5 Nov 2014 : Column 805

House of Commons

Wednesday 5 November 2014

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before questions

Committee of Selection


That Jenny Willott be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Tom Brake be a member of the Committee until the end of the current Session.—(Greg Hands, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Humanitarian Needs (Gaza)

1. Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What plans she has to work with her international counterparts to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. [905888]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who now moves over to the Home Office but did some fantastic work alongside me on the women and girls agenda, and also wish the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) good luck in his mission impossible as he seeks to take over Labour in Scotland?

The UK will continue to work closely with international partners to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. We have already provided over £17 million in humanitarian assistance and recently committed a further £20 million at the international donor conference in Cairo to assist those affected, including hundreds of thousands left homeless as winter approaches.

Mr Turner: There are 1.8 million people in Gaza and it is physically smaller than the Isle of Wight. Does the Secretary of State accept that 485,000 people in Gaza need emergency food assistance and 273,000 people need school buildings for shelter and, most important of all, around 1 million people are desperate for work? What is the right hon. Lady doing about that?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend raises some very good points. Gaza is one of the most densely populated parts of the world. As he says, we are, of course, providing shelter and basic services to many people, but

5 Nov 2014 : Column 806

we also increasingly work on private sector support, supporting livelihoods, and the key to that in the long term is a political settlement that means the economy in Gaza can thrive normally.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will the right hon. Lady condemn in the strongest terms the recent total closure of the Gaza border by Israel, in utter violation of the ceasefire, making it very difficult—even more difficult—for the aid she provides and the other aid for reconstruction after the terrible destruction imposed by the Israelis? This cannot go on.

Justine Greening: We are extremely concerned about the continued restrictions, which have a tremendous effect on the Gazan economy. Of course we understand the security concerns of Israel, but ultimately we need leadership from both parties to move forward to some political settlement. We will never get to provide the long-term support to people unless we can get in and out of Gaza easily and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that has been a very great problem for us.

10. [905897] Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking my constituents from Lockwood, Crosland Moor and Thornton Lodge for their fundraising efforts to help address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and will she confirm what steps the UK is taking to aid reconstruction in Gaza following the Cairo conference?

Justine Greening: I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents. They are among the millions of groups and communities around our country that do fantastic work supporting people in very difficult parts of our world. We are playing our role. Part of our announcement at the international donor conference was to make sure we can help fund some of the reconstruction that is now required in Gaza.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): While I agree with the Secretary of State that a political settlement is vital, does she agree with me that there is still no excuse for Israeli forces firing on fishermen when all they are doing is trying to fish, or firing on farmers when all they are trying to do is farm their land, and what can she do to ensure that the Israeli forces stop doing this?

Justine Greening: We are always concerned about these sorts of incidents of violence. In the end, people will have to get back around the negotiating table, and we will have to have talks that go further than the ceasefire that is currently in place. They need to get back under way in Egypt, and ultimately people need to agree that the current status quo is simply untenable, and communities on both sides need to work towards having a better future for their children than they are currently experiencing.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Secretary of State is absolutely right that we need a political settlement, but is she concerned that, of all the money that is being given, some will be siphoned away for Hamas to build new tunnels—terror tunnels—back into

5 Nov 2014 : Column 807

Israel? What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that British taxpayers’ money does not contribute to that?

Justine Greening: I can categorically assure my hon. Friend that no aid money goes to Hamas. We have safeguards in place to ensure compliance with both UK and EU legislation on terror funding.

15. [905902] Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Given this House’s historic vote to recognise Palestine, the decision of the Swedish Government and similar debates in the French and Irish Parliaments, what work is the Secretary of State doing with Palestinian civil society and structures to prepare the state for wider recognition?

Justine Greening: We do broad capacity-building with the Palestinian Authority. As the hon. Lady points out, there is a political element to the way forward that is the base for seeing any real progress in the long term. First, though, our focus has been on providing humanitarian support to people affected by the recent crisis, and then more broadly starting to be part of the reconstruction efforts so that we can get people back into their homes and, critically, get children back into their schools.


2. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What progress her Department has made on its work with the Ministry of Defence to tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa. [905889]

3. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Whether pledges made by the international community at the “Defeating Ebola” conference in London on 2 October 2014 are being fulfilled. [905890]

7. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to assist west African states in tackling the Ebola virus. [905894]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): The UK is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, committing £230 million so far. We are providing 700 beds, including at the Kerry Town treatment facility that opened today, ensuring safe burials are taking place, providing more community care and helping to train health care workers. The “Defeating Ebola” conference we held in London last month generated more than £100 million of support to the overall response.

Stephen Metcalfe: I am aware that my right hon. Friend recently visited Sierra Leone. Can she update the House on any specific projects she witnessed there that would reassure me and my constituents that we are doing all we can to fight this?

Justine Greening: I can. We can be very proud of the role the UK is playing: both the public’s response to the recent Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which shows the British people’s generosity, and the work the Ministry of Defence is doing. I had the chance to see

5 Nov 2014 : Column 808

the Kerry Town facility as it was nearing completion a couple of weeks ago. It is opening today to treat patients and will save lives and stop the spread of the infection.

Anas Sarwar: The Secretary of State will know that the international community has a very proud record of making pledges when international crises happen, but a very poor record of delivering on the pledges. Given that every day delayed means more lives lost to the Ebola crisis, what pressure is she applying to the international community and all agencies to ensure that they deliver on their promises?

Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. The UN General Assembly and World Bank meetings were good opportunities for me to raise them, as was the recent EU Council, at which the Prime Minister successfully pushed to get more than £1 billion of support. We are now seeing many of the pledges made at the London conference come through. The most recent example is that the Norwegians will now be providing health care workers to help us operate some of those core facilities.

Mr Sheerman: The Secretary of State and many Members of this House will be familiar with the heartbreaking and moving diary of a young doctor from Huddersfield working in Sierra Leone. I hope she agrees that we owe Africa. Whatever we are doing, we are not doing enough: can we do more?

Justine Greening: As I said, I think we should be proud of the work we are doing, and we are doing a huge amount. Alongside the beds we are providing, we are helping to make sure that burials can take place safely, we are scaling up the training of health care workers—800 a week are being trained by the MOD—and we are rolling out more community care. As the hon. Gentleman says, this care is often being delivered by volunteers from Sierra Leone, who are involved in safe burials, and from our own country, and we should thank them for their generosity of spirit.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking those dedicated workers from Sierra Leone, the UK and across the world who are risking their lives to tackle this? Will she also ensure that the UK Government’s cross-departmental working delivers a long-term legacy to Sierra Leone of a strong health service capable of preventing any such disaster from happening again?

Justine Greening: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has given me the chance to give a very personal thank you to my staff, who have really played a role in leading our efforts on the ground in Africa, pulling together the MOD, Public Health England, and NHS workers—who have done an amazing job—alongside our Foreign Office staff. We have nearly doubled our DFID team in Sierra Leone. Many of them are people who thought they would be doing something entirely different, but are now working round the clock to tackle Ebola. We should be proud of what we are doing. My right hon. Friend is of course right that we should also look to ensure that we can strengthen health care systems in countries such as Sierra Leone, so they are better placed in future to combat these challenges on their own.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 809

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): We support the actions of this Government on Ebola, but the sluggishness of the international response raises alarming questions about the functioning of the World Health Organisation. There were warnings in April that the epidemic was unprecedented and in June that it was out of control but, amid reports of political leveraging and deliberate delay, the WHO waited until August to declare Ebola an international public health emergency. Will the Secretary of State tell me what exactly her Department has done to enact reform of the WHO since she came to office?

Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the principal measures that we introduced was the multilateral aid review, which looks systematically across multilateral bodies to understand whether they give the taxpayer good value for money. We will continue to do that. As he says, a key element of the Ebola crisis has been the lack of a co-ordinated response at the beginning, and we need to learn from that.

Gavin Shuker: It was the fundamental lack of basic health coverage in pockets of west Africa that allowed this outbreak to go unchecked for so long. That was one element in the so-called perfect storm of Ebola. At present, the next worldwide deal on development calls merely for healthy lives and well-being, so will the Secretary of State now go further in strengthening the language of the stand-alone goal on health? Will she match the Labour party’s commitment to universal, guaranteed health care for all?

Justine Greening: This Government have finally honoured the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid, and we have significantly increased our spend in relation to providing critical health care. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are also playing a leading role in ensuring that the post-2015 development framework does indeed get great health outcomes for people in developing countries.

Disabled People: Aid Programmes

4. Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from UK aid programmes. [905891]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): First, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) was a champion for this brief and for disabled people in the most vulnerable countries in the world? We are publishing a framework on 3 December, because we are determined that disabled people will benefit from UK aid.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I am delighted to hear that we are going to publish the disability framework on 3 December. How will it ensure that disabled people—particularly those with learning and intellectual disabilities —are systematically and consistently included in UK aid programmes?

Mr Swayne: I ask my hon. Friend to show some patience until 3 December. What I can tell him is that we have consulted widely and undertaken to quadruple

5 Nov 2014 : Column 810

the number of staff working on this. We have also appointed a senior management champion. With respect to mental health and disability, we are funding a major study in Asia and Africa to see what works in poorly resourced countries.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Will the Minister assure the House that the Department for International Development will continue to focus on supporting excellent advocacy groups such as the one I met in Angola, where people are suffering from the effects of land mines? That is a very useful thing to do.

Mr Swayne: I hope that I will be able to give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Perhaps he would like to meet me to discuss the work of that non-governmental organisation.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, but there remains a legacy of unexploded ordnance and many disabled Afghans. Will the Minister tell the House what DFID will be doing to help those who suffer disability as a result of the armaments left by several conflicts in that poor country?

Mr Swayne: We will continue to work with the Halo Trust to dispose of that ordnance. Equally, we have an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and to providing aid to deal with the problems that my right hon. Friend has mentioned.

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I welcome the Minister’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries. To that end, will he support the proposal for a stand-alone goal on inequality in the post-2015 framework?

Mr Swayne: We have so far succeeded in ensuring that that goal will be included on the post-2015 agenda—I think it is remiss that it does not already exist as part of the development goals—and we are determined to keep it there as the discussions proceed.

Sustainable Development

5. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with her international counterparts on including climate justice in future sustainable development goals. [905892]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): I regularly discuss the sustainable development goals with my international counterparts, most recently doing so with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, at the UN General Assembly. Of course, ensuring that environmental sustainability and climate change are integrated into the sustainable development goals is a key priority for the UK Government.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does it mean she supports the inclusion of climate change or a climate-related sustainable

5 Nov 2014 : Column 811

development goal as a stand-alone goal, or is this just something that she sees factored into other elements that will be in the goals?

Justine Greening: We think that making sure we have targets on areas such as climate change is vital. We also recognise that millennium development goal 7, on sustainable development, was ineffective, because people did not focus on it and it needed to be better mainstreamed into the rest of the framework. It is important that we focus on ensuring that sustainability is mainstreamed right the way through the post-2015 framework.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Climate change disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world, so will the Secretary of State act on the calls of supporters of Christian Aid, including those from St Andrew’s church in Chippenham who met me recently, to do what she can to help make sure that next year’s Paris climate talks deliver an agreement that will tackle this threat and look after the very people her Department seeks to help?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend is right to say that next year’s meeting in Paris is crucial to finally getting the international deal we need to tackle climate change. He will also be aware of a lot of the work my Department does on helping people cope with and adapt to the problems of climate change. The poor are always hit hardest and hit first by climate change, and they have the least wherewithal then to get their lives back on track.


6. Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): What support her Department is providing to Tunisia and the new Government of that country. [905893]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): DFID delivers its assistance on developing a more inclusive and democratic Tunisia through the Arab Partnership.

Mr Spellar: I thank the Minister for that answer. As I am sure he will recognise, last week’s welcome election result showed that Tunisia, where the Arab spring started, is a beacon of hope in the region. Will his Department prioritise support for Tunisia, to help it to make further progress and provide a working example of how real change can take place in that region?

Mr Swayne: I entirely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s description of the progress Tunisia has made, and it is important that we keep that progress going. We have spent some £10 million in Tunisia since 2011, the European Union has a budget of €169 million this year, and there is money from the International Monetary Fund and other sources. We will continue to watch this brief.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Some excellent work has been done to support politics in Tunisia, particularly by an organisation called Forward Thinking. I hope that that would come within the remit of the Department’s funding scheme.

Mr Swayne: It does indeed.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 812

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): There are particular issues affecting the people of Tunisia that do not affect other north African countries. Does the Minister agree that we should build on bilateral relationships between Tunisia and the UK, and strengthen those links between the two nations?

Mr Swayne: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we are straining to do that. Principally, Tunisia is very close to Libya, and that presents a significant difficulty.

Topical Questions

T1. [905863] Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): A fortnight ago, I visited Sierra Leone to see how Britain is helping that country battle Ebola and the part we are playing. Today, the first of six new UK Ebola treatment facilities opens to patients in Kerry Town. Last month, I attended the World Bank annual meetings in Washington, where the UK hosted several successful economic development events. I met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to discuss the post-2015 development goals and the global response to the Ebola crisis. On Monday, I made a speech to the Family Planning 2020 event, where I set out how commitments we made at the London summit on family planning two years ago are delivering real progress.

Sir Tony Baldry: Recent rains and a huge effort have temporarily assisted millions of people threatened by famine in South Sudan. Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to how she sees the situation now and whether she thinks food stocks in South Sudan are going to last beyond December or January?

Justine Greening: My right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We have committed £42.5 million now to support refugees in the region; there are estimates that their number might rise to more than 700,000 by the end of the year, and 1.5 million are at risk of food insecurity. It is crucial that we make sure we have the humanitarian assistance in place to support these people.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): The first problem with DFID’s inaction on corruption highlighted by last week’s report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is that the watchdog tells us that DFID’s objectives are

“not focused on the poor”.

The commission’s recommendations demand that DFID establish a new unit specifically to drive out this curse. Will the Secretary of State do so—yes or no?

Justine Greening: DFID does a huge amount of work tackling corruption. The One campaign said:

“The UK has a strong reputation for getting its own house in order on anti-corruption”,

so we do not need to take lectures from the Labour party. I can assure the hon. Lady that our strategy is also about tackling corruption upstream. Work that we have done in Nigeria, for example, with anti-corruption agencies has helped recover £1.5 billion and supported more than 2,500 corruption cases being brought.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 813

T5. [905867] Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): Given the recent withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, can my right hon. Friend reflect on the key achievements of her Department in development in Afghanistan over the past decade?

Justine Greening: We have provided health care access to millions of people, particularly women, who have never had it before. We have seen girls getting into school and having opportunities to pursue their lives in a way that they never had before. We have brought livelihood support to people, provided humanitarian support and worked to strengthen the Government in Afghanistan to enable them to deliver for their people in the long term. We should be hugely proud of the work that DFID has done, as well as being proud of the work that our brave servicemen and women have done.

T2. [905864] Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Millions of children face violence every day, with both boys and girls suffering from abuse and exploitation. UNICEF’s children in danger campaign makes a powerful case for this to be a priority, so will the Secretary of State agree to push for a target to end all forms of violence against children to be included in the global development goals currently being negotiated?

Justine Greening: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The UK is one of the leading donors to UNICEF; we recognise how important its work with children is. We are looking particularly at the vulnerability of children in Sierra Leone as many of them are orphaned as a result of the Ebola crisis.

T6. [905868] Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Secretary of State will be as alarmed as I am that President Kirchner of Argentina is purchasing 24 new fighter bombers at a time that Argentina is going cap in hand to the World Bank, expecting UK taxpayer money to prop up its failing economy. Will Her Majesty’s Government veto any attempt by Argentina to obtain more funds from the World Bank and urge our European allies and the United States to follow us in that veto?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I toughened up our policy in precisely that way several months ago. We do, therefore, take that stance and have been lobbying others. Unlike the Opposition, we do not want to see aid going to countries that do not need it or will misspend it. For example, under Labour Britain gave £83 million to China in 2007-08, the very year that China spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics.

T3. [905865] Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): While £600 million of UK aid is being channelled through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition—[Interruption.] What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the new alliance does not bully countries such as Ghana into passing legislation that is designed to restrict local farmers’ ability to save and exchange locally produced seed, making them dependent on a few big suppliers and decreasing biodiversity?

5 Nov 2014 : Column 814

Mr Speaker: Order. It is quite difficult for people to hear the question. It is very important that the Secretary of State should hear it. These are extremely serious matters that we are discussing. Let us show some courtesy towards each other.

Justine Greening: The hon. Lady is right that as part of the new alliance, it is vital that we see support for smallholder farmers alongside the broader work that is taking place to strengthen agriculture in many of those countries that she has spoken about. It is part of an economic strategy as well as a food security strategy and it is immensely important.

T7. [905869] Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): Given the recent success of the Somali peace process, does my right hon. Friend agree that her aid programme for that country now needs to concentrate on building up the private sector and wealth creation?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the things that DFID is doing more than ever before is work on economic development. It is vital that we help people and countries end aid dependency through jobs.

T4. [905866] Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted that the Secretary of State has been to Sierra Leone, but does she realise that even though I have begged the Leader of the House, we still have not had a major debate on Ebola? We owe that to Africa. When are we going to move? When are we going to debate it in this House and when are we going to do more?

Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that there is an Adjournment debate on Ebola tonight, and oral questions provide a great opportunity to discuss and debate the work we are doing.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): China has been very willing to exploit commercial opportunities and raw materials in Africa, but it has committed fewer funds to fighting Ebola than the UK has, despite having a GDP that is four times larger. Will the Government encourage China to live up to its responsibilities in Africa as well as exploiting the opportunities?

Justine Greening: It is important that countries such as China work alongside other members of the international community that are leading the fight, such as the UK, to ensure that we bear down on Ebola. We are working directly with the Chinese, but it is important that all countries step up and do more.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [905873] Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 5 November.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 815

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): With Remembrance day next week, I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering all those who sacrificed their lives defending our country and the freedoms we hold dear. This time of year once again reminds us of the incredible job that our armed forces do to ensure our safety and security. With combat troops coming home from Afghanistan, we will all want to pay particular tribute to the 453 soldiers who lost their lives and all those who were injured during that long campaign. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Tom Greatrex: May I first associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about Remembrance weekend, when we remember the contribution that so many have made, from all parts of the UK, in our armed forces?

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister said that concerned steelworkers at Clydebridge in my constituency and at sites across the UK should judge Klesch Group by its actions. With its record of asset stripping in France and Holland and the news overnight of the failure to purchase Milford Haven, does he believe that it is in the public and national interest for the strategically important UK foundation steel industry to be sold to Klesch Group?

The Prime Minister: First, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that what has happened at Milford Haven is very disappointing. We will continue to work with the company concerned and try to find employment opportunities for all those who work there. With regard to Tata Steel, Clydebridge employs around 90 people and, as he knows, is an integral part of the Long Products division. We took action in the Budget to support heavy industry, and we are working with Klesch Group and with the Scottish Government. It says that it is taking this on as a going concern and that due diligence has started. I think that the right thing to do is to work with the Klesch Group to try to ensure that its plans are to maintain that company. What we need overall is a situation in this country in which the steel industry continues to grow, as it has been doing under this Government.

Q14. [905886] Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): On behalf of my constituents, may I offer my sympathy to the families of those killed and to those injured in the tragic factory fire in Stafford last week, and may I also praise the wonderful response of the emergency services? UK exports to countries outside the European Union have gone up by a remarkable 22% over the past three years, including transformers, generators and financial services IT systems from my constituency. Will the Prime Minister look at whether the support given by UK Export Finance could be increased, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises?

The Prime Minister: First, let me join my hon. Friend in offering condolences to the families of those killed in the fire in Stafford; we must get to the bottom of exactly how it started. In terms of supporting exporting companies, a very important part of our long-term economic plan is ensuring that we get more small and medium-sized

5 Nov 2014 : Column 816

companies exporting. As he will know, we have increased the budget for UK Export Finance and made available export contracts for small and medium-sized enterprises worth over £1 billion, and we will continue to work with those companies, including through the GREAT campaign, which is opening up new markets for British products to ensure that more of our companies choose to export.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): Let me join the Prime Minister in recognising the importance of Remembrance Sunday. This year has particular significance: it is the year of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and, of course, 100 years since the start of the first world war. It is a moment to remember all those who lost their lives in war and everyone who has served our country. That is why we will all be wearing our poppies with particular pride this year.

The Prime Minister is nearly two years into his renegotiation with the European Union. He has to get 27 countries to agree with him. How many has he got so far?

The Prime Minister: What we have is a set of things that we want to sort out in Europe. We want to sort out safeguards for the single market. We want to get out of ever-closer union. We want reform of immigration. But here is the difference. We have a plan. He has no plan. And we have a plan that will be put to the British people in an in/out referendum. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, when he gets to his feet: why is he frightened of the British public?

Edward Miliband: My position on the referendum is exactly the same as his was before he lost control of his party. I think we can take it from the answer to that question that the answer is none; he has no allies. He says that his

“admiration for Angela Merkel is enormous.”

After the last couple of days, we can see that the feeling is mutual. If it is going so swimmingly, why does he think that Chancellor Merkel has already rejected his proposals?

The Prime Minister: On that the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong as well. She has herself said that there are problems in terms of free movement that need to be dealt with. He talks about support for a European referendum. Perhaps he would like to address this. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has decided to leave the House of Commons—about the only person on the Labour Benches who had any economic credibility—has said that a European referendum is inevitable. He says:

“It’s a boil that has to be lanced.”

If it is inevitable, why is the Leader of the Opposition so frightened of the British public?

Edward Miliband: We know about the boil that has to be lanced—it is his divided party. The right hon. Gentleman should listen to what his own MPs are saying. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), the one who has not defected yet, says:

“vague promises about a better deal for Britain will not wash.”

5 Nov 2014 : Column 817

They know his renegotiation is going nowhere. Two years ago, the Prime Minister gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph, and this is what it said:

“Mr Cameron will not countenance leaving the EU and says that he would never campaign for an out vote in an EU referendum.”

Is that still his position?

The Prime Minister: I think Britain is better off in a reformed European Union. But the point is this: I have a plan for renegotiating our situation and holding a referendum. The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no plan whatsoever. He talks about the views of Back Benchers. I have the new view of one of his Front Benchers. This is the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, the man he appointed to the Front Bench, and I am sure the House will be interested. He said:

“the Labour Party…right now is…in a dreadful position.”

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has been silent for too long. He goes on:

“And we’ve got to be honest about ourselves. We have very low esteem with the electorate. The electorate looks at us and has no idea what our policies are.”

He concludes:

“We have a moribund party”.

That is not the view of the commentators. It is not the view of the Back Benchers. It is the view of the Front Benchers. It is official. It is a dead parrot.

Edward Miliband: Let us talk about his party: defections, rebellions, demands for a pact with UKIP, and that is before the Rochester and Strood by-election. Everyone will have heard—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard. However long it takes, that will happen. So people who are making a noise should calm themselves.

Edward Miliband: And he did not answer this fundamental question that matters to businesses and families. He used to say he would never be for leaving the European Union. That was his position two years ago. [Interruption.] Tory Members ask what my position is. I want to stay in the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman cannot even answer the question. That was his position then. I am just asking him to repeat the same words as he used then; that he would never campaign to leave the European Union. Yes or no?

Hon. Members: Answer.

The Prime Minister: I answered that question the last time round. I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union, but we need the reform. We have a plan. The right hon. Gentleman has no plan. We say it is time to get out of ever-closer union. What do the Opposition say? Nothing. We say, “You have to safeguard the single market.” What do they say? Nothing. We say, “You have to reform immigration.” What do they say? Nothing. Absolutely feeble. That is why he faces a crisis in his leadership: because he has nothing to say about the deficit; nothing to say about the economy; nothing to say about welfare; and nothing to say about Europe. And the whole country can see they have a nothing Leader of the Opposition.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 818

Edward Miliband: There is no point in the Prime Minister giving us the “fight them on the beaches” speech, because the last time he tried that was over Jean-Claude Juncker and he lost 26 votes to two. That is his leadership in Europe. Everyone will have heard his weasel words. He will not be straight with his Back Benchers and he will not be straight with the British people. He had a referendum on the alternative vote, and his position was crystal clear—he was for no. He had a referendum on Scotland, and his position was crystal clear—it was no. He wants a referendum on the EU. No ifs, no buts: is he for in or for out?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is asking me about a referendum that he will not support; the Labour party is so chicken when it comes to trusting the British people. His position is completely unbelievable. We say renegotiate, hold the referendum and let the British people make their choice. He will not even support a referendum. He also says that we should listen to Back Benchers. Perhaps he should try listening to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) who, on immigration, said:

“Let’s be honest about it.”

He said:

“If you make a mistake you should say sorry.”

So let me ask again: why will he not have a referendum, and will he apologise for the mess on immigration?

Edward Miliband: British business will be holding their heads in their hands about a Prime Minister who cannot say that he wants to stay in the European Union. His renegotiation is going nowhere. He is caught between his Back Benchers who want to leave and our national interest that demands we stay. That is why on Europe, he dare not say yes and he dare not say no. He is a “don’t know” Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: I am afraid, Mr Speaker, that this is what happens if we write our questions before we listen to the answer. I could not be clearer: I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union. Unlike the Labour party, we have a plan to get that reform and hold that referendum. This comes at the end of a week when the last Labour Chancellor said that the Tories are right over a referendum; the shadow Deputy Leader of the House said that Labour is in a dreadful position; and John Prescott said that Labour had a problem communicating in English. [Interruption] That is it. When you get a lecture from John Prescott on the English language, you are really in trouble. Everyone can see it: a leader in crisis and a party with nowhere to go.

Q15. [905887] Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): May I ask the Prime Minister a sensible question? Does he welcome the fact that, for the first time ever, all local authorities, business leaders and local enterprise partnerships in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall have reached agreement on the improvements necessary to upgrade the transport infrastructure of the south-west? Will he agree to meet a small delegation from the peninsula so that we can discuss those proposals and he can help us put in place a long-term connectivity plan?

5 Nov 2014 : Column 819

The Prime Minister: I am happy to have that meeting with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right about the need to upgrade the transport links to the south-west, which is why we have been carrying out the rail study. Even before that, we have spent more than £31 million on important rail improvements. A number of road improvements, including the Kingskerswell bypass, have already been put in place. Our roads programme includes major and important work for the south-west. But I am happy to hold that meeting.

Q2. [905874] Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Today’s Health Committee report on mental health services for children and young people describes how budgets have been frozen or cut, services are being closed and young people are being sent hundreds of miles away from their families or kept in police cells because there are no beds. Is that what the Prime Minister means by parity of esteem for mental health services?

The Prime Minister: We have taken a whole series of steps in difficult economic circumstances, of which the first is parity of esteem in the NHS constitution. We have seen a big expansion of talking therapies that were not available under the previous Government; we have introduced for the first time a waiting time standard for young people with psychosis, which never existed under the previous Labour Government; and we have, for the first time, a Minister with dedicated responsibility for child and adolescent mental health services. Of course much more needs to be done. The demands on our mental health services are very great, but the steps that I have mentioned have not been taken by previous Governments. We have managed to take them because we have put the money in and made important reforms to get rid of bureaucracy. All of those things are possible only if there is a strong economy backing a strong NHS.

Q3. [905875] Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): On Saturday, the fountains of Trafalgar square, right through to Lancaster museum and Fleetwood’s Marine hall, were lit purple to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Will the Prime Minister look very carefully at the report produced last week by the all-party group on pancreatic cancer, with the support of Pancreatic Cancer UK, calling for more research into this dreadful disease before it becomes Britain’s fourth biggest killer in terms of cancer?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the all-party group for the work that they do. I know how close this issue is to his heart and how much he feels this personally. The difficult situation here is that the one-year survival rate for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is about 20% and the five-year survival rate is only 5%, and that is not good enough. We are spending more money on research. We are investing a record £800 million over five years in a series of biomedical research centres, including the Liverpool pancreas biomedical research unit. We need the research to go in and for these new treatments to be properly tested so that we can improve these cancer survival rates as we have for other cancers.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Four weeks ago, a 150-year-old industry in my constituency announced that it will be pulling out of Northern Ireland, with the

5 Nov 2014 : Column 820

loss of 900 jobs—the equivalent of 32,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. To say that is a body blow would be an understatement. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and industry leaders to see if we can find a strategy and a way of keeping some of those jobs in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps on a forthcoming visit to Northern Ireland, we might be able to meet in Ulster and discuss these issues. I think the issue he refers to is also plain paper packaging, where I want to see us make progress; I think there are important health benefits there. I am happy to discuss the issue with him.

Q4. [905876] Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): My right hon. Friend may be aware that my constituents Dr and Mrs Turner’s granddaughter died of the dreadful disease meningitis B. Thirty babies die of this a year. Much more worryingly, 300 babies are severely maimed; indeed, a baby in Bristol at the moment is facing quadruple amputations. There is a licensed and safe vaccine available; the issue is cost. Will my right hon. Friend please intervene to see what can be done to resolve this issue?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing up this issue. I am certainly keen to help if I can. If we were able to introduce a vaccine, I think we would be the first country in the world to do so nationally. But as he says, there are issues. That is why, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, we are having discussions with the producer of the vaccine to see whether we can find a cost-effective way of doing this. The case that he raises, and many other heartbreaking cases, show how desirable it is to make progress on this issue.

Q5. [905877] Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): People in Devon face being denied operations if they are overweight or smokers, as well as the loss of all fertility treatment, cataract operations restricted to just one eye, and the closure of Exeter’s very successful walk-in centre, all because of the unprecedented financial crisis facing my local NHS. Does the Prime Minister still think that his massive and costly reorganisation has been a success?

The Prime Minister: What we did by reducing the bureaucracy in the NHS is save £5 billion in this Parliament. That is why, nationally, there are over 8,000 more doctors and 2,500 more nurses. We have been able to do that only because there are 20,000 fewer administrators in the NHS. Those are the figures.

Mr Bradshaw indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but those are the figures. His local clinical commissioning group is getting an £18 million cash increase in the next year, and it is going to get an additional £19 million through the Better Care fund, so locally there should be improvements in services rather than the picture he paints.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I am concerned that the revised criteria for exams in religious studies have yet to be published by the Department for Education.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 821

I am informed that the hold-up is in No. 10. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this is not the case and that they will be published very soon?

The Prime Minister: I will look carefully at the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. It is important to get right the issue of how religious education is carried out. If there is a blockage in my office I will make sure that I go into Dyno-Rod mode and try to get rid of it.

Q6. [905878] Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab): At his party conference, the Prime Minister promised that, if re-elected, he would cut income tax by £7 billion. That money has got to come from somewhere, so just how big an increase in VAT has he got in mind this time?

The Prime Minister: We have demonstrated in this Parliament that if you manage the economy properly, it is possible to reduce spending, to reduce the deficit and to reduce taxes at the same time. That is exactly what we have done. During this Parliament, we have taken the personal allowance—the amount people can earn before paying income tax—from about £6,000 to £10,500. [Interruption.] I know the Labour party does not want to hear good news, but people are paying less income tax under this Government. We have taken 3 million people out of income tax altogether. If re-elected, we want to raise to £12,500 the amount of money that people can earn before they start paying income tax. Why do we want to do this? Because Government Members think people should have more of their own money to spend as they choose.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): Yesterday’s announcement by Rolls-Royce of significant job losses across the country will devastate people and homes, and could well damage our national engineering skills base. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and employee representatives from Rolls-Royce to see if we can try to minimise the effect of this by finding alternative engineering jobs and if we can try to preserve our vital engineering expertise? Will he reassure my constituents in Filton that he will continue to champion our world-renowned and world-class defence export manufacturing?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that I will do everything I can to champion companies such as Rolls-Royce, whether in civil aerospace or defence aerospace. I try to take it on as many of my trade missions as possible, because it is an absolutely world-class, world-beating company. Obviously, it is disappointing that it plans to reduce the number of people it employs. It is not yet clear how many of those job reductions will be here in the UK. Of course, Rolls-Royce employs over 25,000 people in the UK. If we look at what has happened to the aerospace industry over the past four years, we see that employment is up by 10%, exports are up by 48% and turnover is up by a fifth. This is a successful industry that is being backed by our modern industrial strategy, but we need to do everything we can to make sure this company, and others like it, continue to succeed in the years ahead.

Q7. [905879] Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): In 2010, Warrington had 127 full-time equivalent GPs. At the last count, it had 97, and some of my constituents

5 Nov 2014 : Column 822

are waiting up to two weeks for an appointment. Is the Prime Minister’s failure to provide access to basic health care a result of deliberate policy, or is it simply carelessness?

The Prime Minister: First of all, there are 1,000 more GPs across the country than there were in 2010. If the hon. Lady wants to know what has happened in Warrington under this Government: when I became Prime Minister, 130 people were waiting a year for an operation; today, that number is zero. That is what has happened under this Government. Because we are making the money available, it is possible to have more GPs coming into an area, alongside the 1,000 we have already introduced.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): At a time of economic crisis, the stability of the coalition has helped us to build a stronger economy. Does the Prime Minister agree that, in creating a fairer society, any further rise in the tax allowance should not be done on the backs of the poor?

The Prime Minister: It has been possible in this Parliament to raise the personal allowance to take some of the poorest people out of tax—3 million people have been taken out of tax, with a tax cut for 26 million people—at the same time as making decisions that are fair for all, such as, for instance, making sure the NHS gets an extra £12.7 billion. Of course, we do have to make difficult decisions. Some of the difficult decisions we have made have been looking at things such as the Home Office budget, where the police are being far more efficient than they were, and making changes to welfare, each and every one of which has been opposed by the Labour party. The fact is that if you manage the national finances carefully, get our economy to grow properly and ignore the shadow Chancellor, who nearly bankrupted the country, you can do these things together.

Q8. [905880] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): After reading yesterday’s front page of The Times, may I welcome the Prime Minister’s late conversion to ID cards, even if they are—for now—virtual and without Labour’s biometric functionality? If the Prime Minister intends to keep his promise to keep our borders safe and secure, will he tell the House when the system will be in place, and why it has taken him so long?

The Prime Minister: It is a very interesting development that Labour Members are now back in favour of ID cards. I thought even they had seen the folly of their ways. We are introducing proper border checks so that we can count people in and count people out—something that was never available under Labour, and something that Labour actually helped to get rid of. We are also ensuring that we know more about those who are coming and when they have left.

Mr Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend will recall our support for the training of Libyan troops at Bassingbourn barracks in my constituency. Does he share my concern that the programme failed to maintain discipline, and the consequences of that were very serious in my local community? Will the Ministry of Defence account fully to my constituents for the failures in the delivery of the programme, and does the Prime Minister agree that the

5 Nov 2014 : Column 823

Libyan soldiers should now be repatriated to Libya, and that there is no basis for any of them to seek or receive asylum in this country?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my right hon. Friend on every front. What has happened at Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire is completely unacceptable. These are criminal actions, and I have asked the Chief of the Defence Staff for a report into that. A decision was taken at the National Security Council, which I chaired on 28 October, to end the training altogether. The trainees will be returning to Libya in the coming days and, in the meantime, all unescorted visits from the camp have been stopped altogether.

Q9. [905881] Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Which does the Prime Minister believe is more immoral—raising VAT to 20%, or concealing the intention to do so?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Lady what is immoral, and that is racking up debts for our children that we are not prepared to pay ourselves. That is what we inherited. We inherited the biggest budget deficit of any country anywhere in the world. That is the moral—or rather immoral—inheritance that we received from the Labour party.

Q10. [905882] Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Returning to the economy, is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start-ups outside London, the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the north-east of England? Does he agree that we should stick to the long-term economic plan so that we can all have the benefit of that?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is notable when we look at things like small business creation, exports and investment that growth is coming from around the country, including the north-east. That is a huge contrast with 13 years of Labour when in our economy, for every 10 jobs created in the south only one was created in the north. That is the record of the last Labour Government. We need to increase entrepreneurialism and start-ups in every part of our country—that is what start-up loans and the enterprise allowance scheme are doing. There is a new spirit of enterprise in Britain, and this Government are backing it.

Q11. [905883] Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): In 2012 my constituent, Sam Boon, died while on a World Challenge trip to Morocco. He was 17. The coroner was so concerned at the multiple failings that she issued a section 28 report to the Minister for Schools to prevent future deaths. There are British safety standards, but they are entirely voluntary. Why is adherence to those standards not compulsory, so that no other parent has to suffer like Mr and Mrs Boon?

The Prime Minister: I would like to look carefully at the case the hon. Lady has mentioned and write to her about it. It is important to ensure that safety standards are upheld, and to try to prevent tragedies such as the one she refers to.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 824

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Government have been absolutely right to push for 90% availability of superfast broadband by next year, and for universal basic broadband services. Is the Prime Minister aware that those targets could be missed even in urban areas such as Cheltenham, and will he ask Ministers to ensure that local delivery matches the Government’s ambition?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly do that. We review very regularly the performance of broadband targets, because that is absolutely essential, particularly for rural areas. If someone is left off superfast broadband, it is much more difficult to take part in the modern economy. Progress has been very good, and it has made a big difference that British Telecom is prepared to publish all the areas not yet covered, so that other companies can come in and see what they are able to provide. We are also making available broadband vouchers for small businesses, which are very successful, and we can look to see whether we can expand that. I am convinced that spreading broadband right around the country is one of the most important priorities for this Government.

Q12. [905884] Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): Since the Prime Minister likes to bang on about Labour overspending, is he aware that in Labour’s 11 years before the crash in 2008 the biggest deficit was 3.3% of GDP, whereas the Thatcher and Major Governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 out of their 18 years? So who are the over- spenders? It is a no-brainer.

The Prime Minister: There is only one problem with what the right hon. Gentleman says, which is that the deficit that Labour left, and we inherited, was 11.5% of GDP. It was bigger than almost any other country’s anywhere in the world. If he does not believe me, he can listen to his own shadow Chancellor, who said this:

“I think that the fact that you had the massive, global financial crisis which happened on our watch meant that people saw their living standards hit…I don’t think we would be being straight with people if we only said it was the financial crisis. It was also after 13 years in government we had made some mistakes.”

There we have it—some mistakes. You bet there were mistakes: overspending, over-borrowing, overtaxing, wasteful welfare, bloated expenditure. A complete and utter failure and it is extraordinary they are still sitting there on the Front Bench.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that millions of people have been to see the 888,246 poppies at the Tower of London, designed and commissioned by Paul Cummins from Derby. Will he congratulate the hundreds of volunteers who have helped to make them in Derby, and the hundreds and hundred of volunteers who helped to plant them, to commemorate this very important centenary?

The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising all those who have been involved in this extraordinary project, which has I think brought forward from the British public a huge amount of reverence for those who have given their lives and served our country. The numbers going to see this display have been truly extraordinary. It is worth remembering that out of this display a lot of good will come, because, as I understand

5 Nov 2014 : Column 825

it, the poppies are being auctioned to raise a lot of money for military and veterans charities that will be there to do good in many years to come. It is an extraordinary display and one that the country can be very proud of.

Q13. [905885] Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): In the past 12 months, it is estimated that 24,000 people have died from diabetes-related complications. Next Friday is world diabetes day. As one of the 3.2 million diabetics, may I urge the Prime Minister to do all he can to raise awareness on this issue, in particular to introduce measures that will reduce the amount of sugar in our food and drink? We can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and we can save lives.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the importance of this issue. The consequences of diabetes, in terms of appalling things such as leg amputations, cost the NHS literally billions of pounds a year. If we can get better at preventing diabetes, and then testing and better at helping diabetics themselves, we can make huge savings while improving people’s quality of life.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 826

I gather the right hon. Gentleman also wants me to try to ban sugar and fizzy drinks in No. 10 Downing street for 24 hours. I will try to negotiate that with my children. He also, as I understand it, wants me to light my home blue. That is something I am all in favour of—keeping it that way for some time to come.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): HS3 and other improvements to rail connectivity in the north-west are important, but the recent parliamentary approval given to the Able UK development in northern Lincolnshire emphasises the importance of connections on the south trans-Pennine route between Cleethorpes and Manchester. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that my constituency and northern Lincolnshire will figure in future proposals to improve connectivity, so that the area can benefit from the Government’s long-term economic plan?

The Prime Minister: I certainly assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at all the elements of east-west connectivity and trying to make sure that we bring the benefits of faster journey times, greater capacity and electrification to all parts of the country. I know the Chancellor was listening very carefully to the statement he made.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 827

Rolls-Royce (Aerospace Group)

12.35 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Business and Enterprise if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to the 2,600 job cuts announced by Rolls-Royce across its aerospace group and on plans to establish an economic response taskforce to assist those who lose their jobs in the United Kingdom.

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): Yesterday Rolls-Royce announced plans to reduce its global headcount by 2,600 over the next 18 months, mainly in its aerospace division. It has not yet decided where the losses will occur, although a significant proportion are expected to be in the UK. Rolls-Royce is in consultation with the work force and the unions about the details of how the reductions will be made. Rolls-Royce has explained that it needs to make the changes to secure its competitiveness in a challenging global market. I realise that this will be a worrying time for the work force and their families. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary cannot be here as he has a prior speaking engagement, but both he and I have spoken to Rolls-Royce and made it clear that we will do all we can to work with the company to support those made redundant.

Since 2010, Rolls-Royce has created 4,000 new jobs in the UK. Part of that increase reflects the large engineering team needed to develop the new Trent engines for the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 XWB, or extra-wide body. Now that these engines have moved from the development phase to the production phase, Rolls-Royce believes that it needs to reduce its development work force. A high proportion of the affected jobs are likely to be engineering jobs, and we know that shortages of engineering skills exist across the UK. We are therefore operating the talent retention solution, which matches engineering talent with new job opportunities. This will be specifically tailored to the needs of Rolls-Royce.

Skills training will be made available where appropriate for those who need to retrain, and a taskforce based on the skills and jobs retention group, including local and national Government, local partners, Rolls-Royce, the supply chain and others, will be established to ensure that we do all we can. The group has a successful track record in redeploying engineering talent with other growing businesses, most recently working with BAE. It is already in contact with Rolls-Royce and other potential employers.

Rolls-Royce has a proud history in the UK in aerospace, employing nearly 25,000 people last year, out of a global work force of 55,000. Its aero engines power more than 30 types of commercial aircraft, with around 13,000 engines in service. Rolls-Royce is, and will remain, the second largest provider of defence aero engine products and services anywhere in the world. In the long term, the prospects for UK aerospace remain bright. Rolls-Royce will continue to take graduates and recruit apprentices, ensuring that it has a pipeline of talent for the future. Our aerospace growth partnership has put in place a long-term plan for the whole aerospace industry, and we have consistently supported Rolls’s investment in new technology, modern manufacturing processes and skills development.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 828

We are determined to support Rolls-Royce while it makes the changes it needs, as part of our growing and world-beating aerospace sector, to ensure that it retains its dominant position. Announcements of job losses are never welcome. We will work with all involved to mitigate the impact, support those affected and ensure that British engineering and British manufacturing can rise to the challenge they face and build a secure future.

Chris Williamson: I am grateful to the Minister for his statement. He will know that Rolls-Royce was created in Derby and owes its success to Derby, and that this news will be a bitter blow to a proud work force who have delivered that great success for the company. I wonder whether I can probe him a little further on what he and the Government will do to work with the company to minimise job losses in the United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce is the biggest employer in Derby, employing highly skilled, well-paid engineers, so if there is a large job loss in the city, it will have a devastating impact on the wider economy.

Will the Minister also say something about potential skills shortages as a consequence of a short-term decision taken by Rolls-Royce? I appreciate his comments about the potential redeployment opportunities, and we will certainly work with the Government to assist wherever we can on that. The aerospace industry is obviously important, and Rolls-Royce is an iconic international company. It is therefore important, I think, that the Government look at what they can do to work with the company to make sure that this decision to reduce the work force does not lead to a skills shortage further down the track. I would also be grateful if he said something about the conversations he has had or will have with the company in relation to the 400 apprentices in the system, and what guarantees he might be able to secure for them when they complete their training.

Finally, is there anything more the Government can do with research and development, particularly with regard to reimbursable launch investments? Is there scope to be more creative in the use of them—not just for Rolls-Royce, but for the wider manufacturing industry? It is really important for the Government to do whatever they can to promote and increase the scope of manufacturing in our country. These are high-value jobs; they are not the zero-hour, part-time, low-paid jobs that we have seen as a feature of the economic and jobs growth over the last couple of years. These are vital high-skilled jobs, and we need more of them.

The Prime Minister visited Derby several years ago with the Cabinet to say that he wanted to rebalance the economy in favour of manufacturing industry. I just hope that when the Minister gets to his feet, he will be able to provide some reassurances on the points I have made and show that the Government mean what they say and will actually work with the company to ensure that these job losses are minimised. As I said, the success of Rolls-Royce is down to the tenacity, skills and dedication of the work force in Derby, so it is really important that the job losses in our city are minimised.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman spoke with great passion and wisdom on matters with which he is intimately concerned. For the future, however, it would

5 Nov 2014 : Column 829

be helpful if people tried to stick to the time limits on these matters, because there are many colleagues to accommodate. I do not wish to embarrass her, but I think that colleagues will probably learn shortly from the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) how it can be done pithily.

Matthew Hancock: Of course we are working to ensure that, as much as possible, those who face redundancy through this process have the support they need, especially to get other jobs in the sectors that are expanding fast. Aero as a whole is expanding, with its exports up sharply over the last four years.

I would, however, caution the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). I very much look forward to working with him, colleagues and others to ensure that those who are affected get the support they need, but the 4,000-job increase in Rolls-Royce employment over the last four years has, in large part, been in exactly the sorts of high-skilled, high-quality jobs we all want to see. I do not think it behoves the hon. Gentleman well to try to deny that in some way. [Interruption.] On the contrary, what we are trying to do is ensure that, where there are skilled people, they get the retraining that they may need or the connection to those who are trying to expand, and where there are skills shortages in engineering, that undoubtedly means that there are opportunities and job vacancies for the people with those skills who are being made redundant by Rolls-Royce.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his commitment to try to alleviate and find alternative employment for the individuals affected by this devastating announcement, and for his support for and commitment to the aerospace industry, which is important to our global position as a country, enabling us to export, thrive and prosper. Does he also agree that Rolls-Royce engineers, such as the ones working at Filton, just around the corner from where I live, play a vital role in our defence sovereign capability, allowing us to defend our country by producing kit and equipment in the future?

Matthew Hancock: Of course they do. The UK Government’s annual expenditure on defence equipment is about £16 billion. Of course, we have a long-term equipment programme, which is financed and in balance. Rolls-Royce plays a vital part in the supply chain, contributing a huge amount to the defence of this country. On the defence side, those orders will undoubtedly continue to be effectively competed for by Rolls-Royce. Across the piece, our determination in the coming days and weeks is to ensure that anyone who is affected by Rolls-Royce’s final decision, once it is made, obtains the support they need to get the jobs that are increasingly available in engineering.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I think the whole House will share my concern about the fate of workers at Rolls-Royce sites and across its supply chain, who today face uncertainty, anxiety and the risk of losing their jobs. The UK aerospace industry is the largest in Europe and is second only to that of the United States. We need to maintain and support the sector, which provides high-skilled, well-paid manufacturing jobs as well as world-leading innovation and product development.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 830

May I ask the Minister what the implications of this decision are for the Government’s industrial strategy? Does he share my concern that a key part of our long-term manufacturing capability is being sacrificed in the interests of a short-term boost for share price and shareholders? Is he concerned that the proposed job losses are concentrated in engine development, exactly the part of the business and aerospace strategy in which we need to maintain and extend our competitive edge in the next few decades? We cannot lose that capability, so what is he actively doing to maintain it? Can the Minister reassure the House that this does not represent the fact that the Government’s aerospace strategy has been grounded at the slightest hint of turbulence?

This week’s announcement on Rolls-Royce has raised concerns and questions, but it has broader implications for British manufacturing through its supply chain. For every engine sold by Rolls-Royce, 3,000 jobs are supported in the supply chain. Following this decision, what active steps are the Government taking to ensure stability in the aerospace supply chain?

The irony has not been lost that the engineers for tomorrow’s engines face redundancy in Tomorrow’s Engineers week. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) said, the jobs at risk at Rolls-Royce are exactly the type of high-skilled, well-paid jobs that we need to see more of; we must not see them leaving these shores or being lost to the industry. Therefore, what active steps are the Government taking to ensure that those vital skills are protected and not lost for good? Have Ministers sought assurances that the firm’s work force and employee representatives will be properly involved and consulted?

It is not good enough for the Minister to say that this is just a commercial consideration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his foreword to the Aerospace Growth Partnership strategy, said:

“Aerospace is a national economic asset to be supported.”

It is time that the Minister acted.

Matthew Hancock: It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman wrote that before he heard my statement. Of course the consultations that he requested are taking place. I have received assurances from Rolls-Royce that it will consult widely. On the industrial strategy, first, having an industrial strategy is a big step forward. The Aerospace Growth Partnership is laying the foundations for long-term support of the UK aerospace sector to ensure that it is competitive in the long term. As part of ensuring that the sector is competitive, it should be allowed to change the formulation of the businesses if it feels that it needs to do that. The assurances I have sought and received are not only that consultation with staff will be widespread but that Rolls-Royce will participate with us in actively seeking other opportunities for those who are made redundant. The talent retention solution, our mechanism to ensure that, if people with a high skill set are made redundant in one company, other companies that have a shortage of that skill set are made aware of that, has worked with BAe, in Portsmouth and other places. We are working to ensure that everyone gets the best possible future.

Unemployment under this Government has fallen by 40% in Derby in the last four years. There is not an ounce of complacency on the Government Benches. We will do everything we can to ensure that everyone gets

5 Nov 2014 : Column 831

the opportunity that they need. We will work with the company, the unions and others to ensure that the impact of this is mitigated as much as it can be.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I have many constituents who work for Rolls-Royce in Nuneaton, Coventry and Derby and they and their families will be extremely concerned by this news. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all he can to engage with the company to mitigate the effects of the announcement? Will he undertake to work with other Departments, particularly the Department for Work and Pensions, to give maximum support to anyone who is affected by this news?

Matthew Hancock: Absolutely. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in supporting his local industry, and I agree with him that all Government agencies should be involved in giving it the support that it needs. Work on that has already started. The details will of course depend on the detailed decision about where the job losses will fall, but the making of an announcement at the start of the process has helped us to get that work up and running. As I have said, the skills and jobs retention group—which, although based in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is broadly based and includes many representatives of the industry—is already in contact with the company to make sure that we do all that we can.

Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab): The Minister has made it plain that there is concern about the individuals and families affected, and I think that the whole House will share that view. I hope he is aware that the work force and their union representatives have always made it clear to all local Members of Parliament that they are also concerned with the national interest. Maintaining the right balance of skills and capacity will enable not just this company but the whole industry to succeed. Will the Minister be sure to bear that in mind over the coming weeks?

Matthew Hancock: Those are wise words from a former Secretary of State. Rolls-Royce is not only a global success for British industry but a vital part of our industrial landscape, and, as has been pointed out, it also plays a crucial part in our defence capability. Of course we work very closely with the company, whose success is in the national interest as well as the interest of those who are employed there.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): The Minister mentioned a talent retention group that would help to redeploy engineering talent. How will he ensure that the group is sent to Bristol and Filton quickly and with the maximum resources available, and will he arrange for its members to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and any other willing Bristol Members of Parliament, so that we can assist our constituents who are affected in any way that we can?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, I can certainly do that. While the main focus may be on Derby, there will be concerned employees and their families in many other sites, including

5 Nov 2014 : Column 832

Bristol. No decisions have yet been made on the locations of any redundancies, but, as well as consulting local stakeholders, we will ensure that local MPs are heavily involved in the consultation process.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): These are obviously very worrying times for Rolls-Royce employees. I broadly welcome the Government’s reassurances about the steps that they will take to alleviate those worries, but there is also a more significant national concern. We are desperately short of skilled engineers nationally, and we desperately need to recruit them and encourage young people to go into engineering; yet here we have a global blue-chip engineering company in this country that is actually laying people off. What measures can the Minister take to counter the negative impression that that creates, so that we can recruit the young people whom we need so much to do skilled engineering jobs throughout the country in the future?

Matthew Hancock: Obviously this announcement is not a cheerful one, but Rolls-Royce has made it clear that it will continue both its graduate programme and its apprenticeship programme, which I know at first hand to be excellent. It is good news that Rolls-Royce is continuing to supply younger talent. It undoubtedly has an eye on the long-term future, and the need to ensure that there is a talented skills base. As for the shorter term, the fact that there are skill shortages in similar areas means that there are more job opportunities for those who are made redundant, and we must make the most of that.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Rolls-Royce clearly did not make this decision lightly. Making it will have taken the company a great deal of time. The problem is, however, that the employees will be very uncertain until they know exactly what the position is. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that packages are in place as soon as possible once people know what is going to happen? Will he also ensure that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills work with UKTI to ensure that Rolls-Royce secures more orders in the future, so that we can retain as many members of its highly paid, skilled work force as possible in the Derby area?

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend has made a very good point. The decision to make these reductions over a period of 18 months does, of course, mean that there will be a period of uncertainty, but the fact that the announcement was made at the start is helpful, because it means that we can line up the support that will be provided by the Government and others. We engaged in discussions with the company for a couple of weeks before the announcement to ensure that everything would be ready in time for it, and we must ensure that consultations with the work force and their unions continue.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I was slightly concerned by the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), which suggested that he did not realise how much of an impact this decision could have on Bristol as well as Derby, those being the sites of the two largest aerospace sections. Rolls-Royce has a very good apprenticeship scheme, and I am particularly

5 Nov 2014 : Column 833

concerned about the people who are beginning apprenticeships now. What hope can the Minister give them that if older workers are laid off—whether voluntarily or not—there will be jobs for them, so they ought to stick at it and obtain the skills that they are currently trying to acquire?

Matthew Hancock: I do not think that the hon. Lady’s initial characterisation was fair. Bristol is home to a significant Rolls-Royce operation and more than 4,000 apprenticeships have been started in her constituency since 2010, so I entirely understand her concern about the future of apprentices. However, I think that the announcement by Rolls-Royce that it will maintain its graduate and apprenticeship programmes is an important statement of intent to support the younger work force.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): About a month ago, Rolls-Royce issued a profit warning in which it said that the problem that it faced was the effect of the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Have my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the company over the last couple of weeks included any discussion of the proportion of the job losses that will have been caused, or affected, by our position in regard to sanctions?

Matthew Hancock: That issue has not been raised with me directly. However, the question of whether we impose sanctions on Russia, and the question of how we deal with Russia, must be considered in the context of the national interest as a whole. Furthermore, international stability and ensuring that sovereign territory is not violated by other sovereign states constitute a crucial principle of global order, and that in itself means that it is necessary to take sanctions against Russia following its action in Ukraine. Some UK interests may be directly affected, but there is a much bigger picture: the need to ensure that we have a more stable international order.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): As one who, in his former being, dealt with Rolls-Royce and many other companies and conducted many processes of consultation, I find it extraordinary that the Minister should say that the role of the Government is “to help Rolls-Royce to make the changes”. The purpose of any consultation is first and foremost to establish whether proposed changes should go ahead. Given that, in this instance, there are significant national interest issues ranging from defence to engine development, will the Minister meet representatives of the company to establish whether it would be prepared to change its decision in whole or in part?

Matthew Hancock: As I said earlier, I have met Rolls-Royce executives and spoken to them about the decision, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Rolls-Royce faces a competitive international environment, and if it is to be successful in the future, it will need to be competitive in the future. As has been mentioned, there have been financial pressures on the company, and it is important for it to defend itself against them. Our job is to support those who are affected, and also to talk to the company while it is making its decisions about who will be affected. It is doing that in a consultative way, which I think is the right approach, and we will continue our own engagement.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 834

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend expand on the conversations that he has been having? I think that there are real opportunities for many of those whose jobs may be at risk to move into other parts of the Rolls-Royce family. I am thinking particularly of the new gas-fired power stations, because there are some innovative ways of using aero-engines to run them. It would be a tragic loss if Rolls-Royce did not consider every possible opportunity to redeploy the 1,400 or so of my constituents who currently work at Rolls-Royce in Derby.

Matthew Hancock: I am sure that will be taken into consideration. Also, as this is an 18-month process, if things change during that time—for instance, if new orders come in or other parts of the business are successful—I am sure that can be taken into account. I also want to make sure that opportunities outside Rolls-Royce are made available to those made redundant. All these matters must be taken into account.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I and many other MPs represent constituencies with a Rolls-Royce presence. Coventry may be particularly badly affected by this news, although we do not know the final outcome. The Minister should recognise the hard work put in by the labour force in changing working practices and the other changes that they have been prepared to make. Will the Minister meet a delegation of concerned MPs to discuss this? Families up and down the country are going to be very worried as this is a national issue. Cuts in defence affect Rolls-Royce as much as cuts in the civil arena. The Minister should also bear in mind the fact that Rolls-Royce gets a lot of Government grants for research and development, as he may want to use that as a lever to get the truth out of the company.

Matthew Hancock: Of course the relationship between the Government and Rolls-Royce is a very close one, not least because of the support we give it for research and development, but also because of the defence relationship, which is vital to our national security. Of course, I should be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues about this issue. I agree that we should pay tribute to the work of Rolls-Royce employees and the fact that they have a modern and flexible set of practices across the business in order to help Rolls-Royce be a world-beating company. They are determined to continue that, and we are determined to see that continue too.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Yesterday I was very pleased to host Crawley headquarters, Virgin Atlantic airways here in the House of Commons. It has just ordered 21 Boeing 787s, all with Rolls-Royce engines. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the growth of our innovative aviation sector is key to ensuring that, wherever possible, we maintain a high degree of engineering capability?

Matthew Hancock: One of the explanations that Rolls-Royce has given for this news is that it is coming to the end of a development phase and moving into a production phase for exactly the engines my hon. Friend mentions. Such changes in timing have their effects of course, but the overall picture for the UK aerospace industry is a bright one. Exports are up by almost 50% over the last

5 Nov 2014 : Column 835

four years, employment is up, turnover is up and our share of the global market is growing—we are second to the United States and we will remain so. Overall, therefore, there is a positive picture across the industry and we must make the most of that, while also dealing with the direct impact of this decision on individuals who are understandably concerned.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will know of my long-term interest in the manufacturing sector and, of course, suppliers in Huddersfield supply to Rolls-Royce. This is a brilliant company in a very fast-moving sector. The Minister said we have developed an engine that is moving into production, but my one concern is that if we are going to keep up with the competition, we will need to be developing new engines. Is that not a problem? Is that a worry or a concern?

Matthew Hancock: If the hon. Gentleman says that that is his one concern, he must be a very happy man. There are lots of concerns, all of which we need to take into account. Making sure that we remain at the forefront and the cutting edge of development is, of course, important. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done to support manufacturing and to push for an industrial strategy across the manufacturing sector. He is at the forefront of Members in driving this agenda forward, and I look forward to working with him as we get through these times.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): This sad news will also be a great concern to the 500-plus people in my constituency who work for Rolls-Royce. The company also plays a great role in training young people who work for small and medium-sized businesses all around Derbyshire. Will the Minister work to ensure that training is not lost through these changes?

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The supply chain is vital, and it relies on Rolls-Royce for contracts, but it also relies on Rolls-Royce because it has a policy of training apprentices, and some of those apprentices then go out into the supply chain, making sure the supply chain gets the skills training it needs. That has worked incredibly effectively, so I am very pleased that the Rolls-Royce apprenticeship programme will continue and that that was part of the announcement, because the point my hon. Friend made is incredibly important.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The aerospace growth partnership and the defence growth partnership are welcome long-term commitments by the Government, very strongly supported by the Opposition, to the aerospace industry. Is the Minister as disappointed as I am that that long-termism from Government is not mirrored by long-termism by Rolls-Royce? Should we not also have a long-term approach to our aerospace industry from large companies in the sector such as Rolls-Royce?

Matthew Hancock: I welcome the Opposition’s support for the aerospace growth partnership and the defence growth partnership. These are good models that are broadly very successful and are being copied around the

5 Nov 2014 : Column 836

world. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that having a plan that works in the long term is not the same as keeping everything the same, and changes do have to be made from time to time—most of the time, in fact—to ensure companies stay competitive within that long-term framework. That is why our task is to make sure there are more jobs in engineering and that those affected by this decision can get those jobs.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Rolls-Royce has sites at Bankfield and Ghyll Brow in Barnoldswick in my constituency, where it currently employs more than 1,000 people producing aerospace fan-blades. Sadly, under the previous Government Rolls-Royce opened a mirror factory in Singapore to manufacture the same fan-blades, as the company opted to invest abroad rather than in the UK, and, unfortunately, already this year we have seen 100 job losses at the Barnoldswick sites. My right hon. Friend has been kind enough to visit Pendle in the past, so may I invite him to visit again so he can see the fantastic Rolls-Royce facilities we have in Pendle and their importance to our whole local economy?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, I would be delighted to come back to Pendle. I well remember my visit and seeing some of the apprentices who are being trained in Pendle in exactly these sorts of areas. We have got to make sure that that continues in the future, so I look forward to coming back in the next six months.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): The Minister will know that Derby and Derbyshire are home to the largest cluster of rail engineering companies in the world. What assessment has he made of the impact of Rolls-Royce’s announcement on the wider engineering and manufacturing supply chain in the east midlands—he mentioned apprenticeships—and what is he doing to address the concerns?

Matthew Hancock: Of course any impact on the supply chain must be taken into account in responding to this decision. The fact that there are engineering shortages, which I think the hon. Lady acknowledges, is a challenge for this country, but it is also a glimmer of light for those affected by this decision, because it means there are more job opportunities in engineering and related activities. We must make the most of that glimmer of light, while supporting those made redundant following this decision.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) about the damage this decision could do to the defence industry. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and Babcock which, as he may know, will potentially be facing a shortage of nuclear engineers, especially with Hinkley C coming on board? We shall need to make sure that it can continue to do the work of refitting and refuelling our nuclear submarines in the best dockyard in the country.

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend certainly represents one of the best dockyards in the country. I am very happy to have the meeting he suggests; maybe we should have that meeting in Plymouth at some time during the next six months.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 837

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I was extremely worried when this morning at an event in the House of Lords for Nissan the Business Secretary seemed to say that the potential loss of thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs at the factory in my constituency in Washington, and those of others around the country, would be good news for other employers, who could snap them up. Would the Minister like to clarify those comments on behalf of his boss and give us an assurance today that he will fight, rather than accept, the loss of these highly skilled, much needed jobs?

Matthew Hancock: Of course, I was not present at this morning’s event, and I doubt very much whether that was my right hon. Friend’s intention. However, the point is that we have engineering and manufacturing growth, and this has been a difficult achievement and something of a turnaround job. Partly as a consequence of the lack of engineering training in the previous decade, we have engineering shortages, and I hope they can be filled, including from those affected by this decision. As I said in my statement, any decision to have redundancies is undoubtedly an unwelcome one, but it is our job to ensure that the people affected get every best possible potential chance for the future, and we will work night and day to do that.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Can the Minister assure the House that he will liaise with local enterprise partnerships such as D2N2 to secure long-term capital investment in sites such as the Hucknall site, in my constituency, so that those factories can continue to be the most efficient in the world and we can secure the high-skilled engineering jobs they currently provide?

Matthew Hancock: D2N2 is one of the LEPs that make a very strong case for investment in the local area—in Hucknall and in other parts of Nottinghamshire, and of course in Derbyshire. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on that, as on many other matters.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Aerospace is one of Britain’s key trading sectors, as the Minister has acknowledged today at the Dispatch Box. Within it, Rolls-Royce is an important exporter for the United Kingdom. Given that, can the Minister update the House today on the implications of this week’s announcement by Rolls-Royce for the Government’s strategy of doubling exports to £1 trillion by 2020?

Matthew Hancock: As I have said, aerospace industry exports have gone up by almost 50% in the last few years, supported by the aerospace industrial partnership and by the excellent work of UK Trade & Investment. We want to see that increase continue. We are growing our aerospace global market share and developing new products, and we absolutely and fully support that. This decision does not reflect changes to orders; it reflects the company’s decision on how to fulfil its obligations.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 838

The enthusiasm for and weight behind those strategies, which have cross-party support, to increase both civil and defence aerospace exports will absolutely continue.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Yesterday’s announcement was viewed with concern by Rolls-Royce workers at the Ansty site in my constituency. Does the Minister agree on the importance of the company working with employees to ensure that any redundancies in the UK are made on a voluntary basis, and does he agree on the need for flexibility within the work force to ensure that this first-class British company can respond efficiently to a fast-changing world market?

Matthew Hancock: Absolutely. The site at Ansty that supports innovation in aerospace, which my hon. Friend and I have visited, has received £60 million of investment and is a crucial part of ensuring that we have the highest-value, high-end, highly innovative, high-technology manufacturing. Of course Rolls-Royce plays a part in that, and it is a very important part of their future, so we must ensure that the momentum behind that continues.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): It was not inconceivable that the engineering phase of the Trent engine project’s reaching a quieter stage would result in personnel changes. How did the Department’s sectoral strategy reflect this?

Matthew Hancock: The sectoral strategy is about making sure that the aerospace industry and, more broadly, engineering in the UK as a whole works: making sure that we have the organisations ready to help people move out of roles that are becoming redundant and go into growing roles with similar skill sets for which there are vacancies—whether within or outside that company. Those structures are set up. We are setting up a specific group to support those who are made redundant through this process, because we must ensure that, where there are skill shortages, they are filled.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): As we have heard, there is a skills shortage across the whole of our economy in both trained and trainee engineers, as identified in a recent Science and Technology Committee report. Will my right hon. Friend therefore ensure that, despite this disappointing news, the message goes out stronger than ever to students who are about to choose their options that engineering is still much needed and is still a great career to train for?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, absolutely. Employment in engineering is rising, engineers are well paid and it is an exciting profession. Some of the estimates of the skills shortages across the country are far higher than the 2,600 redundancies globally we are talking about today. These careers are exciting and long term. Britain is a world leader in this regard, and I would encourage anybody who is considering an engineering career to look at it incredibly closely if they want an exciting future.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 839

Points of Order

1.15 pm

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I chair, is looking into the administrative scheme for so-called on-the-runs, which caused a stay to be put on the prosecution of someone accused of carrying out the Hyde Park bombings in 1982, when four people were killed. One of the most important witnesses is of course the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr Blair has failed to offer us any date when he could come before the Committee. He has not refused to do so, but in effect he has by not offering any date. He has offered to submit written answers, which I am sure you will appreciate is totally unsatisfactory. Given the importance of this inquiry, its sensitive nature and what it means to people in Northern Ireland and indeed beyond, I wonder whether you could advise the Committee how we might proceed.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me notice of this matter. It is of course open to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which the hon. Gentleman so ably chairs, to exercise its formal power to summon witnesses, but I hope it will be possible to resolve the issue without recourse to that. The hon. Gentleman has made his point and exposed the issue publicly. I am sure that the former Prime Minister intends no discourtesy and will swiftly respond.

For the record, I can also advise the hon. Gentleman that some years ago, when I served as a member of the International Development Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), who of course continues to chair it, we asked to see former Prime Minister Blair in relation to the middle east peace process. Mr Blair did attend and addressed us knowledgably and with alacrity, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will keep his hopes alive.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know that tomorrow, we will have an innovation in this House. For the first time ever, the front of the Order Paper will acknowledge that 100 years ago, Captain Arthur O’Neill, the former Member for Mid-Antrim and Captain, 2nd Battalion, The Lifeguards, was killed in action in Belgium during the first world war. That puts our acknowledgement of his service on the record on the Order Paper, but I wonder whether, in your infinite wisdom, you could find a way to ensure that it ends up in the written record of tomorrow’s proceedings as well.

Mr Speaker: In my “infinite wisdom”—the hon. Gentleman’s words, not mine—I can, and I will.

Chris Bryant: Good. Well done.

Mr Speaker: I am always grateful for the approbation of the hon. Gentleman.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 840

Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.18 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision in relation to the reserve forces of the Crown; to provide that certain offences committed towards members of the armed forces and their families shall be treated as aggravated; to prohibit discrimination against members of the armed forces and their families in terms of provision of goods, services and employment; and for connected purposes.

Remembrance week is always a poignant time for communities across the United Kingdom. We not only remember the sacrifices made by previous generations stretching back over the past century; we also honour those of the current generation who have given their lives to safeguard our country and protect our freedoms and those of our friends around the globe.

This year is particularly significant as it marks not just the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war and the 70th anniversary of D-day but the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. Although the scale of each conflict is different, the loss to each family of those brave young people who have been killed will be no less today than it was in those earlier wars. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), wrote a few years ago:

“In this age of moral equivalence it must be said that no other occupational group in the United Kingdom matches up to UNMS”—

the unique nature of military service.

“In particular, none belong 24/7 to the Crown, is exempted from normal working practices of the sort governed by the European working-time directive and national minimum wage legislation, has no organised representation, may not easily terminate their service particularly on notice for deployment, will probably sustain some sort of illness or injury if deployed and has liability up to and including death with all that means for dependants cascading through the generations.”

I think the whole House recognises that we owe a special debt to those who risk their lives abroad to defend our freedoms, and that we must ensure that they receive, as they deserve, the full shield of Government protection when they return home.

That is why the Bill seeks to tackle the discrimination that our armed forces and their families suffer in four areas. First, the House will recall that the noble Lord Ashcroft carried out a survey in 2012, with the support of the Ministry of Defence, of some 9,000 serving personnel across all three armed services. Some quite astonishing and scandalous figures came out of that survey. About 5% of members of our armed forces reported that they or their family had suffered physical assault or attempted physical assault during the previous five years, and 19% of them reported that they had been the victim of verbal abuse in that period. I am sure we can all think of the type of abuse that, regrettably, is hurled by a mindless minority at members of our armed forces. Only last week a 15-year-old Army cadet was assaulted by a drunken yob for no other reason than that he was wearing his uniform and selling poppies.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 841

The Bill would make such crimes aggravated offences. It is not acceptable to abuse someone for wearing the uniform of our country.

Secondly, Lord Ashcroft’s survey found that one in five members of the armed forces or their families had been refused service in shops, pubs or restaurants simply because of their profession. In Edinburgh last year, a pub refused to serve the crew of HMS Edinburgh—who, ironically, had just been awarded the freedom of the city—because they were in their dress uniforms and the landlord claimed that they might have caused trouble, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day and they were completely sober. This type of prejudice is unacceptable and must be tackled.

Thirdly, it is not just when they are in uniform that our armed forces face prejudice or adversity. The Defence Committee highlighted last year—and the Ministry of Defence accepted—that too many reservists face discrimination when seeking work. Many employers recognise the advantages that reservists can bring: they are hard working self-starters who know how to work well in a team. Babcock, BT and BAE Systems are just three examples of major British companies actively promoting the benefits of serving in the reserves. However, too many companies are refusing to hire reservists because they operate under the mistaken impression that their business operations will be disrupted when the reservists are called up. The Bill would stop companies refusing to hire reservists.

We want every business to follow the example set by those companies that recognise and appreciate our reserves, but the reality is that warm words will not help those men and women who want to serve our nation while at the same time working in civilian professions. So, fourthly, we also recognise the challenges that some reservists face in meeting their training commitments on their company’s annual leave allocation. To its credit, the MOD acknowledges this problem and has been trying—albeit unsuccessfully—to persuade businesses voluntarily to give additional unpaid leave to reservists so that they can complete their required training each year. This failure is not just bad for our armed forces; it is bad news for the good employers who provide additional support to allow reservists to fulfil their obligations. That is why, if the voluntary approach is failing, we must use mandatory methods. We have a duty to our reservists and to our good companies. Above all else, we have a duty to support our nation’s defences.

This weekend, Members from both sides of the House will return to their constituencies to pay tribute to those who have given their lives to protect our nation. Today we have an opportunity not just to pay tribute but to protect those who continue to serve our nation at home and around the globe. I hope that the House will support the Bill.

1.25 pm

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): In opposing this measure, I feel that I should declare an interest. I spent 18 years in the regular armed forces. I also spent 17 years in the reserves—not doing very much, I should add. I am delighted to say that I receive a military pension. As they say in Tesco’s, “Every little helps”, and actually it does quite a lot to help, so I am

5 Nov 2014 : Column 842

very grateful for it. So I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has been saying.

I should like to describe some of my experiences in the armed forces. Was I discriminated against? Yes, I was. I was at university at the time when the war memorial in St Giles in Oxford was covered in red paint just after Bloody Sunday. The truth is that the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday behaved very badly. I think we all know that. They did not cover themselves in glory. In Hong Kong more recently, I remember seeing a big sign outside a club saying, “No squaddies”. I think we did actually get in, but I was very upset for my soldiers, who were not allowed in. That was quite wrong.

As a Minister, I remember writing to more than one person who had refused to serve soldiers, sailors or airmen—and women, for that matter—or discriminated against them in some other way. I was proud to wear the uniform, but for a lot of my time in the Army, I was unable to wear it because of security threats. I know that other hon. Members sitting in the Chamber today will have been in the same predicament.

My question to the hon. Gentleman is: do we really need more legislation? What is the problem that he is trying to solve? He mentioned the Army cadet who had a blowtorch used against him. The person who did that is quite rightly being hunted, and I hope that he will be caught. Funnily enough, it is already against the law to use a blowtorch on somebody, so I do not think we need more legislation on that issue. The hon. Gentleman’s point about reservists is a good one. However, I understand that the Ministry of Defence is tackling that problem with employers—the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who is sitting on the Front Bench, will correct me if I am wrong—and it is important that we should do that. So what is the problem that we are trying to solve?

Typically, this kind of discrimination is aimed at keeping the “rude, licentious soldiery” out of pubs. I think that that was Shakespeare’s term—you will correct me if I am wrong, Mr Speaker. Actually, from time to time the soldiery—and even, dare I say it, the officers—are rude and licentious. [Interruption.] I am pleased to hear the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) saying that that could not happen in Colchester. Sometimes the commanding officer of a battalion or unit will declare a pub out of bounds because they do not want the soldiery—or the sailors or the aircraftspeople—to go into it, because they know that they could end up having scraps. That is just a fact. Not everyone likes people in uniform, but I do not think it is up to us to tell them that they have to like them.

So, do we need this Bill? The armed forces have never been more respected, over the course of my lifetime, than they are now. I am delighted by that. I do not know whether other hon. Members have visited the moat around the Tower of London, but I went there today. It was a moving sight, although I did not feel the need to take a photographer with me and to weep, as Mr Farage did. The number of people visiting it reveals the respect that our armed forces command.

We also have the military covenant. As I recall, the hon. Gentleman was involved with the Bill that brought the covenant into law. The whole point of it was that no one should suffer disadvantage for being a member of

5 Nov 2014 : Column 843

the armed forces. We have ensured that the genuine disadvantage in relation to education and health, for example, has now ceased to exist. I put it gently to the hon. Gentleman that we need to alter attitudes. However, I do not believe that in this case it would be appropriate to use the heavy hand of legislation and of litigation, which inevitably follows—unless we want to pay lawyers’ fees.

I know the hon. Gentleman and he may be surprised to hear me say that I quite like him. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am sorry. That will ruin his career. I believe that his heart is in the right place, but I do not believe that our proud soldiers, sailors and airmen and women would want to be patronised in any way. They do not want to be pitied; they want to be respected, and every one of us and every member of our society should be respecting them. The Bill’s plea for special treatment would not be particularly wanted by the armed forces. Most of them would look quizzically at it and think, “What’s all this about then?” Some of them, rude and licentious, might then go down the pub and get into a scrap.

In conclusion, I was refused service in Springfield road when I went to buy some mustard by Kelly’s corner. I was cross because we needed some mustard. Kelly’s corner is on the junction of Springfield road and Whiterock road, but I think Kelly’s has been knocked down. The shopkeeper would not serve me, so I asked why. The answer was, “Because you’re a soldier.” So I remained in the shop with my soldiers and said, “I am not leaving until your serve me.” He did so in the end, because it was more trouble to get me out than to serve me—he may have even given me the mustard. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen deserve the respect of everyone in society, but they do not want to be singled out and patronised, in any way.

Mr Speaker: The House will take its own view on the matter. I simply recall that the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) was a soldier for at least 15 years, but I cannot believe that he was ever either rude or licentious. The thought simply does not occur. [Interruption.] The Minister does not seem quite so convinced.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.


That Thomas Docherty, Ms Gisela Stuart, Ian Murray, John Woodcock, Andy Sawford, Bob Stewart, Conor Burns, Mr Russell Brown, Graham Jones, Gavin Shuker and Jim Shannon present the Bill.

Thomas Docherty accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed (Bill 115).

5 Nov 2014 : Column 844

Opposition Day

[9th Allotted Day]

Income Tax

1.33 pm

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House believes it is a mistake to reduce the top rate of income tax at a time when working people, who are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, are not feeling the recovery and while the deficit also remains high; notes that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that, by next year, households will be on average £974 a year worse off because of tax and benefit changes since 2010; believes that a fair plan to balance the books would reverse the cut in the top rate of income tax, which is worth £3 billion a year for the top one per cent of earners, for the next Parliament, and introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax; and calls on the Government to rule out a further reduction in the top rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year.

Four and a half years into this Government, the squeeze on lower and middle earners is as bad as ever. Wages are still failing to keep pace with prices, and the typical working person is £1,600 worse off. This is the longest suppression of living standards since the 1870s, and my Labour colleagues know that this gap is getting wider and wider. This Government are presiding over one of the worst records on income growth of any European country—only Portugal, Cyprus and Greece have seen wages erode more severely than we have. For most people, there is no economic recovery at all.

When the Chancellor was asked, however, in a recent ITV news interview why there was no feel-good factor, his answer was, “Well, I simply don’t accept that.” Of course, in the world the Chancellor and the Prime Minister inhabit life is sweet. Someone lucky enough to be in the richest 1% of society has seen their share of the nation’s income grow considerably. Over the past year, the share of the national post-tax income of the top 1% of taxpayers—just 300,000 people—has risen from 8.2% to 9.8%, whereas the bottom 90%, a total of 27 million taxpayers, have seen their share fall from 71.3% to 70.4%. Those are Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ own statistics. That most privileged 1% elite have not just seen their fortunes grow by chance while others have fallen behind; they have been actively helped along by a cut in income tax for those earning more than £150,000. The shrinking share of national wealth held by the vast majority when compared with the growing share held by the richest does not represent a recovery for the many rather than the few.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the coalition Government, thanks to the input of the Liberal Democrats, have raised millions of people out of paying any income tax? Will he give an assurance that should there be a Labour Government they will match the pledge to raise to £12,500 the level before which income tax is levied?

Chris Leslie: There are a number of facets to the hon. Gentleman’s question. Let us just remember that it was the Liberal Democrats who voted to cut that top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 845

Mr Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane) (LD): Quite right.

Chris Leslie: The hon. Gentleman nods and says, “Quite right” from a sedentary position, but of course he is not seeking re-election and so he is brave enough to say that. I wonder whether his Liberal Democrat colleagues would also say that about the cut from 50p to 45p. I will give way if Liberal Members want to defend the way they voted on that.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) raised the issue of the personal allowance, and I expect the Minister will do the same. But the public out there are not going to be fooled by Government Members saying, “Just look over here at this particular change”, because they know very well by now that Tories and Liberals give a little with one hand but take away far more with the other. On the tax burden, there is a sense of people being worse off year after year, and they know the truth.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): If Labour went down the route of a 10p tax band in place of the £12,500 personal allowance that Government Members want to see, surely that would leave people on £11,000 worse off.

Chris Leslie: No, we believe that instead of having the married couples break, which does not actually help many married couples, it would be far fairer to introduce that 10p starting rate of tax, because it would help many, many more people. The hon. Gentleman has hit upon yet another example—perhaps this is one for an Opposition day debate on a different occasion—where the Government constantly choose the route of unfairness, limiting the help to those who need support and assistance. Labour believes that everybody should have a share in growth and prosperity, which is precisely the opposite of the trickle-down economics that we have had so far from the parties in the Government.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Getting back to the 50p tax rate, does the hon. Gentleman have any explanation for the fact that when we voted on it in March 2012 only two Labour Members voted in that Division and the rest abstained? What is the explanation for that?

Chris Leslie: We have consistently opposed this outrageous change to dish out a tax cut for the very privileged 1% in society. The hon. Gentleman should join us, and I hope he will, in voting for today’s motion, as it is about a key divide in British politics and in Scottish politics. It is very important that we expose the fact that by cutting the top rate of tax on earnings above £150,000 from 50p to 45p Ministers have wilfully accelerated the divide between the majority and the richest 1%.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the shadow Minister concede that the considerable increase in personal allowances under this Government has been of no benefit to those earning more than £150,000 because between £100,000-worth and £110,000-worth of earnings all the personal allowances are removed?

Chris Leslie: The hon. Gentleman has done more for the very wealthy earning over £150,000. At this time of pressure on our public spending and on his constituents

5 Nov 2014 : Column 846

and mine, what did he decide to do? A typical millionaire, he gave away a benefit worth £100,000. He voted for that cut in the 50p rate of tax, which the vast majority of people feel is an obscene example of the unfairness of this Government. It is particularly a stain on the reputation of the Conservatives, but I want to hear how the Liberal Democrats justify their votes for the cut in that 50p rate.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Apart from the fact that the top rate of tax was 40% for all but 39 days of the Labour Government’s time in office, will the hon. Gentleman tell us which Chancellor of the Exchequer cut capital gains tax to 18%, which this Government have now increased to 28%, and which Government capped the amount of tax relief for high earners on pensions? It was not his Government, but the present Government.

Chris Leslie: It sounds as though the right hon. Gentleman is trying to wriggle out of voting for that cut in the 50p rate. He tries to change the subject—“Look over here, we’ve done this” or “We’ve done that,” but he voted for a cut in the 50p rate for the very wealthiest in society. He asks—I am sure we will hear this from the Minister as well—why we did not do that for 13 years. We had a global financial crisis that hit tax receipts significantly, and in 2009, looking at the state of the public finances, we felt that the fairest thing to do was to raise the rate to 50p, which is obviously shocking to Government Members.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The financial crisis actually started in America with JP Morgan. The Government are trying to rewrite history. Is it not true that under this Government people are worse off to the tune of £1,600 a year, and that the purchasing power of their wages has dropped 6%?

Chris Leslie: People faced a double whammy—the tax and the changes to their tax credits by the Conservatives, together with that squeeze on living standards as a result of wages failing to keep pace with prices.

We are doing the Government a favour today. We are trying our best to persuade them of the error of their ways. We have tabled a motion that allows them to put right the wrong they have done, get their priorities right and admit it was a mistake to reduce the top rate of income tax at a time when working people are not feeling any recovery.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): For nearly half a century the Indians and the Chinese pursued a punitive ideological politics. Since they turned away from that, they have pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. With the exception of the Labour Front-Bench team and President Hollande, I think the hon. Gentleman will find himself very much in the minority. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, you never pull anybody up by pulling somebody down. Is not this debate about the Opposition’s political opportunism, rather than long-term economic reality?