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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Russia

In the current financial year we have allocated £5 million to bilateral programmes in Russia. Other United Kingdom funds, available through the global conflict prevention pool and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office global opportunities fund, amount to some £3 million.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is it right that British taxpayers’ money is given to Russia when last year its defence budget rose by more than 28 per cent? Would it not be better to put that money into areas of real conflict and suffering such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the progress that Russia has made. He will remember that as recently as 1999, when Russia was going through a period of financial crisis, substantial numbers—almost 40 per cent. of the population—were living in real poverty. Since that time, the number living in poverty has declined by almost half. The hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to divert resources to the very poorest countries is well made, and that is one of the reasons why we have taken a decision to close our programme next year. We will remain engaged in a small way in Russia, because there continue to be particular development challenges, not least the issues of HIV/AIDS, but we are increasingly directing more of our resources to the very poorest countries.

As my hon. Friend knows, Russia has the G8 presidency. I wonder what discussions he has had with Russia about taking forward the commitment, in particular of the United Kingdom, to development in Africa.

We have had a series of discussions with the Russian authorities in the run-up to the St. Petersburg summit. My hon. Friend may know that the Russian authorities have prioritised the issues of energy security, education and infectious diseases for discussion at that summit, and we have been working to ensure that there is a development perspective to all those discussions. There will be a report at the summit on progress since Gleneagles. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is expecting to lead a discussion on progress in Africa since then. My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that we have already begun discussions with German colleagues in advance of their presidency next year.

Russia, alongside other eastern European countries such as Ukraine, has significant and escalating HIV and TB epidemics and the fastest growing coterminous infection rate in the world. The G8 summit in St. Petersburg must address infectious diseases, especially the challenging multi-drug-resistant TB. Considering DFID’s strategy towards middle income countries and the Duma’s decision to restrict the operations of foreign non-governmental organisations, how does DFID intend to halt and reverse the incidence of infectious diseases? Will the Minister confirm that he will be working towards a specific commitment at the G8 to endorse and fund the global plan?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight both the rising prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Russia and more generally in central and eastern Europe. The adult prevalence rate is more than 1 per cent. in Russia. Although the epidemic is currently concentrated among high-risk groups, particularly injecting drug users, there are worrying signs that it is spreading into the more general population. We have over the past two years been closely collaborating with UNAIDS. We have a programme of £1 million over this two-year period. We have in recent years seen rising spend and rising recognition, including in speeches by President Putin, by the Russian authorities on this issue.

On the wider point about Gleneagles and specific commitments on HIV/AIDS and TB, we have indicated our support for the global plan. We want it discussed and backed at St. Petersburg and we want the summit also to move on the HIV/AIDS agenda.

Sudan

I remain gravely concerned about Darfur and in particular about continued insecurity that threatens the massive humanitarian effort that is needed. The Darfur peace agreement should provide the basis for a long-term solution to the crisis, and there appears to have been a reduction in the number of clashes between the Government of Sudan and the rebels since it was signed. However, attacks by the Arab militias continue and their disarmament, as required by the DPA, is a matter of urgency. We continue to press the Government to live up to their commitments.

The Secretary of State is right to be deeply concerned about the situation in Darfur, particularly as it appears to be spreading into Chad. How does his work fit comfortably with the previous Foreign Secretary’s comment that we have a responsibility to protect people from both massacres and human rights abuses, because that clearly is not happening at the moment in those two tragic countries?

I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. The first thing that we are doing is providing humanitarian assistance, because that is a practical way in which we can help people to stay alive. Britain and the international community have played an honourable part in that respect, but as he will know, the only solution is a political solution that brings an end to the fighting. That is why the priorities now are, first, to enable the people of Darfur to understand what is in the Darfur peace agreement—the African Union is taking the lead on that, with some support from us—and, secondly, to encourage Minni Minnawi, who leads the one movement that has signed the agreement, to implement that commitment and fulfil the responsibilities that he has taken on. Thirdly, we shall continue to put pressure on the Government of Sudan to prepare their plan for the disarmament of the Janjaweed. Finally, and in my view most important of all, we shall support the United Nations and the African Union, which are at one in wanting the UN mission to take over from AMIS—the African Union mission in Sudan—as quickly as possible. That is why the arrival last week of the joint AU/UN planning mission was so significant. However, we shall still have some work to do to persuade the Government of Sudan to accept that mission, which I believe is desperately needed.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government believe that the role of the UN mission in Darfur would be to monitor peace, or to enforce peace?

The hon. Gentleman’s question goes to the heart of the discussions with the Government of Sudan, because they are expressing considerable concern about the prospect of that mission having a chapter 7 mandate. Part of the purpose of the planning mission is to provide an answer to that question, so that the Security Council can take a decision. Based on my experience and the visits that I have paid to Darfur on a number of occasions, I think that the UN mission will have to help both to oversee the ceasefire and to ensure that civilians are protected if people do not honour the obligations that they have entered into. Ultimately, the aim must be to protect people from continuing to be attacked.

There is a responsibility both on the Government of Sudan to disarm the militia and on the movements to stop fighting, and I regret very much that two of the movements—the faction led by Abdul Wahid and the Justice and Equality Movement—have not yet signed the agreement. I can see no possible justification for having failed to sign the agreement because, in truth, it gives the movements everything that they were looking for.

What more does my right hon. Friend think can be done by the UN, and what progress can be made in taking the matter to the International Criminal Court?

As my hon. Friend knows, last year the UN Security Council agreed to refer the terrible crimes that have been committed in Darfur to the ICC. I pay tribute to the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for the role that he played with others in persuading the Security Council to do that, because it sends a strong message from the international community. That links to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), because it shows that we are serious about calling to account the people who have committed those crimes. At the same time, we continue to support the UN in preparing for the mission so that people can be protected and the agreement enforced, because that is the only way in which people will be able to go home.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the good work that the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund is doing in Darfur. Today, we are privileged to have the chairman of SCIAF, His Eminence Cardinal Keith O’Brien, with us in Westminster. Is it not appropriate to recognise in the forthcoming White Paper the role of faith groups, not only in delivering aid but in raising awareness in schools and communities throughout our country?

I echo everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I had the opportunity to meet Cardinal O’Brien yesterday to discuss his impressions of his recent visit to Darfur. In the not-too-distant future, DFID will publish a policy statement on working with faith communities. When people in poor countries are asked which institutions they respect, rely on and have greatest confidence in, they say faith organisations—their churches and the institutions of their religions—which are often present in the most difficult circumstances when the instruments of government either do not exist or have fallen apart because of conflict.

What plans do the Government have to ensure greater international co-operation in efforts to ensure that those who are guilty of the serious criminal activities in Darfur are brought to justice, which will help to achieve greater stability in the province and the surrounding region?

First, we support the referring of events in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, and its investigations continue. Secondly, we strongly supported the establishment of the sanctions committee which, however, did not receive the wholehearted support of every member of the Security Council so, regrettably, it took some time. Sanctions have been imposed on four individuals who were named and investigated. We continue to press for action—I know that the African Union will do the same—if individuals obstruct the implementation of the peace agreement. It is one thing to say that one is not prepared to sign, but it is another to obstruct the implementation of an agreement that others are prepared to sign. We should therefore not be reluctant to take strong action against individuals who impede the only hope that the people of Darfur have of a better life.

We acknowledge the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to the issue, but does he accept that the Sudanese Government, who sponsored mass murder in Darfur, are now engaged in ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Chad? Given Britain’s pivotal position in the United Nations, what steps or new energy will he use to ensure that a UN force with a clear, unambiguous mandate is deployed without further delay?

I accept the fact that the conflict over the border with Chad makes an already difficult and complex conflict even more challenging. The rebel movement in Chad is trying to depose President Déby who, in turn, has accused the Sudanese Government of supporting those efforts. In fairness to the British Government, the UK was one of the first countries to recognise that a UN force was needed, not least because the African Union mission which did a sterling job in difficult circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman knows because he has had a chance to see for himself, simply does not have the number of troops, the capacity or the funding that it needs. That is why we strongly advocated the deployment of a UN force, and why we pressed hard for a planning mission in Khartoum. We are resolute in pressing the Sudanese Government to allow that force to come in, because in my view and, I am sure, in the hon. Gentleman’s, it is desperately needed.

The Secretary of State rightly praised the African Union, and he knows that its chairman wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO, pleading for specific assistance. What steps has Britain urged its NATO allies to take to meet the African Union request for help with, for example, airlifts, training and logistical support, ahead of the long-awaited UN deployment?

NATO, in fact, has met the AU, and it made several offers of assistance, including the co-ordination of airlifts, which has been agreed; staff capacity-building, which has been agreed; support for the joint forward mission headquarters, including a joint operations centre, which is new assistance; and the provision of troop pre-deployment certification training—that, too, is new assistance. The AU asked NATO to support it in a “lessons learned” exercise, because as well as trying to get it right now, it wants to build capacity to mount such missions in future. I therefore hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that NATO is on the case, as the AU has accepted its offer of assistance.

The Secretary of State will be aware that only a few weeks ago the UN said that it had to halve food rations to people who depended on food aid in Darfur. Can he give us an assessment of the situation to show that the food aid funding crisis has been turned around? Given the potential for similar conflicts to develop in Chad and eastern Sudan, what measures has the Department for International Development taken to make sure that food and humanitarian aid flow much faster in any similar crisis?

On the first point made by the hon. Lady, the World Programme had to halve rations in May because of the funding shortfall. Last week, I met Jim Morris, the head of the World Food Programme, who told me that from the beginning of June the ration has increased to 84 per cent., because additional food has arrived from the USA and because the Sudanese Government has been able to make a contribution. Unfortunately, the cut in the ration coincided with the agreement in Abuja, so some people may have drawn the wrong conclusions. Overall, the UN work plan in Sudan for 2006 is about 40 per cent. funded. The UK, as the hon. Lady will know, is one of the countries that will give slightly more this year, but that is not the case for all the other donors. But the hon. Lady will also be aware that some money has come to Darfur from the new humanitarian fund, which I very much welcome.

We continue to support all the agencies to the fullest extent possible to help them bring help to people where it is needed. As the security situation changes, the humanitarian organisations can access an area one day, but the next day it may be more difficult. That is why peace and disarmament are needed, to enable them to get help to everyone who requires it.

Nicaragua

3. What progress he has made in improving conditions for the peoples of the Atlantic coast in Nicaragua. (77021)

We target approximately 15 per cent. of our £4 million funding to Nicaragua to the Atlantic coast. Through our support, municipal governments on the Atlantic coast are providing community services and improving local infrastructure. Our funding for HIV/AIDS has enabled the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua to provide services so far to 40 per cent. of the Atlantic coast. We are also working to improve local people’s livelihoods on the Atlantic coast.

I acknowledge the good work that the Department is doing on the Atlantic coast. Does the Minister accept, however, that the Government in Managua pay little attention to the Atlantic coast, which is a forgotten coast as far as they are concerned? When I met peoples over there on the Atlantic coast, their view was that when the horse leaves Managua laden with aid, it dies halfway across the country. What steps can the Minister take to encourage the Managua Government to look after the Atlantic coast? Is not Bluefields, with a population of 60,000, a way to connect it with the rest of the country?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the disparity in progress on development on the Atlantic coast compared with the rest of the country. On average, gross domestic product per person on the Atlantic coast is less than half of GDP in the rest of Nicaragua. We have sought to use our funding to leverage more Government funding into the Atlantic coast, and similarly to put pressure on the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to leverage more of their funding into the Atlantic coast. Given his interest in Nicaragua, the hon. Gentleman will be particularly pleased to know that for the first time the World Bank, in its next assistance programme for Nicaragua, will have a set of loans specifically for the Atlantic coast work.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America and the disparities of income are the worst in that region. Can my hon. Friend say a little about DFID programmes to tackle the grinding poverty, especially in rural areas near the Atlantic coast? Are the governance, social and economic inclusion and public sector reform programmes advertised on the DFID website starting to bear fruit?

Our spending is directed at building and maintaining access to roads, helping to improve rubbish collection, and helping to improve access to rural electricity, both on-grid solutions and investment in off-grid solutions such as solar and wind power. As I said in my previous answer, our funding is beginning to leverage more funding from Government and from the big multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Our funding is making a difference to HIV/AIDS on the Atlantic coast. However, it is equally clear that more needs to be done, both by the Nicaraguan Government and by the international community generally. We will stay alive to that.

Twenty years ago, I spent a year on a Church mission, working with the Carib people on the Atlantic coast of central America as a voluntary teacher. Do we have any aid programmes that channel aid through the valuable work that Church missions do in that part of the world?

The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the valuable work that such missions and civil society more generally do in Nicaragua and across the developing world. We have extensive programmes of work with civil society groups, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about work with Church missions, I will look into that and write to him.

Nepal

There is no general food-related humanitarian crisis in Nepal, but the World Food Programme has recently launched an emergency programme in 10 of the country’s 75 districts after poor winter rains led to local food shortages. The conflict has, however, created a human rights crisis, with abuses being committed by both security forces and the Maoists, and it has forced thousands of people to leave their homes. The recent ceasefire should lead to an improvement.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The new civilian Government in Nepal certainly provide cause for optimism. What progress has been made in negotiating an end to the civil war? And what support is my hon. Friend providing in order to bring about stability, development and, most importantly, peace?

As my hon. Friend knows, there has been considerable progress following the handing back of political power to the parties in April. A ceasefire has been agreed between the Government and the Maoists. Negotiation teams have been appointed and a number of confidence-building measures have been implemented, including the release of prisoners, the lifting of curfews and greater ease of movement around the country. Now we need effective monitoring of the ceasefire and agreement on the timing and conditions for the Maoists to join the Government and on the arrangements for a constituent assembly. The UK is currently looking at how we can provide technical assistance, support for the elections to a constituent assembly and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

One of the groups most affected by the recent tragedies in Nepal are the street children of Kathmandu. In commending the good work of two charities, the Child Welfare Scheme and Asha Nepal, may I ask what plans the Minister has to target aid at that needy group in Kathmandu?

I, too, praise those organisations. On Asha Nepal in particular, I have asked officials to re-examine the question of funding. In light of the changed circumstances in Nepal, we are reviewing what more we might do. We had to cut back the programme, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, Nepal was a difficult place in which to work. If the progress is maintained, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development and I will consider what more we can do to tackle poverty in Nepal.

Disaster Relief

6. what progress has been made in establishing a world fund to provide rapid aid and relief at times of major disaster. (77024)

The Central Emergency Response Fund was launched on 9 March 2006. It is now helping UN humanitarian agencies to respond immediately to sudden disasters and to increase activity in underfunded emergencies. So far, CERF has committed $92 million to a number of humanitarian crises, the largest being the Horn of Africa, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In total, 43 donors have contributed $262 million, and the UK has been the largest contributor.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the implementation of a world fund, which can be used wherever disasters take place. What long-term funding have the Government provided? And how can we ensure that other partners which are as wealthy as, if not more wealthy than, this country are making long-term contributions?

My hon. Friend is right. Having established the fund, we will need it every year, because disasters strike every year. At a Red Cross event last week, I announced that over the next three years Britain will contribute £40 million, £40 million and £40 million—£120 million over three years. I intend to talk to our partner countries and say, “Britain is prepared to make a long-term commitment to the fund. Are you?”

Although I agree with the Secretary of State that the fund is welcome and important, we need more effective co-ordination. Does he acknowledge the concern that the more co-ordination there is at international level, the harder it is for smaller, locally based NGOs and charities in countries affected to access funds? Will he use his good offices to ensure that such bodies are included in what is a worldwide response?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. In truth, about 60 per cent. of the funding that comes through the UN system for humanitarian relief ends up in the hands of NGOs, which do the work on the ground. Jan Egeland is conscious that he should be able to take quick decisions on spending money from CERF. I praise him and his team for their work, because such money gets down to NGOs, which deliver increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance when crises strike. I hope that we have got the right mechanisms in place to ensure that there is proper debate and dialogue between the NGO community and the UN system, because we are all in it together in trying to provide assistance when crises strike.

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that at a time of crisis the aid that is provided, including the United Kingdom aid, goes to those who are most in need?

I can indeed offer the hon. Gentleman that assurance. That is precisely why we give the assistance. Most recently, when the earthquake struck in Indonesia on the island of Java, Britain contributed £5 million—£3 million to UN, £1 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and £1 million to NGOs that are delivering help on the ground. In those circumstances, the world demonstrated its capacity to respond quickly to give very practical help—shelter, blankets, bedding, medical supplies, water, sanitation and food—because that is what people need when they have lost everything.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Bichard Inquiry

Q1. If he will reconvene the Bichard inquiry team to consider how its recommendations may be implemented more quickly. (77004)

Twenty-one out of the 31 Bichard recommendations have now been implemented. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which will put into place the new vetting and barring scheme, has completed its passage through the House of Lords and will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 19 June. We are reporting progress regularly to Parliament, most recently on 25 May, and we see no need at present to reconvene the inquiry team.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. As he knows, it is now two years since Sir Michael Bichard made his central recommendation for the police national information technology system. That system will not be available, if at all, until after 2010, and some of the latest cost estimates are up around the £2 billion mark. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider recalling Sir Michael Bichard, first, to allow him to judge progress against his recommendations, and secondly, to ensure that his recommendations do not go the same way as those that came from Dunblane?

I entirely understand why my hon. Friend raises this. It is very important to say that although the full impact recommendations will not come in until later, the data-sharing arrangements, including the sharing of intelligence, will come in next year. We will certainly look at how we can speed up the recommendations. However, as my hon. Friend rightly says, this is going to be difficult and complicated. It requires a lot of changes, not only in police practice but elsewhere, and we have to ensure that we get the delivery of this programme right. I ask him to bear in mind that, as I say, from the end of next year we should have the main data-sharing arrangements in place. If we can possibly speed that up—if necessary, we are perfectly happy to reconvene the inquiry team if that helps, but at the moment we do not think that it would—then we will of course do so.

The Prime Minister has no doubt heard, as we all have, reference to Departments being not fit for purpose, most notably the recent reference to the Home Office. Could he tell the House—

Order. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be experienced enough to know that this is a closed question. I call Joan Walley.

Engagements

Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in mourning the death of Captain Jim Philippson, who was killed in action in Afghanistan at the weekend. I know that we all extend our deep sympathy and condolences to his family and friends.

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

May I, too, express my sympathies to the families concerned?

Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the England team every continuing success? While football is centre-stage, will he also join me in welcoming the report of the independent European sport review, which was initiated under our presidency and under the leadership of our Sports Minister, Captain Caborn? Will the Prime Minister set out what action he can take on the report, which is designed to protect football and—

First, I am sure that we all wish the England team the best of luck in the match tomorrow. Secondly, as I said in answer to a question a few weeks ago, some recommendations in the independent European report are difficult—for example, trying to set a cap on players’ wages. However, some of the other aspects, especially those that try to bring greater integrity to the way in which some of the financial transactions are conducted, are worth while and we will study the report carefully.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Jim Philippson and sending our condolences to his family. Our troops are doing difficult work in Afghanistan, and they have our support.

In the past 40 days, the new Home Secretary has been hard at work. He potentially undermined his Department’s deportation proceedings, he shelved his anti-crime campaign at the last minute, he misled the public about the employment of illegal immigrants in his Department and now he has criticised judges for their implementation of new Labour law. Can the Prime Minister detect any early signs that this Home Secretary will be any better than the last?

Since the right hon. Gentleman and his shadow Home Secretary have been complaining about life sentences and prisoners being released early after being sentenced to life, I want to explain to the House how that has come about. Of the 53 prisoners, the vast bulk were given automatic life sentences under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997—before we came to office. The automatic life sentences were given for second offences. We changed the law in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow indeterminate sentences to be given. Since April 2005, when the Act came into effect, there have been 1,000 of those sentences. Six of those people have been considered for parole and no parole has been given.

However, that is not the point that I wanted to make. I wanted to make the point that, when the Criminal Justice Act came before the House, the Conservative party voted against it.

Let us go straight to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and consider the Home Secretary’s attack on the judge who gave the paedophile a sentence that could turn out to be as little as six years. Is not it the case that the 18-year sentence was reduced by a third because of the Sentencing Guidelines Council that the Prime Minister introduced? Is not it also the case that the individual could be let out halfway through his sentence—only six years—under the 2003 Act that the Prime Minister introduced and we voted against?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. The Sentencing Guidelines Council was supported across the House. The individual whom he mentions and others do not now need to be released because of the powers in the Act. Before the 2003 Act—he can check this with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)—someone who was sentenced to more than four years’ imprisonment was automatically paroled at the two thirds point, irrespective of what happened. Under the Act, that right to automatic parole was taken away. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against that as well.

If we are going to talk about facts—and I am happy to talk about antisocial behaviour, about which he attacked us and which he again dismissed as a gimmick, even though the powers are doing good in communities throughout the country, or assets recovery, which his lot tried to water down—the truth is that he and his hon. Friends talk tough in the media and vote soft in Parliament.

The point about the 2003 Act is that it means that criminals are released halfway through their sentence. I know a thing or two about the 2003 Act—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Norris, I know that you are enjoying yourself, but I must ask you not to shout at the right hon. Gentleman.

I know a thing or two about the 2003 Act because I sat on the Bill Committee. Let me tell the House something that I said at the time:

“If there is one thing that undermines people’s confidence in the criminal justice system, it is the feeling that time after time sentences are handed down but people are released halfway through them.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 February 2003; c. 954.]

That is why we opposed it.

Can the Prime Minister confirm something else? The only reason why this case—[Interruption.] They are shouting because they do not like it. They know that they are on the wrong side. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the only reason why this case can be sent back to the Court of Appeal for a tougher sentence to be considered is the Criminal Justice Act that we passed and which he voted against?

Again, all that we have done is to toughen the ability of the Attorney-General—[Interruption.] Yes, we have, as a matter of fact. I want to go back to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He is completely wrong. Under the 2003 Act, if someone is sentenced to more than four years in prison—in other words, if it is a serious offence—they can no longer be paroled at the two-thirds point. Since April 2005, 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been handed down and no one has been paroled because of that Act. The right hon. Gentleman says that he and his colleagues support tough measures, but I have before me a press release put out just the other day by the shadow Leader of the House. We remember debating the 90 days or the 28 days for the detention of suspected terrorists. We were forced, because of the right hon. Gentleman’s votes, to have the 28 days. The shadow Leader of the House then attacked us for not introducing this measure quickly enough. The reason we are unable to introduce it quickly is that the Conservatives insisted on a longer consultation period, which prevented us from doing that. So at every stage, whether it involves antisocial behaviour, assets recovery, the Criminal Justice Act or terrorist legislation, the right hon. Gentleman talks tough but he votes soft.

Why does not the Prime Minister understand that the reason why criminals are not let out two thirds of the way through their sentence now is that, under his legislation, they are let out halfway through their sentence? In the past 40 days, the Home Secretary has blamed the judges, blamed the civil servants and tried to blame the public. Will the Prime Minister tell him to stop trying to blame everyone else and to get on with his job?

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman repeats the point that he is getting wrong. Since April 2005, 1,000 indeterminate sentences have been given, six have been considered for parole, and no one has been paroled. Those are the facts. As for the rest of the Tory attack, the fact is that, on all these pieces of legislation, they have either voted against them, dismissed them as gimmicks or refused to support them and tried to dilute them. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be bringing forward further measures, and we will then have the chance to see whether the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are prepared to back up their tough talk by changing the habits of opposition and actually voting for the legislation that does the job.

I know that the Prime Minister and the whole House will sympathise with the extreme distress and trauma caused to the three-year-old child who was abducted and sexually abused in Cardiff, and with the distress caused to her family, who are my constituents in Cardiff, North. I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to comment on the individual case, but will he do his best to press the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that, following the review that it is undertaking, there will no longer be an automatic reduction in sentence in return for a guilty plea in the cases of the most serious crimes and the most dangerous offenders?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly why, with indeterminate sentences, people are not able to get parole automatically, as they used to. Under the 2003 Act, the indeterminate sentence provisions were extended to a schedule of no fewer than 66 different offences. Therefore, even in circumstances where people are considered for parole, there is no automatic right to it. I think that that entirely meets her point. Furthermore, it is important to realise that, partly as a result of the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, but also as a result of what has happened over the past few years, not only has the number of prison places increased but sentences are longer and people are serving longer sentences. In relation to sexual offences in particular, the law has been strengthened considerably. The powers are there, and I hope that the courts use them to the fullest extent possible.

I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the condolences and sympathy expressed by the Prime Minister a moment or two ago.

In 2003, the energy White Paper described nuclear energy as an unattractive proposition on grounds of cost and waste. Can the Prime Minister tell us what has changed now?

I certainly can. First, energy prices are rising the entire time, which is why the whole issue of nuclear energy is back on the agenda not just of this country but of many other countries around the world. I think that 50 to 60 different nuclear power stations are being built this year, including the first in Europe for a long time. Secondly, our anxiety about climate change and the need to find clean sources of energy is increasing. Thirdly, when we consider our self-sufficiency in energy, we find that we are about 80 to 90 per cent. sufficient in oil and gas. Over the next 15 to 20 years, that will reverse, and we will have to import. Therefore, there are reasons of security of supply, rising energy costs and climate change. I am not saying that nuclear is the only answer—of course it is not. There are renewables, energy efficiency and everything else. However, I still think that nuclear must be at least part of the debate and argument if we are to make sure that our energy needs are properly and cleanly met for the future. That answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question.

The Prime Minister was not precise on the costs of nuclear power. Can he confirm that the taxpayer is liable for up to £90 billion to clean up the existing generation of nuclear power stations? Who will pay for a new generation of nuclear power stations? Will it be business, the taxpayer or the consumer?

Let me point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the decommissioning costs of existing nuclear power stations will have to be met in any event. The whole point—[Interruption.] Will hon. Members listen to the answer? The technology of nuclear power is also changing, and the new generation of nuclear power stations generate around one tenth of the waste of the previous generation. Therefore, if we are to take the correct long-term decisions for the future of this country, the debate must be engaged in and decided on now.

Q3. Last weekend, I was contacted by a constituent, Mrs. Karen Stupart, who tragically lost her husband John in a building site accident over 10 years ago. Mrs. Stupart was subsequently awarded more than £250,000 of damages through the courts, but she and her family have yet to receive one penny of that money. Her late husband’s former employers declared themselves bankrupt immediately after the award was made, and their insurers, Lombard, exploited a legal technicality to avoid making a payment. This Government can be justifiably proud of setting up the Pension Protection Fund to protect the pensions of workers whose employers go bust. Cannot we now consider extending that protection to compensatory payments made in cases of workplace negligence? Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the extremely distressing circumstances of this case? (77006)

I am happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I extend my sympathy in relation to the situation that his constituent has experienced. He will know that employment tribunal awards, if unpaid, are enforced through the civil courts. The forthcoming Courts and Tribunals Bill, which we intend to publish in draft during this Parliament, will set out proposals for the reform of the current system of enforcement. At the moment, as he rightly points out, there is real anxiety that the system of enforcement does not adequately meet the needs of claimants. Publishing the Bill in draft will give us an opportunity to debate the issue and to see how we strengthen the law. I look forward to discussing the issue with him.

Multiple sclerosis nurses take the burden off the NHS, provide high-quality care and give patients the treatment that they need. Is the Prime Minister aware that the MS Trust says that, because of NHS cuts, a quarter of specialist posts are at risk? Given that each MS nurse saves the NHS £64,000, what will the Prime Minister do to ensure that crisis cuts to reduce budget deficits do not do long-term damage to our NHS?

Obviously, we have to make sure that the difficult financial decisions that need to be taken are taken, and that the NHS is in balance. Of course, the vast majority of trusts are either breaking even or are in balance. It is also important, however, to recognise that, even with the financial situation in the national health service, there is a huge amount of additional money going in, which has to be used by trusts in the most effective and efficient way possible. On MS, we have of course put a massive amount of additional money into MS, and into many of the other diseases that need management by the individual and by the system over a long period of time.

But it is not just MS nurses who are being affected; according to the Royal College of Nursing, 15,000 NHS jobs are being lost. At the Horton hospital in Banbury—an acute general hospital—we are seeing nursing posts being removed, the potential loss of consultants and emergency procedures in the maternity unit, and the ending of a full-time children’s service. Those sorts of cuts are happening throughout the NHS and are profoundly affecting the hospitals that serve our constituents, yet the Health Secretary says that this is the best ever year for the health service. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to apologise to the thousands of NHS staff for the crass insensitivity of that remark?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about job losses, but with the greatest of respect, when we look into a lot of those so-called job losses, we find that they are actually either posts that are not being filled or agency workers who are not being hired. Since we came to power, there have been about 250,000 additional people working in the national health service, and, in addition, we are paying them better than ever before and protecting their pensions. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is speaking up for the NHS and the nurses, but he opposed the extra investment in the national health service, he opposed the extra jobs in the national health service, he opposed the pay deals in the national health service, and now he wants to take away their pensions. So whoever else is in a good position to represent them, he certainly is not.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in warmly welcoming the apology given by the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, Andy Hayman, to the family whose home was raided and the residents of Forest Gate? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the police must protect the public by acting on intelligence, they must do so in a sensitive way that does not alienate the community—in this case, the Muslim community?

First, I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concern, which she very properly raises as the constituency Member of Parliament. I also of course fully endorse what Andy Hayman said. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to say one other thing. Andy Hayman and his team do a superb job in protecting this country. They are faced with very difficult situations when they receive information or intelligence, and we can only imagine what would happen if they received intelligence, did not act on it, and something terrible occurred. Although I entirely endorse everything that Andy has very properly said, I also stand 101 per cent. behind the police and the security services in the difficult work that they do, and I do not want them to be inhibited in doing that work. They have to do what is necessary to protect the public, and they do it in a very fine and outstanding way.

Q4. Given that the Prime Minister’s Government’s plans for identity cards will require a complex new IT system, can he tell the House of any major Government IT project that has been delivered on budget or on time, or which works? (77007)

There is one that is quite closely linked to the identity card idea, which, of course, is the passport system. It required a complicated computer project and it has worked extremely well.

Q5. Britain led the world on climate change at the G8 summit last year. Now that the Government have pledged to make Government offices and agencies carbon neutral by 2012 by offsetting emissions through carbon-absorbing and carbon-reducing measures, will my right hon. Friend ensure that local government follows the Government’s lead and does the same? (77008)

My hon. Friend is right to say that local government has a responsibility too, but it is not for us to enforce that. I can assure him that we will do our best to persuade local government to join in the central Government initiative. He is also right to say that this country has a key leadership position on climate change, because we are meeting the Kyoto targets and have introduced the climate change levy. Incidentally, I notice that although the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were supposed to be building a cross-party consensus on this, one of them has now—

The Prime Minister said that fewer people were getting parole as a direct consequence of his policies. That is wrong. Does he not realise that fewer people are getting parole because the probation service and the Parole Board have been destroyed by this Government? As a direct consequence of the activities of his Government, the Parole Board is unable to interview directly prisoners who should not be released, so they are released and commit terrible crimes. It is no good the Prime Minister shouting at the Opposition: he should know the facts before he makes such pronouncements.

With the greatest respect, the fact is that as a result of the Act the automatic parole that used to apply after two thirds of the sentence no longer applies. In relation to the Parole Board, we are trying to give a greater say to victims, and I would have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomed that.

Q6. If my right hon. Friend is serious in his desire to reform public services, it is crucial that the Government value public sector workers and continue to work with the trade unions in effecting change. Will he condemn the shoddy way in which some Liberal Democrat and Tory councils have treated their work force recently and reject the Tory argument that public sector pensions are unfair? (77009)

It is important to recognise that for all the difficulties in carrying through a tough process of public service reform, we have—as my hon. Friend rightly implies—employed some 80,000 extra nurses in the national health service, and about 250,000 more staff in total. Incidentally, they are not bureaucrats but front-line staff engaged in delivering good care. It is also true that we are paying our nurses, consultants and GPs a lot more. I personally think that that is a good idea and that they are worth it. In return for that, of course, we want to see the necessary changes made. My hon. Friend is right that it is the mixture of investment and reform that is at the heart of the issue, and it appears that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives oppose both.

Q7. Now that Ron Jones and others have lost the right to sue Saudi officials for torture, what meaningful legal redress is there for any Briton tortured abroad in the light of the Law Lords’ ruling? (77010)

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we intervened in this case in order to ensure that the rules of international law and state immunity are fully and accurately presented and upheld? That is important for us as a country and for others. But our strong position against torture remains unchanged: we utterly condemn it in every set of circumstances.

Another cloud of anxiety that hangs over the future of our energy supplies stems from the reports recently by the electricity generating industry that many of our coastline power stations are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the energy review, are the Government prepared to consider whether new major power stations—including nuclear ones—should be sited inland?

I am sure that in the course of the energy review we will look at all those different issues, but my hon. Friend’s question highlights the urgency of the climate change question. It is apparent from all the evidence that has been presented, even in the past couple of years, on the issue of climate change that it is not only that the science has been accepted, but that the process of warming may be happening at a faster rate than we anticipated. My greatest worry is that there is a mismatch between the timing of the international community in getting the right agreements in place and the absolute necessity of taking urgent action now.

Q8. A senior police officer in the Republic of Ireland has confirmed that the 10,000 rounds of ammunition found there last week were the property of the Provisional IRA. He went on to say that there is still a lot of matériel out there. Does the Prime Minister agree that the full decommissioning that was promised to the people of Northern Ireland did not in fact happen? (77011)

I cannot agree with that. In the end, the test for decommissioning has to be applied by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Throughout the peace process of the past few years, we have sought some form of independent verification of whether claims made by the IRA, or others, are justified. That is why we introduced the IMC. It will look at all the evidence, including statements from people in the Republic or in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and make up its mind as a result. We must make our judgments on the basis of what it says. If we do not, we will lose the essential objectivity that is the only way to determine claim and counterclaim. The hon. Gentleman has long experience of these issues and will know that claims and counterclaims are made on all sides. The only way to determine them finally is through the process that we set up—and which he supported at the time.

Q9. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that, for three-quarters of a century, it has suited the British establishment to suppress documents and circumstantial details relating to the execution of more than 300 British soldiers and officers—many of them brave—in the first world war? Does he recognise that there is overwhelming support in the country and this House of Commons for the proposal that he and the Secretary of State for Defence should review those executions and remedy the wrong by granting posthumous pardons, albeit very late in the day, and that they should do so on 1 July—the occasion of the first veterans day, and the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme? (77012)

I am very happy to look at what my hon. Friend says. I understand the concern to which he refers, and I shall get back to him with an answer. I know that what happened still causes people a great deal of distress and hurt, even after all these years.