation of the nuclear deterrent, and I trust that his successor will be equally committed.

Finally, I welcome the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) to her responsibilities. Like many members of Labour defence teams in the past, she takes defence seriously and works on a non-partisan basis when she can.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should say that we may well be comfortable for time. I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesmen at 3.40 at the latest, and I have two hon. Members on my list of speakers.

3.16 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). My remarks will follow on neatly from his, as his did from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—those who speak in debates on the deterrent

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are a kind of a parliamentary tag team. This is not the first time we have seen that, and I am sure that it will not be the last.

Jeremy Corbyn: It is an asymmetric triangle.

John Woodcock: Yes, that is quite possibly true, and I may say something about the fundamental importance of this debate for Opposition Members later.

I want to talk about the successor deterrent in the context of procurement and the critical issue of sovereign capability. Defence procurement is different from so much Government procurement in other Departments, because of the importance of Britain retaining capability in certain key strategic areas. Submarine capability must remain one of those, and British submarines defending British shores must continue to be built in Britain. It is a happy fact that the only place in Britain that can build them is in my constituency, and what an incredible engineering feat is achieved there.

It is important that procurement is undertaken in the most effective way. Gaps in construction could spell disaster for our capability to build submarines. Hon. Members will think back to the early 1990s, when the previous Conservative Government left a gap between finishing the Vanguard class submarines and starting the Astute class submarines. Ministers say—I welcome this, and we need to hold them to it—that they have learned from those mistakes and from the experience of how difficult it was to restart our capability in Barrow. In fact, the problems and cost overruns experienced with the new Astute class submarines came in large part from the fact that the people building them were learning their craft anew.

Given the constraints of sovereign capability and the fact that only one place in Britain will retain the skills to build submarines, it is critical that the Government do whatever it takes to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money and that the country’s security is upheld. Conservative Members were hot on that in opposition, when they repeatedly pointed out the cost to taxpayers of delaying important procurement projects and of shifting timetables to the right. It therefore greatly concerned me that when they took office, they delayed the proposed in-service date for the successor deterrent submarines from 2024 to 2028, which necessitated a re-baselining of the Astute class submarines at an increased per boat cost to taxpayers and created the need for a costly refit of the Vanguard class submarines. In an answer to me on 8 November 2010, at column 5, the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), put the cost between £1.2 billion and £1.4 billion, which is the cost of refuelling alone aside from any other cost incurred in keeping the submarines going.

Apart from the increased cost, the changed in-service date has potentially stretched the safe life of the current Vanguard class submarine to its limit. Experts in the Navy, Barrow shipyard and the Government say that with the increased cost of the refit they think they can keep the Vanguard class submarines in service for the projected time, but their life will be stretched to the limit, and any further delay could compromise safety and radically increase the cost. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. It is important that we keep the

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project to time, but it has slipped in the past, and if it slips further, given that he has increased the risk to the project, what will happen?

I hope that the Minister will make it clear whether the new Defence Secretary intends to look at the issue afresh, and, if so, what that is likely to entail. Will he ring-fence the budget for Trident from the defence main budget, which has already been mentioned in the debate? Will he make clear the overall extra cost to the taxpayer from the political deal between the coalition factions, which the hon. Member for New Forest East has expanded on at length? That deal subjugated what was in the best interest of British taxpayers on procurement and the defence of the realm to political expediency in this Parliament.

Nick Smith: I take my hon. Friend’s point about timing, which is perfectly made, but the alteration to requirements is also important. In the strategic defence and security review the Government, as we have seen, changed their mind about what planes would travel on the new aircraft carrier, which has pumped up the cost by billions.

John Woodcock: My hon. Friend has extended my point. Because of the limitations that have necessarily been put on defence procurement for very good reasons, Ministers have an increased responsibility to make the right decisions. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), whom I congratulate on obtaining the debate, expanded at length on other areas of difficulty, and I hope that the Minister will deal with those points, particularly the most important issue of all for our defence—the ultimate deterrent that the UK maintains.

3.24 pm

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing the debate, which he promised would be wide-ranging, as it has certainly proved. I want to make passing reference to some of his points about the waste of public money in various previous defence procurement contracts, which is particularly galling given how hard we are now sweating our military assets, working people and equipment to deliver incredible value for money. It is galling, too, because, representing a military constituency, I receive letters from wives in military families saying, for example, that their husband is about to be deployed for a second eight-month term with only a 10-week break, and will be away for a second consecutive Christmas. That puts incredible pressure on families, so it seems very wrong to throw money away thoughtlessly on ill-devised and badly thought-out procurement contracts.

I want, however, to talk about another matter, and that is the vagaries of a defence procurement process which puts obstacles in the way of good, efficiently run British companies—particularly small or medium-sized enterprises—winning contracts, creating jobs and earning the money to help the country grow out of its economic hardship. I know that the Government have always recognised the strategic and economic importance of the defence sector. I have six significant defence companies

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based in my constituency, so I have become increasingly aware in the past 18 months of the challenges that the industry faces. In the light of the forthcoming White Paper on defence and security equipment, support and technology, I urge the Ministry of Defence to deal with three areas of concern to the companies in my constituency: support for SMEs, greater long-term planning and a strategy for successful outsourcing to industry.

I have spoken before in the Chamber about the great importance of SMEs in all sectors. They are truly the lifeblood of the defence industry. In my constituency, SMEs such as Vector Aerospace represent vital links in the supply chain that allow our headline companies to succeed, and to be world beaters. Britain boasts more SMEs in its defence industry than France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined, and we must recognise and nurture those unique assets.

I welcomed the acknowledgement in the December 2010 Green Paper that SMEs are a vital source of innovation and flexibility. I now urge the Government to address the enduring challenges that SMEs face, as unreliable or slow acquisition processes continue to place unmanageable burdens on their cash flows. Requirements such as the framework agreement for technical support listing have also been highlighted by small contractors in my constituency as prohibitive to SMEs supplying the Ministry of Defence.

The forthcoming White Paper must deliver comprehensive support, through the procurement processes and supply chain management, for our SMEs, so that they can continue to be the pride of the British defence industry. Across all tiers, our defence companies provide jobs for more than 300,000 people and add £12 billion to the UK economy, but, despite the importance of that, the Government are right to prioritise the needs of our armed forces and the taxpayer above industry. We must always be clear that we are not in the business of artificial job creation through public sector procurement. However, the companies whose representatives I have spoken to in my constituency and beyond are not demanding protectionism. They want, for the taxpayer and for industry, an environment that delivers the best value for Government and appropriate support for British companies.

Jeremy Corbyn: In the hon. Lady’s dealings with local companies, which undoubtedly have very high skill levels, has there been any discussion or consideration of contracts outside defence, and in other areas, using those transferable skills?

Caroline Dinenage: Many do that, and many work in the defence of other countries outside the UK, but Vector Aerospace does repairs and servicing for many of the helicopters—Chinook, Sea King and Lynx—and the mainstay of its work is for the British military.

The White Paper must tackle two procurement challenges that have frequently hampered both industry and cost-cutting efforts. First, we must ensure that through-life capability management is fully considered in the procurement process. In many respects, the MOD is right to prioritise buying off-the-shelf products at the best value, but with acquisition representing only 15% to 20% of the lifetime cost of a programme, there can be significant cost implications to excessively short-term thinking. That has been all too apparent in the case of

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the Carson rotor blades purchased under an urgent operational requirement for helicopters in Afghanistan, which lacked a repair contract and so had to be ordered as new each time one broke. That is absurd and highly expensive, and we must seek to avoid that in future through greater scope in the procurement process for long-term thinking.

Secondly, the White Paper must ensure that the limited resources of the MOD are put to the best use through successful partnerships with industry. Representatives from Vector Aerospace, which I have already mentioned, have noted that the outsourcing of functions carried out by service personnel or civil servants can deliver significant savings to the taxpayer while continuing to support British industry. They have had incredible results by sending their own personnel to Afghanistan to service and repair Chinook helicopters. Their performance has always been described as exceptional.

We need to ensure that long-term thinking is built into our procurement process. I look with great anticipation to the publication of the forthcoming White Paper, and urge the Government to ensure that it sustains the strategic and economic importance of our defence industry through delivering a supportive and considered procurement environment.

3.31 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hood. This is my first opportunity to speak as shadow Minister since the Minister’s warm welcome last week at Defence Question Time. Looking back through Hansard, it is a little surprising that this is the first Westminster Hall debate on procurement since the last election, with the exception of two half-hour debates. I therefore warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate. He certainly ranged widely, as promised, and highlighted the broad scope and reach of the Ministry of Defence in procurement. There are major challenges in balancing defence equipment needs while ensuring value for money and retaining the essential skills base to support sovereign capability.

I know that I am not the only MP in the Chamber who has a sizeable defence community in their constituency. Before the last election, my constituency was called Plymouth Devonport, which included Her Majesty’s naval base at Devonport. Thanks to the Boundary Commission, it looks like it might be coming back at the next general election, but we shall see. For me and many hon. Members, providing the right equipment to our troops when they need it, so that they can carry out the work for which they have been trained to the best of their ability, is of upmost importance. A number of hon. Members in the Chamber and I have constituencies filled with military personnel and their families, and I often pick up concerns on the doorstep. I should say at this point that I am delighted to have 29 Commando back in Plymouth, safe and sound. It is right and proper to debate the issues here today.

I listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and particularly to his reference to the British Army training unit, Suffield, based in Alberta on the Canadian prairies. It is worth noting that the reason why the British Army

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started to use that training site was due to the loss of El Adem and Tobruk in Libya when a certain Colonel Gaddafi came to power. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the need for bases in secure venues is absolutely right. Suffield was used briefly during world war two, and since 1972 it has been used as a British Army training base, initially on a 10-year lease. The agreement has been repeatedly renewed, which the hon. Gentleman touched on. I believe that a rolling programme of indefinite use is being offered. I note his comments and questions regarding that area. Other hon. Members also quite rightly challenged whether money was being best spent by the MOD on upgrading the premises there. I will listen with interest to the Minister’s answers to those questions.

The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey also touched on morale and beer prices, and he raised a genuine concern about how new companies break into the MOD marketplace, to which I will come later in my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) flagged up some potential problems, such as the need to secure the skills agenda and the loss of historic capability in Barrow, which is a lesson that we cannot forget. He also spoke about the implications of delays for contracts and cost overruns that follow.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), in supporting concerns about the rotation of staff in procurement, raised a challenging issue. That did not used to be the case, because officers used to be retained within certain specialties, and a number of senior and ex-members of the armed forces have spoken to me on exactly that issue in the past. I hope that the Minister will respond to that, because that area deserves consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) asked a series of serious questions about Trident replacement and whether it is needed. He has always campaigned on that issue with a great deal of commitment. Again, I want to hear what the Minister has to say about the time scale and transparency regarding Trident.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) raised the issues of contracts and transparency and of the cost of the over-specification of projects.

The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is on the flip side of the coin from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North. He described, with benefit of his long-standing interest and knowledge in defence matters, some of the problems regarding procurement and politicians’ role in muddying the waters, if I am to be gentle about what is going on in the coalition regarding Trident.

Dr Julian Lewis: Because there has been such candour on Government Benches about muddied waters, for the sake of clarity, will the hon. Lady take the opportunity to reaffirm her party’s firm commitment that Trident should be renewed and replaced by the successor system?

Alison Seabeck: The hon. Gentleman and I both stood on manifesto pledges that said exactly that. I also thank him for his kind comments in welcoming me to my new role.

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I would like to look more generally to the future of defence procurement. It would be remiss of me not to thank my predecessor in this role, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), for his work alongside that of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) in taking forward Labour’s review on defence procurement—not least in commissioning the report from Admiral Lord West, Bill Thomas from Hewlett Packard and Tony Roulstone from Rolls-Royce Nuclear. I thank them for their incredibly detailed and thought-provoking report, which builds on the work carried out under the previous Government by Bernard Gray, who has been brought in by this Government as the new Chief of Defence Matériel.

In response to questions last week, the Minister told me that he had read the report, although from our exchange last Monday, I think that there might be some differences in interpretation. However, I believe that we need, on the back of the report and Lord Levene’s excellent work, to look at structural reforms and at how, despite repeated attempts by successive Governments, we have failed to tackle overpriced and overrun projects. The Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have clear views and some pretty sharp criticism on that. The Gray report did not mince its words either when talking about overheating in the equipment programme and the inability of the system to flesh out the real cost of equipment at an early stage.

We need to have a defence procurement policy that works with an active industrial policy—one that promotes defence exports, an area in which we in Britain excel and should continue to do so. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who is no longer in his seat, pointed that out. While value for money is clearly important, so is the quality of the product supplied to our armed forces, and British products are among the best. More than 21% of the global market in the past five years was met by British production, and we are the largest exporter to the European Union. Also, there is evidence that competition in the export market leads to an enhanced drive for innovation and improvement in those companies, from which the MOD could benefit. The make or buy proposals in the report submitted to the shadow defence team—it is good reading—deserve some further consideration. We all agree that we need a sustainable defence industrial base that can continue to deliver in the long term. Will the Minister let us have his thoughts on the proposal in the Gray report for a 10-year rolling budget, which does not seem to have found full favour with the current Government?

The hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) was absolutely right to say that small and medium-sized enterprises need a degree of long-term certainty when it comes to supporting programmes, particularly bigger programmes. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North rightly mentioned the need for diversification of industry. It is all to the good if companies can diversify and find other markets, but there are a number of firms, of which I have several in my constituency, that are incredibly specialised in what they do. They provide bespoke products for defence purposes and it is difficult for them to expand, change or move on from what they do.

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I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on all those issues. Will he tell us what sort of relationship he has with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and what the feelings are about the need to join up procurement policy, which is such an important element in all this?

Finally, is the Minister happy that, for future procurement policy, there is a clear enough delineation between the absolute sovereign capability and the deployment sovereign capability? Is that something that will be made clear in the expected White Paper? Given the ever-changing nature of conflict, the need for greater co-operation between nations, the drive to secure British business opportunities in this field and the economic challenges that we face, we need to ensure that Governments now and in the future have in place the best systems through which to deliver equipment that is designed to enable the front-line soldier to survive, operate and fight. We also need the best technology and back-up for our armed forces, so that they can deliver force wherever and whenever it is required. I look forward to the new White Paper, because there is a real opportunity to make a difference in this particular sphere of MOD procurement.

3.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): I join the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr Hood. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve under your excellent chairmanship. We have been on various defence expeditions together and have enjoyed them greatly, and it is good to be here today.

I agree with what the hon. Lady said about the paucity of defence debates, and of defence procurement debates in particular. I commented on that fact about two or three weeks ago in the Department, and since then there have been two Adjournment debates, so we sometimes get what we wish for. Let us hope that there are more such debates, because it is very good for hon. Members to discuss these issues.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this important debate, which, according to my script, relates to a number of interesting and pertinent issues. I will go further in saying that there is a bewildering range of interesting and pertinent issues that cover everything from the price of beer in messes to the nuclear deterrent. The underlying philosophy behind defence procurement is underneath all that. I may not be able to do justice to all the remarks that have been made during this debate, but I will do my best.

Reflecting on what my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said in her contribution, I pay tribute to all those who serve in our armed forces. Their courage and bravery enable the Government to fulfil their first and primary duty of providing security for our country. That duty remains ever more challenging given the complex nature of the threats that we face in the 21st century. Although, procurement—or acquisition as it is called these days—is an important part of that, it is simply a means to the end of helping those brave men and women serve their country, as they are doing right now as we speak, in two theatres.

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The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) mentioned the strategic defence and security review, which sets out a coherent path to delivering adaptable and flexible armed forces. It is crucial that we put in place the right technologies, skills and industrial capability to deliver that outcome. I do not recognise his description of the lack of scrutiny of MOD contracts. If anything, we suffer from an excess of scrutiny. The Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office do an excellent job. We will soon have the next NAO report on major projects to consider, too.

Nick Smith: I made that remark because an NAO report mentioned the weakness of the Government’s feedback on that particular topic.

Peter Luff: It does not feel like that from this side of the fence. I look forward to the conclusions of the PAC on the forthcoming NAO report.

I accept that we need to be clear about how we plan to acquire and support our equipment for the armed forces, which is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport mentioned. The support costs are typically about two thirds of the total acquisition cost, with one third being the initial acquisition. We also need to be clear about how we invest in technology to sustain the skills of the defence industry, which is something that the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) raised. That was about the only thing that I agreed with in his speech.

The scale of what we spend is huge; the total spend for the whole range of procurements in the financial year 2009-10 was £20.6 billion. It is right that hon. Members should be concerned about how we spend that money. It is also right that we should say that much of that is spent very well, very wisely and very effectively by skilled and talented people. It is inevitable that we concentrate on the problems, because that is the nature of Parliament and holding the Government to account is what we do. None the less, I pay tribute to all those who do their jobs remarkably well, whether they are in the armed services, the civil service, the MOD Abbey Wood or the organisation Defence Equipment and Support. They all do a great job serving our nation.

It is true that we face some difficult decisions. I will not score any partisan points by talking about our economic inheritance, and especially the inheritance for Defence Ministers, from the previous Government. In a characteristically thoughtful and articulate speech, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) spoke about the need for fixed points in programmes for decisions. As he said, such a measure is important given the long period over which such decisions are felt. As I am frequently reminded, the last captain of the aircraft carriers that we are currently building is probably not even born yet, which puts into context the length of time we have.

I think that I can give the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View the assurance that she sought about the 10-year equipment programme. As I understand it, we now have a groundbreaking deal with the Treasury, which enables us to plan with much greater certainty the future of defence equipment and support in general.

I also want to pick up something that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said about the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member

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for North Somerset (Dr Fox). The MOD is now set on a path of real recovery, real hope and real confidence thanks to his excellent work. It now falls to the ministerial team to continue that work as a tribute to his sterling leadership as Secretary of State.

I will concentrate my remarks on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, because I owe him that courtesy. If I cannot deal with everyone else’s comments, I apologise and will write to them. I will not comment on individual cases, but I reassure my hon. Friend that the support that we give to SMEs has a high priority in my portfolio. I pay tribute to Vector Aerospace, which is one of the few companies that have been named in this debate. It is an outstanding example of a medium-sized company.

We are making a few changes that should help the SMEs considerably. We are reducing the threshold at which the MOD advertises contract opportunities and have created the new defence suppliers forum, which meets regularly under my chairmanship, to discuss how SMEs can make a better contribution to defence and how we can help them achieve that. We are learning a lot from that group’s work. We are launching a new Government-wide contracts finder that offers a free-to-access one-stop shop of public sector opportunities over £10,000. There will be more in the White Paper, the publication of which I too look forward to very much indeed. I cannot say too much about its contents but it will include a definition of value for money—something that many Members have mentioned—and talk more about outsourcing. Although there is already extensive outsourcing in defence—more extensive that many people realise—I agree that there is scope for more. The White Paper will also address the framework agreement on technical services and through-life costing, which is essential.

I am happy to reassure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View that our relationship with BIS is excellent and that there is nothing between us. I know that she would expect me to say that, but it happens to be true as well.

The White Paper will also define sovereignty requirements. I do not foresee any change in the definition that was published in the Green Paper last year.

I will now specifically address the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. I note that he worked for GEC Marconi, where he apparently ran rings around our officials. That issue is why Bernard Gray is working at present on the new matériel strategy. One of the principal purposes of that strategy is to ensure that we have the skills in place in Defence Equipment and Support to make sure that these procurement decisions are taken well and that the contracts are well negotiated. My hon. Friend has made a powerful point, and that work is ongoing. I hope that submissions to Ministers will come before the end of the year. And watch this space, because I agree that it is important that we do procurement and acquisition well, which has not always been the case. In the spirit of consensus, I think that the Opposition’s document on acquisition is not at all bad. In my view, all it lacked was an apology, but that is another matter for another day.

Turning to Canada, I am pleased that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members obviously had such an interesting visit to the British Army training unit Suffield—BATUS—over the summer with the armed forces parliamentary

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scheme. That is a great scheme, which works very well under Sir Neil Thorne’s excellent leadership. I have benefited from it twice with the Royal Navy— I am a “postgraduate” according to the scheme’s definitions. Today has shown how valuable the scheme is in enabling Members to speak with authority about the armed services and to challenge Ministers on things that they find. It is what the scheme is there for, and we need to make even better use of it than we do already.

I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend’s emphasis and what I think was the spirit of his remarks when it comes to Canada. Led by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Her Majesty’s Government are looking to develop even closer ties with Canada, as well as with other Commonwealth countries. A joint declaration of closer working between the UK and Canada has been drawn up by the FCO for signature by the two Prime Ministers, with a desire to seek

“greater interoperability between our defence forces and deepen co-operation on procurement and capabilities, to be enabled in part by a Memorandum of Understanding - MoU - on Defence Materiel Cooperation”,

and so on and so on and so on. The document was signed on 22 September by the two Prime Ministers, and it symbolises the very close relationship that we enjoy with the Canadians.

I will now talk about BATUS in more detail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey reminded us, it was set up in Canada in 1972. The location was chosen for its ability to provide the large-scale manoeuvre exercises that at the time—the middle of the cold war—were seen as being critical to meeting the UK’s operational and tactical requirements. BATUS provides 2,690 sq km of rolling, semi-arid prairie, delivering training on a scale that is unparalleled by anything available in the UK and enabling more than 11,000 troops to be trained each year. I want to place on record our real gratitude to the Canadians, who have been our utterly reliable allies in providing this world-class training location since 1972, which allows us to train in a way that is just not possible in the UK. The training at BATUS has been essential for the preparation of our troops for operational deployments, and we owe the Canadians a great debt for the part that they have played in enabling the training to happen.

Alison Seabeck: I want to ask the Minister a simple question: do BATUS and the recent new agreement give scope for any increased use of BATUS, as the German side starts to scale back?

Peter Luff: The hon. Lady not unexpectedly anticipates remarks that I will make in a few moments. I will turn to that issue then, if I may.

I will now address the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey about the costs involved with BATUS. The BATIC—British Armed Forces’ Training in Canada—agreement makes clear provision for the cost-sharing of goods and services relating to UK training in Canada, including the provision of all goods, services and facilities supplied in Canada or procured through Canadian sources. The costs are shared in accordance with agreed formulae, which my

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hon. Friend talked about in his speech, and those arrangements are scrutinised carefully. In addition, the memorandum of understanding is open-ended and may be renegotiated—that will give my hon. Friend some encouragement—at any time with the mutual consent of both parties.

In my view, the UK quite rightly pays the lion’s share of the costs of BATUS, on the basis that we use the facility significantly more than the Canadians. That is absolutely right and proper, and I have no problem with the cost-share involved in these arrangements. I agree that there is always scope to reduce costs, but other locations, as suggested by some hon. Members during this debate, are simply not equivalent and they would incur costs of their own, including significant set-up costs. So I am sure that the scope for savings is always there, but it may be more limited than my hon. Friend imagines.

Gordon Henderson: I accept what my hon. Friend says about the useful nature of BATUS. Nevertheless, does he not accept that it is wrong for the British taxpayer to have to pay such a high proportion of the costs without the MOD having a greater say in how those costs are accrued?

Peter Luff: I will look at some of the specific points that my hon. Friend made during his remarks, but I must say that I am broadly content with the overall structure of this arrangement, which delivers great value to British taxpayers and great opportunities for British armed forces, while strengthening and deepening our relationship with an important ally.

I must also say specifically that there has been no cancellation of helicopter training in BATUS. It is true that there are some different arrangements with contractors, including changes to some of the transport arrangements, but the training facilities involving helicopters have not been affected in any way. It is very important that that is understood.

Gordon Henderson: I am not sure whether we MPs were misled during our visit to BATUS, or whether the information has not yet filtered back to London, but I assure the Minister that there are two aspects of helicopter use during battleground operations: one is the use of helicopters to help injured people during the exercise, which is still being maintained and which involves BATUS using Canadian pilots; the other aspect, which has been cancelled, is the training that allows helicopters to be used to take troops into battle, as they would be used during a real battle operation. That second part of the training is the part that has been cancelled.

Peter Luff: I will clarify exactly what the arrangements are in a letter to my hon. Friend, so that there is no misunderstanding at all, but my information is that no aspect of our training arrangements has been affected by the new arrangements for helicopters.

Turning to the range control building at BATUS, it is true that there is an existing building, which provides the safety and co-ordination function required. It controls access and oversees safe practice on the range area, which is extremely important where live ammunition and weapons are concerned. Of course, it also controls movement around the prairie during live firing. In 2003, the Canadian Government approached the MOD with a number of infrastructure requirements that they felt

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needed to be addressed to enable the future use of the BATUS facility, including improvements to the range control building. I agree that the decision to upgrade that facility may not have been the UK’s first priority, but the facility was in very poor condition and met neither UK nor Canadian building regulations. A number of options were considered and the only viable option was to construct a new building. The contract for that was awarded in February this year, so I am afraid that the possibility of cancellation is no longer one that we can countenance.

I promised the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View that I would talk about future training in BATUS, which relates to what other colleagues have said. I will simply say that BATUS is 2,690 sq km compared with Salisbury plain’s 375 sq km, so BATUS is about eight or nine times the size of Salisbury plain. We must assess BATUS in the context of our overall training requirement, both in terms of the capacity and the nature of environments in which we need to train. We must also ensure that we end up with an overall solution that is the most cost-effective mix.

There is more work to be done before we can draw any conclusions, but what is certain for BATUS, any other training area and indeed for defence as a whole is that we need to drive out any unnecessary cost and to prioritise ruthlessly between what is “essential” as opposed to what is “highly desirable” or just “desirable”. I know that our Canadian partners will support us, so any work that looks at BATUS will be a truly collaborative effort. Not only does the memorandum of understanding require that collaboration, but Canada is one of our closest and most valued allies, and our interests are closely aligned. So, to answer the hon. Lady’s question, work is being done in this area.

I will briefly address the tank-lifting ramps at Tidworth. In view of the time that I have left to speak, I will not give my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey all the remarks that I have here. It is true that the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers could fix the ramps; it is also true that there are some issues around the contract; and I will look at that matter and write to him about it, because he has a point. I assure him that there has been absolutely no impact on operational capability. It is an important point, but he need not be concerned about the preparation of our armed forces or the health and safety of personnel using the site.

I now turn to the very important issue that my hon. Friend raised, which is drink—beer. The three-mess

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system is very much at the heart of the military ethos. Junior ranks’ messes are private sector enterprises, because all bar stocks are purchased by the contractor and the messes are wholly commercial ventures. In the officers’ messes and senior non-commissioned officers’ messes, bar stock is purchased by the mess and paid for through mess members’ subscriptions. Any profit is returned directly to the mess and lower prices can be set. I agree that there is a distinction there, but I am told that the three-mess system goes to the heart of military traditions and ethos. It is not a matter of contract—it is a matter of armed forces’ choice—and this politician is not going to interfere in the traditions of the armed services. However, I have been assured that military front-line commands keep this matter under constant review, so I understand my hon. Friend’s concern.

In the minute that I have left, I will address nuclear missile systems. I smiled when the hon. Member for Islington North got to his feet, because I could see the other “usual suspects” in Westminster Hall and I knew what would happen. Actually, I think that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns have largely been addressed. The long-lead items for HMS Victory were bought 15 years ahead of the construction of the ship, and the oak for the ship was laid down accordingly. Long-lead items are an established part of military procurement, and they always will be. I do not think we need to make any apology for that.

I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said, and he is right to keep us to our pledge. I assure him that the main gate decision being delayed until 2016 brings certain advantages, in that there will be a more mature design by then for us to approve. However, I hope he will hold us to the fire on an important capability that guarantees our freedom, as he so rightly reminded the Chamber. I also heard what the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said. He and I have often talked about this issue, and I will correspond with him about some of the specific points that he made.

Finally, as for the aircraft carriers, it is true that we are getting a more capable and stable carrier variant than the previous Government decided to have, and it is also true that that has a cost. However, at least we are buying increased capability for an additional sum, because the previous Government delayed the carriers for a year, which cost £1.6 billion, and just got them a year late.

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Rural Broadband (Cheshire East)

4 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I will first speak about the need for rural broadband, particularly of the superfast variety, in Cheshire East. I will then go on to describe the benefits it will provide for that area and the wider region, to talk about the gaps in coverage and funding, and to ask for reassurances and a response from the Minister.

Cheshire East council considers that investment in superfast broadband is the single greatest action that can be taken to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of residents. The area served by the council includes my constituency of Congleton and those of Macclesfield and of Crewe and Nantwich, and I am grateful to the Members who represent those constituencies for being here today, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), to whom I will refer later.

The local enterprise partnership has designated the roll-out of superfast broadband across the area, and across the wider area of Cheshire West and Warrington, as its top priority. The Cheshire and Warrington superfast broadband partnership has been established by three local authorities—Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, and Warrington—which, working together, aim to achieve 100% superfast broadband coverage by 2015. To maximise the economic, social and environmental benefits for businesses and residents right across the region, that aspiration exceeds Broadband Delivery UK’s 90% target. Much of what I say today will be in support of the work of that partnership, and I shall highlight the needs of constituents in Cheshire East.

The economic growth that the area needs, particularly to provide jobs for the next generation, will largely be driven by small businesses, and in my constituency it will be almost entirely so, because almost all its 4,000 or so businesses are small. They need the high speeds that superfast broadband provides to be able to compete nationally and globally with their more urban competitors that already have the service. Superfast broadband will enable them to offer existing services at lower costs, expand their market reach, increase productivity, develop new products and provide new services. The area needs high-speed broadband not only to ensure that existing businesses develop but also to attract new ones, but the benefits would not be for just businesses. I heard recently of a business man who was considering relocating to the area but was deterred by his school-student son, who said that he did not want to move because of the poor broadband connections.

It is not just the young who want high broadband speeds; the elderly, and the public and voluntary sectors that serve them, recognise the transformational social impact that comprehensive superfast broadband can bring, through technology that supports health care delivery. This includes telehealth, which is the remote capture of information for clinical review, telecare, which is a range of alarms and sensors in the home to enable independent living, and medical consultations through video teleconsultation. In the Cheshire East area, with its considerably higher than average ageing population, the benefits would be substantial. An excellent example, which demonstrates how the council is keen to capitalise

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on the use of technology to benefit older people, is the recently developed DemenShare scheme. This is a web-based scheme through which dementia sufferers and their carers can access and share support and know-how.

The need for superfast broadband in rural areas is well documented, and Cheshire East has a higher level of rurality than one might realise.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): I am pleased that my hon. Friend has secured this important debate, and I welcome much of what I have heard about the introduction of high-speed broadband in Cheshire East. However, the benefit will be spread much wider than the residents of Cheshire because many of my constituents receive their broadband and their telephone line through the Congleton exchange.

Fiona Bruce: That is a point well made. Staffordshire Moorlands is a highly rural area, and it will benefit exponentially from the support.

Cheshire East is 64.4% rural. Rural areas can benefit disproportionately from investment in superfast broadband, and they are there to be benefited. The growth rate in VAT-registered businesses in rural areas is 2.7%, compared with a decline of 0.3% in England and Wales as a whole. Home-based businesses are becoming increasingly important in rural economies. An academic study by Mason and others reported that 50% of businesses in rural areas are home based, compared with 26% in urban areas. In a more local study—of Alsager, in my constituency—of which I was advised by the Alsager partnership, it was calculated that approximately one in 10 homes hosts some form of home-business working.

Bearing in mind the historically low levels of state-funded investment in recent years in many rural areas—including in my constituency and in Cheshire East as a whole—compared with their urban counterparts, there is significant potential to add economic value through superfast broadband investment. England’s rural areas host at least 27% of the country’s enterprises but only 9% of its business revenue. There is genuine potential, and superfast broadband is the platform for unleashing it in Cheshire East.

Turning to the benefits that superfast broadband coverage will provide, I have already touched upon those for the rural economy and for older people. In addition, exponential benefits can be gained in this region as a result of the already-skilled entrepreneurial population. The area is home to a high proportion of knowledge-based industries. In my constituency, there is already a significant presence of digital and creative industries, with a potential for great growth that could be magnified by the benefits of comprehensive superfast broadband coverage. Lying as it does just beyond the main commuter belts of Manchester and Liverpool, the high-level digital connectivity to new business provided from MediaCityUK in Salford has a particular potential to provide transformational impact, both in strengthening existing businesses and in promoting the area as a business location of regional significance. For example, a graphic designer who is able to download large files quickly could work efficiently mainly from home in Cheshire East, with occasional face-to-face meetings in MediaCityUK.

Turning to the educational benefits for our young people, educational attainment is higher than average in Cheshire East, and that is important because young

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people are likely to adopt superfast broadband and play an important role in using it to create and distribute content. In a constituency from which a disproportionate number of young people have migrated in recent decades to find work, it is particularly important for the intergenerational balance of our communities that we provide work for, and retain, young people within the area, and superfast broadband will be a key factor in ensuring that. In other words, the social and economic returns to the region—and, in turn, the support for the national economy—from investment in superfast broadband through a combination of private and Government funding will, I am assured, be disproportionately greater in the Cheshire and Warrington area than in many other regions.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It is fair to say that some of the issues she has raised and the opportunities she has identified are similar across the border in north Wales. Does she agree that in rural areas an industry that would benefit greatly from increased access to fast broadband is the traditional agricultural community? In view of all the paperwork and forms that have to be completed online these days, that community needs superfast broadband.

Fiona Bruce: I agree, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. When I speak of the rural economy, I speak on behalf of the farming community in my constituency.

What current gaps in coverage and funding do Cheshire East and the wider Cheshire and Warrington sub-region seek to cover through the superfast broadband initiative? At present, 67% of the population of Cheshire East is covered, a figure provided by Ofcom in August 2011. That figure will increase to 86% by next year through private investment, mainly from BT, leaving a 14% gap representing 50,932 Cheshire East residents. The funding allocation for the area from Broadband Delivery UK will bring the figure up to 90%, but there are complications with the date and procedure for releasing that funding. I will return to that issue later.

The Cheshire and Warrington superfast broadband partnership is also seeking funding from the European regional development fund, but ERDF allocations will not be finalised until March 2012. Meanwhile, the BDUK approval framework will not be concluded until May 2012, leaving a disconnect between the two sets of funding, which are effectively interdependent. I am grateful to the Minister for having met me and representatives from Cheshire East some weeks ago to discuss the issue. I will appreciate his comments today, after his agreement to look into it. Underwriting such funds could be a considerable stretch for local authorities in these constrained economic times.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and recognise some of the concerns that she is discussing, particularly broadband access in communities such as Rainow—which I think she will mention in a minute—those in the peak district such as Wincle and Wildboarclough, and Flash in Staffordshire Moorlands. Is it not important for Government to signpost further and give local authorities such as Cheshire East greater support in securing access to those funds? It is not clear how to secure them quickly and in a co-ordinated way.

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Fiona Bruce: I agree entirely that the picture is confused and detailed. As I will mention later, it is also split among Departments.

The total funding needed to achieve our aspiration of 100% broadband coverage across the Cheshire and Warrington area by 2015 is £40 million. Although we welcome the BDUK funding support, we recognise that under current plans, it will increase coverage only to 90%. The rural areas to which my colleagues have referred will be among that 10%.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on leading the charge in this debate and on this subject. During her remarks, I think I have heard the word “rural” two dozen times. Does she accept, however, that it is also an urban issue? In parts of Warrington, urban development has massively outstripped broadband infrastructure capability, and the need there is as great as in some of the rural areas mentioned by her and others.

Fiona Bruce: I agree entirely. Chapelford, which I know well from my time as a Warrington councillor, is one such area. One cause of difficulties is that although approximately 85% of telephone exchanges can be upgraded, about 15% of telephone cabinets are deemed by the private sector to be uneconomic or unfeasible to upgrade. BDUK financial support will not necessarily include those, either. Will the Minister comment on how they will be provided for, particularly in the areas to which we have referred?

In some areas, broadband coverage appears on paper to be provided, but the area contains white spots. Timbersbrook in my constituency is a good example—it has no adequate coverage at all—as is the Congleton business park. In the neighbouring constituency, the village of Rainow, only a couple of miles outside Macclesfield, is similarly affected. I heard a councillor for the area say only this week that it is faster to post a letter than to use the internet there.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): I join the chorus in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely given the efforts being made in Cheshire East to introduce superfast broadband across the county. Will she add to that list some areas in my constituency? Businesses have contacted me that are already operational and want to expand, but are frustrated by extremely poor telecommunications infrastructure. If we are to attract new businesses to our county as well as keeping existing ones, we must ensure that we can provide them with that secure future.

Fiona Bruce: Absolutely. If we in the county of Cheshire are to achieve our aspiration to compete with the northern cities, we need that infrastructure in place for our businesses.

Funding is available from the European regional development fund—£43 million has been allocated to the north-west region as a whole—and Cheshire and Warrington will bid for £15 million to add to the £3.24 million in BDUK funding and the £430,000 secured from the rural development agency. It is hoped that the balance of the required money will be matched by the private sector. However, the £15 million bid to the ERDF is aspirational. We believe that Cheshire and Warrington have a strong case for the additional economic

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and social benefits that investment from the fund would secure for the local, regional and national economies, and a strong case within the north-west for securing that sum.

I am aware that there are other bidders to the ERDF funds for the north-west allocation for superfast broadband. Any comments or suggestions from the Minister on how funding towards superfast broadband in Cheshire East and the wider region might be secured from alternative sources, should our £15 million bid not be successful, would be appreciated. Will he also confirm whether today’s announcement from Europe of a further £8 billion in superfast broadband funding is new money? If so, how can our aspiration, and those of other areas of the UK, to attract money from that funding provision be improved?

I seek further support from the Minister on streamlining the time frame for the BDUK and ERDF funds. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) mentioned, interdepartmental help could be provided to streamline the complex application process for local authorities.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I am grateful to her for mentioning my home town of Rainow. I wonder whether she can do something about the mobile phone signal, which is also weak. Earlier, she mentioned young people leaving Cheshire, Congleton and so on. Young people need places to live, and there is a shortage of affordable homes for newly-weds and young people. Does she agree that any future planning permissions should include good broadband provision as a condition?

Fiona Bruce: I agree entirely. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; his constituency is part of the Cheshire and Warrington partnership area.

At present, various Departments are involved in funding streams. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport—we are grateful for the Minister’s presence here—is responsible for the BDUK allocations, while European funding for broadband lies within the remit of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and rural development funding is under the control of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In summary, Government support, which is much appreciated and clearly demonstrates the importance the Government place on this issue, is found across Departments. Any help the Minister can give to ensure that funding streams, time scales and application procedures are harmonised would be appreciated.

While I am discussing Government support, I commend the Government’s work on digital inclusion through the website Race Online 2012, which is dedicated to promoting digital inclusion among older people. I ask that similar thought be given to promoting small businesses’ use and maximisation of the benefits of technology, particularly superfast broadband, perhaps through a national business-focused campaign similar to Race Online 2012. It would encourage a groundswell of interest from businesses, which could in turn encourage much-needed additional private sector investment.

In conclusion, it is projected that a superfast broadband-enabled Cheshire and Warrington could add up to £197 million of growth annually to the region, create

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5,500 jobs in the area over the next 10 years, and provide innumerable valuable social and economic benefits to the whole connected community.

4.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful for the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing this debate. She and I have already met executives from Cheshire East council to discuss the issue. I also know from her own personal history that, before entering the House, she did some extraordinary work in her local community, which she continues to represent forcefully now that she is in Parliament. There could not be a stronger champion than her for broadband in her part of the world. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), for Warrington South (David Mowat) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) for their interventions, which show the astonishing amount of engagement and interest from colleagues in this important issue.

I want to use the brief time remaining to outline the progress that we have made in bringing greater broadband access to rural areas, and to try to answer some of the specific points that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has made. It is the coalition Government’s aim to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this Parliament, with 90% of households having access to superfast broadband, and universal broadband access of at least 2 megabits. It is an ambitious programme, but we have secured more than half a billion pounds to ensure that it happens.

As my hon. Friend has said, in her constituency some 14% of premises are unable to receive a good level of broadband, even after the private sector investment that is already taking place in the area. One in five people live in a rural community, and rural communities are home to more than 1 million businesses, so this is not just a “nice to have”—getting broadband out to rural areas is essential to our economic growth, as my hon. Friend has made clear. Reliable broadband also underpins the social fabric of our rural communities.

We published our plans for superfast broadband in detail at the end of last year. Through Broadband Delivery UK, the Government are working with local authorities and the devolved Administrations to ensure the delivery of broadband infrastructure to those areas that the market will not reach on its own. We have announced indicative funding allocations for every local authority area in England. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, £3.2 million has been set aside for Cheshire and Warrington. If that can be matched with local funding, we believe that that will make it possible to bring superfast broadband to 90% of properties, and standard broadband to all premises.

We are not dictating to each local authority how it should go about installing broadband in its area. It has been our view from the very beginning that local communities and, therefore, local authorities are best placed to determine their own priorities. Every local authority has therefore been asked to produce

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local broadband plans for each area that set out its approach, how it will deliver the economic benefits from broadband, and how it will ensure local match funding. Many local authorities throughout the country have made clear, detailed and imaginative proposals, and I am confident that this is the right approach.

As my hon. Friend has indicated, I was able to find out about the good progress being made on Cheshire’s plans when I met her and officials from Cheshire East council recently. In my view, the Cheshire local broadband plan is well on the way to being ready, and my officials in BDUK are working closely with council officials on it.

I realise that match funding, particularly money from the European regional development fund, to which my hon. Friend has referred, is key to Cheshire’s broadband future, as well as that of many other parts of the country. We have vigorously pursued the issue with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government, to try to ensure that broadband can be funded from the north-west region’s programme, and likewise in other regions. We need to ensure that expenditure on broadband is consistent with the ERDF regulations. We recognise the critical nature of this funding to Cheshire and, indeed, others, and I want to make sure that we give as much scope as we can to allow funding for broadband projects.

I will briefly indicate the nature of the problem. Given that ERDF funds exist to promote economic growth and are, therefore, targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises, it has been a task to try to get some flexibility in the programmes. As my hon. Friend has made clear, a pipe going into a domestic home that houses a graphic designer will clearly promote economic growth, but, under current ERDF regulations, that would not be seen as funding to support economic growth, because it would not be going directly to business premises. We have, however, secured a revised definition of the final mile with DCLG, which should allow ERDF funds to be applied. The issue is with DCLG at the moment, and it is important that we work with it to communicate the revision to local offices of DCLG around the country. The issue was raised at the ministerial group on growth, and there was agreement that DCLG needs to address the issue. We continue to work with it on it.

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We are also awaiting decisions from the cabinets of Cheshire councils to underwrite the ERDF funding, in lieu of a decision on ERDF to speed up so that we can speed up project approval of the local broadband plan. I would be happy to write in further detail to my hon. Friend on that progress, and to the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), to impress on him the need for clarity from my hon. Friend’s point of view.

The procurement process has been mentioned. There are 40 local broadband projects across the country. We have worked with BDUK to put a framework contract in place to speed up the procurement process and to help local authorities minimise the costs and time taken for procurement. We also have to be mindful of physical limitations. Clearly, we cannot network the entire country at once and it will be important, as I think my hon. Friend has indicated, to ensure that we progress projects in a timely manner, to ensure that the operators who win contracts have the resources to implement them.

We are making a number of other key policy interventions. We will publish a second consultation on the deployment of new overhead lines, which should allow the deployment of broadband much more cheaply. Next month, we will issue guidance on microtrenching and street works. I also impress on my hon. Friends how important it is for them to work with local councils to ensure that the planning process is as simple and as low-cost as possible for operators when they are laying new fibre.

Finally, we have commissioned a review of the electronic communication code and how it applies to wayleaves and access to private land. I recently wrote to the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union to ask them to speed up the voluntary agreement at which they are meant to arrive to ensure that wayleaves can be dealt with. We have also made significant progress in reducing the cost of access to BT’s ducts and poles. At the Conservative party conference, the Chancellor announced an additional £150 million for mobile coverage.

I hear what my hon. Friend says about responsibility being parcelled among a number of Departments, and I agree with the implications of her remarks, namely that the responsibility should be mine. I hope that she will lobby the Prime Minister on that later tonight.

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4.29 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss a pressing question in Wales. This debate about S4C—I usually pronounce it “Ess pedwar eck” and if I slip in to saying it like that, I hope hon. Members will forgive me as I will be speaking my first language—could scarcely be more timely.

I have an interest in this matter because part of the Welsh TV industry is located in my constituency. I sometimes tell people much to their surprise that the main industries in my area are agriculture, tourism and TV. Those areas hardly sit together, but there we are. I therefore have a particular interest in the matter. A properly resourced, managed and directed S4C is absolutely essential for the continuing renaissance of the Welsh language. It is vital to secure the plurality of the television provision in Wales because it is crucial for the Welsh television industry both in English and Welsh. Clearly, there is a relationship and an exchange of ideas and staff—they are co-dependent.

It is often left out of the debate that it is essential we have a properly managed, directed and resourced S4C for the future of the workers in the industry. Over the years—in fact, decades—workers in the television industry have lost their jobs and been moved. The unions have complained, studios have been closed and so on. Those people have a proper interest in the matter as well.

A moment ago, I said there had been a renaissance in the Welsh language. Welsh language television has played a significant part in that. Some years ago, I remember speaking at a conference on language planning in Dublin and explaining the utility of having children’s programmes, rock and roll music, drama and soap operas in Welsh and how that was adding to the growth of the language. A voice at the back said, “Are you seriously telling the conference that the renaissance in the Welsh language is all to do with having pop music in Welsh?” Well, that is clearly not the case. There has been movement from this Government, the previous Government and, significantly, the Government in Wales over the legislative status of the Welsh language. Significantly, the Welsh Language Act 1993, which was passed by the preceding Conservative Government, was a huge step forward and I am glad to pay tribute to all those people who were involved with that.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the growth of the language—the holistic approach operated by successive Assembly Governments—has necessitated the importance of a meaningful dialogue between Government here and colleagues in the national Assembly? Such an approach is necessary to promote the language agenda required to build the truly bilingual Wales that I know he aspires to.

Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Member for Arfon replies, I should point out that this is a half-hour debate and that the rules are different from those for one-and-a-half-hour debates. The hon. Gentleman has secured the debate and it is his decision whom he allows to intervene. Back Benchers are not permitted to speak at all without seeking the relevant permission. Those are the rules on the half-hour debate.

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Hywel Williams: Thank you, Mr Hood. I have been approached by various hon. Members, and I will certainly allow at least one intervention from each of those people who have contacted me. This debate interests people from across the political and language spectrum in Wales, and I will take further interventions. However, I will also talk very quickly, as is my wont.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. A consensus has been built in Wales over many years, which I am afraid is in jeopardy because of this decision. That consensus has been built on proper dialogue between people who properly have an interest in the matter. That is not confined to any language group, any class or any political party. I say that as a member of Plaid Cymru.

There has been a lack of clarity about the Government’s intentions and actions in the matter, not least in relation to elected Members such as myself. If I ask the Minister some naive and ill-informed questions, the cause of that may lie not with me but with how the matter has been handled. As with a good deal of the Government’s programme, the impression has been given that it is being made up as they go along, with backtracking and amendment often the order of the day.

I would like to ask some questions, and the debate’s timing in relation to the decisions that are now being made means it is essential we have answers as a matter of urgency. First, I scarcely need to say that the threats to S4C’s future have caused huge concern in Wales and across Welsh society—both Welsh and English speaking—particularly among those who are concerned with the language. We have seen a stronger galvanising of the campaign for the Welsh language than there has been for many years—stronger even than with the campaign for new Welsh language legislation that took place some time ago.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman welcome yesterday’s statement by a trustee of the BBC that guaranteed funding up until 2017 is on offer? That issue has caused great concern to all of us.

Hywel Williams: Indeed, I do. However, I will come on to some questions about that later.

As I was saying, there has been a campaign the like of which we have not seen for some time. A small example of that is the e-mail bombardment of members of the Public Bodies Bill Committee. I served on that Committee with the hon. Gentleman and others. I received 1,200 messages and I answered them all, which offered some relief to the people who sent them. Other Committee members from England were amazed at the volume of correspondence, the like of which they had not seen before. I doubt, in fact, that the Government predicted that supporters of S4C would be so galvanised.

I am not sure if the Minister and his colleagues knew the background to their decision on S4C—although perhaps he will correct me later. The Conservatives would have been wise to consult those in their own party who took the initial decision to set up S4C in the first place. Former Conservative Ministers took an honourable and constructive role in that decision.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I think I am one of the oldest lags in this debate, having written a document called “Television in Wales” in 1973, which became Labour party policy. It has been an extraordinary period,

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and the most extravagant hopes of those of us who were talking about the subject in 1973 have been more than realised. S4C has been an enormous success both artistically and as far as the language is concerned. I give the hon. Gentleman my full support and that of many members of my party.

Hywel Williams: I am very grateful for that point, which was very well made. As I said, the Conservatives and certainly the Liberal Democrats should have known better, with honourable exceptions. They should have read up on the history and on the conflict over the location of Welsh language programmes.

Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): As someone who comes from the same town as Ian Jones, I am looking forward to great things from a Morristonian. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Governments persist in thinking that S4C and the BBC are not in competition with each other when they are? The idea that they will share producers and directors is of great concern.

Hywel Williams: I share the hon. Lady’s concerns, which relate to some of the questions I will ask about the involvement of the BBC in S4C. I am sure that that can be managed with good will on all sides and a proper degree of independence and funding for S4C. I will return to that issue in a moment.

I was talking about the history, the conflict over the location of Welsh language programmes, the long campaign throughout the 1970s and the promise to set up the channel in the first place. That broken promise, the conflict, the arrests, the court cases and the jailings led many thousands of reasonable and normally law-abiding Welsh citizens to break the law and not pay their television licences. That consequence was a matter of regret to us all as parliamentarians. In fact, some people went even further in taking what was always non-violent direct action. The Government could have read up on the social conflict engendered and on Mrs Thatcher’s first U-turn. Clearly they did not and they repeated their mistakes.

I have some questions for the Minister on the decision itself in the first place. What consultations were there with the people in Wales before the decision was made on funding, and subsequently on the inclusion of S4C in the Public Bodies Bill and its relationship with the BBC? Is he satisfied that all the relevant people were able to put their point of view forward? Were they heard, or does he concede, as some, possibly wrongly, suspect, that these decisions were made for reasons of policy here—cutting back public spending and cutting back on the size of the state—that had little to do directly with broadcasting in Wales? Indeed, some people suggest that they were heedless of the consequences to Wales, the Welsh language or the broadcasting industry. I have to tell the Minister that that is how it appeared.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate on this very important matter, about which many of my colleagues are concerned. Does he agree that the cuts facing S4C—even prior to the 2015 period, which has now become the 2017 period, for which we are supposed to be grateful—are actually greater and disproportionately greater than

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those facing the BBC, and that this is a total disgrace and shows the shambolic way the Government have treated S4C?

Hywel Williams: I agree that the cuts to S4C are probably going to be very deep indeed, and deeper than any reasonable broadcaster might be able to cope with given the long time scales of planning. I was just saying that that is how it appeared to people in Wales, but also to disinterested commentators. It is not just people who are taking particular sides who saw that. I am sure that that was not what the Government intended.

I would like to ask further questions beyond those about consultation, such as how the whole issue was handled. I will give a small example that will be familiar to those who were members of the Public Bodies Bill Committee. The agreement between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the BBC was made on 13 September. On the morning of 15 September, the Bill Committee met to discuss S4C. The debate continued from 1 pm onward. The Minister who replied to the debate, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), referred to the BBC agreement in support of his argument. However, that agreement was not published until the afternoon of that day. It was too late to inform members of the Committee for that debate—although not the Report stage or on Third Reading—other than the Minister, of course, who had it in his hand. Was that completely coincidental? Why was the agreement not available on 13 or 14 September, or even on the morning of 15 September?

I raised this matter in a subsequent sitting of the Committee as a point of order, but to no avail. I have to tell the Minister here today that the impression given, rightly or wrongly, was of, at best, sharp practice. Consequently, he should realise that there are people in Wales who are now even more distrustful of the motives and action of the Government, and they will not be reassured by evasions or warm words. In fact, some might conclude that the wisest course of action for the Government would be to backtrack and restore at least part of the funding to S4C, to take S4C out of the Public Bodies Bill and, instead, consult and include any proposals in the forthcoming broadcasting Bill.

Given that they are unlikely to do that, and pressing on with my questions, I want to ask the Minister, and give him time to answer, rather than answer through his unfortunate friend, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome who had to face the Public Bill Committee. He did his best to answer. I know he did his best to answer. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps I would not go as far as “brilliant”, but he is a very nice man.

On money, in the amended Public Bodies Bill, there is an undertaking for the Government to provide “sufficient” funding. This is mainly made up of a contribution by the BBC from the licence fee. I understand that that is supposed to be approximately £76 million in 2014-15. Will the Minister tell us what the contribution will be in 2015-16 and 2016-17, and the next two years? It is not clear to me, at least. I have heard two figures mentioned—£74 million, or is it £76 million? We are only talking about a couple of million, and we are used to talking in trillions in this place, but £2 million is a load of money. Will all the BBC money be devoted to production, as we have heard? Must it all be devoted to production? Must

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it all be spent in the independent sector? Are these not decisions that S4C should be taking independently, rather than being directed?

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): May I just say that I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has been able to secure this debate? I am pleased with the attendance of hon. Members from all parties today, showing the depth of feeling in Wales about this issue. Will he please ask the Minister, if I can ask a question through him, what is the latest on the editorial independence of S4C?

Hywel Williams: I certainly will put those questions to the Minister, given that I have been speaking now for some 14 minutes. First, though, there is the question of administration. I understand that administering the channel costs about £20 million. From where is that to be obtained? I understand that the DCMS is to provide £7 million and that £3 million can be obtained from the channel’s commercial activities. What about the other £10 million? Where will that come from?

On management and governance, the point raised by my right hon. Friend is pertinent. We come to the matter of S4C’s independence. Again, the Government have assured us that S4C’s independence will be guaranteed. Will the BBC be appointing people on the operational side, which is my understanding? If that is so, how many people and at what level? What will be their function? Will they be there to look after the BBC’s interests? How can they avoid literally taking the BBC’s side? For example, if S4C decides to bid for a particular sports event that is in competition with the BBC—the Government are in favour of competition, are they not?—where will the loyalties of those BBC appointees lie? Will it be with the channel, or will it be with the BBC? Will they have a veto or a super majority, whatever that might be?

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On the issue of competition with the BBC, I find that a very odd comment in view of the fact that the most popular programmes provided by S4C are actually provided for the channel by the BBC. Secondly, in terms of the independence of the channel and the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises in terms of BBC involvement, is it not the case that back in 1982 the S4C authority members were a minority on the board of S4C? Indeed, there were representatives from the independent television production sector. Yet S4C, launched in 1982, became a great success.

Hywel Williams: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. It is possible to do this. It is possible to do this without the uncertainty that the Government have caused by how they have handled this issue. We are uncertain and I look to the Minister and the hon. Gentleman to reassure us that the highly successful co-operation that existed before is obtained again in the future. I am glad that he made that point.

As I was saying about the BBC appointees, will they have a veto? What about reporting back to the BBC? Will it be a matter of providing quarterly information

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reports? That is one thing, I suppose, but day-to-day reporting about individual decisions is quite another, so where does it lie?

In respect of the board, I take it that they will all be DCMS appointees. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. What will be the BBC representation? What will the split be between the BBC representation and others? Will the Minister confirm that the board members loyalty will be to S4C and not to any body that appointed them? Is it not usually the case with such bodies that the first loyalty is to the body itself, whatever the sponsoring organisation? Surely, in the interests of securing the future, their loyalty must be to the channel.

Huw Jones, I think yesterday, said that S4C

“will be an effective partner for the BBC—managing itself but being accountable to the BBC Trust for its use of licence money and to the Government for the other public money”.

That is a very positive statement, and I hope that all hon. Members will take it as such. However, for this to be the case, all of the questions I put, and possibly more, must be answered before the people of Wales have any confidence that the Government are committed to ensuring the best possible television service for the Welsh-speaking audience and the future of S4C.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a great pleasure to appear once more under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I am delighted to be taking part in this debate. It gives me a chance to outline the secure, new and positive phase in the distinguished history of S4C. Unlike the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), who, incidentally, I congratulate wholeheartedly and warmly on securing this important debate, I do not want to look to the past; I want to look to the future. For that reason, I welcome the appointment of the new chair, as well as the exciting announcement yesterday that Ian Jones is to be the new chief executive of S4C.

I want to dwell on the latter appointment, because it is indicative of the positive future of S4C. Mr Jones started his career at S4C in 1982 but went on to have an extraordinarily distinguished career in television broadcasting in the UK and in the United States. His current position is managing director of A&E Television Networks, which is one of the most successful cable companies in America and is based in New York. My hunch—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will correct me, if I am wrong—is that a man of the calibre of Ian Jones would not leave such a job to join a sinking ship. He leaves such a job to take on an exciting new challenge to rejuvenate a channel that sits at the heart of Welsh life and culture and to take it on to new challenges. The speech that Huw Jones gave yesterday to the Institute of Welsh Affairs was also given in such a climate. He talked about how S4C has to grapple with the challenges, but also about the huge opportunities provided by new technology.

I know my colleagues in Wales well enough to know that most of those taking part in the debate today know Huw Jones and Ian Jones well, and I suspect that they know that both those men are unlikely to be lapdogs of the BBC. Both will be S4C men, who will ensure that the channel has a successful future. My job as the

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Minister is to do all that I can to help that to happen, so I am grateful that the hon. Member for Arfon indicated that he is prepared to be corrected on any impression or misrepresentation that the Government do not have a strategy for S4C; of course we have such a strategy. I am also grateful to him and his colleagues for reminding the House that S4C is a great achievement of a previous Conservative Government.

I am grateful, too, for the important interventions from the distinguished and hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who has been involved in this debate for 40 years—let us put it like that—from the hon. Members for Swansea East (Mrs James) and for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies).

Paul Flynn: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vaizey: Of course. To someone so distinguished, there can be no other answer.

Paul Flynn: It is extremely generous of the Minister to pay tribute to my contribution to the formation of S4C but I am afraid it was a minor one. At the time, I resigned from the office of chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Wales, but that had no significant effect. However, a threat from another, much more prominent politician to starve to death had a galvanic effect on the Conservative Government.

Mr Vaizey: I would not say that I remember the occasion well, but I know people who were involved in the debate, and they have told me about the important events which resulted in the creation of S4C.

The positive future of S4C was strengthened by our amendment to the Public Bodies Bill last month. The Bill will therefore ensure that S4C is funded at a level sufficient to meet its statutory remit. I am grateful to have the opportunity to reiterate the Government’s commitment to a strong and sustainable future for S4C and for Welsh-language programming. We fully recognise the importance of the channel and its contribution to the cultural and economic life of Wales. As well as sustaining and promoting the Welsh language, the channel provides a focal point for the celebration of Welsh national events. On that basis, the Government secured the future of S4C in the comprehensive spending review.

We have heard a lot of talk about the amount of money available to S4C. The hon. Member for Arfon said that £2 million is “a load of money”, so S4C has 45 loads of money—it is funded to the tune of £90 million —and by 2015 that funding will have reduced to only £83 million. S4C gets £20 million-worth of BBC programming for free, and it has substantial reserves. I do not need to reiterate the economic climate in which we are all operating, and most sensible people agree that £83 million is significant funding given the tough economic climate.

A partnership with the BBC is the best way to secure S4C’s long-term sustainable future. My officials are working with S4C and the BBC Trust on the governance structure of the new partnership. Discussions have been productive and the agreement will, I am sure, soon be finalised. The amended BBC agreement laid before Parliament on 15 September confirms that the governance arrangements must not be made until discussions between

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S4C, the BBC and the Secretary of State have been concluded. Also, the hon. Gentleman can be reassured that we are committed to consulting on those governance arrangements with interested parties, including the Welsh Government and the people of Wales. We will consult all those who are interested, and we look forward to hearing his views.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has produced a detailed report, which the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) agreed to. A key recommendation was that there should be no BBC staff on the day-to-day management board of S4C. How much pressure is the Minister putting on the negotiations to ensure that?

Mr Vaizey: I would not use “pressure” in that context. The partnership is one of people who are interested in the future of S4C, and includes S4C, the BBC and my officials. I am sure that we will announce our conclusions shortly and then consult interested parties. I also take the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed my appearance before the Welsh Affairs Committee discussing the future of S4C.

To go to the heart of the issue, I assure the hon. Member for Arfon that S4C will remain an independent service. It will retain its brand identity and its editorial independence. Furthermore, the crucial role that S4C plays in sustaining the Welsh independent television sector will be maintained, with 100% of S4C’s commissioning budget being spent in the independent sector, as now. That is a crucial commitment which will ensure that S4C continues to support the Welsh creative industries and the wider creative community in Wales. In Wales, there is a clear-sighted strategy to support the many successful creative industries, which I wholeheartedly support.

Guto Bebb: On S4C supporting the creative industries in Wales, does the Minister have any concerns about the administration budget of S4C perhaps being cut by 10%, but the programming budget appearing to be cut by 25% due to decisions taken by S4C?

Mr Vaizey: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but it is incumbent on me to say that, given that S4C will be independent of the BBC, it is certainly not for a Minister to tell the channel how to spend its money. Given the accountability and transparency agenda, S4C must have heard his comments and will no doubt be writing to him to explain that position, as well as to the hon. Member for Arfon, who might want to make similar points.

I have already mentioned the Public Bodies Bill and how the new clause will for the first time set in statute a requirement that S4C receives sufficient funding. The hon. Member for Arfon expressed concerns about funding continuing beyond 2015. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire indicated in his intervention, there is effectively an agreement in principle that that funding will continue until 2017, although it still needs to be formally agreed—in effect, that offer is now on the table.

To step back from the details mentioned by the hon. Member for Arfon—if I have missed any, I will write to him—I want to add that S4C will remain independent. S4C staff will be appointed not by the BBC but by the S4C board and executive. S4C has significant funding and a secure future independent of but in partnership with the BBC. It has a great chairman and now a superb

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new chief executive. The future is bright for S4C. I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friends but to all hon. Members who have participated over the past few months in discussions about the future of S4C.

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Question put and agreed to.

5 pm

Sitting adjourned.