The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth also mentioned active member discounts, and transparency about them would be beneficial. As he said, those discounts can better be described as deferred member penalties. Given the reality of the modern British labour market, in which according to Department for Work and Pensions figures the average person has 11 different jobs during their working life, the size of penalties imposed on deferred members is a key piece of information. The

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proposed costs should be highlighted and made clear. The consumer organisation Which? tells me that past and deferred employees may face charges up to three times higher than those for active members. In its estimation, that could reduce the value of those pensions by up to 25%. I accept that there is an administrative cost to pensions to which deferred members no longer actively contribute, but it is far from clear to me that the costs should be as high as they can sometimes be—for example, a recurring charge of 1.5%.

Transparency is clearly important in the context of auto-enrolment, because fees and charges will be critical if auto-enrolment is to be a success. The Minister knows that I am disappointed at the delaying of the timetable for auto-enrolment for small businesses. I look forward to hearing, sooner rather than later, what is to happen to businesses of between 50 and 300 employees.

There is a simple, wider point to make about the national employment savings trust and auto-enrolment: many employers that are engaging with auto-enrolment will be new to pensions and need clear and straightforward information if they are to pick the best value pension for their staff. In that context, I back another recommendation of Lord McFall’s workplace retirement income commission; this point relates precisely to something that the hon. Member for Warrington South said. Charge caps should apply to all schemes that will be eligible for auto-enrolment. The Government must not wait on market failure to act. It is simply too important that auto-enrolment should succeed, because the country faces a huge range of pensions issues. We must ensure that auto-enrolment has every chance of succeeding, and a charge cap on all schemes is important in that respect.

Auto-enrolment is aimed at a low-earning work force who have, largely, not so far contributed to pensions. As other hon. Members have suggested, that is partly because of a lack of confidence in pension products altogether. If we permit confidence to be damaged, because auto-enrolment does not succeed, many people could opt out, which would jeopardise auto-enrolment. There was some consensus about that from the hon. Member for Cardiff Central and the hon. Member for Warrington South. Once that opt-out happens, it is difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

Greater transparency is an ambition on which everyone seems to agree, but I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth—I hope I am not misrepresenting it—that transparency will be enough to ensure a fit-for-purpose pensions industry. There is some consensus that a long-standing industry in which the market has not already required transparency of market providers is likely to have a structural problem. The absence of transparency in our pension costs and charges is likely to be a symptom of the problem, not its cause. First, we have inherent complexity, even with transparency. Secondly, we face a challenge in relation to the number of people who do not save and the even larger number who do not save enough. Thirdly, and more widely, returns on pension contributions are an issue.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central has emphasised the importance of financial literacy. I have had many discussions with the industry and stakeholders, who emphasise that such literacy is beneficial. I cannot imagine that anyone is against greater financial literacy,

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but I reiterate that, even with financial literacy, pensions remain complex. It is worth conducting a thought experiment: what would an enlightened and informed British consumer and voter observe of the UK pensions world? I suggest that they would observe that there is a big difference in costs and outcomes between UK defined benefit schemes and defined contribution schemes, even where the sums paid in by employer and employee are comparable. Historically, that may have mattered less when DB schemes were in the ascendancy. It matters much more now that DC and, in particular, contract-based DC schemes are becoming such a significant part of provision.

If the enlightened and informed consumer—this point has already been touched on—were to look around the European Union as a single market, as it encourages us to do so, he or she might be surprised to find that annual charges could be as low as 0.04% a year for an occupational pension provided by ATP in Denmark. The enlightened and informed consumer-voter could hardly fail to be pretty unhappy if he or she were contributing to a UK contract-based DC scheme in the knowledge that they could make the same contributions as someone else but receive thousands of pounds less per year in income than someone in the Danish scheme. I am told by some people that there is no issue concerning charges in the UK, because many are less than 1% per annum. That may be true, but there is a big difference on a compound basis between an annual charge of 0.3% and one of, say, 0.7%. Our very best practice is therefore still much worse than the Danish best practice.

The structure of the UK pensions industry impedes it from responding effectively to consumer unhappiness, and that unhappiness has been powerfully articulated by other Members. However much it might wish to do so, the industry cannot respond, because of the structure. Scale is important in that regard. We need a scaling up of the pensions industry, but there are two major impediments to acquiring scale in DC provision. It is worth pointing out that the UK has a striking number of pension fund providers compared with Europe as a whole and that disaggregation is significant in terms of structural impediments. The first major impediment is that the law impedes the creation of super-trusts or collective DC schemes. The second, I am sometimes told, is that employers and employees might be reluctant to move to collective DC schemes.

Defined contribution is where the action is increasingly at. There is a consensus, I think, more or less across the board that DB schemes, while still of great importance to those who are enrolled in them, will be of less significance than DC schemes in future. The question is about how to make DC work better.

The Government can remove the first impediment in relation to the creation of super-trusts and the legal framework. The Minister has talked favourably in the past about re-examining the case for super-trusts and collective DC schemes. I strongly encourage him to do so.

On the second impediment, some tell me that employers want to retain pension schemes that are clearly linked to each of them alone and are not shared—that is, not collective DC. That is not the view of the National Association of Pension Funds, which has supported super-trusts, nor is it mine. I am sceptical of the view that, if a firm has opted for a contract-based DC scheme,

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it will be opposed to collective DC. After all, it will already have opted to move away from maintaining a fiduciary relationship. In any event, that is an argument not against making collective DC or super-trusts available, but for ensuring that there are other options.

It has been suggested that employees would not be in favour of collective DCs, because they prefer schemes where they obviously do not share risk. Again, I am sceptical. I suspect that, on average, the informed and enlightened consumer, if invited to choose between the stone-cold certainty of losing a large chunk of his or her pension pot—as is often the case at the moment—and only possibly running the risk of losing some of it, would tend to prefer the latter. The largest known revision from target income from a collective DC scheme, as far as I am aware, occurred in the Netherlands and was roughly 6%. That is a lot lower than some of the figures suggested for losses to pots purely for being DC.

In summary, I welcome moves by the industry to make charges and transparency clearer, which is a good thing that I do not think anyone would oppose. These moves must succeed; otherwise the Government will have to act, given the scale of the challenges facing our country as we all look at saving for our retirement. On those who wish to make offers under auto-enrolment, some minimum standards on costs and charges should be set now, because we cannot afford any failures. Overall, I think that the transparency issues are symptomatic of an industry that is currently constrained by legal impediments from responding to potential demand. Simply put, at present, British law does not permit the creation of collective DC schemes. We should deal with that underlying impediment.

We should all share a sense of urgency. The Minister is well aware of this—I do not need to tell him—but I reiterate that the scale of the challenges that we face in the pensions field is enormous. If we do not get it right, starting with auto-enrolment, followed by lowering costs and charges in the pensions field, the burden will ultimately fall on the state. To avoid that burden, the Government have to act, and act quickly.

3.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): There is a risk of an outbreak of violent agreement in this debate, but I will do my best to sow some dissent, if I can. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) on securing the debate. It is good to see a number of hon. Members present and happy to spend 90 minutes discussing transparency in pension fund charges. Although it may be thought of as a dry subject, it is, as we have heard from a number of contributors, fundamentally important to the pensions outcomes of so many of our constituents. I am, therefore, grateful not only to my hon. Friend for securing the debate, but to all hon. Members who have participated in thoughtful ways.

I was struck by my hon. Friend’s examples of baffling language. On the first pension I ever had, I remember having to choose whether I wanted it to be “with profits” or not. I thought, “Profits must be a good thing, so I’ll have one of them,” but I did not have a clue. I worked for the Institute for Fiscal Studies at the time, so I may have been thought to have a clue, but I had no idea what it was. In fact, I am still a little bit hazy about it, but I do not have it any more.

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It is absolutely clear that. although people get information, it does not inform. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) said, although one can get a wodge of stuff that complies with all the necessary regulations, it might not actually communicate anything at all. I agree with her that financial literacy is an important part of the jigsaw. She may have been encouraged to hear the Prime Minister say at Prime Minister’s questions that he will look at the research the all-party group on financial education for young people is doing. There is clearly some momentum behind that campaign in the House, which I certainly welcome. However, I think she would be the first to admit that financial literacy is only part of the jigsaw.

One of the crucial things about pensions is that we need to make them work for people who do not engage. In other words, most people will find the subject boring or off-putting and we need to ensure that their interests are protected. A phrase in the behavioural economics and pensions lexicon is, “You can’t beat a good default.” That is significant in the context of auto-enrolment because, by the end of the process, we will take firms that are not interested and give them a legal duty to choose a pension. It will not be the employer’s pension; it will be the employee’s pension. Therefore, the firm may have a limited incentive. It may care about its workers, but there may be a limit to how far it wants to go.

As we have heard, there may be employers coming into auto-enrol that are less educated, less interested and less well informed. When we discussed these issues in the Committee that considered the Pensions Bill earlier this year, one hon. Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans)—asked what happens when a man in a shiny suit turns up. For example, he might turn up at a small engineering firm in the west midlands that employs three people and that probably did not even know it had a legal duty to auto-enrol—we have done our best, but it may not have heard—and say, “You’ve got to do this thing. I can do a scheme. Here are the terms. Sign here.”

There might be a tendency for such a firm to go for that. The question then is: who is looking after the welfare of the employee, because the employee will almost certainly end up auto-enrolled into a default fund? We need to make sure that the employee, who may not be engaged with pensions either, is protected. Transparency is a part of that. Individuals must get the relevant material, so that they know what they are paying. However, the employer has chosen the scheme. Happily, we are still on the eve of auto-enrolment, so we need to make sure that, first and foremost, employers have transparency. When employers are establishing auto-enrolment schemes or choosing schemes that are already running, they will therefore know what they are choosing between in a simple and consistent way.

I very much welcome the work of the National Association of Pension Funds that has been cited by a number of hon. Members. I am delighted that it is bringing together industry players, such as the Association of British Insurers, many of whose members offer contract-based pensions. We are therefore getting a spread across the breadth of pension provision. If that group and that work can produce an effective industry code of practice on transparency on charges, so much the better. I entirely

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agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth that, if the industry can sort its own house out—it has not done so yet and there is some recognition of that—it is far better than the Government trying to be over-prescriptive. We need to ensure that we can get to that point quickly. I am pretty sure that, if the ABI, the NAPF and others get their act together and sort it out, they can move a lot faster than the Government. If an industry code of practice is in place before auto-enrolment starts, that will be very positive.

A number of hon. Members referred to the important issues of active member discounts, deferred member charges and deferred member penalties. That is a good example of transparency, or the lack of it. Someone might have left a firm years ago and still have some money with it. As my hon. Friend said, they might receive a statement, but they probably do not understand it. It is not apparent what is happening on charges and it perhaps did not even occur to the person concerned that, now they have left the firm, the charges are higher than they were when they were with the firm. Again, transparency gets us only so far.

One of the things we as a Government need to do, particularly post auto-enrolment, is to look at the whole issue of transfers. As the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont)—I discovered the other day that that is the longest constituency name in Parliament—said, people might typically have 11 different jobs and acquire multiple small pots during their lifetime.

We could just do transparency. We could make sure that people know what pots they have got and what charges they are paying. However, a better strategy in my view—or certainly a better first step—would be to consolidate all those small pots, so that people are not left with stranded pots that they might never access at all because the firm has lost touch with them. We know that that happens because we hear from pension fund trustees who cannot find their members anymore. I do not know, Mr Gale, whether when you have moved house, you have told all your pension providers of your new address, but many people fail to do so. Therefore, many people end up with stranded pension pots because the providers have lost contact with them or because the pots are so small one could not buy an annuity with them and the charges for transferring them out are so large as to not make it worth while.

One can start to see how individuals who are just the sort of people who might be under-pensioned will get a bad deal. Therefore, transparency takes us so far, but much more action on transfers could take us a lot further. Hon. Members will be encouraged to know that, very shortly, I hope that we will be publishing a document setting out some options on how we might make transfers work. It is code-named “project big fat pot.” The idea is that we bring together all the small pension pots people have. In an auto-enrolment world, that really matters because we estimate that hundreds of thousands of small pots could be created every year. Such pots belong to people who are auto-enrolled, leave the firm and move on. We need to ensure that that process of accumulation of pots is as systematic and automatic as possible.

We will set out options. I say to the shadow spokesman that we are very much in listening mode on this and that, if he has insights and thoughts on our consultation,

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we will be pleased to hear what they are and to meet him to discuss them. One option is that the pot should follow the person. So if someone changes jobs, by default, the new firm says, “Right, we’ve auto-enrolled you. You have just come from another scheme. Unless you tell us not to, we will take the money into the new scheme, so you consolidate into the new scheme.” That is quite attractive but, on the other hand, such an approach raises issues around member protection if someone goes from “a good scheme” to a “not so good scheme.”

An alternative option would be that, by default, small pots go to a third-party aggregator—a third-party pot. That could be the NEST, another provider, a multiple set of providers or a super-trust. There is a variety of options. Again, that will mean someone does not end up with stranded pots and deferred member charges; they will just end up with a big fat pension pot, as far as they can.

That brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) about value for money. My rule of thumb on people buying annuities is that a third of people shop around and switch, a third of people shop around and stay with their provider, and a third of people do not shop around. If we can accumulate small pots into big ones, that will ensure people are getting better value for money and better annuity returns. However, he is absolutely right: transparency and information for people when they are making their annuity choices is vital and getting as close as we can to turning defaulting into shopping around has got to be the direction of travel.

The Association of British Insurers has taken some important steps in that direction recently. For example, if someone has saved with company A and, six months before they are due to draw their annuity, it contacts them, the ABI is making it a condition of membership of the ABI that the provider does not send the application form that is easy for someone to fill in and send back, meaning they end up with company A. Someone has to actively seek that out. That is a small step, but it is a step in the right direction.

We can do more and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be announcing further measures on that shortly. We need to ensure that people see what the charges are but, better yet, we need to try to ensure that people are not in a position where they face these charges. Instead, they should have the money somewhere they are connected to, rather than somewhere they left a long time ago. That would be an appropriate response.

There has been talk during the debate about NEST. It is encouraging that NEST has already driven up standards in the industry. In focusing on its target market, which includes people on lower incomes and people who have not been pensioned before, NEST has had to think very hard about language and communication. It has come up with a lexicon of phrases and the use of words such as “vesting” has been ruled out. That word cannot be used because nobody knows what it means. Unfortunately, the word “pension” is also a bit tricky as nobody knows what that means either. I think NEST calls a pension a retirement wage or something. I have a branding problem with my own job. I have asked the Prime Minister if I can be called the Minister for retirement solutions or something like that.

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There is a serious issue surrounding the communication of pensions. NEST has led the field. Others are working with it and we, as a Department, have a working group on communications that involves a lot of the industry in trying to ensure that all of us are speaking human rather than pensions. That is vital in the context of auto-enrolment.

I do not know whether the shadow spokesman has had a chance to visit NEST yet, but we extend an invitation for him to do so. [ Interruption. ] Next week—there we go. My hon. Friends on the Select Committee visited and came back pretty impressed with what NEST is doing to drive up standards of communication, which is really important, and standards of transparency on charges, and to bring charges down.

I will say a word about the NEST charging structure in a second, but perhaps slightly contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said, the evidence in the auto-enrolment space is that charges are coming down. He raised the issue of entrance to the market. We see growing competition—auto-enrolment is a big market; 10 million people will be auto-enrolled—new people coming in and charges coming down. For example, the B&CE organisation has branded itself as the “people’s pension”—I will not comment—with an annual management charge of 0.5%. NOW: Pensions, which is linked to the Danish providers, has a different structure at £1.50 a month, I believe, and a 0.3% charge. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth mentioned the Federation of Small Businesses, which I believe is coming in with charges below 1%. There is NEST. We have heard about Legal & General, obviously an existing provider, but one that is working proactively in the market. I am encouraged that, in the early phases of auto-enrolment, I do not think that we have a problem with charges. I stress that—in the early phases I do not think that we have a problem. On the whole, we are dealing with the huge employers—the big supermarkets and some of the public sector. They have people spending time and effort shopping around. They can drive a hard bargain. They are engaged with pensions—I do not think that we have a problem there.

The challenge for Government is further down the track, as we get towards the medium and smaller firms that are clearly less profitable for the providers. We hope that many will go to NEST. When the pensions regulator writes to them a year out, we will flag up NEST. We will say that we have created NEST and that it is designed specifically with them in mind, and that they should have a look at it. There is a risk, however, that people will go to other providers and end up with high-cost providers. That is why we are looking at the issue of charge caps. In the debate, we heard two competing views on that: the call for charge caps, and the view that we should go for light-touch regulation and charge caps as a last resort. That is the dilemma we face.

It is only fair to say that charges are paying for something. In a transparent world, there may be a case for what looks like a high pension charge if people get something for it. I use the analogy that if all someone wants is vanilla then that is fine. We might say that vanilla ought to be cheap. If someone wants raspberry ripple, we might let them pay a little bit extra for it. We do not necessarily want to say that it is evil to charge more than a certain amount for a pension, but people should certainly know what it is they are paying and

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know what they get for it. For example, if someone is offering a sophisticated or niche investment, they should be able to charge for it, as long as we know what it is. The focus of our attention on charges is particularly on the area of default funds, because those will be the ones where people have made no active choice, where they have just been lumped in, and we need to ensure that people are protected.

David Mowat: I hear the Minister’s analogy of vanilla versus raspberry ripple. Raspberry ripple is analogous to actively managed funds. Remembering that those funds are heavily subsidised and paid for by a lot of Government money, is it his assessment that actively managed funds give value for money in the industry, and have demonstrated that they have been clearly better than tracker funds in the past decade or so?

Steve Webb: I suspect that the arguments over the merits of active management against passive trackers and so on are food for longer than a seven-minute debate, and are the source of much contention. The point that I am making is not so much that one or other is good or bad, but that we want individuals who make active choices. They can have a knickerbocker glory if they like. They ought to be able to choose as long as they know what they are getting, and can make an assessment on whether they are getting value for money. The worry we have is that, if people end up defaulted into something, they do not know what has been done to them, do not make any choices and potentially find that a big chunk of their money is going in charges. In such circumstances, the case for action is stronger.

That is not straightforward, however. What is a charge? My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth listed a whole raft of different things that can be mentioned in the course of setting out charges. Do we just cap an annual management charge? If so, what about transactions charges and sales charges? The danger is that, if we cap a bit of the charge, we squeeze the balloon and it just comes out somewhere else. It is easy to say, and I have said it, “Oh, we just cap charges.” Actually doing it and defining charges is less straightforward than one might imagine.

In the few minutes available to me—I believe that a Division in the House is imminent—I would like to pick up on the scale of the deferred member charges. For group personal pensions and stakeholder pensions, where one of those deferred member premiums is charged, our survey evidence from 2010 is that for active members we are typically talking about 0.6% as an AMC, but for deferred members an average of approximately 1%. These numbers vary a lot, but even that, as we have heard, cumulatively is a big chunk out of people’s pensions and something that we want to do something about.

To clarify the NEST charging structure, it has a contribution charge of 1.8% and an AMC of 0.3%. It is structured like that because NEST was started from scratch and so has to borrow money to start at business. It has to set up and be all in place before the first pound comes through the door some years later. The Government lent NEST that money on favourable terms because of

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its public service obligation. The 1.8% contribution charge reflects the Government loan. When that Government loan is paid off, the 1.8% charge will go. Having said that, it will be quite a number of years before it does: it is not permanent, but it is not short-term. It will be with us for some years, but that is why the structure is as it is. The 1.8% contribution charge and 0.3% AMC average out at approximately 0.5%. We are finding that the market is now coming down to about that level.

On charge caps, people sometimes say that, if there is a charge cap, the danger is that everybody goes up—the maximum becomes the minimum. I do not think that that will happen in this case, because we have NEST in the market. We are making sure that NEST is at a certain level, so charging could not be sustained at a much higher level. Therefore, I do not think that the argument against charge caps actually holds.

We heard a number of other points during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South referred to a £40 billion subsidy. That depends on how we look at it. Tax relief, fundamentally, is avoiding double taxation. If I earn some money, pay tax on it and then invest in a pension out of my post-tax income and am then taxed on my pension, that will be double taxation. We give tax relief on the pension contribution. Leaving aside the issue of higher rate relief, which is a different issue, someone who is on a standard rate of tax when they earn the money and a standard rate of tax when they draw the pension is being taxed once. I do not count that as a subsidy of the pension industry; I just count that as not double taxing people. There is a bit of an issue about higher rate relief, particularly when people retire on a standard rate, but I do not think we subsidise the pensions industry—that is not the way I would view it.

My hon. Friend raised an important point about comparability. We know that swapping energy tariffs, as he says, is a real challenge. As soon as someone has changed energy supplier, they can often jack the charges up. It is less straightforward at least with pension providers, because if someone signs on to a contract there are terms and conditions on whether they can subsequently be changed. It would be a good thing to get that transparency in place.

Drawing some of these threads together in this very important debate, I welcome the Select Committee’s inquiry, and the work it did recently in questioning witnesses. I welcome the lead that the NAPF is taking on this issue and the fact that it is bringing industry players together. A new industry code of practice would be an important step in the right direction. The Government may well have a role. We will certainly work closely with the NAPF and the industry to support that work. At the same time, we are looking at the role of charge caps and whether they have a part to play in auto-enrolment. We do not anticipate the issue of charges being a big problem in the short term. The scale of the market early on is a small number of big buyers who are relatively well informed and relatively well resourced, so we think that that will work well, but we are actively considering whether we need to go further. We all want to protect individuals and ensure that, of the money that goes into their pension, far more goes out in the form of pensions. That, I think, is a goal we all share.

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3.59 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Thank you, Mr Gale, and thank you to Mr Speaker for choosing this subject—in Tibetan, thuk-je-che: thank you.

At this time of year, we can probably have no debate more appropriate than one about Tibet, given that United Nations human rights day is commemorated this coming Saturday, 10 December. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an issue that has often been a subject of debate in this House.

As I have declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, two months ago, at the beginning of October, at the invitation of the Tibet Society and the Tibetan Government-in-exile, I went to Dharamsala in India with the hon. Members for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), all of whom I am happy to call my hon. Friends. The five of us spent four informative days together in Dharamsala, during which time we were privileged to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, other people in the Tibetan Government-in-exile and many others.

The reason why the debate is as appropriate as ever is that, sadly, in recent weeks there has been an outbreak of self-immolation—suicide—among nuns and monks in Tibet, and it has caught the attention of the world. This year, on 31 October, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East tabled early-day motion 2327, expressing great sadness at the disturbing news of 10 incidents of self-immolation in eastern Tibet by young Tibetan monks, former monks and a nun. Since then there has been a further death. Those people, in monasteries mainly in Ngaba in Tibet, have been setting themselves alight as a protest against their inability to express their faith and their allegiance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They have drawn the sympathy of the world.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: I will in a second. I am grateful to see the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber.

On 25 November, a letter in The Guardian from Dai Qingli of the Chinese embassy was headed “Tibetan deaths violate Buddhism”. The argument of the letter was that the deaths were a fatal violation of the spirit of peace and tolerance that defines Tibetan Buddhism. I am grateful that hon. Friends from a number of parties have joined me in replying to that letter in today’s Guardian:

“Dai Qingli’s letter…revealed not only a woeful lack of comprehension of the crisis in Tibet but also the Chinese Communist party’s failure to gain any measure of legitimacy among the Tibetan people after more than 60 years. Since February 2009, 11 Tibetan monks or former monks and two nuns in Tibet have set fire to themselves in a new and disturbing development driven by agonising oppression. It is a terrible indictment of China’s Tibet policy…Contrary to Dai Qingli’s claims, the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders in exile want these deaths to stop and Tibetans to be able to practise their religion and protect their cultural identity. Dai Qingli is wrong, too, on his paranoid

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assertions of a separatist agenda of the Dalai Lama; the exiled religious leader is urging the Chinese government to implement its own laws granting Tibetans a genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of China. It is in the interests of the Chinese leadership to listen, instead of risking the further escalation of tensions, and to engage in dialogue with this most-respected and reasonable figure, the Dalai Lama.”

Jonathan Edwards: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on his consistency in his work on this important issue. He referred to those serious incidents of self-immolation. Does he agree that it would be appropriate for the UK Government to make a statement outlining their position on recent events and on how they aim to pursue the matter with the Chinese Government?

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and his party have always been good on the issue, which has united people throughout the parties and the United Kingdom. I have had the privilege of meeting His Holiness three times in this country and the Tibetan peace garden, which he opened on a previous visit, is in my constituency—in the grounds of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth park over the river from Parliament.

I appreciate the presence of the Minister, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), and hope that he can give a positive response to the request made not only by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) but by all of us together.

I have not been to China, other than to Hong Kong when it was still under British rule, although I would very much like to go. I have therefore not been to Tibet, although all my life, since I was a little boy—I just about remember the uprising in Lhasa, the Chinese invasion and the flight of the Tibetan people from Tibet—the country has mattered to me and to many in the UK.

Not surprisingly, in 1959, the same year as the uprising, the Tibet Society was formed in this country to argue the case for the proud and historic nation of Tibet and its people and for their rights to be upheld. I pay tribute to the Tibet Society, which has done consistent and effective campaigning work, and to its president, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). I also pay tribute to its chair, Ricky Hyde-Chambers, who is a constituent of mine, and to its chief executive, Philippa Carrick. With their staff, they are a really effective team. They supported us in our visit to Dharamsala this year and have done so at other times in the past.

I want to come to history and politics in a second. When we were in Dharamsala, we were privileged to meet the new Kalon Tripa. This year, for the first time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that he would give up all political authority, while retaining spiritual authority. There was an election among Tibetans worldwide and, on 8 August, Dr Lobsang Sangay was elected as the new political leader. We had the privilege of welcoming him only recently, as part of his tour of Europe and the States; he had been living in the States, but is now back in Dharamsala.

An important issue for our country is to keep in constant dialogue with such elected representatives, who are enlightened and engaged in their international contacts. I salute them, together with His Holiness, for what they

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have done already. In a way, we are in the Chamber to pledge our commitment to go on and to work better with them.

I do not pretend to be a great historian of China or Tibet but, put simply, Tibet has a proud independent history. We can argue whether it was completely independent but it was perceived as effectively independent by the British, who have had a particular link over the years, especially in the previous century. It was only in 1959, after the Chinese invasion, that the people of Tibet turned their loyalty to the Dalai Lama, who had to flee the country. They have remained loyal to him.

All the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of the people, not only in what the Chinese call the autonomous republic of Tibet, but in greater Tibet, which goes beyond what the Chinese recognise, have an independence that is both ethnic and cultural, in language and in faith. It is one that they want to be able to exercise. The present view of the Dalai Lama, which he has held for many years, and of the Tibetan Government-in-exile, is not that they want total independence—they are not making that argument—but that they want to have the autonomy that already exists in other parts of China.

For example, Hong Kong and Macau have a certain autonomy, which was negotiated, and parts of mainland China have a certain autonomy. The Tibetan Government-in-exile are asking for that autonomy, as well as for the freedom not to be told how to live their lives, how to worship and who to worship, and how to go about their own cultural activities.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gale. I also declare my interests set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) is clearly outlining a difficult situation in Tibet. Does he agree that in all the representations from Lobsang Sangay and the Dalai Lama there is clarity about the desire for a peaceful settlement, and recognition that everything that can be done to cease the troubles in Tibet, particularly self-immolation, should happen peacefully? People are being urged to cease those terrible events in Tibet.

Simon Hughes: Not only—[Interruption.] I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, who was with us in October.

Not only is my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe right about that, but the whole ethic of Tibetan Buddhism is peacefulness, non-aggression and non-violence. That is why it is such a terrible indictment of the Chinese regime that it will not allow those peaceful people to express themselves in their peaceful way. I have nothing against China and its people; I represent one of the largest Chinese communities in this country. That is not the issue. The issue is how the Chinese behave at home towards that different group of people in its territory.

Over the years, a number of colleagues have persistently raised the issues here, and I pay particular tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who, when he was not a Minister, was able to raise these matters. He did so in March 1999, on the 40th anniversary of the 1959 uprising; on

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28 June 2005, just ahead of the EU-China summit, which was under our presidency; and on 1 April 2008, when he opened by saying that he was angrier, sadder and less hopeful then than ever before.

That was before what was probably an understandable, but in the end rather unhelpful, clarification of policy by the then Foreign Secretary. It was not well received in Tibet. Whatever our politics and understanding of how we want to build and cement links with China, the fact is that the then Foreign Secretary said:

“Our ability to get our points across has sometimes been clouded by the position the UK took at the start of the 20th century on the status of Tibet, a position based on the geopolitics of the time. Our recognition of China’s ‘special position’ in Tibet developed from the outdated concept of suzerainty.”

He hugely disappointed people among the Tibetan community in exile and in Tibet when he then said on behalf of the then Government:

“We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.”

The statement was, of course, more balanced, because it went on to say:

“Our interest is in the long-term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2008; Vol. 481, c. 30WS.]

I pay tribute to the fact that Ministers have gone on arguing that case under the Labour Government and the present Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government. I also pay tribute to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), and to the Minister on the Bench, as well as to the Foreign Secretary, who has been robust about human rights issues.

I want to take the Chamber to where we might go. Many hon. Members have persistently expressed their concern. A litany of colleagues on both sides have asked questions, including, from the Conservative party, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry), for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) and for Witham (Priti Patel); from the Labour party, the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—he is in the Chamber—for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), for Leeds North East, for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) and for Scunthorpe, all of whom I am happy to call my hon. Friends; and from the Liberal Democrat party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). There is a real desire in this place to try to make progress.

I want to end by making some suggestions to the Minister on ways in which we might be able to take on the debate and to influence the outcome. We must try to

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persuade the Chinese that it is in their interests to deal with the issue because it clouds and affects all the perceptions of China in the democratic world.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): When we spoke to Tibetans in exile, we heard that they believed that if ordinary people in China had the information, many of them would take a different view of what should be happening. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the same applies to the Chinese community here? I wonder whether work should be done to engage with various key people in the Chinese community in the UK.

Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Avaaz petition, which today has 665,260 signatures, says:

“People from all over the world call on you to: investigate and stop the Tibet crackdown”.

It says to our Prime Minister:

“A rising number of Tibetans are taking their lives through self immolation in a desperate cry to the world to stop the escalating Chinese crackdown. As shocked citizens, we call on you to urgently send an independent high-level mission to the area…to speak out against the ongoing repression. Only coordinated and swift diplomatic action can stop this crisis.”

I am sure that both at home and abroad people of Chinese origin share exactly that view. Sadly, many of them in China do not know what is being done in their name.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: I will give way once more. I am conscious that the Minister needs time to respond.

Jeremy Corbyn: I apologise for only having just arrived. The right hon. Gentleman has taken this case up many times, and I congratulate him on that. Does he agree that it is deeply disturbing that a culture, language and whole way of life is being systematically destroyed in Tibet? The rest of the world is at last beginning to understand that, and that message must get through to the Chinese Government.

Simon Hughes: I agree, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is good at arguing such cases. That proud, historic nation has culturally contributed hugely to the world. It would be a tragedy if we did not manage in our lifetimes to give it the opportunity to do so again.

I have a shopping list, which degrades the matter, but I will put the items on the table. We could argue that there should be permission for the Red Cross or a similar organisation to be allowed regularly into Greater Tibet to ensure that there is independent monitoring of what is going on. We must argue that people must be allowed to teach the Tibetan language in schools in Tibet, and to speak it when they want to so that they can be brought up speaking their own language and understanding their own culture.

I hope that our Government will keep on raising the issue of the Panchen Lama, the Dalai Lama’s heir, who has been captured and has disappeared with his family.

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No one has owned up to his whereabouts, or to what is being done to secure his freedom and his ability to be where he wants to be with his family.

I hope that the Government will strongly take up the issue of self-immolation with the Chinese authorities, and make a robust statement of concern about that. I hope that they will argue that troops should be withdrawn from Kirti and the monasteries where such things are happening and that the Chinese Government should review their policies. I hope that our Government will raise concerns not just in general with the Chinese authorities, as they have been doing, but with the Chinese Ministry of Religious Affairs. I understand the diplomatic difficulties, but the Government should ensure that the lines of communication are open to the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Of course, Governments do not recognise Governments-in-exile, and our Government do not, but we need to ensure that we understand the democratically represented voices of the Tibetan people.

I want to make two other calls that are not to the Government. The faith leaders of the world should step in and engage themselves. The Christian communities in this country—the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics and the Free Churches—and the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Muslims need to speak up for other people of faith who are not allowed to practise their faith.

Finally, I hope that the House can play another role. With two colleagues, I co-chair the all-party group on conflict issues, and I hope that we will soon engage with this issue and invite the Chinese Government’s representatives to come and talk here. The issue must be negotiated peacefully. I hope that that can be done, and done soon. There have been too many deaths and too many injuries, and there has been too much oppression. The Chinese must understand that it is in their interests to move on and to give greater autonomy to Tibet—and the sooner, the better.

4.19 pm

S itting s uspended for a Division in the House.

4.34 pm

On resuming

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): On a point of order, Mr Gale, what time will this debate finish?

Mr Roger Gale (in the Chair): At 4.45 pm.

Mr Bellingham: I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) on securing this important debate, and I pay tribute to him for a committed, well researched and well informed speech. I also thank the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for their contributions.

The Government are seriously concerned about recent reports of self-immolations among nuns in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan province. We have closely followed those reports and other developments in the region. Let me describe the situation as it stands today. We are aware of 11 confirmed instances of monks and nuns in

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the Tibetan areas of Sichuan province who have self-immolated since March, and we know that four of those people died. We are aware of reports of a number of other attempted self-immolations, including one within the Tibetan autonomous region on 1 December, although those have not yet been confirmed.

The incidents began with the self-immolation on 16 March of Phuntsok, a monk at the Kirti monastery in Aba county, Sichuan. His immolation sparked a number of demonstrations and protests in the area, which by 12 April had led to a stand-off at the Kirti monastery between locals and monks on the one hand and Chinese security forces on the other. That ended on 21 April, when about 300 monks were removed from the monastery by the security forces. Their location and legal status has not been confirmed by the Chinese Government. Six of the 10 subsequent immolations have been by monks, or former monks, linked to the Kirti monastery.

We understand that there continues to be a high security presence at the monastery, and that a significant number of its monks have been dispersed away from the monastery grounds. The other immolations have been by two nuns, one in Aba county and the other in Daofu county, and two monks, one in Daofu county and one in Ganzi county—all in Sichuan province.

The Dalai Lama has made several public statements about the immolations, which he has said are the result of human rights violations caused by discriminatory Chinese policies in the region. The Chinese Government, on the other hand, have stated that the immolations are “politically motivated”, and that the Tibetan community in exile should be held responsible.

I assure my right hon. Friend, and other hon. Members, that the Government have been following developments closely. In terms of making a strong statement, as recently as 29 November my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that we should urge the Chinese Government to work with local monasteries and communities to resolve the grievances that have led to these self-immolations.

Furthermore, during his visit to China in November, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), the Minister of State, raised his concern about the immolations with Fu Ying, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister. He also wrote to the Chinese ambassador about the situation at the Kirti monastery, asking for information and calling for restraint. Officials have raised their concerns with the Chinese embassy in London and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

At the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council in June this year, the EU issued a statement calling on the Chinese authorities to refrain from the use of force in dealing with the situation at the Kirti monastery, and to allow independent observers on to the site. British embassy officials have kept in frequent contact with the Foreign Affairs office in Sichuan and with local public security bureau offices, regarding access to those areas.

British diplomats were able to access neighbouring Tibetan areas in October, but we understand that access to the Kirti monastery remains severely limited. I assure my right hon. Friend that we will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to allow access to Tibetan areas for

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foreign diplomats and journalists, just as we will continue on a regular basis to raise the case of the Panchen Lama.

I wish to say something about the dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama. Let me be explicit: the UK regards Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China and, as my right hon. Friend recognised, this Government’s position is consistent with and identical to that of the previous Government. All our international partners adopt a similar stance. Our interest, however, is in long-term stability for Tibet, and we believe that that is best achieved through respect for the universal principles of human rights, and genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution. We believe strongly that meaningful dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities is the best way to resolve those issues.

The last round of talks was held in January last year. No substantive progress has been made for several years. We appreciate that reaching a compromise is not easy and is likely to require sacrifices and risks on both sides. UK Ministers and officials have regularly encouraged both parties to engage in meaningful direct dialogue without preconditions. I certainly agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and other hon. Members that the people of Tibet are peaceful. They preach non-violence and they want dialogue above all else.

I should like to say a few words about the wider situation in Tibet. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office online human rights Command Paper, updated quarterly, provides regular updates on the situation in Tibet and makes it clear that we remain concerned about the rights and freedoms afforded to the Tibetan people.

I should like to begin this part of my speech by discussing political prisoners in Tibet. It goes without saying that the imprisonment of people for exercising their political, cultural and religious rights is completely unacceptable. The Government have lobbied the Chinese Government regarding a number of individuals, including Dhondup Wangchen, who was arrested in 2008 for filming a documentary recording the reactions of ordinary Tibetans to the Olympic games. We have serious concerns about the health and treatment of Dhondup in prison.

Those individuals also include the brothers Karma Samdrup and Rinchen Samdrup, imprisoned in 2009 and 2010. We have very serious concerns about the manner in which charges were brought against those men and about the reports that they have suffered serious mistreatment and torture while in detention. We are committed to supporting efforts to prevent torture around the world. We will continue to advocate the view that independent oversight of prisons is important to maintain prison standards and to prevent the mistreatment of prisoners.

Freedom of religion in Tibet is a particular concern. We believe very strongly that ordinary Tibetans must enjoy the right to live according to their traditions and customs. Political controls and restrictions should not be placed on normal religious practice. Monks, nuns and lay people should be completely free to manifest their beliefs without interference from the state.

We also believe that the languages of minority groups should be actively provided for, particularly in education and employment policy. China’s laws make it clear that

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its minority groups should have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken languages. However, given the lack of qualified teachers and appropriate teaching materials, access to education in the Tibetan language can be severely limited, particularly at secondary and tertiary levels. Those issues were a focus of the UK-China human rights dialogue earlier this year. My right hon. Friend referred to that dialogue, and we regard it as a very important part of our bilateral relationship.

Of course, we welcome the huge investments that the Chinese Government have made in Tibetan areas—they amount to many billions of dollars a year—but we hope that everything possible can be done to ensure that the economic development of Tibet benefits the native population. Education is part of that; so, too, is ensuring that rural communities benefit as much as urban ones. Consultation and dialogue with local groups is also vital.

Let me say a few words about Tibet’s environment. Tibet has a unique natural environment, which should be carefully protected. We hope that the Chinese Government will respect the knowledge and livelihood of local herdsmen and farmers within that protection, rather than trying to move them away from their ancestral homes. Those groups have managed the land for generations and have a real contribution to make in ensuring that development in Tibet is sustainable.

In addition to the actions that I have mentioned, Ministers have regularly raised with China at the highest political levels our concerns about aspects of the human rights situation in Tibet. We have raised individual cases of concern with the Chinese Government. We have pursued the discussions through our bilateral dialogue with China on human rights and through programmes funded through non-governmental organisations and research institutions. The last round of our human rights dialogue included, for example, an expert workshop on minority rights and languages—an area of particular relevance to Tibet. I make the commitment that, following this debate, the Government will write again to the Chinese authorities to express our concerns about the issues raised here and to urge a return to negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s envoys.

To sum up, the Government are actively engaged both on the issue of immolations in Tibet and on the broader issue of human rights there. The Foreign Secretary has recently said that

“human rights…are part of our national DNA”.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark for raising this issue and giving me the chance to explain the Government’s position. I hope that he accepts that we are actively engaged and will continue to push for the respect of Tibetan human rights and the protection of the culture, natural environment and dignity of the people of Tibet. They deserve nothing less.

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4.44 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased that you are chairing the debate, Mr Gale, and that we have secured it. I regret that it will be only 30 minutes long, but we will do our best. A number of hon. Members want to intervene during my contribution, and I will be happy to take all those interventions, including from the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who possibly will not agree with one word of what I am about to say. If he can just contain his disagreement until he reaches an appropriate point of disagreeability, I will happily give way to him.

First, I should declare an interest in the debate. I am chair of the parliamentary CND group and vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at national level. I have to confess to having first joined CND at the age of 15, and I remain a member, so it is a very short membership that I have had.

The subject of the debate is the cost of the Trident nuclear missile and submarine replacement. This is an issue of parliamentary accountability, costs and, of course, the relationship between vast levels of defence expenditure and our foreign policy. Huge numbers of figures can be cited, and I will cite some. Main-gate consideration of the replacement of the whole system has been delayed until 2016. By that stage, £4 billion will have been spent on the concept and assessment phases of the replacement submarine and £500 million on ordering long-lead construction items. Plans have recently been announced for spending of £2 billion at the warhead facility at Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston. That coincides with the suggestion in the recently available redacted value for money review that a decision will be taken on the warhead much sooner than previously anticipated.

This debate is therefore designed to point out the amount of money being spent, but also to ask very serious questions about when Parliament will be effectively able to scrutinise what are massive levels of expenditure on a weapon of mass destruction.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this much needed debate. He talked about the 2016 main gate. Will he welcome the fact that that has now been delayed until after the next election and that that gives his party an opportunity to take the same view that he and I share about whether it would be desirable to go ahead with the main gate at all? Perhaps even the Conservatives might join us in a triumvirate of sense.

Jeremy Corbyn: I would be happier if we killed off the whole project straight away—but I suspect that that might not happen.

I also draw to the House’s attention the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence has announced that he has no plans to publish the Trident alternatives review, which was commissioned to please the Liberal Democrats, who went into the last election promising not a like-for-like replacement of Trident, but something different. We do not know what that something different might be. The review will not be published, which is astonishing. I hope that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he can explain why that is the case.

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Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): As a Liberal Democrat, I remain absolutely committed to my belief that this is a ludicrous waste of money. I am boiling with anger at the fact that, despite an alternatives review having been commissioned, it will not be published. There is no basis for not publishing it so that people can at least consider the alternatives, although my personal preference is as I have stated. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree?

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for his. They are both very sincere and very honest on the whole issue.

Tessa Munt rose—

Jeremy Corbyn: I understand that the hon. Lady is boiling with rage. I, too, am boiling with rage, so we will boil together.

Tessa Munt: I apologise for not having declared that I have membership of CND at Mid Somerset level and I am vice-chair of that organisation. I should have said that earlier.

Jeremy Corbyn: I know from long experience with CND that nothing to do with CND can be counted as a pecuniary interest. Absolutely no one has ever made any money out of being a CND member. There is nothing financial to be declared, so I set the hon. Lady’s mind at rest. I thank her for her support and membership of CND and for the sincere work that she has done for a long time to try to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Estimates of the cost of designing and constructing the Trident submarine replacement programme have grown significantly this year, with the MOD publishing figures in the May parliamentary initial gate report that represent a doubling of those in December 2005. The estimated submarine replacement cost has increased from between £11 billion and £14 billion to £25 billion. In addition, the Ministry recently announced significant spending plans for new warhead facilities at Aldermaston, despite officially not planning a decision on replacing or refurbishing the warhead until the next Parliament. That is the question.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff) indicated dissent.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Minister shakes his head. It is his head, and he is allowed to shake it, but I hope that when he replies, he will be able to explain why Parliament has not been consulted on spending £2 billion on the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston. If my figures are wrong, I am sure that he will put them right—that is the whole point of a parliamentary debate and of parliamentary scrutiny.

As I have said, the new figures announced this year for spending on replacing Trident are going up. The submarine will cost around £4 billion before the construction decision. As I understand it, it will cost £900 million on the concept phase before initial gate, which is from 2007 to 2011; £3 billion on the assessment phase between initial gate and main gate; and £500 million on long-lead items for construction. That will put the cost of the submarine replacement programme prior to main gate

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somewhat higher than what was spent on the Nimrod programme, which was cancelled in October 2010 after £3.4 billion had been spent on it.

Quite simply, we are moving to an enormous expenditure before a parliamentary vote in, presumably, 2016 or whenever, when all of us might still be Members of Parliament—or when none of us are. There will be a new Parliament, and a different Parliament will make that decision. I could write the speech for the Minister or his successor now. It will say, “We do not want to do it, and we do not like it. It is not good, but we have already spent so much money that it would be a shame to waste it.”

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the eye-watering figures that he is describing are of concern not only to some of the CND stalwarts in the Chamber today—myself included—but to those who care about the MOD’s equipment budget, given that all that will amount to around 30% of the budget over the 2020s?

Jeremy Corbyn: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point. Not only is she a CND stalwart, but she has great responsibility, for she is a member of the CND national council, as I am. I am pleased that she is a member as well. She is quite right—many in the defence community express horror at equipment shortages of all sorts, the privatisation of air and sea rescue, and all those kinds of things that are planned, while at the same time someone is going ahead and planning to spend and spend on replacing Trident, a massive vanity project; that is what it is. It does not seem to bear any relation to any foreign policy strategy or to British membership of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which requires clearly under article 6 that the five permanent members of the Security Council, which are also the five declared nuclear weapon states, take steps towards nuclear disarmament. Britain is not taking steps towards nuclear disarmament—it is reducing the number of warheads, but the capability is to be increased. Any Government, whether this one or a future one, could increase the number of warheads.

When the National Audit Office looked at the matter recently, in November this year, it cited problems with the Astute class submarines currently being built. They are now expected to cost £6.67 billion, a full £1.47 billion more than anticipated when the project was approved. Apparently, it is also running five years and one month late. Also, a report, “Looking into the Black Hole”, states that

“spending on the successor programme will rise sharply, probably reaching a peak of around 30% of the new equipment budget by 2021-22 or 2022-23”—

exactly the point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—

“when the first-of-class begins production. It is likely to remain close to this level until after the planned delivery of the first submarine in 2028.”

I want to turn to the issue of transparency—

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jeremy Corbyn: There is no finer person to be transparent than the hon. Gentleman.

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Dr Julian Lewis: I know that I am going to get one shot at this, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his great courtesy. I would like to remind him that there was a parliamentary debate and a vote in, I think, the spring of 2007. It is not as if Parliament has not had one vote on the matter, and it will have another one. Does he agree that the cost overrun for the Astute class submarine was so great because of the gap that had been allowed to develop between the completion of the nuclear deterrent submarines of the Vanguard class and the initiation of the Astute class? By ensuring that the next generation of boats follow closely on from the Astute class, any such increase should be avoidable. There is precedent for that, because both Polaris and Trident came in on time and on budget.

Jeremy Corbyn: There is a precedent for this debate, which was the full debate that was held four years ago in 2007, in which a significant number of MPs from my party—100—voted against the replacement of Trident. Every other debate was initiated by Back Benchers, some of whom are present today. That is the function of Parliament, and I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will be able to assure me that there will be regular statements to update Parliament.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): There was a debate in 2007, which arrived at a vote—that is true. However, is it not true that, in every debate that we have had, the figures on the speculative development have gone up rather than down?

Jeremy Corbyn: Indeed. One of the facts of life is that for anything to do with nuclear weapons, nuclear equipment, AWE Aldermaston or submarines, the price goes up and up, whatever else happens.

The Liberal Democrats have called for a Trident alternative review—that is fine. The Secretary of State announced that the review will take place, fulfilling the coalition agreement by

“assisting the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives.”

However, on 21 November, he said that he had no plans to publish the review. He said:

“In looking at alternative systems and postures, the review draws upon highly classified technical, intelligence and policy information covering extremely sensitive national security issues. There are, therefore, no plans to publish either the report or the information it draws upon.”

Regarding providing information for MPs to scrutinise the Trident replacement programme, the Secretary of State stated that he

“intends to provide an annual update to Parliament; the first of these was produced for the Initial Gate announcement in May of this year. The precise format and timing of subsequent statements is yet to be decided.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 34W.]

Today, the Prime Minister made a written ministerial statement on defence issues, called, “Strategic Defence and Security Review: First Annual Report”. It states:

“In addition, to assist the Liberal Democrats make the case for alternatives to the Trident system, the Government initiated a study into the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative nuclear deterrent systems and postures. Progress has also been made on implementing the new nuclear assurances policy and the reduction in our nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, both commitments set out in the SDSR.”

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I find it strange that the Secretary of State would say that we in Parliament are not equipped to know the basis on which an alternative is being looked at. We are not allowed to see the information, because apparently it is all classified. We therefore assume that the alternative is simply never going to see the light of day. Despite the valiant efforts of a number of Liberal Democrat MPs to get that, on the Floor of the House, it will be extremely difficult. The Minister must explain exactly why Parliament is not equipped to know why such vast levels of expenditure are going ahead, and why an alternative is not going to be published.

Tessa Munt: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Minister will have to explain that in that case—it would seem to me—the costs are not known, and it is neither feasible nor credible for us to have the particular scheme.

Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. If we do not know the cost, if we do not know what the alternatives are and if we do not know the foreign policy considerations surrounding the alternatives, we move into the era—once again—where the Ministry of Defence basically does what it likes and Parliament endorses it at some later stage. So we are moving—sleepwalking, actually—into a massive level of expenditure. Never mind whether people like or dislike, agree with or disagree with, nuclear weapons—is that really a sensible way for this country to go headlong into spending £100 billion?

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend think that, when the Government committed themselves to a review, they must have known what the nature of the review was going to be, so they must also have known at the time that they were never going to make the review public?

Jeremy Corbyn: Presumably, there were discussions in the MOD about exactly what the terms of the review would be, who would contribute to it and what desk research would be done. The MOD must have also decided, “Well, we’re not going to publish it anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what’s in it.” If I were a Liberal Democrat MP—I am not one, I have no intention of being one and I do not think that I ever will be one, so I am talking about a purely hypothetical situation—I would be very angry about that because, having negotiated that review into the coalition agreement, the Liberal Democrats are now being told that they are not even allowed to know what is in it.

Before I give the Minister sufficient time to reply—I am sure that he will be happy to take even more interventions than I have—I have a few questions to put to him. If the current Government are re-elected in 2015, will they provide a parliamentary vote on the Trident main gate? When will the format and timing of the annual update statements be decided, and what is the reason for delaying an announcement on those statements? To their credit, the Government have produced quarterly statements on the situation in Afghanistan, and frequent statements on the situation in the middle east and north Africa. I welcome those statements; they show openness, which is good. Consequently, those of us who take those matters very seriously can question the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence on them regularly in Parliament, and we know

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when those opportunities are coming up. That is what Parliament is for and that is the right way of doing things. The expenditure on Trident is so massive, the decision on Trident is so huge and the implications of Trident are so enormous that we need something more than an annual statement about it to Parliament. We need at least a quarterly statement on Trident from the Secretary of State for Defence.

My two final questions to the Minister concern work at Aldermaston, because it seems to me that there is something very murky going on at Aldermaston—something very murky indeed. A huge amount of money is being spent there and, as I understand it, a lot of preparation is being made there for warhead production. So we need to know what the nature of the work is to inform decisions on design of a successor warhead—work that is currently under way—and how much money is due to be spent on those studies in the current comprehensive spending review period? Also, what are the costs of the nuclear weapon sustainability programme at Aldermaston, and will the Minister make those costs public?

I will conclude with this point—I have set out my position absolutely clearly. I believe that nuclear weapons are immoral and wrong, and we have huge obligations and huge opportunities through the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, not only to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons but to promote a nuclear weapons convention that would bring the non-declared nuclear weapons states—Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea—into the discussions about ridding the world of nuclear weapons altogether. If we are serious about going down that road and achieving a nuclear-free world, we have to do something about it and set an example. It is a pretty strange example to deny Parliament the opportunity to discuss Trident in detail, so that it can know the expenditure involved, and to commit ourselves to this vast expenditure on a weapon of mass destruction that—if ever used—will indiscriminately kill millions of people on this planet. As I have said, nuclear weapons are immoral, wrong and dangerous, but we have a right to know the levels of expenditure on them. I hope that this debate is the start of many debates on this subject. Many of us who are committed on this subject will keep on raising it, so that we know the truth about the amount of money that this country is spending on weapons of mass destruction.

5.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): Mr Gale, without wishing to trivialise this very important subject in any sense, I had intended to begin my remarks by a reference to that famous line of Captain Louis Renault about rounding up the usual suspects at the end of “Casablanca”, but the number of usual suspects seems to have expanded today to a rather larger number than I had expected. I had imagined that only the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) would be in Westminster Hall today, but I welcome the larger group of actors.

I am delighted to be in Westminster Hall once again to explain to the hon. Member for Islington North why we are right to proceed with our plans to maintain the

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security of our nation and why I think that he made a number of serious misinterpretations of the facts—let me put it that way—during his speech.

The Government have been clear that the safety and security of the UK is our first priority, and although we are facing difficult economic circumstances and a challenging inheritance from the previous Administration, our security must be seen as a long-term issue.

At the outset and on behalf of the whole House, I want to pay tribute to the professionalism of all those Royal Navy and civilian personnel who answer this country’s call to operate and support this vital national capability. Having visited HMS Vanguard at sea and HMS Vigilant in refit, I have met some of our dedicated service personnel who support Operation Relentless, which is the UK’s mission to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence. I was deeply impressed by their commitment and I am very grateful to them; I think that we should all be grateful to them. It is important that hon. Members remember that, even as we speak, those men are out there somewhere in the oceans providing Britain’s ultimate national security guarantee. They and their predecessors have maintained a 42-year unbroken chain of continuous at-sea deterrence, keeping all of us and our allies safe.

In many respects, we face a more dangerous situation now than we have done for several decades. There are substantial risks to our security from emerging nuclear weapons states. Consequently, although we are committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, as we all are in this place, we believe that we can best protect ourselves against those threats by the continued operation of a minimum, credible nuclear deterrent. [ Interruption. ]Others might find that funny, but I do not find it funny at all. Maintaining that deterrent is a very serious judgment that is shared by all three major parties in the House. It is important to remember that the alternative study, which I will return to later, which has been promised to the Liberal Democrats and which is proceeding, only considers the delivery platform and not the alternative to a minimum credible national deterrent programme. All three major parties are committed to such a programme.

The UK has a strong record on nuclear disarmament. We have continued to work with other nations to achieve our goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In addition to the well-documented commitments in the strategic defence and security review, I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Islington North to the statement in June that we have already begun to implement the reduction in warheads that are carried on our submarines. In addition, earlier this year, the permanent members of the UN Security Council met in Paris to take forward the action plan from the 2010 non-proliferation treaty review conference. We agreed to work together on a number of initiatives and Britain has taken the lead by agreeing to host a meeting in early 2012 to discuss the lessons that have been learned from our bilateral work with Norway on the verification of nuclear weapon dismantlement.

Having set out the Government’s fundamental policy, I want to address one further issue before I turn to the specific details of Trident’s costs. One theme that frequently emerges—it emerged again today in the hon. Gentleman’s speech—is the engagement with Parliament on the replacement of the nuclear deterrent. The hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in CND often accuse the Government of having a culture of secrecy with regard to the deterrent.

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Clearly, there are aspects of the programme that are sensitive and that must remain classified for national security purposes. I will also discuss the Trident alternative study in that regard. The Government have received many requests, including from the hon. Gentleman in his speech, for information on the Trident alternatives study. The nature of that study, which is led by the Cabinet Office, requires highly classified information to be analysed. Indeed, only a small number of people in my Department and in the Cabinet Office can see that information. Therefore, Members will appreciate that we will not be able to publish the study itself, as doing so would be irresponsible and put national security at risk.

No decisions have yet been taken about what it might be possible to say without compromising national security, and as the report to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister will not even be concluded until late 2012 or early 2013, it would be premature at this stage to commit to any specific course of action; for that reason, I will not be doing so today. I have no doubt that the public would understand that we want to take great care of those secrets, but we have nothing to hide except that which it is essential to hide for national security. Where we can, we have explained as clearly as possible what we are doing and why we are doing it, and I will do so yet again today for the hon. Gentleman’s benefit.

Dr Julian Lewis: Before my hon. Friend the Minister moves on to the question of costs, I want to make a point about the alternative study. In response to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has secured this debate, it is presumably reasonable to assume that, at the very least, a list of those alternatives to Trident that were considered and dismissed, as well as a rough idea of the reasons why they were dismissed, will be published even if technical details cannot be released. Does the Minister accept that, when the hon. Gentleman talks about nuclear weapons killing millions of people if ever used, surely the response is that they are being used every day, because their use lies in the prevention of the use of similar weapons against this country and our interests?

Peter Luff: I note my hon. Friend’s powerful argument. I am sure that it will be borne in mind closer to the time, but at present I can make no commitment about what will happen at the end of 2012 or in early 2013, when the report is due to conclude.

I note that this is the third time that I have debated this issue in this place. We also covered the topic extensively during the strategic defence and security review debate last year. Since assuming Government, my Ministry of Defence ministerial colleagues and I have answered about 180 parliamentary questions on nuclear issues, not to mention a significant amount of public correspondence. In May this year, we published a comprehensive report on the initial gate decision for the successor submarine. We have recently repeated an earlier commitment to make an annual statement on progress to Parliament, and I think that that frequency strikes the right balance. We have published the costs of various aspects of the nuclear programme, such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment, on numerous occasions. Moreover, in May last year, we announced for the first time the

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overall size of our nuclear warhead stockpile, giving the deepest ever transparency of our nuclear capability. That is hardly a culture of secrecy or sleepwalking.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am not quite sure why the Minister is getting into such a bad mood about Parliament asking questions to the Ministry of Defence. That is what Parliament is for; it is why we are here. Will he give us an accurate estimate of how much will be spent on the whole programme, on the initial gate and on the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, before any decision is made in Parliament in 2016? Can he not revisit the idea of a quarterly statement on the vast expenditure that is going on?

Peter Luff: It is my intention to do that, but I am conscious of the time. I hope to be able to answer all the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

I should now like to turn to the specific costs of the current and future deterrent programmes. The simple fact is that being a responsible nuclear weapons state requires investment. Submarines and their ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads are extremely complex and require considerable skill and expertise to design, maintain and operate safely, and I make no apology whatsoever for taking seriously our responsibilities for the safe custody of these systems, nor for spending the money needed to do that. That is not to say that we have not closely scrutinised the costs of the programme. Indeed, Members will be aware that we announced last year as part of the SDSR a number of measures to do just that.

I should like to dwell briefly on the different elements of the nuclear deterrent programme. The White Paper highlighted three key areas: the platform, the infrastructure and the warhead. At 2006 prices—I emphasise that it was at 2006 prices—the Department estimated that the platform would cost between £11 billion and £14 billion, and each of the other two elements would cost between £2 billion and £3 billion. Separately, there are also the costs of maintaining and running the in-service deterrent—what we have at present—such as the facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which I will come to later.

If I may start with the platform—the boats—earlier this year “The Initial Gate Parliamentary Report” stated:

“assuming a four boat fleet, the replacement submarines will remain within the £11-14Bn estimate.”

We made it clear in the report and, indeed, in the White Paper itself that those values are at 2006-07 constant prices, and the report also indicated that, when we take into account inflation, the costs equate to £25 billion. Costs have simply not doubled, as reported on CND’s website; that is wrong. This misreporting of the true position is extremely misleading. Of the £25 billion, we expect to have spent £3.9 billion by main gate. That includes the costs of the concept and assessment phases, and the majority of that work is in the maturation of the design.

With regard to long-lead items, we have been clear that we have minimised spend as far as possible. Over the coming years, we will place orders for different specialist items, which take a number of years to be delivered, totalling some £500 million. That is just 2% of the total purchase cost. We plan to place the order

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for the specialist high-grade steel only in 2014, so that it is ready for manufacture and cutting in 2016 after the main investment, or main gate, decision. We will not procure any items for the fourth boat until 2016, when the build decision is made. Any accusation that, by purchasing those items, we will be locked into a particular strategy before main gate in 2016 is simply wrong. The simple fact is that these highly specialised components take time to be delivered. Identifying long-lead items is part of any well-run programme, and nothing that we are doing will prevent us from being able to make the right decision in 2016. I should like to explore that at more length, but I am conscious of the time.

With respect to infrastructure, the value-for-money review concluded that no significant investment was needed in the immediate future. To study the infrastructure requirements in detail, we will spend about £8 million over the next three years and will continue to look for opportunities to drive down running costs and the need

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for any new investment. Despite being at an early stage of the programme, we still expect to meet the White Paper estimate of between £2 billion and £3 billion.

On the third element, my attention was drawn recently to speculation that implied that we had already spent at least £2 billion on a new warhead. That is simply not true. We are investing at the Atomic Weapons Establishment to ensure that we sustain the capabilities that we need to maintain the current stockpile. It is true that that will give us the capability that we need to design and produce a new warhead if and when required, but that is not the purpose of the expenditure. We will take the appropriate decisions at the right time, and Members will recall the commitment in the SDSR not to take any decisions on a new warhead until the next Parliament. We expect a replacement warhead to meet the White Paper estimate of between £2 billion and £3 billion.

5.15 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).