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Volume 510: debated on Wednesday 2 June 2010

Q11. What will my right hon. Friend be doing to ensure that foreign nationals engaged in terrorist-related activity in this country will be deported back to their country of origin when their evil plots are detected? (436)

I really am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. When foreign nationals threaten our country but we do not have the evidence necessary to prosecute them, it is essential for us to be able to deport them back to their country of origin. I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the Foreign Secretary to draw up agreements with as many countries as possible, so that we can deport those people and keep our country safe. All diplomatic efforts, including efforts by me, will be made to ensure that we keep our country safe.

Q12. I heard what the Prime Minister said about the military covenant in answer to a previous question, and as chair of the all-party veterans group, I was relieved to see a commitment in the coalition’s document to providing extra support for veterans’ mental health needs. I was alarmed, however, to read that the £2 million set aside by the previous Government to support Combat Stress had been placed under review by the present Government. Is the Prime Minister able to renew that commitment to Combat Stress, or will it fall at the first hurdle? (437)

First of all, let me congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work for veterans, which is extremely important, and I welcome it. It is important, as I have said, that we have a very strong ministerial team at the Department of Health and at the Ministry of Defence, and I understand the huge pressure that will be put on our health services because of the mental health stress of people who have fought in combat. We will do everything we can to help them; the hon. Gentleman has my word that that will happen. It needs to happen not just this year, while our troops are still in Afghanistan, but for all the years into the future. There are figures that suggest that more people committed suicide after the Falklands war than were killed in combat. I take this issue extremely seriously; the hon. Gentleman has my word that those services will be properly looked after.

I was greatly encouraged by the Prime Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) about the deportation of terrorist suspects. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective way to get rid of these people is to scrap the Human Rights Act?

My hon. Friend, as so often, is tempting me. He knows that my view is very clear that we would be better off with a British Bill of Rights rather than with the Human Rights Act, and that matter is being examined. Enthusiastic though I am personally for that policy, I have to say that what is really needed for urgent action is individual agreements with countries like Pakistan in order to get a guarantee that people we send back there will not be mistreated. With countries like Pakistan, we should be able to achieve that. We are a major aid donor and a major partner; we should be able to encourage them to give us that guarantee so that we do not have to keep in our country foreign nationals that threaten to do us harm.

Q13. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of the progress made in the north-east economy. In the economic context, it is said that when the United States sneezes, the United Kingdom catches cold and the north-east of England gets pneumonia. I was therefore sad to learn at the weekend that the regional development agency One NorthEast is preparing budgets within year for 40% cuts in operational output. Does the Prime Minister think that is good medicine for that sort of pneumonia? (438)

First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman on his election to this place? I well remember taking the Conservative party’s bi-annual conference to Gateshead. It was received all right, given what might have been expected.

How can I refuse an offer like that?

On regional development agencies, what we have said is that in areas of the country where they work well and where local authorities want to keep them as they are, they can. We believe, however, that in many parts of the country, including the part I represent, there is a huge amount of waste in the system and it would be better to have local enterprise partnerships, with councils coming together to support business. Wherever regional assemblies—or rather, regional development agencies— are, we think there is a large amount of waste within them. We think some of the planning and transport functions should be given back to local authorities where they belong. That is what people will see from this Government: yes, we want to generate enterprise and help businesses to get going, but we also want proper local government that controls the things that local government should do.