House of Commons
Thursday 3 July 2008
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
London Local Authorities (Shopping Bags) Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 10 July.
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order):
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading (12 June).
Debate to be resumed on Thursday 10 July.
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 10 July.
That there be laid before this House, Accounts of the Contingencies Fund, 2007-08, showing—
(1) a balance sheet;
(2) a cashflow statement; and
(3) notes to the account; together with the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
The Secretary of State was asked—
National Minimum Wage
Last year, the Government ran a major advertising and awareness campaign to highlight entitlement to the national minimum wage. The campaign produced some very positive results, including a 400 per cent. increase in calls to our language and help lines, more than 170,000 hits on the online guidance, and an increased number of enforcement requests to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but further to it, what is he doing to enforce the minimum wage, in particular in respect of employers who exploit migrant workers by paying them below the minimum wage and apportioning unrealistic costs on them?
We are taking two steps to address those concerns. First, the Employment Bill, which is currently going through the other place, will significantly change the way in which we recover arrears of unpaid wages and make it clear that it is the will of this House that every worker should be entitled to a proper national minimum wage that is properly enforced, and that there will be a consequence for employers who do not pay it. Secondly, we have provided significant additional resources to help enforcement of the national minimum wage. I hope that that addresses the concerns that my hon. Friend and many others have expressed to Ministers in recent weeks.
The national minimum wage has increased by 53.3 per cent., while average earnings have increased by only 39.9 per cent. The British Retail Consortium has stated that members’ costs increased by £1.7 billion in 2006, which was 13 per cent. more than they expected. The strain on small businesses is ever growing and increasingly causing problems. Recognising the Chancellor’s call for inflation-related pay increases, will the Government now ensure that the minimum wage will no longer increase at levels above inflation?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the latter point is a matter for the Low Pay Commission, which will make recommendations to Ministers. I know that he is a fair-minded man, and I would have thought that he would welcome the fact that the wages of the poorest workers in Britain have been rising at a faster rate than those of others; I would have thought that that would be welcomed in all parts of the House. On the point about small businesses, let me rehearse the following argument with him. Almost 0.75 million more small businesses are now trading in the United Kingdom than 10 years ago, so he cannot portray the national minimum wage as in any way inhibiting the growth of small businesses. That would be unreasonable, and it is not borne out by the evidence, which it is always important for us to keep in mind. Also, 3 million more people are now in work, going to work every day, than in 1997. If we had listened to the advice of the many Opposition Members who argued that the national minimum wage would destroy jobs, we would not have seen the progress that we have seen so far.
My right hon. Friend may be aware of a case in Nottingham in which an immigrant worker was paid £8.80 after a week’s work. That is total abuse. Is he also aware that 42 per cent. of the construction labour force in London is immigrant labour? That labour needs protecting. I hear what he says about the Employment Bill that is currently in the other place, but does he agree that further protection is needed, and will he consider working with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions in order to extend the gangmasters regulation to construction?
Obviously, we look at a number of these issues, because it is important that proper protections are in place. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the Nottingham case and his concerns about what is happening in the construction industry. We have enacted legislation to protect workers and to ensure that they are entitled to a proper national minimum wage. It is our responsibility as Ministers to make sure that that legislation is properly and fully enforced. Our current focus is on improving enforcement. We are willing to listen to, and consider carefully, any further requests for additional legislation, but the case for such legislation has to be fully and squarely met.
I do not have the regional data, but I am quite happy to write to the hon. Gentleman.
In a recent debate that I secured in Westminster Hall on the national minimum wage, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who has some knowledge of these matters, suggested that the legislation now going through Parliament could require wage slips to include details of the national minimum wage currently in force and of the national minimum wage hotline number. That simple measure could provide greater awareness of the minimum wage and of enforcement. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State consider making such provision as that legislation goes through Parliament?
I am a great admirer of my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who did a sterling job in introducing the legislation. We will obviously look seriously at any such proposal, and I am happy to discuss in more detail later with my hon. Friend this and any other concerns that he has.
Post Office Network
The Department receives representations on a wide range of issues relating to the post office network, including, of course, its future in rural areas. The access criteria for the post office network ensure that 95 per cent. of the total rural population across the UK are within 3 miles of their nearest post office outlet.
More than 300 people from the Vale of York alone took the opportunity to respond to the consultation. Twenty-three branches have been earmarked for the outreach programme, which constitutes nothing less than post office branch closures. For sometimes only two hours each week, a man in a van is going to present himself at these villages. Does the Minister not accept that he is being less than honest with the public? People in the Vale of York feel that they are being taken for a complete ride. They have not been listened to, branches are closing, village shops—where they do exist—are even being threatened, and the level of service is being reduced to virtually nothing. Will he apologise to the people of the Vale of York?
I accept that this is a difficult process, but I am afraid that I do not accept that I have been less than honest throughout it. The hon. Lady referred to outreach, which is not the same as a post office closing. She will in future find, I believe, that outreach can provide a very valuable service to her constituents. My understanding is that the number of outreach facilities planned for her constituency is six, not 23, as she stated.
My hon. Friend will know that with the growth in the number of outreach branches, some sub-postmasters are taking on several branches. One sub-postmaster in my constituency is running three outreach facilities and another is running four, yet they get only the one piece of portable kit to enable them to go around the villages delivering this service. That reduces the number of hours that they can do and the flexibility of the service. Can my hon. Friend therefore make representations to the Post Office so that, where sub-postmasters are running several outreach branches, they have more than one piece of portable kit to enable them to offer a more extensive and flexible service?
Two of the rural post offices in my constituency, Inverkeilor and Carmyllie, along with Arbroath’s Cairnie street post office, are scheduled to close. The rationale, apparently, is that the business will transfer to the main Arbroath post office. However, in the middle of the consultation period the Post Office suddenly announced that the franchisee of the main Arbroath post office did not wish to renew their franchise in the early part of next year. I contacted the Post Office, and although it confirmed that the main office would have be relocated, it could not tell me who would run it, or where or what size it would be. Does the Minister not accept that even under this inadequate consultation process, such a material change in circumstances must mean that the proposed closures are put on hold, at the very least, until the future of the main post office is clarified?
I certainly accept that where closures take place and there is an assumption of migration to a different branch, that branch should be capable of dealing with that business. I am very clear that that should happen in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and in others.
Many hon. Members have raised the question of post offices in the House, but is my hon. Friend aware that the Post Office proposes to start the consultation in my area on the day after the parliamentary recess begins? Dozens of MPs are in the same situation, and their constituencies contain about 5.5 million people. Will he reflect on that situation and discourage the Post Office from beginning and finishing the consultation during recess? Otherwise, millions of people will be disfranchised because Members of all parties will be unable to express their views.
I do believe that the consultation can proceed during a parliamentary recess. I believe that our constituents can still take part even if Parliament is not meeting. The timetable was set out in some detail about a year ago, so we would not recommend its suspension for a few months during the parliamentary recess.
I very much look forward to the opportunity to answer questions rather than just ask them.
How can the Minister tolerate the restrictive practices being imposed by the Post Office on rural and other shops where post offices are being forced to close? Is he aware that sub-postmasters, who were not allowed to have a national lottery terminal, be a PayPoint outlet or work with carriers other than the Royal Mail simply because they had a post office are now being told that they may not offer those services simply because they no longer have a post office? Does he understand how angry postmasters are that they face losing compensation simply because they want to help what is left of their business to survive? Does he not think that it is utterly wrong that the policies of Post Office Ltd should lead to the closure not just of post offices but of many of the private businesses that house them?
The compensation arrangements for sub-postmasters leaving the network were negotiated by Post Office Ltd and the National Federation of SubPostmasters. They are fair in relative terms, and quite rightly so. They amount to some 28 months’ compensation for sub-postmasters leaving the network. People will not be banned from having a lottery terminal or entering into an arrangement that would put them into competition with the post office down the road, but their compensation will be adjusted. That was defended by the general secretary of the NFSP when he spoke to the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
As for closures, I can only remind the hon. Gentleman of the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who recently said in the House:
“Let me make it clear that we fully expect the network to shrink in size. We have never given a guarantee that no post offices will close”.—[Official Report, 19 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 947.]
That is the position of the hon. Gentleman’s party.
Post Office Closures
Again, the Department regularly receives representations on a wide range of issues in relation to the network, including the current closure programme and the establishment of new outreach outlets under the Post Office’s network change programme. To date, the Post Office has published and put out to local public consultation 34 of the 41 area plans in the current programme.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Previous post office closure plans decimated the post office network in Edinburgh, under both the previous Conservative Government and the present Labour Government. All the post office closures—we are expecting the next wave in August—have been done without any strategy or any plan in mind for the entire city. Why should it be any different this time, and what reassurances can he give the residents of Edinburgh that that will not happen again?
One of the differences between the programme that we are in the middle of and previous programmes is that the previous one, for example, was entirely voluntary for sub-postmasters leaving the network. Perhaps that caused less local protest, but as a strategy to plan the network it may not have been the best option; such an approach could leave holes in the network in the hon. Gentleman’s city. This time, access criteria will broadly mean that people in urban areas should be within a mile of a post office and people in rural areas within 3 miles. That will help with planning the future shape of the network. It means that some sub-postmasters who do not want to leave the network are being asked to leave, and I understand that that is difficult for them, but it also means that the network is being planned in both urban and rural areas.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a worrying aspect of the last closure programme was that, no doubt for business reasons, a disproportionate number of the closures were in working class areas, often in major cities and near former council schemes, some of which had a high proportion of elderly people? As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) said, we do not have the Edinburgh proposals yet, but is there any prospect that that will not happen this time around? We had quite a hammering last time, not least in Edinburgh, East.
My right hon. Friend makes a fair point about the importance of the post office network to people on lower incomes, and that is why this Government have put so much public funding into supporting it. The network faces major changes in how people do business, but we are supporting it with up to £1.7 billion over the next few years. Without that public support and strong commitment from the Government, thousands more branches would be under threat. We have put that support in place precisely because we appreciate the value of the network to the constituents whom my right hon. Friend mentions.
Is it not the case that we would not be in this sorry mess and having to close about a third of the network if the Government did two things? First, they should allow a much greater range of Government services to be provided through post offices, and secondly they should allow and indeed encourage the Post Office to be far more entrepreneurial in the range of services that it provides.
I quite agree that the Post Office needs to be entrepreneurial in the range of services that it provides. It has successfully expanded into foreign currency and insurance, for example. In terms of Government work, I know that the Post Office is highly interested in biometric identity management for passports and driving licences and, possibly in the future, identity cards. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman’s party has its way, the Post Office will not even get the chance to bid for that Government work.
A moment ago, the Minister said that this process was very difficult, and he will know from the Adjournment debate that I had last week that I understand that. However, may I commend for his further consideration the point that I set before him then? When we have a Devon cluster that includes one of the most sparsely populated counties in the country together with an urban area with some of the most deep-seated poverty, perverse proposals emerge, such as the closures of Pennycomequick, Beaumont road and St. Leven’s valley post offices. Does he really think that he is getting value for money from the £1.7 billion when it produces such perverse proposals to close busy post offices?
My hon. Friend has made her point, and it is clear that she believes that it is wrong for her city to be in the same closure plan as a major rural area such as the county of Devon. Of course, that has happened in several places around the country where urban and rural areas have been combined for this purpose. It is difficult, but the access criteria are intended to ensure that we have a stable network for the future in both rural and urban areas.
May I make a plea to the Minister to have a further discussion with the Post Office about these closures, bearing in mind the representations that he is receiving from both sides of the House? This is not a party issue: we are talking about an important public service. In my constituency, six post offices face closure and that is under consultation now, but they are profitable enterprises. Why should profitable enterprises be closed, and why should rural areas be put at a further disadvantage by the access criteria? I am deeply concerned: will he not have further talks with the Post Office about its proposals?
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) thinks that urban areas are being put at a disadvantage; the hon. Gentleman thinks that rural areas are being put at a disadvantage. He should perhaps be cautious about saying that the post offices that are closing are profitable. The post office network is losing £0.5 million a day. When we take into account not just the costs to sub-postmasters but the central costs borne by Post Office Ltd for services such as cash handling, IT and so on, we see that three out of four post offices in the country run at a cost to Post Office Ltd. That is why it is so important that we have stepped in with a large-scale public subsidy, which did not exist under the last Government.
May I confirm that my hon. Friend is aware of my concern about the way in which the consultation has been done in deprived urban areas? Let me also tell him that the closure programme that we have seen so far will be as of nothing if something is not done about the Department for Work and Pensions issuing the Post Office card account to the Post Office. Will he do all that he can to ensure that the Post Office retains that card account?
I fully understand the importance of the Post Office card account to the future of the network. The National Federation of SubPostmasters has made its views on that matter very clear to me and to right hon. and hon. Members from all parties. My hon. Friend will understand, too, that this is a commercial tendering process and the DWP will consider bids from around the country. I am sure that the Post Office has put in a very strong bid, but the decision will be announced later this year.
The Government have a range of measures to help with fuel bills, including grants to improve energy efficiency and the winter fuel payment scheme. The Government are also exploring the role that alternative technologies can play in alleviating fuel poverty—I think that that will be directly relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—and we are looking to provide connections to deprived communities off the gas network, as gas remains the cheapest form of heating.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will know that in constituencies such as mine, fuel heating oil is the principal source of heating in most communities. It is also used in older houses in remote areas, which are more expensive to make energy-efficient. Huge oil price rises and an already expensive source of heating have conspired to put fuel oil users even more into fuel poverty than they were before. Will the Minister ensure that in his fuel poverty strategy heating oil users have top priority? Will he ensure that energy companies are encouraged to take the fuel poverty measures that they are being asked to take by the Government, with specific reference to fuel heating oil users—although, of course, they will not be customers of gas companies, in particular?
I understand the difficulties faced by those who are heavily reliant on oil for their heating, for example in rural and island communities. Of course, the price of a barrel of oil worldwide has doubled in just one year. I think that some of the work that we can do to connect people to the gas system, where appropriate, is helpful. The development of our microgeneration strategy is very relevant, because technologies such as ground source heat pumps can offer some relief in future. That is why we have earmarked £3 million from the low-carbon building programme as a pilot to see how microgeneration can help to tackle fuel poverty.
As a former heating oil user in a rural area, I am aware of some of its advantages. At the moment, a typical 1,000-litre tank, when full, can contain oil that is valued at well over £600 and is quite attractive to would-be thieves. The loss of such oil, of course, would push rural people even further into poverty. What discussions might the Minister have with his fellow Ministers to alert people, and the police in particular, in such areas to the risks that are being run?
I certainly do understand the risk and, sadly, there have been well-reported cases in recent days, as the price of fuel has increased. Obviously, the police will take whatever action they can. If I feel it helpful to discuss the matter with Home Office colleagues, I will certainly do so.
I do not for a second dismiss the issue of poverty, but is not the problem the price of fuel oil? Will the Minister tell the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries producers that they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and will he tell the House what research the Government are conducting and encouraging on alternative fuel sources, such as hydrogen, to replace oil?
I am happy to say to my MP—the ballot is always secret—that the Prime Minister is leading from the front on the issue. He attended the Jeddah meeting called by the King of Saudi Arabia, and a process is under way that will lead to a high-level London summit later this year. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are active on many fronts on this difficult issue, but things are not easy. The Saudis have announced a significant increase in supply, but other countries do not have the capacity easily to do the same. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking into the issue. Given that we published our renewable energy strategy consultation document last week, and given the announcement about nuclear, he knows that we are active on the issue of finding alternative energy sources to play a part in the diverse energy strategy that Britain requires.
It is not only heating oil but liquefied petroleum gas that poses a significant financial problem for households in rural areas, although I accept that LPG is a much lesser cost. I applaud everything that my hon. Friend has said so far this morning, but there is deep concern in many households in remote rural areas. In particular, there are pensioner households that do not qualify for any support through, say, pension credit, but have to spend between 18 and 22 per cent. of their income on heating oil. That is not acceptable in 2008.
I do understand that concern, and of course all of us are concerned about the most vulnerable, elderly households. All pensioner households receive the winter fuel payment, which for the over-80s will be £400 this year. For the over-60s it will be £250—a significant increase. Insulating the homes of Britain’s elderly, and improving the energy efficiency of those homes, is crucial. We are spending record amounts of money, through Warm Front and the carbon emissions reduction target, on energy efficiency programmes. That could be of particular relevance to my hon. Friend’s constituency.
How many households does the Minister think will be helped by the £1 million grant recently given to the east of England under the low-carbon buildings programme, given that 1 million people in the region are thought to be in fuel poverty, and more than 50 per cent. of households in my constituency of South-West Norfolk have no access to mains gas?
I said that the programme is a pilot study. It is a new initiative from our low-carbon buildings programme. The number of households affected will be in the hundreds; I will give the hon. Gentleman the exact figure in writing. I would have thought that he might welcome the fact that we are trying to use new technologies to tackle the old social evils of fuel poverty, an issue that we are determined to pursue. We are spending record amounts of money on CERT and Warm Front; there is some misunderstanding about that. In the current spending period, the figures will increase by £680 million, compared with the previous spending period, and will reach about £2.3 billion. There is a lot of scope for improving the thermal efficiency of our housing, and as we move forward we need to, and will, complement our energy strategy with a strong energy efficiency programme. Our colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are working on that.
What role does my hon. Friend think that speculators are playing in talking up the price of oil, and has he given any consideration to the paper that Dr. Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, published in Petroleum Review? It puts the proposition that oil companies have double the reserves that they claim to have.
I promise my hon. Friend that I will read the article. My copy has not yet arrived—it has obviously been delayed at Petroleum News—but I will read it. The important point is that a great debate is going on about what lies behind the rise in the price of a barrel of oil, which has doubled. We would emphasise the fundamentals: China, India and other countries are fuelling their growing economies with energy, and there is a mismatch between supply and demand, hence the earlier dialogue about the need to increase supply, which the Saudis are doing. Many OPEC nations emphasise speculation, and we would not entirely dismiss the speculative element. We are working with OPEC and the international energy bodies to try to produce a shared analysis of what lies behind that very grave problem, and I do promise to look at the article.
The Minister mentioned connecting households to the gas mains, but he will know that in many areas the capital cost of doing so is enormous. Are the Government planning any assistance schemes to help fuel-poor households that do not have gas connections simply to get connected?
Yes. In the Department earlier this week we were discussing with the relevant bodies plans to increase the numbers of households that are connected to the gas grid. There is significant scope for it, but I do not want to exaggerate the situation, because many such households will never be connected to the mainstream gas grid. We need to work hard at providing other options for those people, so that they have some of the choices that many of us in urban areas take for granted, hence my emphasis, in reply to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), on using microgeneration imaginatively to try to provide choices for some households in isolated communities.
Every 1 per cent. rise in fuel prices pushes another 40,000 people into fuel poverty and if, as forecast, the cost of heating our homes rises by 40 per cent. this winter, that will mean another 1.6 million such people. What specifically will the Government do to help those people? Will the Minister confirm that the Government are still absolutely committed to their own target of eradicating fuel poverty which is now within less than two years?
We are going to do our utmost to tackle the problems of fuel poverty, but the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fundamentals. We are faced with extraordinary increases in prices—global prices. I have mentioned oil, but the wholesale prices of gas and of coal are going up to astronomical levels, and it is very difficult territory for business and for all our constituents. So since 2000, we have spent £20 billion on fuel poverty benefits and programmes—I know that the hon. Gentleman will not dismiss that figure; I have said already that the Chancellor has agreed to increase winter fuel payments quite significantly; we are increasing the amounts of money spent on energy efficiency payments through CERT and through Warm Front; and the Secretary of State has brokered an agreement with the six major supply companies to increase their social tariffs from £50 million now to £150 million in a year or two’s time. That is a significant programme, but we are not complacent. We are worried about the situation’s impact on vulnerable people, and we will do everything possible to protect those decent citizens of ours.
My Department has not received any formal complaint from UK-based firms affected by US trade sanctions against Cuba. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office makes the Government’s position clear every year by voting against the US trade embargo on Cuba—including aspects of its extraterritorial legislation—at the United Nations General Assembly. The last such vote was on 30 October 2007.
Each year, thousands of British people visit Cuba as tourists, and the liberalisation process that has started in that country means that there are huge opportunities for British firms to do business. I welcome last month’s decision by European Union Foreign Ministers to lift political sanctions against Cuba, but does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that more could be done to explain to British businesses the opportunities that there will be to expand their operations in Cuba in the years ahead?
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that UK Trade and Investment has the equivalent of almost three full-time staff working on trade activities in Havana precisely to increase awareness of the trading opportunities with Cuba, as my hon. Friend suggests we should. We want those staff to continue to engage with the business community both in the UK and Cuba and to go on promoting increased trade between our two countries.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is running a competition to select a new parent body organisation for the Sellafield Site Licence Company. Ownership will enhance the company’s performance. The NDA is evaluating the four bids received for this competition against agreed evaluation criteria. The results of the evaluation are expected later this month.
It is a little known fact that only one nuclear power station anywhere in the world has been wholly dismantled; I am thinking of Three Mile Island. Even decommissioned structures are still hazardous. My question for the Minister is this: what factors will he take into account when deciding which company will be responsible for the clean-up of Sellafield, or is he simply going to rubber-stamp the recommendation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority?
I am pleased about—indeed, rather proud of—the fact that after several decades in which no action was taken, it is this Government who now have a clear strategy on decommissioning our existing nuclear sites. Whatever the arguments and controversies about future nuclear, we have an ethical duty to ensure adequate decommissioning and clean-up. We are looking to the competition to get companies to bring world-class management to the task so that we can spread best practice and innovation and drive forward efficiency. We have four strong bidders and that is what we need to do. We cannot duck this task. We may wish that we did not have to do it, but we are doing it and we will do it in the most competent and cost-effective way.
I am glad to say that at the EU Employment Council on 9 June, agreement was reached on the terms of a proposed directive on temporary agency workers. The terms of the directive will provide new and important protections against unfair treatment and maintain essential flexibility to meet the needs of the UK labour market.
The timing of legislation in the United Kingdom will depend on agreement between Parliament and Council as this is a matter for co-decision, as my hon. Friend knows. I hope to bring forward the necessary domestic legislation as soon as possible.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. One of the main proposals coming forward is to give agency workers the same protection as full-time workers after 12 weeks. What does he intend to do about employers who sidestep those protections by, say, employing somebody for 11 weeks and four days?
The 12-week qualifying period to which my hon. Friend referred was recorded in the agreement reached between the Trades Union Congress and the CBI; that was the platform that allowed final agreement to be reached in the European Council. The directive also has strong anti-avoidance provisions. Obviously, the final details are still to be resolved in the process of co-decision making. However, the benchmark of proper protection has been established, and our view is that the directive must ensure that the obvious abuses to which my hon. Friend referred are dealt with fully and fairly.
When he is drawing up these proposals, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the fact that after the end of the second world war, large numbers of people from eastern Europe—“displaced persons” they were called—came to Britain and other countries looking for jobs? Literally thousands of them started working in the pits. There were no middlemen and no agencies—nobody had ever heard of such things. Nobody was taking a cut of their wages; they were paid exactly the same as the others of us who were down the pits and they were affiliated to the appropriate trade union. If we could do that post-1945, why do we need these middlemen now? Let us get rid of them and get on with the job. Let us get back to giving the people who work for the money all the money, rather than there being a cut for somebody else.
I recognise what my hon. Friend has said about the mines and the immediate post-war period, but I am sure he will know, as he is very much in touch with the modern world, that the labour market today is a very different thing. Many workers in many industries have chosen and prefer agency working to other forms of employment. That is true in many sectors—in health, in teaching, in many of the managerial professions and in computing and technology. It would be quite wrong to take away from workers the opportunity of working in that way. I hope that he and I agree that where there is agency working, there should be proper and fair protection for agency workers so that they are on an equal footing with regular, full-time employees. I hope that that is what the directive that we have agreed in Europe will ensure.
Post Office Closures
The Government recognise the important social and economic role of post offices in the communities they serve. In developing the area plans that are going through at the moment, Post Office Ltd considers the impact on local communities among other factors such as the profitability of the branch, local demographics and the availability of public transport.
If Mr. Sale and his family, who ran the Ilderton Road post office in Rotherhithe for 30 years until it was closed yesterday afternoon against their will and that of the community, decide that they can no longer continue in business, and the effect of that is that the whole parade of shops goes downhill, what will the Government do to help?
Mr. Sale, like all the sub-postmasters who are leaving the network as a result of this programme, will shortly receive, if he has not already received, the compensation that has been negotiated between the National Federation of SubPostmasters and Post Office Ltd in recognition of the important efforts that he and many others like him have made to the community over the years.
Marston road in Stafford is a local shopping centre in that it is a collection of small shops, including a post office. On Tuesday, Post Office Ltd announced the closure of that post office, which serves the local population, including many elderly disabled people in sheltered housing. Obviously we cannot transfer the post office to another shop locally, but would there be the possibility of an outreach service to one of the sheltered housing schemes so that at least people can stay in their locality instead of having to go somewhere else for their post office?
It is difficult to comment on the immediate circumstances that my hon. Friend raises. However, he should be aware that on 9 April Post Office Ltd announced that it was going to pilot the outreach concept, which had previously been geared towards rural areas, in urban areas as well. My advice to him would be to contact Post Office Ltd to see whether his constituency might have such a pilot, although I cannot guarantee that that will happen.
May I press the Minister on a specific issue that the Government could implement to help the post office network? The National Federation of SubPostmasters has said it fears that a further 3,000 post offices will close if the post office network does not win the Post Office card account. In view of the Government’s handling of this issue so far, what representations is the Minister going to make in order to help it to win that vital account?
I do not think anyone is in any doubt about my view on this issue, which will be decided in a proper and legal way by the Department for Work and Pensions. I am sure that the last thing the hon. Gentleman would want is for me or another Minister to do something that would place the proper tendering process in jeopardy so that if the result that he wants happens, it is then challenged in the courts. That is why it is important that this is carried out properly according to the legal tendering rules. As I have said, the post office network is in a strong position to bid, and I am sure that it will bid strongly, but this has to be decided in a proper way by my colleagues at the DWP and announced in the normal fashion later this year.
The central purpose of my Department is to help to ensure the success of UK business. We promote business growth and a strong enterprise economy, lead the better regulation agenda and champion free and fair markets, benefiting workers, consumers and companies. We are also the shareholder in a number of Government-owned assets, such as Royal Mail, and we work to secure clean and competitively priced energy supplies.
Given that answer, what is the Secretary of State’s Department going to do about the Financial Services Authority? I appreciate that it is a Treasury responsibility too, but it is also a matter of business regulation. In the last few months, we have learned that the outgoing chairman was paid more than £250,000 after he stopped working, that the new chairman got a pay rise of 37 per cent., which took him to a salary of £662,000 after a £114,000 bonus, and that the man who was effectively sacked because of the Northern Rock debacle got a £612,000 golden pay-off, plus a £30,000 performance-related bonus. What is a Labour Government going to do to stop such absolutely scandalous pay for people at the top end, when our constituents can hardly scrape enough together to pay the household bills?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it is important that the FSA is able to recruit the right people and the best people. [Interruption.] That is a matter for the hon. Gentleman to reflect on. The one thing that I have learned from doing this job is that it is usually a good idea to leave matters to do with the Treasury to be dealt with by Treasury Ministers in this House.
Yes, I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to what he has done in the past year or so, leading on some important work, which I hope will come to fruition. I agree that we need to discuss such matters carefully and closely with the industry. He referred to the importance of self-regulation in this regard, and I agree about that, but the Government have the responsibility to ensure that people and businesses in the UK who use the internet and do business online can do so safely, free from the fear of crime. I assure my right hon. Friend that active discussion is taking place between Ministers in a number of Departments to address the concerns that he and others have raised.
May I tell the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs that there is substantial and growing concern in the northern isles about the consequences for post offices if the post office network does not get the next generation of the Post Office card account? At present, just about every inhabited island in my constituency has a post office where people can use their card account. Will the Minister assure me that when the new contract is awarded, that will remain the case, and that questions of geography, as well as just bald population statistics, will be taken into account so that the matter is properly implemented?
There is not a lot I can add to what I have already said about the card account, other than to repeat that I understand how important it is to the post office network. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that his constituency, which is a special part of the country, has good post office provision. We want to maintain that, and the large amount of public subsidy that we put into the network is partly in recognition of the special circumstances of constituencies such as his. I am sure that the Department for Work and Pensions will take into account all relevant factors in deciding the future of the contract.
I thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker.
In the debate about the negative effects of the high oil price, the crucial part that the North sea oil and gas industry plays in the UK’s economy sometimes gets lost. However, that contribution has been made at some cost to human life. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, in which 169 men died. I would welcome my right hon. Friend’s reflections on the lessons that have been learned and need to continue to be learned as a result of the tragedy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning Piper Alpha. All hon. Members know the scale of the tragedy on that day 20 years ago. Since then, significant improvements in health and safety have been made across the UK continental shelf, and that is a tribute to the trade unions and employers who worked together to achieve that better result to improve the safety and security of workers, on whom we all fundamentally depend for our long-term national self-interest. I pay tribute to that work. We all continue to regret the tragic loss of life on that terrible day, but we stand ready to work with both sides of the industry always to push forward the barrier of safety and do more to protect workers who work in incredibly dangerous situations. The UK Government remain committed to achieving that result.
On the day that the price of crude oil has burst through $145 a barrel, and further to the earlier comments of the Minister for Energy, how much extra have the Saudis produced since the Prime Minister’s visit to Jeddah? Will the Secretary of State explain how any extra production of heavy oil, when the world needs, if anything, light oil, would have any beneficial impact on global prices?
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has indicated its willingness to provide an extra 500,000 barrels a day of crude oil, and that is welcome. I accept that most of that is heavy crude, and that there is an issue about the world’s refining capacity to use that. However, the short-term problem cannot be fixed with the flick of a switch. It is important to deal with supply issues in the way my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy stated. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is addressing that in a way that gives the UK global leadership, and that is welcome. However, we must do more on the demand side, and what the G8 Energy Ministers agreed in Japan is important and will, I think, be confirmed at the G8 summit in Japan next week.
We can do more about energy efficiency, developing new technologies, having an open view about trade and making it a win-win situation for oil-producing countries to invest in some of the new technologies. I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge our work to try to get stability in oil prices—hopefully a climate in which they can come down—and that the Jeddah process and the work of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are the right response to the problems that we face.
I hear what the Secretary of State says and he is right about the importance of the demand side, but is not the problem for Britain the fact that the Prime Minister simply does not understand global oil markets and that his so-called new deal, which was much vaunted when he visited Saudi Arabia, was in fact a deeply humiliating begging mission, which has led neither to any additional oil production that is of any use nor to any reduction in the pain that consumers face?
It is easy to sneer and be cynical about such matters and it is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman has taken that approach. The exercise is far from humiliating, as he described it. There is now a process and a discussion, which has never happened before, between the producing and consuming nations. That will be an essential way to try to resolve and find a way through the problems. What is the alternative? Not to talk and not to have a dialogue? That is completely ridiculous.
The Minister for Energy and I both visited Bristol port authority a couple of weeks ago on Friday to discuss the potential impact of the Severn barrage on the port’s future business. Sadly, we did not quite meet on that occasion. Will either my right hon. Friend or the Minister for Energy tell the House whether the representations that were made to the Minister on that occasion about the potential impact of the barrage on the port’s future will be fed into the Severn barrage feasibility study?
Yes, they certainly will. It is important to consider all the potential impacts, not only environmental but economic, of a barrage across the Severn. They must be taken into account in the consideration of all the various options. However, I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that, given the enormous potential of generating significant amounts of clean energy from such a barrage, we should proceed with the work, have everything on the table, be clear about the way forward and, when we are ready, make an informed, proper decision. However, as I said earlier, we must take into account both the economic and environmental impacts of such a proposal.
Does the Secretary of State think it was wise for the Prime Minister to reappoint the chief executive of Anglo American as one of the Government’s most senior business advisers this week, in the light of recent controversies over the company’s investments in Zimbabwe? Did the Secretary of State discuss the appointment with the Foreign Secretary?
It is a good and sensible appointment. All such matters are properly looked into before any such appointment is made.
Let me welcome the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson) on his first time at these questions—I do not know whether this is his first question in toto. My understanding is that no announcement has been made on the mail centre at Crewe. Royal Mail will of course be engaged in a process of modernisation and automation over the coming years, and it will have to take operational decisions about that. However, the hon. Gentleman’s party cannot say that decisions about Royal Mail, along with a number of other difficult decisions, including about transport infrastructure, nuclear power, planning and so on, must all be put into a box marked “too difficult to decide”.
The Office of Fair Trading has responsibility if there is evidence of anti-competitive behaviour. If the hon. Gentleman has such evidence, that is the authority to which it should go. I made it clear earlier that we need to find and develop the alternatives for those rural communities and rural households. Microgeneration—I have mentioned heat pumps as an example—has a great deal of scope in helping to bring more diversity and choice to some of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
I understand that anyone affected by post office closures is in a difficult position, because closures of course have consequences for post office customers. However, it is precisely because of that that we have put in place access criteria, in both urban and rural areas. In the face of losses of £500,000 a day, to which the hon. Lady did not refer, and a loss of custom amounting to 4 million customers a week in recent years, we have put in place the level of subsidy that will ensure a network of around 11,500 post offices, even after the closure programme is completed. Without the subsidy put in place by this Government, the Post Office would be in a much more difficult position than it is now.
The suggestion that the Government are somehow to blame for the changes in the way people choose to live their lives is one that I reject. Nine out of 10 new pensioners choose to have their pension paid directly into a bank account. I cannot add anything further on the decision on the contract. As I have said, that will be decided by the Department for Work and Pensions. I am sure that the Post Office is extremely keen to win it, and I am sure it has put in a strong bid, but that must be decided in a proper, legally robust manner.
Business of the House
The business next week will be as follows:
Monday 7 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on ticketing and concessionary travel on public transport, followed by a debate on science budget allocations. Details will be given in the Official Report.
At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 8 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill.
Wednesday 9 July—Opposition day [unallotted day] [first part]. There will be a debate on the cost of living on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, followed by motion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (Maximum Amounts) (England) Order 2008, followed by all stages of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords].
Thursday 10 July—Remaining stages of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords].
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 July will include:
Monday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 15 July—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No.2) Order 2008.
Wednesday 16 July—Opposition day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords amendments
Thursday 17 July—The House will be asked to approve resolutions relating to the Intelligence and Security Committee, followed by a general debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2007-08.
The information is as follows:
Ticketing and Concessionary Travel on Public Transport (Fifth Report from the Transport Committee, HC 84); and Science Budget Allocations (Fourth report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, HC 215).
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. This week, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from Cherie Blair on crime on our streets. I am sure that the Prime Minister will have welcomed her intervention on the issue. In her evidence, she called for a more highly visible police presence on our streets. Today, a report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that front-line police sergeants spend half their day on paperwork, rather than on the beat. Indeed, one officer has said:
“Click, click, tap, tap best describes my job; mainly recording performance figures”.
When can we have a debate in Government time on policing and bureaucracy?
A report this week heavily criticised the Government’s 24-hour licensing laws, saying that alcohol-related incidents have sharply increased. Indeed, one senior police chief constable has said that gang life is replacing family life and that in the last year the number of children admitted to hospital with stab wounds has doubled, so can we have a debate in Government time on mending our broken society?
This week, it was revealed that the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, was told in 2003 of security flaws in the Government’s handling of child benefit records. An internal report said that
“fraudulent… activity was not being detected”,
that civil servants could
“do anything without being detected”,
and that “the risks were serious”. Four years later, those risks became real when the Government lost the personal details of 25 million people, so will the Chancellor make a statement to the House explaining why the Prime Minister, despite being told of these problems, did nothing?
This week’s Darzi review on the NHS was particularly flattering to my hon. Friends in the shadow Health team, as they appear to have written many of the proposals. Patient choice, for example, was announced by the Conservatives in September 2007; budgets linked to quality of care was announced by the Conservatives in June 2007; and the NHS constitution was announced by the Conservatives a year ago. Labour has clearly run out of its own ideas and has to resort to using ours, so may we have a debate on original thinking in government?
May we also have a debate on communication by political parties? I would like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on having recently appeared on the front page of the Henley Standard. I agree with her that Labour did not come fifth in the Henley by-election because she launched the Equality Bill on polling day, as there are many other reasons why people do not want to vote for this Government at the moment. A debate on communication, however, would allow us to discuss the tactics used by the Liberal Democrats in the Henley by-election. The worst example of their negative campaigning and cynical approach was a leaflet that led to the following headline in the Thame Gazette: “‘Don’t use us as a pawn’, school tells Lib Dems”. At a time when trust in politicians is so low, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that such campaigning methods are irresponsible and that the Liberal Democrat party should be ashamed of itself?
Order. I let the right hon. Lady finish, but let me say that I would not expect a response to the tactic of using the business announced today as a means of attacking a political party in this way. The comments have been put on the record, but I would not expect the Leader of the House to respond to them.
The right hon. Lady raised the question of crime, particularly youth crime, and I would like to take the opportunity this morning to offer my condolences to the families of two people in the London borough of Southwark who lost their lives through violent knife crime in my constituency over the last four days. I pay tribute to the local police in Southwark under the leadership of Commander Malcolm Tillyer, and to all the police in our cities for their work in trying to tackle the menace of knife crime. They are working as part of a team with the Government, and we will shortly produce our youth crime action plan, which will be put before the House by the Home Secretary. The policing Green Paper will follow shortly. I remind the right hon. Lady that we are only too well aware that, although violent crime has fallen by 30 per cent. over the past 10 years, there remains the particular problem of young people carrying knives. The age at which people are carrying knives and becoming victims of knife crime is falling. That is a worrying trend which we are working on tackling.
The right hon. Lady asked about the security of data. We all want data to be gathered accurately, shared in the interests of good public services and to work as proof against fraud. She will know that the Poynter review outcome has been reported and is now being acted on.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Darzi review, which was the subject of a statement on Monday in this House and the other place—on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Our view, set out on Monday, is that the Darzi review brought forward by the Secretary of State for Health is the next stage in building on and then improving the quality of care in the NHS, so that we can move on from having had to rescue the NHS when it was on its knees. The big question when we came into government was whether we would have an NHS in the future—would it even survive? Now, the question is how we improve the quality of care in the NHS. If the Opposition have joined us in that approach, we welcome them.
Identity fraud costs the UK £1.7 billion every year and I am its latest victim. Last month, in a card skimming scam, £3,500 was taken from my bank account and subsequently reinstated with a note on the statement, “Smile—reimbursement”, as if I had something to be happy about. When I contacted the bank, it refused to tell me about the progress of the fraud investigation—the shutters came down. This is a huge problem that is touching thousands of people every day, and we need an urgent debate on this issue of great concern.
I take my hon. Friend’s comments as a suggestion for a topical debate. We all want the convenience of credit card transactions, but we must ensure that we work with banks and through the Serious Fraud Office and the police, as well as with Departments such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to bring it all together. Fraud is not a victimless crime and we need to work together.
The Leader of the House has announced that we will have a full day to debate the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill, which is an urgent measure that has widespread general support throughout the House. Can we ensure that before we break for the summer recess we have all the time we need for the Bill to pass between both Houses? It would be far better to get agreement in a conciliatory way on the important balance between liberty and victims’ rights, rather than force a measure up and down the corridors of this building. I hope she agrees to give us the time that we need next week and thereafter.
In that context, may I thank the Leader of the House for what she said in reflecting the question asked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about young people and crime? The House is getting increasingly worried—not only were two adults in our borough of Southwark stabbed to death, but last week in north London, a young man, Ben Kinsella, was stabbed, and in New Cross in the past few days, two people have been found brutally stabbed—that it is beginning to feel as if there is a real evil in our society. Although the numbers are not enormous, they are horrifying and each incident is an absolute tragedy.
We had a debate on knife crime, which was welcome, but before we break for the summer can we have another debate on responsibility towards and of young people? I include in that the opportunity to debate the fact that high street banks are offering Visa cards to 11-year-olds, which must be scandalous and must not add to anybody’s parental sense of being able to control their young people.
I have just two other requests to make. This week, we have rightly been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the NHS, which we all rejoice in. We had a big statement on the Darzi report this week. Before we break for the summer, can we have a debate on NHS accountability to the public—not what the service is, but how people can influence what it is locally?
Can we also have a debate on the linked great public service of which we are about to celebrate the anniversary? Next month is the anniversary of the passing into law of the Old Age Pensions Act 1908. This week, Southwark pensioners came here to start their celebrations, and there will be other events because the campaign began in Southwark. Can we have a debate on what has gone wrong with our society, when pensioners still have to apply for a top-up to make up a minimum income and people are given golden farewells from the Financial Services Authority of £600,000 and more yet they presided over a completely incompetent job of managing Northern Rock?
That is the nature of capitalism.
The hon. Gentleman says that that is the nature of capitalism, but we have a Labour Government who are presiding over pensioners underpaid and people hugely overpaid.
Finally, although it is right that we are to debate Zimbabwe today, I have asked several times for a debate on relations between the United Kingdom and China. May we have such a debate before the end of term and before the Olympic Games?
The hon. Gentleman asked about the process for the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill. I can tell him and the House that we have no intention of forcing the Bill through. It simply constitutes a recognition that we need to react to a court judgment that would have had the effect of allowing offenders out on appeal and requiring the Crown prosecution services, having reviewed cases in the pipeline, to drop them because the anonymity of witnesses could not have been protected when the cases came to trial.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has been discussing the issues and giving full briefings to Members in all parts of the House. Any Member who wants a briefing from him or his ministerial team should let him know; he would be happy to provide it before next week’s debate. The Bill will be published today, so Members will be able to see it. My right hon. Friend has also been having extensive discussions with peers in all parties, and with Cross Benchers. There is a great deal of expertise and interest in the matter in the House of Lords. The idea is to secure as much agreement as possible, along with recognition that we need to act quickly because of the cases that are in the pipeline.
One of the fail-safes is the undertaking given by the ministerial team that the Bill is expected to last for a year at the most. It will either fold into the victims and witnesses Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, or contain a sunset clause. We want to get it as right as we possibly can, but that fail-safe is there. Members are encouraged to talk to the ministerial team.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned youth crime. I send my condolences to the bereaved family of Ben Kinsella, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we all feel a sense of shock and horror after discovering that the deaths that we thought had resulted from a fire in New Cross now appear to have resulted from stabbings. Each of those deaths is a great tragedy, and each, as the hon. Gentleman said, instils a sense of fear and dismay that we must work together to tackle.
In mentioning the high street banks and the Visa cards, the hon. Gentleman put his finger on the fact that this is not just a question for the police. All agencies, local authorities and organisations in the voluntary and the private sector must work together to deal with it. We are drawing up a youth crime action plan and a policing Green Paper, but I shall ensure that the House has the opportunity that it clearly wants to focus on these issues.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the accountability of the national health service to the public. There is to be an Adjournment debate on health today, and no doubt there will be further discussion during consultation on the NHS constitution. The draft consultation document was launched on Monday.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to pensioners. There are two issues at stake—pensioners’ income levels and standards of living. I work closely with the Southwark pensioners action group, of which he and I are patrons and supporters. He should bear in mind that, of all the groups who are better off since we came to Government, pensioners—especially women pensioners—have benefited most, but we are not complacent and we want to do more.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about pay at the top. We must show responsibility over pay, not only in the public sector but in the private sector, and it must be connected to performance. High pay must be connected to good performance, not bad performance.
When can we have a debate on support for carers and the carer’s allowance? Although the increase in the earnings threshold to £95 was welcome, it remains the case that for every £1 increase above the threshold carers lose the whole allowance. That means that they can end up more than £40 a week worse off. They also lose the allowance when they retire, although they have to continue their caring role. Surely it is not beyond the wit of Government to come up with a more sensible system to ensure that carers continue to be supported when their circumstances change.
In raising the question of financial support for those who do the important work of caring for older and disabled relatives, my hon. Friend puts the spotlight on the element of that support that remains unsatisfactory. It is being kept under review by the Department for Work and Pensions and, in particular, by the Carers Commission. We want people who are caring for family members not to suffer financially as a result, and not to have to give up their jobs because they are worse off if they stay at work.
We are proceeding with a range of activities following consultation on the carers review. The carer’s allowance is being specifically reviewed, and I shall bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of those who are conducting the review.
The Leader of the House will have noted the grave concern about the future of Post Office card accounts during topical questions today, and will be aware of it from experience in her constituency. It is important for the House to have a chance to express its view in a proper debate before a final decision is made. I appreciate that it may well not happen next week, but will the right hon. and learned Lady guarantee that before the decision is made we have a full debate on the Floor of the House?
The House has taken the opportunity to discuss post offices on many occasions, not least on Opposition days, during topical questions and in numerous Adjournment debates.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the important question of the contract for the Post Office card accounts. As I explained during last week’s business questions, a procurement process is under way and it would not be right for me, as a Minister, to comment on it. All I can do is report to the right hon. Gentleman, as I did last week, that the Post Office says it is making a vigorous bid for the contract. I do not think that a debate in the House would necessarily facilitate the process of awarding that contract; I think that everyone concerned is well aware of Members’ views.
The BBC is launching a streaming service whereby BBC 1 will be available on the internet. Although the technological advance is entirely welcome, does the Leader of the House agree that there is a fear in the internet community that institutions and individuals with internet access but no television sets will suddenly be forced to buy television licences even though they have no interest in watching television? Will she draw the matter to the attention of ministerial colleagues, so that either we can have a debate or a clear statement can be made by the BBC or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?
I think that through his question my hon. Friend has shown himself to a member of the internet community. I know of his long-standing interest in the internet. He has raised an important point about what might be an unintended consequence, and I shall bring it to the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I shall also ask the Department to write to him, and to place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.
May we have a debate on the economy? The Leader of the House will recall that we used to have regular debates on the subject in Government time, one of which used to take place in July. However, they have died away. We had no debate on the Chancellor’s pre-Budget report last November, for instance. Given the widespread concern about the direction and performance of the United Kingdom economy, is it not time that we revived the tradition of debating it in Government time?
As the House will know, we have debated economic issues during the passage of the Finance Bill, but I am aware that that is not the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. I am also aware of the concern that although days of debate routinely follow the Budget, no such days of debate follow the innovation of the pre-Budget report.
Bearing in mind that we have provided a day’s debate for the draft legislative programme but have not reduced the number of days of debate that follow the Queen's Speech, we are considering whether it might be possible to find time to debate the pre-Budget report by adjusting the number of days available for debating the Queen's Speech. We need to discuss the issue through the usual channels and with the shadow Leader of the House and other Members, and I shall be happy to do that. If we are to add extra days of debate on the economy, we shall have to take them away from somewhere else. We therefore need to discuss the way in which we order our priorities, and I am happy to share that discussion with Members.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this June was the first Gypsy Roma Traveller history month, which was supported by the Government and which had the aim of educating the public about the long history of Gypsies and Travellers in this country. Is she aware of the success of that month? I attended several events, which were very lively and full of people—the public, Gypsies and Travellers together. Will she arrange a debate to consider that history month’s effectiveness in reducing prejudice?
The Government have been pleased to support that history month, and I thank my hon. Friend for telling us about the success of the events in her constituency and more widely in Wales. I will draw those matters to the attention of the Secretary of State for Wales.
Will the Leader of the House make parliamentary time available to discuss the proposal to establish a national bioethics commission? Many Members had hoped that we would be able to raise that issue during the discussions on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill a week on Monday, but it seems that the Bill is too tightly drawn for us to be able to force a discussion or amend it in that way. The UK is unique in western Europe in not having such a standing committee, and it would help us as legislators to have independent advice from an expert committee that looks at these issues in the round.
Responsibility for the important question of bioethics crosses the Select Committees that deal with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health. We are keeping the matter under review. We must have a proper focus in the House for the important scrutiny and consideration of bioethics, and I know that a number of Members have raised the question of how we can ensure that. I do not have anything specific to announce to the hon. Lady on this, but I will take into account that it is an issue of concern to her and let her know if there is any progress.
I was recently contacted by a constituent who wanted to get a copy of her birth certificate online. She visited a website called govcertificates.co.uk which she assumed was a Government website. It was not, however; it was a scam, where official information that people can get hold of fairly cheaply from Government websites is resold at a much increased price. Will my right hon. and learned Friend investigate, and hopefully close down, that operation, and may we also investigate more generally how such scams involving Government information work? I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in calling for a debate on these issues, to see what progress we can make in tackling this type of scam and attempt to rip off consumers.
Once again, my hon. Friend has reminded us that fraud is not a victimless crime and people lose out as a result of it. I will draw his point to the attention of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I will ensure that the Home Office establishes that the Serious Fraud Office and local police know about this and are able to take action swiftly, if it has not already been taken.
The right hon. and learned Lady has announced the business for Tuesday, which includes consideration of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill and the allocation of time motion. Does she understand that I do not belong to the cosy consensus? I am extremely worried about this matter. It is quite wrong that the Bill has not yet been published, and that it will pass through all its parliamentary stages on Tuesday. Does she not recognise that that is a case of a Bill being pushed through the House? That is wrong in principle. The public will not have an opportunity to make representations, and we will find it very difficult to amend the Bill. Surely this is government by decree and legislation by officials, not by parliamentary government?
I do not think any Member of this House is under the impression that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is anything to do with anything cosy at all, and he is often nothing to do with anything to do with consensus either. I said in my initial remarks that all Members who have an interest in this—not just those involved in the usual channels—should contact the Ministry of Justice. I will tell the Secretary of State for Justice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman—who is extremely learned in matters of law and knowledgeable about these issues, and who has no doubt read and understood the judgment—would like to talk to him about how the Bill’s proposals will work. I understand that the Bill has just been published, so the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance to look at it. However, let me remind him and other Members that this situation is not of our choosing. It is never a good thing to have to take decisions that affect the criminal justice system in a hurry. We are doing this expeditiously because of the court decision; otherwise, certain prisoners might be allowed to be released on appeal, or prosecutors reviewing cases might be required to drop those cases and it will not be possible to bring offenders who have committed crimes to justice—crimes will go unpunished and victims will be left in the lurch.
During the debates on the Lisbon treaty, I warned the House that the European Commission had a clandestine plan that would undermine the clinical priorities of the NHS by promoting what has become known as health tourism. I also predicted that the plan would not see the light of day until after the House had ratified the treaty, and so it proved. However, even I was surprised that it decided to announce that on the 60th anniversary of the NHS. May we now have a topical debate on the unelected Commission’s meddling in political affairs in this country and in NHS matters?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Government remain committed to ensuring that where UK patients choose to travel abroad for care, the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund. We have to make sure that the NHS makes the decisions, rather than their simply being made by people who have enough money to go abroad doing so to get treatment that otherwise would not be acceptable on the NHS. The current proposal is an initial text. It will be subject to change during future negotiations at EU level. The UK will be an important player in those negotiations, and we will work to ensure that the right legislative framework is developed. I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
May we have a debate on the Law Lords’ decision to deny victims of pleural plaques the appropriate compensation? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of that decision, and despite assurances from the Justice Secretary and other senior Ministers, there is no tangible evidence that progress is being made. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this is a disease that affects white, working-class, middle-aged men and women. The Justice Secretary must be reminded that this needs to be given some priority, in order to make sure that they get the compensation they are entitled to.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Those who during the course of their working life—working hard—contract a horrible and devastating disease deserve, at the very least, the appropriate compensation. He has drawn to the House’s attention how long ago the Law Lords’ decision was handed down. He will know that the Government have undertaken to consult on how we should respond to the Law Lords’ decision, but I very much take on board his point that he wants us to get on with it, and I will make sure that ministerial colleagues in the relevant Departments understand that message loud and clear.
May we find time to debate early-day motion 1930?
[That this House expresses concern at reports of the closure of churches and the detention of Christians in Algeria; expresses particular concern at the case of Hanina Konider, a 37 year old Algerian woman facing prosecution as a result of being in possession of copies of the Bible; and urges the Government to raise this case and other cases of persecution of Christians in Algeria in the course of the discussions on the proposed Union for the Mediterranean due to commence in Paris on 13th July.]
This early-day motion has been signed by 58 Members. On 13 July there is to be a meeting in Paris to discuss the proposed EU union of the Mediterranean. Will the Leader of the House specifically request the UK representation at that meeting to raise the question of the persecution of Christians in Algeria and the case of this unfortunate woman, and also to promote the case for freedom of religion generally in Mediterranean countries? Surely we do not want to be in any sort of union where it is an offence to possess a copy of the Bible.
The hon. Gentleman has made forcefully the point that is attracting support from Members in all parts of the House, in the form of his early-day motion 1930. There is no opportunity for Foreign Office questions before the House rises for the summer, so I will make sure that this issue is brought to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign Office. I will ask them to write to him explaining about the forthcoming international meetings, at which they will find the opportunity to raise this issue.
The successes of the 60th anniversary of the NHS at the weekend have rather overshadowed the first anniversary, on 1 July, of the end of second-hand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces in England. Some 400,000 people have quit, there is 80 per cent. public support for the measure, and 40 per cent. of premises are recording an increase in business. As the chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, may I ask for a debate on tobacco control, perhaps based on my own early-day motion 1835?
[That this House welcomes the publication of the Department of Health's consultation document on the future of tobacco control; believes that there is an urgent need for action to ensure that a new generation of young people do not become smokers; and calls for legislation to be included in the 2008 Queen's Speech to end all displays of tobacco products at the point of sale, to end the sale of tobacco products from vending machines and to require all tobacco products in the UK to be sold in plain packaging.]
We should review the various measures proposed in the early-day motion in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech, which, as we know, will take place in exactly five months’ time.
The Leader of the House has done a great service to Members’ personal security by tabling the motion that will be debated later today on the non-disclosure of private home addresses. May I urge her to resist strongly any amendment that seeks to make an exception for Members’ home addresses in their constituencies, just on the basis that these occasionally have to be published locally? Returning to wider business, may I also request a statement from a Home Office Minister about the strange case of the suspected terrorist who went on the run last week and who was believed to have been involved in a major suicide plot, and yet whose identity could not be disclosed while he was on the run, for legal reasons? Some of us find it very strange that dangerous people could be on the run without our having a chance of catching them, because no one would know who they were or what they looked like.
At first sight, the case of the person who had gone on the run but could not be named does sound a bit baffling, so I will ask a Home Office Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman, and to see whether the matter is not too secret for some light to be shed on it.
The hon. Gentleman’s first point brings to the House’s attention the J. Lewis list. This is not the John Lewis list but the list of Members throughout the House who have signed his early-day motion. We have to base this issue on the security advice given to this House, which says that we should not publish our addresses, travel patterns or any information that could lead to Members being insecure and therefore unable to speak freely in this House. There will be an opportunity to debate this issue in the second of this afternoon’s debates. I know that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has tabled an amendment, but I hope that he will not press it to a vote. We simply have to act—[Interruption.] I can now reassure the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey has not been selected, so I will not have to do what I would have done, which is to resist it and make sure that we get this issue sorted out once and for all.
I know that the Leader of the House cares about the 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, for whom lip-reading is an absolutely essential life skill. Could we have a debate on the Government’s guidance to local authorities on the cost of lip-reading classes? Uncaring councils such as Conservative-controlled Essex county council are pricing vulnerable groups out of lip-reading classes, and I am sure that no one in this House wants to see that practice.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and this is one of the reasons why we have placed a specific duty on all organisations in the public sector, including local authorities, not to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, and to promote equality of opportunity and inclusion. The kind of services that he has described as being put at risk by Essex county council are exactly those that allow people to play a full part in the economy, by going out to work, and in the life of the community. I will raise this issue with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and see what it has to say about it.
May we have a debate next week on the ministerial code? If a Minister were to make a statement that the Government were not going to allow the building of housing on the green belt in eco-town proposals, but it later transpired that at the time of making that statement, the Minister was minded to allow commercial development to be built on the green belt in eco-town proposals, would the Leader of the House feel that the earlier statement was consistent with the principles of transparency and openness in the ministerial code?
We chose to have a topical debate on eco-towns because many Members in all parts of the House had asked for the topic to be eco-towns. All these issues were fully debated, and if a new one has arisen since then, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). If the issue involves the ministerial code, perhaps he should copy in the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
I raised concerns about the new NHS dental contract with the Health Secretary this time last year. In the light of the Health Committee’s damning report, which confirms that access has not been improved and that dentists have no financial incentive to carry out complicated treatments, will the Leader of the House make time for a specific debate on NHS dentistry under the reforms, given that in this afternoon’s Adjournment debate on the NHS in general, this issue may well be lost?
In fact, the Health Committee acknowledged that there has been a big increase in the number of dentists being trained, and the World Health Organisation says that child dental health in this country is the best in Europe. I know that that might seem a surprising statistic, but I offer it, for what it is worth. The fact that we intend to approach dental health by giving primary care trusts the power to commission dental services in their area was also welcomed. There has been a big investment in dental health in the last 10 years. More people than ever before have access to NHS dentistry, but we know that we have still not gone far enough. We intend to make further progress, and that will be part of the consultation under the NHS constitution.
Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on Iran? She will be aware of recent and worrying developments, including talk about the Israelis preparing to strike, yet there is also a real concern that not enough is being done to explore the peaceful alternatives to military action, including reports that the Iranians would be prepared for an international consortium to enrich uranium for civilian use on Iranian soil.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. The Foreign Secretary, who is here on the Front Bench with me because he is about to lead on the debate on Zimbabwe, tells me that there is 100 per cent. focus on diplomatic efforts in relation to Iran. No stone is being left unturned in that respect, and a package of measures to create a form of agreement to move forward has today been sent to the Iranians for their response.
With the recent expansion of the European Union, there is a growing number of EU-registered vehicles in the UK. The law is quite specific, stating that as long as those cars are taxed in their country of origin, they can be used in the UK for six months in any 12-month period. However, there does not seem to be any effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that that rule is adhered to. May we have a joint statement by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing about what Her Majesty’s Government intend to do about that worrying situation?
I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s point to the attention of the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to him.
May I correct what I said in answer to the previous question? It was not today that the package was sent by the Government to Iran about what negotiations there could be and how we could move forward peacefully, purposefully and diplomatically; it was two weeks ago.
Criminal Evidence (witness Anonymity)
Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Secretary Des Browne, Mr. Secretary Woodward, the Solicitor-General and Maria Eagle, presented a Bill to make provision for the making of orders for securing the anonymity of witnesses in criminal proceedings: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 7 July, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 134].
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of Zimbabwe.
I do not think that there could be a more appropriate topic for today’s debate than the situation in Zimbabwe. Yesterday, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition expressed their complete agreement about the crisis in Zimbabwe and the British response, echoing the approach of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who speaks for the Opposition on foreign affairs, and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats. I hope that we can build on that consensus and send a united message not just about our repugnance at the actions of the regime in Zimbabwe but about our call for all those in the region to fulfil their responsibilities to the people of Zimbabwe, and for the whole world to prepare for the rescue operation that will be necessary when there is a Government in Zimbabwe worthy of that name.
It is also important to say by way of introduction that I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are in support of the President of Zambia, President Mwanawasa, who is currently ill in hospital. He is the chair of the Southern African Development Community and a man who has shown real tenacity in raising the Zimbabwe issue. We very much hope that he is able to make a recovery from his current illness.
It is well known that over the past decade, Robert Mugabe has brought Zimbabwe to its knees. Its economy lies in crisis and now, as a result of the failure to establish a proper second round of the election, it is in limbo politically. Zimbabwe’s people suffer from violence, intimidation and hunger, and the Mugabe Government have destroyed the basic infrastructure of the country—schools and hospitals are barely functioning.
I am conscious that many hon. Members will want to intervene. I shall try to let the hon. Gentleman come in later, but I shall see how I get on and how much time I have.
In his determination to cling to power, Mugabe has turned on his own people. The opposition have been quelled, the judiciary corrupted and the press suppressed. At least 90 people have been killed in the violence in recent months and more than 3,000 injured. The prospects for Zimbabwe’s people are economically bleak. Mugabe has ordered non-governmental organisations to stop delivering humanitarian aid, on which 5 million people depend.
I spoke this morning to our ambassador in Harare, who confirmed that the economic situation remains dire and the political situation stuck in limbo. He explained that the regime wanted time to lick its wounds, but that the anger of the Zimbabwean people is being sustained by the waves of international condemnation that are being heard there. It is very important that they continue to be heard.
I think that we agree that the elections of 27 June were a sham. The United Nations Secretary-General has said that the outcome did not reflect the true and genuine will of the Zimbabwean people. The G8 expressed its disgust at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting that I attended in Japan last week. Many African voices are now speaking out against Mugabe, too—not just President Mandela but representatives of Botswana and Kenya. Many of us will believe that the recent AU summit did not meet the aspirations and hopes of the Zimbabwean people for a strong statement, but it is relevant to point out that the AU stated that the elections were not free and fair, and were scarred by violence. Sad as it is to say, that is an unprecedented judgment by the AU.
What discussion has the Foreign Secretary had with Botswana, specifically in relation to rumours of the build-up of Botswana defence force troops on the border of Zimbabwe?
Obviously our high commission is in close contact with the Government of Botswana. I have not had a read-out on the matter in the past 48 or 72 hours, and even if I had, I would probably not want to go into it in great detail in such a public forum. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have seen the call by the Tanzanian Foreign Minister for preparations for a peacekeeping force that might be needed in Zimbabwe at some point. I am not able to give him more information on the Botswana issue immediately.
Although it is indeed welcome that the AU, and to an extent SADC, have pronounced robustly on the situation, including the manner of the conduct of the election, would the Foreign Secretary accept that precisely because the will of the people was not allowed to be expressed, it is important that the AU and SADC speak up for the right of the people of Zimbabwe to have the genuine result respected? They should not be looking for ways to bypass or circumvent that result by talking about a Government of national unity. The people have spoken.
I promise that I shall let the hon. Gentleman intervene before I conclude.
Our goal is simple: to ensure that the Government of Zimbabwe reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. This is not about Britain versus Zimbabwe, still less about establishing a new British Government in Zimbabwe, but about having a Zimbabwean Government who deliver for their own people. The opposition have recognised the need for a broad-based Government and called for the formation of a transitional Government, recognising the unique political circumstances that now exist. For that Government to be credible, it must be based on the outcome of the 29 March election. To address directly the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), whatever the final composition of that transitional Government, Robert Mugabe cannot be in control of it.
Our work, and that of the international community, must be focused on four matters. First, we must support and protect the people in Zimbabwe working for democratic change. Election observers and NGOs witnessed the appalling violence and abuses before the election, and we support the calls for the UN to send at least one human rights envoy to Zimbabwe to investigate those abuses. We also urge the AU and SADC to keep some observers on the ground to continue to monitor, and if possible prevent, further violence.
Secondly, we support further efforts by the AU, SADC and the UN to find a way forward. Whatever they feel obliged to say in public, most African leaders are now sick and tired of having to apologise for Robert Mugabe’s abuses. He is an embarrassment to them. Morgan Tsvangirai has said that he is looking to the AU to play a key role in any “mediation” effort—I put that in inverted commas because it is not mediation between two equivalent parties. Senior members of the AU, particularly South Africa, have a massive interest in, and responsibility for, bringing Mugabe and ZANU-PF to the negotiating table and securing a democratic resolution to the crisis. The Prime Minister will discuss that with President Mbeki at the G8 meeting later this week.
The Foreign Secretary rightly paints a grim economic picture of Zimbabwe. Is the country in a state of total economic collapse, with the world’s highest rate of inflation and one of the lowest life expectancies? If not, how close is it to complete economic collapse?
I think that any of us would say that 100 per cent. inflation was pretty close to economic collapse, 1,000 per cent. inflation was a pretty advanced state of collapse and 1 million per cent. inflation was an unimaginable level of collapse. Zimbabwe is a country with between 4 million and 8 million per cent. inflation. I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who is in his place, is a keen historian, and those figures make Weimar look like a prudent regime in its economic management. Zimbabwe is an advanced state of chaos, which is causing real hurt and harm to the people of Zimbabwe, who in many cases are surviving on the back of remittances that are being sent to them.
Thirdly, through the UN and the EU and bilaterally, we must step up the pressure on Mugabe and his cohorts, including through targeted sanctions. In our view, those sanctions must be focused on punishing those within, or associated with, the regime, and if at all possible not on hurting ordinary Zimbabweans. Building on the statement by the UN Security Council on 23 June, we will continue to push for a UN Security Council resolution calling for further sanctions, including an arms embargo, a travel ban and an assets freeze on key regime figures, as well as a strong role for the UN in a substantive political dialogue. A draft resolution is now circulating and I can confirm that it is strong and clear. I hope that there will be a vote on it early next week.
Within the EU, at our meeting later this month, Foreign Ministers will decide how to widen and deepen existing EU-targeted measures. We will push for an extension of the EU assets freeze to cover further individuals whose actions are contrary to a political settlement. We will also push for an extension of targeted measures to include farms and businesses owned by those individuals already the subject of targeted sanctions. We will support measures that prevent regime members from attending international events within the EU.
It is important to be honest about the fact that we need to strike a delicate balance. We have no evidence of breaches of the current sanctions regime by British or other businesses. I reckon that it is a relatively easy choice to try to prevent direct succour and support from being given to members of the regime. It is an easy choice to try to keep employment and sustenance being provided to the people of Zimbabwe. But where both the regime and the people are benefiting from economic engagement, difficult choices must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind the serious attacks on church buildings, leaders and elders? A friend of mine who was a pastor there was murdered during this time. Can any influence be brought to bear to safeguard those people who are being attacked because of their religious principles under a cloak of other reasons?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If he has any particular cases to raise, I would be keen to ensure that my office follows them up and deals with them as best we can. He makes a general point about abuse that is sometimes targeted and sometimes anarchic and random. We want to try to do everything that we can in all such cases.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the work being done at European level. Can he say a bit more about our efforts to ensure that all our European partners put as much pressure as possible on Zimbabwe and assist our work with the AU and other organisations?
I can confirm that our renewed friendship with the French Government is leading to an entente formidable on this issue. The French Government are driving the issue forward as part of their presidency of the EU, and we are feeding in all our ideas, as are other Governments. I hope that the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 22 July will be able to take the issue forward.
The third set of elements that is important includes sanctions and other measures against the regime. In respect of bilateral action, Robert Mugabe no longer holds a knighthood in this country and the bilateral cricket tour scheduled for 2009 has rightly been cancelled because of the clear links between the Zimbabwean cricket authorities and the Mugabe regime. With regard to the Twenty20 world cup due to be held in this country next year, we have asked the England and Wales Cricket Board to request the International Cricket Council to annul Zimbabwe’s inclusion. The meeting taking place in Dubai has not yet concluded, but I very much hope that it will reach the clear conclusion that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to participate in the event, given the circumstances.
We will also consider whether action can be taken to exclude regime members or their associates from the UK and to freeze their assets.
We do need a powerful UN resolution, because the Foreign Secretary will recall that the Smith regime was subject to such a resolution and the only countries to which members of that regime could travel were Paraguay, Taiwan and South Africa. Most people find it utterly galling that Mugabe and his henchmen are still allowed to travel around the world under UN auspices, especially to the recent AU conference in Egypt.
I think that we have covered the importance of isolating the regime as far as possible.
The fourth point is the vital need to ensure that despite the focus on the politics we do not lose sight of the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. We expect 5.1 million Zimbabwean people to be dependent on aid by the end of the year. Unless Mugabe lifts his ban on NGOs delivering aid and removes all obstacles to co-operation so that people can access food and basic medicines again, the situation will obviously get much worse. The UK remains committed to the people of Zimbabwe, as we are the second largest bilateral donor, giving some £45 million in 2001 and more than £200 million since 2000.
The Prime Minister has already publicly declared our willingness to play a major role in supporting the international rescue and recovery package for Zimbabwe when the time is right. That will cost at least $1 billion a year for the next five years—more than three times current aid levels. That is the bill for Mugabe’s inhumanity.
Around the world, Governments and people are asking themselves how they can shift the position of a Zimbabwean Government who have proved deaf to the views of their people and to the international community. We owe it to the people of Zimbabwe to support and protect the forces of democracy inside the country, to step up our mediation efforts to ensure a peaceful and democratic resolution to this crisis, and to back this with targeted pressure and sanctions on the regime. This is a responsibility for the whole of the international community, but the greatest responsibility will be borne—certainly for political isolation—by African countries, especially Zimbabwe’s neighbours.
The Movement for Democratic Change yesterday warned that
“The crisis in Zimbabwe requires urgent action. The violence, intimidation, hunger and suffering must be addressed as soon as possible. Zimbabweans cannot afford any more confusion or delays. Zimbabweans can no longer afford to listen to words that are not reinforced by action.”
I am sure that the whole House will join with me in echoing those words.
There will be much common ground on many of the matters that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned, not least the thoughts and good wishes that he extended to the President of Zambia. We are united in this House in our horror that over the last decade the world has witnessed the Mugabe regime’s relentless abuse of the Zimbabwean people and the systematic destruction of their country.
The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is probably the worst anywhere in the world outside a war zone. One in four Zimbabweans have become refugees, and those who remain are at the mercy of a regime that beats, kills and tortures with impunity. Allowing Mugabe to cling to power is to consign the people of Zimbabwe to years, possibly, of further depredation and hopelessness. That is why the international community’s response to the situation matters so much and why today’s all-too-short debate is so important.
There will be general agreement in the House about much of the response, although I wish to press the Foreign Secretary on some points. I expect that we all agree that the European Union should widen its sanctions, as he mentioned; that it was right to issue a presidential statement to the UN and to seek a strong Security Council resolution now; and that African countries should join in not recognising the legitimacy of the Mugabe Government, although regrettably some have.
The Minister with responsibility for Africa, Lord Malloch-Brown, has spoken of a knot tightening around the regime, and stated unequivocally that Mugabe cannot be a part of any Zimbabwean Government. We very much support such sentiments. The issue now is how that can be achieved. The Foreign Secretary spoke about the AU summit in terms with which I agree. It was very good that countries such as Botswana called for the suspension of Zimbabwe from African regional bodies, because its participation would
“give unqualified legitimacy to a process that cannot be considered legitimate”.
It is disappointing, however, that the summit resolution was less critical of Zimbabwe than we would have wished. It seems clear that a credible mediation—to use that word again—requires a new or additional mediator, such as Kofi Annan or the Nigerian President, as Morgan Tsvangirai has said.
The Foreign Secretary said that he would travel shortly to South Africa. I hope that he will take that opportunity to deliver a united message from this country that, following the violence and the sham elections, the regime of Mugabe cannot be recognised as legitimate. I hope that he will be able to go a little further and say that in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, we regard Morgan Tsvangirai as the democratically elected leader of Zimbabwe subject, of course, to the subsequent decisions of the Zimbabwean people when at long last they have the freedom to make their own choices in the future.
Of course, the whole House and the whole civilised world hopes that that will happen, and that the people of Zimbabwe will be able then to express their views in an election that meets international standards. We cannot lay down what will be agreed in the future, but in my view that certainly ought to be part of it.
The same message should be reflected in the conclusions of the G8 summit next week, at which South Africa, of course, will be present. That will be an opportunity not to bully South Africa but to challenge its Government to live up to their moral regional responsibilities. It will be an opportunity to leave South Africa and the South African Government in no doubt that there is huge disappointment in this country about the stance that they have taken.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the African National Congress, at this week’s conference of the Socialist International, sought to block the MDC from affiliating to the Socialist International? Sadly, the ANC is not seen internationally to be siding with the MDC and the G8 meeting is very important to maximise the pressure on South Africa.
That is a good point, and I agree with it very much. Of course, the ANC has separated itself from ZANU-PF to some extent in its statements. Many of us have had conversations with Mr. Zuma about all this and have urged a stronger line from South Africa in the future. I met him last month—
Not at the Socialist International, but we meet in other forums. We all have to use all the relationships that we have with South Africa to urge a stronger line. South Africa is a country under huge pressure from the number of Zimbabwean refugees who are entering, and that is having a destabilising effect. That must be placing a strain on the infrastructure of a country that is planning, among other things, to host the 2010 World cup.
I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has raised today the supply of food in Zimbabwe, which he said would be needed by 5.1 million people by the end of the year. Given that aid agencies have been prevented from operating, it is vital that humanitarian assistance reaches those who most need it. We urge the Foreign Secretary to raise that matter with South African Ministers and his other African counterparts.
I was pleased, too, that he talked about the international assistance that would be provided after Mugabe, whenever the people of Zimbabwe have the freedom to choose their own Government. It ought to be possible to lay out that programme of assistance in greater detail than has so far been done by our Government and other Governments of the world. A clear programme of assistance should backed by a donor conference; a contact group should provide diplomatic support and engage with regional countries; and support should be provided for the reform of the police and security sector in Zimbabwe as well as for the orderly return of refugees. In the event of a major deterioration in security post-Mugabe, an international observer mission or over-the-horizon humanitarian force under the auspices of the African Union and backed by the major powers could be ready. All that could be set out in more detail and would give great hope to the people of Zimbabwe in this desperate situation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that providing carrots of the kind that he has just rightly described needs to be accompanied by the threat of the use of the stick? To put it bluntly, the longer this nonsense goes on and the more fatalities under the mass-murderer Mugabe there are, the greater the likelihood that he and others will be referred to the International Criminal Court.
My hon. Friend brings me right on to the point that I was about to make. The carrots can be made somewhat clearer, but of course the stick needs to be made bigger. We all welcome the initiative to introduce a draft resolution in the Security Council that places an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on regime officials. We certainly support the call for a UN human rights commission and a special envoy to Zimbabwe. Those are steps that the Security Council ought to be able to agree.
If that criminal Government manage to cling to power and the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, millions of people across the world will wonder why the UN did not do more. In our view, if the UN was living up to its responsibilities—particularly the responsibility to protect, which all nations signed up to in recent years—it would agree all the measures that I have outlined and the referral of the Mugabe regime to the ICC. Clearly, it is difficult to achieve that in the UN Security Council, given the balance of opinion. However, the Minister responsible for Africa has said that he anticipates human rights action against the regime that, in his words,
“will quickly make it impossible for them to travel anywhere for fear of arrest from human rights warrants put up by different judges”.
We would welcome clarification from the Government about what the Minister responsible for Africa was referring to. We strongly support such action, but it is not clear how it will be put into effect.
The Foreign Secretary said that he expected European sanctions on Zimbabwe to be enhanced at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. Of course, we support that too. Perhaps the Government will be able to tell us, if they have the chance to respond to the debate or in the future, how many family members or relatives of regime members reside in Britain or attend British universities.
We hope that it will be made clear that the EU should not invite Mugabe to any further summits of any kind. I asked the Foreign Secretary about that a couple of weeks ago and he said that no such summit was in prospect, which is in itself welcome. It should be possible to make a stronger statement than that if the EU means business on those matters.
There is wide agreement that businesses should be responsible in their approach to investment in Zimbabwe. Some people have called for a trade embargo, and I do not believe that that or anything else should be ruled out for the future. In the absence of any prospect of Security Council agreement, that proposal would obviously have some severe deficiencies. However, there might be a need for greater clarity in the guidance to businesses on how to approach matters.
We welcome the announcements by Tesco and the German company that has printed banknotes for the regime that they have withdrawn their business from Zimbabwe. There appears to be some confusion, however. One businessman was quoted in the newspapers this week as having said:
“The politicians appear to be saying one thing and the Foreign Office another.”
We ought to be able to set out that those not engaged in the country should not seek to become engaged there and that those countries with assets and employees in Zimbabwe should make no new investments and do nothing that provides hard currency to members of the regime, feeds its corruption or prolongs the tenure of a Government who have lost all legitimacy.
I must ask the Government about a point that might seem detailed but is symbolically important. It is about Northern Rock, now a state-owned bank in the UK. Its Guernsey subsidiary is specifically asking for deposits from three African countries, of which Zimbabwe is one. Treasury Ministers who have been asked about it have not yet been able definitively to state that Northern Rock complies with the EU financial sanctions regime. Given that the bank is owned by the British taxpayer, Ministers should be able to state that. An explanation of why that subsidiary is asking for deposits from Zimbabwe would be welcome.
It is a tragedy that, after all the high hopes of the 1980s and the introduction of democracy, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered such appalling misrule. There is now a choice, which, as the Foreign Secretary has said, is largely before the African nations, about the way in which the regime will come to an end. It will either be a slow, agonising end with inflation reaching infinity, life expectancy falling even lower and food becoming even scarcer as Mugabe and those around him try to eke out their power, or it can be a quicker end that allows the country and its people to recover more quickly in a democratic and open society. Now is the time for all nations to send the unequivocal message to the regime in Harare and the people of Zimbabwe that there is a future for the country after Mugabe, and to send the message to the African continent that its Governments cannot sit on their hands and avoid taking sides in a crisis that blights the lives of millions.
I begin by reminding myself and the House that Morgan Tsvangirai clearly won the March election. The so-called run-off election on Friday was a sham and a betrayal of the Zimbabwean people. Marwick Khumalo, the leader of the Pan-African Parliament’s election observer mission, said that it was
“an electoral campaign marred by high levels of intimidation, violence, displacement of people, abductions, and loss of life”.
He went on to say that it was
“difficult to dismiss claims of state-sponsored violence”.
The mission concluded that the elections were not free, fair or credible, and called for new elections.
Members of Parliament in Africa have found their voice, and we in this Parliament should congratulate and stand by them. There is a lot of anger and frustration, but anger and frustration will not change things. We need to ask what the UK can do to change the situation in Zimbabwe. First, we need to increase humanitarian aid. As the Foreign Secretary said, we are the second largest bilateral donor, and provided £45 million in aid last year. There are 300,000 people receiving food aid, but the Department for International Development expects that figure to rise to more than 4 million come the hungry season in January. We and other donors must step up to the mark and increase our aid.
The shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), complained about hard currency going into Zimbabwe. Is it not a dilemma that our hard currency, from DFID and other aid donors, is propping things up there? I do not ask my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) to condemn that aid, but we are in a dilemma that we are not facing honestly.
It is necessary for us to channel our aid money through UN agencies, and to circumvent the Zimbabwean Government, but what my right hon. Friend says is right. When foreign currency is exchanged in Zimbabwe, their Government take a cut, and some 20 or 25 per cent. ends up in Government coffers. We need to face that dilemma in relation to economic sanctions, but I will say more about that later.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe have been directly affected by the Zimbabwean Government’s suspension of the activities of non-governmental organisations. That activity was suspended because the Government falsely claimed that the NGOs were taking sides in the election. The election has passed, and there can be no possible argument for the continued suspension of the activities of NGOs. We should be pressing the Government of Zimbabwe, and pressing our friends in Africa to press that Government, to enable those humanitarian organisations to get back to doing their work.
Our Government are the biggest donor to the replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association, so we should take a lead in the construction of an international economic rescue package for Zimbabwe. That package should be conditional on the re-establishment of an accountable Government in Zimbabwe. That would give the Zimbabwean players real encouragement to re-establish legitimate Government, so that the disastrous economic situation in Zimbabwe can be addressed.
Members of this House need to take account of our own history. Mugabe is a tyrant, but where did he learn his tactics? He spent the first 50 years of his life growing up under white minority rule. When Cecil Rhodes’s pioneers moved into Mashonaland in 1890, they simply seized the land. The Matabele lands were taken by the British South Africa Company because their leader, Lobengula, was double-crossed.
I find this history lesson fascinating, but before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away in an anti-colonialist reverie, or even rant, may I remind him that Robert Mugabe was a Marxist dictator, and that it is no coincidence that a communist country, China, is his biggest supporter to this day?
The hon. Gentleman is right that during the liberation struggle, ZANU, as it was then, received a lot of aid and support from China. I certainly would not make the case that Britain’s colonial history is solely responsible for the situation. I make these points because we in the House need to be aware of why people in Africa sometimes regard our statements on Zimbabwe as prejudiced, and as being based on double standards. That is why it is so important for Africa to rise to the challenge of solving the problem itself.
If we are looking for leadership, we and others in Africa should look first to the Zimbabwean Parliament. Parliaments are meant to hold the Executive to account, and a majority of the Members of Parliament elected on 29 March were Opposition MPs. There were 99 from the Tsvangirai faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, nine from Mutambara’s MDC, and 97 from ZANU-PF. We should clearly say that the Zimbabwean Parliament should be convened, and that the contesting of the election results, which ZANU-PF is still pursuing, should not prevent the Parliament from being convened. We should provide finance and support for the Parliament, perhaps through the Pan-African Parliament, to enable it to meet and to develop its capacity to hold the Government to account.
The UK’s smart sanctions have not been smart enough. It is time for Europe to look seriously at wider economic sanctions. We certainly need to consult those whom we can consult in Zimbabwe—the MDC, NGOs and Members of Parliament—about how the sanctions packet should be fashioned, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said, whenever there is any business transaction in Zimbabwe, the Mugabe regime takes its cut. If the UK denounces the ZANU-PF junta but permits Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Shell or Tesco to invest or trade in Zimbabwe, and to take profit out, many will again accuse us of double standards.
During the 1970s and ’80s, I was a member of the executive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and I stood outside Rhodesia House demanding political change. The illegal Smith regime had no legitimacy, and the Mugabe junta has no legitimacy. Thirty years ago, I demanded the right of the Zimbabwean people to be freed from tyranny and to control their own political destiny through free and fair elections, and I do the same today. Our Government, and Governments in Africa who care about the future of Zimbabwe, must not recognise the elections, and must insist that new, free and fair elections be held.
The Foreign Secretary was right to say that there was cross-party support on almost all the issues to do with Zimbabwe, and I agree with many of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), including on the need to put more pressure on South Africa, and on the need to support those African nations that are speaking out, such as Botswana; that clearly is the route forward. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary recommended that Her Majesty take up our proposal to withdraw Mugabe’s knighthood. I want to use the small amount of time that I have to make three constructive suggestions to the Government. The first has to do with how we can help Zimbabweans living in this country prepare for their future role in rebuilding Zimbabwe. The second is to propose that the Government push for a stronger legal threat on Mugabe through the UN, and the third involves some comments about sanctions.
The key development objective for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe must be to help as many Zimbabweans living in this country prepare for their task of rebuilding their country, through education, training and work experience. The Government have taken some action in that respect, but I have spoken to representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change and of many of the organisations that work with Zimbabweans living in this country, and they are quietly critical of the Government for not doing much more. Their criticisms come down to two things—that huge uncertainties remain for failed asylum seekers, and that the thousands of Zimbabweans still waiting for their original asylum cases to be heard are unable to work. Those people have been left virtually destitute, with their skills and talents untapped by this country and withering away when it comes to any future use in Zimbabwe.
On failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers, the Court of Appeal yesterday decided to adjourn its hearing in the so-called “HS” case. That means that there should be no removals of such people for at least a few more months, but what about the longer term? We have heard some warm words from some Foreign Office Ministers, most recently on Monday in the other place, when Lord Bach said:
“we have no current plans to enforce returns to Zimbabwe and will not do so until the current political situation is resolved.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 June 2008; Vol. 703, c. 3.]
Yet colleagues will readily see that even that statement has a degree of uncertainty and ambiguity about it, even before one adds the ambiguity that is the hallmark of the Home Office’s position on this matter.
The policy issue involved is totally in the Government’s control. No quiet diplomacy or negotiation with any other country is needed; Ministers could take a decision and act. Why cannot all Zimbabwean failed asylum seekers be given special discretionary leave to remain lasting, say, for two years from today? That would give them the certainty that they need to get their lives together so that they can prepare for their eventual return to Zimbabwe. Ministers could also allow those people the right to work, and give the same right to work to the thousand of Zimbabweans who have been waiting for their asylum cases to be heard. Those people are seeking sanctuary in this country from the evil of Mugabe, but why do we allow them to suffer here? They have to rely on charity hand-outs and Red Cross parcels, but why can we not allow them the dignity of work?
On Monday in the other place, Lord Bach repeated the pledge that his colleague Lord Malloch-Brown had made the previous week. Lord Malloch-Brown had said that the Government were
“looking at the support that we may need to give Zimbabweans in this country, particularly at the ban on refugees taking up work”.—[Official Report, 23 June 2008; vol. 702, col. 1258.]
I hope that the Government will say more about that. Technically, Lord Malloch-Brown was wrong. Refugees have the right to work here, but asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers do not. I am pleased that the Government are looking at the matter, but we need action and some details now.
I endorse enthusiastically what my hon. Friend is saying, and commend his request to the Government. Those of us who represent many people from Zimbabwe know that they want to be able to work now so that they can live and work in Zimbabwe later. Does my hon. Friend agree with the plea made to the Government by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) that we work to make sure that those elected to Zimbabwe’s Parliament can take up their places? In that way, and by working with the AU, the Southern African Development Community and others, we can be sure that a Parliament with an Opposition majority is in place to hold the Government to account. That is a hugely important and immediate requirement.
I agree totally with my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley).
My second point, about the UN and the International Criminal Court, has been touched on by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members in recent days. However, the point that I want to make is more precise and immediate, and I believe that it will help focus the minds of those in the inner circle of ZANU-PF. The UN should resolve that, if Robert Mugabe does not leave office within six months, the jurisdiction of the ICC will apply in Zimbabwe.
Currently, Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the ICC, and that puts Mugabe and his henchmen outside the reach of international police and prosecutors. However, the UN Security Council can, by a resolution, bring any country within the locus of the ICC. That would mean that Mugabe and any other named individuals—wherever they went in the world and at any time until their dying day—could face lawful arrest, and subsequent prosecution in the Hague. That would surely focus the minds of the ZANU-PF inner circle.
Ministers should mount a diplomatic offensive to that end in the UN. I accept that it would be difficult, but trying to win international support for that powerful legal threat—the ultimate eviction notice—would surely be worth the effort.
My final point has to do with the vexed question of sanctions. There has inevitably been a debate over smart or targeted sanctions as opposed to dumb or blanket sanctions. Should we toughen the current targeted regime—for example, by including the families of the ZANU-PF leadership—or should we consider more intermediate measures, such as a UN arms embargo, or specific bans on things like financial remittances, electricity and petrol? Wider measures could include commercial disinvestment to a full-scale economic and trade embargo.
There are questions about the efficacy of such sanctions and who would suffer, but we need to do far more than we have done so far. It is the ordinary Zimbabweans who are suffering tremendously from malnutrition, unemployment and inflation. Many of the tougher sanctions that are available would not hurt them, but they would hurt the elite and those in Mugabe’s Government.
I very much welcome the cross-party nature of this debate, and especially the work done by the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary. However, I also want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his personal commitment to this matter and the huge amount of time and effort that he has devoted to it over the past few months. There has been some progress at the UN recently, and I honestly believe that that has resulted from the extra efforts that he has made, and from the work that has gone on generally in this House.
I am pleased that some of the things for which various hon. Members have called for some time have been accepted by the Government. For example, sanctions are to be tightened, and the problems with the Zimbabwe cricket tour have been cleared up. We called for that a year ago, but we were told that sport and politics do not mix. I hope that no one is dreaming of giving a visa to any Zimbabwean cricketer even if the International Cricket Council were to say that the team could carry on in Twenty20 cricket.
I do not want to go into too much detail, but does the international community really want Mugabe to attend the Beijing Olympic games? Should a Zimbabwean team be able to compete? If we can get South Africa out of the Olympics, we should be able to do the same for Zimbabwe.
I want to talk about humanitarian protection. What is the UN’s role in that? What has it said that it can do, and how little does it actually do? It utters grand-sounding words and resolutions, but how can we take that seriously if there are no mechanisms that allow it to intervene and give the real help needed to save people from the violent frenzy of Zimbabwe’s illegal Government? We should not even talk about President Mugabe—he is not a president, and he has not been legally elected. The Zimbabwean Government are an illegal, pariah Government.
The UN has a special adviser on the prevention of genocide. That sounds very laudable, but what has he done to prevent the slide towards genocide in Zimbabwe? It is not too extreme to use the word “genocide”, as some extremely dreadful things are happening in that country. Those events are not seen by cameras, and they happen out of the sight of the many brave reporters and journalists who have managed to get into the country. Has the adviser given any assessment to the UN of the genocide that is taking place in Zimbabwe?
I could spend a lot of time making critical comments about the AU, but we do not have that time. I welcome the fact that some African leaders have finally gone public with the criticism of Mugabe that they had hitherto made quietly behind the scenes. The AU monitors said that the first election was completely free and fair, but we knew that some terrible things were going on. They condemned the second round of elections, so how come Mugabe was allowed even to think of being able to attend the summit in Egypt? Zimbabwe must be suspended from the AU until an end is put to Mugabe’s Government and a new Government put in their place. The AU must be pushed by us. It has no credibility while it allows Zimbabwe to remain a member.
The hon. Lady is making an important point, but does she agree that it is important for members of the African Union to understand that if the international community is committed to massive transfers of aid and development funding to Africa, Africa must solve the political and economic problems at its heart? Otherwise, it will be very difficult to maintain public support for that transfer of funds.
Absolutely; I shall come on to that issue if I have time.
What is the point of negotiation and mediation if they are simply used as a tactic to prolong Mugabe’s rule and allow him to wear down the MDC by intimidation and violence? ZANU-PF is working on the basis that, if it can string out the mediation process for long enough, there will not be any coherent opposition left to confront. There is a systematic taking-out of duly elected Members of Parliament at this very moment. They continue to be abducted and beaten up and to disappear. Although there may be an MDC parliamentary majority, Members of Parliament who are kept in prison or in police cells for more than 21 days can be removed from their seats. The idea is that, by the end of the process, Mugabe will get his parliamentary majority by killing and torturing the Members who already sit in Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, unless clear standards are set for the proper governance for Zimbabwe, there is a real risk that mediation and compromise will simply result in a fudge that allows the present atrocities to continue, albeit under a slightly different banner?
We may have to consider a peacekeeping force, but I am very keen to ensure that we do what the MDC—the official Government, as far as I am concerned—asks for, rather than sit around here and decide what is best.
If this is an African problem, as we are told it is, and it needs an African solution, the AU and SADC must call for an end to the intimidation of African lawyers when carrying out their professional duties. The draft communiqués that emerge from the AU still manage to parrot ZANU-PF’s version of events.
I cannot even begin to say what I think of the South African President. I said last week in Parliament that we have been far too nice for far too long to President Mbeki, and I am glad that we are beginning to think that it is time to stop. When he and many others rallied people in this country on the issues of apartheid, we were not told that we should not get involved because we were ex-colonialists, or that we should not struggle to rid South Africa of oppression. Many South Africans came to the UK to seek refuge from terror; today, many Zimbabweans are coming here, and we need to give them the same support that we gave to the African National Congress exiles all those years ago.
I want to mention some people who have been to this Parliament, who have been involved with all of us and who are still being held in prison. Tendai Biti is of course now out of prison, but he was released not because of Mbeki’s protestations, but because of the very brave lawyers who continue in that country to ensure that, occasionally, judges rule on some elements of law and order. I want to mention also some of the women from Women of Zimbabwe Arise, whom I met many years ago on my first visit, and indeed, on my second and third visits. Those women, who were working throughout Zimbabwe, were not partisan and did not even think of themselves as politicised; they wanted their lives and those of the people in their communities to get better. Many were widows, and they knew that their children would soon be orphans, but they looked out for each other and vowed to care for each other when they were no longer able to look after themselves. That is what human rights should mean in practice, and that is what the responsibility to protect means at grass-roots level.
Today, many of those women are still in prison. People such as Jenni Williams and Magadonga Mahlangu were arrested on 28 May. They are still being held in custody in harsh and sub-human conditions, and they are subject to torture and other degrading treatment. Those women were detained purely beca