Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

international development

The Secretary of State was asked—


Under the 10-year development partnership arrangement, the Department for International Development will provide £330 million in assistance to Afghanistan over three years as part of the overall UK pledge of £500 million, which will help to reduce poverty, to improve security and governance and to tackle the opium problem by helping with alternative livelihoods. In Helmand, DFID is working as part of the wider UK effort to promote economic and social development and to increase the capacity of Afghan institutions to assist their people.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Given that his Department’s assessment is that only 10 per cent. of poppy farmers will have the opportunity to switch to a legal crop within a three-year period, illicit opium production will be a problem for a decade or more. Does the Secretary of State agree that if our forces are to be heavily involved in eradicating opium in the short to medium term, we may unite the Taliban, the warlords in the south and the poppy farmers in a lethal combination against our soldiers and officials?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation in Helmand is especially difficult. The evidence from around the world on opium eradication shows that it is a long-term task. It would not be sensible for opium to be eradicated when farmers have no other means of earning a living. That is why the Afghans, who are taking the lead, recognise the importance of, first, going after the drug barons, who enslave a lot of farmers in poverty through the debts that the farmers owe them; secondly, making it clear that the law will be enforced; and thirdly, recognising that it is sensible to pursue eradication in places only where alternative livelihoods are available. The truth is that farmers who face a choice between earning no income and being unable to feed their families, and finding some means of feeding their families, will choose the latter.

I assure my right hon. Friend that we all agree with him about ensuring that there are alternatives to poppy growing. However, does he recognise that not all farmers will give up growing poppies? Opium can be used by the medical industry for pain relief, so I wonder what help his Department can provide to ensure that the poppy growers have a market, which would benefit health services not just in this country, but throughout the world.

I am aware of the proposal, which has been made by the Senlis Council in particular, that opium growing in Afghanistan should be legalised for the pharmaceutical market. The elected Government of Afghanistan have examined that proposal and have expressed the firm view that that is not the right course of action, principally because of the lack of security and the problems with enforcing the law as it stands. The right thing for us to do in the circumstances is to support the judgment of the elected Government of Afghanistan, who are acutely conscious of the need to make progress in reducing poppy cultivation, but who recognise that it is a long-term task.

I wonder whether I can look at the question in a different way. Will the Secretary of State tell us the latest estimate of the farm-gate price of poppies as opposed to the total value of refined heroin? That relates to the cost to the Home Office and other Departments in Britain, Europe and the United States of drug-related crime. Perhaps the European Union should use its vast experience of buying unwanted crops from farmers to remove poppies from the market in Afghanistan, which would provide short-term relief to Afghan farmers and eradicate the drugs problem in Europe and North America.

I do not have the figures that the hon. Gentleman has requested on the farm-gate price, but I will endeavour to find out and will let him know, and I will also draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to his other point. On his suggestion that there should be a common agricultural policy for opium production, I fear that the only consequence would be that lots more people would plant lots more poppies and try to do so as productively as possible, because, as the hon. Gentleman is only too well aware, the CAP led to lots of over-production, whereas our objective in Afghanistan is to reduce production rather than to encourage it.

Giving ordinary Afghans the prospect of a better life is at the heart of what the Secretary of State is seeking to do. May I press him on the point made by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)? Will he tell the House whether he and his Department are exploring other means of decreasing Afghanistan’s illicit economy by converting some of the vast opium cultivation into the legal production of medical opiates, which would provide a sustainable livelihood for some poor Afghans as well as generating income for the Afghan state?

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), that suggestion that has been made, but the Government of Afghanistan are firmly of the view that it does not want to pursue that course of action, for the reasons that I cited. My view is that we should respect the judgment that the Afghan Government have made. That is why we are concentrating our efforts on trying to help them to establish greater security in the country, to take action against the warlords, and to raid those who are turning the poppy into opium that is sold on our streets. It is a very important task because the country is desperately poor as a result of having suffered so much from conflict. We should take heart from the fact that last year the legal economy grew by 14 per cent. and that many refugees have gone back to Afghanistan. However, it will be a long, hard slog, and we should stay with the Afghan people while we support them.

Several questions have been asked in the House about the narco-economy that has become the foundation of the economy in Afghanistan. Will the Secretary of State outline what projects are being carried out for reconstruction and to provide alternatives? I say that in the context of a budget that last year was twice the size for poppy eradication as it was for rural development.

We are considerably increasing the funding that we are putting into alternative livelihoods. When I visited Afghanistan a month and a half ago, I said that we would invest £30 million in Helmand province to support alternative livelihoods. When I met Governor Daud with members of the provincial council in Lashkargah, their concerns were pretty obvious. They wanted health care, education, the clearing of irrigation canals and a greater supply of clean water. That is why the work that our forces are doing to try to ensure security in Helmand is so important. The Taliban, in particular, are hostile not only to British forces, as we have seen with their attacks on them, but to the Government of Afghanistan, to Governor Daud and to any of the non-governmental organisations that have been working on rural development, just as they are hostile to head teachers and teachers who insist on teaching girls. Some of those have been murdered, as the hon. Lady will know. We are ready to invest significant amounts of money in supporting the process of providing more alternative livelihoods—as we have done in the north in Badakhshan, for example—but security is the essential first precondition. That is why we should support the British forces in the work that they are undertaking.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

2. What steps he is taking to protect children accused of witchcraft in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (84328)

The UK raised awareness of the problem of children being accused of witchcraft in the DRC as part of our EU presidency, and we are working with civil society, established Churches and the Congolese Government to push for action to bring those who abuse children to justice. We have supported training on child protection, and we are also making significant contributions to the 2006 UN action plan and the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal, both of which include programmes to protect vulnerable children.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the DRC. He will be aware that the all-party group on the Great Lakes region and genocide prevention visited that country in April. We visited a centre for children accused of witchcraft, where we heard stories of appalling abuse conducted against children, including beating to death, blinding and amputation of parts of the body. Will my right hon. Friend work with his Department and with Home Office and Foreign Office officials to ensure that whatever Government are elected on 30 July, we do not allow visas to preachers from evangelical and revivalist churches who preach such witchcraft stuff to come to this country for treatment? May I further ask him to increase the supplies for NGOs—

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her colleagues for raising this matter, in which she takes a close interest and which we have discussed previously. We are working with NGOs in the DRC to compile information on pastors who are responsible for identifying children as witches, leading to their being subject to the abuse that my hon. Friend has drawn to the attention of the House. We are working on that with the FCO and the Home Office. It would be helpful if other European countries would do the same, because pastors come not only to the UK, but to France and Belgium because of the historic links between the DRC and the Francophone world. Sadly, this is not part of the tradition in the DRC, but something that has arisen in recent years, partly because of poverty. Charlatans set up these charismatic churches, and when their prayers do not work they finger poor innocent children and blame them for it. It is a scandal, and we will continue to raise it with the Government of the DRC.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his interest in this issue. Does he agree that the Vatican has an important role to play in strongly condemning the way in which some pastors are not taking as strong a line as they should on child witchcraft? Given that the all-party group has a meeting with the Papal Nuncio on 20 July, will he lend the Government’s support to our efforts to get the Vatican to take a firmer and more public line against this practice?

I wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a successful meeting with the Papal Nuncio. Indeed, I would urge all those who can bring influence to bear on these churches to do so. This terrible practice has nothing to do with any faith that I understand, and it is important that those in positions of responsibility speak out openly and honestly to encourage pressure to be brought to bear to bring it to an end.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the forthcoming elections in the DRC, to which the House is sending five observers, will assist us in dealing with issues such as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh)? How will his Department and the Government work with the DRC during and after the elections to resolve such difficult problems?

I agree that the elections, the first phase of which will take place on 30 July, are fundamental to the future of the DRC. Indeed, the people of the DRC have invested an enormous amount of hope in the democratic process as a way of improving their lives. We have provided help with the electoral registration process, and to the observers who will be going, and I wish good luck to the Members of the House who will be taking part in the elections. The two most important factors are, first, that the international community should support the newly elected Government and help them to do their job of improving public services; and secondly, and most importantly, that those who take part in the electoral process—including those who do not win—stay with that process. It would be unforgivable if, after three years of transitional government, those who have come into it then went back to conflict just because they were not successful. The fact is that democracy is the only hope that the DRC has of moving forward.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman has already had substantial discussions with Congolese officials, will he tell the House whether any church that conducts these abusive child deliverance ceremonies has been either suspended or outlawed? Can he offer the House a follow-up to Project Violet, the landmark event that was organised last year?

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about any of those churches being suspended by the Congolese authorities, I am not aware that that has happened. However, I shall make inquiries about that and come back to him. I know that our ambassador, Andy Sparks, has raised the issue directly with President Kabila, and I pay tribute to the work that he, DFID colleagues and others have done in pursuing the matter. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will continue to raise the issue, and I would be very happy to consider any suggestions that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to make about further ways in which we can help.

European Bank of Reconstruction and Development

3. If he will make a statement on the contribution to development made by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (84329)

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was established in 1991 to assist the development of the private sector in the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe. Since then, it has developed a strong record in that area, helping to lever in considerable private sector investment, create jobs and generally help to promote economic growth. Since 2004, the focus of the bank’s operations has begun to shift further towards the poorest countries in the region.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that substantial criticism has been directed at Shell by environmental non-governmental organisations over the Sakhalin II oil and gas project? What is being done to address those concerns?

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully aware of the social, environmental and energy security issues that are associated with the Sakhalin project. A number of Ministers, myself included, have met the non-governmental organisations in the UK that are particularly concerned about the project. As a result, we have also met President Lemierre and representatives of Shell a number of times to discuss those concerns. At the invitation of Shell, I asked some of our officials to go to the Sakhalin project, the better to see for themselves how those concerns were being addressed. We have not yet been asked to support a loan by the EBRD or the Export Credits Guarantee Department to the Sakhalin project. If we are, we will obviously take full account of the concerns that have been raised with us.

Has the Minister assessed the effectiveness of development funding spent by the EBRD compared with that spent by the European Union—or, indeed, by his own Department—in particular to ensure good governance and transparency?

I have not conducted such a comparative assessment, but I do have a strong regard for the work of the EBRD. For example, it has played critical roles in helping to modernise a variety of electricity plants across Russia and Poland, in helping to upgrade regional road networks, and in railway projects. It is also playing a crucial role in the decommissioning of nuclear plants in Lithuania and in Russia. It is making an important contribution, and I welcome the fact that it is shifting its focus to the poorest countries in the region. We will continue to work with it very closely.

As my hon. Friend knows, I recently visited Kyrgyzstan, which is one of the countries most affected by the reconstruction after the fall of the Soviet Union. Is he aware that Kyrgyzstan’s economy is rapidly heading backwards, and that per capita income is in many cases lower than in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa? Is he confident that the EBRD has a role to play in central Asia, and that it can have a significant impact on the lives of those most affected by the changes of the past decade?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the particular challenges associated with economic growth and poverty reduction in Kyrgyzstan. The international community needs to focus more on the specific challenges of addressing poverty in central Asia. We need to continue to work to promote good governance not only in Kyrgyzstan but in Tajikistan, in order to help those countries to tackle corruption and to get more international aid into both countries. DFID has been scaling up our work in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, and we continue to work with the EBRD and other international financial institutions in the way that I have described.

The bank’s mandate clearly states that it must work only in countries committed to democratic principles, yet it has recently provided significant funding to Belarus, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. That is yet another example of an inherent contradiction within European institutions. Others include the EU water initiative, which has failed to provide access to water for a single individual. Moreover, a recent Save the Children report states that the EU is consistently the worst performer in disbursing aid and is mired in bureaucracy. What is the Minister’s strategy to improve the EU’s aid effectiveness, and what pressure is he putting on the bank to ensure that there is progress in both political and economic transition in these ex-Soviet republics?

I do not accept Save the Children’s critique of European Commission aid. There has been substantial improvement in the quality of EC aid over the past five years, although more reform is necessary. On engagement with regimes such as Belarus and Uzbekistan, we must recognise that we should not penalise the very poorest people in such countries, but that we also need to continue to champion democracy, good governance and reforms to improve poor people’s participation in the running of their country. We will continue to do just that through the EBRD, EC aid, other parts of the European architecture, other European member states and, indeed, our own programmes.

2006 G8 Summit

Our priority for the summit at the end of this week is to make sure that the G8 leaders continue to focus on delivering the commitments they made at Gleneagles last year on support to Africa. We have also worked hard to make sure that development priorities are included in the three Russian focus areas of energy, infectious diseases and education.

Will the Minister raise the issue of non-governmental organisations with President Putin at the G8 this year? Does the Minister agree that the crackdown on NGOs’ operations is very unwelcome, especially in connection with the monitoring of human rights in Russia itself?

The hon. Lady may know that considerable international concern was expressed about the proposed draft new law on the regulation of NGOs in Russia. We have been part of the process of lobbying for reform of that draft law, and substantial improvements have been made to the legislation that has gone through, as opposed to the original draft presented to NGOs and other authorities. The hon. Lady might also like to know that we fund a range of NGOs for work on human rights, democracy and good governance in Russia. Some of them work with Russian authorities, such as those reforming prisons, while others do not. Through that type of work, and through the engagement of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, we will continue to raise concerns about how NGOs are restricted and about human rights more generally.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the hard work done in churches such as Lindley Methodist church, which, last week, was one of the smallest churches to beat the drum for fair trade? Like Colne Valley, which is now a fair trade area, it recognises that fair trade is the best way forward to relieve poverty. Will he ensure that that is high on the agenda for the G8 summit?

I pay tribute to the work of the church to which my hon. Friend has alluded, and to other churches and NGO supporters up and down the country who played a crucial role in making the Gleneagles summit such a success last year. There is no doubt that we have more to do on the issue of fair trade. In particular, we need agreement on a fair outcome to the current round of World Trade Organisation talks. We will continue to work to that purpose, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will want to discuss that key issue with other G8 leaders.

The Minister will follow the progress, or lack of it, at the WTO as closely as anyone. He will therefore be aware that on the three critical issues—greater agricultural tariff cuts by the European Union, better access to developing country markets and lower agricultural subsidies in the US—there is a real possibility of a deal if everyone moves a little. The serious effects of failure are recognised. What steps are he and the Prime Minister taking, in the margins of the G8 and beyond, to help to generate the political will to unlock those talks?

The hon. Gentleman is right that a fair outcome to the current round of World Trade Organisation talks would have a potentially huge benefit for the poorest people of the world, as well as considerable potential benefit to UK and EU citizens. He is also right that there is a need for all sides in the talks to shift. Recently, there have been signals from several key players that they are willing to move. We are at a critical point in the current round of WTO discussions, and I have no doubt that there will be further discussions in the margins of the G8, as there have been in the run-up to the G8 summit, to finesse the progress needed so that we can sign the type of deal that we all want.

May I draw to my hon. Friend’s attention the statement to the G8 from the G8 plus 5 legislators forum on climate change, which I chaired at the weekend? Does he agree that if development is not to be undermined by the catastrophic effects of climate change, the international financial institutions must dramatically increase investment in low-carbon energy, and developing countries must be assisted to find measures of adaptation to climate change?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on this issue, and welcome the statement to which she has referred. There is no question but that the G8 summit provides us with an opportunity to continue the discussions on climate change that took place at Gleneagles last year. The G8 Finance Ministers have already committed themselves to work to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supplies in Africa. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware of the clean energy investment framework pushed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. A range of international financial institutions are committed to that process, and we are now working with them on the detail of that proposal.


5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of UK aid to Uganda; and if he will make a statement. (84331)

UK aid to Uganda is supporting the Government’s poverty eradication action plan. It includes poverty reduction budget support, major humanitarian assistance in northern Uganda, support to civil society and projects to improve the performance of the Government. The effectiveness of our programme is reviewed regularly. UK assistance to Uganda has helped it to reduce poverty by one third since 1992, to double the numbers of children in primary education since 1996, and to double both clinic attendances and immunisation rates since 2000.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. What is Britain doing to encourage the Ugandan Government and voluntary organisations to ensure that there is free education and support for children and young people who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army?

The British Government are funding projects, some of which I saw for myself during my recent visit to Gulu. I was also able to visit Kitgum, which is providing support to rehabilitate children and reintegrate them into society. I think that the single most important contribution we have made is the financial support that we have given to Uganda, because it helped the country to abolish fees for primary education. That resulted in a significant increase in the number of children who could get an education, and we want to see the same in all parts of the country.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, let me say that I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning utterly the brutal and shameful attacks in India yesterday which killed so many innocent people. Our message from Britain to the people and country of India is that we stand with them in solidarity to defeat this terrorism wherever it exists.

I am sure that the House will also want to join me in sending sympathy and condolences to the family of Private Damien Raymond Jackson, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. As we know, this is a difficult mission, but his country can be immensely proud of him, and we mourn his loss.

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.

Following his visit to Southmead in my constituency, can my right hon. Friend tell me what more local people said they wanted to be done about crime and antisocial behaviour? Did anyone suggest that hugging a hoodie would help?

I have to say that I have never felt like hugging a hoodie, other than, possibly, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood)—and even that sparingly.

In the context of what the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said the other day, it is important to recognise that although of course we need to tackle some of the underlying causes of crime—that is the reason for the new deal for the unemployed, which the Conservatives oppose, for the Sure Start programme, at which they turn up their noses, and for the extra spending on education and nursery places—we also need strong antisocial behaviour, so that—[Laughter.] Strong antisocial behaviour measures! The right hon. Member for Witney used to condemn them as a gimmick, but I think that most people in the country support them wholeheartedly.

If the Prime Minister wants to turn this into a session in which I answer the questions and he asks them, he can always call a general election.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the death of Private Damien Jackson? May I also say that we too send our condolences to the victims of those dreadful bomb attacks in India, and to their families? The attacks were indiscriminate and cowardly. They show once again that all countries are at risk from terrorism, and that all of us must stand together to defeat it.

This week the only voluntary police force merger, between Cumbria and Lancashire, was abandoned. The chief constable of Cumbria said

“If it can’t work”—


“it can’t work anywhere.”

Will the Prime Minister now accept that forced mergers are certainly out of the question?

For exactly the reason that my right hon. Friend gave to the Minister of State, this morning, we do not believe—although we have listened to the representations that have been made—that it is sensible to force the merger. Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman about Lancashire and Cumbria. The reason for the difficulty there is that they cannot agree on the equalisation of the precept—but it is still important, and will be important in parts of the country, for there to be either a merger of forces or a far better strategic capability that crosses borderlines.

Three weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister the identical question. I asked him whether he would abandon forced mergers and he said, “No”. Can he tell us what has changed? Has not the Prime Minister been wasting police time?

No, we were asked to listen to the representations that were made and we have listened to them. As he knows, the reason why mergers are on the agenda is the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate—[Hon. Members: “They are off the agenda”] No, they are not off the agenda. We listened because people made representations about the forced mergers that they do not want to see. On the other hand, the point made by the inspectorate of constabulary remains and there will be areas where it is important to have far greater strategic co-operation across force lines. It is also important to proceed with mergers where we find the consent to do so.

So the flagship of forced mergers has sunk without trace. Let us turn to another flagship that is sinking fast—ID cards. Will the Prime Minister admit to the House that the whole project is now being reviewed, including the timetable and the type of card?

No, I certainly will not say that, because it is not correct. It is very important—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman is basing his comments on leaked e-mails in the newspapers, I suggest that he does not raise that topic. If he looks at what is happening, he will see that it is important that we proceed with identity cards for the simple reason that if we do not have a proper identity card system, we will not be able to track illegal immigrants in this country or prevent identity fraud and abuse. It is for that reason that we most certainly will proceed to introduce identity cards.

But everyone apart from the Prime Minister knows that the project is in deep trouble. The civil servant responsible for delivering it says that it is being delayed and another civil servant says:

“It’s impossible to imagine the full scheme being brought in before 2026”.

Even the Prime Minister will be gone by then. So who is telling the truth—the Prime Minister who says it is all going fine, or the civil servants who say it is a botched job?

They do not say that. What they say is that we have to get the details of how we introduce it right—and we will. It is a huge programme and there are bound to be changes along the way. But the basic point of introducing identity cards, alongside the fact that we will have to have biometric passports introduced in any event, is of central importance to the security of this country. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is actually he who has changed his mind—[Interruption.] Does he want me to go through them? He opposed tuition fees and now supports them; he opposed foundation hospitals and now supports them; and the fact of the matter is that he will end up agreeing with this proposal as well, because it is right and necessary for the country’s security.

This week we have seen police mergers abandoned, ID cards delayed, tax credits completely defrauded and, after all that, we have discovered that we have a Deputy Prime Minister who thinks he is a cowboy! Apparently, he is “really looking forward” to standing in for the Prime Minister over the summer. Please tell us that that is not going to happen.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is going to happen. We will carry on with our policies. I notice again that he has not asked me about any specific policy issue at all. [Interruption.] No, he does not.

We will continue to introduce the antisocial behaviour legislation that the country needs; we will pursue identity cards because they are right; and we will continue with our health and school reforms because they are right. We have launched the energy review and the pensions proposals and we will carry on making the decisions that are right for the long-term interests of this country.

I asked the Prime Minister a pretty simple question: is the Deputy Prime Minister going to be running the country in August when the Prime Minister is away? Yes or no?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the arrangements are exactly the same as they have been in previous years. The important thing is that when it comes to the country’s future in terms of the economy, public services, law and order, pensions and energy—indeed, when it comes to the big decisions—this side has the answers and the right hon. Gentleman cannot make up his mind. [Interruption.] He will not even dare debate the policy ideas. In the last few weeks, he has launched his proposal for a Bill of Rights, and he launched his law and order policy on Monday. The fact is that none of his proposals stands up to scrutiny. If the country wants the right long-term decisions, it will carry on backing this Government.

My right hon. Friend will recall the ardent support that he and his constituents in Sedgefield gave my constituents in Stockton and Billingham in the campaign that I led to oppose the disposal of 100,000 tonnes of high level/intermediate level radioactive waste in the disused anhydrite mines of Billingham. We won the campaign, thanks to the Prime Minister’s support, and the campaign for the other four sites in Billingham. Has the Prime Minister’s attitude and that of his constituents changed? If so, how and why?

I should think that their attitude has not changed to storage in that specific place, but, as my hon. Friend knows, we will have to deal with decommissioning nuclear waste, irrespective of what else happens, because we have had nuclear power in this country for more than half a century. We must obviously take care of decommissioning the waste and the nuclear power stations. If we are to ensure that this country’s energy supplies are secure in future, and that we can grow sustainably and reduce CO2 emissions, we need the full balance of policies—energy efficiency, renewables and replacing existing nuclear power stations.

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy and condolence from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

Last week, the Prime Minister told me that it was not true that the United States had to meet a different standard of evidence from the United Kingdom in extradition cases. On 16 December 2003, Baroness Scotland told the House of Lords that the United Kingdom had to reach a higher threshold than the United States. Which is true—no difference or a higher threshold?

The evidence I have from the Attorney-General’s consultations with the senior Treasury counsel is twofold. It may help the House if I set it out. First, in the Attorney-General’s view, the test that the United States applies—probable cause—is roughly analogous to the test that we apply in this country. [Interruption.] But secondly—if the House will listen—and perhaps more important, according to the senior Treasury counsel, even under the old test of having to provide prima facie evidence, those people would still be extradited. Indeed, the case for extradition was originally mounted under the old law, not the new one. However, I totally understand the concerns of the particular individuals and their families. The Attorney-General has spoken to the US Department of Justice and has been informed that the American prosecutors will not oppose bail as long as the appropriate conditions are put in place by the court or agreed by the defendants. It would not be right if we ended up applying a higher standard and burden of proof to America than to many other countries, including European countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even countries such as Azerbaijan and Albania.

That does not appear to deal with the contradiction between what the Prime Minister said last week and what Baroness Scotland said to the House of Lords. Will not the Prime Minister accept that the Government have negotiated an unfair treaty, against the interests of the British people, which was needlessly rushed through the House of Commons in Committee proceedings that lasted only 90 minutes, and that it is absurd to continue to act under it when the United States declines to ratify it? In view of the anxiety in the business community and both Houses of Parliament, will the Prime Minister now renegotiate the treaty?

Again, let me explain to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the basis of the matter—that the United States is extraditing people from the United Kingdom in circumstances in which we could not extradite from the United States—is wrong according to the information that I have. Those people would have been extradited even under the old treaty provisions. “Probable cause”, which comes under the American constitution and will remain even if the treaty is ratified, is similar to test that we apply. The real issue, which I understand for obvious reasons, is consideration for the men and their families were they to be refused bail in the United States. We are doing everything that we can to avoid that, but if we were to end up reversing the extradition treaty, we would not take away a special privilege that is given to America but impose a special detriment on America. That cannot be right.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, when I was mugged and robbed in London, the hooded youths responsible were simply making a plea for love and understanding? [Laughter.] Does he agree with my constituents, who think that the overwhelming majority of young people are decent and law abiding but who look to this Government’s antisocial behaviour laws for protection from the menacing minority—laws that the Liberal Democrats oppose and the Conservatives undermine?

First of all, I am sorry that my right hon. Friend had such a distressing experience, but he is absolutely right in what he says. The overwhelming majority of young people are decent and law abiding, and are often the victims of antisocial behaviour and crime, but it is true that a small minority of young people make life hell for people in their local communities, terrorising people and committing acts of thuggery such as my right hon. Friend describes. We need the tough powers in the antisocial behaviour legislation to deal with them. Of course we have to deal with the underlying causes of crime, and that is why we are doubling the amount of money going into drug treatment—a policy that is also opposed by the Opposition. However, hon. Members on this side of the House will always stand up for the law-abiding citizen against such people.

Q2. The Prime Minister will know Harefield hospital’s reputation as a world leader for complex heart surgery. Will he join me in congratulating the staff for what they achieve, despite inadequate facilities? Following the slow death of the Paddington health campus, will he join the call for the hospital’s future to be resolved quickly, so that the trust can move on and build an even better service for patients? (84313)

I certainly hope that the hospital’s future can be resolved quickly, but I hope too that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there have been enormous strides forward in cardiac care in this country over the past few years. When we came to office, people were often waiting 18 months or two years for heart operations, and they often died while they were on the waiting list. The wait is now down to about three months, although the average is lower, and an immense amount of investment is going into things like statins. Of course I hope that the future of Harefield hospital is settled shortly, but it is not right for any hon. Member to think that cardiac care in this country has not improved significantly over the past few years as a result of the investment and change that this Government have put in place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mancunians have welcomed very strongly the announcement—which has been awaited for too long—that the city’s metrolink is to be rolled out? People see that as further evidence of the partnership between central Government and the city of Manchester, which is regarded as the social, economic and entertainment capital of the whole region—[Hon. Members: “And the world!”] And, indeed, the world. Would he organise a competition to try to explain what the “something dreadful” was that happened to the Leader of the Opposition’s Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was in Manchester recently?

It would be nice to know that, but I suspect that we never will. However, my hon. Friend is right in what he says. The important thing is that Manchester makes use of the more than £500 million available to expand the metrolink. That is a fantastic project for the whole city, and it shows again the benefit of investing in inner-city regeneration—especially in fantastic cultural capitals such as Manchester.

Nuclear Deterrent

Q3. Whether his commitment to retain the nuclear deterrent applies beyond the lifespan of the current Trident submarine fleet. (84314)

We made it clear in our 2005 manifesto that we are committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent, and that means for the life of the current system. As I have said previously, decisions on the period beyond that will be taken later this year.

The whole House will note that the Prime Minister was a lot less definite than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who talked about retaining the nuclear deterrent not just for this Parliament but long into the future. If the decision is taken to replace the Trident submarine fleet, will any successor fleet be funded from the current defence budget, or will extra funds be allocated from outside that budget?

Any decision on funding has to await later negotiation. Most people understand that a decision on the independent nuclear deterrent is very much sui generis. The reasons why we want to retain the deterrent are set out in our manifesto, and I entirely agree with what the Chancellor said.

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government are committed to the terms of the 1970 non-proliferation treaty, which requires the five declared nuclear weapons states to engage in a process of long-term disarmament? Does he accept that rearmament by any of the five reduces any moral clout we might have in encouraging other states not to develop their own nuclear weapons, which makes the world a more dangerous place?

Actually, we have made considerable reductions both in systems and, I think, in the number of warheads. Of course it is true, if we can negotiate the right terms, that we want progressively over time to see a reduction in nuclear capability worldwide, but that has to be done by negotiation.


Q4. Very sick babies are being shunted around the country because of a lack of intensive care capacity. Yet when I asked the Department of Health about the issue six weeks ago, it said it did not collect the information centrally. Will the Prime Minister get the Department of Health to take an interest in what is going on in the health service, and will he have this urgent problem sorted out quickly? (84315)

Of course, the Department is deeply concerned about issues to do with neonatal networks and units right around the country. It is fair to say that, over the past few years alone, there has been an increase in funding in the region of £70 million for such units. It is important to recognise that we are training far more staff, but there is also greater demand. I am pleased to say that the mortality rate has declined substantially, but we are of course looking at what more we can do in relation to staff and resources.

Yesterday, the Select Committee on Defence took evidence from the Secretary of State for Defence, in which he made it quite clear that the widest possible consultation would take place on the nuclear deterrent. Surely, irrespective of one’s point of view, it is right that the power to make the ultimate determination should come back to the House. Surely that is how things should be done, and a vote should be taken here.

As I have said before, when we publish the decision taken by the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will announce the exact form of making sure that we consult the House. I point out that we have given votes on very sensitive issues before, and that is a strong possibility on this issue.

Q5. May I press the Prime Minister? Why is he so determined to avoid a vote in the House on the renewal of our nuclear deterrent? He may not have the support of the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) or for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), but he will certainly have support on the Opposition side of the House if he puts it to a vote. (84316)

Thank you very much for that. No doubt it was kindly meant, but I refer to what I said a moment or two ago: on these sensitive issues we have often given votes—before the Iraq war, we were one of the first Governments to give people a vote before this country took the decision to go to war. We are not at all averse to votes of this House on extremely sensitive issues, and I have no doubt that there will be the fullest debate.

Will the Prime Minister explain why he takes such different positions on education in this part of the United Kingdom and education in Northern Ireland? Why did he support his Back Benchers going through the Lobby to keep selection in England, unless parents decide against, yet force through in two and a half hours a complete change to the system in Northern Ireland? Why does he have such different standards for education in Northern Ireland?

There is, of course, I hope, a way that that can be resolved by people in Northern Ireland, which is for the devolved institutions to get back up and running. I hope that they are successful in that.

Q6. Earlier this year, Appledore shipyard in my constituency won a tender competition for a Scottish fisheries protection vessel. Last month, that tender process was cancelled in highly questionable circumstances. Hundreds of jobs are directly and indirectly at stake. What has the Prime Minister to say to my constituents who ask why their Member of Parliament is unable to hold the decision maker to account in this or any other House? Does he feel that it is more important that Labour Members for Scottish constituencies do not feel like second-class MPs than that 85,000 people in Torridge should feel second-class— (84317)

In relation to the particular decision, of course these are always very difficult decisions. It is true that, in this instance, it was taken by the Scottish Executive. It is also true that people are perfectly free to raise it. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that we are trying to make the right decisions in relation to procurement within very strict budgetary terms. I am sure that no one wants to make sure that the people in his constituency are out of work, but those decisions have been taken by the appropriate authority.

Q7. Speaking as a Scot with a north-west of England constituency, is the Prime Minister aware of early-day motion 2519, which refers to hon. Members’ voting rights? That early-day motion argues that to ban Members of Parliament from Scotland from voting on English matters could lead to a constitutional crisis or to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It also supports every Member in the House accepting and getting access to the voting systems—the democratic systems—in the House. Does the Prime Minister agree with that and will he sign the early-day motion? (84318)

The important thing is to stress that England is of course the majority country within the United Kingdom. We vote through the money here in the House, of course. Under the constitutional settlement, the vast majority of the MPs who do that are English. I think that devolution is a sensible way of keeping the United Kingdom together, but it would be a very, very grave mistake indeed to end up with two classes of MP in the House.

May I compliment you, Mr. Speaker, on your visual acuity in spotting me between the two tallest Members of Parliament? It strikes me that if the head of a school, a charity, a public body or a council were to announce their retirement but refuse to set a date, they would be rightly considered both arrogant and self-centred. Why should we consider the Prime Minister any differently?

Q8. This weekend at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, discussions will take place on energy, education and infectious diseases. Will the Prime Minister tell the House his objectives for the summit and how he sees those objectives building on the commitments that were given at Gleneagles a year ago? (84319)

In particular in relation to the G8, it is important that we recommit to the objectives in helping in Africa. There will be a particular focus on education at the G8. In relation to climate change and energy, although the summit will focus particularly on energy security, none the less, again I think that it is important that we focus on climate change as well. One of the single most important issues that will run throughout the summit, even if not formally, will be the World Trade Organisation talks, which at the moment are stalled. That is extremely important in my view. This weekend may be one of the last opportunities we have got to restart those talks productively and get the right agreement between Brazil, India and the developing countries on the one hand, and America, Europe and Japan on the other.

In 1997, the Prime Minister wrote of the ministerial code:

“In issuing this Code, I should like to reaffirm my strong personal commitment to restoring the bond of trust between the British people and their Government…I will expect all Ministers to work within the letter and spirit of the Code.”

Last week, he told the Liaison Committee:

“If there is reason to believe someone has broken the Code, I will take action”.

Well, there is the valuable transport union flat that the Deputy Prime Minister occupied as Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, there is the behaviour with a junior female office subordinate, which would have led to the sacking of a civil servant, and now there is Philip Anschutz’s hospitality. When will the Prime Minister live up to his fine words and call in Sir John Bourn to investigate these allegations of breaches of the ministerial code?

I have nothing to say to the hon. Gentleman other than the fact that we have got one of the largest regeneration projects that will happen in London, which will bring somewhere in the region of 10,000 affordable homes, 20,000 jobs—[Interruption.]

Order. A question has been put to the Prime Minister. I do not want hon. Members shouting at him while he answers.

I was just pointing out that as a result of the regeneration, there will be somewhere in the region of 10,000 affordable homes, more than 20,000 jobs and £5 billion of private sector investment. It is entirely right that we support such huge regeneration coming to this country, but I know that none of those issues concerns the hon. Gentleman.

Q9. Is that well- known medical term to be frazzled the result of hugging a hoodie and making policy on the hoof? (84320)

I can only say to my hon. Friend that when we actually analyse the policy statements of Conservative Members, especially on something like yesterday’s energy review, it is the case, as I said earlier, that whatever points the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) makes, when it comes to long-term decisions that affect the future of this country, it is this Labour side, not the Conservatives, that has the answers.

Q10. Given all the extra money that the Prime Minister likes to remind us that his Government have put into the national health service, can he explain why my constituents and those of many other hon. Members are having to wait up to two years for an appointment for a hearing aid? Does he agree that such a situation is completely unacceptable? Will he say what action he will be taking to support the campaign of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People to bring that waiting list down? (84321)

We are working with organisations for the deaf precisely to do that. When the hon. Gentleman refers rightly to the large sums of investment that have gone into the health service, but points out some of the problems that we have still got to overcome, I hope that he accepts how much improvement there has been in the national health service over the past eight or nine years as a result of the investment that has gone in. In his area, for example, there are 11,500 more nurses and 1,000 more consultants, and waiting times have come down dramatically for in-patients and out-patients. That is a result of the investment and reform that this Government have carried out. Yes, we have still got a lot to do, but a lot has been done.