Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I welcome the comprehensive cross-party consensus to work together for the benefit of the whole of Scotland that the Smith commission has achieved. The Secretary of State will be aware, as I mentioned this to him in Scottish questions yesterday, that there is a growing tax gap, given that there is a higher proportion of basic rate taxpayers and we still do not know how those on the highest incomes, such as Brian Souter, might divert their tax bases so that they do not become liable for Scottish tax rates. Before we produce a White Paper next year, may we

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have a full analysis from the Treasury of the tax base, so we can make sure that any final block settlement accurately reflects the tax raised in Scotland and ensures that we do not end up with Scotland having a worse deal?

Mr Carmichael: Today’s publication and the agreement we have offer us a range of opportunities in Scotland. In particular, we can do the things for the Scottish economy that will produce the growth that will expand that tax base. The important point is that, having made this decision, we should get on and implement it and then start using the powers, rather than constantly talking about our constitutional position.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): How does today’s report fit in with the promise made by the Prime Minister on 19 September that any change giving more devolution in Scotland would go in tandem with, and at the same pace as, changes in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr Carmichael: No. I have to contradict my hon. Friend. It has been made perfectly clear all along, and the Prime Minister himself has said, that the change that was promised to Scotland will go ahead according to the timetable that was given to the people of Scotland. It is not contingent on other changes.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I welcome today’s statement and I think people across Scotland will welcome it. The referendum changed Scotland, and today’s statement is confirmation that we need to respect the wishes for change of the no voters and reach out to many of those who voted yes as well. In welcoming the tax powers, may I point out that the new welfare powers are just as crucial? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the new welfare powers total perhaps as much as £3 billion of new responsibility for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, and that he is minded to enable the devolution of those powers at a pace and in a manner that will enable Scotland to challenge poverty and the generational disadvantage that blights far too many families?

Mr Carmichael: I can confirm the figure that the right hon. Gentleman has put to the House. What is being offered to the Scottish Parliament is the power to design a welfare system that is fit for purpose in Scotland. That will be one part of tackling the generational issues of poverty and social exclusion to which he refers. The increased powers in job creation and taxation, especially income tax, and the powers to grow the economy in Scotland, can be used to tackle the issues that the right hon. Gentleman is so right to highlight.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): During the referendum campaign, the four party leaders made commitments to the Scottish people. Today we see three party leaders delivering on the vow that they made. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way forward for Scotland is for the SNP to acknowledge their leader’s statement that this would be a once-in-a-generation referendum?

Mr Carmichael: Indeed; I could not agree more. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made a vow during the

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referendum campaign. Today we honour that vow. The former First Minister and his successor—Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon—also made a vow. They said that they would respect the outcome of the referendum and the decision of the people of Scotland. There is no reason from today for them to do anything other than to make it clear that we will not be returning to this question in a referendum, as they said, in a generation.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I, too, welcome the announcement today. It has delivered more than the vow—perhaps we could call it the vow plus. There is certainly more in the statement than was expected.

I welcome the fact that quite a lot of welfare is to be devolved, but it is right that pensions, especially the state pension, should remain reserved, because throughout the campaign and in all the polling, Scottish people, even many yes voters, thought that pensions should remain part of the UK. When can we expect to see the detail of how some of this will work in practice? Not until the detail is available to all Members will we know whether it is practical or not that some of these powers should be devolved.

Mr Carmichael: I like the hon. Lady’s formulation, “the vow plus”. My party leader in Scotland, Willie Rennie, said this morning that this was “the vow max”. I agree with him on that. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that the state pension will remain part of the United Kingdom welfare system. That is one of the most significant parts of the social union that the people of Scotland chose to remain part of on 18 September.

As for the detail, as Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the hon. Lady will doubtless have an important role to play in working it out.

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): When a healthy majority of our fellow countrymen in Scotland voted to remain in our country, the United Kingdom, it seemed to me that they voted against the petty-minded, mean-spirited and spiteful nationalism that we see from the SNP, yet these proposals seem to be delivering deeper and greater separation between the component parts of the United Kingdom. When Tony Blair introduced his proposal for devolution, which I considered pretty half-baked, he said that it would end the rise of nationalism and cement the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend explain what it is about today’s proposals that will cement the United Kingdom and not lead to yet greater demands for separation of the structure of our country?

Mr Carmichael: In the course of the referendum campaign all three parties made a vow. It is absolutely essential that we deliver on that vow in the way we are doing today. The UK constitution is a dynamic model—it always has been and it always will be. It is one of the advantages of having an unwritten constitution, as we do. So yes, as I said earlier today, I remain sensitive to the wish of people in England in particular to see a reformed constitution working better for them. It is up to them to decide exactly what that means. We have done it for ourselves in Scotland. They now need to follow suit.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I am pleased that, contrary to reports, it has been decided not to recommend devolving abortion, which

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would have caused all sorts of problems. This is a very exciting day for Scotland, a day we should celebrate. I was going to say that we should put the cynicism and division of the past few years behind us, until I heard the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). Will the Scottish people be informed on an individual household basis of the eventual legislation that comes forward, as happened during the referendum? May I ask the Secretary of State to come to the birthplace of our national bard on 25 January to announce the draft legislation?

Mr Carmichael: That sounds an enticing prospect. Subject to diary commitments—my own diary gets fairly full around Burns night—I would be more than happy to accommodate the hon. Lady’s request if at all possible. She raised the matter of abortion, the terms of the report in relation to which she will have seen. There is a clear statement that it is considered by the commissioners to be an anomalous reservation, and I can understand why they take that view. However, we have always dealt with abortion differently—we have always made it the subject of a free vote in this House, for example—and the commission reached a sensible compromise by recognising the current anomaly, but saying that a new process will have to be devised to deal with that. I hope that process can involve parliamentarians and civic groups beyond the two Parliaments, which might in some way build a measure of consensus.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Unfortunately, there appear to be a number of lacunae, inconsistencies and unanswered questions in the report. If we rush this process, we are in danger of throwing petrol on the embers of English resentment and Scottish separatism. I pose one question out of many: paragraph 95(5)(a) states:

“The Scottish Government’s borrowing powers should be agreed by the Scottish and UK Governments”.

Does this mean that their borrowing will be underwritten by the UK Parliament?

Mr Carmichael: No. Obviously, if the Scottish Government were to borrow, they would have the liability under the borrowing powers. On the hon. Gentleman’s earlier observations about what he perceives as lacunae, the resulting measure, when introduced as legislation in the Queen’s Speech following the election, will still be subject to the full scrutiny of this House and the other place, whoever is standing at the Dispatch Box at the time. I am confident of the abilities of this House and the other place, and that what we will have at the end of the day will work.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): If the Secretary of State manages to visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), he would be most welcome to cross the border into Kilmarnock and Loudon—of course, Robert Burns lived in the village of Mauchline and had his works published in Kilmarnock. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the powers that will now be given, in addition to welfare and taxation, include responsibility for the Work programme? That will give the Scottish Parliament a real opportunity to

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add to its existing powers in respect of economic development in order to get people back to work, which is what many of our constituents will be concerned about.

Mr Carmichael: I would be delighted to join the hon. Lady in her constituency as part of this grand Burns tour that I seem to have signed up to—I just hope that Opposition Members will not start complaining about the cost. She will see that the Work programme is to be devolved, which I think is sensible. Indeed, it was something John Swinney spoke about many times when I shared platforms with him during the referendum campaign. They have the powers; they just have to get on and use them.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Should not those of us who believe in lower taxes welcome this proposal’s potential to encourage a healthy competition between London and Edinburgh over which sets the lowest rate of income tax? If Edinburgh sets a significantly higher rate than this Parliament, there will be a movement of talent from Scotland down south. Likewise, if we set a higher rate than Edinburgh, people will start moving to Scotland. That competition should hopefully lead to lower rates of tax.

Mr Carmichael: That is indeed one of the possible consequences. The truth of the matter is that the Scottish Parliament will, for the first time since it was set up, control both sides of the books for the areas for which it has responsibility; how it spends money and how it raises it. It will then have to be accountable to the voters for how it taxes them. I think that in time, that will have a transformative effect on Scottish politics.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): In 2011 the people of Wales had a referendum on greater powers. The Secretary of State might wish to consider the arguments for giving the people of Scotland a referendum on these powers, if for no other reason than to flush out exactly where the SNP stands on the Smith commission.

Mr Carmichael: That is an interesting idea, but the real purpose of proceeding according to the timetable we have set out is that we will be able to put the proposals to the people next May, which will be the referendum that matters.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend, who is implementing a long-standing Liberal policy and succeeding where Gladstone did not. I am delighted to see that the Crown Estate is to be devolved and that the Smith commission recommends further devolution of its assets to the island authorities. Will he support devolution of the Crown Estate’s assets to other coastal and island communities, such as those in Argyll and Bute?

Mr Speaker: It is a matter of debate whether the Secretary of State is as great a man as Gladstone, but thankfully his statements to the House are notably shorter.

Mr Carmichael: I do not think there is much debate, Mr Speaker; I do not set myself up for that claim. On the Crown Estate, my hon. Friend is right: that is one of the report’s most significant proposals for our coastal

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and island communities. Indeed, it requires the Scottish Government, when they have devolved control of the Crown Estate, to pass it on to coastal and island communities. We all know what happens when power is devolved to Edinburgh: it tends to stick there. Scotland now has, as a result of seven years of SNP government, one of the most centralised Governments anywhere in Europe. The report mentions Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, as my hon. Friend says, but it begins that recommendation by referring to

“local authority areas such as”.

I think that could well include his constituency.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I too welcome the Smith commission’s proposals for Scotland. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I will support any process that transfers powers from unelected Tories in Scotland to the Scottish people. Does the Secretary of State even start to recognise the palpable sense of disappointment that exists in Scotland this morning, whether among Scottish people who wanted maximum devolution and expected something close to home rule following the type of talk in the run-up in the referendum, whether among those in the voluntary sector who expected the full transferral of welfare powers, or whether among those in the trade union movement who wanted real job-creating powers and say that they are underwhelmed by the proposals? While we all welcome the proposals, does he at least start to recognise the disappointment at the fact that they could have gone much further?

Mr Carmichael: I fully accept that the hon. Gentleman wants independence and always has done. That is why we had a vote. It pains me to tell him that he lost, however, and it is about time that he and his party came to terms with that. For him to try to use this process to get independence by the back door does not respect the views of the Scottish people as expressed on 18 September. It is perhaps about time that he thought he has a duty to speak for the 60.19% of his own constituents who rejected independence on 18 September.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): In the fall-out from the recent Scottish referendum—in which only people in Scotland had a vote, but the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland were bound by the result—the Scottish nationalists now object even to the prospect of a UK-wide referendum on our membership of the European Union, claiming that Scotland would be bound by the British consensus. Does my right hon. Friend detect, as I do, more than a whiff of tartan hypocrisy in this stance?

Mr Carmichael: I suspect, Mr Speaker, that if I used the word “hypocrisy” you would call me back into order, and for that reason I do not use it.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Of course, as hon. Members have pointed out, this agreement affects all parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, England and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland. Will the Secretary of State explain the implications for the Barnett formula of the tax measures in the agreement? In particular, if the Scottish Parliament decided to reduce the level of income tax, what implications would that have for the Barnett formula?

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Mr Carmichael: The Barnett formula remains in operation, but only for the portion of the budget going to the Scottish Parliament that is not accounted for by the taxes that are currently reserved here and are going to be devolved. Detailed technical work is currently under way on this between the Treasury and the Scottish Government. Announcements will be made on its practical application in relation to the 2012 powers in fairly short order.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I particularly welcome Lord Smith’s comment in his foreword to the document,

“that neither the Scottish nor UK Governments will lose or gain financially from the act of transferring a power.”

Following on from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), does that not underline the fact that if a Scottish Government wanted significantly to increase public spending in Scotland, Scottish taxpayers would foot the bill, and that is good for the accountability of Holyrood?

Mr Carmichael: I could not agree more. The Scottish Government keep telling us that they want to spend more money; well, now they can, and in order to do so they will have to raise taxes or cut money elsewhere. That is how politics works.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): It sounds as though it is thanks to Labour that the Smith commission is proposing such an excellent deal for Scotland. Is the Secretary of State having discussions with his ministerial colleagues about devolving power to English regions via their local authorities?

Mr Carmichael: I caution the hon. Lady about seeking to claim too much credit on behalf of her party, or any other. As I said, this required us all to participate in good faith, and we all had to make compromises. No individual party should seek to claim too much credit; it was a joint effort. She knows that I am sympathetic to devolution to parts of England, but a concrete proposal has to be worked out. We did that over many years in Scotland, and I am afraid there is no quick or easy way for her and her communities now to do it for themselves.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): The Scottish referendum showed without doubt that a large number of people who voted for the SNP may not necessarily have wanted independence. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that, when the SNP wipes out the Labour party next May, it is seen as a rejection of the Labour party rather than a reflection of the need for further devolution or separation?

Mr Carmichael: I think we should all be cautious of trying to predict the outcome of next May’s election.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): May I commend the work of all the commissioners on the Smith commission, particularly—not to single anyone out—my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont)? There is a perception that politicians do not keep their promises, but the truth is that the solemn promise we made to the Scottish people during the referendum campaign has today been not only delivered, but delivered with bells on. May I encourage

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the Secretary of State to look seriously at double devolution, to make sure that today’s announcements and the commission report create not just a powerhouse Scottish Parliament, but powerhouse local authorities and, more importantly, powerhouse local communities?

Mr Carmichael: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman will see some support for his latter proposition in the report’s foreword, under the heading, “Devolution from the Scottish Parliament”. Lord Smith articulates, in a very measured way, the galloping centralisation we have seen in recent years in the Scottish Government. I appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman did not single out the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. In the same tone, I should not single out my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), who, along with my constituency colleague, Tavish Scott, played a tremendous role in getting this deal.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): In the Scottish referendum, if people voted yes they were voting for full independence, but it now seems that if people voted no they were voting for more independence. Will the Secretary of State explain how those people who wanted the status quo should have voted in the September referendum? Will he personally accept that, as more power is given to the Scottish Parliament, it is unacceptable and unjustifiable for Members of Parliament from Scotland to continue to vote on issues that affect only England?

Mr Carmichael: As the Prime Minister himself said this morning, he always said that a vote for no was never going to be a vote for no change. Indeed, when the people of Scotland went to the polling stations, all parties had put out their detailed proposals on what would follow in the event of a no vote. As I have said on a number of occasions today, on the question of constitutional change in England, a process is now under way, led by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) on their hard work? I also congratulate the six SNP Members in particular—it must have been very difficult for them to compromise on an area on which they do not usually compromise in any shape or form. [Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time for the Scottish people—the families and friends who were split and the people who did not talk to each other because of grievances caused by the referendum—to get back together and put Scotland first?

Mr Carmichael: I apologise for missing the early part of the hon. Gentleman’s question because of the constant sotto voce commentary from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart).

Pete Wishart: I was shouted down!

Mr Carmichael: Did I say it was sotto voce? It seems to have ratcheted up a little. The hon. Gentleman had his chance when he was called by you, Mr Speaker.

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The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) is absolutely right. This is a time to heal the divisions and bring the people of Scotland together. We had a vote, prior to which we said we would deliver change and today we have told the people of Scotland what that change will be. It is time to get together and use the powers that the Scottish Parliament has and will get, and to use them for the good of the Scottish people and the Scottish economy.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): It is already a tough market for north of England and Yorkshire airports. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if Scotland is going to get flexibility on air passenger duty, north of England and Yorkshire airports have to get it, too?

Mr Carmichael: The question is how the Scottish Government choose to use any flexibility they have. If they choose to cut air passenger duty, they will obviously have to cut some public service provision or raise some other tax. The hon. Gentleman should not assume that flexibility only goes one way.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): In Wales, we are required to have a referendum before we have income tax devolution of a much more modest nature. The devolution of income tax in Scotland will have profound implications for migration. In particular, if the Scots lower the top rate of tax, richer people will naturally move to Scotland. If unemployment goes up in Scotland, they will raise tax at the lower rate and reduce public services, because they do not have compensatory borrowing powers. Given that, should there not be a referendum of not just the 8% of people who live in Scotland, but of the rest of the UK? We should not be driven by the 4% of people who voted for independence; the profound implications for migration, taxation and all the rest of it should be decided by the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr Carmichael: That is not how we have done these things in the years since the late 1970s, when such decisions were first mooted. The hon. Gentleman has outlined all sorts of scenarios, many of which are possible, and some of which we may even see. That is what we mean when we say that the United Kingdom changed for ever on 18 September. The duty is on all of us in the political parties and the body politic to come up to the mark and to meet that change. As far as referendums are concerned, I am afraid that I have had enough to be going on with.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his considerable achievement in helping to secure this historic agreement? I also pay tribute to his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore). I invite the Secretary of State to agree with me that, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said earlier, what is good enough for the Scots is good enough for the English, too. Does the Secretary of State support a similar constitutional arrangement for England?

Mr Carmichael: I thank my hon. Friend for referring to me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore).

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My hon. Friend is right to say that constitutional change has to come to other parts of the United Kingdom. However, it is not for me to tell the people of England how they want to govern themselves. They have to have that conversation and make the decision for themselves.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the amount of revenue raised by income tax in Scotland will not affect the amount paid to Scotland under the Barnett formula?

Mr Carmichael: No, the amount taken from income tax will now be divorced from the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula will operate for that part of the public expenditure grant to Scotland and the Scottish Parliament that remains after that process.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): If legislation on elections is a Scottish matter, does that mean that Scotland decides who gets a vote in Scotland, or is that only so for the Scottish Parliament, while Westminster decides who gets a Westminster vote?

Mr Carmichael: That is in fact the case. That matter is dealt with in some detail by Lord Smith in his report. The responsibility in relation to elections to local authorities and to the Scottish Parliament will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. However, this House will retain control over elections to it.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I do not envy the Secretary of State his task of going in January to all of the parts of Scotland where Robert Burns dallied and romanced. The important point, however, is that a lot of people in Scotland want to be involved in this debate and discussion. They want to be fully informed about what is happening, not just to be told what they think or to be told that there is some form of betrayal. What arrangements will the Secretary of State make to ensure that people are fully involved in these debates?

Mr Carmichael: The hon. Lady is right to highlight that one of the great successes of the whole referendum experience was that we got the widest possible range of engagement across Scottish society. We have to make sure that that does not now just wither away; we have to do what we can to harness and nurture it. I recently met representatives of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Church of Scotland and the National Union of Students to discuss exactly that process. Not everything of this sort has to be done by Government and through the party political process. The most effective civic engagement is that which grows out of civic groups themselves.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Scotland receives from English taxpayers an additional annual public subsidy, over and above what any English region receives, not because there is an extra level of deprivation, but simply because Scotland is Scotland. What proportion of the funds that are given to Scotland under the Barnett formula will be affected by the ceding of tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament?

Mr Carmichael: It was of common accord between the parties that the Barnett formula would remain. As I have made clear to the House, the amount of money

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that goes to Scotland under the Barnett formula will be reduced, because what is taken in taxation directly by the Scottish Parliament will be taken out of the equation. It is an important truth that, although the Barnett formula produces some anomalies, no party has ever been able to produce a better option.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Communities across Britain want power to be held and wielded closer to them. I therefore welcome Scotland’s increased self-determination. However, we in the north-east also want more powers to be devolved to us. The Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) that there were no easy answers, but will he at least confirm that he is looking for solutions? Specifically, how will he enable us to ensure that Newcastle international airport can compete with Scottish airports in respect of air passenger duty?

Mr Carmichael: The Government have already embarked on that process through the programme of city deals and growth deals over the past four and a half years. I do believe that there needs to be greater devolution to all corners of the United Kingdom. My family stretches to the south-west of England, where my in-laws come from. They understand that the needs of people in the south-west of England are as badly served by the conventional centralised model of government from Whitehall as the needs of the rest of my family in Scotland ever were. It is now for the hon. Lady and her communities to come forward with a coherent plan for exactly what that change should be.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): Further to that answer, in which the Secretary of State talked about devolution to all parts of the United Kingdom, does he not accept that when addressing issues such as English votes for English laws, which many of us feel passionately and strongly about, and the balance between local and central Government, it should be this sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom that takes the final decisions, not some remote constitutional convention, as is suggested by those on the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr Carmichael: Perhaps I should explain how constitutional conventions work. A constitutional convention brings together the political parties and the voices of business, the trade unions, civic groups, the Churches and all the rest of it. They build the consensus, as they did in Scotland, but it was this House that passed the Scotland Acts in 1998 and 2012. There is no question of our subcontracting legislative responsibility.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The commission and the parties recognised that foreign affairs would remain a reserved matter. The report refers to vital “national infrastructure” in respect of the security and defence of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all parties involved in the Smith commission, including the SNP and the Greens, signed up to that? Will he therefore have discussions with the Scottish Government to make it clear that it is this House and this United Kingdom that are responsible for the foreign and defence policy of our country?

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Mr Carmichael: I confirm that it was an agreement of all the parties. I hope that all parties will demonstrate good faith and honour that agreement. Obviously, I cannot account for everyone.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Apparently, home rule for Scotland and the creation of a powerful Scottish Parliament can be decided on in the blink of an eye, but the issue of English votes for English laws needs to be kicked into the long grass, with a constitutional convention. Is it not the truth that, unless these proposals go along with English votes for English laws, my constituents in Brigg and Goole and the people of England will continue to get the fluffy end of the lollipop?

Mr Carmichael: Well, there’s no accounting for taste I suppose.

In the blink of an eye? I have been a political activist for 34 years, and this issue has dominated Scottish political discourse during that time, and I suspect for some time before that. A substantial amount of work was done on today’s proposals by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and Labour before the referendum, so it is not a rushed or ill-considered piece of work but has considerable background. On English votes for English laws, the hon. Gentleman should be careful about devolving power within Parliament without tackling the same question within the Executive, as that would risk creating another instability.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The signature policy of the Smith commission concerns the full devolution of income tax receipts. The Wales Bill, which completed its passage through the House of Lords on Monday, devolves only a small partial element of income tax receipts, and only following another referendum many years down the line. When will Westminster stop treating Wales like a second-class nation?

Mr Carmichael: I thought the only grievance we would get today would be from the Scottish nationalists; I had forgotten we had Plaid Cymru here as well. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the positive approach taken by all parties in building a consensus in Wales. We have always known that for different historical reasons, devolution across the different nations in this country emerges at different paces, which is absolutely right. If he wants more progress, he should try to learn from the Scottish nationalists—or at least from what they were doing before today—and work with other parties to build that consensus.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Scotland will get what Scotland wants, but when will England get what it wants? Does the Secretary of State agree that we need much more radical change in Westminster than has currently been contemplated, more radical devolution within England than has currently been delivered or offered, and a much more open, inclusive and democratic process than that being led by the Leader of the House?

Mr Carmichael: I am confident that England will get what England wants when England decides exactly what it is she wants.

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Business of the House

12.12 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 1 December—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

Tuesday 2 December—Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.

Wednesday 3 December—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer will deliver his autumn statement, followed by remaining stages of the Taxation of Pensions Bill.

Thursday 4 December—Motion to approve a statutory instrument, followed by debate on a motion relating to Financial Conduct Authority redress scheme, and a general debate on availability and pricing of branded medicines on the NHS. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 5 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 8 December will include:

Monday 8 December—Second Reading of the Infrastructure Bill [Lords].

For the convenience of the House, I advise colleagues that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill will be considered in a Committee of the whole House on Tuesday 9 December, Monday 15 December and Tuesday 16 December.

I also inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 and 15 December will be:

Thursday 11 December—Debate on reports from the International Development Committee on strengthening health systems in developing countries and on recovery and development in Sierra Leone and Liberia, followed by a debate on the 11th report from the International Development Committee on disability and development.

Monday 15 December—General debate on an e-petition relating to Millie’s Trust campaign to train all nurses in paediatric first aid.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, albeit with last-minute changes. I note the sudden appearance next Thursday of unidentified Government business. Will he tell us what it is, or is he playing partisan games? In the light of the publication of the Smith commission report this morning and the assurance that there will be a draft Bill by the end of January, will he set out in more detail what arrangements the Government will make to enable proper consideration and debate on that report, both inside and outside the House?

Yesterday the Home Secretary published the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, and we will debate its Second Reading next Tuesday. The Bill contains welcome measures to restore relocation powers and give more support to the Prevent programme. Will the Leader of the House ensure that he gives the Bill appropriate time to be properly scrutinised, especially because yesterday the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said that one of the measures was:

“An announcement waiting for a policy.”

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Do the Government need time to explain why they got it so wrong on control orders and put public safety at risk?

Next week we have the autumn statement, which is yet again in December—I am beginning to wonder whether the Chancellor knows something about climate change that he is not letting on. In 2010 he promised two things: that he would balance the books by 2015, and that he would not do that on the backs of the poor. Four years later he has clearly broken both promises. His five-year plan to eliminate the deficit is now running four years late; wages have fallen year on year while food bank use soars. On this Government’s watch the majority of people in poverty in this country are in work, but all the Government can deliver is a £3 billion tax cut every year for the top 1% of earners. While the Chancellor makes complacent boasts about the slowest recovery for more than 100 years, is the truth that only Labour can end this low-wage economy and deliver a recovery for the many not the few?

One thing this Government do well is miss their own targets. We have had the Chancellor’s abject failure on the deficit. The Home Secretary has finally admitted that the Government have no hope of meeting their target to reduce net migration—we all remember “no ifs, no buts”—and today’s net migration figures show the scale of her failure. The Government’s flagship universal credit programme is being delayed again. It was meant to be in place by 2017, but yesterday’s report from the National Audit Office states that it will not be ready until 2020. One million people were meant to be on universal credit by this April, but there were fewer than 10,000. It was supposed to save money, but the Government wasted millions of pounds on a failed IT system and staff costs are set to soar by a massive £2.8 billion. The Secretary of State talks fondly of “landing” the universal credit programme safely, but is it clear from that damning report that it has not yet even taken off?

This Government have managed to be cruel and inefficient at the same time. They have overspent by £25 billion on social security because they have not tackled low-paid and insecure work. They have spent £5 billion more than they planned on tax credits and £6 billion more on housing benefit. People are suffering because of the bedroom tax, and nearly a million of the most vulnerable people in our country have been left waiting for their disability assessment. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time so that we can start to sort out the rhetoric from the reality on social security?

This week yet again we have watched as the Conservative party’s civil war on Europe widens. After the Chancellor’s humiliating climbdown on EU bankers’ bonuses, and while the Prime Minister keeps us all waiting for yet another speech to end all speeches on Europe, it is no wonder that Conservative MPs are taking matters into their own hands. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said:

“I agree with UKIP and Nigel Farage on virtually everything”.

The former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made a bid to put himself at the head of the “out” campaign, and six senior Ministers look set to join him. No wonder the Home Secretary has let it be known that she no longer rates the Prime Minister and has “given up” on him.

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Appearing on “Desert Island Discs” this week, the Home Secretary revealed that her favourite song is Abba’s “Dancing Queen”, but what she really meant was “Take a chance on me”. She revealed her favourite book to be “Pride and Prejudice.” Well, Mr Speaker, “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that the Conservative party just cannot stop banging on about Europe. I can only imagine what it would be like to be stuck on a desert island cut off, alone, isolated from friends, with no one to talk to and no hope of rescue. It must be a bit like being a Liberal Democrat.

Mr Hague: I think the hon. Lady is being a little audacious in talking about “Desert Island Discs” when the Labour party cannot even sing “Stand By Your Man” very well. When she talked about somebody being cut off from all his friends, I thought she must have been referring to the Leader of the Opposition.

The hon. Lady asked about last minute changes to business. Unusually, I have announced business three weeks ahead to 15 December. It is for the convenience of the House to have business announced as far ahead as possible, so I think that that is a good last minute change to make. She also asked about a particular item of business on Thursday next week. I can assure her that it will be very clear by next Thursday.

We have just had a statement on the Smith commission report. It is very important for the House to debate these matters further and to debate the consequences for the rest of the United Kingdom, a point made by many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. As the Chair of the Cabinet Committee for Devolved Powers, I intend to ensure that the Government publish the options for England in a Command Paper before Christmas, following up the work of the Smith commission. I am sure the House will want to consider that, and I will make a statement at the time.

The hon. Lady asked about appropriate time to be given for the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. I have announced three days in Committee on the Floor of the House. There will be a clear gap between the Committee stage and Report. The Opposition wanted the Report stage to be after the Christmas recess and it will be. That will give the House time to reflect on all parts of the Bill, so I hope we have accommodated Opposition concerns on that. We have had productive discussions on this issue. The Bill is very important for our national security, but of course it needs to be properly scrutinised and considered in detail.

The hon. Lady asked about the autumn statement and poked fun at its being on 3 December. I have to remind her that autumn lasts until the winter solstice, which is normally on 21 December, or on 22 or 23 December in certain years. I can therefore assure the hon. Lady that 3 December is very much within autumn.

The hon. Lady asked about universal credit. The previous Government were left with a welfare system in which for every extra £10 some people earned, they lost £9 in additional taxes. Universal credit is being designed to ensure that it pays to work and it is likely to deliver benefits to millions of people. Yes, it is always possible to criticise the implementation of IT projects, but it was estimated that the previous Government wasted £26 billion on IT projects that did not succeed. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the

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Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), made a statement to the House, so Members have had the opportunity to discuss that.

The hon. Lady asked about relative incomes. Relative poverty in the last year for which we have figures, 2012-13, was at its lowest since the 1980s. We have 600,000 fewer people in relative poverty than there were at the general election. The answer to poverty is to get people into work, and that is what the Government are achieving. She asked about a recovery for the many or the few. The previous Government left office with no recovery for anyone at all—neither many nor few. That is what the Opposition’s policies would bring about again.

The hon. Lady talked about comments within the Conservative party on various issues in the past week. It has not been a great week in the Labour party. She has made an exception of asking about the whereabouts of the Chief Whip this week. As I explained last week, he spent much time in Rochester. Really, the Opposition Chief Whip should have been there to tell members of the shadow Cabinet not to photograph people’s houses. She would have been well deployed—[Interruption.] Oh, she was there! Well, she obviously did not get to all the members of the shadow Cabinet.

After the stealth reshuffle that I think took place in September on the Opposition Front Bench, and the anti-climax reshuffle in October, we have now had the Rochester reshuffle in November. But we are pleased that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) is still in place and we are absolutely delighted that the Leader of the Opposition is in place all the way to the general election.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): May we have a debate on wildlife crime? Is the Leader of the House aware that the trade in endangered species is being facilitated by some courier firms, which transport animal parts and derivative products without inquiring what it is they are delivering? Should we not impose a greater duty on couriers, and should we not be doing more to stamp out this vile crime?

Mr Hague: My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. There is a good case for a debate on this matter and I hope he will take it to the Backbench Business Committee. As chair of the ministerial committee on animal health and animal issues, I too feel extremely strongly on this issue. I believe there is more that Governments across the world can do, and I will be doing some work on that in the next few months.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Can I take it from the Leader of the House’s words that whatever the statutory instrument is on, it will not be on English votes for English laws? When he brings forward the White Paper, will it include proposals to take the options he identifies out to the country at large for discussion, debate and amendment, before anything is brought back to this House?

Mr Hague: There is no primary legislation that would permit the statutory instrument to be about English votes on English laws; the right hon. Gentleman can be

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assured of that. One of the reasons why it is important to bring forward a Government paper on the options on decentralisation and on the question that we have come to call “English votes on English laws” is so that there can be a full debate in the country and discussions between parties. Indeed, I regret that those on the Opposition Front Bench have chosen not to take part in cross-party discussions. I will be writing to them today to invite them to contribute ideas to the Command Paper, so there is a chance for them to reconsider their position. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can encourage them to do so.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): This weekend, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), Tom Pursglove, our excellent candidate in Corby, and I will be delivering our north Northampton EU referendum. We will be stopped by people saying that the most important issue is immigration and the number of people coming here from the EU. Can we have an emergency statement next week from the Prime Minister on stopping EU migration until the position is resolved?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister will be making a speech on these issues, particularly in relation to the European Union. The immigration figures today show that, while there has been a large reduction in non-EU immigration—in fact, that is at its lowest level since the 1990s—there has been an increase in EU immigration to the United Kingdom. That is an important issue, as I am sure he will find when he is canvassing with our excellent candidate in Corby this weekend. The Prime Minister will address this issue in his forthcoming speech.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): When the shadow Leader of the House was referring to obscure Abba hits, I thought she might have mentioned a song on Abba’s 1973 “Ring Ring” album, “He Is Your Brother”.

I turn to the much more serious matter of serious and organised crime and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. The Leader of the House will be aware that two prominent members of Sinn Fein, including an elected representative, were last night arrested in Northern Ireland for serious and organised crimes, including an historic murder case. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to include such matters in the Second Reading debate next week, so that we can get to the bottom of some of the most serious and obnoxious crimes currently taking place in Northern Ireland?

Mr Hague: It is up to hon. Members what they wish to raise in the debate—subject to the scope of the Bill, of course. The Home Secretary will set out on Second Reading the scope of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill and its provisions, so I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have opportunities to ask her about those matters when we begin the debate on the Bill.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): We heard earlier the statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland about the historic agreement on greater devolution of power to the Scots, and the Leader of the House said just now that the Government would publish their Command Paper on options for England before Christmas. Will he commit to an urgent debate in the House once it

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has been published, and does he personally agree that what is good enough for the Scots is good enough for the English?

Mr Hague: I will seek to make a statement on behalf of the Government when we publish the Command Paper, and it will then be important to hold debates on these things. Opposition Members have just been calling for public discussion, so I am sure we will want to hold such debates. What has been agreed for Scotland will undoubtedly have consequences for England, and that is something on which all of us, including my hon. Friend, will want to put our views.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we debate early-day motion 501, which forecasts that the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill will become a landmark in legislative futility?

[That this House believes that a coalition bill will become a major landmark in legislative futility; further believes that the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill described by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, a former Conservative Attorney General, as utter tosh is designed to create volunteers and heroes by legislation; salutes the intention of Lord Lloyd to move against all three clauses of the bill so that only the title will remain; is alarmed that responsible bodies warn that the bill could do harm, including the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers who say the bill will put vulnerable people at risk and the leading law firm Slater and Gordon who described the bill as pointless and potentially dangerous; calls on the Government to avoid the derision from judges that a former Conservative Solicitor General said will be provoked and drop this lamentable headline-seeking example of crude populism.]

It was described by a former Attorney-General as “utter tosh”, and a former Solicitor-General has said it will cause cynicism among judges. Will the Leader of the House’s party help the reputation of this Parliament by supporting the intention of Lord Lloyd to move against all three elements of the Bill so that all that is left is the title?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman will not be astonished to hear that I will not be supporting that intention. We have had extensive debates in this House, through which the Bill was passed, and it would be an exercise in legislative futility to hold those debates again.

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), the Leader of the House confirmed that there would be not just a statement and a Command Paper, but a debate on English votes for English laws. May I press him to go to the next stage and promise that at the end of the debate there will be a vote?

Mr Hague: I am very much in favour of testing the opinion of the House. Of course, that would require agreement within the Government about the motion we bring forward and with the Opposition about the framework for such a debate. Like my right hon. Friend, however, I am personally very much in favour of fully testing the opinion of the House, including by having a vote.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I am sure the whole House will want to congratulate Steelite International on its recent “Made in Britain” award

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from the Growing Business Awards. Given the importance of the product safety regulations, which I understand will be discussed on 4 December, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Business Secretary to make a statement about whether the Government will support origin marking, so that when someone turns over a piece of ceramic, they can see exactly what they are getting and where it was made?

Mr Hague: I join the hon. Lady in congratulating the business concerned, and I will draw the Business Secretary’s attention to the representation she has made. This country has a good record of supporting regulations within the EU that increase consumer awareness and knowledge of what people are buying, and I know that he will want to keep the House informed. I shall pass on the hon. Lady’s representations to him.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): May we have a debate on planning rules, particularly the rights of local residents living on the borders of local authorities? For example, there is a go-karting track in north Warwickshire that has a significant impact on my constituents over the road in Tamworth, yet those residents have no say in the election of North Warwickshire councillors, who of course make the planning decisions. I know there are rules about consultation and feedback, but a debate would allow us to discuss how we can address that continuing question of accountability.

Mr Hague: I agree that accountability on these things is important. As always, on these and other matters, my hon. Friend speaks up well for the interests of his constituents. It is open to him to pursue a debate—either an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate—on these issues.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Royal Society’s report on resilience to extreme weather has just been published. As the Leader of the House will know, it has highlighted that by 2030, 800,000 properties—over 300,000 more than currently—will be subject to extreme flood risk as a result of climate change, even with the additional spending the Government are trying to make available up to 2020. May we have a debate on this important matter and report?

Mr Hague: I agree that it is an important report. The hon. Gentleman referred to increased spending. We have announced a record capital settlement of £2.3 billion over the next six years to tackle flooding, and we are spending £171 million on maintenance alone. However, as he said, such reports forecast that the problem will intensify over the coming decades, so there is a good case for considering these matters in the House. I cannot promise that the Government will provide such a debate immediately, given all the other pressures, but the hon. Gentleman could pursue the matter with the Backbench Business Committee and with Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during Question Time.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): In the week that saw the publication of the report on the Woolwich atrocity, attention has inevitably focused on the killers and the social media companies that think it was nothing to do with them. May we have a statement from an

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appropriate Minister, therefore, on the failure so far to recognise the bravery of three people who did not pass by on the other side? Amanda Donnelly, Gemini Donnelly-Martin and Ingrid Loyau-Kennett sought to help Fusilier Rigby and confronted the killers. One of them has since suffered major mental health problems. Why has neither a Queen’s commendation nor a George medal been awarded to these three brave women, who clearly deserve them?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, the Prime Minister made a statement on the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on Tuesday, but he is right to mention the bravery and outstanding behaviour of these individuals and to draw their names to the attention of the House. I will ensure that the Prime Minister is made aware of his remarks.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I would like to associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), which, as a Member of Parliament for a constituency in the borough of Greenwich, I very much appreciate.

The privatisation of the NHS met its Waterloo last Friday in a vote on my private Member’s Bill, which seeks to take the market, and the regulatory authorities that introduced it into the NHS, out of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The will of the House was heard when it voted overwhelmingly in favour of my Bill— 241 to 18—so may I urge the Leader of the House to bring forward a resolution as soon as possible to ensure that it goes into Committee?

Mr Hague: While not agreeing with the Bill, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s work in promoting it and the debate that took place last week. He must know, however, that his Bill is some way down the list of private Members’ Bills, although it received its Second Reading last week, and that there are other private Members’ Bills going into Committee. His Bill will have to go into Committee following the normal procedures and at the normal time, in the light of the order of sequence of private Members’ Bills.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On Christmas eve, printing company Polestar will be axing 75 jobs in my constituency and shutting all three of its sites in Colchester. May we therefore have a debate on spare capacity in the printing industry—a situation not helped when British companies such as BT print all their directories overseas?

Mr Hague: I think that a whole debate in the House on spare capacity in the printing industry would be a little narrow, but of course the hon. Gentleman could pursue these issues in an Adjournment debate or elsewhere. He has just demonstrated that he is pursuing the matter in the House and standing up for his constituents, and I am sure he will find further opportunities to do so.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 39 about the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

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[That this House notes the recent governmental conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, attended by 127 states in Norway in March 2013 and by 145 states in Mexico in February 2014; welcomes the announcement of a new follow-up conference in Austria in December 2014; further notes the call for UK attendance; and urges the Government to ensure that it is represented at this event in Vienna. ]

The United States has recently announced that it will join the 150 countries attending that conference. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is the intention of the UK Government to send a representative to Vienna on 8 December?

Mr Hague: As the hon. Gentleman will know very well, it is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday on 2 December. I spoke for a long time for the Foreign Office, but rather than trying to do so now, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to FCO questions. In previous years we have been reluctant to attend, given various difficulties to do with that particular conference, but I am sure Foreign Office Ministers will be able to answer his question clearly next week.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): May I press my right hon. Friend a little more on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young)? In common with many people, my main priority is the Union and friendship between our two nations. This depends on the absence of resentment on either side. What some of us are worried about is that as we approach the end of this Parliament, it will suddenly be announced that we cannot have a vote because the Deputy Prime Minister has thrown his toys out of the pram, or something like that, and there is no agreement in the quad, and the whole thing will just fade into the long grass. We want an absolute cast-iron, specific assurance from the Conservative side of the Government that we will have this vote.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend need be in no doubt that the Prime Minister and I, and Conservatives in the coalition—and, indeed, across the country—will be very committed to having a vote in this House. The only caveat is this: my hon. Friend will be aware that, since we do not have an overall majority, we are not in total control of Government business or of the business of this House. We have, of course, seen some of our hon. Friends from the Liberal Democrats, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), looking for these matters to be considered in detail. Let us make sure that we are able to do that.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): If the right hon. Gentleman knows what the business is next Thursday, why cannot we? The Government favour transparency, so they say, but making the business invisible simply turns that into a game of charades. If he is not prepared to tell us what the business is next Thursday, perhaps he could get up at the Dispatch Box and mime it, so that we might at least have a clue what it is that we will be debating next week.

Mr Hague: I do not think miming would be very easy for Hansard to record, so that is not the solution! A small part of next Thursday’s business is not invisible; it

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is more that its full contents are not yet clear. It will become entirely apparent why that is the case in due course.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The new DVLA contract with Specsavers for drivers’ eye tests has meant that constituents in Campbeltown or Islay have to travel 90 miles by road or take a four-hour ferry journey to get their eye tests, which is completely unacceptable. May we have an urgent statement from the Department for Transport to allow my constituents to have an eye test locally, because they certainly do not want to go to Specsavers?

Mr Hague: I am advised that Specsavers is currently negotiating contracts with a number of independent opticians to ensure that there is appropriate coverage. I am advised, too, that where it is unable to negotiate a contract locally, the DVLA does not expect individuals to travel excessive distances. Where it is satisfied that a contracted optician or optometrist is not available, the DVLA will approach an independent provider to conduct the vision tests on an ad hoc basis. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents may be able to make use of that.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): My constituent Dawn Astle is campaigning for justice for her late father, the former West Bromwich Albion and England footballer, Jeff Astle, who sadly died in 2002 after suffering neurological damage as a result of heading old-style leather footballs. When I recently visited Coalville rugby club, I found it had numerous leaflets advising about the risks and dangers of head injuries, yet in the words of Dr Robert Cantu, a leading neurologist, football is “light years behind” rugby union in appreciating this problem. May we have a debate on what more the football governing bodies can do to address this long-running issue?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend rightly raises an important issue on behalf of the family of Jeff Astle as well as those currently playing the sport. His question is all the more poignant given that we heard this morning the very sad news of the tragic death of the Australian cricketer, Phillip Hughes. I believe that the Football Association published new guidelines in August relating to the problem of head injuries. The FA says, however, that it is aware that the rules around treating head injuries cover only players in the present and the future and cannot cover past injuries. I am sure that a debate would give Members an opportunity to discuss what more could be done—in other sports as well as football. I am sure that this would be a good argument to present to the Backbench Business Committee.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Secretary of State for Health recently visited Medway Maritime hospital in my constituency, and I would like to thank him for all the support he has given to the hospital to turn it around as soon as possible. May we have an urgent statement from the Health Secretary on hospitals in special measures to highlight the work the Government are doing to improve these hospitals, taking into account the fact that six of them have already been taken out of special measures?

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Mr Hague: The Secretary of State regularly answers questions about and comments on hospitals in special measures. My hon. Friend will know that the Medway is receiving an additional £5.5 million of support to increase its resilience in the coming winter period. Eighteen trusts have gone into special measures, since that regime was established, with six of them now turned around, as my hon. Friend said, and no longer in special measures, while major progress has been made at nearly all the others. I am sure we all believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken the right and necessary action with regard to these hospitals.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If the Liberal Democrats prevented the Government from introducing a motion on English votes for English laws, and if in that event some of us tabled a suitable motion through the Backbench Business Committee, would the Leader of the House encourage Conservative Members to support it?

Mr Hague: Yes. If for any reason there were no vote on these matters stemming from a Government initiative, there would be very strong pressure on the Backbench Business Committee. I shall keep hon. Members suitably informed. How all of us vote on a particular motion will, of course, depend on its content. I shall keep my hon. Friend and others informed.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): We heard a very positive announcement on the east coast main line from the Transport Secretary this morning, building on the huge investment in rail infrastructure in the north, both of which significantly benefit my Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency. May we have a debate about how the Government are transforming the rail network in the north of England?

Mr Hague: There is good case for that. This morning’s announcements will be of great benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and indeed to mine. We saw an extraordinary display from Labour earlier. Despite an announcement bringing the prospect of a better return for the taxpayer, an improved service, more seats and more trains going to more stations across the north of England, Labour Members were against it because they take the trade union line and are still wedded to ideas of nationalisation, so I think a debate on this subject would be very welcome.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Speaking as chairman of the all-party group for fair fuel for motorists and hauliers, we very much welcome the Government’s freezing of fuel duty. However, despite a 30% reduction in the price of crude oil since June, pump prices in the UK have fallen by only 6%. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a full Competition and Markets Authority inquiry into the pricing of petrol and diesel is now long overdue, and may we have a statement?

Mr Hague: It is important for these price reductions to be passed on. The Office of Fair Trading has investigated these concerns. In January 2013, it published its analysis, and Government analysis suggests that crude price changes are passed on to pump prices within about six or seven weeks. National average pump prices are now at their lowest levels since December 2010, but it is, of

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course, quite right to keep up the pressure to ensure such reductions are passed on. My hon. Friend will also be aware that, thanks to the policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pump prices are nearly 20p a litre lower than they would have been under the last Government’s fuel duty plans.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): May we have a debate on the role of smaller hospitals within the NHS, which was the subject of a recent Monitor report? My constituents in Rugby have consistently made it clear that, wherever possible, they prefer health services to be provided locally at the Hospital of St. Cross. The report states that

“small district general hospitals can thrive”,

which means patients being treated closer to home in Rugby.

Mr Hague: This issue is very important to many parts of the country. The Government agree with Monitor’s findings that smaller hospitals must have a future. I believe that the local trust has given an assurance that it has no plans or intention to close the Hospital of St Cross, and that should there be any future plans for service changes—in Rugby or anywhere else in the country—it would be necessary to demonstrate that they had the support of local doctors and patients, and public engagement would be required. However, I know that my hon. Friend rightly places great value on that hospital, and will always defend it very strongly.

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12.50 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon): With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on Afghanistan.

Let me begin by offering my condolences to those who were killed and injured in today’s attack, including, sadly, two British embassy staff. It is a tragic reminder that there are some who still seek to undermine the progress that has been made towards peace and security in Afghanistan. I also pay tribute to the courage and commitment of our armed forces, 453 of whom lost their lives, and to the many others who have suffered life-changing injuries in the service of our country. Their legacy is that terrorists have been prevented from using Afghanistan as a launch pad for attacks on our streets. The Afghan security forces whom our armed forces have helped to mentor, and who are now securing the country’s future, have played a major part in that. The sacrifice of our servicemen and women will never be forgotten.

Since the last quarterly statement to the House on 9 September, a national unity Government has been formed, with Dr Ashraf Ghani as President and Dr Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive. President Ghani was inaugurated on 29 September. That was a historic moment: the first democratic transfer of power from one elected President to another. In their first significant act, the Government signed the bilateral security agreement and the NATO status of forces agreement. During my meeting with President Ghani in September, I was encouraged to note that he had clear priorities for the new Government: tackling corruption, making progress on the peace process, working towards stronger economic development and improving regional relations, including relations with Pakistan. We will be working closely with President Ghani and chief executive Abdullah as they continue Afghanistan’s significant development.

The Afghan national security forces successfully secured the elections this year, with more than 7 million people voting. The forces have performed well against a determined enemy. Despite prolonged fighting over the summer, the Taliban have failed to take any district centres, or to capitalise on small and temporary tactical gains in north Helmand and the taking of significant casualties, but they remain a potent force. Afghan forces continue to conduct clearance operations against the Taliban, and their strong performance this year should serve them well in the next fighting season.

The UK had the second largest force in Afghanistan, and our troops undertook some of the heaviest fighting, but it is important to remember that we were only one part of a coalition of 51 nations that helped to build the Afghan national security forces from scratch to a force of over 330,000, which is capable of battling the insurgency and sustaining progress in the removal of the terrorist threat. There can be no guarantees, but the sacrifices made by coalition and Afghan forces have given Afghanistan the best possible chance of a stable future.

The UK has taken a leading role at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, and I addressed the graduates of the first battalion at their graduation ceremony during my visit in September. We will continue

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our role there next year with around 470 troops as the United Kingdom contribution to the NATO Resolute Support mission, a coalition of 35 nations. Our contribution will focus principally on mentoring in the officer academy. We have committed ourselves to providing about £70 million a year to help to sustain the Afghan forces, thus reaffirming another element of the enduring international commitment to Afghanistan.

The redeployment of matériel has been a challenging process, but, notwithstanding the scepticism expressed by many people, it is now almost complete. The redeployment from Iraq in 2009 was conducted predominantly through Kuwait, across 130 km of relatively permissive lines of communication. In Afghanistan, the land routes to the nearest port were 900 km long, and included areas of significant threat. Despite that, about three and a half times as many containers and about four times as many vehicles have been redeployed from Afghanistan as were returned from Iraq.

I want to put on record my praise for the efficiency of our military planners and logisticians, as well as that of our combat troops. All our major matériel has now left Afghanistan. At the height of our involvement, we had some 137 bases; more than 120 have now been handed to the Afghan authorities, and the rest have been dismantled. Earlier this week, our troops left Kandahar airfield for the last time, following our departure from Camp Bastion in October.

As we face new terror threats, we are learning the hard lessons of our Afghan campaign. First, to take on an insurgency, armed forces must gain the trust and support of the local population. That support must be inclusive, crossing political lines and bridging tribal divides, and it must also involve early training of local security forces. Secondly, the increasingly complex nature of 21st-century conflict means that we must build strong international military coalitions—alliances that are ready to act, and capable of sharing resources. Our experience of forging partnerships in Afghanistan provides a model for the sort of agile and effective rapid reaction forces that NATO countries pledged to develop at the recent NATO summit in Wales.

Thirdly, military action can only be one part of a wider solution. In Afghanistan we pioneered a cross-Government approach that combined defence, diplomacy and development via our provincial reconstruction teams. They were deployed in the Afghan provinces, and combined military and civilian organisations to strengthen local political institutions, empower local leaders, and improve social and economic progress.

When I visited Helmand, I saw the difference that has been made by the United Kingdom, including our armed forces. Most citizens in Helmand now have access to health care, household incomes have risen by 20% since 2010, and more than 120,000 students are enrolled in Government schools across the province—including nearly 30,000 girls, compared with none in 2001. We will continue to support that development, and our continued support will include maintaining our contribution of £178 million a year in development aid until at least 2017.

Next week, the London conference on Afghanistan will be led by our Prime Minister, President Ghani, chief executive Abdullah, and other leading international figures. It will focus on the future development partnership

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between the international community and the new Afghan Government to build on the foundations that we have laid over the last 13 years, and will reaffirm our enduring commitment to supporting the future of Afghanistan.

There remain significant challenges ahead for Afghanistan, but we have helped to develop Afghan security forces who have proved that they are able to take the fight to the insurgency. Tackling the drugs trade remains a considerable and generational challenge, but we and our international partners are committed to helping the Afghan Government to combat it. The international community is working with the new Afghan Government to secure long-term fiscal sustainability, and we are pleased to see the new efforts that are being made to tackle corruption.

We fully support the Afghan Government’s promotion of prosperity through jobs, growth and investment, which builds on the sacrifices made by our armed forces. That campaign was long, but it was worth while, and we believe that we have given Afghanistan the best chance of a safer future.

12.59 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and for his courtesy in informing me earlier in the week that he would be making it today. I concur with both the tone and content of his remarks, and was particularly pleased to hear about his discussions with President Ghani, the good progress of the draw-down and the continuing work on development issues.

We are all shocked by this morning’s despicable terrorist attack on a British embassy vehicle in Kabul. People have lost their lives. It reminds us of the dangers still faced and the challenges that remain. Can the Secretary of State give us any further details about that incident?

Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to our armed forces. Our servicemen and women perform their duties with bravery, honour and distinction. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Afghanistan. I think in particular of the 453 members of our armed forces who gave their lives serving our country, as well as the many who were injured. They and their loved ones are in my thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of all Members of this House. As the Secretary of State knows, we support efforts to have them commemorated in a national memorial in London, and will work with the Government and others to bring that about. Can he update the House on the progress on that?

I say with sincerity that the United Kingdom’s role in Afghanistan in the past 13 years is one we can be proud of. Does the Secretary of State agree that our combat mission was a success? It has been hard fought and we have paid a heavy price, but the consequences would have been far worse had we, in 2001, left Afghanistan to those who subjugated that country and its people and used it as a base to launch terrorist attacks on other countries and their peoples. In a world that is of course still dangerous and unpredictable, the UK armed forces in Afghanistan have enhanced our safety and security in Britain by assisting the Afghans to take charge of theirs. Does he agree that those of us in positions of leadership have a responsibility to explain to the public the complexities and success of our role in Afghanistan?

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The Opposition are convinced that the UK along with our allies must remain involved in assisting the fledgling Afghanistan as it takes important steps to manage its own security. Only with the international community’s enduring support can we work to ensure that hard-won gains in Afghanistan are not lost. Therefore, I want to focus my remaining remarks on the future and the role the United Kingdom will play.

The Afghan national security forces did not exist in 2001, but are making steady progress. Can the Secretary of State update us on the strength of the ANSF and the work being done to sustain and professionalise the army, police and air force? What specific work will be done by British armed forces in continuing training and support, and how many personnel will be involved? Can he tell us whether any of that work will involve helping with the removal of unexploded ordnance? Does he believe that sufficient numbers are being committed for the task that they have?

I and my shadow Cabinet colleagues are committed to a cross-Government, multi-agency approach, which the Secretary of State mentioned. The key tenet of that will of course be the relationship between the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. Can he tell us how many staff from each Department, excluding the armed forces, will remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014?

To that end, I welcome, as the Secretary of State did, the forthcoming London Afghanistan conference, which will have the full support of the Labour party in seeking to chart a plan for security, socio-economic and development gains. He may know that the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, has called on the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to adopt sustainable measures to address the causes and consequences of gender-based violence in the country. Can the Secretary of State confirm that violence against women and girls will be a priority at the London conference? Can he tell us how many women will be invited to take part in the main conference as well as the private sector and regional co-operation side events? Does he agree that the conference communiqué should commit to the full implementation of the national action plan for the women of Afghanistan and the elimination of violence against women?

The conference will no doubt receive an update on progress towards a political settlement. Several weeks ago, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited the Taliban to join national reconciliation negotiations and earlier this month Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif backed Ghani’s initiative. Can the Secretary of State give a commitment that the UK Government will work and support those involved to help to make those negotiations a success?

I hope the message that the Government, our allies and the people of Afghanistan take from what the Secretary of State and I have both said is that the UK is committed to ensuring a peaceful, stable and, in time, prosperous Afghanistan. We in the UK stand by Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy and we will do all we can to help it on its journey to a brighter, better future.

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We owe that to the 453 brave service personnel from our armed forces who gave their lives to allow it to happen. It will be their legacy.

Michael Fallon: I am grateful to the shadow Defence Secretary both for what he said and for the tone in which he said it. As we learned this morning, there is no guarantee of an absolutely safe and stable future for Afghanistan, but I believe that we have given it the best possible chance of a stable future.

Let me try to pick up some of the points that the hon. Gentleman made. On this morning’s incident in Kabul, he will appreciate that it happened only a few hours ago. I can confirm that, sadly, two British embassy staff were killed. I believe a number of others were killed and injured, including passers-by. The incident occurred not at the embassy itself but within Kabul, some distance from the embassy. As soon as I have more details, I will of course ensure that he and the House have them.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the London memorial. He will have seen the announcement a few days ago that the memorial appeal, which was launched in The Sun, will be headed by a former chief of the defence staff, Lord Stirrup, who will be in charge of raising private sector contributions. The memorial will be in London but it is worth reminding the House that the memorial wall at Camp Bastion is being returned to this country and will be erected in the national memorial arboretum in Staffordshire.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to agree that the campaign was a success and worth while. It was certainly worth while. I believe that the decision to intervene with other countries in the light of the attack on the twin towers in 2001 was right. I do not think now there can be any question about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm our future commitment. It is a good time to emphasise to the new Afghan Government that, although we have withdrawn our combat troops, we are not walking away from Afghanistan. We will underline that at the London conference, but our commitment to the Resolute Support mission will be enduring for 2015 and for 2016.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the make-up of the ANSF. That is a mixture of army, police and other elements, including an air force, which will take some time to develop. However, having met the local Afghan army corps commanders in Helmand province, I have no doubt about their appetite for defending their country. I saw that at the graduation ceremony that I was privileged to attend on behalf of the UK. I saw the determination of all those young officer cadets to get out into the field and defend their country against the kind of violence that we have seen and that continues sporadically in some areas.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the continuing UK presence. As I said, we will retain some 470 personnel in Afghanistan, largely in the Kabul area. They will continue to work at the national officer academy. They will provide advice on counter-terrorism and support to the security ministries. Our force will include an element of force protection, but it will be located mainly in and around Kabul. I cannot give him specific figures for the other Government Departments but, if he will allow me, I will write to him on that specific point.

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Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me about the London conference. The programme for the main event at the end of next week is still being developed with the Government of Afghanistan. However, ensuring that Afghan women’s and girls’ issues feature prominently is a top priority, and we are deliberately planning the conference in such a way that those are incorporated across all the main themes, including discussions on the overall reform agenda.

If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman on any further questions that I might not have picked up.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): As someone who was looking at the scale of the draw-down at an early stage, I ask my right hon. Friend to do me the favour of passing on my thanks and congratulations to all those, both civilian and military, who have been involved in a magnificent logistical operation. The Ministry of Defence is often criticised—including, I have to say, on occasion, by me—but this time what it has achieved is nothing short of spectacular, and it deserves the thanks and congratulations of the whole House because it has done our country proud.

Michael Fallon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and he is right that there is occasional criticism of the Ministry, but I will be delighted to pass on his congratulations. This was a huge logistical exercise, and there were many who told us at the time that it simply could not be done and the matériel would not be brought out safely—that the convoys would be attacked and the lines interdicted and so on—but that did not happen. That is in very large part due to the skill, commitment and professionalism of the planners and logisticians, as well as to civil servants in my Ministry, who sometimes do not get the praise we rightly accord, of course, in the first place, to our combat troops.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): May I add my voice to that of the Secretary of State concerning the appalling terrorist attack today? Does he agree that this shows that it is not just our military but many civilians and locally engaged people and people in the various private security organisations who put their lives at risk in trying to help the people of Afghanistan, and that we should recognise that this is a threat not just in Afghanistan, but throughout the world?

Michael Fallon: I certainly endorse that. A huge number of people have been helping in the effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan—as the hon. Gentleman says, civil contractors, locally employed staff and others—and it is right that we acknowledge not simply their commitment, but the fact that they, too, have been willing to put themselves in harm’s way to work for a better future.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): As a former Minister for Afghanistan who knows the embassy and staff there, may I, too, express my deep sadness at the events of this morning? This will have affected the place very badly, and indeed the whole of the FCO family, particularly as it is highly likely that our security staff were involved. We express our thanks to them for the work they do to protect many of us as we go around the world. We know the Government will do all they can to support them at this difficult time.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that such events make it even more important that the international community continue to provide support not just in the form of security but, crucially, of economic development, and that the conference next week in London can demonstrate that and show that upon the sacrifices of today and previous years a future for Afghanistan can, and will, be built by all of us working with the Afghan people?

Michael Fallon: I thank my right hon. Friend. Few Members of this House have as much experience as he gained in his time as Minister with responsibility for this area, and he probably knows better than any other Member of this House just how deeply this attack will be felt in the FCO family. There are going to be attacks like this. The terrorist threat—the insurgency—has not been fully defeated, and I know the Government there and their armed forces expect that and are ready to take that on.

My right hon. Friend is also right to focus on the future economic development of Afghanistan. While I am pleased that other NATO countries have now fulfilled the commitment they made to the Resolute Support mission and that finally, the numbers of troops we need from the different participating countries have been pledged, it is equally important that other countries now rally behind the London conference and make the same kind of commitment to Afghanistan’s longer term economic development. We have a Government of national unity in place there now—a Government whom I believe have a better prospect of delivering the kind of economic reform that is well placed to tackle corruption, but they are going to need the help of the international community, and I grateful to my right hon. Friend for continuing to underline that.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. He will know that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has said there is a 7% increase in the number of hectares under poppy cultivation this year, and a 17% increase in opium production. What measures will be taken and what money will be allocated at the London conference specifically for farmers to move from the production of poppies and opium to other crops, and what money will be made available to them to make up the shortfall in their income resulting from losing that high-value crop?

Michael Fallon: If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman on the details of the subsidy that is made available to farmers. We should be frank about this, however, and he is right to draw attention to the challenge posed by the poppy crop. It has increased—let us make no bones about that—and it presents a threat not just to the future of Afghanistan but to the west as well, where these drugs eventually get through. So it is a challenge that the new Government have to surmount, and in doing so they are going to need all the assistance and expertise that other countries can offer.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I support the Defence Secretary’s tributes in his statement, and as a constituency MP I wish to draw attention to 16 Air Assault Brigade. Can he elaborate on the priorities for the new Afghan Government in working towards stronger economic development? Will that include bringing on

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stream the turbine at Kajaki dam, which soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade took there more than six years ago?

Michael Fallon: I note the tribute my hon. Friend has paid to his own unit. I could easily have singled out a whole number of units but I deliberately did not because the campaign in Afghanistan involved many—from all three service in the end—and I thought it invidious to pay tribute to any particular one. However, I certainly pay tribute to his.

I am familiar with the turbine that was, at some cost and with great difficulty, brought up to the dam, and I believe there are plans to get that working finally. I will write to my hon. Friend with details on that.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will the Defence Secretary thank and congratulate Mrs Hazel Hunt of Abergavenny, who has set up a very successful new charity named Welsh Warrior, which is helping to provide aid and comfort to those Afghan veterans who have been maimed in mind or body? Mrs Hunt is also the mother of Richard Hunt, who was the 200th solider to die in Afghanistan. She recently said, “My son was killed because of the politicians. They asked too much of the armed services.” Mrs Hunt is asking for an immediate inquiry into the war. Can she have an assurance that that inquiry will not be delayed for five years, as the Chilcot inquiry has been, so that the guilty cannot hide the truth?

Michael Fallon: I am happy to pay tribute to the work of Mrs Hunt, and I think I acknowledged the enormity of the sacrifice made by our servicemen and women, not simply those who lost their lives but those who suffered life-changing injuries during the campaign, and it is right that we should continue to pay that tribute.

The matter of an inquiry is not wholly one for me, the hon. Gentleman will understand, but I am clear that we should learn the tactical lessons of the campaign. We are already learning some of them, such as the way we combat IEDs, and I drew attention to some of the wider strategic lessons we need to learn in working with our partners, but no decision has yet been taken on the nature of any inquiry.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I entirely endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) about the seriousness and importance of the enduring commitment to which the Secretary of State has referred. Last year, the then Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral Jim Stavridis, asked me to impress upon the British Government the importance of maintaining a continuing military contribution more in line with that of the Germans, who are committing about 1,000 troops. Given what has happened in Iraq and the catastrophic consequences of the reversal of the United States’ plan to leave 10,000 troops there—they were withdrawn because of Maliki’s failure to offer a status of forces agreement—will my right hon. Friend keep under review the British military contribution in Afghanistan? Many of those who have been bereaved will feel that their sons and

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daughters will have died in vain if we do not secure enduring peace in that country. That is a tall order, but I believe that it would be valuable if the Secretary of State could keep the British military contribution under review to ensure that what happened in Iraq does not happen in Afghanistan.

Michael Fallon: I made it clear earlier that we have withdrawn our combat troops from Afghanistan and that we are not going to revisit that particular decision. I have outlined to the House the nature of our enduring mission there, which will help the Afghan military in the challenge that it faces. My hon. Friend is right to draw some comparison with Iraq. In many senses, Afghanistan is better placed, in that we have left as our legacy an Afghan security force that is genuinely representative of all parts of the country. That was not the case with the army that was bequeathed under Maliki in Iraq. Afghanistan therefore has a better chance of dealing with the insurgency in the name of the whole of the country, and of not being subject to the political and tribal difficulties that the Iraqi national army has experienced.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): The British armed forces have spent more than a decade fighting the Taliban, yet it seems that the Taliban are now part of the reconciliation negotiations. What does the Secretary of State see as the future role of the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Michael Fallon: I have discussed with President Ghani his approach to this. There are moderate elements in the Taliban, and it is important for the new Government to reach out to them whenever possible. That is the ambition of President Ghani who—rather differently from his predecessor—is open to that and to building more effective international alliances with his neighbours, including Pakistan, India and China. It is in everyone’s interest that Afghanistan has a stable future.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): We should be proud that millions of Afghan girls are now in school and that thousands of women are doctors, teachers and politicians, but Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Many women in public life there pay with their lives. In the light of such violence, it is unlikely that any peace process that excludes women will be sustainable, so, while I welcome the Secretary of State’s assertion that the London conference will consider women’s issues, may I ask him to go further? Will he make it his priority to ensure that women are not only represented but able to speak for themselves at the conference and at all future peace negotiations?

Michael Fallon: I will certainly bear that in mind as we finalise the agenda and programme for the London conference. I found, on my visits to Afghanistan, that women were becoming increasingly involved in the future of the country. It was noticeable at the first passing-out parade of the officer academy that there were female cadets training there—two platoons are training at the moment—and that, after I had spoken to the first battalion of cadets to graduate, I was followed by a

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female member of the Afghan Parliament who addressed them in far more rigorous and robust terms than I had done about their obligation to defend their country.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I, like many other Members who have visited Afghanistan, have been protected and supported by British embassy staff in Kabul, so may I also express my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who have been killed in this morning’s tragic events? On that note, will the Secretary of State set out his plans for any national recognition or memorialisation of British civilians and civilian staff who have served, lost their lives or suffered injury in Afghanistan during the campaign? Also, on the issue of memorialising servicemen and women, has he issued any guidance to local authorities around the UK on how those who lost their lives in the campaign might best be memorialised locally, in addition to at the national memorials?

Michael Fallon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his first comment. The tragic event in Kabul this morning is a reminder that this campaign has involved all kinds of people—civilian contractors, locally employed staff, and so on—in addition to the combat troops that we seconded. The intention is that the main London memorial will pay tribute to the memory of all those involved—everyone from the civil service staff in my Ministry all the way through to those who fought and those who supported those who fought. That will certainly include those who were employed on a civilian basis in Kabul. I will certainly look at his suggestion about encouraging local authorities to play their part in this memorialisation. I understand that some councils have already taken the decision to name particular streets after local heroes who lost their lives in the campaign. This is certainly something that we ought to encourage.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Many of the specialists involved in the successful withdrawal of heavy equipment from Afghanistan are from the 17th Port and Maritime Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps based at Marchwood in my constituency, and I hope that the Secretary of State will take this opportunity to confirm that that military port facility will be neither run down nor degraded in any way.

On the question of the lessons of the campaign, it is a fact that there are al-Qaeda-type groups in many other countries, too, and we must develop a doctrine—based on strategic bases and bridgehead areas, as I have endeavoured to suggest on previous occasions—to enable us to tackle those groups without having to take on nation-building from the ground up in every country where they appear, because that is an impossible strategy and we need a flexible, sensible strategy for the future.

Michael Fallon: I note what my hon. Friend says about Marchwood, of which he has been a great champion. He does not need me to confirm the important role that it has played in the recovery of so much equipment, matériel and vehicles from Afghanistan. I can certainly confirm that we will have a continuing use for that kind of facility.

I also note what my hon. Friend says about the doctrine. We are seeing al-Qaeda in different forms in some countries, and we are seeing it mutate into ISIL.

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He makes the important point that the western nations are simply unable to reconstruct whole countries time and again.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I pay tribute, as everyone else does and should, to the sacrifice and the loss of service people in Afghanistan. May I ask the Secretary of State to be slightly more objective about the situation that the Afghan people are now facing? The levels of poverty are very serious, and large numbers of Afghan people are seeking refuge in other places because they feel that they can no longer live safely there. He indicated in answer to an earlier question that the new Afghan Government were going to undertake some kind of talks with the Taliban. One obviously hopes that that will bring about long-term peace and stability for the country, and that it will result in the recognition of the rights and role of women in society there. Does he not think, given the fact that British troops and many others have been there for 13 years, that the levels of poverty, drug production and corruption are very serious? Should we not be a bit more objective about what has happened, rather than being triumphalist about it?

Michael Fallon: I hope the House will agree that I have not been triumphalist about the campaign. I believe the campaign we fought, for which so many sacrificed their lives, was certainly worth while, but I am not triumphalist about it in the least. Afghanistan remains a relatively poor country and a place in which there is still great danger, as we have learned from this morning’s events. I hope the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that Afghanistan is a more prosperous and safer place than it was 12 or 13 years ago, and that women have a better prospect now of fuller participation in civic life than they did 10 or 13 years ago. I have noted that the drugs trade remains an increasing and enduring challenge to the current Afghan Government, and, indeed, to the international community. He is right to say that we should not be triumphalist about this campaign, but, equally, he should recognise some of the progress that has been made.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): One fifth of the Royal Navy are in the Royal Marine Commandos and one quarter of Army personnel are in infantry regiments. At airfields, force protection is achieved using the admirable Royal Air Force Regiment. Those branches of our armed forces have taken by far the highest percentage of casualties in Afghanistan—I believe the figure is over 80% or over 90%—and it is always the same in any active operation. Only by using those combat soldiers, be they in Navy, RAF or Army uniform, who do the very dangerous business of closing with the enemy, are military conflicts normally brought to a satisfactory conclusion. They truly represent the very essence of the martial risks always run by our courageous service personnel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in any future strategic defence and security review that recognition must be placed centre stage?

Michael Fallon: I wholly agree with my hon. Friend, who brings to the House his own military experience, and I am sure he will continue to press that point as we approach the strategic defence and security review next year. It is important to emphasise, as he did, that all

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three services—the Marines, the RAF and the Army—were heavily involved in this campaign, and it is slightly invidious to pick out any individual unit as this campaign was fought by the services. However, of course he is right to say that those in the front line have borne the heaviest burden of the combat.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I very much welcome the Defence Secretary’s statement and endorse everything he has said. The BBC documentary “The War Widows of Afghanistan” talks about the estimated 2 million war widows after decades of war. Some 13,000 Afghanistan soldiers are thought to have died. What support is being provided to those Afghan women who have lost their husbands?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the heavy casualties taken by the rest of the Afghan population—of course, there were years of conflict before we even got to Afghanistan in 2001. The Afghan war widows are the responsibility of the new Afghan Government, but we will be working with that Government from next week’s London conference onwards. As I said earlier, the role and recognition of women in Afghan society will be a key part of that conference.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Among those killed in Afghanistan were constituents of mine serving in the Royal Logistic Corps, the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Air Force Regiment. Will my right hon. Friend continue to make the case for our intervention in Afghanistan, to show that their sacrifice was not in vain? Will he also do all he can to keep the families and loved ones of those who made that sacrifice updated on the progress of the national memorial, which will be a fitting tribute to their sacrifice?

Michael Fallon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who of course served in the armed forces. He makes a good point about keeping those who lost loved ones in the campaign and those who suffered injuries up to date with the progress on the memorial, and I certainly undertake to do that.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Most of us agreed at the time with the initial deployment to rid the country of al-Qaeda, but what we tend to forget in this House is that that mission was accomplished within a couple of years. The mistake we made was then to allow the mission to morph into the much bigger one of nation building, something we did not properly resource. Given that—to use the Defence Secretary’s own words—the Taliban “remain a potent force”, may I draw him out a little and ask him what he thinks the key lessons are from this intervention?

Michael Fallon: I think I drew attention to the military lessons we can learn: these campaigns are best fought by local armies that have the support of the local

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population and have that inclusive support across tribal and political divides; these campaigns are waged best in conjunction with international partnerships, so that we learn and can operate each other’s equipment; and military action has to be supplemented with effective economic and political support alongside it. I certainly acknowledge that there is a great deal more to do in all three of those respects.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House and keeping us so well informed, and I am also grateful for the responsible approach taken by the Opposition. May I, too, pay my personal tribute to the men and women who have served in Afghanistan? Looking back at the conflict, is the Secretary of State now satisfied that we had all the right equipment for our troops? In particular, did we have enough helicopters throughout the whole of the campaign?

Michael Fallon: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he, too, had close family involved in the campaign. I have been focused on dealing with the draw-down from Afghanistan and ensuring that we have the right remaining balance of force there for 2015-16. I have not had time to look back as to when and where the equipment was provided in the right order. As I said to the House, no decision has yet been taken on the nature of any inquiry, but it is important that where there are military lessons to be learned from the campaign we do learn them, and reasonably quickly.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My right hon. Friend rightly said in his statement that the major legacy of our intervention is that terrorists have been prevented from using Afghanistan as a launch pad for attacks on our streets, and all involved are to be hugely commended for that terrific achievement. But what we have not been able to do is prevent the flow of drugs and the poppy growing, which ends up killing young people on our streets in this country. He rightly says that that represents a generational challenge to us, but may I urge him to attach a top priority, now that the security situation is as good as we could possibly have left it in Afghanistan, to concentrate our efforts on tackling the problem of opium production there? It should be made a top priority for both his Department and the Department for International Development.

Michael Fallon: I am happy to take on the commitment to relay what my hon. Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary. My hon. Friend rightly says that the increase in poppy production is a threat, not simply to the stability of Afghanistan, but to the west and to the streets of our own countries. We therefore have every interest in helping the new Government face up to that particular challenge.

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Point of Order

1.39 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure Members will have been as surprised as I was by media reports this morning that the US marine corps will be offered the use of HMS Queen Elizabeth for flight operations. That is because a bad decision, a change of decision and then indecision by the Government about the purchase of F-35Bs will leave British aircraft carriers with a gap of years before we have any aircraft to fly from them. Have you received any indication from the Defence Secretary as to whether he intends to offer the House an explanation about this hugely important issue?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The hon. Gentleman is well aware that that is not a point of order for the Chair. However, the Defence Secretary is in his place and if he indicates to me that he wishes to make a point of order further to that point of order, which was not a point of order, I will of course invite him to do so.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon): Perhaps I should not probe too hard as to whether this is now a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, but let me just make it very clear that the reports the shadow Defence Secretary has been reading are completely incorrect.

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Backbench Business


1.40 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to set guideline targets for remuneration which over time reduce the ratio between top and bottom incomes in large organisations to no more than 50 to 1.

Even at this rather late hour, when the first debate would normally be drawing to a close, I am nevertheless grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate on inequality—not least because the excesses of extreme inequality are increasingly seen as a serious, moral, economic and social problem, yet the issue has not received the attention in this House that it clearly deserves.

It is worth saying at the outset that concern over this matter is not the preserve of the political left. In this past month, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and Janet Yellen, the chair of the US Federal Reserve, have both argued that the enormous growth in inequality over the past few decades was not only wrong morally but was having increasingly baleful economic consequences. Then there were the strictures of Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, arguing that the current explosion of inequality was now acting as a brake on growth. They all say that inequality fosters fear, creates too much demand for credit to compensate for squeezed living standards, drives asset price bubbles, catalyses financial instability, and, by displacing too much risk on those who cannot bear it, undermines the legitimacy of capitalism.

The facts on ballooning inequality are broadly well understood. Official statistics show that average weekly pay in June this year was £477, while the average annual take-home remuneration among the FTSE 100 chief executives was £4.3 million, or £83,000 a week. The ratio between their remuneration and the remuneration of the average UK worker is therefore about 175:1. That needs to be put into perspective. In 1998, according to the High Pay Centre think-tank, a FTSE 100 boss was typically paid 47 times more than their workers. In other words, in just 16 years, the gap between top incomes and the average wage has nearly quadrupled. The obvious question then is: is all this justified? In fact, there is rather little correlation between the surge in executive remuneration and company performance; sometimes, there is even a negative correlation.

The director of the High Pay Centre, Deborah Hargreaves, explains the phenomenon. She says:

“The only reason why their pay has increased so rapidly compared to their employees is that they are able to get away with it.”

They are able to get away with it largely because of the structural divide in the way in which pay is determined in this country. For manual workers, it is by collective bargaining. That has dramatically declined in the past 30 years, leading to a very sharp fall in the share of wages in GDP from 65% to about 53%. For white-collar workers, it is by private contracts, which are laid down by the employers. But for chief executives in the boardroom,

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it is by remuneration committees, specifically chosen by the board itself, which largely operate on the principle of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” That is not a system that carries credibility across the whole spectrum of the work force.

One might even question why such elaborate devices are needed for top executives to secure a maximum uplift in pay, since one would have thought that £80,000 a week was far beyond what is necessary for the most comfortable lifestyle. Indeed, one could reduce a £2.5 million income by almost 95% and the recipient would still be in the top 1% of all earners in the UK. That is a staggering fact.

Are incomes 10 or 20 times more than the earnings of those already considered very, very rich strictly necessary? The only answer seems to be that these turbo-charged salaries have almost nothing to do with performance and everything to do with chief executive officers keeping up with each other in a status race. In other words, rather as in the end of the Victorian period, which we are getting closer to now, the very rich constantly demand yet more wealth to show it off in order to demonstrate where they stand in the pecking order.

Does that matter? The apologists for inequality have always traditionally argued that it does not because it does no harm to other people. Peter Mandelson notoriously argued that new Labour was

“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.

But he did add

“as long as they pay their taxes.”

That was partly on the grounds that wealth would then trickle down to everyone else, but it has not trickled down; it has gushed up as if from a geyser. According to the Sunday Times rich list, the richest 1,000 persons in this country—just 0.003% of the adult population—have doubled their collective wealth in the six years since the crash, from a staggering £250 billion to more than £500 billion. Moreover, that does harm other people. It leads to smouldering resentment, which can at times explode if triggered by a sudden event, such as the five days of rioting after Mark Duggan was shot in August 2011. It undermines trust and solidarity and it weakens the social fabric of communities. Above all, it has been shown unequivocally by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in “The Spirit Level” that across all countries—it is not just the UK—the greater the inequality, the greater the degree of social pathology in terms of homicide levels, crime and violence, mental illness, imprisonment, teenage pregnancies, obesity, maths and literary educational scores, life expectancy, infant mortality and many others.

It is not just the poor who suffer, although they certainly suffer the most; those impacts extend widely across the whole society. It is not just the social impacts of inequality that damage society, but the economic ones as well. It weakens aggregate demand, which is serious at times like the present when all the other potential sources of demand—Government expenditure, business investment and net exports—are negative.

Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the Bank of England, recently summed up the economic impacts of excessive inequality. He said that

“there is rising evidence that extreme inequality harms, durably and significantly, the stability of the financial system and growth in the economy. It slows development of the human, social and

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physical capital necessary for raising living standards and improving wellbeing. That penny is starting to drop among policymakers and politicians.”

I hope that his last comment was right.

What should be done? The terms of the motion suggest that the Government should set guidelines for remuneration that, over time, reduce the ratio between top and bottom incomes in large organisations to no more than 50:1. That would still allow top incomes to reach nearly £24,000 a week or £1.25 million a year. I think that that is justified on two grounds. First, in the period when capitalism flourished most in the UK—that is, the three decades after the war—the ratio was 40:1 or less. Secondly, the most successful dynamic economies with the highest long-term growth figures and the greatest social cohesion in the past 40 years—I am thinking of Japan up to the 1990s, the east Asian tiger economies, Sweden, Norway and Singapore, among others—all had a ratio of less than 50:1.

Of course, there are other ways of moving towards the same objective. The Business Secretary introduced new regulations that became operative this year, empowering shareholders with a binding veto over company executive pay policy. Despite his good intentions and the shareholder spring that peaked in 2012, that has not ever been called on, partly because the holdings and voting rights on pay are controlled by very wealthy fund managers and the work force have no say in the process at all. That suggests that the structure of incentives and pressures needs to be recalibrated.

I have already quoted Deborah Hargreaves’s remark that executive pay soars because they can get away with it. Corporate power and the greed and self-interest that go with it have increased dramatically over the past three decades and they are still increasing. That needs to be redressed. There are several measures that could help. One is the mandatory publication of company pay ratios, as is already operated by John Lewis, where the ratio is 75:1, and TSB bank, where it is 65:1. Another would be to strengthen the coverage of trade union collective bargaining, which has shrunk dramatically over the past 30 years from 82% to a wholly inadequate 23%.

A further measure would be to increase the prevalence of work force-wide profit sharing. In my view, the most effective mechanism would be the introduction in all large companies of what I would call an enterprise council, made up of representatives of all the main grades of employees and meeting at least once a year to open up the books, look at all the company’s activities, consider how failures could be corrected and performance improved, think about the financial implications of depreciation, investment, stock control, dividends and so on and then examine the bids for pay increases across the company over the next year. That would strengthen the cohesion and solidarity of the company, greatly improve morale and productivity and almost certainly enhance profitability. I commend that, and all the other measures I have proposed, to the House.

1.54 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) on securing the debate. It is extremely important that the House should consider the growing inequality in this country and specific measures that might be taken to reduce it.

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I start by painting a picture of where we are with inequality, both nationally and in my constituency. We know that about 20% of working households rely on some form of tax credit, which shows that a great many people are in work but are relying on benefits because they are earning very low wages. That is compounded by gender. We know that since 2011, the gender gap in wages has been getting worse, not better. The gap between all women working and all men working is about 18.6%; for those who work full time, it is 14.9%. That means that women earn about 85p for every £1 that a man earns. That is important because although inequality affects large numbers of people across our work force, we must be clear that it affects women more than men.

We also know that 3.5 million children nationally are in poor households. That means that they are unable to afford adequate food or transport or to join in activities with their friends. That demonstrates the huge gap emerging between people at one end of the income spectrum and those who are increasing their wages at the other end. I experience that in my Durham constituency a great deal. Take-home pay in the north-east is less than it is in the rest of the country, so although we can give national figures about people relying on benefits, the problem is much greater in the north-east.

Changes to benefits have had an impact on areas like County Durham, where people are losing about £565 per working-age adult—money is going from people who are working and relying on top-up benefits—but the situation is also worsening for those who are out of work and relying on benefits. This is evidenced daily by the increasing number of people using food banks in my constituency. Indeed, some of the people who run the food bank in Durham talked to me recently about setting up a clothing bank and doing so locally, because they recognise that people sometimes cannot even afford to get to the charity shops in the city centre.

My contention is that a raft of measures need to be taken to reduce inequality. Before we look at them, however, perhaps we could stop for a moment and consider what has happened at the other end of the spectrum. The top 100 executives in the FTSE 100 companies took home as much as 131 times the amount their average employee did, yet only 15 of those companies have committed to pay their employees a living wage. Across the country, increasing numbers of companies pay the living wage, and we should stop and recognise that. There are some really good examples—a number of our universities pay the living wage, as does John Lewis—but trying to dig around and find them is difficult. We should have a list readily available. We need to consider what measures could be taken to reduce the income gap, and why we should do so.

Early in the lifetime of this Government, the Prime Minister was keen on looking at measures of happiness. He wanted us to be able to assess what leads to happiness; perhaps he thought that if we had information on that, it would cheer us all up and we would not spend so much time worrying about austerity. I do not know what has happened to all that work, but we do know that people who live in countries where there is more equality are happier. I want to give some advice to the Prime Minister and his colleagues this afternoon: if he wants to make people more content with their life, he and his Government need to address the growing

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inequality by insisting that companies adopt the living wage and that we get away from a low-pay, low-quality job economy.

Of course, in any economy we need people to work in the service sector. These are important jobs, but we want a much greater variety of jobs, especially high-value ones requiring higher skills. We need to see a real Government programme to support job creation of that type. That is in great contrast to what is available. In preparing for today’s debate, I looked at the jobs available today on my local Jobcentre website in Durham and the levels of income that they offer. The figures are truly shocking. So many of the jobs available do not even pay the living wage. Indeed, about three quarters pay less than the living wage, with about half paying the minimum wage. The jobs available cover everything from care co-ordinators to receptionists and night care assistants. I think we would all regard a senior night care assistant as an important role with significant responsibilities. The job advertised paid £7.35 an hour. These are simply wages that people are not able to live on, which is why so many people rely on in-work benefits.

We need to challenge our employers in a way that we have not done to date. Why do they think they can take home thousands of pounds a month while not paying the majority of their employees the living wage? I do not know about other hon. Members, but I do not want to live in a country that has such growing inequality. I do not want to live in a country where more and more people cannot afford basic rent. Shelter recently published research that showed that 1 million people took out payday loans just to cover their rent. This is clearly ridiculous in a country such as ours that can do so much better.

This afternoon we are challenging the Government to do more to get employers to pay not only the minimum wage—which they have to do, although some still seem to try to get out of their responsibilities—but a living wage. What do the Government intend to do to encourage the creation of jobs with higher-level skills that pay more and can take us forward to a knowledge-based economy? I also want the Government to challenge the companies that pay huge bonuses and whose directors take home obscene amounts of money to plough more resources into their businesses so that they can be successful and pay a living wage.

2.5 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) on securing what has been a short but perfectly formed debate, and the Backbench Business Committee on agreeing to it. He is right to point out that inequality is one of the most pressing issues facing our economy and society. It is clear that the economy does not work for many working people. Galloping advances in executive pay and real-terms pay cuts for most people in work does not suggest an economic model that is performing well or efficiently or providing the greatest benefits to the greatest number of people.