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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 11 July 2007

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Palestinian Authority

1. What discussions he has had with his European Union counterparts on provision of aid to the Palestinian Authority. (148657)

On 18 June, the then Foreign Secretary met her European Union counterparts and agreed to resume normal relations with the Palestinian Authority. The EU is now working to put in place practical and financial assistance. My predecessor spoke to Prime Minister Fayyad on 27 June about this. British and European Commission officials are now on the ground, arranging the details.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new responsibilities and I say on behalf, I think, of all Members of the House that we are particularly proud of the Government’s record in this area, and we look forward to his taking that forward.

On Palestine, does my right hon. Friend accept that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and on the west bank is now so acute that, however fierce the battles between Fatah and Hamas, and however fierce the face-off between Israeli and Palestinian, we cannot simply walk by on the other side? The rich nations need to ensure that there is social justice for the Palestinians.

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend for his generous welcome to my new position at the Dispatch Box. I reciprocate by paying tribute to my predecessor, who I believe has support throughout the House for the efforts he made in the Department for International Development in recent years.

I concur with the rather more dispiriting prognosis offered by my hon. Friend of the scale of the challenge currently faced in Gaza. We are gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation. Since 15 June, more than 140 truckloads of food and humanitarian supplies have been imported to Gaza, which reflects the scale of the challenge and the problem faced on the ground. Across the west bank, the humanitarian situation is more stable, but the priority for Gaza is to get access in order that we can continue to provide the humanitarian assistance that is needed.

I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. The ambitions of his Department carry strong support throughout the House and we wish him well in achieving them.

On the problems of Palestine, does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that although we work, as we must, with President Abbas, he is not the sole spokesman of the Palestinian people, and that his Prime Minister, able as he is, is not the popular choice of the Palestinian Authority? How can the Secretary of State ensure that aid is delivered effectively in Gaza, with the temporary international mechanism and where the Administration is not one with which the Quartet is prepared to engage? Can he ensure that services will be delivered effectively in the long term in Gaza?

I begin by paying tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership of the Select Committee on International Development. I am glad to say that it is in a spirit of co-operation and consensus that I arrive at the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State, and with a due sense of humility about the range and scale of expertise throughout the House on issues of international development. I am mindful that there has been a recent debate on the issue of Gaza and the west bank in which a number of hon. Members participated, which reflects the scale of concern about ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches Gaza.

As I made clear, notwithstanding the situation that emerged in relation to Hamas’s actions in Gaza, humanitarian assistance has continued to be provided directly to the Palestinian people there. It is also the case that the temporary international mechanism will continue until September and efforts will continue to ensure that we work directly with the Prime Minister and President Abbas. In the meantime, while the situation on the ground continues to be difficult, we shall ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided directly to those who need it.

In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment and expressing my confidence that he will build on the superb record and reputation of his predecessor among the Palestinians, may I ask him whether he will take an early opportunity to visit the Palestinian territories, so that he can see for himself the terrible oppression, degradation and poverty from which a huge majority of Palestinians suffer? Will he ask the Israeli Government to return all the tax revenues that they have stolen from the Palestinians?

I have in the past had the opportunity to visit Gaza and see for myself the real burdens and suffering experienced by many Palestinians. It is with regret that I say that, even since the visit I paid a number of years ago, the situation has deteriorated. We should bear in mind, for example, that amidst the economic growth that is being witnessed in many areas of the world, the Palestinian economy contracted by 10 per cent. last year. If I recollect the most recent figures correctly, the gross national income for the Palestinian Authority is about 7 per cent. of that of its neighbour, Israel. That shows the scale of the challenge faced to secure the economic development that all of us in this House want to see as part of finding a way forward in the middle east. My immediate travel plans are still being formulated, but I assure my right hon. Friend that I will give consideration to visiting the Palestinian territories, along with other areas.

Will the Secretary of State remind his counterparts when he speaks to them that much of the equipment that the EU supplied to the Palestinians in the past was destroyed during Israeli incursions, including the air traffic control equipment at Gaza airport, and many of the computers used in the civil administration? Will he make it clear through channels to the Israelis that it is totally unacceptable for that to happen to European aid to Palestine?

Of course, there is consensus in the House about wanting the aid not only from the United Kingdom but from the European Union—and the broader support of the Quartet—to be in the hands of those who need it, and ensuring that it does not suffer the sort of difficulties that the hon. Gentleman described. Of course, as well as the contact that has already taken place between the new Prime Minister and President Abbas, contact will continue with the Israeli Government. I assure the House that we discuss such issues in our continuing dialogue.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post. If we are to alleviate the humanitarian position in Gaza, it is vital to do something about the crossing at Rafah, where literally thousands of people have been stranded because Israel closed the crossing, even though it is not Israel’s border. Will he consider the presence of EU monitors there and the role that they can play in alleviating the suffering that is taking place?

I am at one with my hon. Friend in recognising the difficulties that are being experienced at Rafah. My understanding is that approximately 6,000 people are in Egypt waiting for Gaza’s border with Egypt at Rafah to open. Indeed, between 400 and 700 people are receiving help from Bedouin in a deserted area around Rafah. The tragic death of a mother of four children occurred recently, and that has added a specific poignancy and urgency to trying to find a way forward on Rafah. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last addressed the House on those matters, he made clear his intention of speaking directly to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. I assure my hon. Friend that I will consider his point about the UN monitors.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and wish him well.

The stringent restrictions of movement that are imposed on the Palestinians continue to exacerbate the humanitarian position. They undermine all the aid and humanitarian work that is going on. What will the Secretary of State do to persuade Israel to remove those restrictions?

When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last addressed the House, he made clear the three principles whereby we will move our work forward on the matter in the months ahead. He said that first, we would be unyielding in our support for finding a two-state solution; secondly, we should express a genuine willingness to work with all those who would renounce violence as a way forward; and thirdly, we need to continue to address the immediate humanitarian challenge while recognising the social and economic development needs of the Palestinians. It is right to place on record the fact that restraints on movement and access are a severe constraint on the capacity of the Palestinian economy to grow. Although, of course, it is necessary to provide humanitarian assistance with immediate effect, there is no substitute in the longer term for a sustainable, developed Palestinian economy. For that to happen, we need the restrictions on movement and access to be removed.

The recent Select Committee report underlined the effectiveness of the temporary international mechanism in providing much needed support to the most vulnerable Palestinian groups. Given that the mechanism was set up to avoid distributing funds to Hamas, and in the light of recent events in Gaza, does the Secretary of State believe that the fund is still an acceptable method of delivering aid to the Palestinian population beyond its current extension to September?

Following a decision that the former Foreign Secretary made on 18 June, we are now working to put in place practical and financial assistance to establish normal relations with the Palestinian Authority. That will inevitably take time and it is entirely appropriate for the EU to have reached a recent judgment that we should continue the temporary international mechanism until September. We have provided £15 million to the temporary international mechanism to date. That support was necessarily provided to both the Gaza strip and the west bank. While we are in the process of transition, and given that the position continues to be fluid, I support the actions to extend the temporary international mechanism to September.

Doha Trade Round

The breakdown in the G4 talks in June was disappointing, but does not mean the end of the Doha round. Negotiators from all countries are working hard in Geneva now and we expect new proposals soon. We are working with EU member states and other World Trade Organisation members to help to break the deadlock.

I thank the Under-Secretary for that frank answer. Does he agree that the best method of relieving poverty in developing countries is by developing trade with industrial countries? Has not appalling EU protectionism in the current round of discussions let developing countries down?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first point that increasing trade as a vehicle to drive economic growth in poor countries is absolutely fundamental if we are to see progress made towards the millennium development goals, which both sides of the House hope to see. We are now witnessing significant reform of the common agricultural policy, which has given Peter Mandelson, the Trade Commissioner, the flexibility to offer progress in the negotiations on the EU side. We need further concessions from our American allies, as well as from our Indian and Brazilian colleagues in the areas where they are able to offer them.

Given the current stalemate in the World Trade Organisation talks, will my hon. Friend consider extending the EU “Everything But Arms” scheme, which would effectively provide more jobs in the developing world and reach out to countries such as Kenya?

I should say to my hon. Friend, whose interest in this issue over a number of years I acknowledge, that the gaps between the key G4 countries did narrow at Potsdam, so we believe that there is continuing hope for progress in the round. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made very clear his determination that we should do all we can to maintain momentum in this round. That is why he has made a series of calls, not least to the Prime Minister of India and the President of Brazil, and also why progress has been made in talks with key interlocutors such as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation. It is also why there will be a Cabinet Committee to take forward co-ordination across the Government in this area.

We welcome the Secretary of State to his new responsibilities and the Minister to his expanded responsibilities on trade. Further to the Minister’s remarks about the need for the Americans to move in these negotiations, is he aware that while exports of clothes and garments from African countries to America have increased sevenfold over the last five years, the same exports to Europe have actually declined? What plans does he have to increase the ability of African countries to sell into Europe, and is he seeking to change the rules of origin requirements, which are at least partly to blame for the problem?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of these trade negotiations in the effort to reverse the decline in the share of trade to Africa, particularly in respect of agricultural products. He is right to say that we need radical reform of the rules of origin requirements and we continue to press the EU to offer a more generous system for those rules. That is why my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and current Chancellor of the Exchequer, in partnership with colleagues in other European countries, wrote to a number of Commissioners to press for progress on those rules of origin. We do need greater progress from our American allies, particularly in respect of allowing Africa to increase its trade of cotton into American and EU markets.

On the issue of the EU, the Minister will be closely following the discussions between the European Commission and developing countries about economic partnership agreements. If EPAs cannot be negotiated and agreed by December, will the British Government accept the Commission’s imposing the generalised system of preferences, or will the Minister press for an extension of the WTO waiver?

The hon. Gentleman is also right to highlight the importance of the economic partnership agreement discussions that are currently under way. They have the potential to deliver considerable economic benefits and contribute to poverty reduction across Africa, the Caribbean and indeed the Pacific. We are pleased with recent progress made in the negotiations, particularly regarding flexibility and the generous market access offer that the Commission has put forward. We are also pleased with the renewed enthusiasm across all six negotiating groups in the ACP to conclude negotiations by the end of December.

Many who follow these discussions understand fully the need for the American Administration to respond to its somewhat vocal farm lobby. Nevertheless, does my hon. Friend agree that if there is to be further penetration of the depleted markets in developing countries, where farmers in many cases are still earning less than $1 a day, that would not only be unfair, but we simply would not achieve the millennium development goals?

My right hon. Friend makes a particularly important point on the United States. The World Bank has estimated that farmers in Africa lose out on between $75 million and $100 million per year as a result of cotton subsidies, particularly in the United States. We need some additional flexibility from our American allies, as well as from the EU, India and Brazil.


3. what support his Department has provided for projects working with the indigenous people of Tibet. (148660)

We are providing £500,000 a year to support Save the Children's work in Tibet. The support runs from 2005 to 2010. The programme seeks to improve the economic and social status of children in Tibet, by enhancing their rights to education, health care and basic protection.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary on his appointment and wish him well in his post. I am pleased to hear of the work going on in Tibet, but will he assure me that the moneys will help Tibetan people? As he may know, the Chinese authorities operate, effectively, a policy of apartheid, discriminating against Tibetans in education, employment and health. What steps will he take to ensure that the money allocated gets to the Tibetans, rather than being siphoned off by the Chinese?

May I formally acknowledge the considerable energy directed at Tibet by the hon. Gentleman? There is considerable investment in China in the run-up to the Olympics. The opening of Tibet is creating more economic opportunities for all those resident in Tibet, including the indigenous Tibetans. Economic growth in Tibet over the last three to five years has been above the national average and the extension of the railway has created a tourism boom from which Tibetans benefit. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that there are inequalities within Tibet. The hon. Gentleman has raised those issues and issues of human rights on numerous occasions. At the last UK/China human rights dialogue on 5 February, many of these concerns were raised and we handed over a list of individual cases of concern to the Chinese Government, including the names of Tibetan prisoners.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that when these projects go ahead, we will also enter into talks with the Chinese on the self-governance of Tibet by its people and on an end to the illegal occupation?

We are constantly speaking to the Chinese on human rights. We recognise Tibet as autonomous but having a special relationship within China. In February of this year and September of last, the Prime Minister raised issues and concerns about Tibet. Through our programme in Tibet, we are doing some work, but we also have considerable investment in China itself to help health and education programmes that will impact across the piece, including within Tibet.

I welcome the Under-Secretary to his new post and wish him well. Will he take time from his busy schedule to meet the Foreign Office to discuss China’s policy in Tibet and, in particular, safeguards for religious freedom?

I would be happy to do that. We believe that religious freedom is a fundamental right for everyone in the world. I would also be happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Gentleman.


The Department for International Development supports initiatives that enable poor people to benefit from markets and improve how Government systems respond to the needs of poor people. We do that through three routes: first, through the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, whose projects include improving social services and helping municipalities to be more responsive to their constituents; secondly, through the European Union, whose projects include supporting indigenous farmers; and thirdly, through UK non-governmental organisations which support grass-roots groups.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. Can he assure me that rumours of the planned closure of the UK’s only remaining presence in Bolivia—a regional office—are unfounded? Will he also consider having a direct bilateral programme with Bolivia, free of the shackles that are often imposed by the Inter-American Development Bank?

Let me first acknowledge my hon. Friend’s efforts in building mutually beneficial and strong relationships between the UK and much of Latin America. As a fellow socialist, I am sure that he will be pleased to learn that DFID allocates 90 per cent. of the bilateral programme to low-income countries. As Bolivia is a middle-income country, our bilateral programme with it is relatively small. We believe that we can better support the Government of Bolivia’s development efforts by using the expertise of our advisers in the office in Bolivia to influence the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which together lend about £75 million a year to Bolivia. In respect of the office in Bolivia, I will review our Latin America policy in the autumn in the light of consultations on a new DFID strategy for Latin America, and I will, of course, take my hon. Friend’s views into account.

Failed Asylum Seekers

6. If he will increase UK aid to countries to which children and young people have been returned after their asylum claim in the UK has failed. (148663)

The Department’s overall aim is to reduce poverty, and we have made a commitment to channel aid to the poorest countries. [Interruption.]

Order. The noise level is very high, which is unfair to Members who are present in the Chamber to hear and contribute to questions on international development.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have the disconcerting sense that the Chamber is filling up; I usually have the opposite effect.

Aid is distributed on the basis of need and the likelihood of its effectiveness in reducing poverty. Many of the countries to which the Government return failed asylum seekers receive considerable amounts of aid, including programmes to improve the lives and opportunities of children and young people.

Is the Minister aware that increased numbers of Vietnamese boys and girls are being trafficked into Britain and are illegally working in cannabis factories in our home towns in England, Wales and Scotland? Is he also aware that when they are returned to their country of origin they will be retrafficked to Britain unless the Government do more in those countries to stop that happening? Will the Secretary of State do that?

First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work as chairman of the all-party group on trafficking of women and children. The House is united on this matter, and we are determined to do all we can to stop this abhorrent practice. DFID has spent £14 million specifically on addressing trafficking, but we are also determined through our poverty reduction work to attempt to address the push factors that lead to people being trafficked from countries such as the one mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. Will he make it clear that we will work with non-governmental organisations in those countries to ensure that the push factors that lead to such children being trafficked into our country are addressed and that trafficking is not repeated or continued?

I am happy to give the House the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks. We will continue to work with NGOs, and to target the specific problem of trafficking of women and children. That is why, for example, in China, we are working with the International Labour Organisation to support projects addressing directly the challenge of trafficking from that region.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the three servicemen killed in Iraq at the weekend. They were Private Edward Vakabua of 4th Battalion the Rifles, Lance-Corporal Ryan Francis of 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, and Corporal Christopher Read of 3rd Regiment Royal Military Police. They died doing vital work for our country. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the ringleader of the 21 July terrorist attacks, Mukhtar Ibrahim, was allowed to travel backwards and forwards to Pakistan to a terror camp, despite the fact that he was wanted on extremism charges in the UK? Throughout this time, he was given succour and encouragement by Hizb ut-Tahrir. Does this case not illustrate the overwhelming argument for banning this evil organisation, and for bringing in a dedicated UK border police?

I have looked at the argument put to me last week about the banning of the organisation. This will be kept under continuous review. Equally, I have looked at, and continue to look at, the argument for a national border police force, but it is the combination of an e-border system that operates in airports and ports way outside our country that prevents people from coming in in the first place, and the introduction of identity cards that would do the best to deal with the problem.

On the particular person who has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, there are three instances that we have got to deal with, and I have looked at all of them. First, when he was guilty of crimes in Britain in the early and later 1990s, under the new laws he would have been deported from this country. Secondly, he applied for citizenship of this country and received citizenship because all his offences as a juvenile had been wiped off. That would not happen now, and he would not get citizenship of this country. I am also looking very carefully at the circumstances that surround his visit to Pakistan.

Q2. As the Prime Minister knows, many in the faith community and elsewhere, like me, still have concerns about super-casinos, believing that they will add to the current problem of the 400,000 people who suffer from gambling problems. Given that a majority of the public believes that these super-casinos will add to gambling problems and social breakdown, will he use this period of reflection and change in policy to look again at the policy on super-casinos, and to go back to the original purpose of the Gambling Act 2005, which was to regulate gambling and reduce gambling problems? (148622)

It is true to say that this is an issue on which no consensus is found within the two Houses of Parliament, and it is an issue that is now subject to reflection over the next few months. In September, we will have a report that will look at gambling in our country, and at the incidence and prevalence of it and its social effects. I hope that during these summer months, we can look at whether regeneration in the areas for the super-casinos may be a better way of meeting their economic and social needs than the creation of super-casinos.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Christopher Read, to Lance-Corporal Ryan Francis, and to Rifleman Edward Vakabua, who died serving their country.

Last week, the Government announced a fundamental review of the NHS. Will the Prime Minister confirm that no hospital closures or service reductions will take place until that review is completed?

What I can confirm is that the seven proposals before the Secretary of State will be referred to the medical panel—an independent medical panel—which will make recommendations on what is the right way forward. I can also confirm that, as the review is taking place throughout the country, all decisions will be based on medical and clinical need. We will report back to the House on the review at the time of the pre-Budget report in October, and that will be the basis on which we will proceed further.

I should also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there are 108 new hospital developments in this country as a result of what this Government have done, and that the difference between the two sides of the House is that we are prepared to spend more money on the health service. He has never guaranteed an extra penny on the national health service.

So the answer is no. The cuts go on, the closures go on and the service reductions go on. What is the point of holding a review if one is not going to stop and wait for its conclusions? Let us take a specific example. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the “Healthcare for London” report, published today, will lead to the closure of accident and emergency departments and maternity wards all over London? A simple yes or no will do.

This is not correct. Lord Darzi has conducted the review, which is for consultation and then local decision making. I shall quote to the leader of the Conservative party what he said. He said:

“I don’t think there will be any”

need for hospital closures.

The Prime Minister is getting a bit ahead of himself, as the person in question is not even Lord Darzi yet. I asked a simple question. The author of the report says:

“The days of the district general hospital… are over”,

and that we need

“fewer, more advanced hospitals”.

What can that mean if not cuts in departments and closures in existing hospitals?

It means more money for the national health service this year, next year and the year after—money that the Opposition will not match. It means a proposal for 150 new polyclinics, which will mean that GPs will be able to undertake operations. It means an improvement in specialist care in London. It means this Government are prepared to finance the NHS.

If we are updating ourselves about Conservative party policy, let me remind the House that not only will the Opposition not match us on health service spending, but they have just issued a report on the future of hospitals in which they say that, because of their funding mechanism, hospitals are at risk

“of financial failure”

and this will

“entail risks to the assets necessary for the provision of essential national health services.”

Who is closing hospitals—the Government or the Opposition? It is the Conservative party.

I think that people will start to conclude that this Prime Minister just cannot answer a straight question. He says that he wants to listen to people, so will he confirm that the report says specifically that people do not want these changes?

The report’s author specifically says about closures:

“I don’t think there will be any”

need for hospital closures.

The Opposition want to run a scare campaign about the future of the NHS. In 1997, 300,000 people had to wait six months or more for operations, but that figure is now in the low hundreds. That is thanks to the investment made by a Labour Government; it would not happen under the Conservatives.

Again, the Prime Minister will not answer the question, and again he has not done his homework. I asked him whether Londoners supported the changes. Paragraph 36 of the report states:

“58 per cent. of Londoners would choose existing hospitals as opposed to investing in…fewer, larger hospitals”.

So people do not like the Prime Minister’s plan. Will he listen to them?

Lord Darzi is not proposing the closure of existing hospitals. It is hardly surprising that if people are asked, “Do you want your hospital closed?”, they might say no, but Lord Darzi is not proposing that. He is proposing 150 new polyclinics, which will mean that doctors can get consultants into their surgeries to perform much needed operations that can be done there. He is proposing the expansion of specialist care, and that the teaching hospitals be able to do more research. I think that the Leader of the Opposition would do better to look at the report before commenting on it.

Let me just remind the Prime Minister of what Sir Ara Darzi says. He says:

“the days of the district general hospital…are over”

and that we need

“fewer, more advanced hospitals”.

That would mean that maternity units, accident and emergency units and specialist services will go. Is not the truth that his health policy—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) should not shout, and neither should the hon. Ladies behind her.

The truth is, they know that it means cuts in NHS services. Is not the truth that the Prime Minister’s health policy is exactly the same as it ever was: more closures, more removal of services and more job losses? Does not the report, out today, show that all we shall get is more of the same from a Government who have failed?

The right hon. Gentleman says more job cuts, but there are 80,000 more nurses in the national health service. There are 30,000 more doctors and 5 million more A and E attendances every year as a result of investment. As for him and his policy on the national health service, he can spout the slogans, he can hold his press conferences and issue his glossy booklets, but we will get on with running the national health service better. He can go for his PR—I will go for being PM, and we will get on with the job.

My right hon. Friend will not need reminding of the momentous event that took place two weeks ago today: on 27 June a grateful nation celebrated—veterans day. Will the Government undertake to ensure that the 35,000 veterans of the Malaysian campaign are allowed to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal next veterans day?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend who as Minister for Veterans brought in the veterans medal and enabled it to extend to a large number of people who would not otherwise have been able to have it. In all our constituencies, we can see thousands of people who are benefiting from the award of a veterans medal, which is a recognition of their service to our country. I shall certainly look at his proposal and report back to the House.

Once again, I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of condolence and sympathy.

What is the Prime Minister’s assessment of the sums wasted by fraud, error and overpayment in the tax credit system he set up three years ago?

It is very interesting that the leader of the Conservative party did not ask anything about the married couples allowance or tax credits and that it has been left to the leader of the Liberal party to pick up the baton. Tax credits are the most successful policy in removing child poverty in this country: 6 million families benefit from tax credits. Yes, there was computer error to start with, but it is being substantially reduced and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should admit that 600,000 children are not in poverty today because they are receiving tax credits.

But as the Prime Minister said on the radio this morning, there is still a long way to go. The truth is that the money wasted is heading towards £9 billion—£9 billion that could have been better spent. Behind that figure there are 2 million families whose lives have been made miserable by error and overpayment. Is not that the responsibility of the Prime Minister?

I can tell the Leader of the Opposition he knows what it means, saying a long way to go. Child benefit was £11 when we came into power; it will be £20 in 2010. The child tax credit was £27 and it is rising for the poorest families to more than £70, compared with £28 when the Conservatives were in power. We have done more through these measures to take children out of poverty than any previous Government in the past 30 or 40 years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should be supporting the tax credit system, not condemning it.

The Prime Minister will know that tens of thousands of families around the land fear that their housing future will be plagued by the prospect of regular flooding and ultimate uninsurability. Given the pressure that he is under to approve further development on floodplain land, will he consider making the developers liable for full insurance cover for development on such land for the first 20 years of the life of the developments, rather than leaving the tenants and owners of properties to be both victims financially and victims of flooding?

I shall certainly look at my hon. Friend’s proposal, but we are increasing flood prevention moneys from £600 million to £800 million. I have visited the areas subjected to the worst of the floods over the past few weeks. On Saturday, I visited a number of people who are not insured, and we have to do something to help them in those circumstances. I talked to local authorities and we gave them special help to get over the difficult circumstances now. We also have to help them with reconstruction, but I hope my hon. Friend agrees that to increase the flood prevention budget from £600 million to £800 million, at a time when we have other priorities to meet, is a sign of our determination to deal with the proper defences against floods.

Q3. Can the right hon. Gentleman think of any ministerial decision in the domestic sphere that has been taken during his time as a Member of this House that has caused more lasting harm to the British people than his withdrawal of £100 billion from the pension funds as a result of his abolition of dividend fair play? (148623)

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to dividend tax credit. Despite the stock exchange crash and despite what he says about tax changes, the assets of pension funds in this country have risen from £500 billion in 1997 to more than £1 trillion now. I believe that the pensions of the people of this country are better protected because of the Pensions Bill that we will bring in, and I hope that there will be all-party support for it.

Further to the Prime Minister’s earlier answer on super-casinos, does he recall that in the debate on this issue there was an acknowledgement that locating a super-casino, or indeed any of the casinos, in a resort location would minimise the impact of problem gambling and maximise the regeneration potential? When he looks in the autumn at the report that he referred to on problem gambling, will he take into account the special needs of a town such as Blackpool when it comes to regeneration?

I thank my hon. Friend for speaking up at all times for the needs of the people of Blackpool. She does so with great eloquence. Of course we will look at the proposal that she is putting forward, but I have to say that there are means to regeneration for our coastal towns—and particularly our great holiday resorts—and those means include investing in local infrastructure, and in hotels and conference centres. At the same time, we know that Blackpool has put forward proposals: first, for a tramline, secondly, for a museum of the theatre, and thirdly, for a better conference centre. I want to look with her at all those proposals and see how Government can help.

Q4. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has at long last decided to join my campaign to fly the Union flag from every public building throughout the United Kingdom, but when is he going to start treating my constituents in England in the same fair way as he treats his constituents in Scotland and give us English votes for English laws? (148624)

There is one United Kingdom Parliament. We are all part of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there are not two classes of citizens in this House.

This is from a Scots MP: my brother, Gregor Moffat, left last month to serve in Afghanistan with the British Territorial Army. Does my right hon. Friend have a message for the brave volunteers who leave their families to serve their countries in war?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am grateful for the service that is being given by her brother. I was in Afghanistan, and also in Baghdad and then Basra in Iraq, and I have nothing but praise for those people in the Territorial Army who have volunteered—with their skills—to help in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe the whole House will want to say that we owe a debt of gratitude to them as well.

Q5. How can the Prime Minister justify the fact that nurses in his constituency are paid a lot more than nurses in mine, in the London borough of Bexley, for doing exactly the same job? Is he aware that the point that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised about potential closures of hospitals in south London is a real issue? (148625)

That is why I read to the Leader of the Opposition what Lord Darzi said this morning about the purpose of his report. The purpose of his report is to improve health services in London. It is to create a system of polyclinics that will mean that people will get access to health care nearer their homes. Those proposals are now out to consultation and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join that consultation. From 1 November, every nurse will receive the same rate of pay.

Q6. Is my right hon. Friend aware that two Coventry police officers have been nominated for the police bravery award? Officers Owen and Rudnicki arrested two men, one of whom was armed with a sawn-off shotgun. Does not that say a lot about the bravery of the British police force? (148626)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will be hosting a reception at Downing street for the brave policemen and women who will be receiving those awards this week. Again, I have nothing but praise for what they are doing. They undertake very difficult work with great courage, increasingly in circumstances in which we face a terrorist threat. They deserve the full-hearted support of the public. Everyone who receives those awards for their absolute and tremendous courage should be thanked by all of us.

Will the Prime Minister explain how, after a £24 million grab from the Welsh lottery fund, people in north Wales will in any way—economically or otherwise—benefit from the Olympic games in London?

Despite the difference in party labels, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support Britain holding the Olympic games. All the opinion polls show that in every part of the country, including Wales, people welcome the Olympic games. When I go around the country, I find young people in every part, including Wales, who want to compete in the Olympic games and represent our country.

Q7. The Prime Minister’s predecessor was hugely supportive of the Motor Neurone Disease Association’s campaign to raise £15 million to find a cure for this dreadful and terminal disease. As a direct result, we have raised almost £4 million so far this year from private donors. Will the new Prime Minister meet representatives of the MND Association to maintain the momentum and help us to achieve a goal that I believe we all share: a world free of MND? (148627)

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this. He has been a long-standing campaigner for support for both the Medical Research Council and others to carry out greater research on motor neurone disease. As someone who has also seen people die of motor neurone disease, I support the research that is being done. I will do my best to support everything that he is doing. I will be happy to meet him and all those associated with this good work in Downing street at the soonest possible opportunity.

On behalf of 40,000 British nuclear workers and 17,000 workers in my constituency, may I thank the Prime Minister for his unequivocal support for the industry at the Dispatch Box last week? Will he join me in urging hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the Government’s energy Bill when it comes to the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend knows that we put our nuclear proposals out to public consultation on 23 May. The Government’s preliminary view is that nuclear has a future role in providing our homes and businesses with the low-carbon energy that we need. Let me emphasise that the Government will make their decision in the autumn, after, and in the light of, the consultation.

Q8. The Prime Minister claims to treat everyone equally, so why do nurses in his constituency earn more—[Interruption.] (148628)

The Prime Minister did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett).

The hon. Lady is referring to a decision in relation to nurses in Scotland that was made by the Scottish Parliament. I have to tell her that from 1 November, all nurses will be paid exactly the same rate.

My constituent, Dr. Aziz, who is a leading Muslim scholar, has asked me to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on their moderate tone in response to the terrorist attacks. He asks me to ask the Prime Minister to confirm this: does he see this as a struggle not between different civilisations, but between ordinary people of all religions and none, and the people who seek to kill us?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The number of organisations of different faiths in our country that have come out to condemn the attempted attacks in Britain over the past few days has been encouraging. All mainstream opinion will want to stand up against extremism. In the next few months, I hope that we can set up inter-faith councils in every constituency and community of our country so that we can bring together the faiths and all moderate opinion against those extremists who are trying to disrupt our civilisation and who, at the same time, of course offend every decent value of human dignity.

Volatile Substance Abuse

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work, and we will support his campaign on combating volatile substance abuse by young people.

Volatile substance abuse involving glue, lighter fuels and sprays kills more young people aged 10 to 16 than die from illegal drug use. Three Departments are involved in combating that nuisance—the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Home Office. Does the Prime Minister share my disappointment that prior to the reshuffle, Solve It, a Kettering-based charity doing much good work on the issue, was refused a meeting with a then Education Minister? Will the Prime Minister, under his Government, facilitate a meeting with that Minister’s replacement?

Of course I will, and I apologise if that meeting did not take place; I will make sure that it does. We have published a national framework for dealing with substance abuse. The hon. Gentleman is a campaigner on the issue, and I pay tribute to Barbara Skinner, one of his constituents, who set up the charity in 1998. We are very happy to work with her, and with all people who are interested in finding better solutions, so that we can combat that terrible problem.

A proposal based on a single, unpublished academic paper and anecdotal sources was put forward yesterday that would end the hugely successful general practitioner-led drug treatment programme in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister confirm that his drug treatment policy will be based on evidence and proven success, rather than on the political prejudice of the Commission on Social Justice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. It is true that Britain has a major drug problem. It is also true that we need a new and better strategy for dealing with it, and I have already announced that we will formulate such a strategy. At the same time, Opposition Members should acknowledge that the number of people receiving help with drug rehabilitation has doubled in the past few years, and that we are attempting to help to solve a problem that has ruined the lives of many young people. If the Opposition wish to work with us on that, they must admit that the public spending that is necessary for doing that must be found, and they should resist the third fiscal rule, which would mean that they spent less, not more, in the future.


Q10. The Prime Minister talks about the need for more open and transparent politics, so can he explain why his Government continue to defy the Information Commissioner by refusing to publish the first full draft of the Iraq dossier, which was produced by the Foreign Office press officer, John Williams, on 9 September 2002—one day before John Scarlett produced his first draft? Does the Prime Minister not believe that actions speak louder than words? (148630)

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that is a process in which the Government have rights under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 too, and we are pursuing a policy in which we are defending our rights in relation to it, but a decision will be made in due course.

Yesterday, the House heard welcome proposals for tackling deprivation. Will the Prime Minister start to put those plans into action by supporting pilot schemes in areas such as Liverpool that address the particular problems of young people who leave school and do not go on to further education or training, and who do not have a job?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a major challenge that we now face. While there are far more young people in education than there were before, and far more young people in work than ever before, there is a group of young people that the new deal has not yet got to, and that is the group of people we want to help with their transition so that they can undertake apprenticeships and can have a path to a career. If Opposition Members want to support us in doing that, they will have to say that they will provide the equivalent funding to do so; that is what is lacking in everything that the Conservative party says at the moment.

Q11. The whole House will be aware of the acute personal importance to the Prime Minister of one particular NHS issue. In his new home, he is within just 9 miles of 19 consultant-led maternity wards. If plans go ahead, that will compare with none at all in Cheltenham. Will his Government reverse the trend towards less choice further from home in maternity care for so many parts of the country? (148632)

What we are trying to do with maternity care is to give every mother a choice. Having had access to a midwife, women will have the choice of having the birth at home, in a midwife-led unit, or in a maternity unit staffed by consultants and doctors. That choice will be open to every mother from 2009, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that extension of choice, which means that there are more doctors and more nurses, and more midwives helping them.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the plight of over 1,000 Kwik Save staff struggling to feed their families following the company’s closure? Will he do all he can to ensure that those people are not left high and dry, and also back USDAW, the shop workers’ union, which is striving to secure seven weeks’ back pay and redundancy money for the Kwik Save workers?

We are sad about any redundancy that hits people and their livelihoods, and we will try to do everything we can. I hope we can provide help for those workers through the new deal, and look at their financial circumstances. If my hon. Friend wants to contact me, we will have a meeting to discuss it.

Q12. The Prime Minister can scrutinise health policy in my constituency but, because I represent an English constituency, I cannot scrutinise health policy in his constituency. Is that not an example of the fact that we already have a two-tier Parliament? When will he put the fairness back into the United Kingdom? (148633)

The hon. Gentleman should understand the devolution settlement. This Parliament voted the right to make decisions on health to Scotland and Wales. It also voted the right to make decisions on specific issues to London. It is right that the House of Commons can make those decisions, but now that they have been made, and the Conservative party has said that it accepts devolution, it is a bit much for Conservatives now to change their minds.