Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 490: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2009

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What work his Department is undertaking with the Government of Guyana to promote the preservation of the rain forest in that country. (266024)

We regularly discuss forest protection with the Guyanese. We are working directly with the Government of Guyana, and through the World Bank, to help Guyana to conserve its rain forests. We expect a national consultation on that work to begin in Guyana next month.

Will the Government consider proposing at the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of the year—as has been suggested in Guyana—international oversight of the Guyanese rain forest, so that it can become an important carbon sink and present a potential low-carbon investment opportunity?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes, but, if I may, I shall give him a slightly longer answer. We need to get right the international oversight and the whole question of deforestation and forest degradation. The hon. Gentleman will know that a number of other rain forests are hugely important internationally, and we need to think about how best we can work with countries. We are giving resources not only directly to the Guyanese but to a number of other countries, to help them to deal with exactly this issue.

Does my hon. Friend recall that in January, in a reply to a question from me, his Department said that some of its officials would be meeting their opposite numbers in Guyana? Was that meeting fruitful, and has it been followed up? The question is all the more important because, as he will know, the loggers are not the easiest people with whom to deal.

My right hon. Friend is right in saying that the loggers, particularly the illegal loggers, are very difficult to deal with. We have been working for some time, not only in Guyana but in a number of other developing countries, to help Governments to tackle illegal logging. As my right hon. Friend says, we have been meeting the Guyanese regularly, and we are helping them to develop a national strategy to manage their rain forest. As I said to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), a national consultation on those measures will begin shortly in Guyana.

In 2005, floods caused economic damage to 60 per cent. of Guyana’s GDP as a result of changing weather patterns. What is being done to help the poorest developing countries to adapt to the effect of changing weather patterns and climate change?

We are working with a range of developing countries, including Guyana. The Department is not only providing resources directly through its bilateral budgets but is working closely with international organisations such as the World Bank. We are providing a number of developing countries with staff with expertise who will be able to help them to develop their own strategies for tackling climate change.

As the Minister knows, the great majority of the world’s remaining rain forests are within the boundaries of developing countries. We have heard about the international supervision that may emerge in Guyana. What is the potential for a carry-over to other nations? I am thinking not least of the difficulties that can be caused by bribery, corruption and instability in the regimes of some of the countries where rain forests are located.

My hon. Friend makes a key point, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) before him. If we are to tackle the problem of deforestation, we must work with those countries to improve forest governance. We have already been working with the forest Ministries of a number of developing countries, and with other parts of their Governments, to tackle corruption and improve the quality of governance. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to learn that from 1 April we shall be strengthening still further our public procurement guidelines on the use of timber from rain forests in developing countries more generally.

The Minister has described the support that his Department is giving to various areas, including Guyana. The Norwegian Government have just provided $1 million for the land regularisation scheme in Brazil, which is another area of concern. Does the Minister support that scheme, and is the Department funding it as well?

We are not funding it directly as yet, but we are working with the Brazilian national bank, which is looking into the issue. The Brazilians have dramatically stepped up their work to tackle deforestation, and we have been working with a number of players, including the national bank, to support that work. The hon. Gentleman might recall from previous discussions that money is available from the climate investment funds at the World Bank. When it comes on line, Brazil may well wish to apply for direct help of that kind.


2. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on global efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS. (266025)

DFID Ministers and officials maintain an extensive dialogue with key international partners. I have recently discussed AIDS issues with senior figures at the global fund, the World Health Organisation, the UN Population Fund and the World Bank, and with Ministers during recent country visits to Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Thanks to the co-operation of branded pharmaceutical companies, generic competition in HIV drugs has reduced first-line drug prices for patient treatment from more than $1,000 a year to less than $100. As well as persuading his other Government counterparts to take HIV seriously, what more can the Minister do to persuade more companies to adopt an enlightened, co-operative approach and help reduce prices for second-line HIV drugs, which are so desperately needed as they do save lives, but which remain very expensive?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Our aim is to reduce the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs by £50 million a year over the next few years. Only this week, I wrote to UNITAID asking it to set out a timetable for the launch of a patent pool for HIV medicines. I welcome GlaxoSmithKline’s recent commitment to explore the potential for patent pools to make the development of new medicines for neglected tropical diseases easier, and I believe the time has now come for other pharmacological companies to respond positively to this initiative and join forces so that we can make the contribution to driving down prices and improving access to HIV/AIDS drugs.

Antiretroviral drugs are rightly being made more affordable and generally more available, thanks to the support of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Education is vital, and we should be focusing some of our attention on prevention. What discussions has the Minister held with his opposite numbers about ensuring that education is made available so that the message about how people can avoid getting HIV in the first place can be communicated, and particularly about trucking routes in some countries, such as India, and in Africa?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The new American Administration’s recent announcement about removing some of the ideological and philosophical barriers that prevented us from engaging internationally on prevention and education presents an opportunity for the world community to come together and make a greater impact. We have announced an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion for the global fund and £6 billion to strengthen health systems, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must look innovatively and imaginatively—perhaps through community leaders, faith group networks, informal networks and peer influence—at educating populations in every country. We have to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that we get across the strongest conceivable message about HIV/AIDS. I also believe that the South Africans’ change in policy will significantly help us in Africa.

My hon. Friend knows that HIV/AIDS particularly affects women and children in the poorest countries. What are he and the Government doing to work with other countries to make sure that at a time when the economic situation is giving such difficulty, particularly to the poorest countries, the international community none the less keeps up its commitment to supporting the poorest in tackling such tragic diseases as HIV and AIDS?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the tremendous work she has done over many years on these issues. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that this is not the moment for the world to retreat from its commitment to the developing world, such as through his advocacy through the World Bank of a vulnerability fund to ensure we protect the most vulnerable at a time when the recession will hit them the hardest, and the reform of international institutions to make sure they are far more responsive to the needs of the developing world, and our hosting last week in London of a meeting of senior African leaders to ensure that they have a strong and clear voice in the forthcoming G20 summit. It is important that as we fix the international economic system we make sure that that fixing advantages, rather than disadvantages, the developing world.

The Minister, to his credit, is known for his outspokenness. Will he make sure that his international counterparts recognise that confronting the dreadful disease that is HIV/AIDS is not just about access to drugs and condoms, important though those things are? If we are to tackle this disease, we must confront, head-on, the true cause: men behaving in a sexually promiscuous manner in too many countries throughout Africa and elsewhere. Will he impress upon his counterparts the fact that issues of public awareness and education are vital if we are to get under the skin of this disease?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that I was not outspoken any longer—I rarely disagree with him, and I am not going to start now.

The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the important issue of the role of women in society, and highlights the fact that the way in which men in many developing countries see relationships is a major part of the problem. In that sense, we need strong political leadership to make clear the appropriate role of women in society and to empower women in local communities. We must make it clear that we give them the opportunity to fight for their rights. We also need a very clear zero-tolerance approach to violence against women to be enshrined in developing countries’ legislation.

Organisations such as Concern Worldwide stress the need for conditional linkages between the issues of HIV/AIDS, and nutrition and food security. Will the Government do more to support efforts to integrate HIV prevention, mitigation, care and treatment with programmes dealing with livelihood, nutrition and food security?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point; we need to make a link between rural communities, agricultural development, food security and diseases. We want increasingly, at a local level, to integrate our responses, bringing together health, education and food security. The aim is to operate in an integrated way, rather than in silos.

The global downturn makes health care in the least developed nations increasingly problematic. Will the Minister reassure the House that the UK Government will press ahead with prevention programmes and will not be deflected either by the falling value of the pound or the sincerely held but mistaken views of others?

The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that our commitment in respect of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013 remains as strong as ever, so there will be no retreating from our commitments. We are the second-largest bilateral donor in terms of health systems and the attack on diseases in the world—as I said in my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), this Government will not retreat from our commitments. More importantly, we will provide leadership on occasions such as meetings of the G20 and the G8 to make sure that other international leaders do not walk away from the commitments that they have made, largely as a result of leadership shown by our Prime Minister and this country.

Gaza (Reconstruction)

3. If he will take steps to ensure that funding under pledges for reconstruction in Gaza made at the Egyptian donor conference will not be channelled through Hamas. (266026)

5. To which programmes his Department plans to allocate the £30 million announced on 1 March 2009 for the reconstruction of Gaza; and if he will make a statement. (266028)

Participants in the Sharm el Sheikh conference expressed their intention to deliver reconstruction aid to Gaza through existing international and regional financing mechanisms. The £30 million that I announced will be spent through those mechanisms and through non-governmental organisations that are not affiliated with Hamas and have robust monitoring systems. Priority programmes will include the repair of homes and schools, the clearance of unexploded ordnance and the short-term creation of jobs.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and I commend the British Government’s commitment to getting aid into Gaza to support the urgent reconstruction. Given that Hamas recently stole United Nations aid and has allowed unexploded weapons under its guard to go missing, does he agree that it is now important to get an increased Palestinian Authority presence in Gaza to monitor the crossings and to free up the aid so that it gets to ordinary Palestinians, who desperately and urgently need that help?

My hon. Friend raises a number of different points. When I was in Gaza recently, I took the opportunity to discuss with John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency there, concerns about the misappropriation of any aid resources. He was able to assure me that at the point at which we met the supplies were getting through, and that we had robust monitoring mechanisms and continue to do so. On the Palestinian Authority, we of course welcome the fact that, under the auspices of the Egyptian Government, reconciliation talks are under way. On the specific issue that my hon. Friend raises about authority at the border posts, it is, of course, the European Union’s position that we have offered assistance through the EU border assistance mission. We hope that we will be able to find a way through by a combination of the political reconciliation talks that are under way and maintaining in the minds of the international community the continuing importance of the Palestinian Authority.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about additional aid for Gaza, but what steps can he take to ensure that dual-use materials such as metal pipes do not fall into the hands of militants to be converted into weapons, but are used to improve the lives of the people of Gaza?

There is of course a long-established and trusted list of dual-use materials. It is a matter of great regret, therefore, that that has not been the basis on which the Israeli Government have made judgments in recent weeks, when there have been long disputes about whether rice should be allowed into Gaza, although pasta is allowed in, or about whether paper should be allowed in. That gives a sense of the scale of the challenge that the international community continues to face. We have been clear and unequivocal that we do not want the misappropriation of any materials and in our condemnation of the continued rocket attacks on the Israeli population, but we have been equally robust in saying that there needs to be full and unfettered access for those items that constitute humanitarian provision.

I am slightly surprised to hear the Secretary of State say that when he was in Gaza the head of UNRWA, John Ging, said that supplies were getting through, because that is not what he said to me when I was in Gaza recently, nor what he said to a cross-party group in this very place yesterday afternoon. He did say that UNRWA is unable to go about its business in Gaza because of a lack of armoured vehicles. He also said that UNRWA was chronically underfunded. Given that this country pledged £47 million at the outset of the crisis—very little of which has got into Gaza—will the Secretary of State now show some leadership by talking to the Israelis to insist that UNRWA armoured vehicles get through to Gaza?

The hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misapprehension following my previous answer. The point that I was making about John Ging was that he was clear that the aid that he was supervising was getting through to the people of Gaza who required it and was not being misappropriated by Hamas. Consistent with the position that the British Government have taken, John Ging—speaking on behalf of UNRWA—has very deep concerns about the range of items being allowed through the crossings and into Gaza.

When I visited Gaza, I took the opportunity to meet Isaac Herzog, the Israeli Social Affairs Minister, and press directly the case about the armoured vehicles and the wide range of items that are not being allowed to enter Gaza. Only as recently as yesterday, those efforts were reinforced by one of my colleague Ministers who made the point again directly to Isaac Herzog. Of course, a new coalition is emerging in Israeli politics. Let us hope that the dialogue that we have begun in recent weeks—although it has not achieved what we would all wish to see—makes more progress in the weeks ahead than it has done so far.

It is essential, of course, that every assistance possible be given to the innocent people in Gaza, but can the Secretary of State assure people in the United Kingdom that that assistance will not be misappropriated by those who caused the problems in Gaza in the first instance?

I have just explained that we use tried and tested mechanisms that provide robust supervision. Oxfam, an organisation with which the hon. Gentleman will be familiar, now distributes drinking water by water tanker to up to 60,000 people every day in the worst-affected parts of Gaza. Since 27 December and the outbreak of the conflict, the World Food Programme has distributed two months of rations to more than 296,000 people in Gaza, and UNRWA, the organisation led by John Ging, is reaching up to 1 million beneficiaries with food assistance. Those are practical examples of the difference that the generosity of the British people and others in the international community is now making to the lives of ordinary Gazans.

My right hon. Friend personally, and this Government, have a magnificent record in assisting Gaza, but is it not lamentable that the money that he provides simply goes to rectify the wanton devastation inflicted savagely by Israeli forces in Gaza? Does he agree that the real obstacle to reconstructing Gaza is not Hamas, loathsome though it is, but what is about to become the most extremist Government in Israeli history?

We have been unequivocal in our condemnation of the rocket attacks that have continued from Gaza into the Israeli population, but we have been equally clear that the Government of Israel have heavy responsibilities. One of the most dispiriting aspects of my visit to Gaza was sitting with a group of Palestinian business people who told me of their investments in factories in Gaza in recent years—at a cost of being called quislings by the Hamas authorities because they were willing to trade with Israel—and of how, during the final hours of the conflict, ahead of the unilateral declaration of the ceasefire, they watched the devastation of the industrial region of Gaza when there was no apparent activity from Hamas forces in that part of the territory. There is a huge amount of work to be done and it is vital that the humanitarian effort continues, but, beyond the humanitarian effort, it is critical that a comprehensive middle east peace plan emerges in the weeks ahead. I hope and trust that the new Israeli Government under formation at the moment will take that forward.

The Secretary of State will be aware of growing concerns in the NGO community about the apparent contradiction between EU and UK law on whether NGOs can continue to support public officials such as teachers and nurses. Will the Secretary of State offer some clarity and confirm that British NGOs will be able to continue to provide vital services in Gaza without the fear of prosecution under EU law?

The position that the British Government have adopted for some time has not changed. We urge the agencies involved to maintain the greatest possible distance from Hamas. We recognise that there might be circumstances in which there is proximity within Gaza, given Hamas’s present role, but none the less we are clear that those mechanisms that I have spoken of already need to be upheld. We need to be able to offer assurances to the British people that the aid to which they have generously contributed is not being misused and misappropriated.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind in these exchanges that the appalling devastation in Gaza was brought about by Israel? More evidence has come to light in the past few days that Israel has in fact committed war crimes in Gaza—crimes against humanity. Although I have no time for Hamas at all—obviously not—the fact remains that far more should be done by the international community first and foremost to help the people of Gaza and secondly to try to ensure that those who have committed war crimes are brought to justice.

I hope that my answers today have given some comfort to my hon. Friend that we are taking decisive action in providing the humanitarian support for which I know there is widespread support on both sides of the House. We are extremely concerned by the reports of killings of innocent civilians during Operation Cast Lead. The Israeli Government are carrying out an investigation into the allegations, led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and he has stated that the findings will be examined seriously. It is important that these investigations are carried out, not least given the severity and seriousness of the charges that are being levelled.

Two months on from the end of the conflict, as hon. Members have pointed out, the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains absolutely desperate. We all accept that we must take every measure to avoid aid being diverted by Hamas to other ends, but the Secretary of State himself has expressed concerns about the Israeli Government, who are allowing through only about a fifth of the humanitarian assistance that the NGOs and others say they need. Is it not time that the Secretary of State spelled out what steps the Israelis must take to let that assistance in and what will happen if they do not do that? For the sake of the NGOs, will he spell out the difference between legitimate co-ordination with officials in Gaza and illegitimate engagement with Hamas?

I have of course met the NGOs that are working in Gaza. I reiterate at the Dispatch Box today that if they have concerns they can come and talk to us directly in the Department. In relation to the point on the Israelis, the hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that we continue to have deep concerns about the level of access that is being denied—in terms not simply of the quantity of aid, but of the range of products that are being allowed in—and about international aid workers’ inability, in certain circumstances, to enter Gaza to offer their expertise in the light of the continuing humanitarian situation. That is why I have raised that issue with the Israeli Government and why, only yesterday, we once again raised it with Isaac Herzog, the Social Affairs Minister.

St. Helena

We expect the consultation to start in April and take 16 weeks. The consultation document will set out details of the timetable and of how people can participate. We will run the exercise in line with the Government’s code of conduct for holding public consultations.

As my hon. Friend is aware, Swindon has the largest St. Helena community outside London. What hope can he give my constituents, who are British citizens, that their families will not be left stranded and that the consultation will not delay the introduction of 21st century transport links for that very remote island?

My hon. Friend is always a keen advocate for her constituents, especially the Saints in Swindon. I reassure her that the consultation document, when it is produced, will make it absolutely clear that we remain fully committed to providing access to St. Helena.

Is the Minister aware of the view across the House that the Government are guilty of a breach of faith and of dithering in their handling of this matter? What will the new consultation tell him that he does not already know from the past nine years of this process?

I do not recognise the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes. I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the consultation exercise, but I look forward to reading his contribution—and perhaps that of his constituents on the Falcon Lodge estate in Sutton Coldfield, for instance—to see whether they think that it is right, in the current economic circumstances, to spend the amount of money that is being considered on an airport for St. Helena.

Does the Minister not understand that Ministers’ handling of this matter has been shameful, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), the respected former Foreign Office Minister, has eloquently explained? The people of St. Helena are British citizens, so do we not have a duty to them to resolve this issue? Is not it time that he and his colleagues got a grip?

At a time of global downturn, we are talking about 50 million people around the world being unemployed. An extra 90 million people will earn less than $1.25 a day, and it is expected that an extra 3 million children will die as a result of the global downturn. We have to take all those circumstances into account when making a decision about spending the amount of money that we are talking about on an airport for St. Helena.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is today in New York, meeting UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon as part of a range of meetings to discuss the world economy, prior to the G20 meeting in London.

When I met my constituents in Highway ward on Saturday, they told me that the single biggest issue was their rising fear of burglary. Measures such as the security fund that help people to make their homes more secure are very important and necessary. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give me an assurance that the Government will do all they can, while working closely with the police, to combat that growing fear?

The Home Secretary can give that assurance, as do I. Against the background of concern about burglary, I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) will reassure her constituents that there are more police on the beat and tougher penalties against those who are caught and prosecuted. I know that she supports police community support officers, and she can reassure her constituents that burglary across London has fallen by half.

Three weeks ago, I asked the right hon. and learned Lady about the Government’s failure to implement the working capital scheme, which is meant to provide loan guarantees to help businesses. She said then that the scheme was being finalised. The scheme has received state-aid clearance from the EU, and the Government said that it would be up and running from 1 March. Is it not unacceptable that it is still not up and running, and that still no loans have been guaranteed under it?

As the right hon. Gentleman said, we now have state-aid approval for that working capital scheme, and I can tell the House that, under the agreement with Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland, £5 billion will now be released to business. The tax payment deferrals, which give businesses direct cash help through deferring their tax payments, have meant help for 93 businesses all around the country—[Interruption.]

Ms Harman: If the Opposition had their way, it would not even be 93 businesses, but under our programme it is 93,000 businesses. We are taking action to give direct support to businesses and to families, and to back up the economy in the face of an unprecedented global financial crisis.

More than 2 million people are now unemployed in this country, and thousands of businesses have gone under. The job recruitment scheme announced in January has been delayed until April. The mortgage support scheme is also not up and running. This is a matter of cross-party concern. The hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson)—he knows a lot about loan guarantees—said on the radio this morning:

“We have always been behind the game…As far as industry is concerned we don’t have those schemes working yet.”

Does the right hon. and learned Lady not agree with her hon. Friend, with all his Treasury experience, that the Government are still behind the game?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about the job recruitment scheme. We said that the extra help for people who have been unemployed for six months would come in from April this year and it is on target. There would be more unemployed if there were the cuts in capital that the Tories propose. It would be more difficult for the unemployed if there were cuts in jobcentres. The reality is that we are putting money into the economy, with a fiscal stimulus for money direct to businesses and to families, whereas the Opposition would take no action and make the recession worse and longer.

My party called for a national loan guarantee scheme all the way back in November and the Government have dithered about it ever since. They are all over the place. The Prime Minister is on his way to Chile. The Business Secretary has just arrived in Brazil. Should he not be implementing those schemes instead of unpacking his Speedos on a Latin American beach? Is it not time to get on with those things?

On the fiscal stimulus, yesterday the Governor of the Bank of England warned against another significant round of fiscal expansion when the deficit is already as big as it is. This morning, the gilt auction has apparently failed for the first time in many years. Was the Governor of the Bank of England not right to give that warning?

As far as the gilts are concerned, the head of the Debt Management Office has said it would be wrong to read anything into the result of one auction. He says that

“the amount of debt we are raising is sustainable.”

The Opposition’s proposal for a loan guarantee scheme would not have guaranteed anything to anyone because there was no money behind it. On the action we are taking in the face of an unprecedented global financial crisis, in November, in the pre-Budget report, we said we would have a fiscal stimulus to help with investment in housing, in transport and in apprenticeships. That is what the country needed. The country needed it and the Governor of the Bank of England backed it—only the Tories opposed it.

I now notice that the Government are too ashamed of the VAT cut to mention it in the list of what they did last November. Let us be absolutely clear about what the Governor of the Bank of England said yesterday:

“I think the fiscal position in the UK is not one where we could…engage in another significant round of fiscal expansion.”

For a Governor of the Bank of England to speak in that way, ahead of a Budget, is exceptional and extraordinary, especially when the Prime Minister was in the very act of proclaiming a fiscal stimulus before the European Parliament. It is a defining moment in the debate in this country about how to deal with the recession. Today, the right hon. and learned Lady speaks for the whole Government and the Chancellor is sitting alongside her. Do they agree with the Governor of the Bank of England? Yes or no?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is a defining time, because whereas we take the necessary action, the Conservatives would do nothing. It is a defining time because this weekend, they decided to press ahead with their plans for tax cuts for just 3,000 millionaires. At the same time, they preach financial rectitude.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I had missed out the VAT cut; well, I am sorry, and I will rectify that. I will mention the VAT cut, which will put £275 into the budget of every family in this country. I will also mention the help for pensioners that started in January this year. I will mention the help with extra child tax credit. The big, defining dividing line is that we want to make sure that we give help to 22 million families with tax cuts, whereas the Conservatives’ priority is to give £200,000 each in tax cuts to just 3,000 millionaires.

The question was about the Governor of the Bank of England. I know that inheritance may preoccupy the niece of the Countess of Longford, but it is no good attacking our policy, which is to reward people who have saved hard and worked hard all their life, and which, when we announced it, the Government tried to copy. Let us be very clear what the Governor of the Bank of England said:

“I think the fiscal position in the UK is not one where we could…engage in another significant round of fiscal expansion”.

The question to the Leader of the House today is whether she agrees with the Governor of the Bank of England—yes or no?

The Budget will be on 22 April. The Governor of the Bank of England agreed with us when he said that our fiscal stimulus was “perfectly reasonable and appropriate”. When it comes to fiscal measures, how can the right hon. Gentleman justify £2 billion of public money being squandered on 3,000 of the richest people in this country? That is unfairness and irresponsibility.

The CBI said this week of the British economy that

“a further significant fiscal stimulus is unaffordable”.

The ITEM Club said that

“there is really very little room for manoeuvre”.

The chief executive of the Audit Commission said that we are facing an “Armageddon scenario” because of the “scale of indebtedness”. The Governor of the Bank of England said the words that I have now read out twice to the right hon. and learned Lady—that this country cannot afford another substantial, significant fiscal stimulus. May I give her, in my last question, a third opportunity to agree with the Governor of the Bank of England? Otherwise, the nation will rightly conclude that the Government are now in open disagreement with the Bank of England, and are no longer in control of either the public finances or the policies of this country. Yes or no—does she agree with him?

This country will rightly conclude that while the Tories say that they have changed their ways, they have not. I want to make it quite clear that while we are investing—we will continue to invest—they call for cuts. When our Prime Minister is working with world leaders, they drift off to Europe’s far right. While we are giving tax cuts to millions of people, they would give tax cuts only to millionaires. They have set out their stall: it is the millionaire’s manifesto.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the predictions of a serious increase in youth unemployment this summer? Does she therefore agree with the independent member of the Monetary Policy Committee and others, who think that there should be a strong fiscal stimulus specifically targeted at ensuring that young people can get jobs this summer?

The extra investment of £2 billion in our jobcentres will particularly help young people. We have made more investment in training, and a central part of the fiscal stimulus is more investment in apprenticeships. I fully support the points that my hon. Friend makes.

Yesterday we had a very British coup d’état when the Governor of the Bank of England sent his tanks down the Mall, effectively seized control of the British economy through his command of monetary policy, and put the Government under house arrest. If the Prime Minister still thinks it is worth his while returning from a sunny exile in south America, what freedom of manoeuvre do he and the Government have in respect of taxation and public spending?

I know the hon. Gentleman understands that it is important that we work internationally as well as taking action in this country. It is important that every Government in the world support their economy so world trade can get going again. I know that he agrees with that, so I do not know why he decries the international action that the Prime Minister is taking. With reference to the Bank of England, it was this Government who made the Bank of England independent as to its interest rates.

I think this discussion is about what the Government do at home, as well as what they do abroad. Would it not be sensible for the Government to concentrate now on taxing and spending more efficiently and fairly, to withdraw the pointless cut in value added tax, using the money to focus it on targeted investment in affordable housing and public transport, and to provide a tax cut for people on low pay, paid for—fully financed—by people who are very wealthy and who, under this Government, have enjoyed extraordinary tax reliefs, allowances and tax avoidance opportunities?

The VAT cut was one of a range of measures and it is only temporary, for one year. We agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of investing in housing and public transport. We agree with him, too, that when it comes to bringing the public finances back into balance, it must be done fairly. Those who can afford most should contribute most. That is why we propose a new top rate of tax of 45 per cent. on income over £150,000. I hope that he will support it, even if the Tories will give support only with tax cuts for millionaires.

MRSA and C. difficile rates are falling significantly at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Derby Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Ilkeston community hospital, all of which serve my constituents. Is this not down to the hard work of NHS professionals, coupled with the targeted investment put in by the Government? Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to congratulate all involved?

I will. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has led that, and has led the NHS team in making that a target so that patients in hospital know that they can be safe. That is a result not only of the extra investment, but of the hard work from cleaners through to nurses, doctors and all the teams in the hospitals. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Q2. A new European Commission report shows that despite prohibition, the illegal drugs trade is thriving, creating what United Nations drugs director, Antonio Maria Costa, calls a “staggering” criminal market, destabilising health policies and entire countries. Will the Leader of the House convey my request to meet the Prime Minister to propose a comprehensive impact assessment of current drugs policy, so that we can start tackling this crisis in an evidence-based way? (266010)

I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request for a meeting with the Prime Minister, who I know will agree that we need to provide all the support we can to those who have become addicted to drugs, and crack down hard on the dealers and traffickers.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of Conservative Barnet council’s scheme to cut entirely the warden service for its sheltered tenants? This is causing considerable fear and anxiety among—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman is allowed to be heard. [Hon. Members: “Reading.”] Order. Let me decide. If he is doing anything wrong, I will decide.

The Conservative council’s plan to cut the warden service is causing considerable fear and anxiety among many elderly and vulnerable people in my constituency, who rely on the wardens not just for safety, security and reassurance, but for the small things that make life worth living—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that a supplementary should not be read. Perhaps he could put the note down and ad lib.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend raise the matter with the leadership of Barnet council? Does she agree that it is a case of same old Tories, same old cuts?

That is why we will defend public investment and public services, and make sure that the economy can be put back on the path to growth so that we can protect people in this country, such as my hon. Friend’s older constituents.

Q3. Will the Leader of the House help save 225 jobs at Polytec Holden in Bromyard? The company makes components for car manufacturers, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has had £45 billion of taxpayers’ money, will not lend it money to tool up. Will the right hon. and learned Lady arrange a meeting between my constituents and the noble Lord Mandelson, so that we can co-ordinate funding from a state-owned bank to a state-sponsored car industry? (266011)

I will arrange a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and his constituents and the Business Secretary. We are determined to make sure that we help those who are working hard in important British industries such as the automotive industry.

President Obama’s economic fiscal stimulus package is worth $787 billion, and more than half that is being spent at state level. In contrast, in the UK the Labour Government, supported by the Conservatives, are cutting devolved public spending by £1 billion in Scotland, by £500 million in Wales and by more than £200 million in Northern Ireland. How can that be sensible or socially just?

We are not cutting investment in Scotland and Wales—far from it. But we are saying—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with this—that at a time when public spending is tight, we need to make sure that every single penny of it is wisely spent.

Q4. Yesterday, the Government announced their national security strategy. After the 7/7 bombings, the then Prime Minister made it clear that his highest single priority was the deportation of foreign terror suspects from this country. Can the right hon. and learned Lady tell the House how many foreign terror suspects have been deported? (266012)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that we have excluded 150, and we are absolutely clear that we will take action to deport those who are a threat to national security. I am sure that we are all in total agreement on that point.

Suppose that the Government were to seek advice from either side of the House about the gross unfairness of bunging a few rich people tax cuts while the majority saw tax increases; that is what would happen if the Tories’ inheritance tax proposals went ahead. Would my right hon. and learned Friend prefer the advice of the shadow Business Secretary before or after he was muzzled?

The shadow shadow Chancellor gave his right hon. Friends the opportunity to find their way out of the decision that they had made, and they unwisely chose to ignore it. What are people to make of a party that opposes tax cuts for 22 million people and, instead, chooses to squander £2 billion of scarce public money on the super-rich?

Q5. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body submitted its report to the Prime Minister on 29 January. Why should our personnel serving in the field still have no idea whether they will get any pay rise by Wednesday next week? Does the delay reflect more about the Government’s attitude towards the armed forces, or is it another example of dithering incompetence? (266013)

The Government have been unswerving, and rightly so, in our commitment to our armed forces. The Minister of State for Defence will open a full day’s debate on the armed services tomorrow, and I am sure that he will address that point.

President Obama has written an article today that says that trillions of dollars have been lost in the world economy, banks have stopped lending and tens of millions of people will lose their jobs. Will I get an undertaking that the Prime Minister will work with President Obama to ensure that the message goes out that people and their futures matter in the economy and that this Government will ensure that employment is at the top of the G20 agenda?

My right hon. Friend’s passion and commitment on this issue shows that he takes the view that we do—that the action that we are taking on the economy is to protect people who otherwise face the threat of losing their jobs or their homes. As for the fiscal stimulus that we have undertaken, this country needs it, and all other countries are now looking to do it: only the Tories oppose it.

Q6. Can the right hon. and learned Lady ask the Prime Minister to reassure my constituents that when he recently met the President of the United States, he picked up some tips about getting back ill-gotten bonuses from overpaid bankers? Can she set out for the House the start date for doing so, or, if not, at least the Prime Minister’s timetable for beginning to think about it, or if all else fails, his aspirations for a miracle? (266014)

The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that there should be no reward for failure and that he does not want banks taking risks with other people’s money. The Financial Services Authority, under Lord Turner, has issued a report on tightening up financial regulation and remuneration policy. We are working internationally on this as part of the G20 agenda. As far as Sir Fred Goodwin is concerned, UK Financial Investments Ltd. is on to it.

Does the right hon. and learned Lady understand that there is considerable anger in Northern Ireland today about the fact that a number of suspects being questioned in relation to the terrorist murders of two young soldiers in my constituency of South Antrim and of police officer Stephen Carroll have been released by order of the court because of technicalities? Will she and the Government assure my constituents that everything will be done to ensure that justice is done and that evil men are taken off the streets of Northern Ireland?

I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that that is the situation. We want to ensure that those who have committed this atrocious crime are brought to justice. We support the police and the prosecuting authorities in their work, and we support the peace process.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend support the establishment of a national centre for asbestos-related diseases, which would be a virtual centre committed to finding better treatments and a cure?

We support the work to carry out research on finding the causes and cures of work-related diseases. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in the House of Commons over many years to bring to the House’s attention the tragedy of people simply going to work and being made ill by their work. We have put £12 billion extra into our science budget, part of which is for research that will find the treatments and cures that he has asked for.

Q8. Now that the Information Commissioner has ruled that the Government have been wrong, on several counts, to refuse my request for a list of possible sites for the new Titan prisons, will they now abandon their policy of choosing sites without consulting local residents and publish that list of sites so that local people and stakeholders can have their say? Otherwise, all the rhetoric from the Prime Minister saying that he wants greater transparency in politics will be seen to be nothing more than hot air. (266016)

The Justice Secretary assures me that there will always be consultation when such developments are being considered. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular concern about his constituency, I am sure that he can meet one of the ministerial team to discuss it.

Wakefield metropolitan district council has set up an innovative mortgage assistance scheme which, in the first six months of its operation, has prevented 11 families from becoming homeless. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that more councils should adopt that sort of scheme to show that local government is on people’s side during the recession rather than telling them that they are on their own?

It is very important that we do not leave people to sink or swim and do not say that the recession should take its course, and that we step in to help people who fear that the loss of their job or a fall in their income might cause the loss of their home. That is why we have put extra investment into the social security budget to enable people to claim help with their mortgage interest after 13 weeks instead of 39 weeks; it is estimated that that has already helped 10,000 people. I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend’s local council is working to that effect as well.

Q9. For every pound spent by Governments around the world on conflict prevention, about £2,000 is spent on military and defence budgets. Can the right hon. and learned Lady give any assurance to the parliamentarians from around the world meeting in London this week to discuss conflict prevention that there will be a greater UK Government commitment to conflict prevention and, in the short-term, to bringing about a resolution in Sri Lanka? (266017)

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the attention of the House to the situation in Sri Lanka, which remains grave. The Government are committed to supporting a range of conflict prevention, stabilisation and peacekeeping activity, focusing on countries where the risk of impact of conflict is greatest. We have had an unprecedented increase in our international development budget, part of which was to deal with conflict resolution. Conflict resolution involves international action—not just this country working alone, but with other countries around the world.

Q10. Some 150 jobs will be lost at the Manchester Evening News and other Greater Manchester Weekly Newspapers as all the local newspaper offices are closed, and great titles such as the Tameside Advertiser and Stockport Express are consolidated in central Manchester. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that local newspapers are the lifeblood of local democracy, and will she join the Greater Manchester MPs in calling on the Guardian Media Group to think again? (266018)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is certainly the Government’s position that local and regional newspapers, radio and television are important and, as he says, part of the lifeblood of this country. That is why Lord Carter and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are working on this important issue, which was raised in a debate in this House last Thursday.

Q11. South Thames college in Wandsworth was advised by the Learning and Skills Council to submit its redevelopment programme in two halves. The first half of that project is complete, but the second half now hangs in the balance. If it is not finished, the students’ learning environment will be severely disrupted. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is madness to put such projects on hold, and can she assure South Thames college that it can finish the project that it started? (266019)

This Government support better further education and more investment in colleges—[Hon. Members: “We all do.”]—in my constituency as well as hers. Opposition Members say, “We all do.” Actually, no. Their policy is to cut funding for it by £600 million. I am sorry, the hon. Lady might not remember this because she was not in the House at the time, but when we came into Government, does she know how much money was in the further education college budget? Precisely zero pounds, and we have increased it by £1 billion. She can leave it to us: we will invest in further education. But if her party got into government, that would be the end of it.