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Armed Forces Restructuring

11.36 am

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the final part of the armed forces redundancy programme. As the House will be aware, following the decisions set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review, the first such review for 12 years, we have been significantly restructuring and reshaping our armed forces to ensure we can sustain their world-class capabilities in the future. As we move from more than a decade of enduring operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as we bring our troops back from Germany, we are constructing a new force, Future Force 2020, to protect this country against future threats.

Restructuring the armed forces has required us to transfer personnel and resources between regiments and trades to ensure that we can invest in new areas of priority, such as cyber and ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. We have also needed to ensure that our armed forces retain the right age profile and skills as they reduce in size. Achieving that outcome has, unfortunately, required a limited redundancy programme.

Today, the armed forces are announcing the specialist areas from which they will select personnel to be made redundant in this, the fourth and final tranche. By strongly encouraging transfers between different parts of the Army in particular, we have deliberately sought to keep the number of redundancies to an absolute minimum. Hon. Members will no doubt have seen recent speculation in the press about the size of the final tranche. As a result of the steps we have taken, I can confirm that the overall number of redundancies required is considerably lower than that predicted in some recent press articles and lower than in each of the three previous tranches. It will comprise up to 1,425 members of the Army, up to 70 medical and dental officers and nurses from the Royal Air Force, and up to 10 from the Royal Navy.

Tranche 4 will apply the same selection principles within the eligible cohorts as were used in the last three tranches. Selection for redundancy will be based on three criteria only: performance, potential and employability. This is viewed by the individual services as the fairest methodology to all who fall into the redundancy bracket. Individuals will be informed of the outcome of the selection process on 12 June 2014. Applicants for voluntary redundancy will leave six months later and non-applicants 12 months later. As with previous tranches, there are a number of important exclusions from eligibility for compulsory redundancy: those serving on specified operations any time between today and the date of notification of selection for redundancy, 12 June 2014; and those who, on the date of notification of selection for redundancy, have been warned for specified operations commencing on or before 12 December 2014.

Unlike tranche 3, those who volunteer for redundancy having been formally warned for specified operations deploying before 12 December 2014 may still be directed to deploy by their chain of command. This is to ensure that their places do not have to be backfilled at short notice owing to the notification period occurring over the handover between the Herrick 19 and Herrick 20

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deployments. The redundancy programme will not impact adversely on current operations in Afghanistan. Personnel assessed as being permanently below the level of fitness required to remain in the forces will not be considered for redundancy and will instead leave through the medical discharge route at the appropriate point in their recovery.

As a way of reducing still further the number of personnel to be made redundant, we will continue to encourage personnel to transfer from areas of surplus to areas of shortage. Specific vacancies have been identified across all three services and those identified as at risk of redundancy will be encouraged to transfer to areas for which they have appropriate skills and will be offered retraining, as necessary. The chain of command will continue to inform these personnel of the transfer opportunities available to them at all stages of this process.

I have also instructed the services to seek to maximise the number of volunteers in order to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies. However, noting that 84% of personnel made redundant in tranche 3 were applicants, it is likely that the percentage of volunteers overall in this final tranche will be lower owing to the low historical level of volunteers among Gurkhas—one of the fields eligible in this round—and the fact that a number of specialist fields will face 100% selection, meaning that there is little or no incentive to volunteer.

Throughout the whole redundancy programme since 2010, approximately 500 Gurkhas have been transferred to other parts of the Army, significantly reducing the requirement for Gurkha redundancies. However, there remains a surplus of personnel in the Brigade of Gurkhas, which is due largely to the changes in their terms and conditions in 2007 that aligned their service periods with that of the Regular Army—from 15 years to 22 years—and a raised recruitment level to compensate for some soldiers’ previous long periods of leave in Nepal. Gurkha personnel now serve on the same terms and conditions as the rest of the Army and are therefore eligible for the redundancy programme, like other personnel currently employed in areas of surplus.

I fully recognise the challenges for servicemen and women of transition to civilian life. My Department has worked hard throughout this programme to ensure that all those selected for redundancy receive not only an extensive redundancy package but comprehensive resettlement support to help them find work and settle into life outside the armed forces. The career transition partnership, which provides briefings, advice and guidance on such issues as housing and obtaining future employment, is highly successful in assisting service leavers to find work, and our latest figures indicate that approximately 90% of service leavers seeking employment find it within six months of leaving the armed forces—a better result than for the population in general.

To support service people leaving the armed forces still further, I can announce an additional measure today. Last year, we announced a new £200 million Forces Help to Buy scheme for service personnel. Ownership of a family home provides security and peace of mind and will help to smooth the transition to civilian life. I have therefore extended the scheme to allow personnel leaving in tranche 4 who do not own a home to apply for a loan in advance of their redundancy package to allow them to purchase a home during the period

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between notification of redundancy and the actual date on which they leave the armed forces and receive their lump sum redundancy payment.

As an organisation that is fed from the bottom up, the armed forces are always recruiting, and this must and will remain a priority. There is a constant need to replace with new talent those who are promoted or who complete their service. The armed forces require a constant flow of young, fit recruits to maintain the structure required. That is why a major multi-media Army recruiting campaign began earlier this month for both regular and reserve recruits, which we are confident will raise awareness of Army recruiting and provide the backdrop to a reinvigorated recruitment effort at all levels over the next couple of years to deliver the numbers required to man our future structures, both regular and reserve.

For the men and women of our armed forces, I know that this has been a painful process, but completion of this final tranche will mark a turning point. With the bulk of our troops back from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and coming back from Germany over the next four years, as we build Future Force 2020 they will be able to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from belonging to armed forces that have put a period of change and restructuring behind them and are focused on building their skills and capabilities for the future.

After a decade of unfunded promises and shortages of key equipment under the previous Government, our personnel will have certainty about the future size and shape of our armed forces, and confidence that they will have the kit, equipment and platforms they need. Just as important, the country can have confidence that its armed forces will not only be affordable and sustainable, but among the most battle-hardened, best-equipped and best-trained forces in the world, able to ensure that Britain remains safe and secure in the future. I commend this statement to the House.

11.46 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement and for early sight of it, which I appreciate.

Have we not come a long way since the Conservative party said before the last election that they would have a bigger Army for a safer Britain? What happened to, “Put simply, we need to have a larger Army and we need more infantry”? When did that change? It changed when the party entered government; it was a broken promise. There were more broken promises from them even in government. After his Government’s defence review, the Prime Minister said in 2010:

“we will retain a large, well-equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—7,000 fewer than today.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 799.]

Why did that change? Will the Secretary of State accept that this Government have let down the armed forces and their families?

No one underestimates the challenges of reconfiguring our armed forces and at the same time maintaining the British military’s reputation as the best in the world. Withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the presence in Germany means that there is, of course, a need for an appropriate reduction in personnel across all three armed forces. That is sensible and fair, and we support it. Is it not the case, however, that the Secretary of State is failing to approach this with the strategy required for

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the good of the country and the sensitivity required for the good of the individuals involved and their families? Let us not forget: this is about people.

The Secretary of State has simply not made a convincing case for further redundancies in the armed forces or for reducing capability at an even quicker rate. Does he accept that there are real concerns that by pressing ahead with these redundancies, the Government are taking risks with Britain’s safety and security? It was clear last year that the required uplift in the number of reserves—the 10,000 new recruits to replace the 30,000 regulars—was not happening at anywhere near the speed required. The Government hardly met a third of their own targets. We said then, as did Members from across the House, that the Government should pause their reductions in Army numbers until it was clear that their reserve recruitment was on track. That is still the case today.

On this specific round of redundancies, will the Defence Secretary tell us how many of them will be compulsory and from which regiments and squadrons the redundancies will be drawn? Does he not agree with me that this is a shocking way to repay the dedicated service that these people have given their country? Is he concerned about a loss of skills, particularly on pinch points, and what is he doing to address the problem? Will he confirm at least that no one will be made redundant in a way that affects their pension entitlement? Is it true that a small number of military personnel have been made redundant just days before they meet a service requirement for a pension to which they are entitled? If that is the case, it is not fair. Will the Secretary of State say more about the support he will give those who are leaving the service and making the transition to civilian life?

The Gurkhas are one of the finest fighting forces in the British Army. Does the Secretary of State accept that they have been affected disproportionately by cuts in the Army? In 2011, more than half the redundancies fell on the Gurkhas, and in the second tranche of redundancies in January 2012, when the rest of the infantry lost only 500 men, they lost 400. Does the Secretary of State think that that is fair? What does he think about the public perception that those redundancies are a result of the increased cost of the Gurkhas following their rightly successful campaign for better pay and conditions?

The sense that I have today is one of amazement. How does the Secretary of State do it? A recruitment campaign started last week amid great fanfare, but was followed a day later by the revelation of an IT crisis that had prevented people from signing up, and now by a parliamentary statement announcing redundancies. If the Secretary of State were a football referee, the crowd—and it would have to be a charitable crowd—would be chanting, “You don’t know what you’re doing”—and they would be right.

The Government are letting down our armed forces and their families, and taking risks with our country’s safety and security. The Secretary of State’s story is one of failure, on procurement, recruitment and redundancies. He is getting it wrong and he knows it, and today’s statement only reinforces that.

Mr Hammond: Dear oh dear! Let us start from the beginning. The hon. Gentleman trotted out some well-known lines that he has used before, and I shall respond to them as I have done before.

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The hon. Gentleman began by asking when the Government had changed their aspiration to have larger armed forces. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends can help me with that, but I would guess that it was at about the time when Labour was wrecking our economy, and we were recognising that we would have to recalibrate our ambitions in all sorts of areas in order to govern the country responsibly. We understand, above all else, that a strong defence of this country can be built only on a strong economy. We must first repair the damage that Labour has done to our economy and then repair the damage that it has done to our society, after which, hopefully, we shall in due course be able to afford to put more money into our armed forces as our economy and our public finances recover.

The hon. Gentleman said that we had let the armed forces down. I say that it is Labour, through its wrecking of our economy, that has let our armed forces down, as it has let the rest of the country down. As for the hon. Gentleman’s comments on this particular tranche of redundancies, what I hear from him is total confusion. He accepts the need for downsizing and restructuring of the Army, but says that we have not made the case for using the redundancy process to do that. He is talking nonsense. We have set out a structure for our armed forces in “Future Force 2020”. They will be smaller than they have been previously, but, crucially, they will have a different structure, relying on reserves, on civilian support and on contractors in some specialist areas. As a consequence, the redundancy process needs to address the structural imbalance in the Army, taking out areas of capability that we no longer need in our regular forces.

As the hon. Gentleman will understand if he listened to my statement, I cannot tell him in advance what percentage of the redundancies will be compulsory; that will depend on how many people volunteer. However, I have been very upfront with the House. As there will be a significant number of Gurkha redundancies and Gurkhas traditionally do not volunteer for redundancy, and as the fact that 100% of the numbers in some fields of redundancy will be made redundant, giving little incentive to volunteer, we expect the overall percentage of volunteers to be lower in this final round of redundancies than it has been in the past.

The hon. Gentleman made two points about fairness. First, he asked whether I thought it was fair that people approaching their immediate pension point—the point at which they can leave the Army and draw an immediate annual cash pension—should be eligible for redundancy. We have thought very carefully about this over the period of the redundancy programme. The truth is that wherever we draw the line there will be somebody just on the other side of it who feels hard done by, and understandably so, but we concluded that it would be unfair to take into account length of service—proximity to immediate pension point—as a criterion for redundancy and we have stuck to that position throughout all four tranches of redundancy. Given the nature of the fields we are looking at in this tranche, we expect the number of people potentially at risk of redundancy who are within a year of their immediate pension point to be very small compared with previous tranches.

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The hon. Gentleman asked about the Gurkhas and raised again the question of fairness. He asked explicitly whether the increased cost of Gurkha service was driving these redundancies. The answer is no, but it is the change in their terms and conditions. Previously Gurkhas served under different terms and conditions. The size and level of recruitment to the Brigade of Gurkhas was designed around 15 years of service. We now have to deal with the bulge caused by a change in the terms and conditions so that Gurkhas serve for 22 years. That is a structural challenge in the Brigade of Gurkhas. We have also seen a change to the terms and conditions of service, which no longer provide for Gurkhas to take long periods of leave to return home to Nepal. That was previously covered through an over-manning by about 370 individuals in the Brigade of Gurkhas, which allowed for those periods of extended leave at home that are no longer available now that the terms and conditions of service are standardised across the Army. So what we are seeing here is not an unfairness; we are seeing the consequences of a decision to apply fairly the terms and conditions of service to the Brigade of Gurkhas as they are applied to the rest of the Army.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend has said this is the final tranche; well, thank God for that. What commitment can he give that this is the very last of these unwelcome statements for many years to come?

Mr Hammond: I can tell my right hon. Friend that the resizing of the Army announced as an outcome of the strategic defence and security review 2010 will be achieved by the redundancies that have been announced over the last three tranches and the redundancies that will be announced in this tranche. This will deliver us the size of the armed forces we need for Future Force 2020. I cannot predict or predetermine the outcome of the next SDSR, which will take place after the general election in 2015.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): The Secretary of State recently confirmed in a written answer that we have deployed military personnel in a US base in Djibouti. Please will he tell me what their role is? Are they involved in the drones programme in Yemen, and will they be affected by this cuts announcement?

Mr Hammond: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that personnel deployed on overseas operations will not be affected by the redundancy announcement I have made today.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): While many will remain baffled at this Government’s priorities in increasing overseas aid by £2.5 billion this year and continuing to inflict these long-planned cuts on the Army, will my right hon. Friend nevertheless accept that had it not been for the fact that the Ministry of Defence was starved of its share of the increase in public expenditure under the last Government, the base from which we would have had to restructure the MOD under this Government would have been a jolly sight better than it has been?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend has a good point. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) lectures me from the Opposition Front Bench, but it is noticeable

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that during that long period after 2001 when there appeared to be no limit to the scale of public spending and no limit to the level of taxation and borrowing and spending that the then Government were prepared to engage in, the armed forces did not share in that cornucopia and the consequences are here for all of us to see today.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): The Conservative party continued to promise a larger Army even once the scale of the challenge facing our public finances and the country was known. Does he accept that that did a disservice to the British public and the armed forces on whom we rely?

Mr Hammond: I know that Opposition Members do not like this, but the truth is that we discovered a black hole in the finances of the Ministry of Defence that had to be dealt with if we were going to have sustainable armed forces in the future and eliminate our armed forces being asked to deploy without the equipment and protective personal equipment that they required to do so safely. We had to put that right. That has meant that some tough decisions have been made, but my understanding is that the Opposition accept the restructuring and resizing of our armed forces and that we have to have an Army of 82,000 going forward. If I am wrong about that, I should be happy to be corrected from the Front Bench and to have an explanation of how the Opposition propose to pay for a larger Army.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): When the withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete, the RAF will have only about four aeroplanes and a few hundred people deployed abroad, yet it retains 220 combat jets, 650 support aircraft and 36,000 men. It is not clear to me what these are for, given that there is no discernible air threat to the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend be a little less timid and have a close look at how military aircraft assets are held in this country and set about some vastly needed and urgent reform?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his suggestion. The balance between the different arms and the focus that we put on different parts of our defence infrastructure is quite properly reviewed in the strategic defence and security review process. I am glad, and I am sure he will be too, that we have now placed this on a firm quinquennial footing so that the issues can be reopened and re-examined regularly. It is quite proper to do so.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Is not the failure of the Army recruitment strategy the reason the redundancy numbers are smaller than originally envisaged?

Mr Hammond: We constantly look at all the levers—as the Army calls them—of manning. The levers are recruitment levels, voluntary outflow—people leaving the service before the last possible date—and redundancy, which is always the last resort. There is a constant rebalancing. We had already reduced intended recruiting numbers to minimise redundancy, but we cannot do the whole restructuring through the recruitment lever alone because in some areas we have to take personnel out of the structure in order to deliver Future Force 2020.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Some people suggest that there will not be much support for expeditionary warfare among the public again. In my experience, the public can be very fickle, especially when events and horrors happen. With this tranche of redundancies, we now have the smallest armed forces we have had for a long time. May I ask the Secretary of State to say what everyone in this House feels—that our armed forces will now be up to any challenge that they are asked to meet within their small numbers, and that our people should rest assured that they will do that extremely well when called on to do it?

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend observes that we shall have the smallest Army for a number of years when we have completed this restructuring, but we might also remind ourselves that we still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world and, on any fair and objective assessment, the second most capable expeditionary armed force capability in the world after the United States. The public can rest assured that our armed forces will do their duty and protect this country wherever, whenever and however called upon to do so.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. The UK Government have acknowledged that personnel reductions in Scotland have been disproportionate. The right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor confirmed that there would be cuts of 27.9% in Scotland, compared with 11.6% across the UK. Will the Secretary of State confirm that personnel numbers are at a record low in Scotland, at around 11,000? That is significantly lower than the level of 15,000 planned by the Scottish Government for after independence.

Mr Hammond: I was thinking about how to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, but he has just given me the solution. The Scottish Government’s so-called plans for the future Scottish defence force exist in cloud cuckoo land. Their numbers simply do not add up, and our analysis shows that they would require about 30% more than they are proposing to spend to deliver the full structure that they have outlined in their White Paper. I look forward to coming to Scotland in due course and deconstructing, yet again, the rubbish coming out of the Scottish National party.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm for my constituents that we still have a well-equipped, properly staffed and professionally led defence force that is capable of meeting present and future challenges and defending our nation?

Mr Hammond: Yes. Future Force 2020 will be able to deliver the outputs specified in the strategic defence and security review, in which we set out clearly what we expect our armed forces to do and how we expect them to work, frequently in partnership with allies. I am confident that they will be able to deliver those outputs for the benefit of our nation.

Mr David Crausby (Bolton North East) (Lab): What can the Secretary of State tell us about his longer-term recruitment plans for the Gurkhas, or is this just the beginning of the end for them?

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Mr Hammond: No, we maintain recruitment of Gurkhas, but we have to deal with the structural imbalance caused by the changes made in 2007. Once we have done that restructuring, the pattern of sustainment in the Brigade of Gurkhas will require continued recruiting as we move to a normal pattern of 22 years’ service for Gurkha servicemen.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Prime Minister’s approach to defence is the most complacent I have known in my lifetime. A few days ago, the former US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said:

“With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.”

Does the Secretary of State accept that assessment from someone who knows what he is talking about?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Prime Minister. I wonder whether he remembered the previous Prime Minister’s attitude to defence when he made that sweeping assertion. I have a great deal of respect for former Secretary Gates, but he has been out of office for a couple of years now. I also noted that, in the interview in question, he seemed distinctly vague about some of the details of our defence policy. He could not even quite remember what our position was on aircraft carriers, and it seemed to have completely passed him by that we were building the two largest ships in the Royal Navy’s history right now, not only to replace the carrier capability but hugely to enhance it. I absolutely reject his suggestion that we will not be able to be a worthy and preferred partner for the United States in the future. Just last week, I met the commander of the United States fifth fleet, who told me specifically that the Royal Navy was, and will remain, the fifth fleet’s partner of preference and that, in their joint operations in the Gulf, the dividing line between the Royal Navy and the fifth fleet was invisible. That is the way we want it to be, and that is the way we will ensure it remains.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State agree—he will not like this—that the great British public are not stupid and cannot be fooled and that we know, our allies know, our enemies know, our admirals know and our generals know that, today at the Dispatch Box, he has run up a flag that tells the world that we are no longer a serious world power? [Interruption.] That is the truth, and he cannot disguise that fact.

Mr Hammond: Well, I have heard some rubbish in my time. Although we might disagree, the hon. Gentleman could have tackled me on a range of issues about the impact of the changes that we have made in the structure and funding of our armed forces, but this final tranche of redundancy today—about 1,500 people across the armed forces—is not a big structural change and certainly does not warrant the accusation he has made.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the unpalatable and difficult decisions that he has had to take on manpower were an absolute requirement to enable us to fund the rebuilding of the fleet, which has always traditionally been, and should remain for a country that is an island dependent on trade, our No. 1 defence priority?

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Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend makes the good point that, as we look to the challenges of the future, we must be prepared to take difficult decisions to flex how we spend the budgets and resources that we have available. Even half a decade ago, no one was talking about investing in cyber-warfare. Now, it is the No. 1 issue on everyone’s agenda. As our defence budgets are not getting larger, to invest in this critical new area, we have to disinvest in other areas. That is the nature of the difficult challenges we face, and we will continue to take those difficult decisions in Britain’s best interests.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): Clearly, as we draw down the Regular Army, the plan is to increase our reservist capability. All the people in the Army Reserve whom I talk to say that we must still do more to persuade particularly small and medium-sized employers to support their employees serving as reservists. What more can the Government do to support them in releasing their people to serve?

Mr Hammond: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, and he is right: a big part of getting the reserve recruitment agenda right, and for that matter the reserve retention agenda right, is engagement with employers. Engagement with large employers, including public sector employers, is well advanced, but he is absolutely right to put his finger on the fact that engagement with smaller employers is, first, more difficult and, secondly, crucial to the success of this project. The Defence Reform Bill, which is in the other place, which I am not supposed to call the other place any more—currently, in the House of Lords—

Vernon Coaker: Where did that happen?

Mr Hammond: In the Procedure Committee, I believe. The Bill contains provisions that will allow us for the first time to pay bounties to small and medium employers when their reservist employees are mobilised. That is not perhaps a differentiator in itself, but it sends an important signal to small and medium employers that we recognise the cost burden that they take on when they allow a member of their staff to become a reservist.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): As the British Army rebalances its Regular-reservist ratio, will the Secretary of State confirm that, once the Defence Reform Bill becomes law, the large pool of reservists will be considered for all future operations on equal merits as the regulars and that the call-up process will be a lot simpler and without fear of financial loss to the reservists?

Mr Hammond: Well, there were a lot of multiple questions in there. First, I should like to make it clear that the restructuring of the Regular Army is predicated on a number of things. The growth of the reserves is one of them, but an increased use of civil support and contractors to provide some of the support functions is also an important part. Once we have built the reserve force to the level that we have set out by 2018, there will be certain areas where we use reservists routinely on operations because we only hold those capabilities in the reserve force. But of course, a core function of the reservists will always be to provide resilience and reinforcement for an enduring deployment of the nature of what we have been doing in Afghanistan.

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Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State not recognise the public’s disillusionment that the cost of being the fourth highest spender on defence in the world has been the loss of the lives of 626 British soldiers in two avoidable wars? Does not punching above our weight militarily always mean dying beyond our responsibilities?

Mr Hammond: I do not think the hon. Gentleman is doing a great service to the families and memories of our brave servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the two campaigns that he refers to. I do not think that many hon. Members or, indeed, many of the British public think that it is either right or in our interests to turn our backs on the world. We are an open nation and a trading nation that depends on the maintenance of the rules-based system of international law and trade. We should remain fully engaged in the future, and our armed forces are but one—a very important one—of the many levers that we have available to maintain our influence in the world.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The armed forces recognise, as does everyone else, what had to be done to clear up the mess that the last Labour Government left the country in, but they want, as we all do, some stability and certainty in their lives, so will my right hon. Friend reiterate and make it clear to the House that, once this last tranche of redundancies has been completed, that is it—this is the final tranche—so that everyone in the armed forces knows that they have some stability and certainty?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and that is exactly what I want to convey today. This has been a difficult time: a period of uncertainty and change, and no one likes uncertainty or change. The armed forces will now be able to concentrate on the future and on building the skills and capabilities that we have set out for Future Force 2020, knowing that we have completed the draw-down in size and the major restructuring that we have undertaken. That provides a very robust base to build for the future, with armed forces that will remain one of the most experienced combat-hardened and capable armed forces in the world.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State clarify whether personnel who are serving on operations will be accepted or refused if they apply for redundancy?

Mr Hammond: I am happy to clarify that for the hon. Lady. Personnel who are serving on operations are, of course, eligible to apply for redundancy if they wish to do so, but if they are serving on operations at any point between now and the announcement date on 12 June, they will not be eligible for compulsory redundancy. So if they do not volunteer, they will be exempt from redundancy.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the reinvigorated recruitment effort that he told the House about? In particular, will he be open to different methods, so that we can see more of what works?

Mr Hammond: As my hon. Friend might well imagine, Ministers and senior officials are vigorously examining different approaches that have been tried in different

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areas and different parts of the country to see what works best. What is clear to me is that, as I said in the House last week, we must focus back on using front-line reserve units as the principal tool of recruitment to the reserve. We can support that with national campaigns and a nationally managed IT platform, but we must rely on front-line reservists recruiting their fellow reservists. Everything that I have seen reinforces that, and it will be one of the driving requirements in how we manage this campaign.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): May I clarify that the Secretary of State is promising the House that RAF redundancies will be confined to a maximum of 70 medical and dental officers and nurses?

Mr Hammond: I can confirm that.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The plan to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists is beset with problems, including more than £50 million wasted on a botched IT system, missed recruitment targets, cancelled reserve courses and a widening capability gap. Given that the previous Secretary of State recently confirmed in this House that the original plan was to hold the regulars in place until the reservists were able to take their place, can this Secretary of State inform the House why and when that plan changed?

Mr Hammond: First, my hon. Friend continually asserts, and I continually rebut, the idea that we are trying to replace 20,000 regular soldiers with 30,000 reservists— that is not what we are doing. We are restructuring the regular force; the regular force will be smaller. We will use civilians in a different way from how we have used them in the past. We will use contractors more effectively, learning the lessons, particularly from the US experience of using contractors to support combat operations. We will also use reservists, but it is simply wrong for him to suggest that this is a straightforward swap of 20,000 regulars replaced by 30,000 reservists. That is not how it works.

My hon. Friend knows very well the answer to the second part of his question: there is not the budgetary capacity to maintain the Regular Army at 102,000 while building the reserve to 30,000 by 2018. That simply cannot be done without imposing new and unwanted cuts elsewhere.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say about individuals being made redundant just before their immediate pension point. What he failed to say, of course, was that for some long-serving officers this loss can amount to tens of thousands of pounds in forgone pension payments. Does he really believe that that scale of loss is consistent with the spirit of the military covenant?

Mr Hammond: Let me just be clear about what we are talking about, as although the hon. Lady may understand this, perhaps not all hon. Members do. When people reach their immediate pension point they can leave the Army, notwithstanding the fact that they may be only in their 40s, and take an immediate pension. When somebody is close to, but has not reached, their immediate pension point when they leave the Army through a redundancy, they receive an enhanced lump sum

23 Jan 2014 : Column 473

redundancy package to reflect that fact and they still, of course, retain their pension rights when they reach their pensionable age of 60 or 65, depending on what pension scheme they are in. We have looked at the alternatives and concluded that all of them would deliver at least as much unfairness to other groups, and that this is the fairest and most appropriate way to proceed.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We were told, understandably, that the armed forces had to take their share of pain through the time of recession. Surely, by the same coin, as the economy is growing they can take their share of the gain. If the reserve recruitment programme does not go as well as we all hope it will go, can we at least keep the door open—I am not asking for a commitment now—to once again recruiting more for the Regular Army in the future and increasing it to meet our commitments as they arise?

Mr Hammond: I can say two things on that to my hon. Friend. First, unfortunately, the scale of the damage to our public finances is such that, as the Chancellor set out a couple of weeks ago, although the economy may be recovering, we have not yet dealt with the structural deficit we inherited from the Labour party, and it will take some years yet to correct the fiscal imbalances that we face in this country. However, he is right to say that we should never say never, and one of the key drivers in our restructuring of the Army is to ensure that we retain a capability to regenerate force, so that if at some future point our public priorities change or external circumstances force us to change them, we will have the capability within our armed forces to expand again and regenerate that capability.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): How many Gurkhas will lose their jobs? What percentage of such redundancies will be voluntary?

Mr Hammond: I can tell the hon. Lady that the expected number of redundancies in the Gurkha areas are: 71 in the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment; 28 in the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers; 246 in the Royal Gurkha Rifles; and nine among Gurkha staff and personnel support functions. On voluntary versus compulsory redundancy, all I can tell her is that historically the uptake of voluntary redundancy by Gurkhas has been very, very low. Therefore, on a pessimistic projection, I have to assume that the majority of those redundancies will be compulsory.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): My right hon. Friend has already confirmed that the UK has the fourth largest defence budget in the world. Will he also confirm that the UK, along with the United States and, ironically, Greece, is one of only three of the 28 NATO members to be achieving the 2% of GDP level on defence expenditure?

Mr Hammond: I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend, as my colleague the Estonian Defence Minister would never forgive me for not mentioning this, that Estonia has joined the elite band of countries that meet the 2% of GDP defence spending target. Just four countries in NATO meet that target.

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Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I am sure that members of the RAF will feel the shock that I felt at the announcement that 70 medical and dental officers and nurses are to be made redundant. In evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, those were identified as “pinch trades” in some aspects of the armed forces. The Secretary of State has talked about the ability for people to retrain. Will he say something about the support given for people to leave one branch of the armed forces and move into another branch, where there may well be vacancies they can fill?

Mr Hammond: First, I reassure the hon. Lady that nobody will be made redundant in a pinch-point trade; these redundancies are happening only in areas where we are carrying surpluses. As a result of restructuring, a change in the way we deliver the service means that the posts of 16 RAF dental officers, nine RAF dental nurses and five RAF dental technicians are no longer required. She is right to raise the issue of retraining, and I recall that she raised it in respect of previous tranches of redundancy. We have put in a lot of effort in this tranche to make sure that we put even more emphasis behind the opportunities for retraining. Where people have the skills and the willingness to retrain, they will be fully supported through the chain of command to retrain and redeploy within the armed forces. We have no wish or ability to lose talent and skills that we have, so long as we can deploy them in a way that is usable within the new structure that we are putting together.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What impact will this announcement have on Devonport-based ships and the Royal Marines based in my constituency? Will he ensure that we can recruit more doctors and dentists, bearing in mind that we have one of the finest medical schools in the country?

Mr Hammond: As I have been at pains to point out, the fact that we are making people redundant in certain areas does not always mean that we will not be continuing to recruit in those areas. The armed forces are bottom-fed organisations, and we have to get the correct rank structure within each of the specialisms. My hon. Friend will have heard me say that the maximum number of Royal Navy redundancies will be 10, all of which will be in the medical and dental field. I expect the impact on the Royal Navy to be very limited. We will, however, have smaller medical and dental services in the future, to reflect the way in which we provide those services to our armed forces in peacetime.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the scale of the financial challenge faced by the MOD in 2010 compared with that in other nations? Will he also tell the House what steps are being taken to ensure that we do not face such challenges again?

Mr Hammond: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I know that Opposition Members do not like it being said that we inherited a £38 billion black hole in the defence budget. We have dealt with that and we have put in place a balanced equipment plan that is fully funded with a contingency of £4.5 billion in it. More importantly, we have put in place mechanisms to ensure that projects do not get signed off willy-nilly by politicians

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when the resources are not in place to pay for them. That ensures that we have a coherent defence budget and that we never again find ourselves in the position of the former Labour Defence Secretary Lord Hutton who, for the want of £300 million over two years, was forced to delay the aircraft carrier project and drive £1.6 billion of additional costs into that programme. We will not get ourselves into that position.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Some of my constituents have been alarmed by recent reports of unfilled vacancies in key roles such as intelligence officers, radiologists and electronic warfare system operators. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the announcement today will take account of the need to maintain all capabilities and avoid expensive short-term replacements from outside the armed services?

Mr Hammond: As I said in an earlier reply, we will not be making any redundancies in those pinch-point fields. We face, across the armed forces, a number of areas in which we directly compete with very highly paid civilian occupations. I am talking about engineering of all types—nuclear, aircraft and airworthiness speciality skills. In those areas, it is a constant challenge to recruit and retain staff, but those are challenges that the single services manage extraordinarily effectively in the circumstances.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): How many of those currently working at the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, many of whom are constituents of mine, will be affected by this programme? Will the Defence Secretary confirm that all those made redundant will receive a generous compensation package and help with housing and new jobs? We need to work closely with counties such as Gloucestershire, which have signed the military covenant, and to emphasise to the young of our county and my city that there are still real opportunities to join the Army and learn skills, for example as bricklayers and electricians.

Mr Hammond: Those opportunities do indeed remain, and the purpose of the current marketing campaign is to emphasise to people that all areas of the military—the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Marines—are

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recruiting and open for business. However, we are conscious that the inevitability of a redundancy programme sends out a somewhat mixed message. I can also confirm that military redundees receive generous compensation packages. I have announced today help with housing purchase, and there is an excellent programme in place for supporting people to acquire the skills they need for dealing with the civilian world, including employment search. I am confident that we have done everything we can to make the transition from military to civilian life as smooth as possible for those who will be affected by the programme.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): A question has been raised about the armed forces covenant. Will the Secretary of State clarify and confirm that it was brought about by this Government in 2011, helping armed forces personnel and their families. Will he also clarify whether, following the post-2014 restructuring that will take place after Afghanistan, the United Kingdom will retain all its Reaper drones, and whether those drones will play a part in our long-term strategy?

Mr Hammond: I can confirm that it is this Government who have enshrined the armed forces covenant in law and have very positively driven the armed forces covenant programme since that time, creating the community covenant and the corporate covenant, which now play an important part in the overall programme. My hon. Friend also asked me about Reaper drones post-Afghanistan, stretching the statement on redundancy to its maximum limit. None the less, I say to him that we expect unmanned aerial vehicles to form a permanent and significant part of our future aerial capability.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If 18 medical and dental posts are to be lost from the RAF and the Royal Navy, what efforts are being made, and what incentives are being provided, to ensure that such experienced and dedicated personnel find new careers in the NHS where their skills are badly needed?

Mr Hammond: Such people are inherently employable. Almost all of them will be absorbed pretty much immediately into the NHS. The priority challenge for us is to ensure that as they make that transition into the NHS, they join the reserves to continue playing a part in delivering Britain’s military capability.

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Points of Order

12.36 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I ask the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] May I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. If the hon. Gentleman is making a point of order, it has to be just that. It cannot be a question to a Minister, and I cannot answer questions on behalf of the Minister.

Vernon Coaker: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it not have been appropriate for the Secretary of State to make available to the House before the statement a document that broke down some of the numbers relating to the redundancies? For example, he referred to it in answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) about the Gurkha regiments.

Madam Deputy Speaker: If the Secretary of State has an answer to that question as it concerns the workings of the House, I will ask him to comment.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether it would be in order, but if you say that it is, I will happily place in the Library of the House a document that shows the fields. This document will have been circulated in the Army today and it will become publicly available, but I am happy to put it in the Library of the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is certainly in order for the Secretary of State and his Ministers to give information to Members of this House. I am grateful to him for reacting so quickly to a request to do so.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence confirm that what he proposes to put in the Library—I hope it will be today—is the announcement of the specialist areas from which the armed forces will select personnel to be made redundant, to which he referred in his statement? Will he confirm whether that is what he is proposing to put in the Library? I wonder whether that will give us an understanding of the geographic breakdown across the country.

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows that it is inappropriate and out of order now to carry on the arguments rehearsed during the statement. However, if the Secretary of State would like to give further information on a point of order about information to Members of this House, I will allow him so to do.

Mr Hammond: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be interested to know that the document I intend to place in the Library will set out the fields and the numbers against each field. However, unless my hon. Friend is a very credible detective, I doubt that he will be able to determine much about the geographical distribution of those redundancies.

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Madam Deputy Speaker: I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful provision of information.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier today, I asked a flooding-related question of the Leader of the House. My husband has a direct interest in and is on the register of the Fire Protection Association, which is a not-for-profit organisation. As the fire service is the common thread there, it is probably appropriate that I make a reference to an indirect interest.

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is indeed appropriate, and I thank the hon. Lady for setting the record straight so quickly.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you are an avid reader of the Daily Mirror and will therefore have seen the story this morning about the rusting Russian cruise hulk that is apparently drifting towards the United Kingdom and is populated by cannibal rats. Has the Department for Transport or the Home Office said whether a Minister will be coming to the House to update us on what on earth is going on?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I will not enlighten the House about the number of times a week I read the Daily Mirror, but although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity in bringing this clearly important and worrying story to the attention of Members and of Ministers—[Interruption.] Order. I have at this stage had no indication that any Minister intends to come to the House to make a statement. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns will have been heard and taken on board by those on the Government Front Bench.

Bills Presented

Consumer Rights Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Vince Cable, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Pickles and Jenny Willott, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the rights of consumers and protection of their interests; to make provision about investigatory powers for enforcing the regulation of traders; to make provision about private actions in competition law; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 161) with explanatory notes (Bill 161-EN).

Deregulation Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Oliver Letwin, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Chris Grayling, Secretary Michael Gove, Mr Secretary Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mr Secretary Davey, Mr Secretary McLoughlin, Secretary Maria Miller, Mr Kenneth Clarke and Michael Fallon, presented a Bill to make provision for the reduction of burdens resulting from legislation for businesses or other organisations or for individuals; to make provision for the repeal of legislation which no longer has practical use; to make provision about the exercise of regulatory functions; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 162) with explanatory notes (Bill 162-EN).

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Backbench Business

Shrewsbury 24 (Release of Papers)

12.41 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House is seriously concerned at the decision of the Government to refuse to release papers related to the building dispute in 1972 and subsequent prosecutions of the workers known as the Shrewsbury 24 and calls on it to reverse this position as a matter of urgency.

The debate is long overdue but I urge colleagues not to intervene unless they feel they have to, because there are a number of Members who wish to speak and time will obviously be limited.

Nineteen seventy-two was a momentous year for industrial relations in this country. A weak Government had twice declared states of emergency, first in February during the first miners’ strike for almost half a century, and secondly in August during the national dockworkers’ strike. Matters were made worse by the Government’s attempts to prevent unions from defending their members’ rights, wages and conditions at work. It was clear that of all the work forces in the United Kingdom, the building industry was a bigger mess than all the rest put together. Wages were low, there was no job security and exploitation was rife through a system known as “the lump.”

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Anderson: Quickly.

Jim McGovern: As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, of which I am a member, has conducted an inquiry into blacklisting. Would it be fair to say that the Shrewsbury 24 would most certainly have been blacklisted after the strike in 1972?

Mr Anderson: I thank and forgive my hon. Friend for his intervention. There is absolutely no doubt about it: people were blacklisted. One real sadness about what we are discussing today is that 40 years on from that disgrace, similar things are still taking place. The Scottish Affairs Committee should be congratulated on the great work it has done in this area.

The lump was a system whereby people were paid cash in hand, meaning not only that no income tax or national insurance contributions were paid—so the state was robbed—but, vitally, that workers were uninsured against accidents or worse while they were at work. That was extremely serious. A building worker was dying every day on average on building sites across the UK and, in the three years before 1972, almost a quarter of a million industrial injuries were reported, with many more not being reported.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Anderson: In exasperation, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

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Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I hope that his debate will be balanced. He talks about the need to protect people’s rights and about violence, so I very much hope that in preparation for the debate he spoke, as I have, to some of the police officers in Shrewsbury and some of the people in the building trade who experienced great violence and intimidation from those people at that time.

Mr Anderson: I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman listens to what I have to say, he will realise what went on in Shrewsbury, including evidence from the police—

Daniel Kawczynski: Has he spoken to the people there?

Mr Anderson: I will run the debate; the hon. Gentleman should just sit there and listen.

In 1972, the unions, exasperated at the failure to achieve progress, called the first and so far only national building strike ever held. Four months later, the strike was called off after the unions forced their employers to concede the biggest increase in basic pay rates ever. It was a victory for the working man, but a bitter blow for the employers, who were determined on revenge. They were not alone. The Tory Government were rattled by the success of one of the least well-organised groups of workers in this country and were determined to help their friends in the building industry.

To pursue that revenge the employers’ body, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, went on what can only be described as a fishing expedition. It wrote to its members on 20 September 1972, two weeks after the strike ended, seeking any information related to possible violence and intimidation during the strike. The clear intention of the federation was to pass the dossier on to the Home Secretary for his consideration so that he could tighten up the law on picketing in industrial disputes. The federation specifically asked its members for information on any incidents available to them, including signed statements from any eye-witnesses; copies of any photographs from local newspaper photographers of, as the federation said, “the more notorious occurrences” that would give strong support to the submissions; and any other kind of suitable evidence that members might have come across, such as tape recordings and personal photographs.

It was not just the members of the federation who were being written to. In a letter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Robert McAlpine complained that there was no problem with the law governing pickets and their activities, but that the problem was rather down to

“the lack of enforcement of the law by the police”.

That was a clear shot across the bows of the people who had the responsibility of ensuring that the law was adhered to on the ground. The police, in whom we put our faith to ensure that the law is upheld properly, were being told by an employer that they had not done their job properly.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr Anderson: Yes, but will my hon. Friend please be quick?

Mr Cunningham: I will be as quick as I can. It is not only in the building trade that blacklisting has gone on since the ’70s; it has gone on in other industries. We have recently had debates about that. More importantly, the Tories have not changed. Look at the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, because that tells us a lot. They want to make the law worse for working people.

Mr Anderson: My hon. Friend is right. Some things, sadly, never change.

When the dossier was completed in October 1972, it was passed on to the then Home Secretary, Robert Carr, who immediately instructed the chief constables of West Mercia and Gwynedd to investigate events in one particular part of the country—that is, the area in and around north Wales. He obviously wanted to pursue the agenda laid out by the employers in the dossier despite reports such as those in the Financial Times—hardly the workers’ friend—that said:

“This document is itself flawed since it suggests the existence of a sinister plot without being able to substantiate the allegations.”

Those involved who are in the House to listen to the debate today believe that the Home Secretary gave the job to the police so that they would put bones on the case that the employers were trying to make.

Why was that important? If it could be shown that the activities of the pickets were deliberately planned to intimidate, the charges laid against them could be much more serious than those for the argy-bargy that was the norm on picket lines. In particular, if conspiracy could be proven, the potential to lock up some of the leaders of the dispute for a very long time became a reality.

The choice of north Wales as the focus for police action was not an accident. Despite evidence of much more aggressive activity in other parts of the country, the Home Secretary deliberately focused on north Wales. That might be purely coincidental, but I can assure the House that no one involved in the campaign believes that to be so. North Wales was a part of the world where the McAlpine family had a huge amount of political influence. They were not only influential players in the Tory party but one of the biggest developers in the building industry, including at the site in Brookside in Shrewsbury that was the epicentre of the case against the pickets. In addition—again, this may be purely coincidental, but I doubt it—the high sheriff of Denbighshire, the man responsible for law and order in the area, just happened to be the ninth member of the McAlpine family in succession to have held that post.

As the police investigation gained momentum, 31 pickets were arrested on 14 November—two months after the end of the dispute. The men were released without charge, but three months later, on Valentine’s day 1974, 24 of them were rearrested. A barrage of charges— 242 in total—were levelled at these men, all of whom were charged with intimidation. Much more seriously, the first six to go on trial were charged with conspiracy to intimidate contrary to common law. This was the charge that the employers’ body wanted to see, because it gave the establishment the chance to send pickets to jail for long periods. The intent was clear—lock these people up and the rest of the trade union movement will know that legitimate trade union activity, including picketing, could now be treated as a criminal act.

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So how did these workers become embroiled in this legal minefield? On 31 August, a joint meeting of members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and the Transport and General Workers Union was held in The Ball and Stirrup pub in Chester. At the meeting, which was the first time many of those present had met each other, a request was read out from union members in the Shropshire area seeking support from other comrades throughout the north-west to successfully prosecute their case in their area. The meeting agreed that a group of pickets would travel down to Oswestry on 6 September to meet local activists and then decide which locations to picket.

That meeting is crucial to the issue. Anyone who has ever been involved in picketing, and looking round this room, I see a number of people who have been, knows that, especially when you are going outside your own area, you have to plan properly—basic stuff including where people are going to be picked up, when they can expect to get home, and where they are likely to be throughout the day. You also need to ensure that anybody going picketing is aware of the need to behave properly at all times and give them clear information in case there are problems. The meeting was simply a planning meeting, but crucially, when the case went to court, it was classed as a meeting to conspire to intimidate workers on the ground. No evidence was ever laid to substantiate that claim, but it was the crux of the case and it was what led to imprisonment.

The prosecution were so intent on getting jail sentences imposed that they even charged a person with conspiracy who was not present at the planning meeting. John McKinsie Jones had been collecting union subs in the downstairs bar of the pub, and he left before the planning meeting even began. He was nowhere near the meeting, yet amazingly he ended up being sentenced to nine months in jail for conspiracy to intimidate. How on earth can someone be part of a conspiracy when they are not even at the meeting where it is discussed?

It is interesting to compare what happened to the pickets who were charged with 242 offences between them and those at other courts who had been involved in similar activities. Earlier in the year, two trials were held in Mold. At the first trial, only minor charges were upheld by the jury and the maximum fine was £50. At the second trial, the jury found all defendants not guilty of anything. One of the main reasons for this was that in Mold, prior to the jury being selected, the lawyers for the defendants exercised their long-held right to challenge potential jurors. As was the right of the defence laywers, they were looking for people who might have connections with the building industry or might be hostile to trade unions. As a result of the cross-examination, a number of prospective jurors were excluded from the jury.

However—again, forgive my scepticism—after those trials, but before the Shrewsbury ones began, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, another part of the Tory hierarchy, unilaterally banished the right of lawyers to challenge jurors. This was done without warning and contrary to decades of practice, and without any prior consultation with the legal system or other interested parties. In order to try to get a fair trial despite these clearly deliberately motivated changes to the legal process, the defendants’ lawyers requested that the trial of those charged in relation to picketing in Shrewsbury be held in Mold or be moved to an area of the country that was

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more neutral than Shrewsbury would have been. The judge flatly turned down that request and set 3 October 1973 as the date for the first hearing.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Mais, was a surprise choice for such a high-profile, politically charged case. He had little, if any, experience in cases of this magnitude, or in criminal cases at all; his expertise was mainly in rural and ecclesiastical matters. His behaviour throughout the case led many to question his capability and impartiality. A number of issues gave rise to this concern. For example, when the jury were called to bring in the verdict, they were unable to come to a majority decision—they were tied at eight to four. The judge asked them to keep going but they said, “We’re too tired to go on today—we need to have a break.” So he agreed to give them a break and let them stop in a hotel overnight, but he closed by saying:

“You should go to the accommodation prepared for you…and I suggest that you continue your deliberations there.”

That was an extraordinary thing to suggest. The only place where a jury should consider any case is in the jury room and nowhere else, be it a hotel or anywhere else.

If that were the judge’s only error, it would still be wrong, but throughout the trial his behaviour was, to say the least, questionable. The campaigners provided me and other Members of this House with reports from David Altaras, a junior barrister who defended Ricky Tomlinson at the first trial. In 2012, he gave a statement in which he said:

“Given the fact that I regularly adjudicate criminal trials myself I have no hesitation in saying that, during the trial, the Judge’s conduct towards the defence frequently crossed the line between permissible and impermissible behaviour and amounted to a display of obvious hostility towards the defendants. He took particular exception to John Platt-Mills who represented Des Warren and to Des Warren himself. I vividly recall an occasion when Mr Platt-Mills was cross-examining a witness (probably a police officer) and the Judge took off his wig and threw it on the bench in irritation. I recall occasions when he threw his pen down and turned to face the wall when either a defendant was giving evidence or the defence were adducing evidence in cross-examination. In addition, I can remember his rather rude interruptions during cross-examination.”

He went on:

“During the Judge’s various outbursts, I remember members of the jury nudging one another. My own view at the time, a view shared by other members of the Defence team with whom I discussed the Judge’s behaviour, was that the jury (a) could have been in no doubt where the judge’s sympathy lay and (b) could have absolutely no doubt that he loathed Mr Platt-Mills.”

So we had a court case where the legal system had been changed to deny jury challenges, that was held in an area where the defendant’s legal team were genuinely concerned about the lack of neutrality and was presided over by a judge whose inexperience was matched only by his partiality.

But it gets even worse. The campaign team’s researcher, Eileen Turnbull, has trawled through documentation that is in the archives at Kew. She has uncovered a letter dated 25 January 1973 from the then Attorney-General, Peter Rawlinson, to the then Home Secretary, Robert Carr, in which he advised the Home Secretary that in his view, having discussed the case with Treasury Counsel and the Director of Public Prosecutions, these

“proceedings should not be instituted.”

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That was the highest legal advice in the land. We remember how, in the previous Parliament, my party was, quite rightly, lectured by then Opposition Members about the failure of Tony Blair to listen to the Attorney-General in relation to the Iraq war. In this instance, the same authority advised the Home Secretary not to pursue the case. The Home Secretary ignored him, and we have to ask why. The people who went to jail are clear about the reason. They have no doubt that the pressure from the building industry, particularly from a man who would soon be appointed as deputy treasurer and chief fundraiser to the Tory party, was overwhelmingly more important than the views of the people entrusted with advising on legal issues at the highest level.

We must remember that this pressure had been felt by the police at the highest level, with the result that in the autumn of 1972 they set up a huge fishing expedition. A team of detectives were billeted in north Wales and 800 statements were taken, of which 600 were discarded. This was despite the fact that on the day in question—6 September 1972—not only were no arrests made, but the police actually congratulated the leaders of the pickets on the disciplined way in which they conducted their activities. We must also remember that this was all done at the behest of the building employers’ federation.

Another issue of grave concern was the decision during the trial to allow an inflammatory television programme to be aired on the very night of the prosecution’s summing up. Under the title, “Red under the Bed”, the programme was an attack on this country’s left-wing political parties and trade union activity. It specifically referred to the ongoing trial. The day after it was aired, Judge Mais dismissed the defence’s attempts to have the TV company charged with contempt. Indeed, he criticised the defence for having the temerity to raise the matter. What is of even greater concern is that the papers that have already been released show that the then Government, right up to the then Prime Minister, were involved in assisting the programme to be produced.

There is clear evidence in the paperwork already in the public domain that a special unit was set up in Government to undermine legitimate trade union activity and to paint left-wing political activity and parties as subversive, despite their legitimate right to agitate in a modern democracy. That was all being done behind closed doors and it would never have been exposed without the determination of those who still seek justice today.

These men went to jail as a direct result of the onslaught of the establishment over a prolonged period, which was clearly designed to deter the wider labour movement from using industrial action to pursue its legitimate claims. Des Warren was given a three-year jail sentence and Ricky Tomlinson a two-year sentence, and John McKinsie Jones—the man who was not even present at the so-called conspiracy meeting—went to jail for nine months. Other men received suspended jail sentences. At the second trial, three more pickets—Brian Williams, Arthur Murray and Mike Pierce—were given jail sentences. At this and the subsequent third trial, others were also given suspended jail sentences.

These men and those who have been campaigning for more than four decades contend that they went to jail and got criminal records as a direct result of direct political interference in this country’s political and judicial systems by very strong personalities who pressurised

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politicians, senior police and members of the judiciary to take part in a witch hunt and to send out a clear message of intent that people involved in industrial disputes would face exceedingly serious consequences.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I am listening intently to the worrying case being made by the hon. Gentleman. Is he able to enlighten me on whether there was a financial link between the employers and the party then in government? In other words, were the employers funding that political party?

Mr Anderson: I cannot say for certain that that was the case, but it is clear that one of the main protagonists was Mr McAlpine, who became the deputy treasurer of the Conservative party within a matter of months after the trial ended and who was also one of the party’s chief fundraisers for decades.

The ongoing refusal to release all the documentation related to this case only hardens the suspicions of those involved. The morass of papers already in the public domain show clear evidence of the pattern of pressure that was applied in order to get the results the employers wanted. Today we have a chance to set in train the process that should lead those in power to come to a view that it is in the real public interest and, clearly, a matter of natural justice that the remaining papers be released. Only then will we really be able to see just how far the tentacles of big business spread into the public realm. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for the failures of the state in the past. Today, collectively, we can start to address those failings.

1.3 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): It is very interesting to see no fewer than 34 Labour Members present.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): And trade unionists.

Sir Gerald Howarth: And trade unionists; I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. It is quite clear that old Labour is still alive and well and, in some respects, seeking both to justify and to romanticise mob rule and violence and intimidation.

Mr Campbell: You have not been listening.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Not only have I been listening, but I was party to the public debate at the time, for I had a letter published in The Times on 14 January 1975, when I was director of Freedom Under Law, calling on the then Home Secretary to allow the law to be upheld and for the jail sentences of Tomlinson and Warren to be maintained, so I have an interest in the matter.

It is important for Labour Members to realise that if they wish to secure the support of the British people at the next election, they need to make it clear that they renounce the kind of practices that prevailed in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Howarth: No, I am not going to give way at the moment. It is very important that people should understand the conditions that applied at the time. People who were going about their ordinary activities were subjected to intimidation. I became the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood in 1983 and I saw constituents of mine who were trying to go to work in Littleton colliery having bags of urine thrown at them by striking miners from south Wales.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Howarth: No, I will not give way. This was in the day of the flying pickets. These people would go around the country supporting trade unions that were engaged in that kind of intimidation, even though they themselves had absolutely nothing to do with the strike or industry in question.

The statistics make interesting reading, because it was at this time after the second world war that Britain was going substantially down the tubes. Successive Conservative Governments had failed not only to turn back but to arrest the ratchet of socialism that had driven through this country in the immediate post-war years. [Interruption.] I see that that has huge support on the Opposition Benches.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is a Labour Member for whom I have an immense amount of time. He was a very good Transport Minister and it would give me enormous pleasure to give way to him.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will forgive me if I disagree with pretty much everything he has said so far, even though we do agree on certain aspects of life in politics. The motion calls for the publication of papers. It does not call for anybody to make judgments for and against; it asks for the papers to be published so that the public can make a judgment call. Some of us believe that those papers will show certain things and, obviously, Conservative colleagues think they might show something else, but surely we can agree on transparency in politics and the publication of documents.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I am slightly relieved to hear that he does not agree with what I have said, because that makes my life easier and it probably makes his life easier as well. I will not resile from my personal affection for the hon. Gentleman and I will address his point.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) was on his feet for about half an hour, during which he talked about the circumstances that prevailed at the time. We heard about the way in which the workers were being ground down by the employers and, of course, every possible opportunity was taken to associate those employers not only with the Conservative party, but with its fundraising efforts. It is important that there is a

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public understanding of the conditions that prevailed at the time and how it came about that these men were jailed.

I want to draw attention to the record of days lost to industrial action at the time. In 1970, when Ted Heath became Prime Minister, nearly 11 million days were lost. In 1971, the number of days lost was 13.5 million; in 1972—the year in question—it was nearly 24 million; in 1973 it was 7 million; and in 1974 it was 14.75 million. That illustrates just what was going on in the country at the time. [Interruption.] There was indeed a Tory Government. There was also a concerted effort by the trade union leaders, whom Margaret Thatcher described in her book as being first, second and third socialist politicians. They were not trade union leaders and they were not looking after the interests of their members. They were in pursuit of a political objective, which was to support the socialist party under the guise of the Labour party at the time. That is what they were trying to do. The Conservative Government at the time did not have a majority and, I submit, probably did not have the conviction to roll back socialism and tackle the trade union reform that was necessary, which was of course addressed by Margaret Thatcher and the 1979 Government.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I invite the hon. Gentleman to respond to the question put to him about the motion. I do not want to hear a re-enactment of the events of 40 years ago. The general public are entitled to see the papers relating to what happened then. Does he agree that the papers should be published so that both sides can see exactly what happened 40 years ago?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I told the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is a friend, that I would address that point, and that I would do so in my own time, not in his. The Liberals, typically, are sitting on the fence. I forgive my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). It is absolutely right and proper, and important—[Interruption.] I know that we are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but there we go.

Britain was the sick man of Europe in the 1970s. One reason for that was the kind of trade union activities that were going on. The hon. Member for Blaydon has given his romanticised version of what went on, and I am absolutely determined to put an alternative case, and I hope that I am in order to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. That alternative case will not be uttered by any Opposition Members. I suspect that the only other person to do so will be my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who of course has a vested interest in his constituency. [Interruption.] I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon, and I will indeed continue.

I have set out the pattern of industrial action that was destroying Britain, and of which the country was absolutely fed up. An opinion poll in The Times in January 1980 said that 71% of the people surveyed about the kind of measures that the Thatcher Government were introducing —to restrain secondary picketing and intimidation—wanted those measures to be taken, as, interestingly, did 62% of trade unionists. One of the successes of the Thatcher period was to restore trade unions back to their members,

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taking them out of the hands of their politically motivated leaders. We were acting very much in line with the spirit of the British people.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): This history lesson is very interesting from the hon. Gentleman’s point of view, but for the third time, will he give us a straightforward answer: does he believe that the papers should be published—yes or no?

Sir Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman, who is also a friend, will have to be patient. I will deal with that point in my own time. [Hon. Members: “When?”] In my own time.

Secondary picketing was eventually outlawed in 1984, during the Parliament in which I first served in this House. Much has been said about the cases of Warren and Tomlinson, but it is very important to put some of the facts on the record. To quote from my letter in The Times of 14 January 1975:

“It is worth reminding them”—

those who took the same line as the hon. Member for Blaydon—

“of the words of Mr Justice Mais, the trial judge, in passing sentence on December 20, 1973. Of one of those jailed, he said: ‘You took part in violence and encouraged violence… You are prepared to impose your views on others by violence if need be.’”—

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On three occasions, the hon. Gentleman has been asked to clarify his position and to address the motion. He is not in any way discussing the motion. Will you perhaps advise me? Time is moving on and many hon. Members wish to speak, but he is clearly filibustering to waste time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it is not possible for a Member of the House to filibuster while I am listening carefully to what is said and making sure that it is relevant to the matter before us. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) has explained that he is coming to the main point of his argument. I have allowed him to develop his argument, as is perfectly in order, but he is an experienced parliamentarian and will know that he must come to the very point of the matter. I will be very strict this afternoon in making sure that all speeches are within the scope of the matter before us and are properly in order.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members should accept that the question whether the remaining papers that have not been released to the National Archives should be revealed is a pertinent one. In debating, as we are, the issues surrounding the cases, particularly two of the cases, it is highly relevant to question whether the papers should be revealed.

Before I was interrupted, I was quoting Mr Justice Mais, the trial judge. He went on to tell the six people before him:

“Some of you were clearly determined to strike terror in the hearts of those who continued to work.”

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That was a very serious crime indeed. Furthermore, the case went to appeal and, to quote The Times editorial of 20 December 1974, the Court of Appeal judge said:

“There was at each site a terrifying display by pickets of force and violence actually committed or threatened against buildings, plant and equipment; at some sites, if not at others, acts of personal violence and threats of violence to the person were committed and made. Persons working on the sites and residents near by were put in fear.”

That should not be tolerated in our country, and it should not be supported by Opposition Members.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The hon. Gentleman has quoted the Court of Appeal judge. He was the same judge on whose verdict the hon. Gentleman relied for many years in resisting the case for a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday and so on. Is he confident that his reliance on Widgery today—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. In interventions as well as speeches, hon. Members will stick to the matter before us. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman may make his point, but he must refer to the matter before us, from which he was straying very considerably.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I also want to refer to people who have spoken more recently about the issue. An article from Wales on Sunday of 27 January 2013 in the debate pack provided to Members—so it must be relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker—states that

“Peter Starbuck, who says he was Oswestry’s largest contractor at the time, claims violence and intimidation were a routine part of the strikers’ tactics and the convictions are sound. And bricklayer’s labourer Clifford Growcott has described how he was ‘punched and kicked like a football’ during the strike.”

I am astonished that Opposition Members want to side with people convicted of using that sort of violence against their fellow human beings.

Mr Anderson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Yasmin Qureshi: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I give way to the hon. Gentleman who proposed the motion.

Mr Anderson: I take from what the hon. Gentleman has said that the Court of Appeal judge was Lord Widgery. On the point about the litany of activities that are supposed to have happened—if it is correct that those events happened, they are very serious—why was not one person arrested on the day that they happened or are alleged to have happened? Lots of policemen were there, so why did they not pick those people up and arrest them? Why did that happen five months down the line, when they were effectively stitched up by the case against them?

Sir Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman obviously knows the answer to that question. I have no idea. I was not involved in the trial and I was not at the trial, but I was involved in the public debate at the time.

Yasmin Qureshi: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Sir Gerald Howarth: I will give way to the hon. Lady in a minute.

I remind Opposition Members that in Margaret Thatcher’s excellent book, “The Downing Street Years”, she wrote about the Government’s attempts to deal with trade union legislation. At one point she says that

“when a dispute did occur the trade union was able to exercise what amounted to intimidation over its members—‘lawful intimidation’ in the unhappy phrase coined by Labour’s former Attorney-General, Sam Silkin.”

At the highest levels of the Labour party at that time, such practices were basically endorsed. I say to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that the country has moved on. If the Labour party wishes to occupy the Government Benches once again—I very much hope that it will not—its Members must understand that the public out there do not want to see any return to such behaviour or to hear any sympathy expressed for it.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) has been extremely persistent and I am delighted to give way to her.

Yasmin Qureshi: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is talking about the dispute. The motion is about the request for papers. The Government cite national security as a reason for not disclosing those papers. What does national security have to do with an industrial dispute?

Sir Gerald Howarth: I will address that point in one moment. I only wish to make two further points and one of them will address the hon. Lady’s question.

Robert Carr, who became a peer in the other place—I will continue to refer to it as the other place, Madam Deputy Speaker—was accused of conniving with the police and the security forces at the behest of the construction industry. That is a conspiracy theory. Those of us who knew Robert Carr cannot imagine that he was anything other than a charming, polite and reasonable Home Secretary. I do not think that he was in the business of conniving.

Let me conclude by coming to the point that has been raised a number of times.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I say to the House and to the hon. Gentleman that if he concludes his speech in the next two to three minutes, he will have taken the same amount of time as the proposer of the motion. That would be reasonable.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for that guidance. I will fully comply with the implicit request.

I put it to Opposition Members that it is not only the current Lord Chancellor who has reviewed these matters. I have not spoken to him about the matter, but I understand that he has done so recently. He has considered that there is no reason to change the decision of previous Lord Chancellors. Lord Irvine was Lord Chancellor in 2002 when the 30-year rule would have applied. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) later became Lord Chancellor. Labour’s Lord Chancellors all concluded that it was not appropriate for certain of the papers to be revealed. [Hon. Members: “Where are they?”] Labour Members must address that question

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to the right hon. Member for Blackburn. I have no responsibility for bringing him to the Chamber to provide answers on these matters. He is a Member of the Labour party, not of my party.

It is important that we put it on the record that successive Lord Chancellors have looked at this issue and deemed it appropriate that certain papers, supplied or otherwise relating to the intelligence services, should not be released to the National Archives. I am not privy to what those papers are. I dare say that I would like to look at them. However, I repose my trust in Lord Chancellors, whether Conservative or Labour. They should be responsible for determining whether our national security would be imperilled.

To conclude, in the 1970s, when the nation was being held to ransom by strikes all over the country, people like me and my new wife were stocking up with provisions in case there was a shutdown, and Ross McWhirter of the “Guinness Book of Records” and I were looking at how we might produce a newspaper to get information out to the public when the newspapers were being closed down by trade union militants. That was the mood of the nation at the time. It is important that the country understands that. This case arose out of that mood.

Thank goodness for this country that we had a Conservative Government, led by a real Conservative in Margaret Thatcher, who restored the power in trade unions to their members. Today, we have the evidence. The number of working days lost to strikes in 2012 was not 10 million, let alone 30 million. It was not even 1 million. It was 250,000. That is testimony to the fundamental reform of trade union relations that was carried out in this country. The United Kingdom has prospered ever since.

1.25 pm

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) claims to be a member of the most transparent Government ever. Ricky Tomlinson might have a couple of words to say about that. I congratulate—[Laughter.] Someone’s just got it!

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on the tenacity he deployed to secure today’s debate. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, which has been persuaded, unlike those on the Government Benches, that this issue is important enough to warrant a full parliamentary debate. It is important that we stick to the terms of the motion.

It is true to say that this debate has been a long, long time coming. We now know more than ever about the political, judicial, media and police manipulation that scarred the working lives of 24 ordinary men, who were wrongly convicted on trumped-up charges, with six of them unjustly jailed. As John Platt-Mills, QC, said:

“The trial of the Shrewsbury Pickets is the only case I know of where the government has ordered a prosecution in defiance of the advice of senior police and prosecution authorities”.

I want to praise on the record the remarkable persistence of the campaigners over the past four decades. In particular, I praise Ricky Tomlinson for the way in which he has used his fame as an actor to highlight this injustice. Despite his success, he has remained steadfastly shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the other Shrewsbury pickets and their families. Ricky said from the dock during his trial:

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“I know my children when they are old enough, will understand that the struggle we took part in was for their benefit and for the benefit and interest of building workers and their families.”

When I was indentured as an apprentice bricklayer in 1978, notwithstanding the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Britain’s building sites were still workplaces of great danger and the conditions for workers were shockingly poor. On most sites, there were no proper toilets, washbasins or lockers. There were certainly no hard hats, goggles, gloves and masks as standard personal protective equipment. People died daily.

When workers had the audacity to ask the state to take action and stop the carnage, the Government of the day interfered in the business of the judiciary, resulting in the most political and corrupt criminal trial that had been seen in peacetime Britain.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): If the strike and the prosecutions are a matter of such importance to national security that the papers will not be released 40 years later, why did it take the police five months to make any arrests?

Steve Rotheram: I will develop that point at the end of my speech and explain why it is so wrong that it has taken so long even for the matter to be debated in this House.

The people we are talking about were arrested on trumped-up charges, received a dodgy trial and were given unsound convictions. That would not be allowed and would not be acceptable today, and it should not have been allowed and should not have been acceptable then. It was a legal process that would shame a third-world dictatorship.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon has suggested, the exploitation of workers and the unacceptable and unsafe working conditions in which workers were forced to operate were the bedrock of the first ever national building workers’ strike in 1972. As a result of that national strike, which was settled on 16 September 1972, the building workers succeeded in achieving an across-the-board increase for all trades working in the construction industry. There was, however, enormous political anxiety as a result of that victory, fuelled by a targeted lobbying campaign by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers. Shrewsbury 24 campaigners firmly believe that the end of the strike was in fact the beginning of the employers’ campaign to have pickets prosecuted, and to use that as a deterrent should they ever have the temerity to take further industrial action.

Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that that was the precedent that started the ball rolling for all the disputes that came after? That dispute set the goal, which is why it is important to have transparency. After that court case came ’74, ’84, and the miners’ strike—the legal position changed at that point.

Steve Rotheram: Absolutely, it was used as a battering ram to send a message not just to construction workers but to working class people throughout the country who decided to take industrial action.

Daniel Kawczynski: My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) mentioned previous Labour Lord Chancellors, particularly the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Has the hon.

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Gentleman had any discussions with previous Labour Lord Chancellors about why the information has not been released?

Steve Rotheram: The hon. Gentleman should not think I am going to stand here and defend the indefensible. We had an opportunity when in government to do what we are asking for today, but we did not take it. However, that does not stop people continuing to campaign and trying to persuade the Government—no matter what colour—that that is the right thing to do. That is what we are doing today.

Mr MacNeil: Is there another consideration, because since previous Lord Chancellors considered the issue and refused to release the papers more research has come forward from campaigners that now makes it more materially important to release the papers and be transparent?

Steve Rotheram: That is a good point, and as things develop more and more information is known. Some further information has been gathered by Eileen Turnbull, and I am sure other Members will refer to that in their contributions.

On 20 September 1972, a letter was sent to all NFBTE regional secretaries around the country from its head office in London. It was headed “Intimidation Dossier”. The dossier was presented to the Home Secretary, Robert Carr, who had previously been Secretary of State for Employment and overseen the introduction of the contentious Industrial Relations Act 1971. Out of 85 instances of alleged intimidation and violence detailed in the dossier, only six related to north Wales. Despite the undeniable fact that most incidents occurred elsewhere, the Home Secretary instructed the chief constables of West Mercia and Gwynedd police forces to carry out an inquiry into picketing in north Wales during the strike. Let us not forget that, as was said earlier, none of the pickets was cautioned or arrested on the day, the unions did not receive any complaints from the police about the conduct of the pickets, and photographic evidence shows that the police were present and mingling freely with strikers. Some police had their hands in their pockets—hardly intimidation.

We now know that of the 900 statements taken, 600 were disregarded by the authorities, presumably because they failed to corroborate what the police hoped they would say. On 11 October 1972, Robert Carr told this House that in his opinion there was no deficiency in the law as it stood, and the problem lay with enforcement. In other words, he was pressuring the police who he believed had failed to do their job properly. A few days later, the then Attorney-General, Sir Peter Rawlinson QC, gave a speech to the Tory 1922 committee in which he used strikingly similar language. Following that, we know that of the 200 or so pickets identified, just 24 were carefully selected for a political show trial at Shrewsbury Crown court, and charged with the offence of intimidation under section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875.

Yasmin Qureshi: As my hon. Friend may be aware, criminal lawyers in the legal community know that conspiracy charges are always used when there is no evidence of a substantive proper charge. It is the last resort.

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Steve Rotheram: My hon. Friend makes the point very well.

Several hon. Members rose

Steve Rotheram: I will not take any further interventions. I intended to take 11 minutes but my speech has gone over that because of the interventions.

Six pickets were singled out for special treatment and to stand trial for the common law offence of conspiracy to intimidate. They were arrested while the other 18 were summoned to appear, thereby indicating the distinction in the severity of their roles to the court. That strikes me as odd. Given that the police made no arrests and undertook no immediate investigation after the picketing in and around Shrewsbury on 6 September, where did the “'disturbing evidence” that Robert Carr referred to come from? Campaigners will never know until all documents are released.

In addition to the submission of the dossier, other less transparent forms of lobbying took place, as documented in a letter to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis—the highest ranking police officer in the country—from Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons in February ’73. That was followed by personal representations to the Home Office, and questions to Ministers designed to turn up the pressure for the police to pursue pickets. As we have heard several times, there were no reports of violence on the picket lines, and no arrests made at the time of the strike.

We have recently seen documents relating to the Brixton riots, the Lockerbie bombing, Mrs Thatcher’s attempted use of the Army against the miners, as well as details of how she made no effort whatsoever to make the case for the release of Nelson Mandela. Most surprisingly, perhaps, in November 2013 The Guardian reported details about the release of secret memos relating to the efforts of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to maintain a Cypriot base. Given the political, strategic and geographical importance of that base, it is surprising—certainly to all Opposition Members—that an issue of such magnitude does not warrant an extension of the security and intelligence instrument of the Public Records Act 1958, yet documents relating to a couple of dozen strikers during a building workers dispute 40-odd years ago are deemed to be a risk to our national security! It would be farcical if it was not so serious for those whose lives have been deeply scared by this miscarriage of justice, and I can see no reason whatsoever for the Government to withhold the release of those papers.

Yes, it will probably be politically embarrassing for the Conservative party; yes, it will be another shameful exposé of Britain’s dark past in which the powerful ran roughshod over the weak; and, yes, it will be an indictment of how the British establishment—including the hon. Member for Aldershot—believed it was above the law when it conspired to fit up individuals or groups whose politics it feared. But it would be the right thing to do.

I will conclude by placing this debate in a much wider context. We are at a juncture in our country where we have the chance systematically to cleanse the wrongs of our recent history. From Bloody Sunday to historic child and sexual abuse cases; from Amritsar to Stephen Lawrence; and, yes, from Hillsborough to—who knows?—perhaps Orgreave and beyond. I believe that the House must act upon this moment. The Shrewsbury campaign

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may well have been the first in a series of injustices that have spanned more than 40 years, leaving heartache and grief in their wake, but the time has come for the obfuscation to end, for campaigning to succeed, for documents to be released, and for justice to be done.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. A large number of Members want to participate in the debate so I am imposing a time limit of six minutes for each Back-Bench speech, starting immediately. We will see how we go through the afternoon, but it may be necessary for that limit to be reduced further if we do not have enough time to fit everybody in.

1.39 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, this matter is obviously of great interest to me. I want to put into context my initial question to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). To have a strong debate and a point of view, we need to try to understand the other person’s perspective. That is why I asked him how much time he had spent in Shrewsbury interacting with the local people trying to find out their interpretation of what happened at that time. I say to him, and to other hon. Members, that, being the Member for this beautiful Shropshire town, I have spoken to a lot of my constituents who were there at the time. I was born in 1972 when these incidents occurred, so I have to rely on the first-hand accounts and experiences of my constituents. It was disappointing to have been shouted down by Opposition Members when I tried to make that point.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, 1972 was a time of great industrial strife. Some people felt that they had the right to intimidate and use violence to achieve their political objectives. Margaret Thatcher saw the danger to democracy of allowing this to continue. She saw a great danger to our parliamentary process and to the rule of law by not tackling people who felt that the use of violence was a perfectly legitimate tool to pursue their aims. We must not forget how damaging militant trade union vandalism was, and we must never allow it to return.

I spoke to the police officer who was first on the scene, Mr Aubrey Kirkham. He is a respected member of the Shrewsbury community. He described the people descending on our small town that day—400 people, I think he said to me, came on coaches from outside Shropshire—as a “marauding mob”. He felt that they meted out huge intimidation to local people and massive violence to local workers. Police suffered great violence and were massively outnumbered. He told me of one bricklayer from Heathgates in Shrewsbury who had a brick thrown at him for refusing to come down from scaffolding. He subsequently fell and a year later he died. Some of his family think that he died as a direct result of that incident.

Many constituents say that these people have been tried and convicted by a jury, and they are bewildered that this debate has even been called. They think that Parliament should be looking at other, more pressing priorities.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The issue we are debating is not whether what the hon. Gentleman is saying is correct, or whether what is being said by

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Opposition Members is correct. If the papers were to be released, we would be able to make that judgment, and that is what we are calling for in this debate.

Daniel Kawczynski: If the hon. Lady allows me to finish, I will come on to exactly that point.

Obviously, I have also spoken to many people in the building trade in the past few days, in advance of this debate, for their first-hand accounts. If any hon. Members are genuinely interested in finding out what the people on the ground felt at that time about the violence, I very much hope they will approach me.

Coming on to the point raised by the hon. Lady, the hon. Member for Blaydon asked for the documents to be released. I have two questions. I will be very brief and let other hon. Members contribute. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot: we have to ask why, over a long period—the Labour party was in office for three terms—former Labour Lord Chancellors decided not to release this information. That is a perfectly legitimate question to ask. If Opposition Members feel passionately about this issue—I clearly see that they do—they should challenge and scrutinise their colleagues to ask why the Labour Government did not release it.

I am very interested to hear from the Minister whether he will release the documents and, if not, why he is not prepared to release them. I have been approached by constituents who have a different perspective. They feel that they do not want documents to be withheld from the public domain if there is the potential for a cover-up of some kind, or some form of inappropriate behaviour. As a community, I think the argument is evenly balanced in Shrewsbury. There are people who want to remember the violence. We are a wonderful but quiet Salopian town. This was an extraordinary event in our history and they want people to remember the violence they experienced. They also want the Government to account for why they will not release the documents.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): In the book “The Key to My Cell” by one of the pickets, Des Warren, he says that when, on 6 September 1972, they visited the first site at Kingswood, they were greeted by the son of the contractor who had a shotgun in his hand and was threatening to use it. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he seems to be presenting to the House a one-sided version of what happened?

Daniel Kawczynski: As I have said repeatedly, both sides of the argument have to be taken into consideration. I felt it appropriate to come here today, as the Member representing Shrewsbury, to outline some of the things that leading members of my community have stated. Clearly, there are other perspectives. I hope the Minister will explain, if he is not going to release the documents, why he will not do so.

Mark Durkan rose

Daniel Kawczynski: I am not going to give way, because I am going to end my remarks. Clearly, we can see tremendous passion from the Opposition for this issue to be resolved.

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1.46 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on securing this important debate about working conditions in the 1970s. It is about a time when, in that three-year period, 571 people were killed and 224,000 were injured on building sites. It is about an industrial campaign to ensure that those working conditions changed. It is about a trial that led to the results that my hon. Friend outlined. It is about a campaign, to which I pay tribute, that has lasted now for 40 years to get documents into the public domain to ensure that people have the full facts on why action was taken and why the judgment was made.

The motion states simply that the Government should release the papers referring to all aspects of the trial and the case. The motion is a fair one. I say to both the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) that the judgment of this House can be made, as can the judgment of the public, on the information contained in that simple motion, which calls on the Government to reverse their position as a matter of urgency and to release the papers.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hanson: I will not give way. A lot of Members want to speak and time is pressing.

This is a simple motion, but for my constituents it is not a simple matter, nor has it been for the past 40 years. For my constituent Arthur Murray it meant six months in prison and a lifetime of concern about the impact of that sentence. For my constituent John McKinsie Jones it meant nine months in prison and concern about his employability, his future and his peace of mind. For my constituent Terry Renshaw it meant a four-month suspended sentence for two years, which has had an impact on his life. They are currently bringing a case for the Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider their convictions to see if they were sound. The material that is not in the public domain could well be relevant to the case, and that is why they want it to be released.

I have written to the Secretary of State for Justice on several occasions. When I was a Minister in the Justice Department, I pressed, as a constituency MP, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), to release the information. The judgment was made, under the Labour Government, to release the information in 2012. Being the kind, open soul that I am, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), in 2010 to ask whether he could confirm that it would be released in 2012. He wrote back to me on 8 November 2010, saying that the “blanket” covering was still in place until 2012. I wrote to him again on 23 March 2011, and he said he was reviewing the matter and would make a decision. I wrote again on 20 November 2012, and was told by the now Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling):

“On 19 December 2011 Kenneth Clarke signed a new instrument which records that he has given his approval for the retention of the records”.

The retained records include:

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“a paragraph from a memorandum from Sir Michael Hanley, Director General of the Security Service to Sir John at the Cabinet Office…a copy of the report which was enclosed with the…memorandum…a paragraph from…Sir John Hunt to a Mr Armstrong dated 13 January”


“a paragraph from a memorandum to Sir John Hunt relating to this report”.

It is important that this information be in the public domain. The Government are currently reviewing the 30-year rule and reducing it to 20 years, yet in this case, when there is 40 years of information, they are seeking to extend the period, and so withhold the information, until 2022. That seems unfair.

My colleague Terry Renshaw has been a councillor for years, he has served on the police authority, he is a lecturer, he has been mayor of the town I live in, he is a respected citizen, yet even today they will not let him into the United States of America because of that conviction. My constituent Arthur Murray, a decent man, served six months in prison, and made the point to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) made about John Platt-Mills, who said:

“The trial of the Shrewsbury Pickets is the only case I know where the government has ordered a prosecution in defiance of the advice of senior police and prosecution authorities.”

My constituent John McKinsie Jones said only last year:

“I have lived for almost 40 years with the stigma of being arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned for conspiracy. My family were devastated… Like a lot of the other pickets I had never been in trouble in my life. We were completely innocent of these charges. We were branded as criminals by the media. We were blacklisted”.

This debate is about the lives of people in my constituency; it is about the lives of people who dedicated their lives to the trade union movement and who were only doing their jobs. I want these papers released. I might have to leave before the end of the debate, because of a long-standing constituency engagement this evening, but this debate has my support, and my constituents have my support.

Sir Bob Russell rose—

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab) rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I call Dennis Skinner. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I will call the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) next.

1.52 pm

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Well, that has put the Lib Dems in their place, hasn’t it? I have always wanted to do it. I know Clegg’s got a sour face—[Interruption.]

Anyway, we live in the age of transparency, don’t we? We have transparency coming out of every pore. Every day I turn up in the House of Commons, from all sides I am assailed by people saying, “We need transparency.” At the beginning, I was unsure what it meant; I am sure now. It is a class thing. It applies only to the things that affect us, but it does not give us an inch when we are asking for something from the other side. We can have transparency about hospitals, care homes, schools, and everything else, but not about this. Isn’t it strange that we are being told again today, by this tin-pot coalition,

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that we cannot have it?


It really is tin-pot, although I know the last Labour Government did not pull their weight either. It has to be put on the record.

But this is a debate about class, and we do not get many of those in here. Every so often, it erupts, and we talk about class. That is what this is. It was the same with Hillsborough, when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) got that debate, and it was the same with Thatcher and the funeral and all the rest of it. I do not want to go into that, but the truth is that it is very rare. Here are a few people who were on the picket line, they ordered a bus from a bus company, and they talk about conspiracies—all the records are there! I know it was not the age of social media, Twitter and God knows what else—if it had been, they would have won, because they would all have had a mobile phone, with a camera, and they could have took some pictures. Yes, it’s about class, and that is why we are here today, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and other colleagues.

I was here in the 1970s, and I could not believe it the moment I got to London: we were on picket lines, and winning—winning! It does not happen very often, so we have to treasure every moment. My father worked for 50 years in the pits, and when we won the 1972 strike, he said, “It’s the first time in my life.” Yet there is all this talk, somehow or other, about workers having power. It is not true, and this is another example where they do not have it, or otherwise the papers would have been released and, what’s more, this whole episode would not have begun. It began because of the climate of 1970 onwards. The establishment, the Heath Government, were defeated by the miners in 1972, after a seven-week strike. It is true there was a bit of pushing and shoving, but by and large it was a relatively peaceful affair. The police were wearing long stockings underneath their trousers. I told Tom Swain, and he said, “I’m getting a pair.” That’s what it was like, by and large.

What happened then? The Upper Clyde shipbuilders had a sit-in and won. Then there was Vic Turner and Bernie Steer saying, “We’re going to put some pickets on down at the docks”—at what is now Covent Garden—and they got put in Pentonville jail. The Industrial Relations Act had just got Royal Assent, but what happened? After Vic Turner was put in jail with his mates, the Official Solicitor had to turn up, representing all the echelons of the establishment, saying, “They won’t purge their own contempt. We’ve got to do it for them.” We said, “Yes, but at a price”, and so they had to kick the Act into the long grass.

In the middle of all this, some people, such as those I should not speak about in the Gallery, decided also to battle for better wages. They had never had great wages, but UCATT and the building workers had had a lot of injuries, so they decided in that climate to take a chance and fight for better wages and conditions. That is all it was. The evidence was there, as we have heard, but the establishment decided that somebody needed a lesson: “We’ll take these on. We lost to the miners. We lost to Upper Clyde. We lost the Industrial Relations Act. We’ve got to have a victory.” That was what this was all about, and let no one kid themselves: when the echelons of the state decide to take action, the judiciary join them, and I do not care what their names are. It has been apparent for so many years, and it is still apparent today.

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My time is running out. I compliment all those who have taken part, but I want to pay my final compliment to that face I saw in Lincoln prison, Des Warren, fighting the establishment, and when I call for transparency, it is the face of Des Warren—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

Sir Bob Russell rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Sir Bob Russell, I apologise about earlier. As the House will know, we alternate between sides. Follow that, in six minutes.