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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

international development

The Secretary of State was asked—


Our budget for assistance to Vietnam this year is £50 million, which includes support for improvements in basic education, preventing the spread of AIDS, supporting economic development and strengthening governance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently signed a 10-year development partnership agreement with the Government of Vietnam, and committed some £250 million in aid to Vietnam over the next five years.

That is a very significant sum, which acknowledges Vietnam’s achievements in addressing key issues and lifting 30 million people out of poverty. It also addresses the challenges of dealing with corruption, of accountability and of governance. But what measures are being taken to minimise the overheads involved in that large sum, not least in the DFID administration and in the Vietnamese Government, so that the amount of assistance going to ordinary people is maximised and the costs are minimised?

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the achievements of Vietnam. Economic growth has averaged about 7 per cent. in recent years, and since 1993 the Vietnamese Government have reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty from nearly 60 per cent. to just under 20 per cent. Those are considerable achievements, and I hope that the aid we have committed—to which my hon. Friend rightly referred—will help to lower the figure even further.

I can reassure my hon. Friend about administration costs. Ours amount to less than 3 per cent. of our programmed funds, and we expect them to fall further over the next 12 months as we make a number of staffing changes and review the way in which various back-office functions are provided.

The Minister will be aware that the Vietnamese Government have been responsible for a campaign of censorship that has seen the internet filtered and two newspapers closed down. He will also be aware that the Vietnamese Government are conducting a campaign against the Montagnard people of the central highlands, and that they are responsible for a campaign of harassment and detention of pro-democracy activists. What are this Government doing to ensure that the Hanoi regime respects the human rights of its people?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we still have key human rights concerns in the context of our discussions with the Government of Vietnam. I shall deal with the specific concerns that he has raised in a second, but I hope he will acknowledge that there have been significant improvements in human rights in recent years. Freedom of religion is an example: more churches are being built. There is also more reporting on corruption and on political affairs more generally, and there is more transparency in the way in which the Government operate, which includes more democracy at local level and more non-party candidates standing for election.

I accept that the Vietnamese Government have more to do in terms of human rights. The ever-present security apparatus keeps too effective a lid on dissent. As part of the development partnership agreement signed by my right hon. Friend, we intend to continue to raise our continuing and legitimate concerns about human rights with the Government of Vietnam.


2. What assessment he has made of the impact of the poppy eradication programme on the sustainability of livelihoods among farmers in southern Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (96571)

Information on the impact of poppy eradication is limited, but we know that it works best if it is properly targeted at those with a real alternative livelihood. A survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime—with a relatively small sample size—showed that in 2006, 81 per cent. of farmers re-planted legal crops following eradication. Only 2 per cent. re-planted poppies, and 56 per cent. of farmers who had their poppy crop eradicated said they would not plant it again next year. The success of the 2006 poppy eradication campaign will become clear only at the end of the planting season.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the south of the country at least, the poppy eradication programme is not working? The larger farmers are paying bribes to avoid the destruction of their poppy crops, while the smaller farmers, who cannot avoid the bribes, are losing their livelihoods and as a result facing hunger and destitution, which is pushing them into the hands of the Taliban. Has not the time come to contemplate some of the alternatives, such as the one suggested by that very reputable organisation the Senlis council?

I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says about the difficulty of poppy eradication. We can see what has happened in countries elsewhere in the world that have been successful in that regard. In Thailand, it took 30 years. It is clear that what is required is what the Government of Afghanistan are trying to do: the targeting of eradication where there are alternative livelihoods, pursuit of the drug barons, seizure of the drugs, improvement of governance, enforcement of the law and the provision of greater security and improvements in infrastructure.

I am of course aware of the Senlis council’s proposal, but the Afghanistan Government’s view of it is clear. They do not agree with it and do not consider it to be the right approach for Afghanistan, and I think that we should respect their judgment.

The elimination of poppy growing in Afghanistan will require development. Can the Secretary of State tell me how much of the UK’s development aid budget is being spent on security for aid projects rather than on reconstruction and development? Is there not a risk that funds for development will be dissipated on security, just as they have been in Iraq?

It is the case that some of our funds will be spent on providing protection for Department staff and others who are working in Afghanistan, but the vast bulk of the money that we give in development assistance goes to the Government of Afghanistan. They have requested that we and other donors give our support in that way because it is the best way to build their capacity to deliver services to their people. That is why we are the largest contributor to the Afghan reconstruction trust fund, which helps to pay the salaries of teachers, nurses, doctors and others.

The hon. Lady makes an important point about security, which is a precondition for development. In Helmand, where British troops are now deployed, the security situation is more difficult than we anticipated, but we need an improvement in security to be able to work with Afghan partners—because that is where the bulk of the work will be done—to try to help the people of Afghanistan to improve their own lives.

The sustainability of farmers in Afghanistan is crucial, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the sustainability and quality of life for many in our communities in this country is of equal importance and is threatened by the drugs imported from Afghanistan? Will he join me in congratulating our troops who have seized 115 tonnes of opium in the past year from Afghanistan and saved communities here?

I certainly will join my hon. Friend in offering my congratulations to our troops and all the other staff from the UK who are doing an extraordinary job in very challenging circumstances in Afghanistan. He is right about the demand for poppy which fuels the industry about which we have been speaking. Afghanistan is a very poor country: one in four children do not live to see their fifth birthday, and a third of those children die before they reach 12 months. That is the reality. The country has been impoverished by conflict and many other problems over decades and it will take time for the Afghan people to change their circumstances. However, there are some signs of hope, with 4.5 million refugees returning, the economy growing, and 6 million children in school—a third of them girls—and it is right that we and many others in the international community should provide support to the people of Afghanistan as they try to change their lives for the better.

One of the criticisms of our activity in southern Afghanistan has been the lack of co-ordination between projects. For example, the short-term nature of the recent USAID project for drip irrigation for farmers has only helped them to grow poppy. We have taken some action by trying to promote provisional development plans, but that project appears to have stalled, with no plans coming forward from southern Afghanistan. What action is the Secretary of State taking to try to push forward the provisional development plans?

First, may I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the interest that he takes in Afghanistan and the excellent speech he made in the Westminster Hall debate last week. I respect his views greatly. He draws attention to an important issue. I cannot claim responsibility for USAID programmes—I will resist the temptation—but a balance must be struck between building capacity for the long term and demonstrating progress in the short term. The governor of Helmand has expressed some frustration about the latter and that is why we have redirected some of our efforts—as the hon. Gentleman knows—towards quick impact projects, so that people can see change beginning to take place. I know that the hon. Gentleman understands that point completely. One of the reasons why the Government of Afghanistan have asked donors to provide more of their support through Afghan mechanisms—in particular, through the Afghan reconstruction trust fund—is so that the Government can provide that co-ordination. If we get our act together—and I urge other donors to follow the lead that we have given—we have a better chance of addressing the problem that the hon. Gentleman identifies.

G8 (Gleneagles Summit)

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that the G8 continues to pursue the aims of the Gleneagles Summit agreement. (96572)

Since Gleneagles, we have seen progress on debt, humanitarian funding and increased aid, and the UK has been leading efforts to monitor progress. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has launched the Africa Progress Panel to be chaired by Kofi Annan, and we are supporting the Africa Partnership Forum and the civil society African Monitor. The Department’s White Paper set out in detail what the UK will do with the international community to deliver on our 2005 commitments.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and for the work that he and his colleagues are doing to ensure that the aspirations of all those who supported the Make Poverty History movement are realised. What role and scope does he think that co-operatives and mutuals will have in taking that work forward? Will he draw on the experience of the co-operative and mutual movement in this country to make sure that that happens?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. She draws attention to the really important contribution that the co-operative movement can make, and we have entered into a strategic grant agreement with it precisely so that we can draw on its experience. Our programmes around the world support co-operatives because they are one of the ways in which people can take more control over what happens to them. Co-operatives mean that ordinary people’s resources, energy and innovation can be used to change their lives.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the report from the International Development Committee on conflict and development was published this morning. It stresses that one conflict’s impact on increasing poverty can wipe out the entire world aid budget, and focuses on the role of conflict resources and how they can prolong and exacerbate a conflict. Will he co-ordinate with other donors in conflict countries and regions to try and ensure that we find a way to identify those resources and choke off the supply of funds that can sustain wars, prolong conflicts and prevent the eradication of poverty?

I accept the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. I have not had a chance to read the report yet, but I very much look forward to doing so. Dealing with conflict is fundamental to developing countries making progress. We are already taking various initiatives, and he will be aware of the Kimberley process and the extractive industries transparency initiative, both of which we have supported. He makes a good point that we must make sure that donors work together effectively as, ultimately, the problem is one of governance. If countries had good governance and were able to regulate the extraction of their natural resources and raw materials—such as diamonds, wood or, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, coltan—they would be in a much better position to provide the security on which any development must be based.

My right hon. Friend will know that more than 7,500 people around the world die from AIDS every day. Will he reassure those of my constituents who have written to me to express their concern about the progress that the G8 has made following the Gleneagles summit to ensure that AIDS treatment is available for all developing countries by 2010?

The fight against AIDS is one of the most important fights that developing countries are engaged in, as for some it represents an economic catastrophe as well as a human tragedy. The great achievement at Gleneagles was that the world signed up to trying to get as close as possible to securing AIDS treatment for all people in the developing world by 2010. Since then, plans have been drawn up to try and make that happen.

In sub-Saharan Africa, three times as many people are now on antiretrovirals compared with 12 months ago. We have not dealt with the problem yet, but we have made some progress. That shows what we can do when we put our minds to it.

Will the Secretary of State concede that we are a good way short of fulfilling the G8 pledge of increasing aid by $50 billion by 2010? Will he use his good offices to encourage Governments to stop double counting debt relief in their aid packages, and to set clear targets so that the $50 billion is put in place?

I accept that we need to work very hard to ensure that all countries honour their commitments, and the UK Government will certainly honour our pledges. The sort of civil society campaign evident in the run-up to Gleneagles must continue in all the countries that have made pledges to ensure that they are honoured, but I do not accept that debt relief is double counting. The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is the body that counts aid. The measure that it uses enables people to see both the aid element and the debt cancellation element in the aid that is given.

The fact is that, in the 15 months since Gleneagles, 20 of the poorest countries in the world have had written off all the debt that they owed to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank. That money is now available for the things that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and I know are important—getting children into school and improving health care. Debt cancellation really makes a difference.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that Africa will remain top of the agenda in next year’s discussions in Germany, notwithstanding that country’s change of Government?

I can, indeed, assure the House because the German G8 presidency has confirmed that Africa’s development will be one of its priorities, particularly in respect of the fight against HIV and AIDS, which we discussed a few moments ago. I welcome that enormously, because Germany has a huge opportunity during its presidency to provide leadership to the G8 and the wider world to ensure that we continue to make progress on honouring the commitments that were so hard fought for at Gleneagles.

The G8 summit agreed immediately to implement a plan of action on climate change that will promote access by developing countries to low-carbon energy and improve their resilience to the impact of global warming. Climate change could undermine developmental assistance by reducing available water, decreasing agricultural outputs, exacerbating disputes over resources and extending regions in which diseases thrive. What progress has the Secretary of State made since Gleneagles to incentivise environmentally sustainable technology transfers, and does he agree that there needs to be an expansion of tradeable greenhouse gas permits, creating an international market to cut emissions and promote spending by developing nations on cleaner fuels and energy?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that climate change presents probably the greatest threat to the developing world—the part of the world that did least to cause the problem and that will have to cope with most of the consequences. That is the first point. The second point is that the energy investment framework, which we have been working hard with the World Bank to develop, is all about trying to provide financial support to developing countries that quite legitimately want to increase their supplies of energy. What is most striking is how developing countries are recognising their need for more energy supply, which is crucial to the economic development on which tackling poverty will depend. We have to help and incentivise them, including through tradeable permits. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point because the market has an important role to play in helping the world to adjust to the changes that we all have to face up to.


4. If he will make a statement on international co-operation in providing humanitarian relief to those affected by the earthquake in Pakistan. (96573)

6. What ongoing assistance his Department is providing to people affected by the earthquake in Kashmir. (96575)

In addition to £55 million for the immediate relief effort, we have committed £70 million to help with reconstruction and rehabilitation; and £5 million has already been spent, for example, on reconstructing bridges, training teachers and mental health services. Two weeks ago, I confirmed that we were releasing a further £44 million of that money.

Order. Before the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) asks his question, I urge those who are not listening to these questions to be quiet. We are dealing with an important matter and the noise is unfair to hon. Members who are participating.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I pay tribute to the Department’s efforts to support the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan, but there are bound to be future disasters on the same scale, so will my hon. Friend tell the House how the Department is galvanising international support in case of future disasters so that action can be immediate and responsive?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to ensure that the international community is well placed to respond to the needs of every disaster and emergency situation. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has led a campaign over the past 15 months to ensure that there is an international humanitarian fund that is well resourced so that the Secretary-General can deploy the money when he needs to. So far, $270 million is in the fund and there will be a replenishment conference in December when we hope to get closer to the ultimate target of $500 million.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating British Kashmiris in my constituency who, following the earthquake, operated under the banner of “Burnley for Kashmir” and raised enough cash to build 10 permanent shelters around Khoria Channa and a van to help the relief effort in Muzaffarabad? What estimates has his Department made of the total value of private donations to help earthquake victims in Kashmir?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents for their fund-raising efforts to help the victims of the earthquake. I know that constituents in other areas, including some from my own constituency, have also put considerable effort into fundraising. I also pay tribute to those constituents’ continuing advocacy for the victims of the earthquake—doing more for them and not walking away. We need to recognise that the reconstruction effort will take a long time—not just the 12 months to date, but perhaps as long as three to five years. We are determined to stay the course and we are continuing to monitor plans for the winter period to ensure that people—those still living in tents as well as those in transitional shelters—have the support that they need.

Oxfam has estimated that about 80 per cent. of the surviving families are still living in temporary shelters. Can the Minister tell us what action is being taken by the Department to improve that situation?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the work of Oxfam in highlighting the need to accelerate the reconstruction effort. As I indicated in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), a proper plan, initiated by the Government of Pakistan, is in place and is being co-ordinated with UN organisations and non-governmental organisations to make sure that the 30,000 to 35,000 people still living in tents over the winter period have the support they need. Some of the money that we released as recently as two weeks ago will help to accelerate the reconstruction effort. We need to do more, and quickly, to get more permanent houses built, to accelerate the road reconstruction process and to get more schools and hospitals built. Our money will help to do just that.

Following the earthquake in which 73,000 people died, many millions of pounds were raised by Pakistani communities throughout the country. What information can DFID make available to those communities to maximise the impact of their funds and to co-ordinate their efforts?

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the contribution of Pakistani communities, and I am sure that he will acknowledge that many others also contributed to fund-raising efforts. In the wake of the tsunami, the Department published a booklet setting out how people who want to contribute following a disaster or some other humanitarian emergency can best do so. I am happy to make copies of the publication available to the hon. Gentleman if his constituents want access to that information.

I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for all the investment that has gone to the earthquake relief fund. A considerable amount has been done by the UK Government, but will my hon. Friend join me in putting further pressure on the Government and the organising committees in Kashmir—especially ERRA, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, and SERRA, the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority—to make sure that people exposed to the forthcoming harsh winter are looked after quickly? They need protection now, while the overall construction is taking place.

I assure my hon. Friend that we will do just that. We are working extremely closely with the earthquake reconstruction authority and are closely monitoring the winter plan, which is in place, as I indicated, and is being co-ordinated with the United Nations and non-governmental organisations. We will seek to make sure that our staff based in Islamabad following the earthquake continue to monitor the winter plan extremely carefully. Some of the money that we have released will help to make sure that the winter plans that are in place are delivered to the vulnerable people who are still living in tents and to others, too.


We are all concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur. As I saw during my visit to Sudan last week, the UN and non-governmental organisations are doing an excellent job, but they are stretched by the sheer scale of needs, and some people cannot be reached because of the banditry and insecurity. That is why I urged President Bashir to stop the fighting, implement the Darfur peace agreement and accept a UN peacekeeping force.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear, as he indicated, that vital humanitarian aid is not reaching—[Interruption.]

Because of the security situation, vital humanitarian aid is not reaching the victims of genocidal attacks by the janjaweed and by Sudanese Government forces. As an interim step, before the UN peacekeeping force stage that the Secretary of State mentioned, can the British Government strengthen the African Union mission in that country?

That is precisely what we have been doing. We were the first country to provide financial support to the African Union mission. We have given £52 million—spent and pledged—and provided vehicles and support for their fuel contract, but I agree that there is a substantial need to ensure that the mission is further strengthened as we continue to put the case for a UN mission.

Is not it clear that the Sudanese Government will not accept a UN force in Darfur and that the best approach would be to beef up significantly the African Union force, which for all its difficulties is there on the ground? What further steps is the Secretary of State taking with his international colleagues to ensure that the deployment of and the funding for the additional 4,000 AU troops already agreed at the recent AU peace and security council meeting takes place as quickly as possible?

The first thing is to make sure that we pay the money that we have promised, and I urge others in the international community who made pledges to do the same. The indication at the moment, is that there is enough funding for the AU mission to see it through to the end of the year, but the hon. Gentleman is right that the priority is to ensure that the African Union mission in Sudan is able to do its job more effectively, while we continue to make the case for the ultimate solution, which is a UN mission.

As this humanitarian emergency has spread across international borders, with 2 million people having been made homeless and receiving inadequate protection, should we not press the case for the no-fly zone that was set up by the UN in 2004, but which has not, so far, been implemented? As for those involved in perpetrating the genocide, 49 of whom have been indicted to face charges in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if they step outside Sudan, should they not face charges of crimes against humanity?

I agree completely that those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes should be brought to account, and that is why the British Government fought very hard to ensure that what happened in Darfur was referred to the International Criminal Court. On the second point, we will have to consider all the options, and what we do will depend on the security situation. I should tell the House and the hon. Gentleman that the single most significant step that could be taken to bring the conflict to an end would be for those who did not sign the Darfur peace agreement in Abuja in May to meet around the negotiating table—the Government of Sudan should be there, as well as Minni Mannawi, who did sign—because, as we have seen in the past two weeks, an agreement signed with the eastern front will, I hope, bring the conflict in that part of Sudan to an end. The same must happen in Darfur, if all the people in those camps are to be able to go home.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Marine Gary Wright of the Royal Marines, who was killed in Afghanistan last Thursday. He was a fine soldier who was doing an extraordinary job, and this country should be very proud of him.

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

Yesterday marked the passing of 11 years since the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, was incarcerated, and during that time the widespread use of torture, rape and execution by the regime has continued. I congratulate the Government on the tangible efforts that they have made on Burma, particularly at the UN, but will the Prime Minister today make a commitment to close the loophole that allows companies to use British dependent territories to invest in Burma and help to prop up that wicked, evil regime?

I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done in campaigning on the issue. He is right in saying that the British Government continue to raise the subject in the United Nations and in all the international forums that we possibly can. As for the particular point that he raises, I am perfectly happy to have a look at the issue, and to correspond with him. There may be many different ramifications of taking any such action, and we have to be careful about what consequences there are for British companies, but in general terms, it has been the Government’s policy to try to make sure that we isolate, as much as possible, the Burmese regime, and we support fully those campaigning for human rights and democracy in that country.

Q2. In the past year alone, nearly 8,000 families in North-East Derbyshire have had their incomes boosted by the working families tax credit. Can the Prime Minister assure me that any future tax policy under the Government will safeguard that much-needed extra cash for families in my constituency? (96556)

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend of that. It is extremely important to make sure that we continue with policies that have helped millions of families throughout the country to get off benefits and into work, because that is important. Certainly, as far as Labour Members are concerned, we will not make uncosted and uncostable commitments to making billions of pounds-worth of tax cuts that could only be afforded by depriving some of the poorest in our society of the help that they are currently getting.

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier killed in Afghanistan? Our thoughts should be with Gary Wright’s family.

Three years ago, the Government said that the youth justice system had been totally transformed. Yesterday, the chief inspector of prisons said that the system was approaching breaking point. Who is right?

Over the past few years, according to the National Audit Office—[Interruption.] I am trying to answer. According to the National Audit Office, in 1997 the system was a shambles; in 2004 it had made substantial improvement. The fact is, we have managed to reduce dramatically the time that it takes to get young offenders fast-tracked through the justice system. We have expanded the amount of secure accommodation. We are making sure now that those who breach antisocial behaviour orders are given a custodial sentence, although it is true that that is causing pressures in the system. We believe that that policy is right. That is why we shall continue investing in our youth justice system and continue to make improvements.

I think that the Prime Minister lives on another planet. After nine years there are no custodial places left for young people, secure units are completely overcrowded, and the Youth Justice Board warns of meltdown. Any halfway-competent Government would have seen this coming.

Now let us look at adult prisons. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we have run out of prison places; that last year the Government scrapped prison ships and now they are bringing them back; and that police officers are being taken off the streets to become jailers? Who is responsible for this complete failure of planning?

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the youth justice system, the best way of testing it is the National Audit Office reports that are consistently produced on it. I just point out to him again that the latest National Audit Office report says that the system has been substantially transformed since this Government came to power.

As for places in adult prisons, we have expanded those dramatically. We have of course toughened up the sentences, but, of course, the right hon. Gentleman voted against the measures to toughen up sentences. And it is true that we are going to have to expand the number of prison places even more, which is why we are about to invest in another 8,000 prison places. Of course, he is unable to commit to that because of his tax cut policy.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about cuts, why do we not talk about the 21,000 jobs he is cutting in the NHS? I am happy to come here and talk about his NHS cuts any day of the week.

Now, Prime Minister, back to prison—actually, that has a certain ring to it. In May, the Prime Minister did something unprecedented: he put the Chancellor in charge of protecting the public. I quote: the Chancellor will co-ordinate Government policy to

“ensure families and communities have the protection and security they need.”

What on earth has the Chancellor been doing?

Let me explain what has been happening. As a result of the Chancellor running the strongest economy that this country has ever seen, we are able to make the investment in the national health service, in education and, yes, in prisons. But the right hon. Gentleman’s policy, which is to share the proceeds of growth between investment and tax cuts—that is his policy, is it not?—would mean cuts in the health service, and in prisons and in education. If he wants to debate the national health service, there are not 20,000 jobs being cut from the national health service [Interruption.]—no, there are not—there are 300,000 extra people working in the NHS today. The Labour party is committed to increasing investment in the national health service and he is not.

The Prime Minister talks about the Chancellor’s record. The Chancellor told us that he was going to freeze the assets of terrorists, but he could not even stop Abu Hamza buying a house while he was in prison. The youth justice system is in meltdown; the prison system cannot cope; dangerous prisoners are being released early; and there are no proper border controls. Is not this the truth: it does not matter who is in charge—Blair/Brown, Brown/Blair—this country is not safe under Labour?

The right hon. Gentleman spent rather a long time preparing that this morning, I suspect. But let me just point out to him that we do remember that under the last Tory Government, crime doubled. Under this Government crime has fallen. We have introduced tougher measures, that is true, and have put more people into prison, but every one of those tough measures he opposed, so there is no point in his coming to the Dispatch Box now and asking, why we are not taking tougher action on crime. Every time that we try to take tougher action he is opposed to it. The truth is, he talks tough but he votes soft.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that at this precise moment I have 100 rather attractive naked men outside my front door. That internationally renowned exhibition by Antony Gormley has attracted 600,000 visitors to the Sefton coastline, and much-needed money. We do not want to lose that exhibition but unfortunately local Tory councillors last week threw out the planning application for it. Will my right hon. Friend reassert his commitment to supporting the arts, recognising that it is a serious driver for economic renewal, and do everything that he can to enable Merseyside to enjoy that exhibition during our capital of culture year?

I congratulate those responsible —Antony Gormley and others—on the 100 naked men outside my hon. Friend’s door. That is a lot better than what is outside my door, which is the media every morning—my apologies for that—but I suppose we should be grateful: at least they are clothed.

My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely right. One of the reasons why it is important that we continue to invest in arts and culture is that this is not a peripheral issue for us. It is an absolutely central part of creating a more vibrant and decent society and we will continue to invest in it.

May I begin by associating myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy that we have just heard from the Prime Minister?

When may we expect the Attorney-General to make an application for the extradition and trial in Britain of those American soldiers against whom there is a prima facie case for the unlawful killing in Iraq of the ITN journalist Terry Lloyd?

For very obvious reasons, I think that it would be wrong for me to comment on anything that the Attorney-General may do in relation to that case. Once again, however, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to Mr. Lloyd’s family.

Not much comfort there, I think. As recently as last night, the Government assured us that the extradition treaty with the United States would facilitate justice. Is not what we have a fast-track process, but a fast-track process that goes only one way?

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is stretching reality a bit there, because the fact of the matter is that we were asked to make sure that the US Senate and Congress ratified the treaty and we have done our best to ensure that that happens. I have repeated again my sympathy to Mr. Lloyd’s family, but let me just point out to him that I think that it is important when we talk about American soldiers, or indeed our own soldiers that I make it clear that not just British soldiers, but American soldiers and the soldiers of many other countries who we are fighting alongside, are doing a superb job in very difficult circumstances. None of that will, of course, excuse anything wrong that has happened, but I do not think that it is right to have a debate about the armed forces, particularly when they are losing significant numbers of troops, as the American forces are, without paying tribute to their heroism, courage and bravery in defence of democracy in Iraq.

Q3. Does my right hon. Friend agree that 10 years of economic stability has made it possible for us to look to and plan for the long term? In my constituency, I have had £150 million of infrastructure investment and there is £100 million coming in the next two years. But we also need much social housing. Will he agree to look to toughen section 106 applications? So many times I am told that there is to be a school, a medical centre, a sports field or a village hall, but when the houses are built, the section 106 agreement is never delivered. (96557)

I totally understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. He illustrates exactly why the planning gain supplement is an important part of Government policy. It is also true that, with the section 106 applications, we are looking to see how we can strengthen that. There may be announcements on that in the weeks to come. The point that he is making about the investment in infrastructure is absolutely right. Where we are building more homes—and we need to build more homes—it is important that we are matching that with infrastructure investment in schools, hospitals, roads and so forth. That is why, again, it is important that we increase the investment in areas such as his, rather than cut it.

For almost a year, we have been pushing repeatedly for a climate change Bill. [Interruption.] That is right: if you want to get something to happen in this country, get the Leader of the Opposition to suggest it. In January, the Prime Minister rejected the idea. He even said that it was “a trifle dodgy.” Can he confirm today that the Government will have a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech?

Obviously, I cannot say what will be in the Queen’s speech before it is published, but I can give the reason why I described the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals as I did—I am surprised that I used the word “trifle” because “dodgy” would have been the accurate description. First, he is against the climate change levy, but we would never have been able to make the progress that we have without it. Secondly, he is asking for statutory, binding, year-on-year targets, which are very difficult to deliver because the changes that might happen in any one year could render them extremely difficult to achieve.

Why can we not just have a straight answer? Are we getting a Bill: yes or no? Can the Prime Minister confirm that he is not going to water it down? Will it include the two things that really matter: annual targets and an independent body that can measure and adjust them in the light of circumstances? Can we have a proper climate change Bill, not some watered-down version?

The reason why I cannot give commitments on that is that we have not yet published the Queen’s Speech. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be aware that it would be in the Queen’s Speech that that would be announced.

Let me go back to the point that he is making. The action that we are taking—huge investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the climate change levy, which has reduced dramatically what would otherwise have been the carbon dioxide and greenhouse emissions—is absolutely vital, but it must also be practical and workable. That is why we will make sure that any proposals that we bring forward will mean that we will be able to ensure that we get the reduction in CO2 emissions that we need—remember, this country will meet and exceed its Kyoto targets and will be one of the very few countries in the world to do so. Such proposals must also be entirely compatible with the interests of business and consumers.

As for the tax proposals that the right hon. Gentleman introduced last week, if I may very quickly—[Interruption.] I am citing this because it is an interesting example of how a Government should not make policy. In the morning, he was saying that green taxes on pollution will rise to pay for reductions. By the afternoon, he was saying, or his shadow Chancellor was—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] Well, I assume that they are on the same side, roughly. By the afternoon, the shadow Chancellor was saying:

“some green taxes … are regressive, they fall primarily on the poor in society.”

By the time that the last edition of the Evening Standard was published, it was saying:

“The Tories hurriedly backed away from slapping higher tax on cheap flights today”.

If that is an example of the right hon. Gentleman’s policy making, we certainly will not follow it.


Q4. What support the UK Government are giving to develop democratic, independent trade unions in Iraq. (96558)

My special envoy for human rights in Iraq recently met the Iraqi Minister for civil society and reiterated our full support for the right to form free and fair unions. She also made the same point when she met a group of Iraqi women trade unionists on international women’s day. As my hon. Friend knows—I think that he was present at the launch—there is a TUC pamphlet celebrating the life of Hadi Saleh, the international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, who was murdered in Iraq, almost certainly by former Saddamists, in January 2005. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend and those in the TUC on campaigning for free and fair trade unions in Iraq. I also congratulate all those who continue to strive for free and trade unions in difficult circumstances today.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s words, but is he aware of Iraqi Government decree 8750, which was issued last year and said that the Government of Iraq will

“take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing any such monies”?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is anti-democratic, and will he do everything in his power to convince the Iraqi Government to rescind that pernicious legislation?

We are indeed making those points to the Iraqi Government. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that it is important that there are no inhibitions on free Iraqi trade unions. I know that he will join me in celebrating the publication of the pamphlet, which shows that despite all the problems in Iraq today, the position of trade unions in Iraq has been absolutely transformed compared with the conditions under Saddam Hussein. That is one of the most powerful things about the pamphlet, which I urge hon. Members to read, and it is a great antidote to all those who say that nothing has improved since the fall of Saddam. The pamphlet makes quite clear the appalling brutality to which people—especially trade unionists and others—were subjected under Saddam and shows how, despite the difficulties, that is changing in Iraq today.


Q5. Will the Prime Minister agree to put an end to the scandal that allows Post Office Ltd to privatise profitable Crown post offices, such as Chorlton post office, without any consultation with local residents or stakeholders? (96559)

It is important that the Post Office is able to take the decisions that it considers necessary for running a proper business.

Yesterday I was lobbied by my constituent Janine Mcdonald who had paid for her own Herceptin treatment for early stage breast cancer until our primary care trust agreed to pay. Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite the very great improvements that we have made in breast cancer treatment, there is still a postcode lottery in respect of the repayment of those funds paid by patients for Herceptin, as indeed there is for wigs and prostheses and, even more importantly, for genetic screening? Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and endeavour to ensure that all breast cancer patients receive equal access to all treatment?

I certainly will look into the point that my hon. Friend makes. She is right to say that it is our intention to get rid of the postcode lottery in the prescription of drugs. Enormous changes have been made over the past few years in the treatment of breast cancer, which is why so many more people are able to survive it. It is important, too, that there is huge investment going into drugs and treatment throughout the national health service, but the point that my hon. Friend raises is a valid one. I am happy to look into it and contact her.

Q6. Regardless whether the original decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong, given the significant comments by General Sir Richard Dannatt and the fact that everyone except the House seems to be discussing the current situation in Iraq and possible policy options going forward, will the Prime Minister lead a full and proper debate in the House in Government time on Iraq? (96560)

The Leader of the House said the other day what time would be available for debating Iraq, but I am happy to debate Iraq at any time. We do so regularly in the exchanges in the House and elsewhere, and the Queen’s Speech will give us an opportunity to do so again. Let me make one thing absolutely and abundantly clear. There will be no change in the strategy of withdrawal from Iraq happening only when the Iraqi forces are confident that they can handle security. To do anything else would be a betrayal not just of the Iraqi people, but of all the sacrifices that have been made by our armed forces over the years. I know that the subject arouses huge controversy still, but it is important just occasionally to remember the utter barbarity of the regime that we got rid of, and the fact that, for once, today in Iraq people at least have the chance to have a proper functioning democratic society, and we should stand by them—stick by them—in achieving it.

The more a country trades, the more prosperous it becomes. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we should celebrate European enlargement?

I do. For all its difficulties, some of which we saw in the discussions about Bulgaria and Romania yesterday, European enlargement has been a chief British foreign policy priority. It is right for Britain and right for Europe. Those countries are making enormous strides forward—incredible strides in their economy, their democracy and their politics—which would have been impossible unless they had been allowed into the European Union. So we championed enlargement then, we champion it now and we will continue to champion it in the future.

Q7. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that his attempts to reform and improve the Child Support Agency are failing? If I wrote to him, would he look into the case of one of my constituents who, because of a computer error, will have to wait a full 12 months before she can receive money that her ex-partner has already paid? (96561)

It is precisely because of the difficulties in the CSA that we have taken steps to set up the Henshaw inquiry. That report has been received and we are considering it and will act upon it. I am happy to look into the individual case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, but the CSA is subject to all the difficulties to which it has been subject right from its outset, which is why a proper and fundamental reconsideration is sensible.

Last week, the Companies Bill received its Third Reading in this House. Thanks largely to the efforts of the corporate responsibility coalition and its millions of supporters, a good Bill was made a bit better. However, I read in Tuesday’s Financial Times that the CBI and the Institute of Directors are going to nobble the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to drop the provisions that they do not like. Will the Prime Minister assure me—I am sure that he will—that when push comes to shove on that important Bill, the primacy of this elected Parliament will not be undermined by the lobbying of unelected business leaders?

It looks as if I will get nobbled either way. We have said that we will honour the commitments that we set out in the Warwick agreement, which form the core of the Bill, and we will honour them.

Q8. When he is interviewed by the Metropolitan police, what innocent explanation will the Prime Minister offer for the fact that 80p in every pound donated to the Labour party came from people who were subsequently honoured? (96562)

I have absolutely no intention of debating those issues with the hon. Gentleman. It is, however, significant that in advance of the Scottish elections next year, he does not dare ask a question about Scotland or the result of that election. That is because he knows that his policy of ripping Scotland out of the UK would be a disaster for Scotland and the UK.

Hundreds of miners and their families in constituencies such as mine and my right hon. Friend’s have benefited from the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease scheme, which was introduced by this Labour Government. Unfortunately, unscrupulous solicitors, including Watson Burton in Newcastle, in collusion with claims handling firms, are deducting thousands of pounds from victims’ compensation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the guiding principle should be that victims and their families should receive 100 per cent. of their compensation and not have it plundered by unscrupulous solicitors or middlemen?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, it is important that people get the full benefit of the compensation. I know that any issues—there have been issues in different parts of the country—are being raised with the Law Society. The main point is that hundreds of millions of pounds have been paid out to former miners.

I thank my hon. Friend for that prompt—a helpful intervention is always welcome. That £4 billion is the difference between a decent life for people who worked down in the pits and who suffered injury and often debilitating illness as a result. That indicates the priority that this Government attach to social justice.

Q9. Does the Prime Minister recall the helpful answer that he gave me in May this year concerning the Broomfield hospital private finance initiative scheme? Is he aware that almost six months have passed and that approval has still not been given for that project? I am sure he is as anxious as me, and my constituents, that this important scheme should be approved and go ahead. Will he please look at the scheme again and try to expedite approval for it? (96563)

I am very happy to do so. As I understand it, there have been problems with the scheme in the past few months. The scheme will cost in the region of £170 million or £180 million, and I know that it will be worth while for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. However, there have been issues about the financing of the scheme, which I know that people are trying to sort out. I am happy to look at the scheme again to see what can be done to expedite it. Since the last time that the hon. Gentleman asked me about it, a new dimension has arisen, and it needs to be sorted out.

I ask my right hon. Friend to celebrate with me the fact that a team from Stockton has designed earthquake-proof houses, which are being built today in Panyatta, Kashmir. The team—Dr. Riaz, Dr. Bloom and Dr. Kitchen from Teesside university—are concerned that while significant moneys and investment appear to be available, it is nearly impossible to access them through the chain of bureaucratic restraints.

Again, I do not know the particular circumstances, but I congratulate the team on the work that they have done. I am happy to look into whether bureaucratic constraints are preventing the money from going forward or whether there is some other reason. Of course, it is worth pointing out that this Government, through the Department for International Development, have done an immense amount for the relief of the victims of the Pakistani earthquake, and it is extremely important that we do everything we can to make progress. I am happy to look into the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Q10. The United Nations instructed Iran to cease nuclear enrichment by the end of August, since when nothing has happened. Is the Prime Minister confident that he will be able to get this matter back before the Security Council so that we can have a binding resolution, at the very minimum preventing any further nuclear or military equipment from being exported to Iran, and is he confident that he will get the support of Russia and China in doing so? (96564)

I thought there was a late leadership bid there.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) raises an extremely serious point. I had an opportunity to discuss this with a very senior official in the Chinese Government yesterday. We are working very closely with all the permanent members of the Security Council to ensure that we get this back in front of the Security Council and get a proper, binding resolution. I should like to take the opportunity to say that when Iran says that the purpose of this is to prevent it from getting access to civil nuclear power, that is simply not the case. We have made it clear that we will not merely allow that, but help Iran with a civil nuclear power programme. However, we will not allow it to acquire material that goes to the development of nuclear weapons capability—that would be in breach of all its international obligations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—it is important that we take whatever action is necessary to stop that happening.