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Commons Chamber

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2010

House of Commons

Wednesday 20 January 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

London Local Authorities Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Oral Answers to Questions

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.


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—


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.


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.

Security and Counter-terrorism

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to update the House on the measures that we are taking to enhance our security and our protection against terrorism. Yesterday, at a regular meeting of our National Security Committee, Ministers and I received the latest intelligence and information from the chiefs of our security and intelligence agencies, the head of the UK Border Agency, the country’s senior counter-terrorism officials and police officers, and the Chief of the Defence Staff. Yesterday I also spoke to President Obama about our security measures.

The failed attack over Detroit on Christmas day signalled the first operation mounted outside Arabia by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based organisation with close links to the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan. We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries. Earlier this month, the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary made statements to Parliament setting out the urgent steps that we are taking to enhance aviation security, including new regulations for transit passengers. Today, following the advice that the Government have received, I want to announce further measures to strengthen the protection of our borders, maximise aviation security, and enhance intelligence co-ordination at home and abroad.

Earlier today I paid tribute to those members of our armed forces who most recently gave their lives in the service of the security of our country in Afghanistan. The action that we are taking to counter terrorism at its source in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and elsewhere is a central part of our wider counter-terrorist strategy. All our actions, which we will update regularly, are founded on what is and must be the first and most important duty of Government: the protection and security of the British people.

Although the UK’s borders are already among the strongest in the world, I now want to set out how we will further strengthen our protection against would-be terrorists: first, by extending our Home Office watch list; and secondly, in partnership with security agencies abroad, by improving the sharing of information on individuals of concern. I can announce that, as well as extending our watch list, we intend for the first time to use it as the basis for two new lists: first, a no-fly list; and secondly, a larger list of those who should be subject to special measures, including enhanced screening prior to boarding flights bound for the UK. We will use the new technology that we have introduced and our partnerships with police and agencies in other countries to stop those who pose the greatest risk from travelling to our country. But over the coming months we will go further in taking action against people before they even board a plane to the UK.

Our e-Borders scheme is a vital component of our strategy to strengthen and modernise the UK’s border controls. It has already achieved significant success, enabling nearly 5,000 arrests for crimes that include murder, rape and assault. As a result of the £1.2 billion investment that we are making, by the end of this year we will be able to check all passengers travelling from other countries to all major airports and ports in the UK, whether they are in transit or the UK is their final destination, by checking against the watch list 24 hours prior to travel and then taking appropriate action. The e-Borders system will give us a better picture than ever of people coming in and out of our country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is meeting today with European counterparts to push for swift agreement at the European Union level on the ability to collect and process data on passenger records, including on travel within the EU, and to enforce the European Commission’s recent approval of the transmission of advanced passenger information to our e-Borders system by carriers based in other member states.

As the Detroit bomber highlighted, we also need—and we are sponsoring—research on the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying potential explosives anywhere on the body. As President Obama and I discussed yesterday, greater security in our airports, with the new body scanners introduced from next week, an increase in explosive trace testing and the use of dogs, must be matched by demanding greater guarantees about security in those international airports from which there are flights into our country. I can today inform the House that we have agreed with Yemenia Airways, pending enhanced security, that it suspends its direct flights to the UK from Yemen with immediate effect. We are working closely with the Yemeni Government to agree what security measures need to be put in place before flights are resumed. Aviation security officials are currently in Yemen looking at this. I hope that flights can be resumed soon, but the security of our citizens must be our priority.

We will also work with our partners in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the EU and the G8 to promote enhancements to the international aviation security regime, including stronger security arrangements in airports and greater sharing of information. The Home Secretary will be discussing initial proposals with European and American counterparts this week. We want to offer increased assistance to countries whose weaknesses in aviation security may present a wider threat to the international community, including to the UK.

It is because we fully recognise the global nature of the terrorist threat we face today that our response must also be truly global. Plots against the UK and our interests originate in various parts of the globe. Some of the intelligence that we need in order to protect our people against attacks will be here in Britain; some will be held by our international partners and passed to us, just as we help them with our information about the threats they face; and some information will come from the most unstable parts of the world. So, in tackling these threats to life and to our way of life, our security services—and I pay tribute to all of them—need to be able seamlessly to track and disrupt terrorist activity and movements, whether within the UK or beyond. This requires ever-closer working between our agencies themselves, and with our international partners.

I can announce that, as part of the work that I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to lead on intelligence co-ordination, our three intelligence agencies have already begun to set up joint investigating and targeting teams to address potential threats upstream, long before the individuals concerned might reach our shores, ensuring that at all times we continue to deliver improvements in the way we collect, share and use intelligence, and building on previous reforms including the joint terrorism analysis centre that we set up in 2003, the office for security and counter-terrorism and the national security secretariat in 2007.

In addition to all those measures to protect British lives at home and in the air, we are tackling the problem of global international terrorism at its source. I have said before that Yemen is both an incubator and a potential safe haven for terrorism, and that, along with Somalia, it is the most significant after the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. We and our allies are still clear that the crucible of terrorism on the Afghan-Pakistan border remains the No. 1 security threat to the west. At the same time, however, we must recognise that al-Qaeda’s affiliates and allies, pushed out of Afghanistan and increasingly under pressure in Pakistan, are seeking to exploit other areas with weak governance, such as parts of Yemen and Somalia.

In Yemen, we have been at the forefront of the international effort against terrorism for some time. We have been assisting the Government of Yemen through intelligence support and through support for its coastguard and for the training of counter-terror personnel. We are also helping to tackle some of the root causes of terrorism by supporting political, economic and social reform. By next year, our commitments to Yemen will total some £100 million, making the UK one of its leading donors. We are also increasing our capacity-building in Somalia, working with the transitional Government and the African Union.

As with all aspects of the fight against terrorism, this new threat can be met only through enhanced co-operation, so we will now work more closely with allies in the region to pool efforts, resources and expertise. Next week, here in London, alongside our conference on Afghanistan, we will be hosting a special meeting to strengthen international support for Yemen in its efforts against al-Qaeda. We will help the Government of Yemen to advance their internal reforms, and we will increase capacity-building and development assistance in a way that directly addresses poverty and grievances that could fuel insecurity and extremism.

Since 2001, we have reformed domestic defences against the terrorist threat, trebled our domestic security budget, doubled the staff in our security services and reformed our security structures to bring greater co-ordination across government. We have responded to the changing nature of the threat by bringing in new powers and new terrorism-related offences. Nearly 230 people have been convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences since 2001. Today’s announcements demonstrate that we will continue to be vigilant, adapting our response to changing terrorist techniques. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There is much in it that we welcome. We particularly welcome the emphasis on the national security approach—something that we have consistently called for over the past four years. I want to ask the Prime Minister about four areas in particular: the radicalisation of young British Muslims; how to increase security at our borders; international co-operation; and co-ordination within our own Government.

First, on radicalisation, is not the key point about the Detroit bomber that he did not go to Yemen by accident and happen to get radicalised there? He was actually radicalised first in the United Kingdom and went to Yemen as a result. Does not that show that more needs to be done to tackle radicalisation right here in the UK? We welcome the belated decision to ban Islam4UK, having repeatedly called for it. Will the Prime Minister now go ahead and ban Hizb ut-Tahrir? The fact is that too many of our university campuses have tolerated organisations that have acted as incubators of terrorism. Is not one of the lessons of the last few years that we should act not only against the organisations that threaten violence, but against those that threaten our way of life as well? Is it not time for a proper review of the preventing violent extremism strategy?

Secondly, there is the question of the security of our borders. We welcome many of the things that the Prime Minister said, particularly on the issue of a no-fly list. The subject of the list was raised by our security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, and we very much welcome its introduction. The introduction of body scanners is also welcome, but will the Prime Minister say whether he believes that they would have prevented this particular individual from boarding the aircraft in Amsterdam?

As for the question of how we decide to search people at airports, obviously crude ethnic profiling is neither right nor effective, but that surely does not mean that we should not be thinking about how best to target our approach. I understand that the Detroit bomber appears to have displayed a number of high-risk factors: paying for the tickets in cash, carrying only hand luggage, and having previously been denied a United Kingdom visa. Does the Prime Minister agree that those factors should have set the alarm bells ringing? Can he tell us what is being done, in the light of this episode, to enhance the training of security staff at airports to identify those clear risk factors? Above all, when it comes to our borders, is it not time for a proper border police force rather than the pale imitation that we have had so far?

Thirdly, international co-operation is obviously exceptionally important. Clearly we need to work with the authorities in Yemen to address the growing threat emanating from that country. We welcome such co-operation, but is it not important that these matters are handled properly? We were initially given the high-profile announcement of a big conference on Yemen next week, which now turns out to be a two-hour meeting in the margins of the summit on Afghanistan. Can the Prime Minister explain how that came about?

Can the Prime Minister clear up another matter? On 4 January, his official spokesman said—I quote from Downing street’s published record of the briefing—that

“there was security information about this individual’s activities, and that was the information that was shared with the US authorities.”

As we know, there followed a dispute about whether information was passed or not. Can the Prime Minister now promise that he will stick to the fundamental principle that we do not comment on intelligence matters?

Fourthly, there is the question of co-ordination within the Government. I know the Prime Minister agrees that we need a properly established national security approach, and we welcome the progress towards that, but does he agree that rather than a Cabinet Committee, what we need is a proper national security council with a national security adviser, at the heart of Government, which can address these issues in the round? The Prime Minister will say that we already have one, but let me put this point to him. If we really have a national security approach—if we really think these things through—we should bear in mind that we will still be spending more on aid to China than we are spending on aid to Yemen. We should take that into account if we are really thinking about national security.

Finally, the Prime Minister spoke about anti-terror legislation. We will always support measures that provide the hard-nosed defence of liberty, and oppose measures that amount to ineffective authoritarianism. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister now admit that the attempt to introduce 42-day detention without trial was a politically motivated mistake?

I hoped that we would find in the right hon. Gentleman’s response more consensus than we appear to have discovered. First, let me advise him not to draw conclusions too quickly about the nature of the citizen who was arrested for the Detroit incident. We do not have the full information that he suggested we had about the radicalisation in the United Kingdom; nor do we have all the information about the individual’s activities in Yemen. That is part of the continuing investigation. I think that drawing conclusions immediately is both premature and dangerous.

It is a fact that we have excluded more than 180 people from our country on grounds of national security since 2005, and that we have excluded more than 100 individuals on grounds of unacceptable behaviour. Since July 2005, eight individuals have been deported on grounds of national security, and a further eight have made voluntary departures. So we take action when it is right to do so, and on the proscription of organisations, we take action when we have evidence that will stand up in a court of law. Decisions on proscription must be based on evidence that the group concerned is involved in terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. It is not a party political decision that is being made, but a decision on legal grounds that can be challenged in the courts. That is why the decision on Islam4UK was made in the way in which it was made, and that is why we have been careful in relation to what has happened over the organisation called HuT.

Let me say something about body scanners and what happened in Amsterdam. We are investing a huge amount of money in trying to develop the most sophisticated techniques for identifying materials that are held in people’s bodies when they go through a search. We cannot be absolutely sure that the scanners we use at the moment are foolproof; they are the best we have at the moment, but we will continue to invest further in them. The point I am making today is if the UK invests in scanners, it will be necessary for other countries also to develop these sophisticated techniques so that we have protection not only in our country’s airports, but in the airports from which people travel to our country.

Let me deal with e-Borders, which involves the holding of data about people. I am grateful if the Leader of the Opposition is saying that he now withdraws his objections to the holding of such data because it is an essential part of the national security effort that we are going to carry out in future months. Through e-Borders, we have the possibility of getting information 24 hours in advance of a passenger’s flight into the UK, of being able to check that individual against the watch list and of then deciding whether that individual should be allowed to fly or should be subject to enhanced searches. That is a major advance that is going to happen during the course of this year as a result of the huge investment we have made in e-Borders.

As far as international co-operation is concerned, the Yemen conference is a necessary means by which we can signal to the people of Yemen that the international community is prepared to support them in their efforts against al-Qaeda. I thought it right, and so did the President of the USA, to bring people together on the eve of the Afghan conference to signal the importance we attach both to Yemen taking action against al-Qaeda and to supporting those people in Yemen who are fighting these terrorist groups.

As far as announcements made over Christmas are concerned, it is the practice for us not to comment on security information and that will continue to be the practice that is always followed in future. The Government’s policy is absolutely clear about that. I do think, however, that we should look at the wider picture here today and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not drawn himself into this debate. The counter-terrorism strategy we need starts from what we do in the UK by securing our borders. It means having enhanced co-operation with the security agencies of other countries at all times, and it means that the de-radicalisation work we are carrying out goes on not simply in Britain but in other countries throughout the world to expose the extremists and to support the moderates and reformers. It leads us to take action in the Afghan border area to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot again gain a foothold in Afghanistan that would allow the Taliban to get back into power. I would have thought—I hope and I continue to hope—that there would be complete consensus in all parts of the House on these issues.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. The changing and evolving threat to Britain’s security not only calls for constant vigilance, but demands regular review and debate in the House. The Prime Minister can always count on the support of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches in introducing proportionate and well thought through measures to reduce that threat, while of course protecting the traditional liberties of the British people.

I particularly welcome the part of the statement about increased joint working with our European and other allies; in a globalised world, such European co-operation is vital to tackle any threat. That is why I have always advocated more, not less European co-operation in this area; our basic safety depends on it. I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the upcoming UN conference to discuss approaches to the situation in the Yemen and the horn of Africa; the joint working of our intelligence agencies to identify and combat threats at the earliest point at which they emerge; and the extension of the e-Borders programme, which is vital if we are to gain the information we need about people coming into and leaving the UK.

If I understand it correctly, the Yemeni authorities claim that there are only a small number of hard-line al-Qaeda supporters in the country. Will the Prime Minister tell us how that small number of people will be targeted in order to ensure that we do not inflame moderate opinion in Yemen? Does he agree that the greatest challenge is to isolate and marginalise al-Qaeda supporters in the horn of Africa rather than take steps that will have the unintended consequence of boosting their support in this fragile region?

The Prime Minister will know that Liberal Democrat Members believe it is vital to get right the difficult balance between security and liberty and that Government efforts in the past often got that balance wrong. This week, the court ruling on compensation for those given control orders has surely put another nail in the coffin of this failed system. As the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), said in respect of these orders, they have got holes all through them. Will the Prime Minister now accept that control orders do not work and will he agree not to renew them when they expire in March? Will he focus his intentions instead on ways of making it easier to prosecute terror suspects in our courts?

It is important to get the balance right between the need to protect the liberties of every individual citizen and the security that every citizen in this country has the right to expect. We will look at the judgment on control orders, but I have to say that in ensuring the protection of our country’s security, it has been necessary for us to track a number of people who might be dangerous and could otherwise threaten the security and law and order of our communities.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s points about Yemen and Somalia. Our job is to make sure that we can help the legitimate Government in Yemen to deal with extremism within its borders, to expose extremist and radical preachers who have a perverted view of Islam, to encourage the moderates and reformers, and to ensure that we bring into alliance with us the people of Yemen who have other interests that need to be met, but who cannot and should not look to al-Qaeda for the solution to their grievances. The same issues apply in Somalia as well. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our policy in Somalia and in Yemen, as in Pakistan, is to back those elements who are standing firm against al-Qaeda and against a perverted view of Islam on the basis of which jihad is preached against the rest of the world.

As far as measures taken here are concerned, I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that maximum care is taken to deal with the civil liberties issues that arise in every case. For example, in installing the security machines at airports to ensure that security checks are properly done, we have designed a code of conduct to protect the liberties of the individual.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the control orders to which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has referred were introduced by my successor as Home Secretary, following the House of Lords judgment in December 2004, which overturned section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Given the key issues of admissibility and disclosure and the failure of the judiciary to respond to the consultation in early 2004 on alternatives that would have allowed the court system to deal with admissibility and disclosure—but with sufficient privacy to protect sources—will my right hon. Friend consider consulting the President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice and colleagues, along with the Home and Justice Secretaries, to ask the judiciary if it has proposals to help us develop an alternative rather than simply to strike down the alternatives that we put together in this House?

No one knows more about this issue than my right hon. Friend, who is well versed in the debates that took place at the time. When he was Home Secretary, he had to take very difficult decisions to deal with the terrorist threat in our country, and I applaud him for the work he has done. He is absolutely right that any further decisions have to be based on maximum consultation and discussion with the people whose advice we ought to seek. The Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary will, of course, be in contact with the judiciary on these matters.

May I again put it to the Prime Minister that nothing more certainly fuels international terrorism than the stationing of foreign troops in Islamic countries?

I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Afghanistan was rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda only through the action taken by the US, the UK and other allied forces. But for that, the Taliban would still be in power and al-Qaeda would still have the licence to roam within Afghanistan and to plan its attacks on Britain and other countries from there. We took the action we did as part of a 43-nation coalition, which was supported by the UN and is still supported by the UN. This is one of the widest alliances ever formed; the reason for it is that we must prevent al-Qaeda from getting space in countries like Afghanistan in order to threaten the rest of the world.

I very much welcome the lead that the Prime Minister has shown today; his statement is concise, comprehensive and resolute. May I also encourage him to stick to an evidence-based approach, because nothing would be worse than taking action that is not justified by our existing law, and which would ultimately give a propaganda coup to those whom we seek to curb in their aims of terrorism? In that context, will he continue to seek consensus, not only throughout this House but throughout the country, and ensure that there is a communication and explanation strategy for the public, who will be inconvenienced by these measures, but will ultimately be protected by them?

My right hon. Friend is right—and again, he has done so much to alert us to the problems that terrorism can bring, and to the security measures necessary to deal with them. He, like me, is aware that we need to build public confidence in what is being done, that the introduction of checking at airports has to be explained to the public and that the civil liberties issues need to be dealt with, so that people feel satisfied that this is being done in their interests and in the security interests of the country.

As for proscription, it is easy to call for the proscription of one organisation or another, but it is the most difficult thing to ensure that we have a case that can stand up in court. That is why we have been careful about the organisations that we proscribe. If we were to proscribe an organisation and it were to win a case in court against us, that would, of course, be a propaganda victory for that organisation against a decision that we had made. So we must be sure about the evidence that we have before we make these decisions, and it was by an intricate examination of the work of Islam4UK that we came to the conclusion that it should be proscribed.

Does the Prime Minister accept that the more complex the threat, the more sophisticated the means necessary to deal with it, and in turn, the greater the resources required to do so? Given that we are about to embark on a period of severe restriction of public expenditure, what assurances can he give that the three intelligence agencies in this country will have the resources to enable them to fulfil their primary responsibility: the protection of British citizens?

Because we have trebled the resources available to the security agencies since 2001 and because we have doubled the number of staff available to them, they face the future from a platform where the investment has already been made, and is being made, in the development of their service—both in their technology and, of course, in the expertise in their staffing. I believe that the decisions we made from 2001 to now to increase investment in the security services have been some of the most important—and, of course, expensive—decisions that have been made. But they have been the right decisions, and they mean that the security services are building on a very strong foundation.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to continue the development of and the investment in the e-Borders system, which is so important, not only in enabling us to count people in and out of the country, but in tracking those who may pose a risk. I fear that he may be premature in believing that the Leader of the Opposition has withdrawn his concerns or opposition to the e-Borders scheme. Regardless of the fluctuating position of Conservative Members on this system, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that he will maintain a commitment to collecting the information and investing in the technology necessary to protect us from the international threat from terrorism?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that this is an important part of the protection of British citizens. Having a check that can be done prior to travel, as a result of an e-Borders system in which we have invested more than £1 billion, is a very important element of the security of our country, and I praise her work in developing that system, and the action she took to counter terrorism when she was Home Secretary.

I must also say that sometimes the Conservative party does not want to understand the measures that we are already taking. We have a National Security Committee in place. The Leader of the Opposition sometimes gives the impression that that does not include the chiefs of our security agencies, the Chief of the Defence Staff or all those people who are charged with addressing the security issues of our country, and he wants to create some new committee that does include them. Those people are already on the National Security Committee. We regularly publish a national security strategy and we have set up a national security secretariat in the Cabinet Office. We have a national security forum, which I met only last week and which gives us advice from experts around the world about our security. We also have a cadre of experienced conflict and stabilisation experts. All the things that the document he produced last week suggested should be done are already being done.

The Prime Minister will know that the most successful attack by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took place using a cavity bomb—a bomb inserted inside a human body. No technology is currently available to detect that threat, and traditionally we used to use the defence research budget to fund new technologies in order to keep one step ahead of terrorism. Under the Prime Minister’s watch that budget has been cut by 23 per cent. in the past three years. I recognise that the Government have spent money on personnel and structures, but will he review that cut again, because without such a review we will not get the technology to solve the problem?

But science expenditure has doubled over the past 10 years, and the security Minister, Lord West, has asked companies around the country to work with him on developing new measures and new technologies that can deal with the detection of exactly what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Therefore investment has been made, and we are prepared to make the investments that are necessary. I ask him to look at the overall picture of science investment in this country, and at Lord West’s invitation to companies in this country to be involved in developing the new technology. In fact, it is Smiths Industries, one of the British companies, that is developing the border scanner, and it is doing so with great distinction.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and thank him for agreeing to meet the all-party group on Yemen in advance of the conference next week. Following the Detroit incident, President Obama said that there had been a “systemic failure” in the security apparatus in the United States. In the evidence that has been given to the Select Committee’s counter-terrorism inquiry, a number of witnesses have talked about information being retained in home Departments—for example, the Department for Transport and others—rather than being sent to the Home Office. Does he agree that co-ordination is vital? That means strengthening the office for security and counter-terrorism, which was created by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid). Will the Prime Minister also look again at the idea of a national security council, because there is a need to co-ordinate on a political level, as well as co-ordinating on the practical operational level through the OSCT?

The National Security Committee involves all the major Ministers in government, as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff, heads of the security agencies and all those who are charged with the security and protection of the country. On co-ordination between the different agencies, my right hon. Friend is right about the innovations that were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts. Equally, we are moving forward, because the Cabinet Secretary is reporting on intelligence co-ordination and our three intelligence agencies are setting up joint teams to address potential threats upstream. That is where we can make major advances to prevent individuals about whom we are worried from ever reaching our shores. We continue to look at better ways of delivering improvements in the way we collect, share and use intelligence.

Iran is a major promoter of global terrorism, yet rumours of a prisoner swap to free Peter Moore continue. The timing of his release coincided with that of Qais al-Khazali, a senior figure in the group that kidnapped Mr. Moore, which is backed by Iran. Will the Prime Minister confirm that Mr. Moore was not part of a prisoner swap, and that Government services were not involved?

I can confirm what the Foreign Secretary said about the release of Mr. Peter Moore: that it was done in the way that he described, without any arrangement with the Iranian Government.

Aviation security requires combining specific measures at airports with international intelligence. Can the Prime Minister tell us what specific steps he will be taking to strengthen the weak spots globally in security and in intelligence? Could he also say what action he is taking on internet hate, such as Hamas’s al-Fatah website, which is preaching hatred to children at this moment?

Order. It is a little cheeky, if by no means unprecedented, for the hon. Lady to ask two questions, but I know that one answer from the Prime Minister will suffice.

On the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, I can say that the Home Office is looking closely at that issue. On the question of airport security—I know that she is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport and does a great job in that regard—it is important to recognise that the measures we take at British airports will work best if they are accompanied by measures in other countries. That is why we are offering other countries that need help to develop greater security at their airports our help, training for their staff and advice on technology.

It is now three years since the Government signed the e-Borders contract, but as the Prime Minister admitted, the programme still does not allow us automatically to deny boarding to passengers who are deemed a security risk. Will the Prime Minister explain why we are still waiting for an authority-to-carry function in the e-Borders programme, when the Government originally promised that it would be in place by October 2008?

I read out the number of people who had been caught coming through our borders as a result of the success of the e-Borders system. The hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the system is a failure when large numbers of people have been prevented from entering this country, and when crimes have been detected as a result of what it is doing. I said that the targets we set for the e-Borders system would be completed by the end of 2010, and that is exactly where we are.

What my right hon. Friend said about helping to achieve stability in Yemen will be welcomed by Yemenis in my constituency, who have long been concerned about the situation in their country. On Somalia, we all want to see the interim transitional Government succeed in bringing stability to the south, but they do not yet even control Mogadishu. Will he also continue the Government’s engagement with the Government of Somaliland in the north, which for nearly 20 years has been a beacon of stability and democracy in the horn of Africa, and continue to reward that success?

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying, and he speaks with a great deal of knowledge about what has happened in Africa over the years. We will work with all Governments against the terrorist threat. The real danger is that al-Qaeda can find areas where there is temporary or permanent instability, exploit that to make them their training ground, and cause chaos in the region around them. We are determined to work with like-minded Governments to prevent the terrorist threat from developing. I keep saying that we must expose extremism and back the reformers and moderates who want to show that the view of Islam as perverted by al-Qaeda is completely false.

As someone with an airport in the heart of my constituency, I welcome the announcements that the Prime Minister has made today. However, does he share my concern—and is he shocked to hear—that Edinburgh airport, which is very close to his constituency, announced this week that it plans to abolish the post of head of security? Will he contact BAA and the Civil Aviation Authority to find out what is going on?

The important thing is that BAA and Edinburgh airport take their responsibilities for security seriously. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are both agreed on that. Every airport in the country will be responding to the demand for tighter security measures, and I believe that if they are implemented properly the inconvenience to passengers can be minimised. The new measures and the new technology that are being introduced could, over time, make the transit of passengers not less fast, but in fact speed it up. That is a matter to be worked out over the next few months, but I shall obviously look into the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Azzam Tamimi, a preacher of hate who has boasted on the BBC about his support for suicide terrorist bombing and hatred of Jews, has been invited to speak on the university of Birmingham campus? Professor Eastwood, the university’s vice-chancellor, defends that by saying that it is a matter of freedom of expression. Does the Prime Minister agree that freedom of expression, which is vital, is not the same as providing a platform for hate? We have to shut down those incubators of hate against our values and against the Jewish people.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point about how our universities will respond, over time, to an attempt by some people to use them as a breeding ground for extremist activity. We must always get right the balance between the academic freedom that is at the heart of what universities are about and the maintenance of security in our country. I know that most vice-chancellors want to play their part in helping us to do that.

On e-Borders, the Home Affairs Committee heard some impressive evidence quite recently that showed that introducing e-Borders in ferry ports attracted a number of fairly insurmountable practical and logistical problems. The Prime Minister now anticipates that the scheme will be in place by the end of the year. Has he overcome these practical problems—and if not, is there any point in closing the front door and leaving the back door open?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who deals with these issues, says that coach operators are met regularly. We have dealt with the problems that they have raised as a result of the operation of the system, and these problems are perfectly capable of being worked out.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say, particularly about the importance of sharing intelligence with our close allies. Does he have any concern that the unwillingness of our courts to protect the secrets of our close allies might have an effect on their willingness to continue to co-operate at the very high level at which they have co-operated in the past?

My right hon. Friend speaks with some knowledge on these issues, and his membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which deals with these matters, is valued in the House. Of course these are issues about which we must be concerned.

I acknowledge the serious threat against the United Kingdom from international terrorists, and any resolute action that is to be taken against them is welcome. However, the Prime Minister is also aware of the serious threat that continues in the United Kingdom from republican groups. I speak with reference to a young police officer who was the victim of attempted murder in my constituency, Peadar Heffron. He is a very courageous young police officer, who was standing in between us and terrorism. Will the Prime Minister assure this House that the Government will do everything within the United Kingdom to hunt down those responsible for that attack as well as taking action on international terrorists?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that terrorism and violence cannot be justified in any circumstances. I followed the tragic case of this shooting and I hope that the officer can now recover. I know that he has had huge difficulties as a result of the injuries that he sustained. In no place and in no circumstances can extremist action and violence ever be justified.

Recognising that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain are opposed to terrorism, is it not important to engage Muslim organisations and individuals in combating extremism, particularly, as has been said already, in universities and prisons where the hate merchants are doing their best to spread their notorious poison—anti-Semitism and racism in general?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the heart of everything we do is the need to prevent the radicalisation of young people by organisations that wish to provide a perverted view of the Islamic religion and wish to exploit that to encourage people to commit violent and terrorist acts. I keep saying that we will do that by exposing the extremists. It is important, therefore, that people stand up against extremism in university campuses and wherever else it is practised. We must also back these reforming and moderate voices and give them the support they need to show young people that the ways of al-Qaeda and other organisations are the ways of violence, and are completely unacceptable.

Given that Abdulmutallab is known to have travelled through Addis Ababa on 7 December, what practical support and advice can the Government give to airports in those friendly middle eastern and African countries that act as regional airport hubs?

My understanding is that we are giving advice to those airports at the moment. We are in touch with some of them, including the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The Prime Minister, in his answers, has recognised the dangers of feeding the propaganda agenda of terrorists. In his statement, he also referred to the need to intensify co-operation with the police and other agencies in other countries. Given that some of those countries will themselves have dubious regimes, and those agencies will have questionable reputations, how can he ensure that the character of that co-operation will not become a propaganda feed for subversives?

We have to be very careful in what we do. It is important that we support legitimate Governments and work with those elements that wish to discourage extremism at all times. It is very important that we build a coalition of countries that are prepared to take on al-Qaeda and other terrorist activity. I think the lesson of the Afghanistan campaign is the fact that 43 countries were prepared to come together to get rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. The lesson from that, and from the conference held by the friends of Yemen next week, is that people are willing to come together to support countries in taking action against terrorism.

As the new scanners start to be delivered, it is important that the maximum number of passengers can be processed through them. Will the Prime Minister therefore look at a system that is already in place at Manchester airport, under which if a passenger trips a scanner, they are automatically diverted into a separate channel for body search, thereby allowing other passengers to proceed without delay?

Yes, I think that is being piloted in Manchester, and we are looking at it very carefully. [Interruption.] The Minister of State for Transport is sitting next me, and he says this is one of the areas in which further research is being done.

Last week the European courts ruled against the section 44 stop-and-search powers as applied by the Metropolitan police. Does my right hon. Friend agree that most of the citizens of our country wish those powers to be used to protect them and other members of the public, but they want to be absolutely sure that they are properly circumscribed, applied and monitored—and will he ask the Home Secretary to liaise with the head of the Metropolitan police force to ensure that that is the case?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, but we are dealing here with a European judgment and the Home Secretary is currently reviewing it.

I am grateful for the excellent work the Government are doing on air travel and borders, but in our country we have the phenomenon of home-grown terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree that we must be vigilant in protecting passengers, particularly those who travel into London on trains and the tube, as that is probably still the main threat?

We should be vigilant at all times. We know that terrorist groups would like, if they had the chance, to cause chaos in the United Kingdom. We know also that we have to improve at all times the security of our trains and our transport infrastructure, and the protection of people in public places. Lord West is co-ordinating the work that is being done to see what measures can be taken to improve security in all these areas, and we will continue to update our counter-terrorism strategy in the light of all the new information we have.

There is long-held concern about the weakness of Pakistan’s Government, intelligence services and army to co-operate fully in dealing with terrorists and extremists. Does the Prime Minister believe that there has been significant improvement and progress in this area in the last 12 months, because it is still a great concern?

I am grateful for all the work my hon. Friend has done in this area. It is important to recognise that at all times we are learning new lessons about how information can be shared, as well as about how it can be collected, and we are learning how we can deal with terrorist threats at an earlier stage by getting the information required. The greater sophistication of the exercise also requires greater co-ordination between the agencies, and the Cabinet Secretary is continuing to monitor how that co-operation can be enhanced over the next period of time.

Given the recent court decision in respect of control orders, may I endorse the call by the leader of the Liberal Democrats for the repeal of this legislation—but for completely different and opposite reasons? Does the Prime Minister not agree that, as some of his former Home Secretaries have recognised, part of this problem is the interweaving into the control order legislation of the Human Rights Act 1998, and that the best thing we could do would be to repeal that Act, in order to ensure that we deal with the control order issues through our own Westminster-based legislation, which gives fair process, due trial and habeas corpus? That would ensure that we both have fair trials and control certain people in the public interest.

I am surprised that we keep coming back to the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act that flowed from it. I think most people would agree that the ECHR, which was written by British lawyers—[Interruption.] Yes, some of them were Conservatives, actually. I think most people would agree that the ECHR has been a major advance, and I am sorry that we are returning to these old debates. The protection and safety of the individual is first and foremost in our mind.

Digital Heritage

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

 That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable specified institutions to make digital copies of cultural artefacts for archival purposes notwithstanding the existence of any intellectual property right; and for connected purposes.

The transmission of our heritage has been revolutionised by the interconnected world of the internet. The greatest cultures of the world are being opened up to the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet. In countries with rich histories such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico, future generations will discuss, consider and analyse their heritage online. As H.G. Wells predicted and Pierre Lévy recently observed, humankind now has the capacity to build a universal digital memory. Many countries’ cultural institutions have started on this grand project only in the past few years, however, and their work is often hampered by laws that were framed to deal with the problems of the analogue age.

Our system of copyright has for many years—perhaps even before the invention of the worldwide web—been creaking at the edges. It has been unable to cope with the explosive growth of creativity and content, as well as the creation of new technologies and the ever-increasing pace of change, particularly in the latter 20th century. The Gowers review identified many steps that could be taken to allow our great cultural institutions—such as the British Library, the British Film Institute and the National Archives—to curate their works in a manner that allows all the opportunities of the digital age to be grasped. The review highlighted that the UK had far more stringent restrictions on copying classes of work for archival and preservation purposes than other countries. It also made specific recommendations on how the UK could deal with orphan works—copyrighted works where it is either difficult or impossible to track down the rights holder.

It is reassuring to know that many of the issues raised by curators and copyright lawyers are addressed by proposals in the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently being discussed in the other place. However, the many wise heads in the other place who are applying their minds to the Bill are moving amendments at a baffling pace. We therefore do not know in what form the Bill will come to this House, although I must say that if Lords Erroll, Whitty, Razzall and Clement-Jones get their way, at least we can be reassured that it will be in much better shape when it reaches us.

The Digital Economy Bill is perhaps the most important Bill for the creative industries this decade, yet they know, as we all do in this House—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is becoming procedurally incorrect. The purpose of this slot is to enable him to talk about his Bill, and he must concentrate on that. An allusion to another matter may be fine in context, but he must focus on the contents of his own Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am explaining the context in which I have produced my Bill, and I hope to bring myself back into order rapidly, with your guidance.

The creative industries, like many Members, are concerned about some of the major measures in the Digital Economy Bill. My Bill might precede it, because, depending on when the House is dissolved for a general election, the Digital Economy Bill might fall. Many content-creators are therefore worried that measures contained in clauses 11 and 17 of the Digital Economy Bill would fall—

Order. I am afraid I shall have to emphasise my ruling to the hon. Gentleman. The procedure for ten-minute Bills is pretty well established, so I hope he will now fall in line with the gentle suggestion I made to him.

I will not test your patience any longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My Bill is about how we store data digitally. The amount of digital content we can store has increased dramatically in recent years. Kryder’s law—that is a mathematical law, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not one being discussed in the other place—is an almost mystical formula that says that digital data capacity will double every 13 months. It means that we can now super-process acres of data that were indigestible only a decade or so ago.

Ten years ago I had a Discman and a few hundred CDs. Three years ago my iPod held thousands of songs. If Kryder’s law holds true, some time around 2013 an iPod will be able to carry a year’s worth of video. By 2016 it will hold all the commercial music ever produced. By 2019 it could carry a lifetime of video—85 years’ worth. Around 2024 all the content ever produced in history could be stored on a device that fits into a pocket.

When such an unprecedented technological advance is fully understood, it leads many to conclude that existing proposals to brand a generation of innate internet users as pirates is futile. What is required is a complete rethink of copyright. It should be accepted that technology now allows people to share content, crunch it, mash it and remake it. To illustrate my point with a contemporary political example, when Labour was elected in 1997, young political propagandists from all parties had to make their point by using an aerosol and a balaclava. Now they use Photoshop.

The recent experience of the website is an example of people taking an idea and reusing it to add to a discussion and make a point. Political party managers might not like it, but it has given election billboards new relevance and interest for the forthcoming general election. It is making electioneering interesting, unpredictable and, dare I say, more fun.

If colleagues do not think that digital natives will change the world of politics with their billboard mash-ups, I ask them to take a look at the voting figures for the Pirate party. In Sweden the Pirate party, an organisation dedicated to giving a generation of net users a voice in the copyright settlement, won a seat in the European Parliament. It is now one of the largest parties in Sweden. One in eight first-time voters supported the German Pirate party in recent elections. The message in the UK is clear. Just because they do not have the capacity to lobby Governments as easily as the British Phonographic Industry, young people will react strongly at the ballot box if their internet rights are diminished. When they are told by an army of big publishing lobbyists that the creative industries are in peril, they have the capacity to Google a strong riposte.

Yesterday, the UK Film Council said that in 2009 British cinemas saw their best admissions in seven years, with box office takings in the UK and Ireland exceeding £1 billion for the first time. In 2009, £1.7 billion was spent on video games, a big increase on the previous year—

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is losing me again. This precious time is to persuade the House that he should have permission to bring in his Bill. He has given an awful lot of background, but the House needs to be clear about what would be in the Bill—what is the purpose of the Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are a number of cumbersome steps that our cultural institutions have to go through to meet the current requirements of copyright law when seeking to use or reproduce a copy of works held in their collections. They need to be able to preserve their works, shift formats over time and make our heritage available. My Bill will allow cultural works that are often rotting on shelves awaiting copyright clearance to be saved for digital archiving purposes.

The question is that the hon. Member have leave to bring in his Bill. As many as are of that opinion [Interruption]—Order. I am sorry that I am giving the hon. Gentleman a bad time, but it is a fairly usual procedure, if he will bear with me.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Tom Watson, Mr. Don Foster, Mr. Dai Davies, Andrew Miller, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Natascha Engel, Chris Ruane, Ms Katy Clark, Joan Walley and Mr. John Grogan present the Bill.

Mr. Tom Watson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 12 March, and to be printed (Bill 52).

Fiscal Responsibility Bill

Considered in Committee

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 1

initial duties

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 2, page 1, line 5, after ‘2014,’, insert ‘the structural element of’.

Amendment 3, in clause 5, page 3, line 28, after ‘expressions “’, insert ‘the structural element of’.

I should say to the Committee at this stage that in view of my selection of amendments in relation to clause 1, I am not minded to have a stand part debate on that clause.

It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon. I shall bear in mind your comment, Sir Alan.

The first clause goes to the heart of the Bill. It is clear from the recent Second Reading debate that this is a pretty lousy Bill. It is conceptually flawed. Nobody from the Labour Back Benches spoke in favour of the Bill on Second Reading. On the Government Back Benches today I see two hon. Members. If I am not much mistaken, both voted against the Bill on Second Reading. It is not a Bill that excites much support or interest, and there is probably very little that can be done with it to save it from itself. The right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) put it well when he described the Bill as vacuous and irrelevant. That did not stop him voting for it, but perhaps he does not have high expectations of the Bills that his Government introduce for him to support.

Does my hon. Friend think that Labour Back Benchers are not present because the Bill says that they must cut public spending by about £100 billion a year by the end of the four-year period? Presumably that means that they do not think they will be in government, so that is not their problem.

That might be one explanation. It is probably a better explanation than the one we heard in the winding-up speech on Second Reading from the Exchequer Secretary, who speculated that the absence of Labour MPs supporting the Bill was a result of the weather and that they were stuck in the snow. I suspect that my right hon. Friend makes a better stab at answering the question. In the course of the afternoon, we may get an explanation. As there appear to be no Back Benchers who are prepared to speak on the Bill, perhaps we will hear from the Front Bench.

Let me have a stab at an answer. Perhaps my hon. Friends realise that I do not have any difficulty in dealing with the sloppy, incoherent and often conflicting amendments tabled by the Opposition, so I do not need any help from them.

We shall see whether the Minister requires any help, but it is good to see such confidence early on. We shall see whether he can keep that up.

Having said what nonsense the Bill is—a view that the Minister is unlikely to persuade us to change—we are, through amendments 1, 2 and 3, attempting to be helpful. We are trying to bring some coherence to the Bill. They would not make it a good Bill, because it is still conceptually flawed and we do not support it, but one issue, which emerged on Second Reading, is worth exploring a little further.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) first made the point in an intervention on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend raised the question of what would happen if there were a recession over the period that the Bill covers. The first duty, contained in subsection (1), is that of lowering the public sector net borrowing every year from 2011 onwards to 2016; the second duty, in subsection (2), deals with halving public sector net borrowing from 2010 to 2014; and my right hon. Friend asked, “What about automatic stabilisers? What happens in the course of a recession—were one to happen?” I appreciate that the Government are not predicting a recession, but then again they did not predict the most recent recession, either.

That point was pursued by the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), who intervened later in the debate, again on the Chancellor, and essentially asked, “What would have happened if this legislation had been in place over the last few years? Would the Chancellor have been free to bail out the banks?” Let us remember that this Bill represents a flagship policy: this is how the Government are to acquire credibility on the issue, because they are legislating to reduce borrowing. The Chancellor, in response to the question about whether he would be free to bail out the banks or be hamstrung by the legislation, said:

“No, because the Chancellor would quite obviously have to come back to the House if circumstances were as severe as those that pertained a couple of years ago. I do not think that anybody would argue for getting ourselves into a position through legislation where the Government were completely hamstrung and could not effectively govern the country. That would be nonsense.”—[Official Report, 5 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 70.]

That seems to be a reasonable answer, but it entirely undermines the legislation that the Chancellor was advocating. Not only is it quite striking that the only people to speak in support of the Bill on Second Reading were Ministers, it seems fairly clear that even they were not exactly enthusiastic about its terms.

I strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. Does it not appear that the Prime Minister, having boasted that he had abolished boom and bust and then having been proved emphatically wrong, has decided that he has now abolished boom and bust for the next six years?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. That is exactly right. We do not accept the argument that declaratory legislation in these circumstances is of value, or that the Bill adds something to the credibility of the UK’s fiscal position, but if we were to be sympathetic to the Government and accept those points, we would discover a difficulty, because the Government have set themselves a target that does not get to the heart of the issue—the structural deficit.

The point that the hon. Member for Southport made when he raised the bank bail-out issue might be regarded as a reductio ad absurdum argument, but it was helpful. If there is a crisis, the targets do not apply. That is the Chancellor’s position. However, that does not quite answer the question, “What would happen if there was something not of the scale of the bank bail-out that we saw a couple of years ago, but a substantial slowing of the economy and, perhaps, a recession?” Clearly, the targets would become much harder to hit. Unemployment would go up and tax receipts would fall; and, if we look at borrowing as a percentage of GDP, we find that GDP falls so the percentage of borrowing would go up.

The Opposition recognise the need for automatic stabilisers—our argument has never been about that—but I find it hard to see how anyone who has argued consistently, as the Government have, for a discretionary fiscal stimulus when the economy slows down, can support this Bill on reading it, because the targets are focused on public sector net borrowing, not on the structural or cyclically adjusted element.

Of course, that argument works the other way, too. If the economy exceeds the Government’s growth expectations—admittedly, that is fairly unlikely given that their expectations are somewhat greater than that of most independent forecasters—those targets may well be met either without imposing significant discipline at all or, certainly, by imposing much less than the Government have in mind. The focus must be not on public sector net borrowing, but on the structural element.

I read the Chancellor’s lengthy interview in the Financial Times at the weekend, and the full transcript was placed on the paper’s website. There was an interesting section on whether the Chancellor had tried to remove the Prime Minister over the past few weeks, but the interview focused primarily on matters of fiscal responsibility. The Chancellor referred three times to getting the structural deficit down, but interestingly at no point in that lengthy interview did he refer to the Bill—suggesting that it is not exactly at the heart of his strategy to restore credibility to the public finances. Even the Chancellor does not appear to believe in it. The Bill is so discredited that he does not pray it in aid during a lengthy interview.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent contribution. Is this not a treacherous debate for all political parties, because of the creation of this straitjacket? It appears from what he is saying that he believes that any incoming Conservative Government should also have the greatest flexibility, and that they might yet not go down the—unwise—route of a significant and quick cut in public expenditure.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and for raising that issue, because I want to make it absolutely clear that we believe that the structural deficit must be brought down and that a significant part of it must be brought down very quickly. We have said—and it remains our position—that we want to go further and faster than the Government on bringing down the deficit, and we would move earlier.

The hon. Gentleman does not agree, and he is perfectly entitled to that position, but wherever we are in the debate about trying to reduce the deficit, we should focus on the right measure. Whether one takes the view that Governments should spend and borrow more when the economy is slowing down, or that the automatic stabilisers should apply, the wrong measure is to aim at public sector net borrowing. We should focus on the structural element. Indeed, if we read what the Chancellor told the Financial Times, we find that he focuses on the structural deficit. So if the Bill is supposed to reflect Government thinking and, essentially, be Government policy, and the Chancellor talks about the structural deficit, why does the Bill not deal with the structural deficit? Instead, it includes non-cyclical elements.

I should point out that this is not in any way meant as some sort of Government trap. The projections that the Government have made in the pre-Budget report for public sector net borrowing and cyclically adjusted public sector net borrowing suggest that, in both cases, they should meet the targets that they have set out. Borrowing should fall in every year from 2010-11 to 2014-15. In both cases, the deficit will halve from 2009-10 to 2013-14. That does not make the duties more onerous or less onerous, as in both cases they should be met under the Government’s own projections. We can have a debate about why we might need to be sceptical about those, but that does not fundamentally change the position.

Of course, the Bill still has huge weaknesses that we will debate over the course of the afternoon, including its lack of an enforcement mechanism and the fact that it is, in many respects, a fig leaf to cover the Government’s failure to set out credible spending plans to address the deficit. However, we could at least introduce a relevant measurement, which would partly address some of the concerns about the Bill. We have some scepticism about the Government’s actions, but if they are trying to do what they say they are, the amendments would assist them.

The lead amendment in the next group, amendment 4, stands in my name and that of my colleagues, so I may take the opportunity then to speak slightly more broadly about clause 1 given that we are not having a stand part debate. At this point, I will limit myself briefly and narrowly to amendments 1, 2 and 3.

I share the views of the Conservative spokesman in two regards. First, as was discussed on Second Reading, the Bill is inherently flawed and there are all kinds of problems with it. Just over a week ago, I took part in a radio debate with a Labour MP who, when I raised the issue of the deficit, said, “Of course we, the Labour party, are serious about the deficit. We’re legislating to reduce it—how much more serious can one be than that?” She appeared to believe that that was a sensible argument to advance, and it is, essentially, the root cause of the Government’s problems—their belief that they can solve a financial problem by passing a law saying that they have solved it even if they are not taking the necessary financial measures to address the difficulties that they find themselves in. That is the inherent flaw in the Bill, and what makes it so utterly preposterous.

However, given that we are where we are, and that the Government, despite the complete lack of enthusiasm and support from their own Back Benchers, are determined to plough on with this Bill in the final days of this Parliament, we might as well, as a responsible Opposition party, try to save them from the most masochistically bad parts of it. One of those parts relates to a point that has been raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and others. Why would the Government wish to bring in legislation that prevents the operation of the automatic stabilisers, which we all accept and which the Prime Minister routinely boasts about, or champions, in relation to Government intervention to protect some of the most disadvantaged people in society? Why would they wish to impose on themselves a straitjacket that prevents such measures from being implemented to help the people who are hit hardest in a recessionary environment? That is not only an unintelligent position to take but, potentially, a very socially divisive one. It seems to Liberal Democrat Members that it is worth specifying that, even if one accepts the basic premise of the Bill that we should concern ourselves with the structural element of the deficit. Therefore, we would support the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) were he to press the amendment to a Division.

I rise to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke). I am grateful to him for considering the problem that I, and others, posed on Second Reading.

It beggars belief that a Government who have spent so much time claiming credit for the automatic stabilisers that all Governments have always used—it is something that happens naturally—should now try to legislate to stop their operation. They seem to be doing so in the spirit of a Government who think that their days are numbered and that it would be very amusing to pre-empt all the Budgets of the next Parliament by laying down in law what the overall shape of those Budgets should be. Moreover, they are doing so in such a way that if they leave a mess that results in a further downturn, or even a period of very disappointing growth, which is a possibility, the automatic stabilisers would not come into effect on the scale that they naturally would otherwise, so there would have to be offsetting action. I hope that the Minister shows, for once, that he is master of his brief, as he boasted at the beginning of the debate, and that he can understand this point and therefore wishes to support his Prime Minister’s previous position, which was that the automatic stabilisers are a very good thing, and does not wish in any way to pre-empt their operation through the clause.

Clause 1, which we are seeking to amend, is the kernel of this miserable piece of legislation. It says, correctly, that the excessively large deficit that the Government have built up has to be curbed. As my hon. Friend said, we object to it for two principled reasons. First, a deficit is curbed not by legislation but by changing one’s spending and/or taxing plans so that one controls the budgets properly and sets them sensibly.

Our second objection is that the profile of the reductions is wrong. It is not essential to cut the deficit in every year over a long period—not least, as we have heard, because of the need to look at the state of the economy—but it is terribly important to get on with cutting the deficit much more quickly than the Bill demands or the Government are requesting.

My understanding of the Bill is that the deficit does not need to be cut in every year until 2014 but merely needs to be cut by half by 2014. There is then a provision for it to be cut on an annual basis for the following two years. However, it is possible, I suppose, that were Labour to be re-elected, it could dramatically cut the deficit next year and then be inactive for the following three years.

That is set out right at the beginning of clause 1, which clearly states that

“for each of the financial years ending in 2011 to 2016”—

a five-year period—

“public sector net borrowing expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product is less than it was for the preceding financial year.”

Unless growth suddenly takes off at a rate that no one is forecasting or expecting, that means, in effect, that every year there will have to be cuts. That is how most people read the clause, and that is why we object to it. It imposes a very long and substantial straitjacket that may be difficult to implement in individual years, and it sets too relaxed a timetable for the immediate task.

Why have some of us been growing hoarse saying to the Government that they need to cut this deficit more rapidly than they are proposing? It is not because we are masochists who came to this place to cut public spending, but because we are deeply afraid that the Government are losing the confidence of the financial markets, and that if they do not take this issue more seriously, more quickly, they could lose that confidence in a very big way. Why does that matter? It matters because it means higher mortgage rates and higher loan rates for small and big business, and because it will lead to lost jobs and lost dreams for people who want to make a living or make a go of something in this difficult economic situation. We are thinking ahead.

The Government need not take my word for it. All that they need do is follow the financial markets. If they examine what has been happening even during this extraordinary period of over-borrowing and money printing to offset it, they will see that the cost of credit has been rising. Small businesses are having to pay many times the 0.5 per cent. minimum lending rate. The Government themselves are now having to pay eight to nine times their preferred short-term interest rate if they wish to borrow for 10, 20 or 30 years.

The Government should heed the warnings. They do not need to believe the Opposition or the commentators; they should just examine what is going on. Clause 1 is lamentably too little, too late to deal with what has already happened. Once their quantitative easing stops and they stop printing money to pay wages in the public sector, which looks as though it will happen within a few weeks, they may well find that there is another surge in the cost of borrowing, which will be another direct hit against the productive economy, people’s aspirations, small businesses and those who wish to gain a mortgage and own their own home.

I hope that the Economic Secretary will accept the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire moved, because it is a necessary correction to this ill-begotten clause. I hope that he will also reflect further on the wording of subsection (1), which states that the process should take place at a fairly relaxed pace but very mechanically, and see that what we need is a Government who know how to govern and craft a budget for the economic circumstances of the day. We need a Government who know that sometimes we need to go faster in reducing the deficit—now is one of those times—and that sometimes we cannot follow the formula in the Bill because of economic circumstances. All the Prime Minister’s previous rhetoric points in the direction of accepting the amendments, so I hope that the Economic Secretary will do so.

There is an Alice in Wonderland quality about the Bill, and particularly about clause 1. One particular passage from that book is apposite. I shall not linger on it for long, but it is the passage in which a large white rose tree in the garden is being painted red. Alice goes up to the gardeners timidly and asks why they are painting the roses. The answer comes:

“Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off”.

I shall come later to the penalty for misbehaviour under the Bill. As you may remember, Sir Alan, nobody does get their head cut off in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” because there are in fact no real penalties, as there are none in the Bill. All that will happen is that Government Members will find themselves sitting on this side of the House quite shortly. The Bill has failed to convince the public of its intended purpose, perhaps because it will change nothing and cannot have any meaningful impact because it is just rhetoric. It is designed to create an impression that something has changed when nothing has, just like the coat of paint on those roses, and to make a Government who are bereft of ideas look as though they had a meaningful exit strategy from the economic crisis.

In fact, clause 1 is even more pernicious than that. It begins with a statutory commitment requiring the deficit to be lower in each year than in the previous one. That is a very dangerous notion, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) pointed out. Of course, having a policy to reduce the deficit is sensible, and it is Labour’s failure to provide such a policy in the detail required to get us out of the fiscal hole we are in that has so troubled analysts. It has also troubled the Treasury Committee, which berated the Government only a few weeks ago for their failure to add greater detail and clarity to the plan for cutting the deficit. However, having a statutory requirement to reduce the deficit is truly ridiculous, as my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend illustrated.

What will happen if there is another downturn during the five years covered by the Bill? Just as the recession or downturn starts to bite, the Government will be required to tighten fiscal policy even further, sucking yet more demand out of the economy. The effect of the clause will therefore be to deepen that recession or downturn. We will be implementing the economic policy of President Hoover—at least, that is what he was criticised for.

The effect of the clause is to tear up the centrepiece of our economic orthodoxy of recent decades. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire pointed out, it will mean the abandonment of the economic stabilisers, which allow tax receipts to fall and public expenditure to rise in a recession. I shall come to the structural deficit in a moment.

My hon. Friend hits on a very good point. Has he noticed the fatuity of clause 1? It states that the Treasury “must ensure” something, but clause 3 then states that it must

“report on the progress which has been made towards complying”

with that duty. The Treasury either must ensure something or not. The Bill’s drafting is lamentable.

Of course the Bill is gibberish, and it is very difficult to examine clause 1 without examining clauses 3 and 4. We will come to clause 4 later, but it is worth my reading out the relevant part of it in response to my hon. Friend. It states that the fact that

“any duty in section 1…has not been, or will or may not be, complied with does not affect the lawfulness of anything done, or omitted to be done, by any person.”

What kind of serious statutory requirement provides such a get-out clause?

To return to the structural deficit, if the economy were in structural balance, the stabilisers could be allowed to operate over the cycle, providing deficits in years of below-trend growth and surpluses in years of above-trend growth. Let us set aside for the moment the ghastly truth that by the Government’s own estimate, three quarters of the unprecedentedly large deficit—by the way, it is the largest in peacetime history, as far as I know—was caused by Labour’s mishandling of the public finances. That is to say, it is structural. Clause 1(1) dismantles the stabilisers, which is why amendment 1 is absolutely essential if we are to make any sense of the Bill at all. It would enable it to address the right measure, which has to be the structural deficit.

Of course, restricting the application of the Bill to the structural deficit might require an alteration of the targets in order to get the same level of desired reduction. I hope that the Government will take it for granted that the Opposition accept the need for that, and that when the Economic Secretary speaks, we will not hear the absurd objection that that somehow implies that we will be less tough on the deficit than the Labour Government.

It is clear to me that we cannot leave the Bill as it is, if it is to be taken seriously at all. As it stands, if the UK had another downturn we would be plunged into a downward spiral of economic decline. Nobody believes that any Government would allow that, so something else would be done. None of the major economies have made the mistake that the Bill does in any downturn in recent history. They have all remembered the lessons of the 1930s, yet incredibly, the Government are suggesting that we forget those lessons if there is another downturn in future.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire has already pointed out that when the Chancellor was challenged on exactly that point on Second Reading—I took a look at Hansard and I believe he was challenged three times, although it might have been twice—he repeated the same phrase each time: “We will come back”. I presume that he meant “We will come back to the House”, and that that is a euphemism for saying that if the Bill were tested in a downturn, he would repeal it and scrap it. As I tried to say at the time, he clearly does not believe in his own Bill. The first time that it is tested, he wants to put it into the shredder.

Of course, I think I know the answer that is really at the back of the Chancellor’s mind—he thinks that the Bill is nonsense. The Economic Secretary is an intelligent man and I am pretty sure that he, too, thinks it is a load of nonsense. We are all here debating it because the Prime Minister wants to continue with the strategy that served him well for many years in opposition and for some years as Chancellor: announcing good intentions, putting them on the statute book and taking credit with the public for doing that.

Clause 1 is only one provision in a decade’s worth of such Blair-Brown speak, of which there is a huge volume. The Financial Times commented on that recently, stating that that

“approach to managing change seemed to be based on a mythical version of heroic leadership, popularised by some of the management magazines. ‘Announce it and it will happen’”.

That is exactly what we have here: announce that we will reduce the deficit, and somehow, magically, it is supposed to happen. It will not necessarily happen. Much more detail on the measures required to plug the deficit is needed. The cancellation of the spending review in the pre-Budget report is the crucial giveaway. Failure to produce detail is crucial to the collapse of confidence in Labour’s economic policy.

The Bill was designed to be a legislative distraction and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, the clause is its kernel. However, this time, the Prime Minister’s luck has run out. Far from distracting the commentators and the public, the measure simply confirms what many Members of Parliament have known for a long time—Labour’s economic policy is bankrupt of ideas. When a Government run out of ideas, they should go.

It is an open secret that it took all the combined efforts of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor to persuade the Prime Minister to make at least some attempt to give an indication of the public expenditure challenge facing the country. The Prime Minister apparently insisted on the fig leaf of a measure, of which clause 1 is a crucial part.

The Prime Minister seems, for the most part, to have retreated into a parallel world, articulating the mantras that worked in his younger days, such as “Tory cuts” and “Labour investment”, as well as other nonsense. That is the Prime Minister’s looking-glass world, where political battalions—an accumulated surplus from the 1990s—remain on the table to move around. Unfortunately, the accumulated surplus has all gone—it has all been spent.

The economy is in crisis, the Government are in crisis and Parliament is in crisis. At the heart of each crisis is the sort of legislation that we have seen time and again; it is embodied in clause 1. Such legislation makes the public cynical—even more cynical, if possible, than they are already are about politicians. People do not need to know economics; they need no more experience than managing their pocket money to know that clause 1 and the Bill are content free.

Content-free legislation makes this place worse off. It has the same corrosive effect as unfulfilled manifesto promises. However, the Government have an appetite for it: we have had the Child Poverty Bill, the Climate Change Bill—with even more absurd targets—and now the heart of economic policy is to be subjected to the same treatment.

I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I am about to finish.

Clause 1 in particular was designed as a political trap. The Prime Minister hoped that we would either have to support the Bill and clause 1, and thus be bound into a reckless policy of tightening if and when we won the election and found ourselves faced with a downturn, or we would oppose it, in which case he could say, “Ah well, the Conservatives are against all fiscal responsibility.” The trap has been sprung, but the Prime Minister, not us, has been caught. The measure does no more then illustrate that there is nothing left to the economic policy of this Labour Government worth the name.