Mr Clappison: This has been a very good debate. I hope I was frank enough in it, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their acknowledgement of my frankness. There are issues to be debated. This Bill has to go

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through scrutiny in the same way as every other single Bill does: most, if not all of them, are much better for that process.

Good points have been raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) asked a pertinent point about whether this constituted an offence and, if so, what the penalty was. I can tell him that it is an offence in the same way as a transgression of existing provisions relating to other special events for which roads are closed is an offence under the Road Traffic Regulation (Special Events) Act 1994. I believe, although I could not swear to this, that a level 3 fine will apply in this case.

I very much hope that those responsible for enforcing the Bill will take a view on the public benefit and take cognisance of the public interest in deciding whether any such prosecutions should take place. I hope that that situation can largely be avoided. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset quite rightly said, members of the public who want access to their premises or who have other important reasons for going about their lawful business should be able to do so. I am sure that there will be a will for that to apply.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) raised some important points about the time for which roads may be closed. I very much hope that it can be kept to a minimum. As I understand it, we have been talking about the maximum periods and on each occasion up to six of the orders might be applied for, but I hope again that this will be a maximum and that the filming can be completed in much less time. As a maximum, of course, it can be debated. I probably agree with the ideological views of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch as far as local and national public ownership are concerned. This seems to be a case on its own, an exceptional circumstance, as Hertsmere borough council owns the studios.

I can assure my hon. Friend that—as, indeed, I think he knows—Hertsmere is not, in fact, a hotbed of socialism, but very much a testing ground for Conservatism. In this instance it may be a pragmatic type of Conservatism, for thanks to the keen commercial acumen of the Conservative leadership of the council over the time—quite a few years now—for which it has owned the studios, they have been a great success. I could read out a long list of films that have been made there, and another list of contemporaneous television programmes. I have already mentioned “Strictly Come Dancing”, but I could mention many other programmes, including “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and “Celebrity Big Brother”. The BBC studios are the home of “EastEnders”.

I can assure my hon. Friends that Hertfordshire, and Hertsmere in particular, are very important to the film industry, which is a great asset to our country. It does a lot of good for us economically, attracting investment and helping our balance of payments. I ask my hon.

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Friends to think about that carefully when they scrutinise the Bill. I ask them to bear it in mind that the country—and my constituency in particular—has an important interest in promoting our film industry, and that the Bill will help to promote it in the ways I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2013, which were laid before this House on 21 October, be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Small Companies (Micro-Entities’ Accounts) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 23 October, be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Representation of the People, Northern Ireland

That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 24 October, be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Northern Ireland

That the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 30 October, be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Road Traffic

That the draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 24 October, be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

Question agreed to.

26 Nov 2013 : Column 225

Business of the House (2 December)

Debate resumed.

Question (25 November) again proposed,

That at the sitting on Monday 2 December, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to select committee statements and the Motion in the name of Mr Charles Walker relating to backbench business (amendment of standing orders) not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first of those Motions; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings on those Motions may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

4.12 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is good to have a reasonable slot in which to expand on the remarks that I was making just before 10 o’clock last night, and it is good to see that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is on the Front Bench and in a position to explain a bit of the background to the motion.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): All the background.

Mr Chope: Indeed: all the background.

The purpose of the motion is to enable the House to sit until as late as 11.30 pm on Monday, or even later, in order to consider two motions, one of which proposes to amend Standing Orders. I wanted to know why the Leader of the House had decided that the business should be debated so late on Monday, after a Second Reading debate on the important Mesothelioma Bill. Why could it not be debated at some other time? I believe that the motion proposing amendments to Standing Orders has been on the Order Paper for a long time, and I understand from contacts that I have had with my own Whip that the Government are concerned about the possibility that the House will divide at 10 pm on Monday. The business is highly contentious, which is why Members have been told that they will not be allowed to be “slipped”, or that slips that had been granted to them have been withdrawn. That suggests the Government regard it as highly contentious. If they do, it is all the more reason it should be given a primetime slot, rather than pushed towards midnight on Monday.

On a more serious point, the motion restricts the amount of time during which the two issues can be debated. It states that

“the Questions necessary to dispose of the proceeding on the Motion…relating to select committee statements and the Motion in the name of”

the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, including on amendments, shall be put

“not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings”.

That means that a maximum of three quarters of an hour is being given to each subject, including for the discussion of amendments and for votes on the first motion before the second motion is debated.

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I am speaking now on the last item of business on a Tuesday afternoon before the Adjournment debate. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), whose Adjournment debate it is, could therefore have an extended debate on the defence police and fire pensions review until 7.30 pm. I cannot understand why the business on 2 December is being so dealt with and why effectively we have to suspend Standing Orders and move this business motion. I am not normally of a suspicious disposition, but this raises various questions.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think it bizarre that this motion could be debated for longer than the 90 minutes allotted for the actual debate next week?

Mr Chope rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. That depends on the debate staying in order. Its subjects are the length of the debate proposed—an hour and a half—and its timing, which, as Mr Chope has said, is next Monday.

Mr Chope: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, I tried to limit my remarks to those two issues: the length of the debate and its timing next Monday. I look forward to hearing an explanation from the Leader of the House.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am puzzled by my hon. Friend’s view that after 10 pm on Monday is not a good time for debating these issues. What on earth else would anybody rather do than come to the House and debate these important matters?

Mr Chope: I would be happy, as I am sure my hon. Friend would be too, to debate these issues until 1, 2 or 3 o’clock on Tuesday morning, should the need arise. That is why, as I said, the more serious of my concerns is the time limit rather than the timing. Obviously, he and I will participate in the debate at whatever time is set down, but we need to think about how easily people outside can follow our proceedings.

Mr Bone: I am concerned about my hon. Friend; he is becoming a bit of a leftie and a liberal. Is he really suggesting that the House should sit 9 to 5? That is outrageous.

Mr Chope: That is a gross exaggeration of my position. I was suggesting to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that we should sit until we concluded the business, but that one advantage of having debates earlier—during primetime, as the Government would put it—is that they would be more likely to attract more interest from people scrutinising our affairs, who would not have to look at the historical record, but could watch it as it was happening.

Mr Bone: I am sorry that I misunderstood my hon. Friend’s point. I think he said earlier that slips were being cancelled and that people were being whipped, but that cannot possibly be right, because this is House business, and House business cannot be whipped.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With respect, I would prefer the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) not to answer that point. The purpose of the debate is to discuss only the date and the allocation of time. Nothing else is relevant to the specifics that we are dealing with.

Mr Chope: I shall not answer my hon. Friend, but I invite him to intervene on me again.

Mr Bone: With regard to the date and time of the debate in question, why does my hon. Friend think so many Members will be present?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Because they are good Members of Parliament.

Mr Chope: Madam Deputy Speaker, the sooner you are able to participate fully in our debates, the better. I invite you to come down and join the throng.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am simply concerned that, at that late hour, some Members might be tempted to go to nightclubs and things like that. It would be distressing if we were to have the debate at a time when that might happen.

Mr Chope: I hope that when the debate takes place, it will be allowed a longer period of time than the motion currently provides for, and that it will have a similar spirit of good humour to the one that is prevailing in this short debate. I see no reason for extending this debate; I am making only a short point. Why does the Leader of the House need to close down debate on these issues and limit the discussion to 45 minutes on each of the two subjects, one of which has been the subject of a Government amendment to the motion tabled by the Procedure Committee? If we are going to encourage Members to participate to the full in the work of the Select Committees, including the Procedure Committee, the least we can do is allow proper time for colleagues to debate and question the proposals of those Committees.

I do not think that 45 minutes for each subject is sufficient, and I would be interested to hear why the Leader of the House thinks that those time limits are sufficient and appropriate, particularly as we have quite a lot of surplus time available now. I was talking to a journalist earlier, and he suggested that the business for next week seemed extremely light. I put these questions to the Leader of the House in a spirit of friendship. I know that, even though he does not always succeed, he tries hard to accommodate the needs of Back Benchers.

4.23 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who has made a lot of important points. My concern is the restriction of time for the debate to one and a half hours. We shall be discussing important changes to the way in which Back-Bench business is debated in the House. When this Parliament came into being, the Backbench Business Committee came into force and we took great steps towards greater transparency and accountability. That is to the great credit of the Government, but I am worried that there is sometimes a temptation for them to row back slightly in this regard.

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The Leader of the House might well have a good explanation for the decision to limit the debate to one and a half hours. If he does not think that the debate will take more than that length of time, there is no need to bring in the restriction. If, however, he thinks that Members might want to speak for longer on this important matter, surely they should be able to do so. There seems to be no point in curtailing the debate, especially as the motion states that it will be allowed to

“continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption”.

The Government have been very good on the questions of transparency and accountability and it is a shame that, on occasions such as these, they seem to row back a bit.

4.24 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for their good-natured contributions. It is entirely right that they should ask a number of questions about this motion as the time permits. It might be sensible if I make it clear that the business of the House motion has two main effects. First, it allows the House to take the two motions together for debate. Given that both relate to the work of the Backbench Business Committee, that seemed entirely sensible, as it would not otherwise have been possible for them to be brought together in one debate. Secondly, it specifies a maximum time for debate of one and a half hours, as my hon. Friends have noted. My view is that that is an entirely sensible period to allow for this debate. I freely admit that that is a judgment about the amount of time in which the issues that arise on these two motions are likely to be debated. My personal view is that the second motion, relating to the capacity for Select Committee reports to be launched, will not detain the House for long, as we have seen in practice, but it needs to be regularised in the structure of the provision of Backbench Business Committee time.

Mr Bone: I thank the Leader of the House for the explanation he has given so far. If the motions had been tabled separately, he would almost certainly have granted one and a half hours for each of them. I do not think he would have granted a 45-minute debate; so a good compromise might be to extend the total time to three hours.

Mr Lansley: I think I have explained straightforwardly the judgment I have made, which is that the two motions relating to the work of the Backbench Business Committee in the House can be brought together perfectly sensibly. The latter motion, which I understand has the support of the Chairs of the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee, would not detain us at any great length. From my point of view, in order to protect Government time, it is important for us to ensure that we have allowed these motions to be brought forward for the House to debate. I freely admit to the House that it has been difficult to find Government time. The Backbench Business Committee, as my hon. Friends will know, does not have the capacity to use its own time to bring forward its own motions relating to itself. [Interruption.] That is a separate debate, but the Committee does not have that capacity under the Standing Orders.

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For these motions to be debated, Government time has to be used, and so I have looked, along with my colleagues, to ensure that we find such an opportunity. That has been difficult and we have made the appropriate judgment in securing the possibility of time.

It is entirely a matter of speculation as to whether the Mesothelioma Bill will absorb all the time through to 10 pm. The assumption being made is that it will do so, and if it does, so be it. If we commence this debate after the moment of interruption, I do not want it to extend for a long period beyond 10 pm, although I am happy for the debate to go beyond 10 pm if necessary.

Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend makes an important point—he says that he does not want the debate to go on for more than one and a half hours after the moment of interruption. Unfortunately, that is not what his motion says. His motion says that it cannot go on for more than one and a half hours after it starts. Perhaps he would be willing to withdraw this business motion and table an amended motion saying that we could have the maximum of one and a half hours after the moment of interruption.

Mr Lansley: I point out to my hon. Friend that I have said two things. I have said, first, that I do not think that the debate requires more time than one and a half hours, and it is Government time that we have found for the purpose. I have said, secondly, that I would not wish it to go for more than one and a half hours beyond the moment of interruption. It does not follow that I think it requires three hours—in any circumstances.

Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch questioned the need for the Standing Orders to be amended. He knows that this motion exempts the business from

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both the moment of interruption and the Standing Order relating to deferred Divisions, and he will understand that Standing Orders are amended regularly for such purposes. The motions for debate next Monday result from the work of the Procedure Committee, and it is right that the House is given the opportunity to resolve those issues.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: To follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, it would be a pity if we went home early on Monday, would it not? If the earlier debate were to finish well before 8.30 pm, it would be a shame if the House’s business came to an end before the normal hour of closure.

Mr Lansley: In scheduling business, my purpose is to ensure that there is time available for all the business. My objective is not to fill time. I say gently to my hon. Friends that they could have raised the matter when I announced provisional business at business questions last Thursday. They have done so in the past. They have raised issues after business questions and, on occasions, I have taken those issues away and we have amended the timing and the character of business. In this particular instance, I have to say that the motion relating to Back-Bench business has been on the Order Paper since before the summer recess. It relates to a report published by the Procedure Committee in November 2012. It has taken us more time than we would have wished to bring it forward. The Procedure Committee was rightly keen that we should schedule that business. We have done so, and we have given it adequate time. From my point of view, I hope that the House will allow the business to go forward as proposed in motion 9, which I moved yesterday.

Question put and agreed to.

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Defence Police and Fire Pensions

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Amber Rudd.)

4.31 pm

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I thank Mr Speaker for granting me tonight’s debate. I want to express my thanks to Mr Eamon Keating of the Defence Police Federation and to Dave Kirby of the defence fire and rescue section of Unite for their help in preparing for this debate.

Many of my constituents work as police officers and firefighters at the naval bases of Faslane and Coulport. They are a dedicated and skilled work force. However, they have been caught out by what I believe is an anomaly in the Public Service Pensions Act 2013. The anomaly arose because defence police and fire personnel have traditionally been on civil service terms and conditions rather than on conditions comparable with the country’s other police and fire services. As they are on civil service terms and conditions, their retirement age had been 60.

The previous Government imposed a pension settlement, which meant that new recruits to the defence police and fire services have a retirement age of 65. However, efficiency savings have meant that very few recruits have joined those services since then and more than 90% of the current work force have a retirement age of 60. Those who have a retirement age of 65 tend to be younger people who have joined recently, so it is unlikely that there is anybody over 60 working at the moment.

The present Government inherited that situation. The unique circumstances of the defence police and fire personnel were then overlooked by Lord Hutton when he prepared his report on public service pensions.

Through the medium of the Public Service Pensions Act, the Government have faithfully implemented Lord Hutton’s recommendations, one of which was that those in occupations for which the normal pension age had traditionally been under 60 should have a normal retirement age of 60. That applies to the uniformed services: the armed forces and all police and fire services except those in the Ministry of Defence.

However, Lord Hutton has subsequently said that he was not aware of the unique circumstances of the defence police and fire personnel when he compiled his report. He added that had he been aware, he would have recommended that they be treated the same as the other uniformed services, with a retirement age of 60. I hope the Government will take on board Lord Hutton’s admission that he made a mistake.

The Public Service Pensions Act implements Lord Hutton’s recommendation of a retirement age equal to the state pension age for public sector workers other than the exceptions already mentioned. That means a retirement age of 65 rising over time to 68. My understanding is that the Government have already agreed that the retirement age for defence police and firefighters will not rise above 65 when the state pension age does. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that tonight.

The number of personnel involved is very small—about 3,500 in total out of a civil service work force of about 700,000. Defence police and firefighters do a vital job that involves putting themselves in dangerous situations

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and requires a high degree of fitness. Fighting a fire on a vessel at sea requires a person to be extremely fit and also extremely quick thinking. The same degree of fitness is required for police officers who have to wear body armour and carry a heavy weapon.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Obviously, there are similar personnel in areas such as Telford, where there is a large MOD footprint. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what we need for this group of people who do a great job for our country, often in difficult circumstances, is a pretty comprehensive review of their terms and conditions? I hope to hear the Government’s view tonight, but a future armed forces Bill might pick up on this issue and consider these workers’ terms and conditions as well as their status. I believe that they deserve a very high status indeed.

Mr Reid: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that these workers deserve a high status. The review I shall talk about later is of pensions and the retirement age, but I certainly agree and hope that this Government or a future Government will conduct a wholesale review of those people’s terms and conditions.

Like all other uniformed services, defence firefighters and police have to be ready to go instantly from a state of rest to 100% alertness and high physical exertion. That puts a heavy strain on the body and, as someone nearing 60, I know that we all have to accept that age takes its toll on us.

What makes the uniformed services different from workers in manual jobs is the need to go instantly to a 100% level of alertness and effort. Many other manual jobs involve hard work, but it tends to be done at a steady rate over several hours, whereas the uniformed services have to go to their 100% physical and mental peak immediately.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I, too, represent MOD police in my constituency. They do a job that requires them not only to be fit and alert at times of crisis but to keep up arduous standards of fitness in preparation for any eventuality. The key issue is that it is often a false economy to keep people working beyond the peak of their physical fitness. If they have to leave work owing to ill health, that can be more expensive in the long run.

Mr Reid: The hon. Lady is perfectly correct. I shall talk about that aspect of the problem later. She is right that the defence police and fire personnel need a high level of fitness or they will be forced to take early retirement. That question leads me nicely on to the next part of my speech because I want to draw the House’s attention to a report produced for the Ministry of Defence by Dr P. Griffin, a consultant adviser in occupational medicine. The report makes it clear that a person’s ability to function at peak physical and mental alertness declines once they are over 60. I hope that the Government will take that report into account during their review.

Defence police and firefighters have to undertake regular fitness checks and demonstrate a high degree of fitness. I am concerned that if they have to work beyond 60, many of them will fail those tests before they reach

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the normal retirement age. Having a high proportion of personnel retire early on health grounds is no way to manage vital services such as policing and firefighting.

During the later stages of the Public Service Pensions Bill, I was pleased that the Government gave an undertaking to review the effects of defence police and fire fighters working until 65. That undertaking became section 36 of the Public Service Pensions Act, and I want some answers to questions I shall put to the Minister tonight.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. This is an Adjournment debate. Opposition Front-Bench Members cannot intervene from the Dispatch Box in an Adjournment debate. Interventions can be taken from Back Benchers


Mr Reid: The review is to be presented to Parliament no later than 24 December, so time is short. The report will look at the impact of the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 on the health and well-being of defence police and firefighters, and at the ability of those over 60 to meet the strict fitness requirements that are needed for the important and dangerous job that they do. The report will also consider the consequences of early retirement for workers who are forced to retire early on health grounds because they cannot meet the stringent fitness requirements. It will also look at the likely cost to the taxpayer.

If the retirement age is 65 and significant numbers of personnel are forced to retire early on health grounds, both the taxpayer and the worker will lose out. The worker will lose out because they will not get the full pension that they expected; the taxpayer will lose out because the amount that has been paid into the pension pot will not cover the cost of the pension if it is paid out early.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman may recall the debate on the Bill; I was party to it as well. The impression that Ministers gave then was that this category of workers was an anomaly that had not been dealt with in the legislation. There was cross-party anxiety about this issue. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, to get the legislation through, the Government gave the impression that this group of workers would be treated fairly and consistently with others working in this field, which meant that they would not be expected to work longer because of the physical capacity problems they would experience.

Mr Reid: I remember the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to the debate on Lords amendments. In response to the concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government tabled a new clause which became section 36 of the Act, which set up the review that we are now discussing. I hope and expect that that review will recommend an age of 60, for all the reasons that I have given and some that I shall go on to explain. I hope that the review will make that recommendation. If it does, I will certainly expect the Government to accept the outcome.

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John McDonnell: Perhaps I can make the point more clearly. I think that the passage of the Bill was secured only because of those assurances. There was such strength of feeling across the House and across parties about this group of workers in particular that others would have objected to the Bill overall if the new clause had not been inserted and if assurances had not been given that this group of workers would be treated sympathetically.

Mr Reid: My expectation was that the review would recommend a retirement age of 60, and that the Government would accept it, and that is what I hope will happen.

I simply do not believe that it would be right for these workers to work beyond 60. The most appropriate comparison is with other firefighters and police officers. Members of all the other fire services and police services in the country are allowed to retire at 60 under the provisions of section 10 of the Public Service Pensions Act. Those staff whose pension conditions are being investigated by the review have important knowledge about their jobs, so I hope that the review team is consulting them. People who are actually doing the job can give information that no one else can so it is important that they are consulted.

I have some questions which I hope the Minister will be able to answer tonight. What consultation have the Government had with the work force representatives—the Defence Police Federation and the defence fire and rescue services section of Unite? What further consultation will be held with these representative bodies before the review report is completed? Will the Minister confirm that they will be able to see a draft before final publication and feed their views into the process?

Another important question for the Minister is whether the publication of the review will be the final word, or the basis for further consultation and negotiation. What research has been carried out to establish whether people over 60 are likely to have the fitness required to carry out the duties of defence police and firefighters without long absences from work, and what proportion would be likely to retire early on health grounds before reaching the age of 65 because they did not meet the stringent fitness requirements?

David Wright: I strongly support the hon. Gentleman. This is not just about fighting those fires that have an impact only on bases. He will be aware that in Telford and Wrekin a few decades ago, there was a huge fire at MOD Donnington, which affected the entire community around that base. It is in the public interest to ensure that those on MOD bases who have to fight fires are capable of doing so in the most efficient way.

Mr Reid: Yes, and I certainly remember the fire that the hon. Gentleman refers to; it was in all the news media. He is perfectly correct: this is a vital job. In Faslane in my constituency, there are nuclear submarines. We are talking about a very strenuous and highly skilled job and one that is very important, not just because of the assets on the base but for the general public.

Unite has supplied figures that are specific to age-banding and to ailments including those involving the heart, strokes and blood pressure, muscle and bone, and anxiety and depression. It also looked at long-term sickness over a 24-month period. It obtained those figures from

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medical and absence data provided by Defence Business Services, and has asked for the inclusion of those figures in the report. Will Unite’s figures be taken into account when the report is compiled? What plans do the Government have for a balanced, fair and equal retirement strategy for those individuals who may not be able to maintain the stringent fitness requirements?

The civil service pension scheme historically had a lower employee contribution than police and fire service pension schemes, so defence police and fire service workers had net pay deductions and abatements taken off their pay in an attempt to give parity with other police and fire services. However, the impact of these deductions has been that the defence firefighters’ pension is based on net pay after those deductions, rather than on their gross pay. Other police and fire service staff receive a pension based on their gross pay before employee superannuation payments are deducted. An actuary engaged by the Defence Police Federation has said that the abatement and net pay deduction system is antiquated and very unfair. There may have been a logic to the system when it was introduced 30-odd years ago, but over time it has become antiquated. I hope that that will be looked into as part of the review.

If defence police and firefighters have to work on beyond 60, they will be contributing more towards their pension and collecting it for less time than their colleagues in other police forces and fire services. I hope that the Government agree that there should be parity, in pension terms, between defence police and firefighters and those who come under the remit of other Government Departments and the devolved Administrations. In addition to investigating whether people over 60 are likely to be physically fit enough to carry out policing and firefighting duties, the review should look at levels of abatement of pay and net pay deductions. In that regard, I draw the House’s attention to what was said during the final debate on the Public Service Pensions Bill on 24 April by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and now Financial Secretary to the Treasury:

“I agree that abatement, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark raised, is an important issue. It is therefore important that the MOD review considers it. It will have to consider a broad range of issues affecting the workers in question, including all pay and remuneration conditions and other potential benefits. It will have to examine the matter in its totality, and I would expect nothing else.”—[Official Report, 24 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 912.]

I hope that the Minister can tell us tonight about that aspect of the review. Pensions calculations are notoriously complex, and I would ask that as well as a recommendation in the review on the level of employee superannuation contributions, all the calculations behind this recommendation be published for checking and comment.

Defence police and firefighters do an extremely important and strenuous job. I simply do not think it is right that they should be asked to continue doing it beyond 60. Sixty-five-year-olds should not be fighting fires or tackling terrorists. I draw the attention of the House to what was said by Phil Salt, the chief fire officer of the Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation, who is on record as fully backing a retirement age of 60. I understand that senior officers in the Ministry of Defence police share this view.

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Police, fire and rescue personnel working in the Ministry of Defence should be allowed to retire at the same age as their counterparts in the country’s other police and fire services. I hope that that will be the outcome of the review and I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

4.50 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) on bringing this issue to the attention of the House at a key time before the review is finally published.

I want to go back to the original debate, because it is important that we set the issue in the right context. To be frank, we approached it in legislation quite late in the day. This seemed to be an area of service that had been missed out in the debate on pensions. The emphasis in that debate—and this is exactly the final point made by the hon. Gentleman—was on the physical capacity of that group of workers to do the job once they reached the age of 60.

I have seen some of the figures that Unite has submitted as part of the review, and they demonstrate that for workers over the age of 60 in this field the absentee rate doubles as a result of sickness and incapacity. That is a clear indication that it becomes more difficult to undertake the job. The argument has been made—we debated this in the context of the Fire Brigades Union dispute—that if someone is incapable of achieving the required fitness levels, they might be redeployed within the service. We have discovered that those vacancies do not exist, so redeployment is not really an option. People face continuing in the job at a risk to their health—lack of fitness quickly becomes incapacity, as we have seen in other emergency services—or they face losing their job with a reduced pension as a result of having to withdraw from the service. There are certainly no opportunities for redeployment.

The whole issue is the unfairness of the situation. When people are called out to tackle a fire or for any other incident, they are all called out to do the same task. They do not have on their helmet something saying “Reduced duties” or “Unfit for lifting certain ladders”. They are all called to do the same task, so they all require the same fitness levels. As a result of our concerns, at least we managed to insert into the Bill provisions for a proper review that took into account the issue of fitness and ageing with regard to the responsibilities people were required to discharge.

My understanding is that some aspects of the review are based, for example, on 12 months of absentee rates rather than on 24 months. I hope that the review will look comprehensively at all the information—and as the hon. Gentleman has said, the word we have is that management support the workers in their demands, because they understand the nature of the role that they have to perform—but, whatever the review says, at the end of the day it is for Ministers and Government to decide. I return to the point that I made earlier: when that legislation was going through the House a common-sense view was taken by the majority of members that, yes, a review would take place, but it would take into account the strength of feeling among Members of Parliament, who recognised the importance of that role and the difficulties of discharging it for an ageing work force if people have to stay on beyond 60.

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That common-sense view was accepted by the House, and I hope that the Government clear the matter up, forget the review, make a decision and implement it rapidly to reassure the workers concerned. I remember the debate, because Member after Member stood up to praise the service provided by that group of workers. I remember them being described as loyal professionals undertaking their task in a way that we all commended, and putting their lives at risk at different times in their history. Now that the review, as the hon. Gentleman said, is more open and transparent, I hope that the drafts will be provided to all the parties concerned in advance of publication so that they are aware of what is coming, and that Ministers will deal with the matter speedily and in the way that the House directed, which was to ensure that these workers are not discriminated against, they are treated like others, and the special circumstances of their job are properly taken into account.

4.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anna Soubry): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) on securing this debate and on his tenacity and diligence on the issue. I am aware that there is, and has been, a great deal of interest in this matter. I thank the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for his speech. He reminds us that the topic attracted a number of speakers during the passage of the Bill and of the importance that many attached to it.

It is important to set out that members of the Ministry of Defence police and the defence fire and rescue service are civil servants. Although there are similarities in the roles and responsibilities of both groups when compared to their Home Office and local authority colleagues, I would say that they are not the same. I believe that that has been recognised historically.

By way of history and some background, the 1979 Wright committee that examined the Ministry of Defence police found significant differences in their role when compared with what we call the Home Department police forces—the ordinary police officers and police forces as we ordinary citizens know them. For example, at that time—back in the 1970s—the work was essentially routine and involved a high proportion of static duty, largely because of the high degree of security.

In 1994 a study led by Sir John Blelloch recognised that there had been a significant change in the role of the Ministry of Defence police since the Wright report. Most notably, a requirement had been introduced for all MDP officers to have the capability to be armed. The MDP had also moved away from routine security towards higher-value armed guarding roles. Nevertheless, Blelloch noted that there were still substantial differences between the role of the MDP and the role of Home Department forces, such as the lower level of crime dealt with and the attendant physical stresses and strains placed upon Home Department police forces, as opposed to their counterparts in the MDP.

It might be helpful for the House to know that a much wider review of terms and conditions of service concerning the Ministry of Defence police is currently being conducted. This review, although begun earlier,

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is being taken forward in the light of the outcome of the independent review of the remuneration and conditions of service of police officers and police staff in England and Wales that was undertaken for the Home Secretary by Tom Winsor.

The defence fire and rescue service is subject to rigorous modernisation and efficiency initiatives, including the examination of opportunities for greater private sector involvement through the defence fire and rescue project which is in its assessment stage following initial gate approval, as it is called.

The Ministry of Defence police and the defence fire and rescue service personnel have always been members of the principal civil service pension scheme, as are all uniformed civil servants. Therefore they are subject to the normal pension age of that scheme which is 65, although the closed sections have a normal pension age of 60. The civil service unions have already accepted this move to a normal pension age of 65 for all staff joining since—after, in other words—2007. Prospect and Unite, which represent members of the defence fire and rescue service, were two of those unions.

As I am sure Members will be aware, in 2010 Lord Hutton conducted a review of public sector pensions. He recommended that the normal pension age for civil servants should rise in line with the increasing state pension age, but he made an exception, as we have heard, for the armed forces, firefighters employed by local authorities and Home Department police forces. For those individuals, he proposed that the normal pension age should be set at 60, but only where their normal pension age was currently below 60. That would have the effect of their pension age increasing in line with that of other public servants.

Following the review into public sector pensions, both the Defence Police Federation, which represents the Ministry of Defence police, and Unite, which represents the firefighter grades of the defence fire and rescue service, lobbied the Lords. They wished that exception to be extended to them so that their normal pension age would not only not rise in line with the state pension age, but reduce from 65 to 60.

As we have heard, the Public Service Pensions Bill was last debated in the House on 24 April this year. The Lords amendment proposed at the time was accepted by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He announced that the Ministry of Defence would prepare and lay before the House a report on the likely effect on both groups of staff of the normal pension age increasing in line with the state pension age. The report was to consider the following three issues: the likely effect of the increased pension age on the health and well-being of the two groups; the likely effect on their ability to continue to meet operational requirements; and the extent to which they were likely to take early retirement as a consequence of the increase in normal pension age, and the consequences of that for them and for the taxpayer.

On 15 May the Ministry of Defence set out the report’s terms of reference, which were simply to

“review the Normal Pension Age of both the Ministry of Defence Police and Defence Fire and Rescue Service personnel”.

Those terms of reference were communicated to the respective trade unions and accepted without amendment. As part of the review, my Department has consulted the

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relevant trade unions and the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police and the chief fire officer of the defence fire and rescue service.

David Wright: The Minister says that she has consulted the unions. She might not be able today to give the dates on which those meetings took place, but could she provide that information in the Library of the House?

Anna Soubry: I see no reason why not, so I am more than happy to do so. I should have explained, as I often do in these debates, that if I do not answer the various matters raised by hon. Members in the course of my speech, I will write to them.

Mr Reid: My hon. Friend said that there were discussions with the trade unions. For clarification, the Defence Police Federation has reminded me that it is a professional association, not a trade union. I just wanted to check whether it had been consulted along with the trade unions.

Anna Soubry: I am so sorry—this is entirely my fault, because I was specifically briefed on that—but I have completely forgotten the answer to that question. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for rightly raising that point about the Defence Police Federation. I know that there is an answer to his question, and it might be provided to me in the course of my speech. If it is not, I undertake to put it all in the Library. There is no difficulty at all in doing that.

I will now turn to the specific points my hon. Friend raised. I thank him for providing a copy of his speech, which is so helpful in these circumstances. I fear that I will be unable to answer all his questions, because of the short time available to us. The MOD will review the levels of abatement of pay and net pay deductions as part of the continuing and wider work into the terms and conditions of service and the future of both the MDP and the defence fire and rescue service. It is as part of that work that we are reviewing pension calculations.

We are also reviewing all pay and remuneration conditions and other potential benefits. For the purposes of that report, the Defence Secretary directed that the review should concentrate on the questions posed by the Act. As I have already stated, a separate continuing review is looking at the broader issues. The Department has engaged with the Defence Police Federation—I think that that answers my hon. Friend’s question—and the defence fire and rescue service section of Unite. Engagement with the federation has been through the quarterly police committee, the monthly Ministry of Defence police management board, and regular meetings in respect of the separate terms and conditions of service review.

Unite was briefed by relevant business units at the outset of the review. It has been engaged in agreeing the statement of requirement that, as I explained, was submitted to the Government Actuary’s Department, and it was invited to attend workshops and make separate submissions to the review as it has progressed. Unite is fully aware of the business units’ conclusions, and its

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concerns and points of view have been considered by the review. The reports due to be laid in the House—I will give the dates in a moment—will form part of the continuing discussions regarding future changes to the terms and conditions of both groups, including their pension age. I am reliably informed that staff representatives will have a copy of the report before it is published, and that is an eminently sensible idea.

David Wright: The Minister is relatively new to her post but I have experience of working with her in other areas of work and she is always fair and equitable. Is she willing, as the Minister involved at this point, to meet the trade unions to talk through some of the issues that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) has raised? That would be very welcome.

Anna Soubry: As an old trade unionist—a proud shop steward, I might say, of the National Union of Journalists—I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, my new friend. I have absolutely no problem with that, or with meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute and trade union representatives. It might be fair to add the Defence Police Federation. It is always a pleasure to talk to the federation.

In respect of parity, the MOD acknowledges that defence police and firefighters deliver a professional and valued service to the Department and, not least, to the nation. There are significant differences in how they carry out their roles and responsibilities as compared with those under the remit of the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Office, and it is only right that that should be reflected in their terms and conditions of service.

During the review of the pension age, the MOD has considered a number of studies on the fitness levels of people over 60 and their ability to carry out their duties without long absences from work, including the likelihood of early retirement before the age of 65. These will all be referenced in the report. In addition, we have taken account of the management information available within the MOD. Individuals who find that they are unable to maintain the fitness capability required will continue to be exited under the regulations that are applicable to their pension scheme membership.

I hope that I have addressed all the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute and others; if not, I will do so by way of letter. We must not forget that we agreed to undertake a review into the likely effects of an increase in the normal pension age beyond 65 on Ministry of Defence police and defence fire and rescue service personnel and, as part of that review, we will consider the three matters that I have outlined. I can assure Members that that is what we are doing. The review is due to be completed by 24 December this year and the Department is on track to meet that deadline. The report will be laid in the House before it rises on 19 December.

Question put and agreed to.

5.8 pm

House adjourned.