1 Mar 2016 : Column 840

Estimates Day

[1st Allotted Day]

Estimates 2015-16

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The FCO and the Spending Review 2015

[Relevant Documents: First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, The FCO and the 2015 Spending Review, HC 467, and the Government response, HC 816.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2016, for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

(1) the resources authorised for use for current purposes be reduced by £20,292,000 as set out in HC 747,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £37,171,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £16,879,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

1.42 pm

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): It is a pleasure to open the first estimates day debate of the new Parliament, and I thank the Liaison Committee for selecting the first report of the Foreign Affairs Committee for debate.

I pay tribute to the work of the Committee in the last Parliament and to my predecessor, Sir Richard Ottaway. I was lucky to have him as a parliamentary neighbour for 18 years and can well understand why he was so widely regarded across the panoply of the Foreign Office establishment and those interested in foreign and Commonwealth affairs for the way in which he led the Committee in the last Parliament.

One of the Committee’s final reports in the last Parliament, which was published in February 2015 only weeks before Parliament was dissolved, took a detailed look at the impact of cuts on the Foreign Office budget resulting from the 2010 spending review. It accepted that the Foreign Office needed to play its part in the general retrenchment instigated by the review and believed that Foreign Office Ministers and senior managers had, on the whole, played a difficult hand skilfully. However, it concluded:

“The cuts imposed on the FCO since 2010 have been severe and have gone beyond just trimming fat: capacity now appears to be being damaged. The next Government needs to protect future FCO budgets under the next Spending Review…If further cuts are imposed, the UK’s diplomatic imprint and influence would probably reduce, and the Government would need to roll back some of its foreign policy objectives.”

I remind the House that the reduction imposed on the Foreign Office in the four-year period ending in March 2015 amounted to 24% of its resource budget. However, the majority of the savings came from what amounted to a conjuring trick. Funding for the BBC World Service was transferred from the Foreign Office to the licence fee payer from 1 April 2014. At a stroke, the Foreign Office’s apparent budget was reduced by £240 million and the cuts that it had to make to its own budget through savings amounted to just 10%.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 841

Even though the real reduction was just 10% over the four years, it is hard to find anyone who does not believe that the FCO’s capacity was damaged in the process. Our predecessors described the Foreign Office as a machine stretched to the limit, with key posts left unfilled because staff of the necessary calibre were needed for more immediate crises; overseas posts at junior levels lost, reducing the opportunity for staff to accumulate the experience that is essential for service at higher levels within the organisation; and reductions in UK-based staff at many overseas posts, denying those who remained time to leave the diplomatic bubble and gather a sense of the real currents in society around the country in which they served.

Overall, the headcount of UK-based staff has reduced by 10% between 2011 and now, which seems perverse at a time when the Department has been under such policy pressure and suffered such overstretch. To some degree, the reduction in UK-based staff was mitigated by the recruitment of locally engaged staff who, in many cases, have brought a depth of local knowledge that it would be difficult for a London-based employee ever to acquire. However, many of them happen to be British people who are based overseas and then formally become locally engaged staff. Although the average cost of such people is one third of UK-based staff, it is not a straight saving, because such replacements do not come at zero cost. I have already heard troubling reports of unintended consequences arising from such things as locally engaged staff not being cleared to the same security level as UK-based staff.

To use Tunisia as an example in advance of the Committee’s visit to Cairo and Tunis next week, I applaud the FCO’s swift consular response to the terrorist attack in Sousse in June 2015, but I have heard that the subsequent counter-terrorism analysis was complicated by a lack of UK-based staff who were cleared to the necessary level. That analysis was of great significance, because it will have played a role in the FCO’s decision to advise against all but essential travel to the entire country—a country where tourism contributes directly and indirectly to a large proportion of GDP and is a major source of foreign currency. Tunisia is a fragile country that has undergone its fair share of volatility since it sparked the Arab spring, and we all have an interest in nurturing its continued stability.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case for investing in our diplomatic service. Does he share my concern that the cuts are not only leading to a lack of spread across the world and impacting on the standing of the United Kingdom globally, but affecting the expertise and analytical capabilities of the diplomatic service in respect of the information it feeds back to the United Kingdom?

Crispin Blunt: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have made that point before and will make it again in respect of the inquiry we are conducting into the intervention in Libya. Just how deep was the knowledge on the basis of which we decided to intervene? It is the depth of knowledge that has been lost.

Another price that is being paid is that locally engaged staff do not really understand the UK context. It has been put to me that the quality of the reports that are

1 Mar 2016 : Column 842

coming through is not quite what it was because they are not addressed to the needs of the Ministers at whom they are aimed. The difficulty is that very overstretched UK-based staff in a post are, in addition, having to oversee the work of the locally engaged employees.

Returning to the issue of Tunisia, I accept that the security of our citizens must be a Government priority and that they cannot commend travel unless they have confidence that our citizens will be reasonably safe, but this decision had serious consequences for Tunisia’s stability and the security of the region. We must therefore be completely confident that we can make informed decisions, rather than simply defensive decisions because of an absence of capability.

Reports are, of course, the standard mechanism by which Select Committees express their views. I believe that Committees can miss opportunities by not getting inside the decision making cycle, or by devoting our energies to conducting retrospective analyses after policy has been formed and executed. The Government should welcome input at an early stage from an informed, cross-party Committee that could make practical, forward-looking suggestions, rather than just telling the Government where they went wrong.

We published our report on the Budget in October last year, almost exactly a month before the spending review, and we made just one recommendation:

“We recommend that the Treasury protect the FCO budget for the period covered by the 2015 Spending Review, with a view to increasing rather than cutting the funds available to support the diplomatic work on which the country’s security and prosperity depend.”

I am delighted that our recommendations were accepted, and that the settlement reflected our central recommendation.

We spent much of our first few evidence sessions looking at how the Foreign Office was preparing for the spending review, and at what scope there was for it to absorb further cuts of the scale already imposed over the previous four years. The Foreign Secretary gave oral evidence twice, and we tried to get a sense of his priorities and what he would seek to preserve. We then took evidence from Sir Simon McDonald, the new permanent under-secretary, and his senior management team, to try to understand the grit and detail of what might be achieved and how if—God forbid—savings of 25% or even 40% were required. That gloomy environment perhaps reflected our rather defensive recommendation, which was obviously designed to hold the current position, but the Committee clearly believes that more resources are needed to support our diplomacy.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): As a member of the previous Foreign Affairs Committee, may I suggest that trying to make unnecessary savings can prove to be a false economy in the longer term? If we do not invest in expertise and analytical skills, we could end up making errors that can cost a lot more than if we had a proper view of things in the first place. The extreme example of that is avoiding conflict, which is much cheaper than conflict itself.

Crispin Blunt: My hon. Friend makes an entirely valid point. He sat on the Committee in the last Parliament and in this one, and he will know about the diminution of our expertise, for example on Russia. When he and I

1 Mar 2016 : Column 843

were soldiers back in the 1980s there was a wealth of expertise about the Soviet Union, but that has simply been stripped away. When faced with a crisis in Crimea and Ukraine, the level and depth of our knowledge were certainly a handicap.

When looking at future Committee reports and how we might influence future events, I hope that we will be able to report with authority and fulfil a much requested public need about Brexit. The Committee is conducting an inquiry into the costs and benefits of European Union membership for Britain’s role in the world—whether we stay in the EU or whether we leave. Hon. Members will already have found that people are asking where they can turn for independent analysis and who will give them the facts. Unhappily, the Government have placed themselves in a position where they are unable to give an independent view, since the entire institution is placed firmly on one side of the campaign. Happily, however, I preside over a Committee of 11, and the publicly expressed views of my Committee are balanced at five each on either side of the question.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): If my hon. Friend is seeking a cure for insomnia, may I refer him to my speech on Friday when I spoke on this subject for an hour in support of the Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), which would set up an independent audit of the pros and cons of leaving the EU? That is what we need. Perhaps the Office for Budget Responsibility should be given that job. We accused the Labour Government of fiddling the figures before the Budget, so why not ask an independent body to give a genuine audit?

Crispin Blunt: My hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that that is precisely what my Committee will try to do. Given the way that we are exquisitely balanced, my aim, which is informally supported in discussion by members of the Committee—they cannot be formally bound until the Committee reports, but we all share the objective—is to produce as balanced a piece of work as possible, identifying the factors that the electorate should consider on both sides of the question, but without advising the electorate what weight they should attach to those factors. I hope to complete that work about two months before the referendum, and for the Committee to do a service to the wider public of exactly the type that my hon. Friend identifies, as well as to this House and the reputation of its Committees.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the public are keen that his Committee, and others, re-establish the Committees on Arms Exports Controls? Will he explain why that has not happened yet?

Crispin Blunt: It has, and I have already attended that Committee’s first meeting. It is being excellently chaired by the hon. Gentleman—I forget his constituency, which will not help me much, but I have every confidence in the new Chair of that Committee, and when I recall his constituency, I will inform the House.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I will get my hon. Friend out of that hole by intervening on him. I pay tribute to his chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he is correct to say that we are

1 Mar 2016 : Column 844

split five-five on whether we want the United Kingdom to pull out of or remain in the European Union. He is right to ensure that the report is balanced and that we do not come out for either side. A lot of my constituents want more impartial information so that they can make their own critical assessment on this matter.

Crispin Blunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I recall that it is my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), who served on the previous Committees on Arms Export Controls under the Stakhanovite chairmanship of Sir John Stanley, who is taking up that role. I am confident that he will do it extremely well.

Hon. Members will know that if I can chair a Committee that produces a unanimous report and has the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) agreeing on factors around our European Union membership, we will have done a singular service in producing a piece of analysis that everyone can have confidence in.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman raises a good point, and I look forward to working with him in trying to bring the five of us on either side of the argument together to produce that report. Does he agree that one of our primary goals is to ensure that people in the House, and beyond, are as well informed as they possibly can be about the European Union referendum ahead of 23 June?

Crispin Blunt: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we look forward with interest to the motivation of the Scottish National party, and how it will vote, given its differing attitudes to the differing Unions in which Scotland finds itself.

Anyone attending this debate might ask why, if the Foreign Office was one of the winners from the spending review—or at least not a loser—we have sought this debate. My reply is that no one should underestimate the scale of the challenges that the UK and its allies are facing in the world today. Even with a protected budget, the Foreign Office will struggle to address those challenges. Of course we have a range of capabilities to deal with direct threats to our national security, including armed forces, diplomacy, economic policy, cyber-operations, and covert means, but in terms of sheer value for money, it is diplomacy, and the capacity to bring crises to a peaceful resolution in partnership with others, that must be the preferred solution. A diplomatic solution to a crisis, rather than one that descends into the use of armed force saves an absolute fortune, as well as avoiding the huge humanitarian cost that accompanies a failure to preserve the peace. It is my view that we should increase the Foreign Office budget to enhance that capacity and help to head off crises before they flare up.

The threats to the UK’s security and wellbeing are at an unprecedented level. As we said in our report, we cannot recall a more complex and challenging policy-making environment in recent decades—an environment that includes Syria, Daesh, Libya, Russia, the South China sea, Israel, Palestine, North Korea, Iran and Turkey, to name but a few.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 845

That is before we take into account the requirements of the other two pillars of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: the agenda for prosperity and consular services. In its response to our report, the Office acknowledges that there will be

“new work, including increasing spending on the Overseas Territories and hosting the presidency of the EU in 2017.”

That might be an interesting presidency if we are on the way out after 23 June.

Inexplicably, however, the Government’s response says nothing about potentially the greatest call on its resources: a British exit from the European Union. If the country votes out on 23 June, a huge effort will be needed to disentangle the United Kingdom from its existing commitments and to work on new trade arrangements, to name but one element of the work that will need to be undertaken. A very large part of that effort will fall on the Foreign Office, yet the Committee has found little or no evidence that the British civil service is making any sort of contingency plan in the event of a Brexit. We now have a date for the referendum, and Brexit is not a remote possibility but a very real prospect in the hands of the electorate and the competing campaigns. I therefore urge Ministers and their officials to begin planning, and not just in outline, for the consequences of a decision by the British people to leave the European Union. It would not just be a question of drafting in a few extra people to prepare new treaties. We will need to strengthen our bilateral relationships by increasing our presence in larger EU member states, reopening subordinate posts that have been closed or downgraded over the last five years, and picking up capabilities, particularly trade capabilities, that are currently the competence of the European Union. We should at least understand what the bill will be and prepare to address it if it happens.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): On the hon. Gentleman’s point about increasing the number of personnel do deal with Brexit, the Committee recently said that about a quarter of staff in the middle east, eastern Europe and central Asia do not have the requisite language skills, and that the number of people who have those language skills is decreasing. That is another way in which the strength of the Foreign Office to deal with international issues is being reduced.

Crispin Blunt: The hon. Lady is absolutely right—she understands those issues extremely well from her work on the Foreign Affairs Committee and more widely before joining it. That loss of language skills is partly a reflection of just how stretched the FCO is in getting people to the right place, and getting the best people into vacancies to cover the policy challenges we face. An office that is not stretched so tautly has the capacity to get the language skills of its staff up to the necessary standard. Until now, those skills have been the envy of every other diplomatic service in the world. In the last Parliament, it was the priority of William Hague as Foreign Secretary to address that. Serious measures were put in place to try to do so, but the evidence the Committee is taking shows that if it is getting better, it is doing so in a minute way that does not reflect the need for real improvement. That reflects just how tautly the office is being managed under the current budget conditions.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 846

There will be more pressure on the capital budget than usual. The Government response to our report points out that the Foreign Office capital budget will remain “flat”. It says that the FCO will need to fund requirements that cannot be met from the capital budget by disposing of assets, and warns that it may need to call on the Treasury reserve for some large projects. The Foreign Office quite rightly is expected to achieve value for money when disposing of assets, but the ability to do so will partly depend on market forces. As we know from the FCO supplementary estimate, it has already had to call on the Treasury reserve to cover a shortfall that it says is

“due to adverse market conditions in the Far East”.

The FCO IT system, Firecrest, is failing and presents a serious operational risk. Major investment is needed, but that has been stalled during the spending review process. The FCO is going to have to fund its tech overhaul programme from its existing budget: difficult choices will have to be made on procurement, bearing in mind the need for resilience and the particular security requirements of the Department. Careful project management will be needed, and I can only point out that the whole of the public service does not exactly have a shining record in that field. I hope the Foreign Office can help to redress that.

My second key point concerns official development assistance expenditure and the need to rationalise resource allocation. The Committee highlights in the report our uneasiness at the consequences of depending ever more on expenditure that qualifies as official development assistance, and which therefore scores against the Government’s commitment to invest at least 0.7% of gross national income in international development. That risks, and indeed is, skewing the Department’s expenditure away from countries that are not eligible for ODA spending, regardless of where our foreign policy interests lie. For instance, 97% of the funds available under the new human rights funding programme, the Magna Carta fund, are for spending in ODA-eligible countries. When we queried that in oral evidence with the Minister and her officials, we were given the impression that there was some flexibility to divert funding towards non-ODA countries, but we need clear answers. Trying to replace the significant sums the Government have put forward for human rights in the Magna Carta fund with very constrained bilateral funds will not wash. It would be quite unacceptable and counterproductive for human rights programme funding to be virtually denied in non-ODA-eligible countries such as Russia and Israel, and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. I hope the Minister can give me some reassurance on that point.

Human rights expenditure is not the only example of how ODA eligibility can determine the Foreign Office’s activities. The current chief operating officer, Deborah Bronnert, told us that the Foreign Office’s non-ODA budget was under particular pressure, and that if there were to be cutbacks in the overseas network, it would have to look first at cutbacks in subordinate posts in developed countries. It hardly plays well with our prosperity agenda if that is where we need to go in terms of our trade and economic relations.

The British Council, which plays a unique role in promoting an understanding by different peoples and nations of what the UK can offer, faces the possibility of losing all grant in aid for work in countries that are

1 Mar 2016 : Column 847

not ODA-eligible. It is looking to cross-subsidise to some extent from other areas of its operation, but the net effect is a decline of our soft power and influence in several growing economies and countries, not least where there are political and human rights concerns.

I have similar concerns about the move within the Government to more pooled funding between Departments. The conflict, stability and security fund, which is currently worth £1.033 billion per year, will increase to £1.33 billion by 2019-20, and a new prosperity fund is being created, worth £1.3 billion. Substantial sums of money have been allocated following a process of negotiation between Departments, and I welcome the concept of a more holistic and integrated approach to funding where Departments are working in different ways towards the same ultimate aims, but the Committee should look carefully at how the FCO fares, for instance when sharing the conflict, stability and security fund with two Departments whose budgets as a proportion of total Government expenditure are both protected.

Finally, the Foreign Office delayed its response to our report until it had received its settlement letter from the Treasury, but I was disappointed that the FCO did not supply the settlement letter, which I understand sets out more detail of the sums available to the Foreign Office from year to year within the period covered by the spending review. In fact, none of the departmental settlement letters has been published. At the moment, we just have rounded figures for budgets for 2015-16 to 2019-20, without any lower-level detail. Will the Minister therefore undertake to supply the Foreign Office settlement letter to the Committee, so that we may publish it and place that essential information in the public domain?

My conclusion relates to the shape of the Foreign Office in the years to come. In his letter responding to our report, the Foreign Secretary said:

“There is more that can be done to strengthen the FCO and build up its world class capabilities. To help achieve this, I have commissioned an internal review of the FCO exploring how we can be more expert, agile and focused on our key priorities. The review will set out a vision of the organisation the FCO should be by 2020.”

I invite the Minister to tell us a little more about that review. Will it be a fundamental review of how the Foreign Office is structured, how priorities are ordered and how staff are deployed; or will it be a motherhood and apple pie statement of vision and aims, full of things no one could disagree with?

In conclusion, the Office remains overstretched and underfunded for the tasks it faces. Its actual funding base is dysfunctional, and if it does not actually distort policy decisions, it certainly means that resource allocation is no longer aligned with actual British interests.

2.10 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am going to do something very unusual, very different and possibly subversive here today with this speech. On one of the days set aside for the consideration of the estimates of this House, I am going to actually speak about estimates. When I was researching my contribution, the one thing I was told that I must not do was to raise the issue of estimates during estimates day debates. What other House in the world would have such an

1 Mar 2016 : Column 848

absurd principle of debate? What other modern Parliament would even start to consider doing its business on the basis of such an absurd and ridiculous ruling?

Estimates are not about the allocation of pencils and rulers to the civil service, or even the price of beer in Strangers Bar. The estimates process is this House having to give its authority to the Government’s spending plans. This is what we are doing, in accordance with Standing Order No. 54 of this House, in the three days that we have been given to debate the three large estimates documents I have here. However, they are the one thing we are not supposed to debate! This is absolutely and utterly absurd and bizarre, and it has to change. This cannot go on. Something as important as this has to be considered.

How did we get here? Two centuries ago, the House actually debated and considered every single estimate in the House. Every piece of departmental spend was debated to the nth degree, considered and voted on. Now, we do absolutely nothing. This House has abrogated its responsibility for looking at departmental spend, and that is utterly unsustainable.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Will the hon. Gentleman try to fit his more general point about estimates into the specific estimate on Foreign and Commonwealth Office expenditure we are debating?

Pete Wishart: Well, the estimates are the estimates, Madam Deputy Speaker. I struggle to think that when we talk about the estimates, the totality of the Foreign Office budget would fit into what we are actually debating and considering. This is a day set aside for the consideration of estimates. We have to debate this. We are abrogating our responsibilities as parliamentarians if we fail to have some sort of say and some sort of discussion and debate about how this House does its business.

Sir Edward Leigh: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a most important point. When I was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—I am now a member of the Procedure Committee— I produced a report for the Chancellor on this. What the hon. Gentleman says is quite true and he is doing a great service to the House. The fact is that we spend £600 billion of the people’s money every year, but the one thing we are not allowed to talk about on estimates days is estimates. The hon. Gentleman is therefore making a fundamentally important point. When the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) tried to talk about estimates on an estimates day a couple of years ago, unbelievably he was ruled out of order. You have the power now, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that on estimates days we are allowed to talk about estimates. You can give the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) authority to carry on giving his speech.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, but we are debating a specific motion on the Order Paper, which is Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates. The hon. Gentleman has been a parliamentarian for a very long time. He understands how this works and he may feel that this is an injustice. There are other places where this can be debated, but today this is specifically about a very important estimate, which is the expenditure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 849

There are plenty of ways in which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) can debate estimates more generally within this framework, but he must stick to what is on the Order Paper. We are debating a motion and it is very specifically on FCO expenditure. If he can do that, he will not be ruled out of order. If he does not, then I am afraid he will be.

Pete Wishart: I will make an attempt to stay in order, Madam Deputy Speaker. According to Standing Order No. 54, three days of each parliamentary session is to be allocated for the consideration of estimates. I am attempting to uphold that Standing Order. One of the days on which we are allowed to debate estimates is today. I therefore seek your ruling as to why I cannot debate the estimates on one of the days set aside for estimates.

Madam Deputy Speaker: The answer, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is that this is not a general debate on estimates. This debate is on one particular estimate relating to FCO expenditure. That is, therefore, what we are debating here today. He also knows that the Procedure Committee is the place to go to for answers to more specific questions. There are other ways to have debates on the principle of estimates debates. Today, however, we have on the Order Paper the specific estimate for the FCO. That is what we are here to debate.

Sir Edward Leigh: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I just ask how I, or any other hon. Member, can question the Government on £600 billion of expenditure? By the way, under the Barnett formula what we spend directly affects the spend in Scotland. How can I start giving a speech about all this money we are spending?

Madam Deputy Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman knows—he has been here a very long time—there are Treasury questions, Budget day, parliamentary questions, letters to Ministers, Adjournment debates and so on. There are any number of avenues by which these matters can be debated. Today, we are debating Foreign and Commonwealth Office expenditure on this particular estimates day.

With that, I think that is enough. If the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire wants me to rule him out of order I can do so, but if he can just stick to the FCO expenditure and bring his points in under that he will remain in order.

Pete Wishart: I will give it one last bash, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let us hope we can make a little bit more progress. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is absolutely right. This House has to be given the opportunity to debate this. It is critically and crucially important. If we cannot do it on days set aside for estimates, we have to determine when and how we can do it. If I can just explain why this is important, you can rule me out of order all you want, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This is important for us in the Scottish National party because we have been invited by the Government, by the Leader of the House, to investigate, debate and

1 Mar 2016 : Column 850

look at the estimates process to determine the issues around Barnett consequentials, which you and Mr Speaker have to rule—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that is enough. I think we have had the debate. The hon. Gentleman has had a debate on the Floor of the House about estimates in general, but we are debating, scrutinising and looking at a very important particular estimate on Foreign and Commonwealth Office expenditure. If the hon. Gentleman can keep his debating points to that matter, I will allow him to continue; otherwise, he will be out of order. It is a particular estimate day, not estimates day. It is a particular day on which we are debating FCO estimates. If he would like to continue I will allow him to do so; otherwise, I will call the next speaker.

Pete Wishart indicated dissent.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I call John Baron.

2.18 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): There is an old Army adage, which has served the British Army well, that says time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted. I suggest that it could serve the Government well going forward when it comes to expenditure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Cuts to the Office by previous Governments on both sides of the House have led to staff shortages, which have contributed to a series of errors that have cost us dear. On the one hand, I congratulate the Government on protecting the budget in real terms; that is a backstop we have not had hitherto and is very much to be welcomed. At the same time, I urge the Government to look to increase the budget in real terms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has eloquently suggested. If the Government seriously think that cost savings in this area work, I would suggest that all the evidence shows that to be a false economy indeed, and for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, the false economy does not reflect the importance of how we make foreign policy in this country. That is in contrast to the United States, where foreign policy making is much more of a diffuse process, with academics, career diplomats, think-tanks and politicians all much more widely involved. In this country, on the other hand, the pyramid is much narrower and policy making is structured and put into place by a smaller number of people and organisations—primarily senior people at the top of the FCO, senior people at No. 10 and perhaps a few others. It is therefore terribly important that all the components of our foreign policy making are firing on all cylinders, because if a particular part is not working, given the smaller number of components in the process, that can have a disproportionate effect on overall policy and its consequences.

There is no shortage of examples showing that we have not done as well as we should have in responding to international crises and other incidents that have perhaps left us floundering. With the Arab spring, for example, there were so few Arabists in the FCO that we had to call them out of retirement. When it came to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, for another example, I think I am right in saying—my right hon. Friend the

1 Mar 2016 : Column 851

Minister for Europe will correct me if he so wishes—that we did not have one Kremlinologist in the FCO, which perhaps contributed to the somewhat unconvincing response. I suggest to the Government that our interventions over the last 12 years or so have suffered from a lack of analytical skill and expertise, which has been very costly to this country.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman has a long track record on these issues, and I am particularly grateful for his work in the Foreign Affairs Committee. He will probably be more gentle on the Government than I will. If we look at Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, among other places, the lack of proper interrogation of the facts has been a disaster.

Mr Baron: I made the mistake of not finishing my sentence; next time I will finish it. I was about to say that my examples included Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, I would suggest, Syria. In Iraq, there can be no doubt that we went to war on a false premise: there were no WMD. We were all deceived; the job of Chilcot is to determine whether No. 10 intentionally deceived us.

On Afghanistan, I supported the initial deployment in 2001 to rid the country of al-Qaeda, and there is strong evidence to suggest that we succeeded in that objective in the very early years. Where it went disastrously wrong—this takes us back to the fact that we did not fully understand events on the ground—was when we allowed the mission to morph into nation-building. We went into Helmand without fully realising what it involved, and we certainly under-resourced our operations, which was a bad mistake.

In Libya, we knocked down the door—that was the relatively easy bit—but the country has turned out to be a complete and utter shambles, in part because we failed to understand that the opposition to Gaddafi would splinter into 100-plus groups with different objectives. Law and order has been non-existent in Libya ever since, which has led to more bloodshed and a vicious civil war.

Daniel Kawczynski: At this juncture, with my hon. Friend referring to Libya, I must interject that he was the only Conservative Member of Parliament to speak out against that British military involvement at the time. If I recall correctly from his speeches from that time, he put some prescient and important questions to the Government, in respect of which hindsight has proved him to have been correct.

My hon. Friend referred to the small number of people who make foreign policy in this country. Does he agree that in advance of British military intervention overseas, as in the case of Libya, there might need to be in future a greater period of engagement and deliberation for those such as my hon. Friend who do not fully support such actions, so that these problems can be avoided?

Mr Baron: I thank my hon. Friend and fellow Select Committee member for his kind words. I agree: there does need to be more time for reflection on these issues. I would also suggest that we need greater investment in the FCO. We need greater expertise and analytical skills because we need to make sure that we have analysed a

1 Mar 2016 : Column 852

situation correctly. Our system of government performs better when we have a well-informed Executive being questioned by the legislature.

What we have seen is a series of errors through which it has become increasingly evident that the Executive do not have that expertise to hand. That is one reason why the legislature has raised the bar on military intervention—because it has lacked the trust in the Executive to make their case, analyse a situation correctly and make sound recommendations. Once that trust is lost, the legislature will raise the bar when it comes to military intervention, as we have seen.

Let me return to some of the other errors that we have made. I suggest that there were errors in Syria. The Government line that we did not intervene early enough on behalf of the rebels, which accounts for the mess that is evident there now, is simply not correct. The Government’s intention was to arm the rebels in the hope that they could keep the weapons confined to the “good” rebels and not allow them to spread to the “bad” rebels—in other words, to track and trace the weapons. Anybody who knows anything about the region, or who has visited the country or travelled through it, should know that everything is tradeable in the bazaar. Also, given that the situation was so fast moving, the idea that we could have stopped the rebels from falling into the hands of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra or other extremists was pure make-believe.

Then, within a couple of years, the Government, having been stopped by the House from intervening in a key vote in 2013, again proposed to intervene—but against the rebels. I would not be so unkind as to suggest that we swapped sides in a civil war within two years, but to the general public, it damn well nearly looks like that. It well illustrates how we have failed to analyse the situation correctly.

In the brief time left to me, I would argue that in many respects our interventions have been a distraction. I, for one—like many Members on both sides; some are in their places today—have long advocated the need to spend more on defence. The military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and indeed Syria have perhaps distracted us from the greater threat of nation states, not necessarily friendly to the west, re-arming and reasserting their power and influence. One thinks immediately of Russia and China, but there are others as well.

To those who suggest that the straits of Hormuz or the South China seas are far away and of little significance to us, I say that a country based to such an extent on maritime trade—about 90% of our trade comes by sea—would certainly know about it if those straits or seas were ever blocked. My suggestion is that we have been distracted and that that is partly a function of the fact that we are not investing enough in what I call our ears and eyes—in other words, our ability to understand what is happening out there.

We must have a margin of safety or comfort as regards our capability, because no one can confidently predict where the next trouble spot is going to be. History is littered with examples of our facing the wrong way. I suggest that without that margin of comfort, that margin of safety, in our analytical capability, we may well be caught short again if we have not made

1 Mar 2016 : Column 853

the necessary investment. I suggest that, without that investment, we make expensive mistakes—indeed, we have made them—and that it is therefore a false economy to talk about savings, particularly when the budget is so small relative to Government expenditure generally. If I may take the point to the extreme, avoiding unnecessary conflict is vastly cheaper than committing ourselves to conflict that is costly in terms of both lives and treasure.

We often talk about hard power in the House, but perhaps we do not talk enough about soft power, which is increasingly important. In the present information age, those who win the argument will be just as important as those who win the conflict. This is about a battle of ideas, a battle of ideologies. It is about persuading others to want what we want, rather than just rattling the sabre, which—as we have seen so many times in our recent history—can often be counterproductive. We do not attach enough importance to soft power in this country, certainly not when it comes to the making of foreign policy.

There are clear examples of our putting our soft power capability at risk. Past cuts to the BBC World Service have hindered our ability to reach out to people; the World Service budget has been transferred from the FCO’s ambit, but that was one example before the transfer.

An example that currently sits in the FCO is the British Council. That venerable organisation is doing tremendous work in spreading the word, encouraging people to want what we want, providing an educational service, and trying to bring peoples together to improve understanding for the benefit of all concerned, but what are we doing? We are making cuts there. What is the British Council having to do as a result? It is having to become even more commercial in trying to make up for those cuts.

Members may think that a 10% cut is very little, but given that 10% is sometimes the profit margin, the British Council must achieve a 100% increase in its revenue when engaging in commercial activities to make up for that cut. We, as a country, must think again about short-sightedness of that kind, because it is not serving us well—and, I would argue, not serving the international community well.

We need to ensure that our ears and eyes are working, because when they are not, we tend to make expensive mistakes in the world. The fact that we have not properly funded our analytical skills and our capabilities, and have not been as well-sighted as we should have been, has certainly contributed—although it has not been the only reason—to a series of errors that have proved exceedingly costly in lives first and foremost, but also in terms of treasure. That brings me back to the point about false economies. It is a false economy to make cuts in our ears and eyes—our Foreign and Commonwealth Office capabilities—if, as a result, we then blunder into interventions that cost us dearly in lives and treasure.

I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is present. Through him, I urge the Government to increase expenditure on the FCO in real terms. We will be better sighted for it, and will make fewer costly errors.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 854

2.34 pm

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). He made a very detailed, perceptive and interesting speech, which l thoroughly enjoyed.

The cut in funding for the Foreign Office, on top of the 10% budget cut since 2010, is directly contrary to the United Kingdom’s key strategic interests, and might prevent the Department from effectively addressing serious organisational issues of its own. We cannot properly address the threats to our security from Daesh solely by dropping bombs in Syria, Libya or Iraq, and threats to our economy from events in China and in the eurozone cannot simply be washed away by the Treasury. We need to equip the FCO not just to meet the challenges of today, but to rise to the unknown challenges of tomorrow. There must be a renewed focus on aid and diplomacy in all that it does.

A recent Foreign Affairs Committee report, “The FCO and the 2015 Spending Review, stated:

“In an increasingly unstable world, the Government relies on the FCO to have the necessary infrastructure in place so that it can make critical decisions at a moment’s notice. Over the last Parliament the country was found to be lacking in expertise, analytical capability and language skills to manage the fallout from the Arab Spring and the crisis in Ukraine. In 2010 it might have been thought that expertise on Benghazi, Donetsk, or Raqqa was surplus to requirement. These have become vital areas for our national security, evidencing the real dangers of an under-funded Foreign and Commonwealth Office”.

Mr Baron: The hon. Lady is making some excellent points, and I would love to remain in the Chamber to listen to the rest of her speech. I promise that I will pursue it in Hansard afterwards. However, my Whips have very thoughtfully put me on to a Statutory Instrument Committee, so would she forgive me if I left her at this point?

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. On this occasion, I shall forgive him.

The FCO must have the capacity to be able to extend further than the issues with which it currently deals from day to day. In a speech to the Institute for Government last year, the outgoing permanent under-secretary at the FCO, Sir Simon Fraser, supported the protection of UK aid spending and the 2% commitment to defence spending, but lamented the fact that the FCO’s relatively small budget would be unprotected in the coming spending review. He described the FCO as

“the glue that holds everything together”.

He said that the FCO’s budget arguably deserved protection similar to that given to the larger budgets of the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence, whose operations overseas would only stand to benefit from a strong FCO. That being said, the FCO clearly needs to reform its overseas network to stem spiralling costs, particularly in the current climate, when cuts are hitting so many people so hard. At such times, the focus must be on efficiency and efficacy.

I hope that, when the Minister winds up the debate, he will be kind enough to answer the following questions. What changes will be made to the implementation of Government policy outside the United Kingdom when

1 Mar 2016 : Column 855

it spans a range of Departments? Who decides which Department is best placed to co-ordinate joint action between Departments, and how will funding to support that be secured? Will the cuts mean a diminution of the role of the FCO within the Government, and what impact will they have on its continued strategic role in that capacity? Is it not worrying that the United Kingdom’s international role will become further stratified and unbalanced, as Departments such as the MOD and DFID, which have protected budgets, will have a stronger role without the balancing mechanism that the FCO can bring to that work?

Sir Simon Fraser acknowledged that the issue of human rights was no longer a top priority, and it needs to be re-established as such.

Let me now say something about what the FCO looks like to the outside world. In the same speech, Sir Simon conceded that, in the past, the FCO’s culture had been

“too narrow, too white and too male”,

He argued that that culture had been improved on his watch, but acknowledged that there was still much more to be done to achieve more diversity, in the full sense of the word. Cuts in the Department may threaten progress in the vital area of equality and diversity. There were no women on the shortlist to replace Fraser as permanent under-secretary. He also noted that the FCO had yet to appoint a woman ambassador to its most prestigious posts, such as those in Washington and Paris, although he emphasised that women were now ambassadors in both Beijing and Kabul. He ascribed that to the “pipeline” of diversity in the organisation, pointing out that the FCO had started behind the rest of Whitehall, having been the last Department to abolish its marriage bar, as late as 1973. Fraser anticipated that there would be some competitive female candidates to replace his successor, both from within the FCO and from outside.

On the subject of wider diversity, although 12% of its total workforce is from a minority ethnic background, the FCO leadership at senior levels is almost exclusively white. Fraser said that there had been a cultural switch to understanding that diversity not only mattered but was good for the FCO, leading to better decisions and outcomes. That applies also to the wider workplace, wherever it might be, and indeed to this House itself.

So what impact will these proposed changes to the Department’s budget have on the work of the FCO to address this culture? What schemes and initiatives within the Department will be funded in the next year specifically to address these issues? An isolationist agenda in our international relations has already damaged the UK’s image. At the very least, let us make sure that this is not reflected in this country’s workforce diversity. This should be, and is indeed, our strength.

2.40 pm

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I congratulate the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), and his Committee—albeit perhaps in its previous form—on making a recommendation that the Government have actually listened to. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the Chancellor’s announcement on Foreign and Commonwealth Office spending drew a line under

1 Mar 2016 : Column 856

the reductions that had taken place over many years. Like many who have spoken in the debate today, I believe that those reductions have damaged Britain’s ability to project soft power.

I have just come from a meeting of the Defence Committee, at which we heard about an organisation called the Conflict Studies Research Centre, which used to be based within Whitehall. It was a Government organisation, but it was cut in a similar way to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay when he talked about our ability to inform the Executive of what was going on. However, I am delighted to say that it has re-emerged in the private sector. With London continuing to be a major hub for international organisations, think-tanks and other sources of expertise in foreign affairs and defence issues, we need to be smarter and more fleet of foot in using those resources—much as similar resources are used in Washington, perhaps rather better than we use ours.

In my capacity as a Minister and subsequently in roles on Select Committees and on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have been privileged to see our Foreign Office posts working abroad and I have huge respect for those who work in them. The programme of post closures was reversed under the coalition Government, and that was very welcome, but I believe that what we have in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has become broad and shallow. We need to concentrate on finding depth, and I therefore agree with many of the sentiments that have been expressed today. William Hague’s reopening of the language school is a welcome part of the re-engagement with those important skills.

Through Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts abroad, the UK projects soft power. I often see this in my capacity as a trade envoy. Cuts to the FCO are short-sighted. When we engage with countries and build relationships over long periods of time, that is reflected in jobs at home, in exports and in helping our balance of payments. I have seen our influence way exceed expenditure because of the hard work being put into relationships being built with Governments, people of influence and countries. I am kicking the dust off my feet following a trip to Jordan and Lebanon last week with the Defence Committee. I should like to put on record my thanks to those two outstanding posts and to the ambassadors, the defence attachés, the political officers and the security staff operating in those countries. The United Kingdom’s stock is high over there, and we are benefiting from trying to keep those two countries stable in the face of unbelievable threats from over the border in Syria and Iraq.

I want to concentrate on what my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay called trouble spots. He perhaps looked back with a degree of Schadenfreude, and in some cases he was justified in expressing that, although in other cases I might question it. In looking at trouble spots, he said that we should look forward and ask where the trouble spots of the future might be. I suggest that a glaring example is a resurgent Russia.

Whitehall had real experts on the Soviet Union throughout the cold war, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said. When the Soviet Union fell, many of those posts were stripped out as the people retired, were let go or moved to other areas of the Foreign Office or other Departments. At that point, our corporate knowledge

1 Mar 2016 : Column 857

fell to an alarming degree. I may be straying from the point slightly here, but the Defence Intelligence Service had no Ukraine desk officer at the time of the uprising. It had to borrow one from the South Caucasus desk. I imagine that similar problems existed elsewhere in the Foreign Office as the glaring reality of a major threat to the interests of Britain and NATO suddenly emerged. There is a real need to understand these threats and to examine how we should resource them in the future.

I am not making any excuses for the Soviet Union, but at least in those days there was some kind of group accountability in that country and we did not feel that the regime was simply being run by one individual on his whim. Now, Russia is ruled by one autocratic mega-thief, a kleptocrat of quite staggering proportions who can annex the sovereign territory of another state, who can have people murdered on the streets of London and no doubt elsewhere, and who oversees a regime that murders people such as the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in prison in Russia. I wonder how many more Litvinenkos and Magnitskys there are. This is a man who can do to parts of Syria what he did to Grozny and who can threaten states that we are treaty-bound to defend under our membership of NATO. This is an individual for whom rules-based governance is anathema. We should therefore govern much of our thinking—and much of the way in which we resource our foreign policy and defence policy—by the use of one clear question: “What would Putin want?”

Tom Brake: And what does the hon. Gentleman think Putin would want in relation to the UK’s membership of the European Union?

Richard Benyon: The right hon. Gentleman must have read the next page of my speech. I shall answer that question precisely in a moment; I think he will agree with what I have to say.

What President Putin would want first is for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget to be curtailed. He would also want a weaker NATO that was riven by infighting and that continued to run down its armed forces, as it has done in years gone by. He would also want a NATO that did not respond to an escalation in aggressive actions against states on Russia’s western border. He has had a bit of bad news in that regard, however, because there has been a reversal in the decline in defence spending, not least by Britain but also by some of our allies. This situation requires massive efforts of diplomacy to keep our alliances moving in the right direction, showing resolve and showing the ability to stand up to the actions of his regime.

To answer the question from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), Putin wants a west in which influential countries such as Britain become less influential. I think the right hon. Gentleman can see where I am going here. Putin wants a weakened European Union. Let us remember that it is the EU, not NATO, that can impose damaging sanctions against his regime. He hates having an economic rule-setter on his western border.

As the leader of the UK delegation to NATO, I recently attended a meeting with other delegation leaders at NATO headquarters. Informally and formally, our

1 Mar 2016 : Column 858

allies crossed the floor to ask me, with varying degrees of incredulity, whether Britain was really going to leave the EU. I hope that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report will look not only at the costs of a possible Brexit but at the impact it would have on the geopolitics of our European foreign policy. These people, including Americans, were coming up to me and saying, “Now? At this time? Really? With all that threatens Europe, economically, militarily and societally?” There is much that our diplomats and intelligence services have to do in the coming years: shore up our alliances, particularly NATO; encourage more spending on defence among our allies; and use all methods, through both our hard and soft power postures, to deter Russia. This is about how we invest; how we work with our allies; and how we exercise our armed forces and show strength.

Daniel Kawczynski: When we met Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels last week, he not only concurred with a lot of what my hon. Friend is saying, but discussed the other side of the coin, which is the importance of dialogue with Russia. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to attempt to engage with Russia, despite these tensions, to try to defuse them?

Richard Benyon: I entirely agree with that. I am certainly not somebody who believes in confrontation; my hon. Friend probably knows that well, as he knows how I operate in this House, and exactly the same applies in how we deal with a potential aggressor. The purpose of what I am saying today is that not only should we be strong, showing that our alliance is strong and that we are not going to see the envelope of article 5 pushed by people such as President Putin, but we should engage diplomatically with him and with his regime to try to get some common sense. We should use resources such as the World Service and the British Council, which my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay talked about earlier. Very movingly last week, a Romanian who works at NATO said that the greatest treat of her day used to be sitting under her bedcovers listening to the British World Service, as it kept her in touch with what was going on in the west and the freedoms that we enjoy, and she just used to want some of that—she has now got it. Through such means, we can also influence people in Russia.

Daniel Kawczynski: When I used to go back to Warsaw to see my grandfather in communist times, we always listened to the BBC World Service, albeit very quietly and with the curtains drawn, as of course it was illegal to do so. That was a great comfort to my grandfather and his generation of Poles, as they knew there were people outside, beyond the iron curtain, who were struggling for them and ensuring that they were kept informed.

Richard Benyon: As always, my hon. Friend makes a very powerful point, and he and his family perhaps understand this more than any of us in this House.

Let me conclude by talking about one concept in foreign policy, which is our will—our will to make a better world and to extol the virtues of the kind of society that we enjoy in this country and that most of our European colleagues also enjoy in the west. We face difficulties in that; we get on with our lives as independent members of different alliances, be it NATO, the EU or other arrangements we have, whereas an aggressor such

1 Mar 2016 : Column 859

as Russia is one country controlled pretty much by one individual, and so our will is tested. On the face of it, we should not be alarmed, because across NATO 3.2 million troops are under arms and the four largest NATO members spend $740 billion a year on defence compared with Russia’s figure of £65.6 billion. But that statistic, stark as it is, does not describe the depth of the problem we are seeing in places such as Ukraine, Georgia and Syria, and the threats, be they actual or subversive, faced by NATO countries such as the Baltic states. We have to have a strong will, and proving that we have it requires resources, commitment and the hard slog of soft power and diplomatic efforts. It requires language skills and a real in-depth understanding. Of course there are other problems in the world, for example, in the South China sea, in Africa and elsewhere, which draw many of those resources away from a particular problem.

As so many people have said in this debate, we do not know what is coming round the corner next, but I am certain about one thing: Russia will tweak NATO’s nose, push the envelope of article 5, be it through cyber, by playing on Russian-speaking nationals in certain countries or just by threatening countries that are friendly to us but not members of NATO, such as Sweden, through incursions into their waters or airspace. Today, in the Defence Committee, we were told that

“any weakness on our part, Russia exploits.”

Making sure that Russia understands that the west will respond and will punish it if it attacks a NATO state must remain a key foreign policy objective—but it is one that needs proper resourcing.

2.55 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I welcome the opportunity for this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). I agree entirely with what he said about President Putin. Others have made these points today, but let me address President Putin directly: esli vy hotite pogovorit' c nami, my budem govorit's vami. I hope he will have heard that message—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I hope that was in order, because I have no idea what the right hon. Gentleman just said. If he would translate it for the benefit of those of us who do not speak Russian, I would be very grateful.

Tom Brake: I am happy to translate it. I simply said that if President Putin wants to talk to us, we will be very happy to talk to him. The hon. Member for Newbury talked about language skills, which is an important matter, as without them it is difficult to engage effectively with others.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is no longer in his place, because if he had he been, I would have disagreed with him on the subject of Syria. What we know about the situation in Syria is that since the UK Parliament decided not to take action some years ago, a quarter of a million people have died, more than 4 million people have become refugees in neighbouring countries and 7 million people or more have become refugees within Syria. Although we cannot know for certain what the impact

1 Mar 2016 : Column 860

of limited UK military involvement might have been, we know and can see in concrete terms the consequences of the failure to take any action.

Crispin Blunt: Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House of what we were being asked to take action for?

Tom Brake: I will come back to that—

Stephen Gethins rose—

Tom Brake: But I will take another intervention first.

Stephen Gethins: I was going to raise a similar point to the one raised by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who discussed the Russians. If we were to take action, what would the consequences of Russian action be? Does this not go to the very heart of the debate we are having about the need to fund the Foreign Affairs Committee properly, in order to address military action?

Tom Brake: Indeed. To respond to the earlier point, we were being asked to leave open the opportunity of military action being taken in the future. That is what the debate and the vote were about; it was not a vote about whether we should take military action at that point. It would have left open that opportunity, but because the vote went against leaving open that opportunity, the chance to take military action in Syria was closed down at that point. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) that the whole purpose of this debate is to highlight the importance of funding the Foreign and Commonwealth Office adequately.

Crispin Blunt: I think I can help the right hon. Gentleman. We were being invited to take military action in order to deprive President Assad’s regime of its chemical weapons—that was what we were being asked to do. If there was a proposition to do something much wider, that is the one that should have been put to the House.

Tom Brake: My recollection may be slightly different from that of the hon. Gentleman, but if I recall it correctly the vote was about leaving open the option of the UK Parliament taking military action at a point in the future, which would have required another vote. The UK Parliament decided at that point to say that it did not want to leave open the option of that future action, and I regret the fact that that decision was taken.

On the European Union, I hope we will be able to engage in a positive campaign on this matter. This is not entirely related to the estimates, but I wonder whether the Minister for Europe has a view about whether the GO—Grassroots Out—campaign is the one that should be pushed forward as the campaign for Brexit, on the basis that it is a good cross-party campaign and is perhaps best placed to represent the Brexit campaign.

I have a suggestion that will cost the FCO absolutely nothing. Once, hopefully, the EU referendum campaign is over and we have convinced the country that we are better off in, I hope to see the Ministers who have quite recently come out in favour of our membership of the European Union occasionally talking about the benefits

1 Mar 2016 : Column 861

of our being in the EU. The difficulty over the next four months is that many of those Ministers who have now rightly stated that, on balance, we are better off in the European Union, have previously not highlighted some of the positives involved. This suggestion that Ministers should speak more positively about the EU will have no cost to the FCO.

On Syria, it would be helpful to know exactly what is being built in the budget for what we hope will happen after the ceasefire. If the ceasefire holds, and we get to a position in which there is a degree of stabilisation in Syria, there will clearly be a need for the FCO to make quite a substantial financial commitment to greater involvement in the stabilisation process that should then follow. I hope that we have budgeted for that.

Let me turn now to human rights and the importance of having an FCO policy that promotes human rights. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) rightly referred to what the permanent under-secretary had said, which was that human rights

“is one of the things we follow, it is not one of our top priorities.”

He then went on to say in response to a subsequent question that

“right now the prosperity agenda is further up the list”.

I wrote to the permanent under-secretary to get some clarity over what he was saying about human rights and the prosperity agenda. I wanted to know how the two things worked together and whether one had a greater priority than the other. He replied, for which I was very grateful, but he did not comment on his quote, but what he did provide was a useful breakdown of how many people within the FCO, in full-time equivalent terms, work on human rights versus the number of people who work principally on prosperity. The figures are that 240 people work on human rights, against 2,900 people on prosperity. I do not know what is in the estimates from a budgetary point of view, but will the Minister tell us whether there is some sort of forward vision about how that balance might change?

Clearly, there are many, many human rights issues around the world—the Minister will be pleased to know that I will refer to but a few of the things in the thick sheaf I have here—and I want to know the FCO will be fully engaged in that. Let me run through them very quickly. First, on Burma, it is very pleasing that there are developments there, but I know that some of the Burma campaign groups are very worried that, even with the important role that Aung San Suu Kyi is playing, some minority groups are at a greater risk now than they were before. That requires FCO attention.

In Bahrain, we know that the UK Government are working with the prison authorities and the police to improve the regard for human rights, but there are concerns that the policy is not yet delivering the goods. I want to be certain that the FCO is sufficiently resourced to deal with such matters. I could say the same about China as well.

Perhaps the most worrying development—this is where the FCO really does need to invest very heavily to ensure that it has the right number of people in place—is with regard to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. I am really concerned that, at some point in the near future, it will be confirmed that there have been breaches of international

1 Mar 2016 : Column 862

humanitarian law. There are enough organisations that have produced evidence to suggest that that is likely to be the case. The FCO will be in a very difficult position. Although the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has repeatedly said that there have been discussions with the Saudis and that assurance have been given, it seems that the evidence points in the other direction. The FCO needs to monitor very carefully the activities of the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for assessing whether IHL has been broken. It would be in no one’s interests to find out subsequently that, in fact, IHL had been broken in relation to the activities of the Saudis in Yemen.

I am pleased to hear that, perhaps without great fanfare, the Committees on Arms Export Controls has been re-established. I hope that, at its first inquiry, it will look at the question of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, because that is the most pressing problem.

I could also mention human rights issues in Sri Lanka, which remain a priority for the Tamil community. There is also the matter of the human rights of the Ahmadi Muslim community in various countries around the world where they are often put under pressure.

I will finish by saying that the investment that we make in the FCO, whether it is hard investment in terms of our presence around the world or the soft power to which many Members referred, must be a priority for us. It helps us to punch above our weight and to ensure that the UK, whether it is through the British Council or our embassy presences around the world, is a major player on the world stage. I would like to ensure that that continues.

3.7 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I congratulate the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), and all his colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), on the important job they have done in producing the report and the quite considerable success that they have achieved in persuading the Chancellor at least to maintain the Foreign Office budget more or less at what it was in the face of very great pressure. I will come back to some of those points as we go on.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) pointed out, this is a debate on the estimates. Madam Deputy Speaker, you were only doing your job when you called my hon. Friend to order, because of the rules and conventions of this House by which you are bound. None the less, it does serve to demonstrate the complete inadequacy of the estimates process. The motion in front of us today authorises, in clauses 2 and 3, the expenditure of more than £50 million of public money, yet the Chamber is almost empty. There has not even been a single contribution from the Back Benches of the Official Opposition party. The broader estimates are contained in the mighty tome, House of Commons paper 747, which was no doubt named after a jumbo jet owing to its not inconsiderable size. Yet here we are, barely an hour and 20 minutes after starting this debate, moving to the wind-up speeches.

All kinds of important Government expenditure will have no kind of real in-depth scrutiny. Page 407 includes a payment from the resources reserves (programme)

1 Mar 2016 : Column 863

budget in respect of the battle of New Orleans commemoration—an increase of £142,000. Page 410 contains a transfer to the Cabinet Office (capital) budget in respect of the Foxhound Project—perhaps the Minister can tell us what that is. There is a decrease of £3 million to that Government budget. Also on page 410 is a cost-neutral transfer of the old Admiralty building, which is much appreciated by FCO officials, I am sure, to the Department for Education.

Crispin Blunt: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and with the arguments, which were almost in order, about the quality of the estimates. As he has raised this question, perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate he can explain why we have given that money to celebrate a British defeat that happened after the peace treaty was concluded on the war in which it took place. Perhaps we can also have an explanation of the biggest number of all in the Foreign Office estimates, which is the budget-neutral increase in programming expenditure fully offset by an increase in receipts in respect of revised intergovernmental charging, which appears to be a sum of £220 million. If the Minister could explain that, we might at least have had some focus on the estimates themselves.

Patrick Grady: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. It demonstrates the complete lack of scrutiny. Madam Deputy Speaker, you did, of course, say that there are other mechanisms—such as Select Committees, statements, Question Times and Westminster Hall—through which we can discuss different aspects of expenditure. The estimates process itself is clearly inadequate, particularly for those Members from Scotland who were told during the debates on English votes for English laws that this was the opportunity for us to discuss Barnett consequentials and the impact of legislation on which we cannot vote because of the EVEL procedures. It seems that that opportunity is being denied to us. As a member of the Procedure Committee, I look forward to our forward to our inquiry into the estimates procedure and to questioning Ministers, particularly Treasury Ministers, and Members from all parties about how we can make this procedure fair. As I am at risk of deviating too far from the motion and being ruled out of order myself, I will now turn to the more general themes of the debate in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, and the broader issue of the FCO’s role and function.

It seems from the tone of the debate that the FCO is in a somewhat precarious situation. It is a victim, like so many other Departments, people and communities across the country, of the Government’s ideological commitment to swingeing public service cuts, no matter what the cost. In the SNP manifesto, we showed that it was possible modestly to increase public services, while over the long term still balancing the books and paying down the public debt. This estimate is one of the more unforeseen and probably slightly less concerning aspects of that commitment, as it does not impinge on people’s day-to-day lives in the way that so many other cuts are. Nevertheless, it is the impact of an ideological drive from the Government.

At the same time, that approach is leading to an increasingly ideological and almost isolationist narrowing of focus and interest, with a divergence away from what should be priority areas—the protection of human rights and the promotion of peaceful and sustainable

1 Mar 2016 : Column 864

development. Some of that was alluded to in the discussion about the role of the FCO and its expenditure on overseas and official development assistance. The SNP has long welcomed the Government’s commitment to 0.7% of GNI to be spent on ODA, but meeting the target is not a blank cheque to spend that on whatever the Government can cram into the definition of ODA. I have several times raised on the Floor of the House the increasing overlap between expenditure for that target and that for the 2% NATO target, which might be allowed in principle but I do not think is what people expected in practice when the Government made those commitments.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) mentioned ODA and the funding of the World Service, and I share a number of his concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) talked about the importance of effective co-operation across Government, and it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s responses to her points.

The headline FCO budget is one of the smallest in government, but that does not mean that it is necessarily the most effective or efficient. The discussion, as I have said, is in the context of the pressure being felt across public spending, so if the FCO’s budget is to be protected it must be used efficiently. From the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) we heard some statistics about the number of people employed. Over my lifetime I have, for various reasons, visited three of Her Majesty’s embassies and high commissions around the world. I was in Malawi, where, despite 2 million people in that country not having access to clean water, the high commissioner has a swimming pool at his disposal in his residence. In Zambia, a tennis court is provided in a country in which most children probably play football without shoes. Just the week before last I was in Berlin, where I found that the embassy takes up an entire street block and practically stops the traffic through one of the main thoroughfares right next door to it.

There are undoubtedly efficiencies to be found. We were told during the independence referendum that Scotland could never afford a network of global embassies, outposts and so on—that this would be one of the crippling costs of independence. To be fair, if we were to try to replicate what the FCO has, that might well be true. However, I think that a country such as Scotland could probably manage much more modestly. Indeed, considering the role that we play in the world today, so could the United States—I mean the United Kingdom, although the United States probably could too, for that matter.

Other issues that the FCO needs to consider have been mentioned in other debates. There was a useful debate in Westminster Hall a while back about consular assistance, especially for bereaved families following the loss of loved ones overseas. I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), about concerns that one of my constituents raised about support for people who are victims of terrorist attacks—or, more accurately in her case, who witness terrorist attacks, as she did in Tunisia. She feels very concerned about the lack of information and communication, which I have mentioned in parliamentary questions and in a letter to the Under-Secretary.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 865

Finally, we have also heard about the downgrading of human rights in the FCO’s priority areas. The director of Amnesty International has said:

“The UK is setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights. There’s no doubt that the downgrading of human rights by this government is a gift to dictators the world over and fatally undermines our ability to call on other countries to uphold rights and laws.”

This is a serious concern about which I have heard from a number of civil society organisations, and it is important that it is addressed. Nowhere else is that more true than with the situation in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, where UK planes with pilots trained in the UK and bombs made in the UK, co-ordinated in the presence of UK military advisers, are being used in the war in Yemen. At some point, the Government must tell us when that adds up to complicity in that war.

In conclusion, these next two days ought to be taken up by a debate on the estimates process, but we have shown in this debate the inadequacy of the House’s processes and procedures for dealing with estimates and expenditure. We have also touched on the important role of the FCO, the pressures it faces as a result of the Government’s ideological budget cuts and the challenges that that presents for more effective use of taxpayers’ money and co-ordination across Departments.

3.17 pm

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): It is a privilege to speak in this important debate. With an international network of 268 posts across 168 states, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a long and proud history as a world leader in diplomacy, securing peace, protecting citizens abroad and providing an overseas platform to many domestic Departments and agencies.

Last year, the UK was ranked No. 1 in the world in Portland’s league table of soft power. As the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), who is no longer in his place, mentioned, the concept of the battle of ideas is incredibly important as we approach the concept of our work abroad. The question is whether this year’s spending review undermines the important work of the FCO and our standing in the world of diplomacy. We know that since 2010 the Government have repeatedly cut the budget of the FCO, and now we have a Foreign Office that not only has the smallest budget of any Whitehall Department but has had its budget slashed by 16% in real terms.

According to the report by the Foreign Affairs Committee mentioned several times in today’s debate, we spend less on diplomacy than Canada, France, the United States and even New Zealand. Germany spends almost 50% more than this Government do. Some key states, such as China, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, are actually increasing their diplomatic budgets. Although I welcome and support the announcement that the FCO’s budget will be protected in real terms, that comes after five years of cuts that have reduced the workforce to an all-time low and risked undermining its ability to have influence in the world. The Committee’s report, which we have debated at length, shows that over the last Parliament the country was found to be lacking in expertise, analytic capability and language skills to manage the fallout from the Arab spring and the crisis in Ukraine. We heard some very

1 Mar 2016 : Column 866

interesting Russian from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) emphasised the importance of acquiring language skills. One never knows when one might need a language.

I hope the House will receive from the Minister today a clear outline of spending estimates which will demonstrate how he intends to repair the damage already inflicted on his Department, to allow the UK to pursue its political and diplomatic objectives and maintain the global lead in soft power resources.

Last summer the world observed the largest refugee crisis since the second world war. According to figures released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are an estimated 59.9 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, more than 20 million of whom are externally displaced refugees. As has been discussed in the House frequently since the summer, millions of those refugees are fleeing the destabilising civil war in Syria. Earlier today, following the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), the House was fully engaged in a debate about how the situation in Syria could improve. We must have the resources to match the energy and the desire in this House to see peace in the middle east.

Given the media coverage, it would be easy to think that that was where the problem ended, but we know that millions of people have fled Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Burma, Iraq, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Gaza and the west bank—the crisis is global. I take this desperate situation as a clear example of why we need a Foreign and Commonwealth Office that is properly funded and capable of engaging with these issues. Only a properly funded Foreign Office can allow the UK to take its place at the United Nations Security Council to set an agenda that seeks to address the causes of the international refugee crisis.

It has become clear that as a result of five years of cuts, there has been a change in the FCO’s focus and a downgrading of its focus on human rights. The Committee Report noted:

“The Permanent Under-Secretary acknowledged that human rights was now not one of the top priorities and that ‘in a constrained environment’, other elements of the FCO’s work had ‘supplanted it to an extent’. We believe this to be a consequence of the savings imposed so far on the Department.”

To give one example on which there has been a lot of correspondence between Labour colleagues and others, Mr Andargachew Tsige is a British citizen currently imprisoned in Ethiopia. We could devote much more energy to such cases, were we to have the resources in country.

At one time securing peace, strengthening human rights and protecting our citizens abroad were at the top of the FCO’s list of priorities, yet the recent state visit by China, for example, appears to illustrate the fact that Foreign Secretary’s top priority for the FCO is mainly commercial. It was up to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to raise specifically the problem of the tariff arrangements which put UK steel at a trade disadvantage with China, human rights in China, climate change and the need to tackle enduring poverty. In recent months, the priority of international security in relation to the South China sea has come to the fore.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 867

This Government’s foreign policy lacks balance. Trade with China or any other nation is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin, human rights, appears to have declined in importance. The Foreign Secretary has committed to an “internal review” following the Foreign Affairs Committee report. We look forward to seeing that, yet this House is still waiting to be told if it will be made public. Ministers should explain why they will not commit now to publishing this important document, given the clear public and national interest.

In conclusion, the FCO website states that its priorities are to protect British people and promote our global influence and prosperity. After five years of cuts, the question is whether the FCO remains fit to deliver those priorities. There is strong evidence, much of which we have heard in the House today, that diplomatic operations have been devalued and the FCO’s workforce has been cut right back. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on projected estimates, and I hope to hear more about how an adequately resourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office might lead to a more rounded foreign policy.

3.24 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee for bringing their report to the debate this afternoon.

From both sides of the House, there was a common theme: the importance of an effective diplomatic service and Foreign Office in advancing and defending the interests of the United Kingdom in the face of multiple challenges in different parts of the world. I thank in particular those hon. Members who paid tribute to the work of individual members of Her Majesty’s diplomatic service. That gives me the opportunity not only to thank those individuals myself, but to put on the record my own thanks and those of the ministerial team for the professionalism and commitment that members of the diplomatic service have shown to us, as they have to previous Governments. They continue to work day in, day out on behalf of the people of this country.

I want to move on to the spending review and the settlement for the FCO, but I cannot quite let the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) go without comment. I completely understand that it is the job of an Opposition spokesman to try to find criticisms to make of the Government—I remember doing that myself some years back—but the degree of amnesia that infected her judgment on this occasion was astounding. It was as if the years from 1997 to 2010 had been airbrushed out of the historical record.

It is worth reminding the House that under the Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Foreign Office’s budget was cut, posts were closed, the language school was axed altogether, the library was scrapped, and we got to the craziest situation of all. After the Treasury had removed the traditional protection arrangement that it had offered against the Foreign Office’s exposure to foreign exchange movements, as a result of the payment of salaries and bills by overseas posts, the hon. Lady’s former colleague, Mr David Miliband, was reduced to having to draft in members of the diplomatic service to establish a hedge fund unit inside the Foreign Office so that the Foreign Office could

1 Mar 2016 : Column 868

try and run a hedging operation of its own. I do not want to hear too many lectures from the Labour party about Foreign Office expenditure and sensible budgeting.

The Foreign Affairs Committee and the House as a whole are entitled to ensure that the Government are held properly to account for delivery of their responsibilities in the field of foreign and security affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and, I think, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asked about two or three specific items in the estimates. I am going to have to write to them about two of those, but I can give them some satisfaction on the question of the battle of New Orleans, because I have been passed some additional advice. The purpose of the occasion was to commemorate the British dead in that battle and celebrate the 200 years of peace that have followed between the United Kingdom and the United States. The Foreign Office has contributed $215,000; other contributors have included the state of Louisiana and Boeing, and there has also been a significant personal contribution from our honorary consul in New Orleans.

Crispin Blunt: While my right hon. Friend is on that issue, can we see how adroit he and his team are? Will he explain what the Foxhound Project is? Is this a welcome addition to the leisure activities of Her Majesty’s Government, or is it expenditure in respect of something else?

Mr Lidington: If my hon. Friend is expecting to reopen the debate on field sports, I will definitely disappoint him. That is one of the subjects on which I will write to him and the hon. Member for Glasgow North.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report, published on 20 October last year, came before the publication of the spending review, the national security strategy and the new development strategy in November last year. The report was important, because it contributed to an extremely vigorous public debate about the importance of continuing to invest in our diplomatic resources.

As a number of hon. Members noted, the Chancellor responded in his spending review. He noted in his statement in this place the crucial role of what he described as “our outstanding diplomatic service”, and he announced that the Government would protect the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in real terms. That is important because, as right hon. and hon. Members across the House have said, an effective and expert diplomatic service is an important element in allowing this country to respond to the international challenges that we face to our interests.

Now, there is no avoiding the fact that, despite that commitment to protect the FCO’s budget in real terms, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will still have difficult decisions to take about relative priorities in the Department, but that is no more than the challenge that would confront any Secretary of State. We would all like to feel that the budgets available to us were unlimited; in the real world, however, those budgets are finite, and they are constrained by the Government’s overall need to bring down the deficit and address this country’s long history of living beyond its means in terms of the public finances.

The Future FCO review, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate asked me, is designed in part to find ways in which we can secure our objectives as a

1 Mar 2016 : Column 869

Department by doing things differently. I have talked briefly to the reviewer, who is also speaking to other Ministers and senior officials, and the purpose of the review is to advise Ministers and senior officials on how the FCO can be more expert, more agile and more focused on its key priorities than it is at the moment.

I expect the review to be in a position to set out its conclusions later this year—by the end of the spring, I hope. We intend there to be a clear vision of how the FCO should look by 2020, so that we can implement changes in the Department to enable us, within the priorities and resources we have, to secure our objectives more effectively and more efficiently than in the past. We also hope that the review will ensure that, where efficiencies can be made, the savings can be channelled straight back into serving the core objectives that the Foreign Secretary has set.

My hon. Friend asked about the spending review letter. The Government’s policy in respect of all Departments is not to publish settlement letters. There is plenty of public information in the spending review documentation and the Chancellor’s speech and answers. The letters are part of ongoing policy discussions, so it is not appropriate that they should be in the public domain at this time.

The overall resource departmental expenditure limit for the FCO will rise in line with inflation in each of the four years covered by the spending review, increasing our funding from £1.1 billion in 2015-16 to £1.24 billion by 2019-20. We believe that this settlement will enable the Department to maintain our world-class diplomatic service, including our network of posts around the world, which host not only the FCO but 32 other Government Departments and agencies. That global presence and continued foreign policy leadership in Whitehall by the FCO will serve to protect our national security, promote our prosperity and project the UK’s values overseas.

In line with the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance, the FCO will be allocated additional ODA-eligible resources, more than doubling our spending from £273 million to £560 million in 2019-20. That will enable us to pursue our key foreign policies and to deliver the ambitions set out in the national security strategy and the development strategy.

The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) asked, very reasonably, how we reconciled the priorities of different Departments and ensured that, as far as possible, they incorporated within an overall agreed Government approach. The answer, in part, is that there are frequent conversations between Ministers in the different Departments dealing with external affairs and between their officials. However, in the broadest sense, the strategic direction on the key elements of the United Kingdom’s external policy is set after discussion by the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister. The NSC brings together the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor, the International Development Secretary, the Defence Secretary and other interested Ministers precisely so that we can agree on an approach that harnesses the different skills of all Government Departments and, at the same time, establishes which Departments are to contribute which resources to that common objective.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 870

The settlement includes increased spending to support the UK’s overseas territories. In order to meet our long-standing commitment to address their reasonable needs, the FCO will co-ordinate a new strategy for the overseas territories and chair a new director-level board to co-ordinate cross-Government activity. Furthermore, as announced by the Prime Minister during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta in November last year, the United Kingdom will host the next such Heads of Government gathering in 2018, and the FCO will co-ordinate that event.

The spending review settlement provides the same budget for Chevening scholarships as in 2015-16 of £46 million per year. Over its 32-year history, that scholarship scheme has built up a large and influential alumni network aligned with the interests of the United Kingdom, and this funding will ensure that that continues.

A number of hon. Members asked about language training and language skills. The FCO language centre was reopened in September 2013 to renew the focus on and investment in languages as a core diplomatic skill, and ensure that we get the right people with the right skills in the right jobs to deliver our objectives. As a priority, we will allocate new funds to improve Mandarin, Russian and Arabic language skills. In 2015, we trained 34 staff in Arabic, 14 in Mandarin and 24 in Russian, as well as 35 in French and 28 in Spanish. I completely accept that more needs to be done, but we are making progress, and there is a very clear commitment to continuing to develop language skills.

In addition, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will spend up to £24 million over the next four years to increase the presence of its counter-terrorism and extremism experts overseas. In sum, our budget will allow us to focus on our key foreign policy objectives, including tackling Daesh and ensuring security in Europe. It will also allow us to do even more to prevent conflict and encourage stability in fragile states. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the Department will need to become leaner and build on its core strengths, and reinvest and refocus resources on new priorities. That is the reason for the review, about which I have already spoken, and it is also what lies behind the creation of a new digital transformation unit, the purpose of which is to ensure that FCO officials have access to the latest techniques for using modern technology in their work. After a year in operation, the diplomatic academy is already boosting both broader policy capability and specialist skills.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) asked about the tech overhaul programme. We are planning for its global deployment from 2016 to 2018, and a headline figure of £105 million has been agreed by the FCO board. We believe that the overhaul will provide greater speed, stability and reliability, and, partly by reducing the time currently lost because of inadequate IT systems, increase the productivity of staff members. We are using our IT partner, BAE Systems, to help deliver the tech overhaul to industry best practice standards.

A number of hon. Members asked about human rights. We have taken action to mainstream human rights across the FCO network. The issue remains a priority, but we believe that, rather than it being ring-fenced for a few specialist staff, it should be the responsibility of all British diplomats. More detail of our approach

1 Mar 2016 : Column 871

has been provided in our written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s human rights inquiry, to which my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Anelay gave evidence on 24 February.

Tom Brake: The Minister has mentioned mainstreaming the issue in the FCO, but, as I said earlier, there are 240 people working on human rights, versus 2,900 people working on prosperity. Does he expect that ratio to change significantly?

Mr Lidington: The difficulty with providing numbers is that we are talking about not only people who will be in post, but people in desk offices in London who will spend part of their time on human rights and other parts of it on prosperity and advancing British economic interest. I do not think there is a contradiction between the two. When I talk to British businesses about possible investment markets, they frequently tells me that when they assess investment opportunities in a particular country, one of the criteria they use is how good the rule of law is in that country. From a business point of view, they do not want to take the risk of putting money into a place and then finding that, because of corruption, their money, licence or permit is revoked at the behest of some political leader. This is not guaranteed, but a country with an effective rule of law of the kind that will attract inward investment is more likely to have genuinely independent courts and to respect the rights of individuals, so I think that the two go together.

In addition to its resource allocation, the FCO will be provided with a flat cash settlement of £98 million of capital funding per year, to invest in our estate. That will provide further investment across the estate, to maintain our global network and to keep diplomats and other Government staff safe while they work for the UK abroad. Additional capital requirements will be funded from asset sales and the recycling of receipts and, where necessary, through recourse to the reserve.

I have been asked about cross-Whitehall funds. I can confirm that the Government’s spending on international priorities will increase further, with a larger conflict, stability and security fund, a new prosperity fund and more funding for both the British Council and the BBC World Service. The CSSF, through which the FCO funds much of its conflict prevention work, will grow by 19% in real terms by 2019-20 to a total of £1.5 billion a year. That will strengthen our ability to support stabilisation in countries such as Syria, Ukraine, Somalia and Afghanistan, and it will strengthen our response to serious transnational threats, including extremism, serious and organised crime, and illegal migration.

In the conflict, security and stabilisation fund allocations for 2015-16, £400 million were allocated to countries eligible for official development assistance and £633 million to non-ODA countries. The new prosperity fund will be worth £1.3 billion over the next five years, and it will be used to support global growth, trade and stability. That will help us to reduce poverty in emerging and developing countries, and it will open up new markets and opportunities to the United Kingdom. Our diplomatic network helps to facilitate deals for trade and inward investment, to tackle barriers to our own businesses, and to promote open economies and a rules-based international system, which will benefit British business now and in the future.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 872

Funding for the British Council will be protected in real terms, but there will need to be a shift in the balance between ODA and non-ODA funding to support an expansion of the council’s work in developing countries. In addition, the British Council will be able to bid for up to £700 million in additional funding to improve links with emerging economies, help to tackle extremism globally and support good governance.

I was asked about the Department’s human rights work through the Magna Carta fund, and about the balance between ODA and non-ODA countries. The Magna Carta fund has 47 priority countries, the overwhelming majority of which are ODA countries—developing countries. There are four non-ODA countries: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Russia and Israel. Those four, as well as being eligible for support from the Magna Carta fund, are eligible for funding streams such as the Arab partnership fund and the CSSF.

I think there has been agreement across the House that a strong diplomatic service and worldwide network are essential for this country to maintain its position in the world. I believe that the Government’s commitment to protect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget and provide additional funds for cross-government international activity will ensure that we are able to play a pivotal role, both bilaterally and through the membership of the many international and multilateral organisations of which we are part, in tackling the most important global challenges.

Without wanting to stray too far from the subject matter, I will simply say that I agreed completely with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) about how we can amplify the United Kingdom’s diplomatic reach through our active membership of the European Union. I am therefore confident that the outcome of the spending review is good not only for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and British diplomacy, but, most importantly of all, for the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

3.47 pm

Crispin Blunt: With the leave of the House, I will briefly thank hon. and right hon. Members for taking part in this estimates debate on the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I agreed somewhat with the point made during the debate that our ability, as an institution, to oversee the estimates properly is historically woeful and needs to be addressed.

I am grateful for the support that I received for my arguments from my hon. Friends the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) made a point about diversity, which the Minister addressed. That point has power, because clearly we will be better off if our service properly reflects the country in which we live. The organisation was found in 1997 not to reflect that diversity; as it moves away from that position, one wants to be careful about getting there in too much of a hurry, because we might lose some of the talent and ability already in the institution.

There is an issue about how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made that change, and that goes across the piece to its budget. In his response, my right hon. Friend the Minister said that it would not be

1 Mar 2016 : Column 873

appropriate at this time to place in the public domain the public expenditure settlement letters. Someone of his experience will recognise a piece of “Yes Minister” speak at the Dispatch Box as well as anyone else. He is, of course, inviting a blizzard of further inquiries if we do not get that detail.

I welcome the Minister’s acceptance of the fact that there is a real need for more progress in language skills. The concern is that he said the Department must become leaner. It is already starving and cannot allocate its resources effectively. What he said about the conflict, stability and security fund being 60:40 in favour of non-ODA countries illustrates the challenges that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office faces. The Committee will continue to examine those challenges during this Parliament.

Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).

1 Mar 2016 : Column 874

Home Office

Police Funding Formula

[Relevant Document: Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Reform of the Police Funding Formula, HC 476.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2016, for expenditure by the Home Office:

(1) further resources, not exceeding £256,729,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 747,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £356,056,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,328,197,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

3.50 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am very pleased that the House has an opportunity to focus on the important issue of the police funding formula. I will set out the background to, and the timeline of, the funding formula review before assessing where the process is now. The fundamental concern of the Home Affairs Committee is: when is the new review going to start?

I want to thank the members of the Committee, who have unanimously agreed the report—the hon. Members for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani), for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick).

The majority of police forces, chief constables, police and crime commissioners and Members of Parliament welcomed the launch of the police funding formula review last year. The manner in which police funding is currently distributed is outdated, inefficient and not fit for purpose. I want to commend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice for taking on this challenge head-on. However, his ambition, which is shared by the whole House, has not been matched by the process.

When the Home Office launched the public consultation on 21 July 2015, it allowed a period of only eight weeks. After receiving an initial 1,700 responses, it laid out its proposed refinements to the model on 28 October. The second proposal was described as “inadequate”—by, among others, Tony Hogg, the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner—as it gave PCCs and chief constables just three weeks to respond.

The refined model showed that 11 forces would lose by the changes, while the remaining 32 forces would increase their share. The chief constables and PCCs were puzzled and frustrated about how the sums had been calculated. Eventually, it took Andrew White, the chief executive in the office of the Devon and Cornwall PCC, to purchase the original data, and he wrote to the Home Office on 2 November to inform the Home Office that it had used the wrong data in making its calculations. The whole police service and this House owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew White for his actions.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 875

In a letter to me from the permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill has since stated that this error occurred because officials got confused with similar filenames and therefore used the wrong set of data. When the error was discovered, the director general of the crime and policing group at the Home Office, Mary Calam, admitted that she did not understand the significance of the response that she had signed. I am not sure whether that admission was to give us faith in the system or make us question it further. Overnight, police forces across the country had swung from being winners to losers and vice versa. Chief Constable Giles York of Sussex police said that his force went from a £10 million loss to a £2 million gain. Chief Constable Mike Creedon of Derbyshire police said that his force went from a gain of £20 million to a £7 million loss. Chief Constable Simon Cole demonstrated that Leicestershire constabulary was set to lose £700,000 under the old system, but would now lose £2.4 million.

Subsequently, Mr Speaker granted my urgent question on 19 November 2015 and the process was rightly suspended by the Policing Minister. Again, he should be commended for coming to the Dispatch Box and agreeing that the sums were wrong and that the process had to be halted. I do not want to dwell any further on the history, except to say, as it says in the report, that this was a shambolic end to a poorly managed process that significantly damaged the relationship between the Home Office and its primary stakeholders, the police.

Currently, police funding is supposedly being given on the basis of a funding formula that has not been operated for a number of years. The formula is over a decade old and is not based on the latest census data, but on the previous census. It is impossible for police forces to calculate it because many of the data are out of date and it does not take into account the modern nature of policing.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Having acted as the rapporteur for a report on the police funding formula by the Public Accounts Committee, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that one issue is that the formula only really reflects the demands that crime places on the police, and not many of the other issues that they have to deal with? Does he share my disappointment that the shadow Policing Minister is not here to listen to this debate?

Keith Vaz: I make no comment on the absence of the shadow Policing Minister. I am sure that he will come in very soon and make up for lost time. I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s first point in my speech. He raises an important issue on the capabilities of the police and the new demands of 21st-century policing.

Mike Creedon, the Derbyshire police chief, said to me that if the current formula was still valid,

“it would be reflecting a reality which is ten years old”.

He is clear, as are many other chief constables, that there is a consensus that we need to restart the process of moving to a fairer funding model. I think that that consensus is reflected throughout the House.

Since the publication of the police grant report in December 2015, concerns have been raised that it represents a real-term cut to grant levels of 1.4% and requires increases to the police element of the council tax precept. Police forces are being required to raise the police precept across the country, including in Cheshire,

1 Mar 2016 : Column 876

Northumbria, Humberside and Thames Valley—the area that is partly represented by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Dee Collins of West Yorkshire police estimates that her force has received a 3.2% cut in real terms, even after the PCC agreed to the maximum precept increase.

The Select Committee published its report on 11 December. The Government’s response is now 19 days late. The first question for the Minister is when the response will come.

Last Tuesday, five police and crime commissioners gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee: Ron Ball from Warwickshire, Alan Charles from Derbyshire, Sir Clive Loader from Leicestershire, Katy Bourne from Sussex and Jane Kennedy from Merseyside. It was clear from their evidence that the police and crime commissioners had not been consulted on the new review. Ian Hopkins, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, has said that he wishes to work collectively and collaboratively with the Home Office, as do many PCCs and chiefs.

It is clear from the concerns that have been raised with me by chief constables before this debate that they have not been consulted. However, in the last debate, which as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, was only last Wednesday, the Minister alluded to the fact that he had met a number of chief constables. I am sure that he will enlighten us as to his further discussions when he responds to this debate. Chief Constable Neil Rhodes and Deputy Chief Constable Heather Roach of Lincolnshire police have informed me that they met the Policing Minister last Wednesday, 24 February, to discuss the formula. I hope that he will tell us the outcome of that meeting.

When he replies to the debate, will the Minister tell us about his engagement with police forces, and reassure them that he is taking the matter as seriously as he was when he last appeared before the House? One issue that must be clarified is the capability review undertaken by the National Police Chiefs Council under the leadership of Sara Thornton. If the Minister could advise the House about how far those deliberations have reached, that will assist us in knowing something of the timetable that he has in mind.

It is concerning that since last year’s formula changes were abandoned, there have been no further proposals to work on. The Minister wrote to me on 1 February with an update on the formula arrangements, but as I said, he has not given us a date for when that review will commence. Police forces need to know what is going to happen. Ian Drysdale, the director of business services for Kent police, said that the continuing uncertainty is unhelpful, and that a transition to a new arrangement should be made as soon as possible. Following the glaring errors last year, it is self-evident that the Home Office should redouble its efforts to create a fairer funding model, and it is clear that the funding review should be restarted as swiftly as possible.

You will be interested to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Stephen Kavanagh, chief constable of Essex police, has stated that any prevarication on the part of the Home Office would be hugely disappointing and regrettable. Many have argued that it would be wrong to change the formula in a period of austerity, but on the contrary, austerity could have been a starting point for an informed reassessment of the formula in order to incentivise the police for reforms and deal with other inefficiencies. The flat rate reduction for all forces

1 Mar 2016 : Column 877

continues to penalise those who have already received less. However, following the Chancellor’s announcement in the comprehensive spending review on 25 November, which the Committee welcomed, that is less of a concern. In fact, the Home Office has a renewed opportunity to review the formula.

The three key failings aside from the stand-out mistake of confusing data filenames, were essentially process failures, such as sharing exemplifications at an early stage, which meant that data errors went unnoticed until it was too late, setting out transitional arrangements at an early stage, which meant that losers were even more concerned about the potentially immediate damaging impacts on their budget, and not allowing sufficient period for consultation, particularly with PCCs and chief constables. Does the Minister accept that those serious failings should be addressed in a future review process?

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The Minister accepted accountability for the mistake, but as he will know from his experience on the rugby field, he was sold a hospital pass in having to defend his position. A mistake was made at senior level in relation to the management of the process. We need real reassurance that that will not happen again, and there must be accountability in the management of the Home Office, to ensure that such a catastrophic error, which was not picked up and communicated properly to Ministers, does not happen again.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right, and he made that point when we took evidence from various chief constables and police and crime commissioners. It is vital to have proper accountability during this process, and I will come on to what the Committee agreed should be the best way forward.

The Home Affairs Committee made a number of recommendations on factors that must be included in the new funding review. We must recognise that although policing has changed fundamentally over the past 10 years, funding has never adjusted to it. PCCs from Leicestershire, Sir Clive Loader, from Hampshire, Simon Hayes, from South Wales, Alun Michael, and from West Yorkshire, Mark Burns-Williamson, are among those who have identified the growing level of non-crime demand on police time. Almost all police forces can point to a range of modern demands on police time, including terrorism, cybercrime, modern slavery and child exploitation. The Committee also considered it inexplicable that diversity is not one of the categories and criteria in the funding formula.

Chief Constable Simon Cole, the national lead on Prevent, highlights factors such as required language skills, translation services and the resources required in emerging communities. In Leicester, we could have the happy added burden of European football next season, subject to the outcome of the match at 7.45 pm today and the 10 other remaining matches. It is quite clear that the additional demands on policing in Leicester will be profound.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Wales has specific policing needs? He mentioned diversity and language,

1 Mar 2016 : Column 878

but language explicitly springs to mind. The growing powers for the Welsh Assembly call out for policing to be devolved. That is particularly pertinent because Secretary of State for Wales committed yesterday, I believe, to a thorough overhaul of the draft Wales Bill.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Lady is right. That is the point the Committee makes in our report. Different areas have different demands. Policing has changed. It is not as it was 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. Therefore, the police must say what they are doing now, and the Government must say what they want to fund. Of course, the situation in Wales requires special attention.

The indicators proposed by the Home Office in determining funding—there are only four—fail to take into account many of the points raised in the report, and thus miss 70% to 80% of police demand that is not linked to volume crime. The Home Office needs to make absolutely clear what tasks 21st-century policing is expected to take on, and then decide how much it is prepared to fund.

It is of course important that police forces work in a collaborative way. Indeed, the Government are working in a collaborative way. When the Minister came before the House in November to tell us that the police funding formula review was being suspended, he was not then the Minister with responsibility for the fire services. The Government have decided to look across the Government and ensure that they collaborate properly. If they can do so, so can local police forces. If that happens, it must be part of the funding review formula.

One key Committee recommendation was the appointment of an independent panel to assist the Home Office in formulating the revised proposals. That is not because we do not trust Home Office officials to add up. We need a robust and defensible way of looking at the formula and it needs to be independent. Therefore, the Committee went to the trouble of suggesting the kinds of organisations that should sit on the panel: the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the College of Policing, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Royal Statistical Society. You will notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, an emphasis on those who can add and therefore crunch statistics. There is an ongoing project between the London School of Economics and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to provide a sound academic basis for identifying the underlying demands on police time. Let us use the expertise of our academic institutions. Such work, when led by the independent panel, could make the Minister’s job even easier.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Keith Vaz: This is the last time I will give way because I know that other Members want to speak.

Mr Thomas: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. When he and his fellow Committee members were looking at the potential balance of an independent panel, did they consider experts on serious and organised crime? It will be important to understand the impact on London’s police force of the pressures the Met is under to help to continue the battle against serious and organised crime.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 879

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is right, and not just from the point of view of what happens in Harrow, which is very different from what happens in Wandsworth, for example. The issue of serious and organised crime has grown in the past 10 years. He is right that that needs to be properly represented as part of the review.

At this time, the Home Office has two realistic options for moving forward: it can spend the next two years on a very long consultative detailed review, run accurate data against the formula, and implement the formula changes they proposed last year after a further period of consultation; or they can go out to an independent method of checking on what is in the best interests of local police forces. Of course, there will always be winners and losers from this process, and there will be police constables and police and crime commissioners with different voices, but to leave the situation in limbo, as it is at the moment, is, in the view of the Committee, unacceptable. Doing nothing is not really an option and this is not an issue that can be parked until, say, 2019. Unfortunately, those are some of the rumours emerging in the press, whether from the Foreign Office or elsewhere.

This time, I hope the Minister will have all the information before we proceed. I hope he will have to hand the capabilities report that is being prepared by the police chiefs. Their involvement is absolutely critical. I would not like the review to start and then have to stop because there has to be another review, but we do want the process to start as soon as possible. From our point of view, the sooner the better. We want to ensure that everybody in the policing family is properly consulted, so we have no repetition of what has happened in the past.

4.11 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who always speaks in a calm and reasoned way. I agree with much of what he said.

I am most grateful to Dorset police, the police force that serves me and my constituents. I would like to put on record, as I always do, my thanks, gratitude and admiration for the men and women who patrol the streets day and night. They keep us safe in our homes and safe on those streets. Our police officers have to attend some appalling incidents, often with little protection—they are not armed. And dare I pay tribute to the female officers, who are not the same size as their gentlemen colleagues? They go in fearlessly to look after us, without any thought for their own safety. I pay tribute to all the police officers in the country, and of course in particular to those in Dorset.

I am most grateful to Dorset’s police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill—the Minister knows him well through working and corresponding with him; I believe they have a very good relationship, which is excellent news for Dorset police—who has kindly furnished me with most of the facts I am about to divulge. As the Minister knows, Dorset has languished at the bottom of the police funding table for many years, heavily disadvantaged by the current police allocation formula that evolved in turn from the old, standard spending assessment. In last year’s discussions, the Minister described the current formula as

“complex, opaque and out of date.”—[Official Report, 21 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 81WS.]

1 Mar 2016 : Column 880

He was absolutely correct, but it remains effectively unchanged. Even with a review in 2009-10, nothing has ever been implemented. Dorset police remains at the bottom of the pile, a situation that cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

The current allocation formula is based on four criteria: a central allocation; a needs-based allocation; a relative resources adjustment; and formula damping, which is nothing to do with children or the changing of nappies. The very wording of the criteria is complicated enough. I hope that in looking at the formula, the Minister will make it considerably more simple.

Unfortunately for Dorset, this model is the worst of all possible worlds. First, our central allocation is historically the lowest in the country. Secondly, our needs-based allocation fails to take into account many of the issues particular to a seaside county, not least tourism on which so much relies. Thirdly, our relative resources adjustment enables us to crawl from bottom to third from bottom when the precept is added in. The current methodology for the RRA, however, is per head of population, whereas council tax from which the precept is raised is levied per household. Let us not forget that the precept is limited to 2% before a local referendum is triggered.

Fourthly, despite the formula being changed in 2010 and its effect never implemented, Dorset believes that it is still losing out to the tune of £1.9 million annually. It has never received that amount—year after year, £1.9 million. The Minister, who I know is listening intently to my speech, will be aware that £1.9 million is a lot of money for the police force in Dorset who are just trying to do their job.

While we welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment in November last year to protect police spending in real terms—that announcement was greeted with relief by police chiefs and police and crime commissioners across the country—further savings still have to be made. Worryingly, when the aggregate grant amounts were finalised by the Minister on 4 February—these assume the maximum precept available—Dorset was 0.6% worse off when compared with the dampened figures for 2015-16. It is also regrettable that after last year’s consultation, a glitch in the data has meant that any permanent change to the funding formula will be delayed for another year. I hope that when the Minister sums up at the end, we will hear more about where we stand on the future formula.

If I may, I shall put Dorset’s case to the Minister. As I have said, it is particularly disadvantaged by the current funding formula on which the funding is based. Tourism is critical to a county such as Dorset, but to date it has been ignored when assessing funding. In common with our strategic partners in Devon and Cornwall, we all find our beautiful surroundings can be a burden as well as a blessing. The current, needs-based element underestimates the pressures that the sheer number of tourists place on policing. The county’s population of 1.1 million rises considerably during the summer months. Visitors stay over 14.5 million nights and day trippers make 26.3 million outings to Dorset every year. This influx is not accounted for and neither is the nature of the county, which is divided into two—the urban part to the east and the rural to the west.