John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Today’s announcement represents a commitment to invest in the necessary capabilities to defend our country. It is undoubtedly

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1069

true that the simultaneous wise deployment of aid budgets and soft power assets is desirable, but does the Prime Minister agree that effective defence relies on not only the necessary budget, but an unswerving commitment to deploy those assets when this country’s defence requires it?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; our allies want to know and, when we are threatened, people want to know that we are not just prepared to invest in our defence assets, but prepared to use them. However, our defence and our overseas aid commitments go together, because they are both things that help to keep us safe.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): With support for the Union in Northern Ireland growing ever stronger, may I help to assuage the concerns of the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) by saying that we have lots of loughs and lots of ports, and that if the Government ever need a new home for Trident, Ulster is there?

The Prime Minister: I know that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) and I are united as one in hoping it never comes to that.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): Today’s SDSR is very important for the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Does my right hon. Friend remain committed to a fleet of 19 destroyers and frigates? How many more may he get of the lighter frigates? Will they be based in Portsmouth?

The Prime Minister: First, my hon. Friend can be secure in the knowledge that Portsmouth will have a very strong future, not least as the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be based there. I have already seen where it will go, and what a magnificent site and resource it will be. Today’s announcement about commissioning a new multi-purpose frigate enables us to increase over and above from the 19 frigates and destroyers we are already committed to, because it will be a more affordable programme. Having seen all the work that our frigates do, we know that it is essential that we have that core anti-submarine task, but when we think of all the other work—drugs interdiction, helping off the coast of Libya and all the other tasks—I think we see that we would benefit from having a bigger Royal Navy fleet, with more different sorts of frigates for those tasks.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Prime Minister set out how the national security strategy and strategic defence and security review will bolster the UK’s ability to participate in the international diplomatic and military coalition for Syria and ensure that the UK can play a significant role in any post-Daesh stabilisation process in Syria and Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to do that. Obviously, there are some capabilities here that we have and are building that would be useful in the prosecution of the attacks on ISIL in Iraq and on Syria, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a wider point: because we have committed to this aid spending and because we are funding our diplomacy, we are able to play a much wider part in making sure that Syria has a secure future.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1070

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement today. Does he agree that there are at least three issues that enable us to defend our country? The first, obviously, is a strong Government who are willing to show and recognise the importance of defence. The second is a strong economy able to fund that. The third is the excellent companies we have throughout the country—companies such as the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in my constituency—which have the experience to deliver the defence that we need?

The Prime Minister: My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that crucial to our defence is a strong defence and aerospace sector that can keep us at the cutting edge of capabilities, because that is essential for our future.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): We are living through a time when there are worrying gaps in our capabilities, so today’s announcements are very welcome, but may I press the Prime Minister on pay for the armed forces? Is he saying that new joiners will receive an inferior package, and, if that is the case, how will that affect morale?

The Prime Minister: We are trying to design a package for new joiners that is attractive for people in the modern workforce. We have to ask questions about how people want to be housed and what sort of flexibility they want at work during their lives. The fact that we are seeing so many more women join our armed forces will also have consequences that we need to consider. The new joiners’ package is about taking all those things into account.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): To have an exit strategy is important, but, for me, the entrance strategy became compelling when we saw what happened on the streets of Paris on 13 November. It is important that we have effective resources for our armed forces, and that the RAF has extra Typhoons and Joint Strike Fighters. It is vital that it has the right kit, and emphasises the important manufacturing skills of the people working at Warton and Samlesbury at BAE Systems.

The Prime Minister: I have been to see those factories, and I know the incredible technical expertise that we have. The workers can be proud of the fact that Typhoon is absolutely a first-rate aircraft, and that it has a very strong future.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Ministry of Defence employs civil servants as nuclear scientists and nuclear engineers, and in a whole range of tasks, including logistics, training support and maintenance, as well as in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I understand that there is a cut of 12,000 to the MOD’s civil service. How will the Prime Minister ensure that critical roles and tasks are not lost to the Ministry of Defence?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes an important point. There are civilian roles in the MOD that are hugely important, and she mentioned some of them. What we have done with this budget is say that we will meet the 2% of defence spending and that we have created this joint security fund that can be bid for by our intelligence

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1071

services as well as our defence services. We said to the military, “Every penny you can save through efficiencies, you now know will go into extra capabilities.” That is why I can stand here today and talk about new squadrons, more members of the RAF and more people joining the Royal Navy, but all of that should be done without damaging any of the vital capabilities that civilians provide.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Of course Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have concerns about action in Syria. In that respect, we look forward to my right hon. Friend’s statement on Thursday. Does he agree that, every day we delay action in Syria, it not only lets down our allies and the Syrian people, but has the added effect of heaping confidence on, and boosting the morale of, ISIL fighters?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right that we do not want to let down our allies. We also should not allow dangerous terrorist organisations to build their strength by not intervening against them, but, to be clear, I do not wish to bounce the House into a decision. That is why I was very deliberate last week when I spoke about replying to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the report of which will be issued on Thursday. Members of Parliament will be able to take it away and consider it over the weekend. We can then have a full day’s debate, proper consideration and a vote. That is a proper process. I do not want anyone to feel that they are being bounced into a decision. I want this House to take the decision deliberately, but we should not take too long over it, because, as my hon. Friend says, every day that we spend is a day that we are not getting to grips with the ISIL menace.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): The Prime Minister has announced £178 billion in procurement over the next 10 years. Will that lead to an increase in the procurement of equipment that can be used for the clearing up of landmines and the other detritus of war, which is so essential if development is subsequently to take place?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, the £178 billion is to be invested in defence equipment, aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers, the new Ajax vehicles for the Army and such like. As for removing mines, that is something on which we can use our aid budget, and we do. For instance, we fund the Halo Trust and other such organisations, but I accept that there may be opportunities to do more.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I, as others have done, warmly congratulate the Prime Minister and his Defence Ministers since 2010 on turning round the economy of the Ministry of Defence and its procurement regime, and thank him for committing to the 2% NATO expenditure target? Beyond that, I urge him to consider finding the additional two brigades not from existing troops with new insignia but by increasing the size of the Army from 82,000 to 102,000.

The Prime Minister: An ingenious idea was tucked away at the end of that question, but I think that we are capable of delivering these new strike brigades within

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1072

the level of 82,000. As I said, we are seeing a small increase in the RAF and in the Navy. What is important is that we make sure we get everything out of the resources that we put in, and that is what this review is about.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and it is doubtful that I will be able to accommodate everybody. The Prime Minister is giving very pithy answers. Perhaps colleagues could follow suit and pose pithy questions.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): A regional solution involving all means at our disposal underpinned by the United Nations is essential if we are to defeat ISIS in its heartland. So too is the taking of all steps necessary in our homeland to protect the security and safety of British citizens. Will the Prime Minister think again, therefore, before proceeding with major cuts to front-line policing, because neighbourhood policing is the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism effort?

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says about Syria. It is about bringing together the United Nations, the aid and development efforts that we can make, the political solutions that we want to pursue and diplomatic efforts, together with the military action that we want to pursue. I have said what I said about counter-terrorism policing, and the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the statement on Wednesday to see the overall settlement, but I am in no doubt that all our police play a role in keeping us safe, and in the last Parliament we demonstrated that, with efficiencies, we can get more for less out of our excellent police force.

Mr Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) can be as short as his name.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): There is a tradition in the House that when there is a national crisis and our country is in great danger, the Leader of the Opposition comes to Downing Street to talk to, and then support the Prime Minister. Is the door to 10 Downing Street open to the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister: My door is always open to the Leader of the Opposition. He is a Privy Counsellor and is able to get Privy Council briefings on any subject he likes, and I have said from the moment that he was elected leader of the Labour party that if he wants to have a briefing by or a conversation with me, I will always make myself available.

Michael Fabricant: Don’t give away all our secrets.

Mr Speaker: We are extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for his chunter from a sedentary position.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): As the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said, there is a close link between our defence and security capability and our research, innovation and manufacturing capability. Yet the Prime Minister will know of the problems in the UK steel industry which show how vulnerable we are to

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1073

losing for ever large chunks of our manufacturing supply chains—chains that could be used for defence and security purposes. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House how he expects the defence growth partnership to evolve with the SDSR, and what steps he is taking to ensure we can maintain the skills, capability and competitiveness in our industrial supply chain so that we can meet our future security and defence requirements with British industry and British innovation?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the partnerships that we formed with the defence industry and the aerospace industry are the basis of a long-term plan to work with them, and they can now see our long-term commitments on defence spending. We want to see more British steel procured for Government expenditure such as this. Almost all of the 82,000 tonnes involved in the carrier programme was sourced from British steel, and I very much hope that that can be the case with these future procurements as well.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): The global challenges research and Ross funds are superb ideas of the Prime Minister’s. Can we get on with them, please?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. He is very knowledgeable about these issues, and I am glad he thinks we made the right choices.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): There is much to welcome in the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly what he said about deployable forces, but like some Members on the Government Benches, I have concerns about whether 82,000 regular Army personnel are enough to meet some of the challenges, and the scale of those challenges, particularly given what we have seen happening in reserve recruitment. Can the Prime Minister see any circumstance in which he may feel a need to increase regular personnel to meet the challenges out there?

The Prime Minister: Remember that the figure of 82,000 was always on the basis that we would have the 35,000 reserves. Recent figures have shown that we are now getting ahead of the targets that we set, and I pay tribute to the hard-working ministerial team. We need to make sure that we reach that 35,000. What the report today shows—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to look at it in detail—is that because we are changing the way that the Army works, over time we will be able to deliver two strike brigades, rather than one, and a force of 50,000, rather than a force of 30,000, showing that we can get more for the 82,000 than we had set out.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): In his review of overseas development strategy, will the Prime Minister find resources to promote British values so that the woman in a country where she has to fight for the right to work knows that we are on her side, those of a minority faith have the right to worship their God, the gay man has the right to look forward to a loving future and, most of all, people with minority ideas have the right to express those freely without repression?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right that our aid budget is not simply about spending money; it is also about trying to help build what I call the golden

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1074

thread of conditions—the rule of law, rights of minorities, growing democracy—that helps to deliver inclusiveness and development. I spent some of Friday with the excellent Christian charity Open Doors, which promotes exactly that sort of work and was full of praise for what the Government are doing. It wants us to do more to protect the freedom to worship and that is something we should focus on.

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): While we have been discussing the SDSR and listening to the Prime Minister, it seems that No. 10 has been briefing journalists, who are reporting that the Government intend having only a debate, and not a vote, on Trident maingate. Is this true?

The Prime Minister: No. I am very keen that we should have a vote. I think the hon. Gentleman is going to have a vote on Tuesday and if I am here, I will certainly —[Interruption.] Believe me, I would like a vote on gate, maingate, after-gate, pre-gate—the hon. Gentleman can have as many votes as he likes. I know one thing—all my hon. Friends know which gate to go through.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): The timely deployment of international aid and now of our armed forces can play a significant part in preventing difficult situations globally from deteriorating. With respect to the deployment of aid and our armed forces, can my right hon. Friend give a commitment that his Government will act thoughtfully but decisively?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that is the right approach to take. One should never approach these questions too hastily or without thinking through the consequences, but the question for us will be, “Will the world be safer—will we be safer—if we can act faster to degrade ISIL in Syria as well as in Iraq?” Because its headquarters are in Syria, it seems to me that the answer to that question is yes.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): For those of us who will have to make the decision in the very near future about British military involvement in Syria, will the Prime Minister say something about what lessons he thinks we can draw from the recent and current action in Iraq, and what that might tell us about what we might be about to see in Syria?

The Prime Minister: There are so many lessons that we need to draw from recent conflicts that it is not possible to set them all out at the Dispatch Box now, but let me take one. One of the mistakes that was made in Iraq was the sense that the entire state and establishment had to be dismantled after the invasion of Iraq. That left a vacuum that has now been well documented. In saying that we believe that Assad cannot play a part in the long-term government of Syria, we are not saying that all the institutions of the Syrian state have to be dismantled. Indeed, quite the opposite. It will be very important to have a transitional plan so that Syria has a state and institutions. They need to be institutions that can represent all the country, but it should not be part of our plan to dismantle them in a year-zero approach. That would not work and we must learn the lesson from the past.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): My right hon. Friend made some welcome comments about the deployability of a division in the imminent future.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1075

As he looks across the Opposition Benches, will he comment on the importance of allies and friends at times like this? What France is looking for now is an ally in its time of need, and what our friends in the middle east are looking for is our commitment to our allies around the world.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, who has great experience of these things, makes a very important point. Britain and France have been allies for so long, our militaries are so close, and our intelligence and security co-operation is so deep that it would be very disappointing for the French and for us if we had to say that we simply could not join them in helping them out, because helping them out is helping us out. As far as I am concerned an attack on Paris is an attack on us. It is an attack on our way of life—an attack on our values. Standing outside the Bataclan theatre this morning, you feel that with every sense of your being: this was an attack on the values we all hold dear. He is also right that the countries in the region that look to Britain for defence, support and protection will be concerned if we do not go to the aid of our closest neighbour and one of our oldest partners. That would raise questions about our reliability. That is one of the many considerations that everyone in this House should take into account when we come to this.

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), I am delighted to hear about the MPA programme, which is a new and welcome asset to the fishing fleets of Fraserburgh who for the past five years have been doing the job with regard to the submarines from Russia.

On page 3 of his statement the Prime Minister says: “to meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us”. Does he accept that nowhere does he mention the Government’s reliance on the reservists and failure to meet reservist recruitment numbers? Does he therefore agree with the Defence Committee that the structure in Future Force 2020 is

“manifestly the wrong structure for this new environment”?

Mr Speaker: No one could accuse the hon. Gentleman of excluding from his text any consideration that he thought might at any time be in any way material, and I am sure we are all deeply grateful to him.

The Prime Minister: We are very much targeted on getting the 35,000 reserves that we need. This has been a huge programme to turn around the performance on encouraging people to stand up and join, but it is now working well, and if we keep going with it, I am confident that we will get to 35,000.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I welcome the SDSR, as I suspect it will be welcomed across Hampshire and its significant defence interests. Will the Prime Minister confirm that when it comes to our security, whether it be shoot to kill, hunting our enemies wherever they are in the world, or renewing our independent nuclear deterrent, every Member of this House, wherever they sit, can find safe haven under the leadership of this Government?

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1076

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope that people will look at the arguments and at the current status that we have with ISIL, put aside party considerations and other considerations, and try to answer the question internally, as it were, and then through their vote, about whether Britain will be safer, our people will be safer and the world will be safer if we take more concerted action against ISIL.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I also thank him for the investment in security and intelligence announced last week, but restate that the frontline in intelligence and in responding to a terrorist attack is our local police forces. My local police force now regularly has only seven armed police officers on duty, and calls for help to neighbouring police forces have gone up by 43%. Can he assure the people of Brighton and Hove, who have a long history of dealing with terrorism, that should another terrorist attack happen, the local force can cope without calling on neighbouring forces?

The Prime Minister: We are looking at the number of armed response vehicles and armed officers that are available. I do not want to see the routine arming of the British police force, but it is possible to see a growth in the pool of armed experts that can be called on. As for forces sharing resources between each other and going to each other’s aid, that has always been part of the way that British policing has worked.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): The extra investment announced by my right hon. Friend will be welcome in Fareham and along the south coast, particularly by firms in my constituency such as Boskalis Westminster Ltd, which is already making preparations for the arrival of the two new aircraft carriers in Portsmouth. Does he agree that the SDSR safeguards training for our Navy personnel, which is vital in the years ahead for the demanding role now expected of them?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about how important it will be to make sure that we have sufficient trained personnel to man our carriers and the new generation of destroyers and frigates. That is one of the reasons why we are seeing an increase of 400 in the number of Royal Navy personnel. I think there is now a great offer that the Royal Navy can make to new recruits to encourage people to join, which is that we are going to have some of the most advanced equipment anywhere in the world, and it is going to be a great service to join.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There are logistical issues to be addressed for two new strike brigades. What new funds are being given to the Army to generate that new capability? What will be their fitness to move and how will they be moved to the conflict area, bearing in mind that our lift capacity is limited?

The Prime Minister: The aim of the new strike brigades is to try to make them more manoeuvrable themselves so that they are less dependent on lift from the other services. Today I visited RAF Northolt and talked to some of our Army personnel about the new Ajax class of armoured vehicles, which were formerly known as

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1077

Scout, and the new generation of Warrior armoured vehicles. They have longer reach, more capabilities and faster speeds in order to increase not just the deployment but the flexibility of our Army brigades.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): The security and intelligence agencies, including those in my constituency, play an absolutely vital role in identifying terrorists and keeping us safe, and the emphasis in the SDSR on strengthening our agencies is very welcome. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will press on with legislation to ensure that, underpinned by robust judicial oversight, they have the powers as well as the resources they need to protect our country?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He represents Cheltenham, and GCHQ is an amazing national resource. Many countries are extremely envious of the expertise we have built up over the years, and we should be very proud of what it does. We will invest in cyber—we will, I think, double the amount of money we put into cyber by the end of this Parliament—and establish a new cyber-command centre, which will also make a big difference.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): In an increasingly uncertain world in which we cannot seem to predict the security measures needed in five years’ time, let alone 30 or 40 years’ time, does the Prime Minister agree with the Defence Committee’s report, which came out over the weekend, on the need for the SDSR to be flexible in its response to known and unknown threats? Does he also agree that that has to be underpinned by a renewed nuclear deterrent, because unilateral nuclear disarmament is not the answer?

The Prime Minister: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. We should renew our deterrent, because in a dangerous world we want to have that ultimate insurance policy. I also agree with him that it is not possible to predict all the threats we will face over the coming period. That is why the report and my statement were so clear that we have to expect the unexpected and be flexible enough to prepare. That should not be an excuse, however, for not drawing together the threats we do know about and not making choices based on those threats. If the hon. Gentleman looks at page 87 of the document, he will see that we have set out tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 threats. They will provoke a great debate among the experts about whether we have made the right choices, but at least we are setting out what the choices are.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): With David Brown Gear Systems in my constituency playing a key role in the supply chain to the Type 26 frigate programme, will the Prime Minister continue to ensure that UK companies in the supply chain, as well as the shipyards, continue to benefit from today’s procurement announcement?

The Prime Minister: I will do my very best to deliver on my hon. Friend’s request. That is what the defence growth partnership is about. Like any good customer, we are trying to say to defence companies large and small, “These are what our requirements are in the coming years. Work with us so that you can be a part of delivering their success.”

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1078

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): As the Member for Glasgow South West, I will work with anyone to protect jobs on the Clyde. Can the Prime Minister assure me that Ministers will keep me and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) updated on the procurement timetable for the Type 26 frigates? I impress on him that any delays might lead to short-term job loss, which I am sure he would want to avoid.

The Prime Minister: Having visited the shipyards in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and seen the incredible technical expertise of the people working on the aircraft carriers and other projects, of course I want to see that happen. We will produce a shipbuilding strategy in 2016, so he can play a full part in looking at that. What we are doing, because of the timing, is having two offshore patrol vessels built in the coming period, to make sure that there is plenty of work to be done on useful vessels that have a real purpose. Then there are the Type 26 frigates, which are almost ready to go ahead, and then we will have the new generation of frigates, which will be more cost-effective and could lead to the opportunity for Glasgow shipbuilders to build ships for other countries as well as for the UK. We have not actually managed to sell many of our warships in recent years. That might be because we have been creating ever more expensive and ever more complex warships, rather than also thinking about slightly more flexible vessels that others, such as the Australian and New Zealand navies—old friends of ours—might want to buy.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): While the Leader of the Opposition appears a very lonely figure on the other side of the House, I can say that my right hon. Friend has the full support of the Conservative Benches. I welcome his statement. I also welcome the decision to refocus our aid budget on fragile and failing states. Does he agree that that will not only prevent conflict in the future, but provide an important tool in bringing stability to the middle east and north Africa and really put our national interest in much clearer focus?

The Prime Minister: I believe our aid budget is the act not only of a moral nation, but of one that cares about its own security, because broken or conflict states tend to produce huge problems and issues for us at home as well. Not only will focusing that budget make sure that we can reduce those risks, but by having such a substantial budget, we are able to act quickly and decisively, which also gives us influence in how these problems are solved.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): The Prime Minister has delivered an important and comprehensive statement to the House. Does he not agree that the defence and security of our country is enhanced and indeed strengthened by our membership of the European Union?

The Prime Minister: I believe that Britain’s membership of a reformed European Union is in our national interest. At a time when we face great dangers and great uncertainty in our world, I think it is worth looking at all the organisations of which we are members, such as the G7, the G20, NATO, the EU, and indeed the Commonwealth —there will be a major summit this week—and recognising that these friendships and partnerships help to keep us safe.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1079

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Following on from that question, does my right hon. Friend think that our membership of NATO is more important to our national security than our membership of the EU?

The Prime Minister: In my view, NATO is the organisation that has kept us safe since the second world war. It has been a very successful alliance. If we can secure a reform of the European Union we will not have to choose between belonging to NATO and belonging to a reformed European Union; we will be able to belong to both. I can see the advantages of that because we will increasingly see—as we see off the coast of Libya—British ships involved in trying to deal with potential threats to our country as part of European Union work that is also at the same time sanctioned by NATO.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): In his statement, the Prime Minister correctly identified cyber-attacks and Daesh activities as the two biggest threats at the moment. Is it not the case that, for each of those activities, Trident is not a deterrent? With nuclear warheads travelling across Britain by road, is it not a £167 billion liability and target, not a deterrent?

The Prime Minister: Trident is not supposed to be a deterrent against cyber-attack. Trident is the ultimate insurance policy, in an unsafe and uncertain world, that we can never be subject to nuclear blackmail. That is why, if we look across the United Kingdom, we can see that people support having this ultimate insurance policy in a dangerous world.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many small firms in the defence supply chain in my constituency of South Ribble and all over Lancashire? Will he tell the House how the review harnesses the ideas of such small firms?

The Prime Minister: Small firms play a very big part in keeping us safe and providing our defences. What they can see from this is a long-term commitment—we had the defence review in 2010 and another in 2015, and we have repeatedly committed to those key platforms that will keep us safe—so small businesses can work out, through the defence growth partnership, how to become part of that success.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will maintain their commitment in grants to the Aerospace Technology Institute?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the outcome of the spending review—he only has to wait another 48 hours. The partnerships that we have put in place for the defence industry, the aerospace industry and other industries have been successful in generating growth, jobs and intellectual property.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly the reaffirmation of his personal commitment and our commitment as a country to the 0.7% spending target for aid. Will he reassure my constituents that their hard-earned cash will be spent only where it is squarely in our national interests to do so?

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1080

The Prime Minister: I certainly give that assurance. When my hon. Friend reads the overseas development document that we are publishing today, he will see the clear guidelines and aims that we are setting. Of course we want to tackle extreme poverty. That should be at the heart of everything we do. I would argue that that is in our national interest too, but broken, fragile and conflict states should be a greater focus of our aid and development effort.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): Having the right balance between the appropriate equipment and sufficient available appropriately trained personnel must be a priority if the planned strike brigades are to be a successful operational reality. The Prime Minister said that the armed forces are the pride of our country. Does he understand that his plan to cut almost 30% of the civilian jobs will inevitably lead to front-line troops doing back-room jobs, which will undermine our defence capability and our commitments in the military covenant?

The Prime Minister: I obviously do not believe that that is the case. We asked our armed services and the Ministry of Defence to look carefully at what savings they could find, in order that we could put as much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money as possible into the military capabilities that we need. In the end, the purpose of defence is to defend our nation. If we can find back-office savings and put them into the equipment we need, we should do it.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The other week, I was privileged to see the good that UK aid is doing in refugee camps in the middle east and the good that the RAF is doing in helping to defeat ISIL/Daesh in the skies over Iraq. Closer to home, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, and her officers on the work that they are doing to tackle extremism in our communities?

The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in doing that. This is not something that we have discussed today, but in defeating the scourge of Islamist extremist violence, as well as doing more overseas or upstream to combat it and investing in our counter-terrorism and intelligence capabilities here, it is crucial that we fight the extremist narrative. We must take on the extremists, out-argue them and demonstrate that what they are doing bears no relation to the true religion of Islam.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for giving the whole House advance sight of his statement through the national press over the past two days. He says that he will increase the deployable armed forces by 20,000 personnel to 50,000 by 2025. How is that consistent with cutting the Regular Army by 20,000 by 2020?

The Prime Minister: We have moved to an Army of 82,000 and an Army Reserve of 30,000. We are trying to make sure that as much of that is deployable as possible. That must be in our national interest. When we take money off taxpayers and spend it on defence, we must spend it as effectively as possible. Clearly, we want as much of our military to be deployable as possible.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1081

Because of these reforms, we will be able to deploy a force of 50,000 if we ever need to. I argue that that is good progress.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I welcome the announcement on the SDSR and the fact that we will once again have a carrier strike capability. However, carriers cannot be deployed on their own; they need to be part of a group. Will the Prime Minister reassure me that the Royal Navy will have the resources and the fleet to provide a carrier group?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly provide that assurance. It is important that we have the frigates, submarines, helicopters and other things that are necessary to protect our carriers.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The review has thrown up a shopping list of £178 billion over the next decade. Firms in Northern Ireland are capable of delivering anything from missiles to uniforms. What specific steps does the Prime Minister intend to take to ensure that firms have the opportunity to bid and be part of the supply chain?

The Prime Minister: The Defence Secretary will set out an SME target for procurement. I also encourage firms in Northern Ireland to take part in the defence growth partnership, which is an opportunity for us to be a good customer, as I have said. A good customer talks to their suppliers long in advance of the order being made, so that they can prepare to bid for the work that is coming.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Members of the House rise to support Government spending commitments and often ask for more money, yet when it comes to cuts in Government expenditure they are not as enthusiastic. Can the Prime Minister do more to ensure that all Members of the House understand that we can have national military security only if we have national economic security?

The Prime Minister: At the end of this long statement my hon. Friend brings us back down to earth. None of these choices is possible if we do not have a strong economy that can support them. That is crucial.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): Does the Prime Minister agree that the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon of mass destruction should be a matter of serious consultation with the people of this country, including the people of Scotland who are expected to live next door to it? Is he scared of what the result of that consultation might be?

The Prime Minister: Of course this issue must be carefully thought through, but we have been clear that the decision on Trident is necessary. It has been part of Government programmes for many decades, it supports many thousands of jobs in Scotland, and I believe that it helps to keep our country safe.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The interface between the police and the armed forces is crucial when events such as those in Paris take place. How does my right hon. Friend see that interface developing in the years ahead to ensure a rapid response anywhere in the country where it is required?

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1082

The Prime Minister: I am grateful that my hon. Friend has asked that question because it enables me to clarify a point that was raised earlier. Whatever the outcome of the spending review with the police, and however many police we have available, given the dangerous times we live in and the possibility of mass casualty attacks, it makes sense to break down barriers that were previously put in the way of the military being able to deploy rapidly on to the streets of our country. We have this plan for 5,000 trained military personnel—soon to be 10,000—on whom the police can call. That does not in any way undermine the police; it gives them an additional power to bring to bear at a time of great need.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): It is good that there will be more investment in the cyber-security programme, but the industry sector says that there is a skills shortage of staff to work in applied intelligence. How will the Government attract and train more specialists to address that critical skills gap?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Hiring and maintaining people at GCHQ, and not losing them to what are now very well-paid industries, can be difficult. We must ensure that we train more people in maths and science, and that more girls study those subjects through to A-levels and degrees. That is beginning to happen in our country, and we must build on it.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I know that any talk of co-operation between our defence forces and another European country brings some of our colleagues out in hives, but does my right hon. Friend agree that France is a country that shares our world view and has good armed forces? We must build on the Lancaster House agreement, and I hope that the Prime Minister’s discussions with President Hollande went in that direction.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. Britain and France are two European powers that have a similar place in the world, a similar belief in strong defence, and a similar understanding that that is an essential part of their global reach. That is why it makes such good sense for us to co-operate and work together. The Lancaster House agreement has us co-operating on even the most sensitive areas of nuclear technology, as well as more straightforward deployments, but I am still convinced that there is more we can do. There should be a great affinity between the British and French military. As we have seen from the successful French campaign in Mali, and from all the work we have done in countries as far afield as Afghanistan and Nigeria, there is a lot we can do by learning from each other and working together to make the world a safer place.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Will DFID’s departmental budget be cut to fund the increase in the conflict stability and security fund? How much of the spending announced today will be double counted in both the 0.7% aid target and the 2% NATO target?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm that the DFID budget will go up. Of course, if one is spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid in a growing economy, one does not have to be Einstein to work out that the aid budget will go up. It is absolutely right that we use some

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1083

of the aid budget for the conflict, stability and security fund, which is allowed under the overseas development aid rules. It is also right that we spend some of our aid budget on vital science and research, which, again, is allowed under the rules. We were very clear about that in our manifesto and that is exactly what we are delivering.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all colleagues for devoting two hours to this. I know it has been a long time, but these are very serious matters and they have been treated very seriously by the House.

I had been advised of a point of order, but Members have been afflicted by a bout of sudden reticence. It appears there is no such point of order at this time.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1084

Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill (Allocation of Time)

Mr Speaker: Amendment (a) has been selected.

5.25 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill:


(1) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration, and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be completed at today’s sitting.

(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

(2) When the Bill has been read a second time:

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

(3) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

(4) Where paragraph (2) or (4) of Standing Order No. 83L (Reconsideration of certification before Third Reading) applies in relation to the Bill, the Speaker shall, where it is not possible to do so immediately in accordance with paragraph (7) of that Order, announce the Speaker’s decisions under paragraph (2) or (4) of that Order no later than 15 minutes after the conclusion of proceedings on the previous stage of the Bill.

(5) Where a legislative grand committee decides on a Consent Motion under Standing Order No. 83M to withhold consent to the Bill or any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill since Second Reading, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill and any proceedings on consequential consideration without any Question being put.

(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply:

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

(7) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1085

(8) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(10) (a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(11) (a) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (10).

(b) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair.

(c) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith:

(i) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(ii) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(d) The Speaker shall then put forthwith:

(i) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(ii) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(e) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(f) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(g) As soon as the House has:

(i) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment, or

(ii) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to,

the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments that are moved by a Minister of the Crown and are relevant to the Lords Amendment.

(h) Where a single Question would be put under sub-paragraph (c)(i), (d)(i) or (g) in circumstances where some or all of the Amendments concerned are certified under Standing Order No. 83O (Consideration of certified Motions or Amendments relating to Lords Amendments or other messages) in relation to a particular part or parts of the United Kingdom, the Speaker shall put forthwith—

(i) a single Question on any Amendments for which the certification is in relation to England,

(ii) a single Question on any Amendments for which the certification is in relation to England and Wales,

(iii) a single Question on any Amendments for which the certification is both in relation to England and in relation to England and Wales, and

(iv) a single Question on any Amendments for which there is no certification.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1086

(i) Where a single Question would be put under sub-paragraph (f) in circumstances where, if there were (or are) separate Motions to agree in relation to each of the remaining Lords Amendments, some or all of the Motions would be (or are) certified under Standing Order No. 83O (Consideration of certified Motions or Amendments relating to Lords Amendments or other messages), the Speaker shall put forthwith—

(i) in the case of any remaining Lords Amendments for which there would be (or are) Motions certified in relation to England, the Question that this House agrees to those Lords Amendments,

(ii) in the case of any remaining Lords Amendments for which there would be (or are) Motions certified in relation to England and Wales, the Question that this House agrees to those Lords Amendments,

(iii) in the case of any remaining Lords Amendments for which there would be (or are) Motions certified both in relation to England and in relation to England and Wales, the Question that this House agrees to those Lords Amendments, and

(iv) in the case of any remaining Lords Amendments for which there would be (or are) Motions which would not be (or are not) certified, the Question that this House agrees to those Lords Amendments.

(j) If a division is held on a question put under sub-paragraph (h) or (i), the Amendments shall be agreed to only if, of those voting in the division—

(i) in a case falling within paragraph (i) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England

(ii) in a case falling within paragraph (ii) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and Wales,

(iii) in a case falling within paragraph (iii) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members, a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and a majority of members representing constituencies in England and Wales, and

(iv) in a case falling within paragraph (iv) of that paragraph, a majority of Members,

vote in support of them.

(k) Paragraph (9) of Standing Order No. 83O shall apply to a decision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (j) above on a Question as it applies in relation to a decision made by virtue of paragraph (7) of that Order on a Motion.

Subsequent stages

(12) (a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.

(13) (a) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (12).

(b) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair.

(c) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(d) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(e) The Speaker shall, subject to sub-paragraphs (f) and (g), then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1087

(f) Sub-paragraph (g) applies where, if there were (or are) separate Motions to agree in relation to each of the remaining Lords Proposals, some or all of the Motions would be (or are) certified under Standing Order No. 83O (Consideration of certified Motions or Amendments relating to Lords Amendments or other messages).

(g) The Speaker shall put forthwith—

(i) in the case of any remaining Lords Proposals for which there would be (or are) Motions certified in relation to England, the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in those Proposals,

(ii) in the case of any remaining Lords Proposals for which there would be (or are) Motions certified in relation to England and Wales, the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in those Proposals,

(iii) in the case of any remaining Lords Proposals for which there would be (or are) Motions certified both in relation to England and in relation to England and Wales, the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in those Proposals, and

(iv) in the case of any remaining Lords Proposals for which there would be (or are) Motions which would not be (or are not) certified, the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in those Proposals.

(h) If a division is held on a Question put under sub-paragraph (g), the Proposals shall be agreed to only if, of those voting in the division—

(i) in a case falling within paragraph (i) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England,

(ii) in a case falling within paragraph (ii) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and Wales,

(iii) in a case falling within paragraph (iii) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members, a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and a majority of Members representing constituencies in England and Wales, and

(iv) in a case falling within paragraph (iv) of that sub-paragraph, a majority of Members

vote in support of them.

(i) Paragraph (9) of Standing Order No. 83O shall apply to a decision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (h) above on a Question as it applies in relation to a decision made by virtue of paragraph (7) of that Order on a Motion.

Reasons Committee

(14) (a) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chair.

(b) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(c) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(d) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (c), the Chair shall:

(i) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair, and

(ii) then put forthwith successively Questions on Motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(e) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.


(15) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1088

(16) (a) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(b) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

(17) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(18) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(19) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(20) The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(21) (a) This paragraph applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(b) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

(22) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(23) (a) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at 7.00pm, 4.00pm or 2.00pm (as the case may be) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders or by any Order of the House, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day.

(b) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before the moment of interruption, for a period equal to the time elapsing between 7.00pm, 4.00pm or 2.00pm (as the case may be) and the conclusion of those proceedings.

In the course of my brief remarks, I also propose to address amendment (a).

From the outset, let me say that the Government fully accept that what we are asking the House to do today is exceptional. We agree that taking all stages of the Bill through the House in a single day is not ideal and I fully understand that a number of right hon. and hon. Members will have misgivings about it. I would very much prefer not to have had to take this approach. I note the amendment tabled by the Social Democratic and Labour party. However, I can assure the hon. Members who tabled the amendment and the whole House that the Government are embarking on this procedure only because we view it to be absolutely necessary in this specific case.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State may, like me, be a little reticent today, but will she reflect on the huge irony that on 5 September Martin McGuinness said it would be a huge mistake for the Secretary of State to be legislating on this matter, yet today he now welcomes it?

Mrs Villiers: I very much welcome the fact that there is now a broadly based acknowledgement among the Northern Ireland parties that the financial sustainability of the Executive is crucial for the success of devolved

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1089

power-sharing government, and that that requires the implementation of welfare reform. This has been a long and involved debate, but I am glad we have got to the right destination in the end.

I believe it is necessary to adopt this fast-track procedure to ensure that welfare reform is no longer an issue that is undermining the political process in Northern Ireland, as it has done over the past four years. I believe it is necessary to take this approach if we are to implement the agreement reached at Stormont last Tuesday, and I believe it is necessary that we take this approach to underpin the stability and survival of power-sharing devolved institutions at Stormont.

The proposed legislation is a fundamental part of the agreement reached last week. If we do not get it on to the statute book and continue with the implementation of last week’s agreement, there will be a very serious risk that devolution would collapse, leading to a return to direct rule. A resumption of direct rule would inevitably mean many items of long and complex primary legislation being taken through by Order in Council month after month, potentially year after year. Not only would that mean denying such legislation the scrutiny in the Assembly, but it would inevitably take up large amounts of parliamentary time.

I do not propose to detain the House for long on this procedural matter, but it is important to understand some of the background to the Bill in order to emphasise its crucial significance and the crucial importance of getting it on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): The Secretary of State has chosen her words very carefully and very deliberately, describing rushing through all the stages of a welfare reform Bill in one day as “exceptional”, “not ideal” and “absolutely necessary”. Where does she think the emergency comes from? Who is going to renege on last week’s very welcome agreement? Which party is going to renege on it? Why should we have emergency procedure today and rush through all the stages?

Mrs Villiers: As I will explain, the primary legislation enabled by the Bill has had extensive scrutiny over the last four years. The Order in Council published alongside the Bill reflects the proposed welfare legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly that fell as a result of the tabling of a petition of concern. That proposed legislation had a First stage, a Second stage, a Committee stage, a Consideration stage, a Further Consideration stage and a Final stage, and there was an extensive debate on a legislative consent motion. It has, therefore, had extensive scrutiny, including 21 weeks of cross-party talks this year and last year. It is not an ideal way to legislate, but the proposed legislation, at its heart, has had extensive scrutiny.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State has outlined what debate there has already been on the terms of the Bill. Will she accept that one reason for urgency is that, until the Bill is passed, Northern Ireland will continue to lose money by the day to the Treasury by way of payments that have to be made back because of the differences in the welfare arrangements, and the Northern Ireland budget cannot sustain that?

Mrs Villiers: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The difference between the level of benefits in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is £2 million a

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1090

week, which is a drain on the resources of the Executive that they can ill afford at this difficult time for the public finances. Successive attempts to resolve the welfare question over the last four years have foundered, which has contributed largely to a political crisis in Northern Ireland and the Executive’s finances. By early autumn, it looked increasingly likely that the issue would bring down the devolved institutions themselves. As he points out, this has been costing the Executive money—approximately £2 million a week. That is the difference between what the Treasury is prepared to pay—to fund up to parity with Great Britain—and the cost of continuing to run an old, unreformed welfare system in Northern Ireland. The Executive estimate that the cost to their budget will rise to more than £200 million next year and to more than £500 million a year by the end of this Parliament. That is simply unaffordable, and the figures do not even take into account the costs of IT.

Although welfare is technically a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, up to now it has always retained parity with the rest of the UK and been fully integrated into the UK system, through the Department for Work and Pensions. Once Great Britain moves entirely to the new system, based around universal credit, Northern Ireland will no longer have access to the DWP computer systems on which it currently relies to assess and deliver people’s benefits. It would be left with no option but to devise, implement and maintain an entirely separate and more expensive system and meet the massive costs of the IT needed to support it. For a small devolved Administration, that cost would be prohibitive.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): The Secretary of State is explaining well the need for emergency legislation, and although it is not desirable to pass legislation in one day, it is far more desirable than the Assembly collapsing from not having a viable budget and all legislation having to come back here.

Mrs Villiers: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We have to get a move on with implementation. We do not want the “Fresh Start” agreement to suffer the same fate as the Stormont House agreement, implementation of which stalled relatively early on. It is important we do all we can to move ahead with implementation.

Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Is this not a massive climbdown by the Government? I say good luck and well done to the parties that stood out against the Government and their nasty welfare reforms. Should the Government not now fund a welfare system on the mainland in the same way as they are funding one in Northern Ireland with a £500 million bung to places such as Newry, Belfast and Omagh?

Mrs Villiers: I would describe the outcome of the cross-party negotiations as a sensible compromise. The welfare reforms we have introduced in Great Britain, which we think are a better system, will be implemented in Northern Ireland, but from its own resources—from the block grant. The Northern Ireland Executive have made the reasonable and legitimate decision to top up some of those benefits.

I go back to my previous remarks. The cost of a computer system would be massive. Budgets for other Departments would have to be cut significantly to pay

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1091

for a more expensive welfare system, with an inevitable impact on front-line services and capital spending available for crucial infrastructure such as road improvements, almost all of which would probably be swallowed up by the need to build a new computer system. That scenario would undermine the credibility of the devolved institutions but, even more importantly, do irreparable damage to the political relationships that are central to making power-sharing devolution work in practice.

Last December in the Stormont House agreement, the Northern Ireland parties agreed to take forward welfare reform as part of a wider package of measures. It is well known, however, that by March this year progress had begun to founder, when the two main nationalist parties withdrew their support for the Assembly legislation on welfare reform. On 26 May, that legislation passed its final stage, with the backing of three of the five main parties then in the Executive, but was blocked by the other two parties using the petition of concern, meaning that it did not have the necessary cross-community support, so by June we were once again faced with almost complete deadlock. The Executive then passed a budget that was based on an assumption that welfare reform would ultimately be adopted, but which would exceed the controlled totals available from the block grant if it was not.

Ian Paisley: The Secretary of State might add that Northern Ireland has achieved a better deal in terms of welfare payments, and it could have done so a year ago if parties had not tabled the petition of concern and instead supported the changes. Now we have people on the mainland complaining that we have a better deal, but that is because we negotiated it, and it could have been operational a year ago. It is Sinn Féin that has done the U-turn, no one else.

Mrs Villiers: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the arrangement could have been reached some time ago, but the important thing is that we have got to a sensible compromise. As for this being a good deal for Northern Ireland, I agree that the combined financial package—£2 billion under the Stormont House agreement and a further half a billion pounds or so under this agreement—will help Northern Ireland and will be a good deal, but it is aimed specifically at the challenges that are unique to Northern Ireland, such as dealing with peace walls, paramilitary-related crime and the terrorist threat.

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene a second time. I wonder whether she could enlighten the House as to what exactly persuaded Sinn Féin, after all these weeks of arguing, rowing and opposing the welfare reforms, to do the deal last week? What was the turning point?

Mrs Villiers: I am afraid the hon. Lady will have to ask—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This debate is on the allocation of time motion and we have Second Reading to come, so it might be helpful if we can try and stick to one point before we move on to the next.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1092

Mrs Villiers: I promise to speed through the remainder of my remarks. The hon. Lady may wish to direct that question to Sinn Féin, but at the heart of it I think Sinn Féin, like the other parties in the Executive, really wanted to make devolution work and realised that, without compromise on welfare questions, the Executive would not have a sustainable budget and that pretty soon that would mean no effective devolution at all.

Last year we made it clear that, if the welfare issue were not resolved, we would have to legislate here to deliver welfare reform in Northern Ireland, even without the consent of the Assembly, but we acknowledged that that was a last resort, and we made resolving the issue a key goal of the talks getting under way. As the House will be aware, they began on 8 September and successfully concluded 10 weeks later, last Tuesday, resulting in a new agreement, called “A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan”, which has been endorsed by the Northern Ireland Executive. In that agreement the Executive made a commitment to passing a legislative consent motion asking Westminster to legislate on its behalf for welfare reform. That motion was debated and passed by the Assembly last Wednesday with a majority of 70 to 22. It was supported by the First and Deputy First Ministers, and because it was backed by their respective parties—the DUP and Sinn Féin—it had the necessary cross-community support to succeed. The LCM therefore represents the clearly expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly that we in Westminster deliver this legislation.

The Assembly has moved quickly and decisively to deliver on its side of this crucial aspect of the “Fresh Start” agreement. It is now the responsibility of the Government to deliver on our side of that deal. We need to retain that momentum in the House; we cannot afford another stalled implementation process of the kind that occurred earlier this year. As both sides of the House acknowledged during my statement last week, if that were to happen, it is likely that early Assembly elections would result, followed by a real risk of suspension and direct rule. After all that has been achieved in Northern Ireland in recent years, that would be a very severe setback. It could take several years to re-establish devolution.

I urge the House to support the motion and the Bill that we shall debate shortly. In tabling this allocation of time motion, the Government have guaranteed six hours on the Floor of the House today for consideration of what is a very short Bill. I believe that will give us the opportunity to scrutinise all the tabled amendments and new clauses. With that in mind, I cannot support the SDLP amendment to the allocation of time motion, and if it is pressed to the vote, I must ask my colleagues to oppose it.

The motion as drafted reflects the long-standing practice of the House. Expedited legislation for Northern Ireland is by no means unusual. In fact, the last Northern Ireland Bill was very unusual and did not involve an expedited timetable. Withdrawing the amendment to the motion would allow us more time for debate on crucial amendments and new clauses as the debate continues this evening.

I also highlight the fact that the six hours of today’s debate is just one part of a much longer process. If the Bill passes, it will be followed by debates in both Houses to approve the Order in Council to be made under the powers contained in the Bill. It is also the case that the welfare legislation that it will enable us to introduce has

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1093

been considered in depth in the context of its application in Great Britain and debated in this House on many occasions. The order, published alongside the Bill, reflects the draft legislation for Northern Ireland that was debated at very great length in the Assembly. As I said earlier, it went through no fewer than six stages of scrutiny stretching over three years, plus the recent debate on the LCM.

These measures have therefore been very extensively considered and scrutinised in the Assembly, as well as being the major focus of two sets of cross-party talks lasting for a total of 21 weeks this year and last. None of the contents of the measures will come as a surprise. They are a crucial part of an agreement that is vital to the stability and survival of devolved government in Northern Ireland—an agreement that genuinely offers a fresh start for Northern Ireland and its devolved institutions. It is vital that we implement it as a matter of urgency. That is why I am asking the House to adopt this emergency procedure today. I commend the motion to the House.

5.43 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I beg to move amendment (a), after sub-paragraph (6)(b), at end, insert—

“(ba) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the Chair for separate decision;”

I am glad to move this amendment, which stands in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) as well as mine.

The Secretary of State has tried to explain the circumstances in which we face this programme motion. The amendment does not alter the time taken by the House in respect of that motion—I wish it did. We would have liked to have more time, just as our colleagues in the Assembly—not just SDLP Members, but Members of other parties—wanted more time to debate the issue last week. The original vote in the Assembly—on whether the business should be taken there this week to give the Assembly parties time to digest things—was 58 to 33. That meant that the legislation would have come here following what happened in the Assembly.

The Secretary of State suggested that the legislative consent motion followed standard practice. It does not. Paragraph (6) of the timetable motion makes it clear that at the conclusion of the Committee stage, no amendment or new clause tabled by anyone other than the Government can be put to a vote. The right of the House to vote, properly, on an amendment has been completely circumscribed by the timetable motion as it stands.

The Secretary of State actually had the neck to say that if the amendment were withdrawn, that would allow more time for debates on crucial amendments and new clauses. By providing only two hours for the Committee stage and Third Reading, the Government have ensured that there will not be any significant time in which to debate any amendments or new clauses, and also—in paragraph (6)—that no new clause, and no amendment other than a Government amendment, can be put to a vote. That is a very unusual procedure, which Members should not tolerate. If they do, they will risk creating a precedent that they will regret.

Sammy Wilson: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is advancing this argument. Does he not accept that the legislative consent motion sent legislation back to this

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1094

House for this House to pass on behalf of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Is he saying that he would prefer this House to override the wishes of the people who are elected in Northern Ireland? That is what his argument amounts to.

Mark Durkan: It is not what my argument amounts to. If the Assembly is saying in the legislative consent motion tabled by Sinn Féin and the DUP that it wants the legislation to come here, we should do our legislative business in proper order. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there should not be any debate at all, and that we are lucky to have the right even to table amendments.

Let us look at what the legislative consent motion says. Members of other parties might like to know what they are being asked to support. If they are being told, “Take this on foot of the legislative consent motion”—if they are being told that the legislative consent motion is holy writ—they should bear in mind the fact that it says:

“That this Assembly consents to the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill 2015 being taken forward by the Westminster Parliament”—

that is a reference to the Bill with which we are dealing today—and

“approves the welfare clauses of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced at Westminster”.

Many of us in this House did not approve those clauses as initially introduced. Many of us, in a number of parties, voted against aspects of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Is the idea that we must now, on foot of the legislative consent motion, turn ourselves inside out—members of the Labour party, the SDLP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and the Green party Member—and say, “We opposed the Bill when it was debated in this House, but we no longer oppose it? We now approve the welfare clauses that were in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced at Westminster.” Well, my position on those clauses has not changed, the position of my hon. Friends in the SDLP has not changed, and I should be very surprised if the position of members of the other parties had changed.

The legislative consent motion goes on to approve

“the draft Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015; and the Executive’s proposals to enhance payments flowing from the agreement announced on 17 November 2015.”

Members might want to take a careful look at just what is in the legislative consent motion, and note that they are being asked to contradict their position in relation to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced here.

Some of us are trying to use the Committee stage to table due amendments which would be relevant to the Bill. The Secretary of State again tried to confuse things by referring to the amount of scrutiny that had been given to the Bill that was before the Assembly, which has now been largely transposed into a draft Order in Council running to 126 pages. What we are being asked to consider today is not that draft Order in Council, but the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill, all 58 lines of it. Meanwhile, we are being asked to nod through 237 lines of a timetable motion so that we will not have the right to table amendments and put them to the vote. If the Secretary of State really meant what she said about time for debate on crucial amendments and new clauses, she would not be resisting this amendment;

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1095

she would be agreeing to it so that paragraph (6) would be amended and the Chair could put other matters to the vote if that is what Members and the House so wished. This is about good parliamentary procedure.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Is the hon. Gentleman saying he would have been happy enough for the situation to continue as it was, with massive fines being paid back to the Government? Surely that is not his argument.

Mark Durkan: Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure how far you are treating some of these arguments as relating to the matters of substance as opposed to procedure, but the Secretary of State talked long on those points, as did others.

Let us be clear: a couple of different arguments have been used as to why everybody should just pass this through today as a matter of urgency. One has been that if we do not scramble this through fast, the institutions are in danger of collapse. Who was bringing the institutions to the brink of collapse? It was the very people who are being celebrated as heroes. The SDLP never threatened to bring the institutions down; we never once on any of these issues in the last number of years have used the word “crisis” or threatened the existence of the institutions. We have never said we would make this a make-or-break issue and the institutions would crash if we did not get our way. Sinn Féin and the DUP have variably and respectively, and sometimes collectively, said that at different times over the past couple of years, but it was never the position of the SDLP. We have adhered to our position on welfare reform without at any stage threatening the institutions. The position of Sinn Féin and the DUP came to threaten the institutions—because, after all, who else can threaten the institutions or bring them to the point of collapse but those two parties?

The second argument in relation to the exigency is the money argument. We heard it repeated again in the last intervention. Let us remember: the money argument arose because the Treasury chose to respond to the Assembly’s failure to pass the legislation by imposing what it at one stage called fines and also called penalties—indeed, DUP Finance Ministers used those words as well—but later we were told, “No, you can’t call them fines or penalties; they are savings forgone.” The fact is that it was a Treasury tactic: “Unless you pass this legislation—this karaoke Bill—through the Assembly on the same terms as we had it in Westminster, we will fine the block grant.”

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We will have these debates later. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, he is moving an amendment to the allocation of time motion, but we are in danger of opening up the entire debate at this stage, which I do not want to do, as I want to save something for the next part.

Mark Durkan: Yes, but I am partly answering points that the Secretary of State spent some time on and others made interventions on.

We must remember this point about the fines and the pressure that puts on the budget. It was the Treasury that chose to create a budget stress in the hope it would induce the Assembly to pass the legislation. That budget

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1096

stress became a budget crisis, and that budget crisis in turn contributed to the political crisis which the Secretary of State now tells us will be resolved by this Bill and this programme motion.

I will not stray into the areas where we are seeking to amend the Bill through the amendments tabled for later—I hope we can discuss those in Committee—but I want to make the point that Members of this House should not be under the illusion that they have to adopt a procedure with a timetable motion in relation to this Bill that they would not adopt for anything else because it is safe to do so as it is in the name of taking forward the peace process or the “Fresh Start” agreement.

There are parties that support some parts of the “Fresh Start” agreement but not other parts, and there are parties that support the welfare reform changes but do not endorse the whole of the “Fresh Start” agreement. Other Members in this House from parties outside Northern Ireland should not think they have to turn their own position on welfare reform and the current Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently going through Westminster inside out as a way of supporting progress and stability in Northern Ireland. Progress and stability in Northern Ireland can easily be supported in the context of this House following its due procedures and not accepting the almost unprecedented provision that means in Committee nothing other than clauses stand part or Government amendments can be voted on.

It is wrong that we are circumscribed by time, and it is wrong that we are being muzzled. This is all courtesy of Sinn Féin. It is to make sure we cannot table amendments that capture some of the amendments we tabled when the Assembly Bill came forward earlier this year. They were rejected by a petition of concern tabled by the DUP, and they were rejected by the votes of Sinn Féin as well. [Interruption.] Yes, and Sinn Féin and the DUP voted down SDLP amendments to the Assembly Bill that—[Interruption.] Yes, they voted down amendments that were in the same spirit as the amendments the Conservatives had voted down in this House to the original Bill on welfare reform. The DUP voted down amendments and petitions of concern against amendments that were in the spirit of amendments it had supported in the original legislation, so it has turned it inside out, and that is up to it to do, and Sinn Féin.

No parties in this House need abandon their own positions. We should be able to take amendments in this House and vote on those amendments. The Government are in a compact with Sinn Féin and the DUP to make sure the amendments cannot be voted on. They do not want the embarrassment of the Tories having to vote down these same amendments that Sinn Féin voted down in the Assembly earlier this year: the picture of the Sinn Féin -Tory-DUP axis would then be complete because we would be able to show who had voted down which amendments consistently. The case would be that the Tories voted them down originally, then Sinn Féin and the DUP voted them down, and then the Tories voted them down again now. It is to avoid that picture. That is why we have this kangaroo parliamentary procedure that is being used.

From Sinn Féin, a party that in the past supported kangaroo courts, we now have a kangaroo parliamentary procedure whereby things were rushed through in the Assembly the other day by the legislative consent motion; and now, not only are measures being put through on a

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1097

timetable motion here, but the rights to table amendments with a view to their being voted on are being supressed by this programme motion. Members should resist that by supporting the amendment.

The amendment to the programme motion will, if passed, not cost any time or add any delay, so it does not relate to any of the concerns that the Secretary of State raised. The programme motion could be passed with the amendment and there would be absolutely no jeopardy to the timetable that the Secretary of State has tried to impress upon the House.

5.57 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I know that there is an attempt by the SDLP and others to try to derail what has been agreed by parties in the “Fresh Start” document. The amendment before us today is an attempt to do that and also shows the inconsistencies that have existed since this impasse was reached in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We support the programme motion because we want this issue dealt with and we want it dealt with quickly. We want it dealt with for the following reasons.

First, despite what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, there is urgency given the financial consequences of delay for Northern Ireland. The issue is not just the haemorrhaging of money to the Treasury on a daily basis because of the differences between benefit rates in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the United Kingdom. I must also say that it is not unfair of the Treasury to be asking for this money. The parity principle has always applied when there have been changes in welfare and benefits in the rest of the UK. Although the matters had been devolved to Northern Ireland, the principle applied that provided Northern Ireland replicated and reflected the changes that occurred in the rest of the United Kingdom, the payments would be made in full by the Treasury, and as part not of the block grant but of annually managed expenditure. It was always clear, however, that if Northern Ireland decided that it wanted the luxury of having a different system—the Secretary of State has described the problems that that would cause—that difference would have to be paid for. When the SDLP and others blocked welfare reform changes in Northern Ireland, they knew what the penalty would be. That penalty is being paid today, and it will be paid tomorrow and every day for as long as the delay lasts. That will have an impact on the amount of money available for dealing with hospital waiting lists, for schools, for roads and for everything else.

Another problem has arisen as a result. It is not just a question of money haemorrhaging to the Treasury. There has also been an impasse in the rest of the budget, so money that should have been allocated as a result of monitoring rounds has not been allocated, and budgets that should have been set have not been set. We were heading for a budget overspend, which would have brought devolution to a halt. There cannot be devolution if there is no money to pay for the work of the Departments and the expenses that the Departments incur.

Ian Paisley: Does my hon. Friend accept that the sooner we get this legislation done, the sooner we can apply to the Treasury to reclaim some of those overpayments?

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1098

Sammy Wilson: I do not think there is any chance of reclaiming those overpayments. I wish that there were, but there is not. Unfortunately, we just have to pay. This issue needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency today, and we support the Government’s proposal for the limited time.

The second reason for dealing with these matters quickly is that we have already had a debate on them in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I listened to the SDLP Assembly Member for West Belfast, Mr Attwood, talking in the Assembly for about 60 hours about his opposition to the measures and giving us his fanciful ideas on how we could avoid having to implement welfare reform in Northern Ireland—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This debate is on the allocation of time motion. I know that the hon. Gentleman is building the basis of his argument, but I am a bit bothered that he is going to tempt other Members to talk about the same issues. I want to be able to get everybody debating the depth of the Bill.

Sammy Wilson: I hope that what I am saying is relevant, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The relevance is this: we do not need an extensive debate here in this Chamber because these matters have already been extensively debated, and decisions made on them, in Northern Ireland. The irony is that, only last week, the SDLP was arguing that there should not be a legislative consent motion because welfare reform should be decided in Northern Ireland. Now that the Bill has been shaped and agreed on by the parties in Northern Ireland, SDLP Members want Members of this House to be able to change it. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they do not want anyone else to get their sticky fingers on welfare reform, only to argue when the Bill arrives here that the House of Commons should make decisions that override the Northern Ireland Assembly.

For that reason, we support the Government’s allocation of time motion, which will allow these matters to be dealt with quickly. It will not allow amendments to be tabled that would change the Bill or the will of the Assembly. We want the will of the Assembly to be reflected. The Secretary of State knows what the will of the Assembly is, and the Bill reflects the views of the majority in the Assembly. We should therefore get this done quickly tonight.

6.3 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I rise to support the amendment tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell).

Subsection 6(c) of the motion refers to

“the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown”.

This seriously undermines the principle of parliamentary democracy and throws into question the role of the Cabinet, the Executive and Parliament. In proposing this, the Government are seeking to subjugate the role of Parliament in making decisions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle has said, this instrument has been used incredibly rarely, and we must ask why the Government have decided to use it on this occasion. What secret deals took place in the meeting between the Prime Minister,

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1099

the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on 6 November? Perhaps this is unsurprising, given the rushed nature of this process. If we cast our minds back to Wednesday of last week in the Northern Ireland Assembly, we remember that the legislative consent motion was discussed, and that the draft Bill—all of whose stages we will debate tonight—and the Order in Council were published during that debate. Members across the Assembly therefore had little time to consider those matters.

Ian Paisley: Will the hon. Lady explain why, when her party was given every opportunity to put the boot into Sinn Féin for its mishandling of these matters and its U-turn, it is turning on the Government and everyone else instead?

Ms Ritchie: I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a debate on the allocation of time motion. This action has been taken by the Government with the acquiescence of the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The hon. Lady asked why this procedure was being used. The quick, honest truth is that it is being used to get this measure through in order to help Northern Ireland and the Assembly. I cannot see why she has a problem with that.

Ms Ritchie: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we believe that this instrument is an abuse of parliamentary democracy, an abuse of this House and an abuse of the role of Parliament and of the Cabinet. This should not happen. There will be no diminution of the time available for debate on other aspects of the Bill. This is a matter of procedural priority and propriety, and of the accountability of this House. In any liberal democracy, there will be questions about accountability and about the role of Parliament and the Cabinet. The Cabinet should not seek to subjugate Parliament in this regard. We believe that this matter has serious implications for devolution in Northern Ireland, and that it could set a difficult and dangerous precedent for other devolved institutions in Britain as well as in Northern Ireland.

Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Lady recall that last week, in a flurry of rhetoric, her own spokesman on this issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly asked, in terms, “How dare anyone take this issue, which we have fought for so long to have devolved, to the House of Commons so that people outside this jurisdiction can make decisions about what happens in Northern Ireland?” Is she now saying that he was wrong, and that she wants this House to make those decisions, over the heads of Assembly Members?

Ms Ritchie: The hon. Gentleman is trying to direct me down a certain path. That debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly dealt with the measures in the Bill and with the legislative consent motion. Tonight, we are debating my party’s amendment to the allocation of time motion. I remind Members of the motion’s statement that

“the Question on any amendment moved or Motion”

can be made only “by a Minister”.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1100

That means that we can debate our amendments but we cannot move them. Is that not unquestionably undemocratic, in this particular House? Therefore, I second and support our amendment.

6.10 pm

Mrs Villiers: I think I covered most of the key points in my opening remarks. The motion, as drafted, is not unusual, and there is a fairly broad consensus on the need to progress with this legislation quickly. Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the grouping and selection, and I am sure they will be keen for us to debate everything we can in the hours ahead. I welcome the opportunity—

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) rose

Mrs Villiers: No, I am not giving way. I welcome the opportunity to debate the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) at the Committee stage, and I am sure he will have sufficient time to put on the record these points as he so wishes. Obviously, he has also had considerable time during this discussion to make a number of useful points.

Mark Durkan: I still wish to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 276.

Division No. 129]


6.11 pm


Durkan, Mark

Elliott, Tom

Hermon, Lady

Kinahan, Danny

Lucas, Caroline

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Tellers for the Ayes:

Hywel Williams


Dr Eilidh Whiteford


Adams, Nigel

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Dinenage, Caroline

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Paisley, Ian

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Scully, Paul

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Tellers for the Noes:

George Hollingbery


Margot James

Question accordingly negatived.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1101

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1102

Main Question put and agreed to.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1103

Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill

Second Reading

6.23 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Ben Wallace): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Welfare is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. Over time, the agreed principle has been that welfare policy, spending and administration in Northern Ireland maintain broad parity with that in place in the rest of Great Britain. The parity principle has served Northern Ireland well. It means that benefit claimants have been able to avail themselves of the same rates of benefits as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The UK Government have been clear that they will not fund a more generous welfare system in Northern Ireland than that in place elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Over the past three years, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been unable to implement welfare reform legislation that mirrors that of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which is in place in the rest of the UK. The Assembly’s Welfare Reform Bill was introduced in October 2012, but was stalled at Committee stage in February the following year. Following a petition of concern, the Bill fell at its final stage in May this year.

The Secretary of State has outlined the implications of this failure to maintain parity, and the various steps that have been taken to bring us to where we are today, with Westminster having to legislate for welfare reform in Northern Ireland. As welfare is transferred, clause 1 provides the Government with a power to legislate for welfare in Northern Ireland via an Order in Council.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the Minister expand on the petition of concern? Is it an abuse of the parliamentary process, and is it anti-democratic?

Mr Wallace: Clearly, the use of petitions of concern is a matter for the Northern Ireland parties and for the Northern Ireland Assembly. All I ask is that parties in Northern Ireland recognise that the petition of concern is related to community concerns, and should not be used for things such as caravan legislation, or other such matters.

Taking this power enables the Government to implement Northern Ireland-specific flexibilities in the welfare system. When the 2012 welfare reform measures were first introduced, Northern Ireland’s Department for Social Development negotiated certain administrative flexibilities with the Department for Work and Pensions. They included, for example, a slightly different sanctions regime and the ability for welfare payments to be made to claimants on a fortnightly rather than a monthly basis.

In addition, as part of commitments made under last year’s Stormont House agreement, the Northern Ireland parties agreed a range of so-called top-up measures, which were designed to compensate claimants who were losing out as a result of the welfare reforms. The Assembly’s Welfare Reform Bill—the one that fell in May—was amended to reflect the various administrative flexibilities and top-up measures.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1104

In providing a broad power, the Bill allows the Government to implement these Northern Ireland-specific flexibilities and top-ups. That reinforces the fact that the Government’s intent is not to impose Great Britain’s welfare system on to Northern Ireland. Instead, we are proposing to use the power provided by this Bill to legislate for the Northern Ireland-tailored welfare system agreed by the Northern Ireland parties.

The Order in Council that will follow this Bill, if passed, will make that clear. The order is based largely on the Assembly’s Welfare Reform Bill that fell at its final stage in May. It therefore includes the reforms made in Great Britain by the Welfare Reform Act 2012; the various flexibilities agreed between the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development and the Department for Work and Pensions; the amendments agreed during the passage of the Assembly Welfare Reform Bill; and provisions that allow for Northern Ireland Executive-funded top-ups.

The second reason for opting for a broad power in this Bill is that it enables the Government to implement other potential welfare reforms, such as those contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently being considered by the Lords.

The Northern Ireland Executive have just endured almost four years of political instability owing to their inability to implement the last major set of welfare reforms. It is important that the fresh start envisaged by the Northern Ireland parties is given time and space to grow and strengthen. If the Assembly considers the 2015 welfare reforms too soon, it could jeopardise this new-found consensus in Northern Ireland. It is therefore necessary for the Government to legislate for implementation of these measures.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister is being very pragmatic in explaining the history behind this and why the Government are behaving as they are. Does he believe that it is desirable in the medium term that the welfare arrangements for Northern Ireland should mirror those of the rest of the United Kingdom, or does he think that this Bill will hold sway in the long term?

Mr Wallace: It is of course desirable that the welfare package and policy that this Government have come up with over the past four or five years is implemented across the United Kingdom. It is a good and well-needed reform. We also accept that, within the parameters of the devolved settlement, some devolved institutions have the ability to top up or be flexible in order to be able to deliver. In the long term, it will be interesting to see which delivers the best results for the people of those countries and whether our welfare reforms without flexibilities produce a better outcome than those that are adopted elsewhere.

Ian Paisley: Will the Minister state very clearly that there has been no change to parity? These are flexibilities that Northern Ireland has achieved. There are about a dozen very positive flexibilities and about 105,000 hard-working, low-paid families in Northern Ireland who will benefit as a result of the huge effort that has been put into resolving this issue.

Mr Wallace: It is absolutely the case that those flexibilities may turn out to suit the people of Northern Ireland, but it is also the case that the flexibilities and top-ups

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1105

will be funded by Northern Ireland from the block grant. The UK Government will not fund on top of the existing UK roll-out, as has been clearly set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is important to get the message across that the funding to push forward with those flexibilities is coming out of the Northern Ireland block grant.

Ian Paisley: Will the Minister clarify another point? When the Minister for Social Development introduced this in the Assembly at the end of last week, he put it on the record that the Executive will be able to reclaim some of the financial penalties that the Treasury has already taken from the block grant. Is that the case?

Mr Wallace: The hon. Gentleman is right. Certainly, in the negotiations, some of the penalties due for not implementing the welfare legislation will be returned to Northern Ireland. I am happy to write to him setting out the envisaged amount and the exact timing of when it would start to be rebated.

It is important to stress three important considerations at this point. First, the Bill does not affect the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In other words, if the Assembly can agree to do so, it can continue to pass welfare legislation. The Bill therefore creates a situation in which welfare is both devolved—meaning the Assembly can legislate for it—and effectively reserved, meaning the Government can legislate for it as well. That situation may be unusual, but it is not without precedent, certainly when it comes to Northern Ireland. For example, there is similar concurrent legislative competence over regulations governing the flying of flags in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, the legislative approach outlined in this Bill has arisen at the request of the Northern Ireland parties. The Assembly last week granted its consent, by an overwhelming majority of 70 votes to 22, to this Bill. Consent was also granted to the Order in Council that will follow this Bill, and the welfare clauses of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced at Westminster. Thirdly, I can assure the House that the UK Government have no intention or desire to legislate on an ongoing basis for welfare in Northern Ireland. Welfare is properly devolved to Northern Ireland and will remain so. That is why clause 3 time-limits the power so that an order cannot be made after 31 December 2016.

As already noted, an Order in Council will follow this Bill. The order will make provision for welfare reform in Northern Ireland equivalent to the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and as I have pointed out, will provide for the various Northern Ireland-specific flexibilities and top-ups. First, legislating in this way, by an Order in Council, is the normal convention for secondary legislation with a devolution aspect. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commented, it is essential that welfare reform is implemented in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. Given that speed is crucial, the only way to have the necessary legislation in place in the desired timescale is to delegate the detail of the welfare provisions to secondary legislation. Members should, however, be comforted by the realisation that the content of the Order in Council largely mirrors that of the 2012 Act, debated at length and in great detail in this House. There will be an opportunity to debate the order next week. I trust Members will reserve any detailed questions regarding welfare reform for that debate.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1106

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): Given the complexity of an Order in Council in any circumstances and of the Bill that is being taken through the House at breakneck speed this evening, will the Minister please express some element of regret that neither the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee nor the Work and Pensions Committee had an opportunity to scrutinise them and report to the Northern Ireland Office before the Bill came to the House?

Mr Wallace: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that nearly all the provisions in the order have been thoroughly debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly over a long period, and this House has given considerable scrutiny to the 2012 welfare reforms and is doing so for ongoing reforms in the 2015 Bill. I am happy to arrange for the hon. Lady, should she so wish, to meet officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the DWP to discuss in detail any concern she has about the order between now and the debate next week, if that satisfies her.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Minister touched on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It is not really covered in the Order in Council. Will it be the subject of a different Order in Council subsequently under this legislation, or do the Government intend to amend the Bill to extend it to Northern Ireland?

Mr Wallace: The answer is that, yes, it will be subject to an order different from this one, which is due next week, as far as I understand.

In conclusion, I emphasise the points made by the Secretary of State. This is a good Bill for Northern Ireland, a Bill which will help resolve the long-running, politically divisive stalemate over welfare reform. The Bill is a crucial element of establishing and building on the “Fresh Start” announced last week. The Bill and the subsequent Order in Council do not guarantee political stability in Northern Ireland, but without them political stability and progress are, frankly, impossible. Our approach may appear unusual or unconventional, but it does have the cross-community support of the vast number of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. This Bill offers the only realistic prospect of resolving Northern Ireland’s welfare reform impasse, and I commend it to the House.

6.35 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I thank the Minister for opening the Second Reading debate. Let us remind ourselves that the last few months in Northern Ireland have been very difficult. The murders in the summer and the budgetary stalemate on the issue of welfare led to a political crisis with potentially massive consequences for future governance. Months of talks throughout the year, culminating in the last 11 weeks, seemed at times to be going nowhere. So notwithstanding the failure to come to a conclusion on how to deal with the past—to the huge disappointment of all of us, not least the victims —there is huge relief that an agreement has been reached. All those involved— the Secretary of State, the parties, the Irish Government and many, in fact all, Members here—deserve credit for getting us to this point.

Without an agreement there was the real risk of the collapse of devolution or indeed the return to direct rule, either of which would have been unthinkable. However, that has been avoided and that is why I think the

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1107

agreement is significant. As part of the agreement on welfare, a consent motion was agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly to allow us to legislate for welfare reform here at Westminster, with a measure designed to ensure that the reform can take place as soon as possible without further financial penalties to allow stability to return and normal government arrangements to proceed. Of course, welfare reform is devolved to Northern Ireland, but the Assembly has consented to our legislating in this instance.

We should not forget that the agreement reached has also allowed other very significant measures, aside from welfare reform, to be adopted and other moneys released for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland: measures such as additional funding to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to combat the continuing terrorist threat, and money and increased efforts to tackle paramilitarism and cross-border crime. I want to highlight the funds for community initiatives such as bringing down the peace walls.

Today we are being asked to agree primary legislation that will enable the Secretary of State to reform the welfare system to apply the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and welfare aspects of the 2015 Bill to Northern Ireland. We will not oppose this legislation, but let us be clear: we have over recent years opposed much of the Tories’ welfare reform agenda and we will continue to do so. We accept, however, that the agreement does allow Northern Ireland certain welcome exemptions and the ability to mitigate the impact of these cuts. For example, there is the exemption from the bedroom tax and the £585 million to be made available over four years from the block grant to help with that; and to lessen the impact on the working poor, £240 million will be used to relieve the impact of the tax credit cut on the 120,000 families affected by it. That demonstrates clearly that the Tory Government’s welfare cuts, and indeed their austerity programme, are as much a problem for Northern Ireland as they are for any other part of the UK. However, as I said, we support the welfare mitigation measures as they recognise something I believe the rest of the UK understands as well, namely the special and particular circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland. Preserving the principle of parity in social security between Northern Ireland and Britain is more than just a convention. The Good Friday agreement specifically cited social security as an area where parity is normally maintained, and that principle remains important.

Many of the problems of significant mental illness, long-term worklessness and dependency on sickness and incapacity benefits exist in many parts of England, Wales and Scotland, but we know that Northern Ireland is a society coming out of conflict, so these welfare problems and issues are more complex and must be handled with greater sensitivity. Poverty remains a feature of life for a variety of groups, with a significant number of people in Northern Ireland still living in absolute poverty. Northern Ireland still has the highest disability living allowance claimant rate among working adults at 10.1%, according to the latest figures, whereas the average across Britain is 4.9%. Mental health remains a huge issue, with one in six people affected, and the suicide rate is 70% higher than the UK average. That is why we will

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1108

not oppose the flexibility in the implementation of the welfare changes that this legislation and subsequent orders will allow.

Alongside any welfare reform programme there must be a jobs and growth programme. I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to work much more rigorously with the Northern Ireland Executive and business to give such a programme greater urgency. Reforming welfare is more than cutting benefits; it is about training, skills, opportunity and tackling low aspiration and educational underachievement. This has to be recognised, and new programmes are needed as part of increased efforts by the Treasury in regard to how the new National Infrastructure Commission, for example, affects Northern Ireland, the potential consequences of the EU referendum and the impact of poor broadband access. Welfare reform coupled with attention to such aspects would make a much greater difference.

I will ask the Minister some questions, which may help in his summing up and in future deliberations. First, he set out the timetable for one of the orders, but can he spell out the timetable for the Orders in Council which will follow from this paving legislation and the process that will apply to them in view of the consultation that was asked for and the meetings that he referred to? Secondly, what scope is there for that consultation with respect to these orders? In the Assembly debate on the legislative consent motion, the Minister for Social Development spoke of agreement in principle to the change to the welfare system in Northern Ireland being introduced at Westminster. Will the Minister explain what that agreement in principle means? Thirdly, so that we can all be clear, will he outline which welfare parts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill this legislative process covers? Fourthly, can he confirm that the plan is that any regulations necessary to implement the Evason group’s recommendations for mitigation will be subject to Assembly scrutiny and approval before they are made in this House?

This has been a tough road and nobody doubts that, with such a high level of welfare need in Northern Ireland and huge reliance on incapacity benefits, change is needed. As I have said, we will therefore not oppose these measures, but change in Northern Ireland has to reflect its special circumstances. All the parties have sought to convince the Government of this, some would say with much success. However, in Northern Ireland as well as in the rest of the UK, a different Government programme of jobs, growth and investment alongside reform would be of greater benefit.

This legislation falls at the end of 2016. Will the Minister explain why that date was chosen? Given that sunset clause, let us hope we can all build a secure future in Northern Ireland so that we do not find ourselves in yet another crisis in a year’s time. We will not oppose the Bill as the dangers of an agreement not being reached were huge, with potential restoration of direct rule. This has been averted. Northern Ireland’s political institutions are stabilised, notwithstanding the continuing debate, so let us ensure that as the UK Government work with the Irish Government and all the parties, we continue to support the building of a peaceful Northern Ireland where there is prosperity, fairness and opportunity for all. That has to be our continuing task.

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1109

6.45 pm

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It provides us with a brief opportunity to examine the provisions of the Bill in some detail, but I cannot help thinking that the much more appropriate place for such a debate and decision making would be the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is no secret that welfare reform has proven a contentious issue not just in the last round of talks, but for some time. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will be familiar with the many arguments that I and colleagues made, not only over the past 10 weeks, but in the annual crisis talks that we have held over the past three years.

On a point well made by the shadow Secretary of State, focusing on welfare reform in isolation and neglecting the serious challenge of joblessness will simply fail. It will not work. Punishing and sanctioning people for a failure to get a job that does not exist, without looking at the wider economy, is economically illiterate. The Secretary of State will no doubt assure us that the proposed changes to corporation tax will solve all our problems, but I do not believe they will and a large number of experts agree with me. Corporation tax is a valuable tool at our disposal, but it is not the silver bullet. It will not solve all the problems. The SDLP has always agreed with the need for welfare reform, but never at the cost of crucifying some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.

Over 10 long weeks of negotiation the Secretary of State has heard me and other colleagues repeat the need to move away from welfare reform and start to address the serious issue of joblessness. Although our hard-won peace process helped transform Northern Ireland, it was never meant or expected to be the final chapter. The majority of sensible people believe that if we are to see our society and its people fully emerge from conflict, we need another kind of transformation. We need a prosperity process that produces training, skill development and economic opportunity. We need to do something about the vicious downward spiral of low skills, low wages and low productivity that strangles much of our economic hope.

At the core of our prosperity process has to be strong collaboration between business and third-level education, linked in turn to research and development investment, in line with best practice in Britain, the south of Ireland and right across Europe. It never ceases to shock me that Northern Ireland has a population of 1.8 million and a mere 700,000 of them—much less than half—are economically active. We are falling much too far behind our neighbours on this side of the Irish sea, in the south of Ireland, and across Europe. A massive programme of sustainable economic regeneration is urgently needed to generate the revenues we need to build prosperity in Northern Ireland. If fewer than half of our population are economically active, how can that not have a devastating impact on living standards for so many?

We must tackle the low level of economic activity in that adult population by seeking to provide a wide range of regionally balanced economic opportunities. Our goal must be to get at least 1 million of those 1.8 million people across Northern Ireland into meaningful and worthwhile work. Lifting our economy is one of the best ways of helping those on welfare to get the hand up that they are promised. We must put meaningful

23 Nov 2015 : Column 1110

economic regeneration at the heart of our devolved Administration. Only then can our people realise their hopes, aspirations, ambitions and full potential.

I am deeply disappointed that the “Fresh Start” agreement made no reference to job creation, economic development or prosperity, despite these issues being raised repeatedly at every plenary session of the recent talks. The biggest challenge that we face is getting people into work or into meaningful apprenticeships and genuine skill improvement as a pathway towards jobs. I repeat that we are caught in a vicious downward spiral of low skills, leading to low wages, and, in turn, to very low productivity. This cycle has to be broken.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that low skills and unemployment would hardly be helped if this Bill were to be stopped and £10 million a month of penalties reinstated?

Dr McDonnell: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comment, but the point I am making—I hope he would take it because it affects his constituency as well as mine—is that it is all very well to talk about moving people from welfare into work in places like the south-east of England or London, where there are jobs, but we cannot move people from welfare into work if there is no work for them to go to.

The vicious cycle has to be broken, but it will not be broken by pious platitudes or wishful thinking; it can be broken only by active intervention by both the Government here and the Executive at Stormont. I repeat my previous calls to the Secretary of State and to the Northern Ireland Executive to honour commitments that we have discussed across the negotiating table over the past 10 weeks, and plead for each of us to play whatever part we can in generating prosperity. If we fail to create prosperity, we run the risk of the institutions failing again, with recurrent crises and a return to the process through Stormont House 3, which none of us wants.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I think it is worth reflecting on the fact that there are 30,000 more people in work in Northern Ireland, compared with 2010. The Northern Ireland economy is growing again—it is recovering—and the Executive should take some pride in that because they have obviously contributed strongly to it.

Dr McDonnell: I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and the commitments she has made. I know that she probably has empathy with much of this.

This is not just about my constituency. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is sitting behind me. I look at a town such as Ballymena, which will apparently lose some 5,000 jobs in the next two or three years. That is horrific to me; I grew up not far away from it. That is the problem I am looking at. These people need our attention and need some hope, because there is nothing there but despair. However, I leave it to the hon. Gentleman to make that point, as he has done so very well on many occasions.