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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2010

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Multilateral Aid Agencies

1. What recent steps he has taken to link his Department’s allocation of funding to multilateral aid agencies to evidence of their effectiveness in reducing poverty. (311675)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to preface my answer by extending—on behalf of the whole House, I am sure—our sympathy to the victims of the Haitian earthquake and our great collective pride in the actions of British search and rescue professionals who are still on the ground working in Port-au-Prince. Even since I arrived at the House this morning, there has been a significant aftershock, registering 6.1 on the Richter scale. The word that I have received is that our search and rescue team is safe and is continuing its work.

Multilateral organisations are vital to the task of global poverty reduction and humanitarian responses of the kind that we have witnessed in recent days in Haiti. My Department allocates its multilateral budget to maximise poverty reduction. At the last spending review, we increased funding to agencies working effectively in the poorest countries. As our White Paper set out last July, we are considering evidence of effectiveness and focus on the millennium development goals in making further allocations.

I am sure that the whole House will join the Secretary of State in what he says about the plight of the victims of the Haitian earthquake. Will he give the House some more details on the flash appeal for funding from the United Nations? How much will it be and when does he expect the money to be delivered? Exactly how does he expect the money to be used and how does his Department intend to evaluate the funds raised?

My recollection is that towards the end of last week—last Friday, I believe—the Secretary-General mentioned the figure of $550 million. We have already responded in the sense that for some time we have argued for use of the Central Emergency Response Fund, so that funds are available to the UN to disburse immediately rather than having to rely on money coming in through a flash appeal. The Secretary-General also indicated that $10 million would be spent directly from the CERF, which was, as I have said, originally a British idea. Secondly, we have made it clear that our funding envelope has been extended to $30 million—approximately £20 million. Within that allocation, we expect funding to go to the UN. We are already committing support to the logistics work of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as supporting the work of the International Red Cross and a range of other British agencies.

It is at times like this that we see the importance of our working together with other countries through multilateral agencies. Can the Secretary of State tell us how quickly the millions of pounds raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee will get into the country to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake?

First, let me express the sentiment of the whole House, I am sure, in commending and feeling immense pride in the generosity of the British people in responding so overwhelmingly and so compassionately to the terrible scenes that we have seen on our television screens. We held our first meeting with non-governmental organisations last week and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development has since had a second meeting with those NGOs, some of which have partners on the ground and some of which have long track records of working in Haiti. There will be a challenge in getting aid supplies into the country, which is why I am pleased to inform the House this morning that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has kindly agreed to send to Haiti the Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ship, Largs Bay, which will carry urgent relief supplies from UK NGOs and UN agencies. Following a direct request from the UN, it may stay on to assist in distributing supplies around Haiti.

Save the Children reports today that questions regarding who is in charge of Haiti are causing tension. Does the Secretary of State agree that Haiti urgently needs a single Government entity, comprising the Government of Haiti, the United Nations and perhaps lead donors such as the United States, France and Canada? How will he use his good offices to bring that about as early as possible?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have been working on these issues with our international partners for some time. Soon after the earthquake, I received a call from Dr. Rajiv Shah, the new head of the United States Agency for International Development, whose opening question to me was, “How can we help you help?” That is a fair indication of the true spirit of working together that characterises the international response. While, of course, the Haitian Government are central, it is fair to recognise both the depleted capacity of that Government before the earthquake and the very severe damage done to them as a result of it. Similarly, the UN, of course, leads the international co-operation, but its own compound in Port-au-Prince was devastated. The UN continues to co-ordinate the international relief effort, but I am glad to say that it is able to rely heavily on the generous and immediate response offered by the United States, which has more logistical capability and a greater ability to respond immediately than any other partner that the UN could look to. It is in that spirit of co-operation that I hope matters will be taken forward.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say, particularly about the British Navy. Is he in a position to tell us about the reaction of—and whether he has been involved in discussions with—the European Union?

I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. I have been in regular touch with Cathy Ashton, the new High Representative, and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, attended a meeting of European Development Ministers in Brussels on Monday. I participated in a conference call on Sunday afternoon with Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, and Miguel Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister—the Spanish hold the presidency of the European Union at the moment. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been engaged in the discussions as well. All that is in addition to the operational work being undertaken with ECHO, the institution that is co-ordinating the humanitarian response of the European Union.

As the horrors in Haiti continue to unfold before our eyes, the term “aid effectiveness” seems a rather emotionless concept. May I join the Secretary of State in his tribute to the British contribution, be that the one being made on the ground or people’s generosity in giving donations? I recognise the utter devastation challenging the co-ordination of what goes on in Haiti and the policy responses, but will he assure us that what appeared to be conflicting priorities on what to do first in Haiti have been resolved?

In incredibly challenging circumstances, the international community is working against an established pattern of priorities. First, in the rescue phase, 24 international search and rescue teams have been deployed in Haiti, and I am proud to say that that includes 64 British firefighters. Beyond the rescue phase comes the recovery phase, when we must look to the United Nations to provide the well-established cluster system, whereby individual organisations are tasked to take responsibility for basic human needs, be that food, water, shelter or medicines. Some of the criticism relates to the use of the airport. Approximately three flights a day came into Port-au-Prince before the earthquake and comfortably in excess of 100 flights a day now land there. However, it is important that we continue to work together to improve the situation on the ground.

My right hon. Friend’s White Paper talks about increasing funding for multilateral agencies. Will he tell us how he intends to ensure that such funding would result in improved effectiveness in the delivery of the work of agencies on the ground?

As I sought to reflect in my initial answer, we are examining specific criteria, be that in relation to the work that can be done on the millennium development goals, the capability of these multilateral organisations to work in fragile and conflict-affected states and, of course, the record of effectiveness of those particular agencies. That is the basis on which allocation decisions will be made, as a result of the White Paper that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said. Does he accept that when Haiti has disappeared from the headlines, there will still be a country in total wreckage and a society that has been destroyed? Will he assure the House that we will do all we can to help in the rebuilding of this terribly devastated country?

The hon. Gentleman’s question reminded me of a comment made yesterday by Paul Collier, the distinguished development economist. When he was asked how the Government of Haiti could get back on their feet, he said that they were not on their feet before this crisis. We need to recognise that that country has a traumatic history. The principal funders of development support to Haiti have been the United States, France and Canada. We expect them to continue to take a leading role in the rebuilding phase, but a conference has been organised for Monday by Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, which I believe will focus on the challenge of how we take the relief effort forward into the recovery phase.

I join the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. I am sure that the whole House will be united today in sorrow for the people of Haiti in this time of crisis and in solidarity with the small Haitian community in the UK, some of whom I spent time with in Southwark on Saturday night. The House will also wish to pay tribute to the energy and determination of the aid workers and NGOs, who are working tirelessly to help these people, and to the incredible generosity of British people, who have given so much to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.

It is clear that the multilateral aid agencies will, in the coming months, have a crucial role to play in addressing the plight of the 3 million people who are now—

Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I am exercising some latitude on this matter because of its importance and topicality, but he must now come to a question?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the 3 million people who are destitute and the 2 million people who, we are told, will depend entirely on external support for the basics of life, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to support the UN’s efforts on response and recovery and to ensure that activities are effective, results-focused and properly evaluated?

I have, of course, already been in touch with John Holmes, the head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Prime Minister has spoken to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. I anticipate meeting Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, next week. She will have a key role in both logistics and providing food to those people who have suffered so terribly in recent weeks. That is just a measure of the continuing efforts that the British Government are making to bring our full influence to bear on the response that is required.

Trades Union Congress (Funding)

2. How much funding his Department has provided to the Trades Union Congress for international development purposes since 2003; and if he will make a statement. (311676)

The Department for International Development has provided £2.58 million to the Trades Union Congress in the period from 2002-03 to date in support of its work on international development. The TUC’s work in spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS in Ugandan workplaces, for example, has helped to save countless lives.

The International Policy Network recently published a report that suggests that the trade unions, which provide the majority of Labour party funding, receive several million pounds from the TUC for international development. Most of that money is spent in the United Kingdom and is not accounted for in any way. Will the Minister pledge to have a short, inexpensive and quite normal audit of that money, so that we can discover what has been spent on international development and what has not?

Like every other NGO to which we give funding, the TUC has to spend the money in accordance with the requirements of the International Development Act 2002, which, as I recall, had the support of all parties. I gently encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at the work of the TUC in supporting local trade unions in Iraq and Zimbabwe, for example. Although I recognise that he relishes the role of an unreconstructed member of the Conservative party, he might want to be careful about associating himself with a position that is more extreme than any taken by the last three Conservative Foreign Secretaries. Indeed, the last Conservative Government, from 1989 to 1997, paid the TUC to do work on international development.

I welcome the Government’s recognition that trade unions are part of civil society and active partners in development both here in Britain and internationally. May I urge my hon. Friend to get DFID to work more closely with trade unions, particularly in southern African countries and countries in Asia, where we are working to ensure that their voice is included in that development work?

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the excellent contribution that trade unions can make. I gave the example from sub- Saharan Africa of the very important work that is taking place in Uganda. Trade unions also played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle in South Africa, and they are playing a particularly important role at the moment in Zimbabwe.

Pakistan

3. What his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Pakistan; and if he will make a statement. (311677)

Of the 2.7 million people displaced in Pakistan in 2009, the UN estimates that as of 10 January 1.6 million people have returned to their places of origin and 1.1 million internally displaced people are still receiving humanitarian assistance, including 293,000 people from South Waziristan and 370,000 people from Malakand Division.

Speaking as someone who has taken a consistent interest in Pakistan for 30 years, I think that its interests are best served at all levels by free trade and democracy. To that end, what discussions have the Minister or his colleagues had at an EU level about extending the generalised system of preferences plus—GSP plus—trading system to Pakistan?

We are and will be continuing our discussions with the EU on the GSP plus system, which I know was also a feature of discussions with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) when he visited Pakistan earlier this month.

My hon. Friend will know that the people living in the North West Frontier region of Pakistan in Balochistan and Waziristan are tyrannised by the Taliban. They are controlled and threatened, and they feel powerless. What is the Department doing to ensure that these people are liberated?

One of the best ways to deal with extremism in the region is to ensure that we have sound development work on the ground, that there is good education for the people of Pakistan and, indeed, that we support the democratically elected Government of Pakistan in their aims.

As the Minister will be aware, the UN’s humanitarian response plan for Pakistan sets out the need for more than $500 million in assistance to those internally displaced in 2010. However, when I visited Pakistan two weeks ago, I was told by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs that it had been unable to launch this vital appeal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Pakistani Government to ensure that the UN can start raising funds for 2010 to ensure that help can reach the hundreds of thousands of people who need it?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of the Pakistan humanitarian response plan. The 2009 appeal was 71 per cent. funded, making it the fourth best funded plan in that year. The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to Pakistan, and we are working with the Government of Pakistan to make sure that they launch their 2010 appeal for $537 million.

Since the Pakistani army commenced its operations against the Taliban, tens of thousands of people have fled the conflict zone, but many are now returning. What is being done to ensure that the aid we are giving to these people does not fall into the hands of the Taliban?

We work through the United Nations-supported humanitarian response plan and reputable non-governmental organisations, as well as local groups to which we can commit funds knowing that they will get through to the right people on the ground. All that funding is independently audited on a quarterly basis, and the information is made public.

Results-Based Aid

4. What recent representations he has received on the policy of results-based aid; and if he will make a statement. (311678)

9. What recent representations he has received on the policy of results-based aid; and if he will make a statement. (311683)

Last year, in preparation for the White Paper we received representations on a wide range of issues, including results-based aid. All our aid is designed to achieve results. In 2007-08, our aid resulted in 12,000 classrooms being built or reconstructed, and more than 60,000 health professionals were trained and more than 3 million children were vaccinated against measles.

Does the Minister agree that the public service agreement system for measuring the results of DFID’s aid is deeply flawed, because it fails to focus on the Department’s specific contribution to poverty reduction? Does he agree that the best way to measure DFID’s performance would be through genuinely independent evaluation of the transparency of any analysis?

There are two parts to the hon. Gentleman’s question. First, I do not agree that the PSA is fundamentally flawed. Secondly, he might not be aware that there have been a series of evaluations of the way in which the Department goes about its business, including by the OECD development assistance committee and the International Development Committee, and there are also regular evaluations by the National Audit Office. I do not think any other process of evaluation is required.

What confidence can the taxpayer have that aid channelled through the European Union is spent effectively, disbursed swiftly and focused properly?

The OECD development assistance committee has also reviewed the quality of European Community aid; it noted a radical improvement in it over the past 12 years, which we recognise as well. We regularly work with the EC in a range of countries, not least India and many sub-Saharan African nations, and our staff have noticed a significant improvement in the quality of EC aid over the past 12 years.

There are many examples of how DFID aid has been used to rebuild civil society in Iraq, particularly in respect of the trade unions. [Interruption.] The trade unions were corrupted under Saddam, but they are now being rebuilt with the help of DFID aid. [Interruption.]

Order. I can just about hear the right hon. Lady’s question, but, as usual at this time on a Wednesday, far too many private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. That is very discourteous to the Member asking the question, and to the Minister answering it.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has done a hugely important job in helping the Department focus on what else we can do to assist the development of civil society in Iraq. Supporting the growth of the trade union movement in that country is just one example of how our aid is making a difference.

Is the Minister satisfied, however, with the results from the more than £1 billion of aid given to the Adam Smith Institute and management consultants promoting neo-liberal ideology, thus increasing poverty and inequality in the world? Does he think that the Conservative party’s proposal to increase that money to its consultant friends in the City is a good way of spending our aid?

My right hon. Friend draws attention to the suggestions that the Opposition have made. The one that he has highlighted is just one of a series that appear half-baked and unthought-through.

We have already heard this morning in relation to Haiti how important it is to maintain public confidence in the delivery of effective aid. Does the Minister therefore support the concept of cash for delivery of aid, which is widely supported, in particular by the Washington-based Centre for Global Policy? If he does, where is his Department operating the policy, which links delivery to successful outcomes of aid?

A recent document, which I had the unfortunate experience of having to read, includes the statement:

“One of the great challenges that faces recipients of international aid is the short-term and unpredictable nature of funding.”

That quote was taken from the Tory Green Paper and, I think, alludes to the difficulties of cash on delivery. Such an approach is not much use if Governments do not have the money up front to pay for the extra teachers, schools and textbooks that they need.

Overseas Development Assistance

5. What recent steps he has taken to increase transparency in respect of his Department’s overseas development assistance. (311679)

The Department is committed to increasing the transparency of its aid programme. We have already implemented our White Paper commitment to publish a database of DFID projects on our website. We continue to lead the international aid transparency initiative to enhance the transparency of all global donor aid programmes.

But is it not the case still that far too many project details and log frames remain hidden in the deep vaults of Whitehall? If the Government are serious about transparency, is it not time the public had far more access, so that they can make up their own mind about how DFID spends taxpayers’ money?

The summary information about projects has been on the website since August last year. Given that we are engaged in the international aid transparency initiative and want a common standard for reporting, it would be perverse for the UK to publish our own data now in the detail that the hon. Gentleman requires, only for it to have to be changed, potentially, upon agreement with our international partners. That would not represent good value to the taxpayer.

Does the Minister agree that transparency is important to the taxpayer, but that we must back that up with a full audit trail to where the money is spent?

I agree that we should have the recommended independent evaluation and that the audit trail should be made available, so that people can have confidence that the money spent by the Department gives good UK aid on the ground.

Ministerial Meeting (Sweden)

I last met my Swedish counterpart, Gunilla Carlsson, on 14 December at a ministerial meeting at the Copenhagen climate change summit, where we discussed co-operation between the European Union and developing countries in support of an agreement that meets the needs of the poor and most vulnerable people.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government can learn from the Swedish Government’s focus on giving aid where it makes the most difference and linking it to multilateral agencies that have clear evidence on its effectiveness?

I admire both the generosity and the effectiveness of Swedish aid, but I also welcome the fact that in recent months the Swedish Government have been in discussion with DFID about what lessons they can learn from the UK.

Sweden obviously has a good record in delivering aid and meeting the target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP. What lessons is it learning, and what can the Minister learn, about the effectiveness of long-term good governance as the way of meeting our millennium development goals by 2015?

The tragic situation in Haiti reminds us all of the centrality and importance of basic Government services being delivered, and the very damaging consequences where those services are not present. That is why, in one of our previous White Papers, there was a specific focus on governance, which continues to be a central theme of the work that we do in the Department.

Climate Change

7. What plans he has to provide financial assistance to lesser developed countries for the purposes of their adaptation to the effects of climate change. (311681)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed £1.5 billion over the next three years to help developing countries tackle climate change. Half of that will be spent on helping poor and vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

As part of a cross-party delegation, I recently visited some of the most vulnerable communities in the Pacific islands, where we saw at first hand the devastation that rising sea levels cause. Will my hon. Friend therefore tell the House what further financial or, indeed, other assistance we can give those people to help their communities?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s announcement was part of an effort at Copenhagen to galvanise fast-start finance and help developing countries, such as those that my hon. Friend has just described, to get the funding that they need immediately in order to make their countries more resilient to the impact of climate change. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Ministers helped to secure commitments worth some $10 billion a year by 2012 to help with that challenge.

Will the Minister go to the international water conference in March, given that people from Pump Aid, whom I met today, and Water Aid are concerned about the situation not only in Haiti but elsewhere—in Africa and the rest of the world—regarding the serious problem of sanitation?

At the risk of ruining the hon. Gentleman’s reputation, may I commend him for his consistent campaigning on water and sanitation issues? He will be aware of the substantial increase that we have made in aid for water and sanitation projects. He has asked me a specific question about a specific conference, and I shall have a look at that and write to him privately.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Corporal Lee Brownson and Rifleman Luke Farmer from 3rd Battalion The Rifles. They died in Afghanistan this week, and our thoughts are with their families and friends at this very sad time. Last night, I read through the moving tributes of their fellow soldiers to the immense bravery, selflessness and camaraderie that they displayed serving their colleagues, the British people and the people of Afghanistan, and they will not be forgotten.

All of us have also been deeply moved to action by the still unfolding tragedy of the people of Haiti, some of the poorest people in the world facing some of the most extreme hardships imaginable; and our thoughts and condolences go also to those families in the United Kingdom who have been directly affected by the tragedy. We must, first, provide all support; secondly, improve international co-ordination; and thirdly, help put the Government of Haiti back on their feet so that they are able to deliver reconstruction.

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

I join the Prime Minister’s tribute to the two brave soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan and welcome the steps that he is taking to support the people of Haiti. I welcome also the consultation on the broadband next-generation fund, but 10 per cent. of the population of the highlands will be left out, according to the Government’s consultation, and the rest will be in the final third grouping—despite broadband’s enormous economic benefits. The fact is that businesses cannot wait. Why does the Prime Minister think that it is acceptable to leave out 10 per cent. of the population overall, and to leave the rest of rural Britain at the end of the queue?

The whole purpose of the digital initiative is to include as much of the United Kingdom as possible in having fast broadband, and that is why we are making available £1 billion to businesses to be able to do so. That will mean that 95 per cent. of the population of the country will be guaranteed broadband and fast broadband very soon. In other areas, we hope to make advances—in the Scottish circumstances, in consultation with the Scottish Administration––and I hope that the hon. Gentleman finds that, over time, we will be able to solve the problem of those remaining rural areas that will not at the moment get broadband. Our programme means that we will be one of the countries that will have the fastest broadband more quickly than any other, and that will help develop large numbers of businesses in this country, and help unemployment to continue to fall.

Some time ago, the City Minister, Lord Myners, said that he thought that it was becoming too easy for good British companies to be taken over by foreign predators. Now that we have had the outrage involving Cadbury, does my right hon. Friend agree?

Cadbury employs more than 5,000 people in this country, and it is a very important company for the future of this country. We are seeking assurance and have received information from Kraft about the importance that it attaches to the Cadbury work force, to the Cadbury name and to Cadbury’s quality in the United Kingdom. We hope that Kraft’s owners will make sure that Cadbury’s 5,500 workers can retain their jobs, and make sure that new investment goes into a product that is distinctly British and sold throughout the world. So we will do everything that we can to make sure that jobs and investment are maintained in Britain.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Lee Brownson and Rifleman Luke Farmer. They died serving our country. We must honour their memory and we must look after the loved ones whom they have left behind.

Everyone in the House, and in the whole country, has been touched by the scale of the tragedy in Haiti. We can be proud of the British response: the public, who have donated generously; the members of the fire service, who volunteered immediately; and the NGOs, who are doing such a good job in Haiti. Does the Prime Minister agree that there will come a time when we should reflect on how Britain, and the international community, can make the initial rescue effort even better, even faster, and even more effective? More immediately, will the Prime Minister update the House on the further action that Britain is intending to take to assist the international relief effort?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is of course a matter of immediate action followed by an assessment as to what can be done better in future. As I suggested two years ago, having a reconstruction and stabilisation agency that is ready, on tap, to deal with these problems is something that the United Nations must consider very seriously.

As for relief to Haiti, this still unfolding tragedy requires, first of all, firefighters and others to rescue people from under the rubble, and that is happening wherever possible. It requires food and medical supplies and, indeed, energy resources to be brought into Haiti, and that is happening as well. It requires the co-ordination of the medical services, which is being done principally by the Americans, but I can say also that we are sending a boat, RFA Largs Bay, to help with the effort; it will be able to help to unload supplies into Haiti. That is a decision that has been made this morning.

At the same time, I have talked to President Obama about what we can most do to help in the reconstruction of the Government effort in Haiti so that the Government can take further control over decisions that are to be made in the country. We have agreed that we will help to rebuild the office of the interior, the treasury and other areas where work can start so that the civil government can perform. We have medics in Haiti who are doing what they can to help.

Sadly, at least one British citizen has died as a result of the events in Haiti. I fear there may be further deaths once the whole damage that has been done is clear, particularly in the United Nations section of Port-au-Prince. We will do whatever we can to back up the 11,000 troops that the Americans have sent, and the medical supplies.

I am grateful for that answer. It is not just that 3 million have been affected and 2 million left destitute, and that parts of the country have lost half their buildings; as the Prime Minister said, Haiti will need significant external help with everything, including its whole Government, for many years to come. Of course, we all want to see this old republic govern itself, but in the short and medium term, can the Prime Minister tell us what consideration he is giving to supporting new joint structures through which the UN and the Haitian Government can start to rebuild basic services and government for a people who have suffered so much?

First, on finance, the Canadian Government are organising a funding conference next week to make sure that the international allocations that countries should make to the rescue effort are made. I may say that the European Union has already offered €400 million as a result of a ministerial meeting that took place.

When I spoke to President Obama yesterday evening, I talked to him about the very issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised. I have also talked to Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in some detail about this. It is important, of course, that the Government of Haiti are seen as the legitimate Government, but it is also important that the United Nations and, of course, the principal provider of supplies, the United States, can work with most effect together to deliver the co-ordination that is necessary. President Obama has explained to me that in addition to the military effort, which is massive—11,000 troops have gone in with field medical hospitals and every other kind of equipment that is necessary to help people—there is also the civilian effort of USAID, which is working very hard in the region, and, at the same time, the work that is being done by President Clinton and President Bush to co-ordinate the relief that is being given to people.

All these things are designed to ensure that there is proper co-ordination. However, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there are lessons to be learned for the future. We have a 1,000-strong civilian team ready to go to areas where reconstruction and stabilisation are necessary; some of them are in Afghanistan at the moment. The world must, at some point, come to a decision, first, that funding has got to be available to move immediately when there is a disaster; and secondly, that we need the signing up of professionals who are able to go at a moment’s notice to help where there is a disaster in future, and that will require a UN reconstruction agency.

I am grateful for that answer, too. There is great agreement on the need for an early, swift and well-organised response.

I want to turn to a completely different subject here at home. The torture and appalling abuse of two children by 10 and 11-year-old boys in Doncaster has profoundly shocked the whole country. Later this week, a serious case review will be produced, but only a summary of it will be published. These dreadful events follow the death of seven children between 2004 and 2009 in Doncaster. Can the Prime Minister tell us why so many warning signs were missed and why it took so long for the Government to step in?

This is a matter that is in the courts at the moment, but we are all agreed about the seriousness of this case. For two boys to be assaulted in such a way by two other children who were at that time in the care of foster parents, but who had a history in which there had been social services and other interventions to try to deal with their problems, is one of the most tragic cases that we could see.

I do not want Britain to be defined by the appalling violence and irresponsibility that has been shown to these youngsters by two other youngsters. It is therefore important that we learn the lessons properly from what has happened. That is why a serious case review is undertaken. It has been said—the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is one of the organisations that has suggested that this is the best course—that in the interests of people being able to tell the truth about what has happened, the summary is what should be published. That is what will happen, I believe by the end of this week. That serious case review will, in my view, demonstrate that there have been flaws in the organisation of social services. It is therefore necessary, with a new director of social services, with intervention already agreed by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and with Doncaster already under special measures as a result of that, that we learn all the lessons of what has happened.

Before the publication of the extract of the executive summary of the serious case review, we cannot draw all the conclusions that are necessary. What is clear is that the protection and security of our children will always be the foremost priority, and we should take every action we can to protect them.

I am going to come on to the issue of whether we should publish the report in full, because I believe that we should, but if the Prime Minister wants to learn the lessons, clearly one of the most important lessons to learn is why so much went wrong for so long before we intervened. If we look at the catalogue of errors, we see that seven children died between 2004 and 2009. There were five serious case reviews––one did not appear for three years––and, of course, in every case only a summary was published.

In 2007, more than two years ago, a report talked about serious failures in Doncaster social services, yet it took more than a year and the deaths of five more children, including three from abuse, before the Government took over in 2009. Does not that alone demonstrate that serious case reviews are not leading to the correct action being taken?

Lord Laming looked at this last year and made recommendations which are being adopted. He also recommended that child safeguarding boards had to have independent chairmen, and that is what has happened in Doncaster. As far as the serious case review itself is concerned, I think we have to wait until we see the findings of that review. I would not want to prejudge that.

The reason why the whole review is not to be published is that we wish to protect the identity and names of the children as much as anything else. We have had this argument before. The executive summary is published, which allows us to draw conclusions. The problem in Doncaster, if I may say so, is that there were many actions taken, but they were the wrong actions. They were not actions designed to prove that we had children of violence who had to be separated from parents of violence at an early time. That, I believe, will come out in the serious case review summary, which will be published soon. I think the Conservatives should listen to some of the voluntary organisations on this matter, and to Lord Laming himself, and wait for the publication of the evidence. Then let us by all means have the debate that is necessary on what further measures we can take. We know that Doncaster had to be intervened upon, and we know also that a serious case review will reveal what happened.

The Prime Minister tells us to wait for the publication of the review, but the review will not be published. Of course, I know that there are arguments on both sides about full publication, but are they not tipping in favour? The publication of summaries has not led to action. In the case of baby Peter, the summary was found to be completely inadequate—it was not worth the paper on which it was written.

The Prime Minister should consider this: reviews into murders by mental health patients are published in full and they manage the correct amount of anonymity. Why do we treat murders by mental health patients more rigorously than the torture and potential killing and murder of children?

I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is moving ahead on that point because every voluntary organisation and children’s society that I know—and every professional whom I know—has recommended that the best way of proceeding is by publishing a summary of the serious case review. The reason is to protect the anonymity of the children and allow people to say things from which they can learn. The purpose of a serious case review is to learn lessons from what has happened. That is why the summary is published when people are clear about what lessons have to be learned. I hope that the Opposition will not stand isolated against all the professional advice and make an issue simply of whether we publish the summary or the serious case review, when we need to address the lessons that have to be learned from Doncaster.

The problem is that we are not going to learn the lessons properly unless we get the information out to the public. The Prime Minister says that we should talk to professionals. Indeed, my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families spoke this morning to the NSPCC, which said that the matter was not black and white and that there have been occasions when the executive summary has provided a lack of clarity. A growing number of social workers, and their magazine, want those things published.

This is an appalling case of two children being dragged on to wasteland and tortured within an inch of their lives. It shocked the whole country. The Prime Minister talks about the publication of the report. [Interruption.] Instead of consulting, let him listen to this important point: the BBC, which has seen the report, says that the summary and the full report do not match up. Are not we in danger of having a cover-up if we do not publish it in full?

The court case is not yet completed. The serious case review has been leaked, but it has not been published. The summary will be published at the appropriate time. I have taken Lord Laming’s advice, as has the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families—

The hon. Gentleman says it is the wrong advice, but Lord Laming is respected throughout the country for his work. The Secretary of State and I are taking the advice of many children’s societies and professional organisations on the matter. It is important to recognise that the issue is what lessons we learn. How we do that is a matter of people looking at the summary of the serious case review. I ask the Opposition to consider the children’s anonymity as an important issue, and also children’s freedom to say to the inquiry what they think has happened and what they think has gone wrong. I hope that they will consider those important matters.

We went through this before on the baby P case. It was agreed then that we would have the report of Lord Laming, and he made the recommendations about the serious case review. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition asks me a series of detailed questions on an issue, when we do not have a final verdict in the court, when the summary is not even published, and when he has not read the report, either.

The child trust fund has been a wonderful success. It benefits the many, not the privileged few. However, does the Prime Minister agree that we must do more to encourage more and more families to take up the offer, particularly in constituencies such as mine in Swansea, East?

More than 4.8 million children now have a child trust fund. No child misses out at the moment. Unfortunately, the Conservative policy would take child trust funds away from two thirds of the children who would be eligible in future. Middle-class families as well as people on modest incomes need child trust funds so that they can save for the future. The Conservative party is out of touch with middle-income Britain.

I add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Corporal Lee Brownson and Rifleman Luke Farmer from 3rd Battalion The Rifles who tragically died while serving so bravely in Afghanistan last week.

I thank the Prime Minister for what he said about the aid and relief efforts in Haiti. Everyone is shocked to the core by the sheer scale and ferocity of the terrible disaster that has hit a country that was already crippled by terrible poverty.

I should like to return to the issue of Cadbury’s. Last month, Lord Mandelson declared that the Government would mount a huge opposition to the Kraft takeover of Cadbury’s, so why does the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is owned by this Government, now want to lend vast amounts of our money to Kraft to fund that takeover?

If the right hon. Gentleman is really suggesting that the Government can step in and avoid any takeover that is taking place in this country overnight, and then tell a bank that it has got to deprive a particular company of money by Government dictate, his liberal principles seem to have gone to the wall.

I thank the Prime Minister for the little economics lecture, but there is a simple principle at stake. Tens of thousands of British companies are crying out for that money to protect jobs, and instead RBS wants to lend it to a multinational with a record of cutting jobs. When British taxpayers bailed out the banks, they would never have believed that their money would be used to put British people out of work. Is that not just plain wrong?

Putting the words “liberal” and “principle” together seems very difficult now—[Interruption.] I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that no Government are doing more to try to protect and increase jobs than this country’s. Unemployment is falling today as a result of the actions we have taken. If we had taken the advice of the Liberal party, unemployment would be a great deal higher than it is now. He has nothing to offer the debate on the economy at all—[Interruption.]

Order. The House really must calm down. We are making relatively slow progress. I want to get down the Order Paper, and I am determined to do so.

The Reform of the House of Commons Committee proposed that the House should have the opportunity to debate and vote on its recommendations within two months, and that period has elapsed. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate very soon? Since he also said—quite rightly—that this is entirely a matter for the House alone, will he also ensure that the House can have a free vote, both on the package as a whole and on each of the main recommendations?

First, I know my right hon. Friend is a reformer who wishes to see improvements in the way the House operates. We are grateful to the Committee for making proposals for reforming the Committee system. The Government will make time available for a debate and the House will have an opportunity to decide on the Committee’s recommendations. The Government want the House to agree a way forward, and we will therefore propose accepting many of the Committee’s recommendations, including electing Chairmen and members of Select Committees, scheduling non-Government business and strengthening the role of Back Benchers to hold the Government to account.

Q2. On Monday, Sir Michael Bichard published a report based on the testimonials of 60 senior civil servants in Whitehall. It concluded that the Prime Minister’s Government is “weak” and dysfunctional, and that there is a “strategic gap at” its “heart”. Indeed, it says there is“a conspicuous lack of a single coherent strategy for government”. In particular, why does the Prime Minister think that one senior civil servant at No. 10 said that Ministers have lost their grip—[Interruption.] (311691)

The hon. Gentleman is going to have to do better than that. The report did not analyse the Conservatives’ way of making decisions on married couples allowances and other issues. When the right hon. Gentleman said there was going to be one new policy every day this year, I did not realise it would be one new policy every day on married couples allowance.

We are getting on with the business of government. That is why unemployment is falling today, why we took action to help small businesses and why we co-ordinated Government action to help home owners. We are seeing the results of our actions. The unfortunate thing is that the Conservatives opposed every single measure we put forward.

Q3. Today’s employment figures are good news for my constituents, and there are now almost 7,000 fewer people unemployed in Bury than during the last Tory recession. Would that have happened if the Government had simply let the recession take its course, and what more can the Government do to help my constituents get back into work? (311692)

For this Government, unemployment is not a price worth paying. We have taken action so that while in the 1980s recession, unemployment kept rising for five years, in this recession our action has seen unemployment falling and is helping young people into work. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition is not asking me about the economy today.

The Chilcot inquiry has heard that the current Prime Minister was in the Iraq war inner circle and refused key payments for our troops on the front line. Will he confirm to the House that there is no impediment to him seeking a time to give evidence to the Chilcot inquiry before the general election?

This is, as I said, a matter for the Chilcot inquiry. I have written to Sir John Chilcot to say that I am happy to give evidence at any time. That is a matter for the Committee to decide and I will take whatever advice he gives me about when he wishes me to appear. I am happy to give evidence on all the issues that he puts forward and happy to satisfy the public of this country about our Government’s commitment to the security of this country.

Q4. My friend would like to get married, but her boyfriend is not so keen. Should the Government give them some money to tie the knot, and if so how much? (311693)

It is the Conservative party that is tied in knots. Now that the shadow Business Secretary is in his place, I shall tell the House what he has said about this married couples allowance:

“I really don’t think it’s anything to do with politicians whether you”—

get married—

“and most of the younger people I know don’t seem very keen on it. My view of Conservatism is that it’s not for us to tell you”—

what to do through—

“the tax system—my wife didn’t put up with me because I was getting £150 by way of tax allowance. This is social engineering for God’s sake and when I joined the party we weren’t in favour of it.”

That is a verdict on the Leader of the Opposition from the shadow Business Secretary.––[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The power company E.ON has just announced that it will close its call centre in Rayleigh with the proposed loss of more than 600 jobs. Given that sad news, can the Prime Minister personally assure me that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Jobcentre Plus network will do absolutely everything that they can to assist my constituents and their families, and to help them to find alternative employment if that closure goes ahead?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the rapid response unit of the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus will be available to help his constituents if they are looking for jobs. Some 300,000 people are leaving the unemployment register every month, partly as a result of the action that Jobcentre Plus is able to take. We will be able to give his constituents advice, help and careers assistance, as well as, in some cases, work experience for young people looking for jobs in the future. We will do everything we can. I have to say to him, however, and I hope that he will note it, that all these measures are opposed by the Leader of the Opposition.

Q5. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent research done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on how to tackle child poverty and help families? Does he share its analysis that the best way to tackle child poverty is through child tax credits and not through the policies advocated by the official Opposition? (311694)

We have had the Conservative document on the family published today and it does not mention that they wish to take child tax credits away from large numbers of people. It does not mention that they want to take the child trust fund away from large numbers of people. As for honest politics, if you publish a document and you do not tell people what your policy really is—[Interruption.] Last week, I said that the Conservatives should give up the posters and concentrate on policy. Now that I have seen their policy, I have to say that they are just as well with their posters.

Q6. May I ask the Prime Minister to look into the excessive delays within the Home Office in resolving the outstanding issues of funding for unaccompanied child asylum seekers in the London borough of Hillingdon, with all the financial consequences and possible implications for social cohesion? (311695)

I will undertake to look into the matter. The hon. Gentleman is talking about an issue that is obviously very serious for those affected and their families, so I will look into it carefully.

Alternative Vote System

Q7. What recent discussions he has had on the use of the alternative vote system for general elections; and if he will make a statement. (311696)

I have given a commitment that a referendum will be held early in the next Parliament so that people can decide whether they want to move to the alternative vote system.

Although there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system, the alternative vote would mean that every Member of Parliament returned would have the support of at least 50 per cent. of the local electorate. Unlike any proportional representation system, it would also maintain, and indeed strengthen, the constituency link that is so vital for all Members of Parliament. Will the Prime Minister therefore consider whether he can trust Members of the House and, ultimately, members of the public to have a serious discussion on electoral systems and consider what system they should use to send people here?

Ultimately, this must be decided by members of the public in a referendum. The advantage of the alternative vote system is that it retains the constituency link, which I believe is important not just to Members of the House, but to the whole population. Given the issues that have arisen about trust in politics, there is a case to be made for every Member coming here to have the support of more than 50 per cent. of the electorate, as a result of the alternative vote system. I believe that there is a case for a referendum on this issue, and that those who wish for reform will wish for a referendum on that basis.

Engagements

Q8. The 200-year-old dam in my constituency, which is an earthworks dam containing the Chasewater reservoir, has started to leak. A recent engineers report stated that if it collapses, scores of lives will be lost and there will be a lasting effect on the west midlands. The small district of Lichfield does not have the funds to make the urgent repairs. Will the Prime Minister please use his best endeavours to ensure that the financial burden is spread over a much broader region? (311697)

Of course I will be happy to consider the hon. Gentleman’s point, although I see that he is making the case for public expenditure.

On Friday, MPs and councillors of all parties and local military historians will gather to take forward plans to provide a permanent memorial to Trooper Potts, Reading’s only recipient of the Victoria cross, which he won at Gallipoli in 1915 in an act of outstanding courage. Will the Prime Minister, to whom I have written on this subject, offer a message of support for our endeavours to mark for ever the gallantry of this truly local hero?

I agree with my hon. Friend that a permanent memorial would be a great way of expressing not only our debt to the people whom he has mentioned, but our continuing debt to all those who have served our country, including those who have been honoured for doing so with bravery and having demonstrated the greatest of courage. I hope that his proposal can move forward; we will do everything that we can to help it.

We have introduced a points system for immigration, which I believe is starting to work. The hon. Gentleman will see, from announcements coming soon, that the number of people whom we need to come to this country, to meet the demand for the skills, is being substantially reduced as a result of the skills and people being trained here. The points system is working: unskilled workers whom the country does not need and who cannot make a contribution to the economy are not allowed into the country.