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Future Reserves 2020

11.33 am

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s consultation on reserve forces.

On 5 July this year, I announced to the House my intention to publish a consultation paper setting out our detailed proposals for the future of the reserve forces, in response to the recommendations of the Future Reserves 2020 commission. The Green Paper, which I am publishing today, marks the beginning of a formal consultation period, and a significant step forward in our plans to build the reserves of the future.

Reserve forces play a vital role in delivering Britain’s defence capability. In the last 10 years, more than 25,000 reservists have deployed on operations overseas, and more than 2,000 deployed in support of the Olympic games this summer. Sadly, 29 have paid the ultimate price while on operational service over this period. The whole House will want to join me in saluting their sacrifice.

As well as delivering a range of combat capabilities, reservists have provided numerous specialist functions, from nuclear, biological and chemical protection in Iraq, to deployed medical support, saving the lives of our injured troops in Afghanistan. Whether at home or abroad, we should be proud of the dedication, determination and courage with which so many of our reservists serve this country.

Last year, the Future Reserves 2020 commission reported that, in spite of that service and sacrifice, our reserves—particularly the Territorial Army—were in decline. Their numbers were getting smaller, the full range of their capabilities was not being used, and they were not being used in a cost-effective manner. In the Territorial Army, we still have major units configured as they were when the task was to provide mass reinforcements to counter a cold war era Soviet threat, and we remain unable to mobilise reserves to assist our regular forces on their vital standing tasks, such as the defence of the Falkland Islands.

The commission found that those deficiencies, when taken together, were contributing to an erosion of the effectiveness of the reserves and of the links between our armed forces and wider society. We cannot allow that to continue. The 2010 strategic defence and security review called for a transformation of our armed forces to meet the new security challenges and threats of the 21st century while addressing the deficit in the defence budget. In Future Force 2020, we are building an adaptable whole force to meet those challenges and threats, with our Army, Air Force, maritime and marine reserves at the heart of that force. The reserves of the future will be integral to, and fully integrated with, our regular forces, capable of being deployed as formed sub-units and units—as well as continuing to deliver individual augmentees—together providing an agile, high-tech capability, which is able to defend our country, project power abroad and respond to diverse contingencies.

Historically, mobilisation of the reserves has often been seen as indicative of an emerging large-scale crisis for which the numbers of regular forces would be insufficient—a view reinforced by the current legislative

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framework, under which reservists cannot be mobilised to support standing military tasks—but in future, as an integrated element of our armed forces, the reserves will be a part of almost every type of operation that our armed forces conduct, whether in combat, capacity-building or fulfilling more routine standing commitments. Indeed, some very specialist capabilities, such as cyber, media operations and medical capability, cannot cost-effectively be held in the regular forces, and we will rely upon the reserves to deliver them.

The routine delivery of the nation’s security will broaden from being the sole preserve of the standing regular forces into a responsibility that is shared, through the role of the reserves, much more widely across society. To deliver it, we are investing an additional £1.8 billion in our reserves over the next 10 years, enabling us to increase their size to a trained strength of approximately 35,000. For the first time in 20 years, our reserves will be on an upward and not a downward trajectory. By 2018, we will have grown the trained strength of the Army Reserve to 30,000, the maritime reserve to 3,100, and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to 1,800.

Reserve units will be paired with, train with, and achieve the same standards as, their regular counterparts. They will use the same equipment and the same vehicles, and wear the same uniforms as the regulars, and they will deploy routinely, together with regular forces, on major overseas exercises. This year alone, reserve units will conduct some 22 overseas exercises, with probably twice that number next year. Integrated regular-reserve overseas training exercises are being developed and will become routine. Already, the additional investment we have put in place is making a difference. As I saw for myself last night at the Royal Yeomanry Territorial Army centre in Fulham, Territorial Army units are taking delivery of WMIK—weapons mount installation kit—light reconnaissance vehicles, Bowman radios and new Regular Army uniforms and weapons.

As by far the largest element of our reserves, the changes will be felt most keenly by the Army. To reflect the significant change in the role of Army reservists, I propose that the name of the Territorial Army should become the Army Reserve. We will consult on that proposal. Vital to delivering this transformation will be offering a new proposition to our reserves: if they make the commitment, turn up regularly to train and are prepared to deploy, in return, we will make the commitment to equip, train and fund them properly. In the future, we will give reservists much better defined, more fulfilling roles, properly resourced and with adequate training, underpinned by a balanced package of remuneration and support for them and their families, much more closely aligned to the pay, allowances and welfare support provided to the regulars. In return, we will expect them to commit to required levels of training, to meet the same exacting standards as the regular forces and, crucially, to be available to deploy alongside them.

National emergencies apart, we will provide greater predictability about periods of liability for deployment for our reserves. That will mean, typically, a deployment of no more than six months in a five-year period for Army reserves, although total mobilisation could be up to a year to cover operation-specific pre-deployment training and post-operation recuperation. This predictability will help those who serve our country, and their families, to plan their lives, and it will also help employers of

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reservists to plan their work forces, because, crucially, to achieve our aims we need to develop a new relationship with civilian employers. Too often in the past, that relationship has only started at the point at which reserves have been mobilised. That has got to change. It is vital that we create a much more open and collaborative relationship with employers, including: providing greater certainty about reservists’ liability for deployment, with advance warning of when their call-up liability period will be; giving confidence to employers that the skills and aptitudes reservists develop in training and on deployments will be of benefit in their civilian careers; and recognising that the relationship will need to be tailored to different types and size of employers.

I fully accept that it may be large public and private sector organisations that are best able to offer, absorb and manage periods of employee absence, and I am delighted that companies such as BT, the AA and BAE Systems have shown their support to our reserves and this consultation process. With the growth of statutory leave provisions and flexible working practices, however, employers of all sizes are more accustomed than they used to be to managing periods of absence. Further, in a modern, dynamic economy, increasing numbers do not pursue conventional careers, creating a sizeable pool of self-employed people from which to recruit.

I look forward, in the consultation process, to exploring further with businesses of all sizes how we could better recognise the support they give to our armed forces, perhaps through a kitemark-style national recognition scheme for reserve-friendly employers, or possibly through the use of targeted financial incentives for smaller employers.

Taken together, the proposals in the Green Paper point to a new strategic direction for our reserve forces. They are challenging, requiring the support of both reservists and employers to succeed, but they are also deliverable. Reserve numbers in 2018 will still be less than half the size of the Territorial Army in 1990, and recruitment levels are now starting to rise after a long-term downward trend.

Too often in the past, our reserve forces have been neglected and taken for granted—an afterthought when it came to investment and training and a soft target when it came to last-minute in-year budget cuts. That will no longer be the case. Under our proposals, with a balanced defence budget and an additional £1.8 billion of investment, our reserve forces of the future will be better trained, better equipped and better resourced than ever before. Collectively, they will take on greater responsibility, and benefit from greater reward and greater respect.

In the years to come, we will have Army, Navy and Royal Marines reserves, and a Royal Auxiliary Air Force, sitting at the heart of the defence of our national security —reserve forces of which we can be proud, supported by employers to whom we will owe a deep debt of national gratitude. I commend this statement to the House.

11.44 am

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for advance sight of it and the Green Paper.

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Our reserve forces can make an enhanced contribution to our regular forces and UK force projection capability. In recent years, reservists have operated in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, in Libya. We remember each who has been lost or injured, and pay tribute to their courage and their sacrifice—a comment that is more pertinent in this Remembrance week. We, like the Government, support the modernisation of the reservists and support a name change to reflect their contemporary composition.

Today’s plans build on the last Government’s record of support for reserves, but when the Government announced deep cuts in the regular forces of 30,000 and a doubling of reserve numbers to compensate, many would not have known that the cut in regulars would go ahead regardless of whether the target for reservists is met. Given that it is the Government’s policy to rely on reservists to meet the defence planning assumptions, surely it would make more sense to make the cut in regular capacity contingent on growth in reservist capability. The Secretary of State’s comments today will be checked to some degree by concerns that he has announced a policy without yet having a clear idea of how it will be achieved, and today we have a new list of unanswered questions. Concerns will be heightened by the criticism, made by the Green Paper’s co-author, of a backlog of applicants. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House and others on whether he has increased the number of medical officers and computers available to applicants?

In the limited time available to me, I want to ask specific questions and look for specific answers in five areas. On employment, the Secretary of State announced that three companies are supporting his consultation, and we look forward to more being announced. Support from employers is vital, and we therefore welcome the approach outlined, in particular the consideration of a kitemark. Does the Secretary of State envisage such a kitemark being taken into consideration in decisions on defence procurement? Will he also say what specific incentives there will be for private companies, and whether those already taking on reservists will be recognised? It is vital, in our view, that legislation is now considered to protect reservists against discrimination in employment interviews, pay and career promotion.

On the nature of deployment and integration with regular forces, it is our judgment that reserves should not form stand-alone units on operations, and that the present system of integrating individually into infantry companies should remain. One great strength of the reserve force is its local identity, so will the Secretary of State say a little more and offer clarity on the fate of existing TA units?

On training, an enhanced front-line role must be matched by a proportionate improvement in pre-deployment training. The integrated concept should extend beyond tours of duty to preparation too, so we recommend that reservists train alongside regulars with more advanced equipment. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically, in addition to what he has already commented on, to enable such a change of practice to take place?

On mental health, reservists’ new role comes at a time when medical analysis shows us they are more susceptible than regulars to post-deployment mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many reservists return

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to civilian life without decompression with those who share their experiences, and do not have access to military medical services. What improvements are being made to post-deployment care?

On benefits, our support for reservists should extend to those signing up while they are signing on for benefit. Greater mandatory training requirements for reservists could, it has been reported, lead to individuals not meeting claimant eligibility criteria. A condition of claiming must be about consistent search for employment, but someone who has lost their job should not lose their benefit because they volunteer. I hope the House agrees that no one who fights for their country should be made worse off. I have asked a number of questions of the Secretary of State, but I would like clarity and an absolute guarantee on the record that no one will be affected in that manner.

In conclusion, it is in our nation’s interest that, at a time of enormous uncertainty across the world, a greater degree of clarity is provided on how we recruit and retain a new generation of reservists. We will support and continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions, because it is now clear that our nation’s security will depend on the professionalism of our reservists and on the Government’s ability to get this right. We wish them well in that endeavour.

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) at least for the very first and very last sentiments he expressed. I am grateful for his broad support for reform of the reserves and for the name change, which might seem trivial but is hugely symbolic of our intentions. I am also grateful for his good wishes at the end.

The right hon. Gentleman tells the House that what we are doing builds on “the last Government’s record of support for the reserve forces”. That would be the proposal to cut their funding by 30%, slash their training days and stop live firing of ammunition, I suppose! He asked me about the balance of regulars and reserves, but he was quoted this morning on the BBC website as saying that we need a smaller but stronger armed forces. That is the first time I have heard him admit that our armed forces have to be smaller, as we cut our coat to fit the budgetary cloth that we have inherited from Labour.

The right hon. Gentleman made a fair point about the backlog of applicants in the system following the move to common selection in April 2012. We are aware that we must deal with this issue before we publish the White Paper next spring. Steps are in hand to deal with his points about medics and computer access. The Army is acutely aware that it has to get people quickly from the point of application into the reserves, and not keep them hanging around, as I am afraid has happened in some cases over the past few months.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the kitemark proposal and whether it would be taken into account in the awarding of defence contracts. I do not believe that that is the appropriate way to award contracts. Where those contracts are subject to competition under European competition directives it would be illegal to offer priority to an accreditation that is only available to UK companies.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about specific support for employers. He will see, when he reads the Green Paper, a number of questions about the nature of the

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support that we should give. Financial support is already available to employers when reservists are called up for deployment. We have not closed our minds to the possibility of further financial support, but there is a fixed pot of money available to support this initiative— £1.8 billion—and, if we use it to pay employers, we cannot use it for kit and equipment for reservists. I want to ensure, therefore, that where we offer financial incentives, they are precisely targeted—at the smallest employers, I would expect—where they will do the most good. We have some excellent large companies supporting the initiative, but, with the greatest respect to them, I do not want to hand them a wodge of taxpayers’ money to recognise the excellent work that they are already doing. However, I am much more open to the idea of financial support for smaller companies.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about discrimination. We make it clear in the Green Paper that if there is evidence of widespread discrimination against reservists and if we cannot find an effective way of dealing with it without legislation, we will not hesitate to legislate.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the existing basing lay-down. We cannot set out now the future basing lay-down for the Army Reserve, because we have not yet set out to the House the Regular Army basing lay-down. I expect to be able to do that before Christmas so that, when we publish the results of the consultation and our White Paper in the spring, we will be in a position to set out the planned lay-down of TA units around the country. Those will have to reflect the population centres where we expect to be able to recruit in the future, and we must be hard-nosed about ensuring that our limited resources are deployed in the areas where we can expect to recruit reservists.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about training alongside regulars. As the White Paper makes clear, that will be standard practice in the future. He also talked about mental health. I completely accept his point. One issue that the Green Paper raises relates to full access to the military mental health support system, both for serving regulars and reservists, and for regular and reservist veterans, and the assurance that reservists will be offered decompression time after operations. The lessons learned as a result of the Murrison report—the work done by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who has responsibility for international security strategy—will be transferred to the reservists.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of jobseeker’s allowance. I have just asked for this to be checked, and I can confirm to him that jobseeker’s allowance is preserved for reservists and is not removed. That is an important point. People who find themselves facing a period of unemployment have an excellent opportunity to undergo their basic reserve training.

I want to finish by remonstrating with the right hon. Gentleman on one point. I do not know whether he realises the significance of what he said about deployment as formed units and sub-units, but for people in the reserve forces that goes to the very heart of this question. If we cannot support them to be able to deploy in formed sub-units and units, they will regard this as a pyrrhic victory indeed. I urge him to look carefully at what he said on this matter and consider the Opposition’s position, because the Regular Army and the reservists, to a man—

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): And a woman.

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Mr Hammond: Indeed, to a man and a woman, they want to see the reserve forces able not only to continue supplying first-class augmentees, but to deploy where appropriate as formed sub-units and units.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I very much welcome the creative and supportive way in which my right hon. Friend set out the Government’s approach to the reserves. Will any legislative changes be required to guarantee that reservists can be used for the full range of military tasks? As part of the consultation, will the Government make available to the House the experiences of how other countries incentivise employers? Other countries, particularly the United States, have a much better record than most of being able to use reservists in a full range of tasks and ensuring that they have a full range of promotional opportunities.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Just before the Secretary of State answers, may I just say to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) that she was 23 minutes late for the statement and therefore really has absolutely no business seeking to catch my eye? I am sure she momentarily forgot when she arrived, but she has now been reminded.

Mr Hammond: I can tell my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) that legislation is already in place to protect the employment position of reservists who are mobilised. He will also see when he reads the Green Paper that we are proposing legislation to extend the circumstances under which we are able to mobilise reservists, so that they can be mobilised not only for operational service overseas, but for homeland resilience and routine operations, such as the crucial defence of the Falkland Islands. He will also see that the Green Paper contains a section setting out some examples of practice in important allied nations. I am sure he already knows this, but what others will learn from that section is that at present we have a disproportionately low percentage of reserves in our total force mix compared with most of our comparable allies. What we are doing will move us back a bit further towards the average force mix of our normal allies.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The medical reserves, such as those from the Territorial Army unit in Ellesmere Port, contain a lot of extremely highly skilled people who are necessary to the advancement of safety in the field. They have done a fantastic job in the recent past under both Administrations and are drawn largely from a much more devolved health service. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his colleague the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that proper mechanisms are in place for reservists coming from the health service?

Mr Hammond: The Department of Health, along with a number of large companies, is one of our key partners in the current partnering arrangement. Many NHS trusts that I have spoken to are acutely aware of the benefits to them of properly managed reserve service. Those returning from the role 3 hospital in Camp Bastion have without doubt the best trauma training available anywhere in the NHS.

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If the hon. Gentleman reads the Green Paper, he will see that, as well as appeals to corporate social responsibility and collective responsibility for the national defence, there is a strong strand of mutual benefit between the reserves, the Army and employers. We need to draw out and develop those mutual benefits, and I am sure that we will be able to do that in the case of NHS trusts.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this statement, and I know that he will agree with me that the House will also wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), without whose persistence this statement would not have taken place. I declare an interest, in that my daughter is a reservist second lieutenant.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is so important that this proposal succeeds that it deserves a campaign led by the Prime Minister and, I suggest, the Leader of the Opposition, as well as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Defence, to encourage employers to recognise the enormous benefits that they will get from employing people with the work ethic and the discipline that reservists show every day?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I am very happy to acknowledge the role of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has played a crucial part in developing this agenda.

Yes, my right hon. Friend is right: it is essential that we achieve success in this regard. I do not regard this as a partisan issue, and I hope that the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) will think carefully about the point about deployed formed units and sub-units. I would be happy to arrange for him to have some briefing on this matter, if necessary, from the relevant people in the Army and Army Reserve. I hope that we can take this forward not only on a cross-government basis but on a cross-party basis.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnut) has hit the nail on the head in talking about the benefits to employers. If we are going to make this process work, we must draw out the benefits for employers, in the general management and personal skills that reserve service will bring to their work force, and given the specific vocational training that the Army can give to reservists. One proposal in the Green Paper is to use civilian-recognised qualifications in the armed forces, making it easier for members of the armed forces—regular and reservist—to use the skills that they have acquired during service to enhance their careers in the civilian economy.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What will be the mandatory annual training period for reservists?

Mr Hammond: It will vary between the services, but for the Army, which will be by far the biggest part, it will increase from 35 to 40 days a year, of which it will be expected that 16 days are delivered as a continuous period of training deployment—the same as now. The additional days will be delivered through weekend and evening training sessions, to minimise any additional burden on employers.

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Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Mr Speaker, may I thank you for the contribution that you are making by giving a party for employers in a fortnight’s time?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his really excellent and thoroughly thought through statement. I should like to underpin what he said by making a further point. The shadow Secretary of State made what was otherwise a rather well thought through response, and it was a pity that the point came up about formed units. The plain fact is that, since 2009, the reserve forces have been used as a part-time personnel unit organisation, and that does not appeal to high-quality leaders. We must have formed units and sub-units in the picture.

Mr Hammond: I know that my hon. Friend commands great respect on this issue across the House and I am sure that the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire will have noted what he has said, reinforcing the point that I have already made. I genuinely hope that we can build consensus on that issue.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. I welcome the intention to increase the number of reservists. However, the reserve forces will need to be reconfigured to meet his objective of integrating with the regulars. May I ask him about the Royal Marines Reserve in particular? Will he ensure that the reconfiguration is done sensitively, and that the modern, fully equipped bases around which recruitment is now good are protected wherever possible to ensure the broadest possible geographical spread of the specialist skills? This would help to achieve the Government’s objective of an overall increase in numbers.

Mr Hammond: One wonders whether the hon. Gentleman could be referring to any particular base. Yes, he is absolutely right. First of all, we have to fix the lay-down for the regular forces; and then we have to make sure that the location of reservists is appropriate, both from a recruiting and a training point of view. Our intention is that reservist units will be paired with specific regular units, so they will work with them on a routine basis. There are obviously issues of geography that need to be taken into account. We will set out the regular basing plot before the House rises for the Christmas recess—with your permission, Mr Speaker—and I then expect to be able to set out the reserve plot and the pairing pattern when we deliver our response to consultation conclusions and the White Paper in the spring.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and commend his approach to this ambitious project—taking it steadily, consulting widely and not looking for a quick fix. Has he, like me, detected great enthusiasm on the part of our reserve forces for this new and ambitious programme, a determination to make it work, and an eager anticipation for what he has promised—equivalent training, equipment and remuneration to the regular Army?

My right hon. Friend talked about rebuilding the relationship particularly with smaller employers. In doing that, will he give consideration to those smaller employers, perhaps paying their national insurance as a way of

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supporting the ongoing relationship between smaller employers and their employees who are members of reserve forces?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is probably fair to say that we can rely on our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury to speak for the reserve forces. The response I have heard from reservists has been as enthusiastic as my hon. Friend’s response would suggest.

What we are asking of reservists in the future is a bigger commitment: to turn out for the training on a mandatory basis, and to be available for deployment on a more regular basis than in the past. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, every reservist I have spoken to welcomes that greater rigour and discipline. They want to be part of a serious disciplined military force, and they want also the recognition that will come with that greater level of rigour and discipline. The new kit is already being rolled out. As I said, I saw some of it last night, and some more of it last Friday in Corby—[Interruption] —a random Territorial Army depot that my office chose for me to visit.

My hon. Friend asked me about smaller employers, and he will see when he reads the Green Paper that we looked at the possibility of making some kind of national insurance rebate, but concluded that it would be very complex to administer and that if we are to target financial assistance at smaller employers, it would be better done in the form of cash payments.

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): To follow up the question put by the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), I will name a detachment. The Royal Marine detachment in my constituency has been the subject of some speculation. Given the new commitment to reservists, can I assure the personnel serving in that Royal Marine detachment that their future is secure?

Mr Hammond: As I have already made clear, I am not in a position at the moment to give specific assurances around individual units, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that by the spring of next year the lay-down will be clear both for regulars and reservists.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I warmly welcome what the Secretary of State has announced this morning about rebuilding our reserves. I suggest, however, that central to that will be a deal between those who are leaving the regular forces whom we will ask to remain in the Army Reserve, and others thereafter. That demand on them needs to be coupled with a satisfactory financial settlement in order that they will stay for a number of years.

Mr Hammond: Ex-regulars are an important potential source of reinforcement for the reserves. About 18,000 people leave our armed forces every year: that is the normal turnover outwith any specific redundancy programme. At present they are required by statute to be available in the regular reserve for a time-limited period, but in practice that arrangement is defunct. We considered whether we should seek to use the legislative powers to enforce it, but concluded that it would be better for us to approach the matter through incentivisation —incentivising ex-regulars to bring to the reserves the

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fresh skills and training that they have so recently received. I am confident that we shall be able to reinforce the volunteer reserves significantly with immediate ex-regulars.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I do not want to be parochial, but, while I welcome the broad thrust of the Secretary of State’s announcement, may I ask what it means for squadrons in Cardiff and Swansea? I am thinking of 223 Transport Squadron’s medical unit—which has served on the front line, and on which I served very briefly as a teenager—of 580 Transport Squadron, and of the medical squadron detachment 144. Can the Secretary of State assure me that sensitivity will be applied, and that their historic identity as well as their long-term future will be guaranteed?

Mr Hammond: As I think the hon. Gentleman will understand, I cannot give him specific assurances about individual units, but I can say this to him. We are expanding the reserves. We are experiencing a period in which the trajectory is upward. When units do not have just a nominal strength but are well recruited, with people who turn out regularly for training, they can expect a positive future.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Mindful of the fact that the Army Reserve—soldiers, sailors and airmen—must be as up to par as regular soldiers, sailors and airmen, can my right hon. Friend assure me that the resources dedicated to training and sustaining the professionalism of the reserve Army and other reserve forces will be roughly equivalent to those that are required to sustain and retain the efficiency of regular soldiers, sailors and airmen?

Mr Hammond: I have set the likely training requirement for the Army Reserve at 40 days a year once basic training has been completed. The experts—the professionals in the Army on whom I must rely when it comes to these matters—tell me that that will be sufficient for the tasks that we will ask reservists to perform. Clearly there will be some tasks that we will not ask them to perform; similarly, there will be some tasks for which we will rely on them entirely. However, I am confident that the training offer, and the funding to support it, will give us a reserve that is capable of deploying effectively with the regular Army, delivering the high-quality military output that we require.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): The key to all this will be recruitment: finding the 30,000 and, subsequently, the 35,000 reservists who will be needed. Can the Secretary of State tell us a little more about the role of the current Territorial Army centres? When I go down to Cobridge barracks, as I will on Remembrance Sunday, what assurances can I give all the people who are based there? Without the necessary recruitment—and given that the Secretary of State is also privatising recruitment—we shall not have the whole of the country and the local centres to produce the 35,000 whom we shall need by 2020.

Mr Hammond: Let me be clear about the numbers. The 30,000 figure represents the total trained strength of the Army Reserve in 2018. We currently have a trained strength of about 17,000. In the other two

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services, the current numbers are not far short of the targets. The big increase must be in the Army reserves. The challenge is to find about 13,000 more reservists over the next six years. I think that that is achievable, especially bearing in mind that in 1990—just 20-odd years ago—the Territorial Army was 72,500 strong, and that it was even stronger than that in earlier days.

However, the hon. Lady has identified what will constitute a tension. On the one hand, we want reservists to be close to regular Army units, because that facilitates training; on the other hand, we recognise that reserve units will need to be based in the recruiting areas within the centres of population, because the part-time training that reservists undertake requires them to be able to reach TA centres relatively easily. In the spring, we will set out a basing plan which I think will effectively manage that tension.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Let me first draw the House’s attention to my interest as a member of the reserve forces.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of awareness and positive attitudes to the reserves among the regular forces is increasing massively, partly owing to the integration of training that has already taken place under the present Government?

Mr Hammond: I congratulate my hon. Friend, who, I believe, has just completed her reserve training. She, at least, is helping me to meet my targets.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that a key measure of success is the attitude of serving regulars to their reservist colleagues. Training together, working together and deploying together is crucial. I have asked regulars in Afghanistan privately, in the canteen, how they work with their reservist colleagues, and the universal answer is “They are no different. When we are out here, we are all doing the same job.” We need to ensure that that ethos is spread throughout the whole force, and I am confident that we shall be able to do so.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): What training and education will be given to employers—small employers, rather than large employers with large personnel departments—to support them when reservists return to employment, particularly when issues involving mental health problems arise?

Mr Hammond: That is a very good question. We want to segment the market, to consider the different needs of different types and sizes of employer, and to tailor the package in order to deliver something usable to them. Our approach to a company with a personnel department will be entirely different from our approach to a small company in which the boss does all the personnel work himself. During our consultation, we shall look for feedback from businesses of all types on how they can best be supported when they employ reservists.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): In my experience, when a soldier was made redundant or reached the end of his service, he would be greatly reluctant to become involved with the Territorial Army. Will the Secretary of State expand on the incentives that will be offered to

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former regular soldiers, male and female? I think that any dependence on large numbers of ex-regulars will be difficult to meet.

Mr Hammond: That may have been my hon. Friend’s experience, but it is not the advice that I have received, including advice from reserve units that already contain significant numbers of ex-regulars. When I visited a reserve unit last night, a significant number of ex-regular officers and NCOs were on parade.

We will, of course, have to ensure that moving to the reserves is not only financially attractive, but a smooth process. I know that there has been a problem with ex-regulars encountering delays and being required to jump through unnecessary hoops, but we should be able to deal with that, given that these are people who, by definition, already have the skills and the training that we are seeking in the reserve forces. The question of how we can deliver financial incentivisation is one of the issues for consultation, and I should welcome my hon. Friend’s input.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The north-east provides a higher proportion of recruits to the armed forces than any other region in England, but all too often they find their return to civvy street very challenging, particularly when it comes to unemployment. Will the Government consider widening the kitemark to include employers’ records on hiring veterans and military spouses?

Mr Hammond: That would be a separate issue, and I do not want to confuse the two issues. It is an important area, however, and, as the hon. Lady will know, the Prime Minister has recently appointed Lord Ashcroft to act as a champion for veterans’ transition, focusing in particular on how we support veterans out of the service and into employment. I would not want the House to have the impression that large numbers of ex-service people are unemployed, however. Some 90% of those service leavers who are seeking work have found employment within six months of leaving. Given the economic backdrop, I think that is quite a reasonable achievement.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): When I joined the TA, there was no difficulty in getting recruits. There was Monday night in the drill hall with one’s chums, the occasional weekend on Salisbury plain, and two weeks’ camp in Germany. Is there not a real problem now, however, in that the Secretary of State is asking people to devote perhaps one year in five to being in a very challenging and dangerous environment such as Afghanistan? What will happen if we simply do not get the recruits? Does that point not underline the importance of maintaining the standing regular Army, rather than relying on future projections of TA numbers that may not materialise?

Mr Hammond: There are different types of recruits and, to put it frankly, I say with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend that someone who is looking to join up in order to prop up a bar on a Monday night and have an occasional outing on Salisbury plain is probably not the person we are looking for. All the discussions I have had with reservists suggest to me that they want to be taken seriously, and they know that a higher training

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tariff, a greater focus on skills and much more working together with the regular Army—sharing the burden of routine tasks and routine deployments with it—is the way to increase the esteem in which the reserve is held.

What we are doing on the size of the regular Army is determined by the budgetary envelope we have as a result of the black hole in the defence budget that we inherited. The exercise announced today is about ensuring that, notwithstanding that necessity, we maintain the military capacity we need in the future.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): This Government are determined to undermine and weaken employee rights. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to reservists that he will protect and strengthen their rights at work?

Mr Hammond: I am not quite sure what that question was all about. Under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, reservists’ employment rights are protected when they are mobilised—employers are required to keep their workplace open for them. As I said in my statement, however, our Green Paper addresses the issue of discrimination. We have not ruled out the use of legislation if there is evidence of systematic or widespread discrimination against reservists, if that cannot be tackled in any other way, just as we have legislation preventing employers from discriminating against someone who might be likely to take maternity leave, for example.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Notwithstanding the bar talk, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) made a serious point about the synchronisation of the draw-down or reduction in regular forces and the uplift in reserve forces. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be enough flexibility in the emerging policy, consultation and Bill—which it is hoped will be introduced before the new Session—for us to be able to take steps to ensure there will be no reduction in regular forces unless we are completely confident that they are back-filled with the new reserve forces?

Mr Hammond: The trajectory for moving to the planned size of the regular Army of 82,000 is set. That is driven by our determination to maintain a balanced budget and to avoid the chaos under the previous Government when every year—sometimes twice a year—and at enormous cost, budgets for equipment had to be reset and projects were cancelled or delayed. A number of levers will be available to us in recruiting reservists, including the recruitment of ex-regular forces reservists. We will retain enough flexibility to be able to use those levers if we are not getting the result we want over the next six years.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am keen to accommodate all colleagues who wish to ask a question about this statement, in which there is clearly heavy interest, but it would be helpful if colleagues could be economical with their questions and answers, as we have two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee to follow.

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Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Given that defence procurement is exempt from the normal rules of preferential treatment, will the Secretary of State expand on why he said he thought it would be illegal to give such preferential treatment to firms kitemarked under the scheme for employing reservists?

Mr Hammond: I specifically said that that was where the procurement is not exempt from European Union procurement rules. Not all defence procurement is exempt; only the procurement of warlike supplies is exempt. Some of the strongest and most effective corporate supporters of the reserve service are the big defence contractors. I therefore think the hon. Gentleman is looking to pursue a contractual solution to a problem that does not exist, because they are already among the best in this regard.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I welcome the statement, and in particular the comments about additional engagement with employers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to get greater backing from employers is to give them greater certainty over the level of reservists’ deployment so that they can plan ahead?

Mr Hammond: That is one of the important steps we are taking. Making mobilisation liability, duration and frequency predictable is one of the tools for making reservist employees more attractive to employers.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Some communities where bases will close have long-standing historical ties with the military, such as Kirton-in-Lindsey in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State work with such communities to ensure that they can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the new plans for reservists, so that they can maintain their ties even though bases may close?

Mr Hammond: That is an important point. It is important that local employers realise that through supporting the reserve service they can support the retention of Army reserve bases in their area. We will certainly be sensitive to those historical links as we look at the basing lay-down.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, as the measures announced should mean that reservists will not again go unprepared into a warzone, as they did in Iraq under the previous Government. I have many ex-Gurkha soldiers and others of Nepalese heritage living in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend know of any initiatives to raise a Gurkha reservist unit so as to take advantage of the loyalty, courage and skill of these brave men and to protect their proud history and distinct character?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend asks an extremely good question, and I shall go away and look into that matter. I have not heard of such an initiative. I suspect it may require legislation, but if there is a pool of talented ex-regular skill that we can tap into, we should certainly look to do so.

Mr Speaker: I was pleased to see the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) agreeing that his question was, indeed, a very good one, and it will warrant a reply, but perhaps, like a good wine, it will need to mature.

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Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Battersea has the great honour to be the home of the London Regiment of the TA, and many of its members have given very distinguished service in Afghanistan over the period of our combat operations there. They have told me about the high level of integration between regulars and reserves. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we maintain that as we draw towards the end of these combat operations?

Mr Hammond: Yes. Best practice involves a high level of such integration being delivered on operations. I must say that that has probably not been uniformly the case, but it is certainly the model for the future.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the welcome £1.8 billion in increased funding for the reserve forces will be used exclusively for the reserve forces, and will not somehow find its way into the budgets of the regular forces, which has happened in the past?

Mr Hammond: From all the discussions I have been involved in, I can assure my hon. Friend—who I know has deployed as a reservist in Afghanistan—that the traffic is the other way. If anything, the Army is planning to invest rather more in the reserves than the announced budget suggests.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the opportunities arising from his plans is to bring into the reserves people who have specific skills in cyber and advanced telecommunications, which are importantly placed in the civilian population? We need to get them into the reserve forces.

Mr Hammond: Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Certain skills needed in modern warfare are found in the civilian sector, with cyber and advanced IT skills being obvious examples. How we use reservists who have those skills does not necessarily require them to undertake the same type or level of training as, for example, an infantry reservist; in practice, their daily civilian job is giving them the on-the-job training they need. We will seek to be flexible in how we use and train reservists who have specialist skills.

Simon Reevell (Dewsbury) (Con): In 2003, nearly 4,000 Territorial Army soldiers were rushed to Iraq even though their level of training did not qualify them to be sent to rifle ranges in the UK. As a direct consequence of being deployed without being fully trained, one of them died. Will the Secretary of State confirm that under the scheme he has announced there will be no short-cuts on reservists’ training?

Mr Hammond: I take on board entirely what my hon. Friend says. The significance of my statement today is that the training that has become, in effect, optional over the past half a decade will become mandatory once again; people will have to do the training tariff they are required to do, and they will be recognised for doing so. People will not be able to remain in the Army reserve if they do not do the training they are required to do.

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Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to those reservists—and more regulars, especially those from 3 Commando Brigade—who have lost their lives while defending our country? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the armed forces covenant will certainly cover those people, that we will ensure that we have a structure in place to look after service families when reservists go off on operations and that we share information on the reservists with organisations such as the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, and Combat Stress, so that they are in a position to deal with those people as and when they come back and need help?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend will see when he reads the Green Paper, it contains a section that talks about extending the armed forces covenant appropriately to cover reserves. On supporting families, he is absolutely right, although we face a different challenge because reservist families, by definition, do not live in military communities and are dispersed, so this has to be done in a different way. Access to the regular military support apparatus, for example, the military health care, dental facilities and mental health facilities, is a crucial part of the package.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I acknowledge the broad support of the Federation of Small Businesses and the massive contribution made by large employers, but may I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the situation of micro-businesses and businesses that have between five and 10 employees? It is crucial to develop a realistic package to provide the incentives for business owners to release their staff to participate, particularly in areas such as Salisbury, where there is great enthusiasm to do so.

Mr Hammond: The consultation is designed exactly to explore with different types of employer in different sectors and of different sizes how best we can work with them, recognising that different challenges are faced by different types of business.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), does my right hon. Friend agree that welfare support for families is crucial to recruitment and retention in the reserves?

Mr Hammond: Yes, indeed. When my hon. Friend reads the Green Paper, he will see that it has a strong focus on that aspect.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): My constituents are very proud of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Territorial Army units, which will be on parade as part of the Crawley remembrance services taking place this Sunday. Will the Secretary of State tell us what plans he has for the REME units as part of this welcome statement on growing and supporting our reserves?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend rightly points out that many of our reserve units will be on parade this Sunday, taking a full and active part in the commemorations. As he will know from comments I have already made, I cannot give unit-specific assurances, but I can say this

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to him: in the restructuring of the Regular Army, a deliberate decision has been taken to reduce manpower disproportionately in logistics, engineers and REME, which will require a disproportionate growth in the reserve strength in those three areas. I think he can probably work out the rest for himself.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): As someone who ran a small business, I can tell the Secretary of State that there will be strong support on this from small businesses, but they will need to plan for the absence of people, many of whom will be key members of staff. Businesses will be looking for a lengthy period of notice about planned deployments, so can he reassure the House as to his proposals on the matter?

Mr Hammond: I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. Yes, we are saying the period of liability for deployment will be determined in advance and will be of broadly fixed duration. There will be a broadly fixed period of immunity before deployment again, and there will be longer periods of specific notice of any given deployment.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): In my previous career, I came across instances where being a reservist did adversely—wrongly—affect someone’s promotion opportunities. One way of balancing that would be to go down the procurement route in respect of the kitemark. I believe that other countries in the EU would do this in terms of local content, so are we not dismissing it too easily?

Mr Hammond: There are a number of ways in which we can address discrimination. As I said, I have not ruled out the use of legislation, but I also believe that the package we have set out today will make it less likely that employers will feel the need to discriminate against reservists, because we are making their liability for service more predictable and more well understood in advance. I do not believe that using things such as the kitemark scheme as a way of conveying a privileged position in a bidding process is compatible with our overall objective of achieving best value for money for the taxpayer in the procurement of military equipment.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Our reservists are some of the best informed about what works and what does not work currently, and about the challenges they have faced. So how will the Secretary of State ensure that our reservists, particularly those serving abroad, in Afghanistan and elsewhere—I have a very good friend who is serving with the United Nations in Cyprus—are able to contribute to the consultation?

Mr Hammond: The consultation is being made available online. Indeed, it is being published in electronic form only, apart from the requirement of the House to deliver hard copies here. If it were not for that, this would be an all-electronic consultation. It will be given publicity through the chain of command. Furthermore, the responses that we receive will be processed by an independent contractor and anonymised before we get them, so reservists may feel confident that they can respond anonymously with their views.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Secretary of State and to colleagues.

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Backbench Business

House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

[Relevant document: The First Report from the Finance and Services Committee, on House of Commons Administration: Financial Plan 2013/14 to 2016/17, including draft Estimate for 2012/2012, HC 691]

Mr Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the three amendments standing in the names of Adam Afriyie, Sir Alan Haselhurst and Mr Robert Halfon.

12.38 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House notes the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons Administration as set out in Appendix A to the First Report from the Finance and Services Committee (HC 691); endorses the intention of the Committee to recommend to the House of Commons Commission a House of Commons Administration Estimate 5 for 2013-14 of £220 million; notes the intention of the House of Commons Commission to make savings of 17 per cent in real terms from 2010-11 level by 2014-15 in line with the wider public sector; and endorses the Savings Programme as set out in Appendix B to the report.

May I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for having allowed this debate to proceed and by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for having encouraged me to go ahead and seek it? It might be helpful to say at the outset that I intend to address: first, the reasons for having this debate; secondly, the principles behind the savings plan and the medium-term financial plan; and, thirdly, some of the detailed issues. I will then say something briefly about the amendments. It might be helpful to tell the House that I hope to make progress in the first part of my speech, but will welcome any interventions in the second.

The debate is something of a first, so let me begin by setting out why we are having it and what I hope it might achieve. Its purpose is to set before the House the advice that the Finance and Services Committee will give the House of Commons Commission on the administration estimate, which is the estimate of funding required to operate the House. I stress that it is neither the Members’ estimate, which concerns all the parts that affect us, such as our staffing and other arrangements, nor the capital estimate, which affects the refurbishment of the House. The administration estimate is for the running of the House itself. The Committee will also advise the Commission on the underlying financial plans, including the activities, strategies and principles that have informed the savings programme. This is an opportunity for Members to debate and, if required, to vote on the proposals.

The Finance and Services Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, has scrutinised with considerable care over some period of time the financial plans and savings proposals. Our findings and recommendations are set out in our report to the House. Our terms of reference charge us with advising the Commission, which is the statutory body required to take the decision, so this is the opportunity for Members to debate the advice that the Finance and Services Committee proposes

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and to amend that advice if they wish. For the first time, they will be taking a full part in the debate about how House services are provided.

I am pleased to see that there are three amendments and that Members wish to engage in the process. I look forward to the contributions that are to come. I believe that this is an important step in wider scrutiny of how we operate internally and it is therefore important to us and our constituents. I also believe that it is an important debate for our staff and the management of the Palace. I want to reiterate the tribute I paid in a recent Westminster Hall debate: we are served by dedicated and loyal staff who take immense trouble to ensure that we are looked after. They undertake their duties with great efficiency and the minimum of fuss and they are led by a team of officials and managers who set out to satisfy us and who usually succeed. I want to place on record my appreciation of all they do, which is, I am sure, shared by Members on both sides of the House.

At a time of financial constraint, it is wholly right and proper that we are seen to be seeking to operate in the most cost-effective way, consistent with our overarching parliamentary duties of scrutiny, legislating and representing our constituents. To achieve this, we have set a savings target of a 17% reduction in the estimate from the baseline estimate of 2010/11, which was £231 million. By 2014-15, the estimate will need to be £210 million to achieve that target. We are on track to achieve that and the estimate of £220 million, which we are advising the Commission to accept, undertakes that task.

From the outset, it was agreed that simply salami slicing 17% of everything across the board would be inconsistent with achieving the targets for quality of service that we require. Each area of activity has therefore been carefully considered and analysis was made of what was required and then of how to achieve it. In management speak, it is called re-engineering, but I was determined to try not to get that in—I have clearly failed. That is at the heart of the plans to deliver an improved service for our parliamentary duties in a more effective and efficient way. I should stress that our goal is as much quality of service as efficiency and the core principle that has informed all the activities is to ensure that parliamentarians can properly, fully and effectively carry out their duties in this place and can do that at the best value.

Now that I have set out the broad principles behind the plan, let me touch on some of the key areas. I preface that by saying that a considerable amount of saving has already been achieved by simply looking at what we do and how we do it and working out how it can be done better. In addition, the House has adopted the same strictures on pay as the civil service and I draw Members’ attention to the appendices that analyse many of these areas. Today’s proposed estimate of £220 million is, as I have said, a stepping stone on the way to £210 million in 2014-15. The proposals for achieving it are set out in appendix B.

The first key area is what is known as market testing. It is completely appropriate for any organisation to consider what it does and how it might best deliver what are known as the non-core activities. In this place, an obvious example is the Travel Office, where we employ travel professionals on a competitive basis to provide

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the best service for us. At the other end of the scale are core activities, which are the things that our House service does and that we would never expect to be done by anyone else. They are core to delivering the service. In between, there are areas that are vital to us but not necessarily core activities. Those are the areas where it is proper to see whether an in-house service is providing the best value. The concept behind market testing is to ensure that the services we provide internally are benchmarked against outside provision to show that we have the best value for money.

Detailed analysis of the potential to market test in four areas of the House service, including catering, has been completed. We have reached a point where the in-house teams have developed thorough plans for making improvements and reducing costs internally and have conducted market research to provide comparators. Staff in the areas concerned have been closely involved and have come up with imaginative solutions, supported by people with expertise from outside.

Our colleagues on the Administration Committee have considered the internal improvement plans for catering and have welcomed their approach. The decision now is whether to proceed with the improvements in-house or formally to test the market with the possibility of those services being outsourced. I observe that the Chair of that Committee, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), has tabled an amendment based on a meeting the Committee had earlier this week. I would certainly be minded to accept it and I believe that it is acceptable to other Members of the Finance and Services Committee with whom I have been able to have a word. I look forward to hearing his speech in due course.

The second key area is what is known as print to web. The aim is to move to a more digital-first approach to publishing, with less use of paper and hard copy. The printing of the soft-bound weekly Hansard has already ceased. Some while ago, under the previous estimate, we gave up publishing the weekly compendium of early-day motions. We are considering written questions, which will not be published in the daily Hansard from 2014 but will be published far more quickly and accessibly on line. Clearly, in this project it is important that the quality of the digital access is improved to ensure that the quality of the overall service is better as a result. It is a classic example of the quality of service being the more important goal rather than the saving. As a result of the initial work, nearly £2 million was saved. In the last year, about £1 million was saved and in the coming year, more than £1 million will be saved. If this year’s plan is accepted, we will already have achieved a saving in excess of £5 million.

The perhaps slightly contentious part of all this concerns the leather-bound volumes of Hansard. I have written to all those Members who find this a deeply cherished part of their parliamentary experience. Only 14% of Members currently subscribe to the service and, of those, only a small number feel that it would be a gross inconvenience to lose it. We have negotiated a discount and the bound volumes will be available to Members who wish to purchase them, but for the rest, we will be making a saving of some £970,000 a year by discontinuing them.

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Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): May I reassure my hon. Friend that that is a reasonable saving? I discovered early on in my 39-year parliamentary career that the accumulation of bound volumes of Hansard was not very practical from a domestic point of view.

John Thurso: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I can tell him that I have had particular praise from the wife of one hon. Friend, who thanked me profusely for having relieved her of the duty of piling those up in the loft. So all in all, it is a wise move but, as I say, for those who wish to continue to receive bound volumes of Hansard, we have made provision for them to be purchased.

The next point that I would like to touch on is the provision of ICT. The aim here is to move to a more cloud-based system. This will allow Members to access all the services they need from virtually any equipment they choose to use. It moves the security aspects—one of the most important points—from their individual pieces of hardware on to the cloud system. So cloud e-mail and office services which are designed to provide flexible access from anywhere and virtually any device should be a truly enabling feature for Members.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): As a Member who is trialling the use of iPads in Select Committee—which, by the way, is proving very effective—I can report that we cannot put information on the cloud at present because the servers for Apple products are in the United States and are therefore covered by the Patriot Act. That presents some interesting problems. Has the Committee given any thought to how we can solve them?

John Thurso: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Committee is not yet engaged on the Patriot Act. What we are engaged in is ensuring that these questions are asked of Parliamentary ICT. That is the important point. PICT is currently running what is called the cloud-readiness project to look at all these issues. If we want to arrive at the point where all the benefits that I have sought to outline are available to us, ensuring that the system is secure and that storage and transmission facilities are available are clearly prerequisites for any provider of cloud services. If a provider cannot offer that, it will not get the custom.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): As someone who, when she was a Minister, was responsible for the early stage of planning of the census, where we came across a similar problem with data storage, issues of privacy and the US Patriot Act, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to make sure that he asks the appropriate questions to ensure that when we finally get a cloud, it will be a cloud whose storage is in the UK so that we can avoid the Patriot Act issues?

John Thurso: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Had I not thought of those questions before, it is now firmly planted in my mind to ensure that they are all properly asked.

The last point that I wanted to touch on is the plans to increase revenue. The Administration Committee has done considerable work on this, and we had a debate in Westminster Hall which featured that topic. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden

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will speak in this debate and I am sure that he will cover this in greater detail. It is also the subject of an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Notwithstanding the fact that I am about to disagree with him, I respect hugely the point that he puts and I am extremely grateful to him for having raised it in the debate. It is one of the core points and it is absolutely right that we as Members should discuss that. He has therefore done us a service by tabling the amendment, and I am grateful that it has been selected. However, I will now proceed to disagree with him, if I may.

The House has operated a number of facilities for staff, visitors and Members, including cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, for a considerable length of time. I hope it will be uncontroversial to affirm that these should be correctly priced and effectively costed. All these are details that the Administration Committee goes into. However, the Palace not only houses Parliament, but is a world-class heritage asset and one of the United Kingdom’s leading visitor attractions. I suggest that as such, we have a duty to make the Palace available to visitors who want to visit it, and an equal duty to ensure that the cost of that does not fall on the taxpayer, but is recovered from those visitors.

The key point is to ensure that there is no conflict between Parliament as a working institution and the Palace as a world-class visitor attraction, so I shall set out my principles in that regard. They are three. First, Parliament is a working institution and while it is sitting, those activities take precedence over any other activity. Secondly, all citizens have the right to visit their Parliament and to engage with their Members of Parliament and the parliamentary process without any charge at any point. Thirdly, subject to those first two principles, the Palace is a world heritage and tourist asset which should be made available for tourist visitors, provided that the costs of such provision are recovered and not passed on to the taxpayer.

I believe—and I think this is where I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow—that provided we have absolutely ensured that parliamentary proceedings are sacrosanct and that citizens can visit the Palace without a charge and without fear of a charge, we have a duty and a right to open it to wider visits and to charge to recover the costs.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In his document he talks about respect for Parliament. This sums up the nub of my argument. The effect of what he proposes is that people who are rich, such as corporates that can pay more money, will have special privileges to get into the Palace of Westminster. That is what I find objectionable. I do not make the distinction between when Parliament is sitting and when it is not sitting.

John Thurso: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I entirely respect that point of view. I just fundamentally disagree with it, in the nicest possible way. Let us take, for example, the fact that we are putting up the prices for commercial filming in certain parts of the Palace. We have done that for many, many years. All that we are currently doing is making the prices roughly equal to

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the charges for any other commercial activity. Let us consider another example. My fellow Commissioner, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), is Chairman of Mr Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art and has done a power of work to open up the art work in this building by offering specialist tours in secure areas to people who would not otherwise be able to get there. Those tours mean that members of staff have to be assigned to that duty. The choice, it seems to me, is that we either recover the cost of those members of staff so that we can widen the access, or we do not do it and do not pay the staff so that we can stay within budget. An ever-increasing openness of the Palace that takes no account of the costs is plain wrong.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Surely this is about striking the right balance: the costs should not fall totally on the taxpayer, but at the same time the charges must not be so high that only the rich can afford them and people are deterred from coming here.

John Thurso: I completely agree. There is a need for balance. I cannot give an assurance on the part of the Commission, or indeed any sister Committee, but my view is that we should proceed gently and with caution, just as we did when we introduced charging for entry during the summer recess. We opened up the Palace hugely to tourists and charged a fee that was broadly in line with what people pay to access other tourist attractions. That seems to be the right and proper way to do it. It also creates employment, which I think is good news. My view is that we should do it, but let us move at a reasonable, considered and measured pace without rushing into anything. I would certainly advise whoever introduces it that going with the grain of what has been said is the best way forward.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his formulation of “cost recovery”, is actually the opposite of the “commercialisation” of facilities that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) refers to?

John Thurso: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend—I call him that because he serves with me on the Finance and Services Committee. I absolutely agree. I read in one of the newspapers that it was proposed that someone from Disney World do something in Westminster Hall. That is not on the agenda and never has been—if it was, I would join my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow in the Lobby like a shot. What we are talking about is the recovery of cost for the proper opening of the Palace to visitors. There will come a moment when it is a matter of judgment in some areas, but I believe that we are capable of making those judgments sensibly when we get there.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I find myself in sympathy with both sides of the argument; I very much see the point my hon. Friend is making, but I also sympathise with the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Will my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sunderland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) consider some sort of sunset clause that would allow Parliament, after a period of time, to reflect on how well the changes have operated

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so that, if some of the concerns that have been raised appear to have been justified, we might consider changing once again?

John Thurso: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I observe in passing that I have managed to attract both sides of the argument—clearly, I am sitting in the right place in the Chamber. I do not think that a sunset clause is necessary, because it is my hope that we will regularly, perhaps annually, have a debate of this kind. If at any time we reach a point where Members clearly feel as our hon. Friend the Member for Harlow feels, that debate would be the time to say that enough is enough. If we reach that point, I am confident that is precisely what the House would do. That is the reassurance I can offer my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles).

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree with the following two points? First, we are privileged to work in a palace, rather than some modern, purpose-built place that would be a lot cheaper to run, so we must find some way of defraying the costs of maintaining and repairing it, and it is right that not all of that cost should fall on the taxpayer. Secondly, we are also privileged to enjoy many services, functions and eating places. Unless we can find a way of generating more revenue to support those facilities, we will lose them, because the public will not stand for ever for that being subsidised to the extent it has been in recent years.

John Thurso: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. On his point about catering “subsidy”, the actual sale prices in most of our outlets are comparable to either, in the case of the dining rooms, private sector outlets or, in the case of the cafes, a normal work canteen. The prime cost is that of food, which in the trade we used to call the kitchen cost, and that is comparable to similar commercial operations, so the gross profit, or kitchen profit, is comparable. The problem is that we occupy the facilities for only part of the week, so for the remainder of the week they cost money because they are serviced and there are staff. Therefore, the gross profit is insufficient to cover the total fixed cost, and on that basis we have a subsidy. I think that it is an appropriate subsidy, particularly if we are looking at this debate. Equally, his point that we should be reasonably expected to reduce that subsidy by the way we operate in order to give the best value is absolutely correct.

Andrew Miller: Furthermore, the fixed costs are higher here because of the nature of the building.

John Thurso: I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman.

I am conscious that I have occupied the crease for far longer than I had intended and do not wish to upset you any further, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will crack on. My last point regarding the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow is that it essentially asks for more time. I say to him, with the greatest respect, that I have spent two years circulating e-mails, writing reports and seeking to consult Members, some of whom have engaged and some have not—he has been a great engager. We have had a Westminster Hall debate on the matter and today we are debating it in the Chamber on an amendable motion. It does not get any

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better than that, as far as parliamentary time is concerned, so I suggest that now is the time to make the decision, whatever the House chooses.

Two other amendments have been tabled. I have already referred to that tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who chairs the Administration Committee. I believe that other members of my Committee are content to accept it if the House wishes. The other amendment was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) and relates to an extremely important point about the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. I know he is hoping to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not go into detail. Suffice it to say, on the basis of the briefing he gave me, I have talked at length with officials and am certain that we will be able to secure the necessary discussions between him, his board and the relevant people to ensure that those points are properly taken on board. I hope that the result will be the correct accommodation.

Members have an historic opportunity to take their destiny in their own hands in considering what services we want and how they should be funded. I am delighted to see so many Members in the Chamber and delighted that there are so many amendments, even though I ask the House to reject at least one of them. Let us have a debate, make a decision and settle the matter. I end by thanking the members of the Finance and Services Committee and the officials who have helped them, both at Management Board level and below, to ensure that the work we have done has been thorough and solid, which has enabled me to lay before the House a report and plans that are well considered, well structured, thoroughly thought through and that, I think, offer a solid way forward. I commend them to the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. For the convenience of the House, I will make it clear that I will call the amendments selected to be moved formally at the end of the debate so that we can deal with each of them in order. I hope that is clear. Given the time constraints on this afternoon’s business, there will be a 10-minute time limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

1.9 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I would like to thank the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), for his useful introduction to the debate. I do not particularly want to go into the amendments; I will decide accordingly when the time comes and vote one way or the other.

Mention is made in appendix A of the Committee’s report that by 2015

“The House of Commons will be valued as the central institution in our democracy”.

That is stating the obvious. Whether it is valued or not, or savings are to be made or otherwise, I have always thought that this place is the basis of our country’s democracy; I am unaware of any alternative institution that ensures the democratic process and the rule of law. The appendix also refers to Parliament having

“the accommodation it needs to operate in a modern democracy.”

That subject is my main reason for wanting to speak in this debate.

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First, let me say that I entirely accept that savings need to be made. It would be a rather odd situation if we were urging savings everywhere else and ourselves took the view that that would not be appropriate in the Palace of Westminster. That is not necessarily to say, by any means, that I agree with everything that is being suggested.

Aspects of the way in which this place is run and managed sometimes rather surprise me. For instance, I came into my office in late autumn, when there is no necessity for any central heating, and was surprised to find that it was on at full blast and would have been for some days. Obviously, I took appropriate action. I am not suggesting for one moment that central heating should be reduced for those who work day in and day out in this place—Members’ staff, officers, and employees of all kinds—but perhaps some savings could be made in a way that would reduce public expenditure. I certainly would not have liked to pay the heating bill for my office out of my own pocket, nor would I want to claim for my constituency accommodation money that was not justified.

There should be no ambiguity about what I am going to say about cleaning, so let me point out that I am a lifelong trade unionist and a member of the GMB, and I am pleased about that, but, as my hon. Friends will know, I would say it regardless. Conservative Members might take a different view, but be that as it may. On page 18 of the report, there is a recommendation to reduce the number of cleaning staff directly employed by the House and not to renew existing employment contracts. I am concerned about that. Four or five years ago, there was a row about the terms and conditions of service of cleaners not employed by the House of Commons being far inferior to those of cleaners who were directly employed. There was a demonstration, and a lot of pressure applied both inside and outside the House, and the necessary changes were made. The cleaning contract for the House of Commons is with KGB; I am not making that up. Presumably it is not the organisation that became so notorious over 70 years!

When the Leader of the House winds up, I would like him to say whether the same conditions of service for cleaners directly employed by House of Commons apply to those who are on contract with KGB. Is there sickness pay? Is there any pension arrangement? Are their conditions in any way worse than those of directly employed cleaners? I believe that there is no difference in terms of hourly payment, but I am concerned about their conditions of employment.

I now come to my main point. The sum to be saved by 2014-15 is about £20 million, in round terms. However, figures that I have obtained from the Library, and which are in the report, show that spending on the maintenance of the Palace averaged some £30 million in each of the past three years. That, of course, was for both Houses. The contribution made by the House of Commons was, I think, somewhat more than half; in round figures, it was about £54 million, which is a very considerable sum. We know that the maintenance is absolutely essential—it is not done for the sake of it—because this building would not be able to operate on a daily basis if it were not undertaken. That is not in dispute; I am in no way challenging it, and no one else is likely to do so.

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Another report, “Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster”, makes alarming reading and shows why the House of Commons must at some stage, I hope in the near future, make a decision on this building. It says that water penetration is widespread throughout the building, including the House of Commons and the House of Lords, that asbestos is equally widespread, that the building’s mechanical and electrical services are very defective, and that in some areas there is a high fire risk. Another area where essential maintenance is needed is the roof of the Palace, which causes the water penetration and so on. We are not debating that report today, but passing reference is made to it in the report before us.

There is no doubt that we all agree on the savings, but are we going to grasp the real issue that this 19th-century building is not fit in any way for the 21st century? We must recognise that we can keep on spending the money on maintenance year in and year out, but, inevitably, the upshot will still be that a complete overhaul, with all the absolutely essential work that is necessary, will need to be undertaken. Moreover, it will undoubtedly have to be done with Members and everyone else having been evacuated from the Palace; it cannot be done while people are working here, even in the summer recesses—as we all know, if an emergency arises the House is recalled at a moment’s notice. I hope that it will be possible for a decision to be reached in time for the necessary work to begin in the next Parliament. Having known over the years how reluctant the House of Commons is to reach a decision, I very much doubt that that will occur, but I certainly hope that it will be done by 2020.

I am sure that the Leader of the House has read the report to which I referred and will recognise that I am not exaggerating about the overall work that needs to be done. Although I can sometimes be accused of exaggeration by Conservative Members, I do not believe that I am exaggerating now. Yes, it will cost a lot of money, but, as I have illustrated, we are spending money year after year on essential maintenance work. I agree that there must be savings; for the reasons I have stated, I will not oppose the recommendations in the report. However, the House should, as quickly as possible, reach a decision on the bigger, absolutely essential job of making sure that this Palace is fit for purpose.

1.18 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), because this is the first time that the House has been able to examine, after a considerable degree of preparation and consultation, what is, in effect, its budget. This is an important occasion, and it may well be one that can be repeated on an annual basis.

Some people, when they look at the suggested savings, might think that we are dancing to the Executive’s tune and that that is not what a legislature should do. In fact, one can see from our spending plans that there are ways of making changes and savings that bring us up to date in our operations, even if we are in a 19th-century building. The trouble is that everyone has their own ideas about savings, and what pleases some will not please others, according to their particular pattern of working. At some point, a package needs to be decided. It is not necessarily just a question of cutting or of doing things in a different way; the other ingredient can be to generate income.

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We should not over-emphasise the public’s reverence for this building, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has done in the past, because I suspect there is a lot less reverence for the catering deficit, which was £5.9 million at the start of this Parliament and which the proposals will, if carried, bring down to at least £4.4 million for 2012-13. If there is doubt whether we can press ahead with the full programme for the restoration and renewal of this building—a matter to which the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) has just referred—it is because of the fear that the public will be concerned about the costs involved. I think that the public look to us to act in a responsible and, I would hope, business-like way.

I want to concentrate on catering and retail, bearing in mind the thrust of my hon. Friend’s amendment. Clearly, we felt that the catering subsidy could not be ignored. We were not exactly helped by the Commission’s decision to impose a 10% price increase at the start of this Parliament, before the Administration and Finance and Services Committees were in place. That got us off to a difficult start. I wish it had left it a little longer. It has resulted in some perverse effects.

People think of this place as 650 Members of Parliament, but there are in fact 13,000 pass holders, not all of whom have the same income as MPs. A few have higher incomes, but for the most part they are on much lower incomes, and outlets have seen a reduction in footfall. Members of Parliament also entertain their constituents here and are finding that it has become much more costly to do so. We should not create a regime that makes Members hesitate to bring in guests because of the facility costs in certain outlets.

Income generation is an important element in achieving our objectives and we can do it through both catering and retail. I do not think that a considered approach to the issue should be dismissed—as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow seems to wish—as commercialisation, as though it were a vulgar activity. If, in his own words, this is the people’s palace, I do not see why we should not widen access, especially when our facilities are not needed by us.

Robert Halfon: My right hon. Friend has said that some of the proposals are justified because Members are finding the restaurant prices too high. What he is saying is that it is okay to bring in companies to have special access to our facilities, because that will help Members reduce their bills. How can that be right and how would members of the public react to such a proposal?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: My hon. Friend is both unfair and wrong. I said that one effect of the price increases has been felt by colleagues, but that a much greater effect has been felt by lower-paid pass holders in this Palace—I was more concerned for them. The fact of the matter is that large organisations, be they charitable, private sector or nationalised, have access to this place already, and we take a great deal of revenue from them. All they need is the fig leaf of sponsorship from a Member of Parliament. The proposals simply say that access could be achieved without the presence of a sponsoring MP. There is no actual difference with regard to the ability to access the Palace.

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I am worried about the IPSA effect—the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—on our budgeting arrangements. I believe that the change to Tuesday’s sitting hours has been effected by those colleagues who have found themselves without support for accommodation in central London. I must not impute motive to them, but 43 out of the 96 people affected by that IPSA regulation voted for the change in hours. I can understand why, but it has a serious effect on revenues. On Tuesday evenings this place is now deserted, and on Tuesday mornings we now have great difficulty in bringing in visitors from our constituencies, which is something that many Members value. That is also a question of access.

The Administration Committee has looked—indeed, it is still looking—at how our facilities can be better used. As a general approach, I honestly do not see what is wrong with that. First, I would like to think that Members themselves would use the facilities more often—that would be a start. The Committee, together with the catering management, is trying to find innovative ways in which we can hold Members here more often to take advantage of the facilities and, therefore, make a contribution to revenue, but allowing public access is the other way. Other Parliaments do it. Indeed, in the Parliament of Quebec, the public are able to book a table in the restaurants not only when Members are not present, but on days when the Parliament is actually sitting. I am not suggesting for a moment that we go that far, but the idea that this is a revolutionary or demeaning move on the part of the Palace of Westminster is entirely wrong.

Is it wrong to host civil ceremonies? Is it wrong to develop specialist tours, such as a works of art tour? Is it especially wrong to hire out the facilities? That is what we already do, but we could do more of it. My amendment to the business improvement plans simply draws attention to the valuable work done by the management in that direction, and I believe that that should be given the fullest opportunity to work before we consider any outside catering or similar. Let us put that to the test first—that is the gravamen of my amendment.

Mr George Howarth: In congratulating the management, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they have received considerable co-operation from the trade unions in achieving their ends?

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I absolutely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said, although I hope that my testimony to the work that has been done was implied in the fact that I said that the business improvement plans should be given a chance.

Turning to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, I am speaking ahead of him, but he has helpfully sent round an e-mail indicating the thrust of what he intends to say. As I have indicated, I do not believe that “commercialisation” is a dirty word. I think that we should adopt a business-like approach, respect taxpayers and recognise that they are concerned about what this place costs, and, at the same time, widen access for many more of those taxpayers. The fact is that we do not yet have a proper visitors centre. We have talked about it in the past and there is a motion in its favour dating back some years, but we have shied away from the cost of it. We ought not to have people

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standing in a queue outside in all weathers, waiting to get into this building. It is a serious interference with their rights and, in part, probably, the true business of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross mentioned film crews when responding to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow. There is nothing new about film crews using the Elizabeth Tower—that has happened before. All we are talking about is charging a proper fee. As I have said, rooms can be hired out already—what is wrong with that? The demand for commercial tours is ever greater, so why should we not satisfy it? Of course, if we meet that demand, there is wear and tear and it is reasonable, on the whole, to find the income to deal with that.

If that is wrong or demeaning, would my hon. Friend extend that description to the sale of souvenirs? We could be accused of going down market by doing that. When I first came here a long time ago, the only gifts available were bottles of whisky and packets of cigarettes. Souvenirs have been extended a great deal since then. It gives great pleasure to people to have the opportunity to buy such things. We could certainly sell a lot more of the gifts that we have. We are doing it, revenue is going up, and I do not see why we should not take every single opportunity proposed by the report.

We are talking, as I said at the beginning, about the House’s budget, which has been laid out in detail. If we take out any item, we must consider the alternatives. I say respectfully to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow that some of the alternatives that he put forward in the debate on the Clock Tower to save £469,000 a year would, if debated individually like the Clock Tower charges on that day, be heartily rejected by a large majority of his colleagues. The idea that we should cut down on parliamentary outreach at a time when we are trying to extend the idea of what this place is throughout the country or that we should cut down further on overseas trips and delegations, which would hit at the very purpose of our Select Committees, let alone other groups in this House, is all wrong.

It is absurd to suggest that there has been no consultation before today’s debate. The Administration Committee consulted, listened and put forward a sensible plan that we would defend to the hilt. We cannot afford to delay. We need to have a budget in place.

1.30 pm

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): It is right that we are looking at a financial plan for the House that makes 17% savings. Given that all our constituents are seeing cuts to the public services that they receive, they would be incredulous if we said that we could not find any way to make savings in the way that this House operates. It is right that we are trying to do so.

It is right that we are having this debate and that Members are being allowed to vote on how much money is spent on the administration of this House and in what way. Having been in this House for 20 years, it seems unbelievable that we have never had this opportunity before. It is right that we have it today and that we should have it in future years.

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It is also right that a fundamental principle of the proposals is that any reductions in spending should not reduce the ability of MPs to do their job and to hold the Executive to account. That has been a fundamental principle throughout the discussions of the Finance and Services Committee.

I commend the way in which the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee has conducted this operation. The way in which he has led the discussions, involved members of the Committee, tried to reach consensus, and gone outside the Committee to try to engage Members in a number of forums, both collectively and individually, has been an excellent example. He has alluded to the fact that he has not always received a massive response to those attempts to engage and gain views, but he has certainly done his best to do so. The issues before us are detailed. In general, the way in which we have approached them has been excellent.

We have been assisted by the advice of the management of the House. I put on the record my thanks to them for that. They have come forward with reports, alternatives and detailed analysis. In the past, I have sometimes questioned the way in which the management of the House have operated. Sometimes they have provided alternatives to Members, but sometimes the process has been very opaque. On this occasion, they have been detailed and helpful. They have certainly operated in a very professional manner.

I pay tribute, as did the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee, to the staff of the House as a whole. The service that they give us is excellent. They are thoroughly professional and very committed to supporting our work as Members of Parliament. The way in which they have been involved in the process has been good. I talked to union representatives the other day. They are clearly not happy about every single proposal and they do not necessarily agree with all the reductions, but they are appreciative of the way in which the process has been conducted, both on the part of Members and how management have sought to engage with them.

I draw attention, in particular, to the business improvement plan, which has involved a great deal of discussion with staff representatives to try to get consensus and agreement. That has largely been achieved. I support the amendment tabled by the Chair of the Administration Committee because, given the extent of the commitment from management and staff representatives to that process, if we said today that we would go ahead with market testing without giving those proposals a chance to be implemented to see whether they work, it would be a breach of trust with everyone who has engaged so willingly in the process to try to reach a successful conclusion.

A fundamental principle is that we must not make savings or reductions in expenditure at the expense of the pay and conditions of the lowest paid workers in this building. That would be completely wrong. I worry that we would be doing that if we went to market testing, on top of the savings that can be made through the business improvement plan. Indeed, I hope that at some point we will commit ourselves to a living wage in this place, so that people who face the very high costs of living in London can be paid a little more for the work that they do for us.

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Finally, I come to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Like the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee, I understand why he has raised the idea, but I think that he is wrong. I subscribe absolutely to the three principles that the Chair of the Committee laid out. Of course this building has to be open and available for Members of Parliament to do their job. Nothing should be put in the way of that and we obviously have first call on the use of this building. Of course it is right for this building to be open and available for constituents to visit us and see how we work.

However, when people come in simply as visitors, I see no reason why we cannot charge them, just as they can be charged by Westminster abbey or Buckingham palace. I really do not see the difference. This place is expensive because of the nature of the building. It is a world heritage site. People come here just to admire the building or to look at the art collections and other things. It is reasonable that we should ask them to make a contribution. The Chair of the Administration Committee is right that many organisations already pay to use this building. They rightly and properly get the sponsorship of an MP, who signs a form to enable them to do that. Why should they not be able to use the buildings at weekends when the place is empty and contribute towards the costs of running it?

There is a fundamental flaw with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Harlow. It would be wrong to agree to a spending plan today without agreeing to the income proposals on the other side. If we did that and the income proposals were rejected in a further debate, we would have agreed a net spending level that was not sustainable. We would then have to increase the level of net spending, in which case we would not make the 17% reductions, or agree to other specific spending reductions to allow for the income that we would not raise. It is important, if we are to have a serious debate about the financial plan and come to a serious conclusion—as I am sure we will—that we agree to the totality of the plan, including the spending proposals and the income proposals. That is why I will vote against the hon. Gentleman’s amendment if he presses it.

However, I support all the provisos put forward by the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee. We must continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the principles that he rightly laid out are adhered to.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. To allow enough time for the last debate in the House this afternoon, the winding-up speeches are due to start at 2.40 pm. I am reducing the time limit to eight minutes because I can see eight Members standing and I want to finish at a reasonable time.

1.38 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I rise to speak to amendment (a), which would insert in the motion after “sector” the words

“agrees that the saving to the annual budget of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) by 2014-15 should be no greater than the 1.4 per cent saving cited in the Savings Programme as set out in Appendix B (Table 3, item 3) to the report”.

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The amendment appears on the Order Paper in my name and in those of many colleagues who have a keen interest in and concern for the future of science in Parliament. This debate marks a watershed moment for science in Parliament. Depending on the way in which the budget changes are introduced, there is a danger that they could spell the end of science in Parliament as we know it. I shall elaborate on that in a moment.

I thank the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee for presenting such a well considered report. The report recognises the financial pressures on this place and skilfully manages to identify sensible cost-saving and efficiency measures. It intends not only to reduce expenditure, but to improve the level of the services that are available to Members. It is self-evidently a carefully thought through and well balanced report, and it benefits from a great deal of consideration. I also pay tribute to the House of Commons Commission, which is ably chaired by Mr Speaker. There is no doubt that he and other Members of the House have the best interests of this place in mind.

I commend fellow members of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology board on their dedication to science, which I am sure they will make clear later today. I also recognise the hard work and commitment of John Pullinger who heads the Library services, his staff, Chris Tyler, who is the new director of POST, and the expert staff who keep parliamentarians informed on scientific matters. Finally, I say a quick thanks to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Royal Society, research councils, many distinguished scientific bodies, and distinguished peers for their input and support.

We have come a long way since the days of the debate on genetic modification, and hon. Members are far more informed than they once were on issues that used to create partisan rivalries and arguments on ideological grounds. Nobody would wish to see science in Parliament undermined in any way, and this debate is a chance to ensure that science and reason prevail in future Parliaments.

As Chair of the POST board, I urge the House of Commons Commission to take note of this debate. We are in danger of sleepwalking into drastically reducing science and technology services for Members at a time when scientific issues are rising up the political agenda and becoming increasingly important in public policy debates, and I therefore draw the attention of the House to my amendment. The third recommendation in table 3 on page 20 of the Finance and Services Committee report refers to a total saving of £98,000 by 2014-15. I am aware of talk behind the scenes about potentially removing a senior position within POST to try to fulfil that reduction in costs, or of moving a member of POST to the Library. In previous, carefully conducted consultations on the matter, the option of removing staff from POST or of reducing POST services came at the bottom of a list of dozens of options. I hope there will be further meetings following this debate, and that we will get to the nub of the issue, but to depart from that careful thinking, consideration and sensible process of prioritisation would be dangerous. I hope that will not be the case.

The Department for Information Services has a budget of about £20 million, £6 million of which is for the Library and research budget. POST has a budget of just £570,000, so to remove £98,000 from its budget seems deeply disproportionate. I am sure that is not the intention,

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however, and I hope we can resolve the issue. It would be the biggest cut to the smallest body in the Department for Information Services. All hon. Members recognise the economic realities that we face, and I, the POST board, and those who work at POST recognise that we need to make a contribution, which we are happy to make.

POST is vital for many reasons. I do not have time to run through them all, but they include its independence, balance and authority, which are critical to improving the use of science and technology in Parliament. POST never offers policy recommendations; it is non-partisan and its analysis is entirely impartial, while recognising that science and technology has a key role to play in public policy making. It plays a vital horizon-scanning role for Parliament, and identifies topics that will be upcoming in the near future and about which Members of Parliament and peers will need to make decisions. POST is rigorous and professional—that is important—and all its publications are peer-group reviewed. All its events are open to outsiders as well as parliamentarians, and furthermore, it creates a great network and makes connections with other members of the science community in Britain.

Rather than mere assertions, I will provide some facts. More than 1 million POST notes were downloaded from its website over the past year; 80% of Members use POST notes twice a year or more, let alone parliamentary researchers and peers. One thousand people attend POST events each year, and for every POST note written, 15 external contacts are formed, amounting to several hundred new contacts each year. Above all, through its fellowship scheme, POST leverages in a huge amount of external resource that can be used in the Library and to support Committees. At last count, that incoming resource amounted to approximately £300,000, which could be said to substitute the £570,000 taken up by POST’s budget. POST is the golden goose; it is the gateway and platform for leveraging in external scientific support.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has gone some way towards this, but it would be helpful if he could clarify, unambiguously and sooner rather than later, a precise figure or percentage for the future budget, so that the POST director and board can make decisions about work programmes and how to leverage in external support.

I have a couple of observations and then I will draw my remarks to a close. The most important point concerns the removal of a senior post from POST.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a compelling and erudite speech. As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, may I say how vital POST’s work is in informing members of that Committee?

Adam Afriyie: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention; she is absolutely right. The Science and Technology Committee is among many Committees of the House, and the other place, that are supported by the external resource that POST brings in.

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Savings could be made to the Library and research budgets in other ways, and I will provide a couple of examples for consideration. The A2 post in the Library is equivalent to a civil service grade 7 post—staff who would normally have people reporting to them. I do not suggest the removal of those posts or that anyone who is currently in that job should see their salary reduced or the grading changed, but by introducing, through natural wastage and replacement, a B1 rather than A2 position, over five or six years one could save up to £0.5 million a year without diminishing the service to Members.

POST is an independent body and provides a very different service to that of other Library research services. POST advisers spend 10% or 20% of their time—between £50,000 and £100,000-worth of resources—working for Select Committees and other bodies within Parliament. Finally, a reduction to POST’s budget contradicts the Government’s position on science and that of the Labour party. We need more science in Parliament, not less, and I look forward to future discussions.

1.47 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). I will be mentioning his constituency in my remarks, which were written before I realised that he would be speaking before me, although I am happy to take any credit for the choreography.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on mid-term financial planning. Most hon. Members share the view that it is an honour to work in these magnificent buildings and surroundings. I am fortunate because my constituency is only three miles away, and I think that I have personally guided between 5,000 and 10,000 of my constituents round these buildings over the past 15 years. My majority is 7,000 and I do not think those numbers are unconnected. It is a privilege to show people round, and when I tell them that I spent 23 years in the London fire brigade, and say that this is the best fire station I have ever worked in, they all recognise that that must be a matter of fact. I want to keep it that way; I want to keep these buildings here, so I disagree with some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick).

I wish to speak about fire safety. All hon. Members know the history of fire in this place, and the great fires of 1512 and 1834 were central to these buildings. I speak as a member of the parliamentary fire safety committee, which is chaired by Mr John Borley. I thank him and Ms Charlotte Simmonds, who is also on that committee, for helping me to prepare these remarks.

I wish briefly to raise three issues and ask the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) and his colleagues, to respond, or at least to be aware in future discussions of the matters I am about to raise. The Leader of the House will be aware I have tabled three parliamentary questions this week on fire safety. The three issues I want to raise must be dealt with in the financial envelope of the House. They are: first, the evacuation arrangements from Parliament and the Chamber; secondly, the level and lack of take-up of fire safety training by MPs, MPs’ staff and House staff; and thirdly, the overall future fire protection spend.

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On evacuation, a number of hon. Members in the Chamber now would have been here during the only evacuation that has taken place in anger, when two chaps hit Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, from the Gallery with three packets of powder. The Speaker suspended the sitting, and hon. Members walked out of the Chamber into the Lobbies. How wrong that was, although we did not know at the time. I should have remembered that it was wrong from my fire brigade training. I was busily writing Her Majesty’s message for the day as Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household. It is a matter of regret that I did not scream out to the Speaker and tell hon. Members to stop. Had the powder been toxin, hon. Members would have trailed it through central London. Nowadays, the Doorkeepers are trained to lock us in. Many hon. Members might not realise that, but if it happens again, we are not going anywhere.

That is the situation in a bio-terrorist attack, but if there is a fire, we need to evacuate. How many Members of Parliament since 2010 have even thought about evacuation from the Chamber? I propose that we have an evacuation of the Chamber and the Galleries to test our procedures, perhaps on a Thursday afternoon, which is when we debate Back-Bench business. We could extend the debate for 30 minutes to accommodate the evacuation. There would be some cost, but it would not be great.

Such an evacuation needs to be considered. It is not health and safety overkill. Subsequent to the fire at Windsor castle—I said I would mention the constituency of the hon. Member for Windsor—Her Majesty personally participates in evacuations when she is there. If it is good enough for the Head of State, it should be good enough for parliamentarians. We ought to understand the procedures to keep ourselves, members of staff and visitors safe.

On training, the parliamentary intranet home page features an A to Z index, which lists fire safety awareness training for MPs, MPs’ staff and House staff. The training provides simple awareness of whichever building people occupy—exits, muster points, safety procedures and so on. It is simple, useful and effective. It is money saving, but it could also be life saving, and it takes fewer than 10 minutes. The number of MPs who have undertaken the training is three; the number of MPs’ members of staff is 52; and the number of House staff is 714. That is 0.5%, 2.8% and 35% respectively, which is not good enough. To escalate those numbers considerably, I ask all hon. Members in the Chamber to find 10 minutes next week to take the training—it takes no longer than that—but more importantly, they should ask their staff to do it, because they would be looking after their safety.

Evacuation marshals are needed in most parts of the parliamentary estate. There have been several evacuation drills recently—colleagues would have participated in them—and we should thank all the volunteers who undertake those duties on top of their normal work, because they, along with others, look after us. All fire safety legislation has come about because of a tragedy or disaster. Therefore, I appeal to all hon. Members to think about fire safety.

Finally, on future fire safety improvement works, the proposed medium-term financial plan includes £20 million for fire safety improvement works on the parliamentary estate from 2013 to 2017. Key aspects of the works

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include the fact that work is required in advance and as part of renewal works. In addition, fire safety works in advance of any renewal works will aim to minimise disruption to Members, but they should be aware that some disruption could be necessary. Fire safety works in advance of any renewal work will seek to achieve value for money and avoid nugatory spend. Clearly, the programme has been agreed, and I hope it will be delivered, but if the plan proposed by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is not approved, future fire safety improvement works will be in jeopardy and the future of the Palace will be brought into question.

I should say a quick word on the performance of the fire safety section and those who work so assiduously to protect us. Despite ageing infrastructure and systems, improvements to the management of fire safety have resulted in a 94% reduction in fire incidents and a 54% reduction in false alarms on the estate since 2005-06. Parliament experiences in the region of 200 to 300 false alarms per year on the estate. Although they are managed, only about 15% result in evacuation. Colleagues will be aware of the Fire Brigades Union lobby of Parliament yesterday concerning cuts in the fire service throughout the country, some of which—I suspect—are inevitable. One London fire station suggested for closure is Westminster, which will obviously cause concern to those who take an interest in fire safety in Parliament.

In conclusion, we should commend those key members of staff who work so hard to keep us safe. I ask the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and his colleagues to keep sight of the fire budget in their financial planning to ensure that these buildings are protected for hon. Members and generations to come. I fully support the report’s recommendations and hope the House does likewise later.

1.55 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) on his work and on how he has brought his business experience to bear for the benefit of the House. I am glad we are having this debate. It has been a long journey from the 1970s, when I was involved in the House of Commons Commission when it was first established. Nobody then had an idea how the House’s money was being spent, but now we are at the point where the House makes its own decisions, assisted by my hon. Friend and the Finance and Services Committee.

As Chair of the Liaison Committee, I need to ensure that the necessary cuts to the House budget—they are necessary to ensure we co-operate with the rest of the system in austerity—do not reduce the effectiveness of Select Committees and hamper us in our efforts to hold the Government to account and engage the public in our work. Subject to the Committee, I make decisions about travel and other expenditure. We try to steward our resources as carefully as we can, but the Committee has looked more broadly at resources, including in a report published today on Select Committee effectiveness, resources and powers.

The report reviews how Committees go about their work and the importance of it. We took a great deal of encouraging evidence. Academic research has indicated

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that Committees are successful in influencing Government and public debate, and that we play an important part in promoting public engagement with the parliamentary and political process. Of all the work that MPs do, the work of Select Committees is among the most accessible to the public, because we deal with subjects that relate directly to people’s lives, and our inquiries draw constantly on the evidence, and often the oral evidence, of people who experience the laws we pass. My Committee—the Justice Committee—regularly has in front of it victims of crime, ex-offenders and all kinds of people who bring their life experience to bear on the processes of the House. As much as possible, Committees take their inquiries out of Westminster, giving people who feel remote from the House of Commons the opportunity to see that our work is relevant and important to them.

Chapter 6 of the Liaison Committee report states:

“While committees greatly value the service they receive”

from the House service and external advisers,

“there has been concern among some chairs about turnover of staff in the Committee Office, the balance between generalists and specialists among committee staff, and the flexibility of the House Service to respond to the changing requirements of committee members. We have also been concerned to ensure that the current programme of cuts to the overall budget of the House of Commons should not damage our capacity to carry out effective scrutiny.”

Another concern of Committee Chairs is the increasing burdens on their staff and constituency staff that arise from the increased expectations of them—they are now directly elected. Some of those costs should fall on the House budget rather than the budget provided to assist Members in their constituency work. The Liaison Committee report notes that the Committee Office is embarking on a change programme following a review under the savings programme. Its objectives include making oral and written evidence to Committees accessible to the public, so that they can read it quickly and easily online. With that goes an end to the routine printing of written evidence. Some Committees have found that difficult to accept initially, but because of how people access information now, it is a logical and cost-saving way to go.

Another objective is to provide Committee members with easier access to Committee documents so that they can be read any time, anywhere, and that is part of using IT more effectively. Committees, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) indicated earlier, are experimenting with paperless operation—indeed, he has his iPad in front of him now—but not all parts of the parliamentary estate are equipped for this purpose. This presents a real problem, and we may have to spend in order to save, by ensuring that wi-fi is available, for example, and Committees can make the transfer from paper to online.

The programme seeks to make better use of staff resources, for example by reducing the effort now devoted to preparation for printing. These sorts of actions can reduce costs and use resources more effectively. The Liaison Committee welcomes the programme as an opportunity to improve and modernise the service that the Committee Office gives Committees and the public, but we emphasise that it is important that it should be shaped not just by the need to produce savings, but by the longer term goal of increasing Committee effectiveness.

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Our report recommends more stability in Committee staffing; the ability to recruit some Committee Clerks directly from outside; greater flexibility in bringing in outside experts; and a modest increase in the number of media officers to enable us to have the work of Committees better explained and properly understood in the media.

In the longer term, we would like to see funding for additional staff in Chairs’ offices, for the reason I gave earlier, and we look forward to a positive response from the House of Commons Commission to our recommendations on resources in due course.

We conclude, in chapter 6 of the report:

“Now may not be the best time to argue for increased resources, but it should be the long-term goal of the House to build up the capacity of select committees, to improve their effectiveness and status, to increase their powers and influence, and to improve their efficiency by providing chairs and staffs with accommodation and infrastructure to enable them to hold Government to account.”

When the House decided that the Chairs of Select Committees should be elected in secret ballot by the House as a whole, and that all members of Select Committees should be elected by the Members in their party, again in secret ballots, the House made an important decision about the role that Committees play. That decision has had a real effect on Committees’ self-confidence; on the way the Government treat Committees; how Committees are seen outside; and Committees’ ability to function independently and provide a scrutiny process that is different from the partisan argument about broad political policy issues that dominates the reporting of Prime Minister’s questions and such events. It is increasingly recognised what an important part of the parliamentary process the Select Committee system is, and the way in which we shape and use our resources needs to reflect that importance.

2.2 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I am happy to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), but I also congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) on a thoughtful report and the work of his Committee. He could shave a few pence off the House of Commons print budget by shortening the name of his constituency, but that is not the only inconsistency that I want to bring to his attention. He spoke with some expertise on the issue of generating income. He has now heard the contribution from the hon. Member for Windsor on the role of POST, and I hope to point out the inconsistency of the position that has been adopted in the report in respect of that budget head.

I am the chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which is the oldest all-party group. It was formed in 1939 and its first report was on the role of brown bread in the war effort. I therefore declare an interest. Some of my predecessors had a cross-party discussion with Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, and from that the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology was formed. It was originally an external body funded through a charitable organisation, with the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee appointing the trustees. Lord Morris, who was one of the trustees, sadly died recently, and his contribution to that body was exemplary, along with that of others on a cross-party basis.

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That charitable body, which has received significant funds over the years from the Wellcome Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and others, put all the original money into the pot that created POST and still supports some of its activities. Incidentally, I have a responsibility in that regard, because the PSC will appoint the successor to Alf Morris. The project that we conducted through POST in Africa was entirely funded through that process. The point has been made that this House has influence well beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, and when I was in Uganda with the Select Committee, I was delighted to meet a fellow who had been on one of the POST fellowships through that scheme.

The scheme has leverage, but to lose senior posts will do a disservice to that, and that is the point that I want the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to consider. There are 32 letters in that constituency name—it is even longer than Ellesmere Port and Neston. Every senior post in POST levers in a number of research fellows, and that is a contribution to the House in kind from the wider research community that should not be underestimated.

We have some wonderful people on the Library staff, starting with our chief librarian, John Pullinger. He has just had the honour of becoming president-elect of the Royal Statistical Society, following in the footsteps of the late Harold Wilson. The team John leads have an extremely difficult job, and having the extra leverage from the work done by POST makes a significant difference.

The PSC recently asked Lord Oxburgh to conduct a review of what is happening with science in Parliament. It has just been published and we are working on it. Lord Oxburgh identified the importance of the role of POST in helping to inform Parliament about scientific matters, and I am happy to make that report available to the hon. Gentleman and his Committee.

The hon. Member for Windsor referred to the external views that have been expressed. A letter was sent yesterday to Mr Speaker in his role as Chairman of the House of Commons Commission which is signed by some extraordinarily eminent people, including the director of the Science Museum Group; the managing director of Sense about Science; Lord Krebs, who is my opposite number in the Lords; and Harry Kroto, a Nobel laureate. They all signed a letter pleading with Parliament to think again about how it carries out this work. I urge the Speaker to place a copy of that letter in the Library because it informs this debate in an important way.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a very rational argument for POST and I am listening to it carefully. Is there not perhaps a more symbolic argument to be made at this juncture of our country’s development and given the need for science and technology? We could learn from the fact that the Government exempted science and technology from their cuts. It would be hugely symbolic if we were to cut POST more than other areas—and it would just be wrong.

Andrew Miller: I could happily have a debate with the hon. Gentleman about whether flat cash is a cut or not, but in the spirit of working together on a collegiate basis on this matter, I am happy to agree with the point he makes.