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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 513: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2010

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What aid his Department has provided for economic development and good governance in Pakistan in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (6261)

In the last 12 months, my Department has provided aid to Pakistan to help to put more children into school, improve macro-economic stability and support the efficient and effective delivery of basic services.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Oxfam has said that 1 million Pakistanis fleeing from fighting remain in overcrowded camps and depend on emergency relief to survive. What is being done to help internally displaced persons and refugees in Pakistan?

My hon. Friend is right to identify that particular problem in Pakistan, and it was one of the problems I specifically looked at when I was in Pakistan some three weeks ago. My hon. Friend will know from his own very close relationship with members of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain that, as the Oxfam report makes clear, extensive work is being done in all the affected regions of Pakistan, but we are looking at our whole programme to see whether there is anything more we can do.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, although the aid for Pakistan is welcome, the Pakistani authorities must realise that the appalling murder, persecution and torture of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Lahore, with the complicity of the authorities, must cease?

The hon. Gentleman is a Birmingham Member of Parliament, as am I, and, like me, he will have received representations from the diaspora in Birmingham on that specific point. I had the chance to visit Lahore in January, and I will carefully consider what he has said and see whether additional action is required.

Aid Expenditure (Transparency)

I launched the aid transparency guarantee on 3 June, which will ensure that UK and developing country citizens have full information about British aid.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of recent surveys showing that, in these difficult times, public support for international aid is waning. Does he agree that if we are to win the argument for his Department’s budget in the court of public opinion, we have to ensure that the transparency agenda is linked to achieving the goals of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is always important to underline that there is strong cross-party commitment to this important budget partly for moral reasons, but also because it is very much in our national self-interest. My hon. Friend will have heard the words of the Foreign Secretary and myself about the importance of wiring more closely together defence, diplomacy and development, and he has my assurance that we will continue to do that with great care.

In last Thursday’s debate, the Secretary of State was transparent enough to admit that he did not yet know how the extra £200 million for Afghanistan announced by the Prime Minister will be spent. Given the question asked by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and the increasing speculation that DFID money in Afghanistan will be spent on things over which the Secretary of State’s Department has no control, can he tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary—or, indeed, the Defence Secretary—has made any suggestions to him as to how that £200 million should be spent?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that a Government who are properly co-ordinated and working together will discuss all these matters to make sure that, as I have said, we wire together in the best possible interests defence, diplomacy and development. However, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, as he has been a junior DFID Minister, the OECD Development Assistance Committee rules are what pertain in the spending of money on development, and the coalition Government have confirmed what his Government said: those rules will persist.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s initiative in setting up a more effective watchdog for transparency and accountability and to publish what DFID funds in more detail from January. That will provide a welcome reinforcement of the value of our aid. May I also say that the Select Committees are very anxious to start their work and anything he can do to ensure that they are constituted will help to enable the International Development Committee to take evidence from him next Thursday so we can expand on these issues?

I am grateful to the Chair of the International Development Committee for his comments. He knows a great deal about these matters. The transparency guarantee is enormously important, first in reassuring British taxpayers by enabling them to see where the money is being spent and that it is being well spent; and secondly, in assisting in the building of civic society to ensure that people in the countries we are trying to help can hold their own political leaders to account. I look forward to discussing next week with his Committee these and other matters, especially independent evaluation.

Media High Council (Rwanda)

The UN-led programme of support to six oversight institutions in Rwanda, including the media high council, comes to an end in this financial year. There are no plans for further DFID support.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am relieved to hear that we will not be funding the media high council given that it has recently suspended Rwanda’s two leading independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, and given that a leading Rwandan journalist, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered in Rwanda in June. Will the Minister make urgent representations, through his Department, to the Rwandan authorities and make sure that we fund things that promote freedom of speech, particularly in the run-up to the elections?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting these issues. I assure her that when I visited Rwanda between 15 and 17 June I raised these very matters at all levels, including the very highest levels, in the various meetings I had. It is important that as part of the general support that DFID gives to help the Rwandan people, we press for the opening up of political space and that we make sure that pertains up to the election. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take the opportunity, later this week in a meeting with the Rwandan high commissioner, to press the issues that the hon. Lady has rightly identified.

1GOAL Summit

4.. What support his Department has provided to the 1GOAL Education for All summit on 7 July 2010 in South Africa. (6264)

DFID has given the 1GOAL campaign £804,800 so far and will give a further £195,200 this financial year. In addition, DFID offered support to the Government of South Africa for a summit during this World cup, and we have received an invitation to that summit this very morning. It will take place this Sunday and we are considering who should attend.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. There have been a great many goals in this World cup, but signing up to a road map to deliver education to 72 million children around the world by the next World cup could be the greatest goal. How will he ensure that the momentum of today’s education campaign summit is not lost between now and Brazil 2014?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She, like all hon. Members across the House and particularly Her Majesty’s Government through DFID, is passionate about the need to boost education, particularly for the millions who have yet to receive the benefit of a primary education. There are few bigger prizes to grasp, and she is right to say that we need to maintain the momentum of the 1GOAL campaign, which we have been very pleased to support. The summit that is about to take place should help to boost that momentum and we shall do all we can to help to maintain it.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the pupils and staff of Eaton Mill primary school in my constituency, who, like those in many schools up and down the country, have made an enormous effort to raise awareness of the 1GOAL project and the aims of improving education throughout Africa?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the school in his constituency that has so eagerly taken part in this campaign. About 8,000 schools in the United Kingdom have asked for supporter packs from the 1GOAL campaign, so it has had a real impact. There have also been lesson plans and other activities for schoolchildren and I dare say that many Members across the House have had similar experiences to my hon. Friend. That is a measure of the impact and success of the campaign to date.

I welcome the Minister’s support for the 1GOAL summit, and I hope that he or one of his ministerial colleagues will accept the invitation that has been extended to the ministerial team. The Secretary of State has repeatedly told the House in recent weeks that he is focused on outcomes, so will the Minister tell me what steps, if any, he will take in the coming weeks and months to help to finance the removal of school fees, for how many children and in which countries?

As part of the broad attempt to ensure that the millennium development goals are met, we are keen to do everything we can to boost access to education. What matters is what works, and we need to push very hard in a number of countries through programmes to ensure, if we can, that user fees are removed. In some areas vouchers could be used, but the main thing is to focus on what works, and we are certainly focused on that.

I note the lack of detail in the Minister’s response, and that he mentions vouchers. Does he still intend to implement his plans for voucher schemes, which were described by the director of UNESCO’s global monitoring report on education as

“using vulnerable people to advance an ideologically loaded, market-based vision for education, which would exclude millions of kids from school”?

I am only interested in what works, and of course the precise detail will come out of the bilateral aid review that we are undertaking, of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware. Of course we will be happy to try to ensure that we learn the lessons of the experience for which he was responsible as regards the use of vouchers, particularly in relation to maternal health in south-east Asia.

Caribbean Countries

5. If he will conduct a review of the effectiveness of his Department’s programmes in Caribbean countries. (6265)

Yes, we will. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commissioned a review of DFID’s bilateral aid programme to ensure we target UK aid where it is needed most and where it will make the most impact. The Caribbean programme will be included in that review.

Much of the Caribbean is very poor, and it is currently being carved up by countries such as Taiwan, China and Venezuela. May I urge my right hon. Friend to recall the historical Commonwealth links and huge good will towards Britain in that region as he develops his policy in this area?

We do indeed have strong historical links with the Caribbean. This Government, rather unlike our predecessors, very much value our links with the Commonwealth and fully recognise our responsibilities to the overseas territories, including those in the Caribbean. We give support especially to combat crime and insecurity as well as the effects of climate change, and we stand ready to help in the event of any natural disaster.

In relation to international development and the money that goes to the Caribbean countries, illegal trade in children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic has taken place and has been very apparent in the news in the last while. Can we use our influence to ensure that the money available through international development goes to stop that trade?

That is exactly part of our reforms. We take these issues extremely seriously and they will be a very important part of the priorities we allocate when we spend our aid in such countries.


DFID does not provide direct financial assistance to the Government of Columbia. We provide aid primarily through multilateral organisations, including the European Commission and the World Bank. In addition, DFID supports a number of projects through non-governmental organisations to support human rights and poverty reduction. We are, of course, reviewing our programme and Colombia will be part of that.

I thank the Minister for that response. Will he assure the House that any direct or indirect aid is channelled through humanitarian groups such as the International Red Cross? He is aware that Columbia is an extremely dangerous place to be for those who oppose the regime and, just recently, President-elect Santos ordered his troops to dress up in International Red Cross uniforms to carry out illegal activities. I am sure that the International Red Cross would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister to talk through this issue.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point because it is extremely important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will meet the head of the International Red Cross next week and this will be a significant matter on the agenda for that meeting.

Aid Expenditure (Legislation)

7. Whether he plans to bring forward legislative proposals in this Session of Parliament to ensure that 0.7% of gross national income is spent on aid. (6267)

The Government are fully committed to our pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on aid from 2013, as defined by the rules of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and to enshrine that commitment in law. We are looking into the best way to proceed and will inform the House when a decision has been taken.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State and I share his view that our aid commitment is both a moral imperative and in the UK national interest. Will he be more specific, however? The legislation that he is talking about will not cost the Chancellor a lot of money, so it will be easy to bring forward very quickly. Is he not a little worried that his Back Benchers might not be with him 100%, as many of them are uncomfortable ring-fencing his Department’s money?

I do not know of any Back Bencher who is not a strong supporter of this law. I share with the hon. Gentleman a frustration about the length of time it is taking to bring forward the legislation, but he will have seen the wise words of the Select Committee Chair in the debate last week when he made it clear that it would be sensible to look carefully at the precise terms of the law. There is some gentle disagreement among members of the development community and it is obviously right for us to consider all these matters before proceeding.

The Secretary of State will recognise the concern about recent newspaper reports of the amount of his Department’s budget that was spent on trade unions in this country and other politically correct causes. Given also the money that goes to China and India, and other money wasted by the EU, does he not accept that all that taken together undermines the case for the 0.7% requirement, particularly in this age of austerity?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about value for money and the effectiveness of British aid. That is why we have set up our bilateral review of every place where Britain is spending this important budget, so that we can be sure, as I said earlier, that for every £1 of hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, we are really getting 100p of value. He specifically mentions China. He will know that, on the day that the Government took office, we announced that we would stop all aid to China. The bilateral review is of course looking at India.

On trade unions, I would make two points. First, trade unions spend overseas money well on building the capacity of societies to hold their leaders and politicians to account. What is wrong, in my view, is funding development awareness. Sadly, the former Secretary of State felt it was right to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of British aid and development money on supporting Brazilian dance groups—

Order. We are grateful to the Secretary of State, but we do not need any more; the answer is simply too long.

Millennium Development Goals Summit

The Government aim to reach international agreement on an action agenda to achieve the MDGs by 2015. That will require developed and developing countries to make results-based policy and financial commitments, including on the most off-track MDGs, such as those on maternal and child health.

We know that the Prime Minister will be unable to attend the UN MDG summit in New York because of his impending paternity leave. I congratulate him on taking advantage of that family-friendly policy, championed by trade unions and many Opposition Members. Now that the Deputy Prime Minister will take over those duties in New York, how many times has the Secretary of State personally discussed the objectives for the forthcoming summit in New York with him?

I have discussed the matter frequently with the Deputy Prime Minister. Indeed, shortly after this Question Time, I will hold a meeting with him specifically on that. The country is fortunate that the Deputy Prime Minister, with his deep knowledge of these matters, will go the MDG summit.

I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the recent UN report on the lack of progress on some MDGs that cites unmet commitments, inadequate resources and a lack of focus and accountability. As he is so interested in this subject, what further lead can he give at the New York summit later this year so that we make better progress?

I had the opportunity to speak at the UN last week, specifically on the importance of injecting real vigour and energy into trying to ensure that we have a proper road map for progress in the last five years of the MDGs. [Interruption.] They have produced a real opportunity to reduce poverty and hunger around the world, and I am certain that the extensive work that will be done in the run-up to September will be effective in achieving that. [Interruption.]

Order. Far too many private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. It is very discourteous both to the Member asking the question and to the Minister, however strong a voice he or she may have, answering the question. We need a bit of order.

Tackling Climate Change

9. Whether his Department plans to provide funding for tackling climate change other than by means of official development assistance from 2013. (6269)

I find that answer somewhat difficult at the moment. Clearly, we need to know what will happen in terms of any such division: will there be separate funding for climate change, or will all the money come from the international aid budget?

The hon. Lady will know that the fast start funding for climate change, which will come from the development budget—something that was confirmed by the previous Government when they were in office—takes up to 2012, but I hope she will understand that long-term decisions on climate change funding will need to come from the comprehensive spending review, and that work is happening at the moment.

What account will the Minister take of the increasingly emerging conflict of interest and information on climate change as he develops the development goals?

I am not sure that I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about disagreements on the basic science. I think there is agreement on the basic science, and an authoritative Dutch report published this morning underlines that very point. I would be happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman on what those doubts are, perhaps by letter.

Funding Decisions

All project proposals are developed within agreed strategies, discussed with relevant partners, and subject to careful appraisal. We are reviewing all major spending areas to ensure that they represent value for money.

In the case of countries in receipt of UK aid that also have considerable wealth and are pursuing an aggressive economic growth strategy, such as India, what mechanisms will also be in place to encourage and support them to ensure that they sort out their social problems in an equally aggressive manner?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that is at the heart of the bilateral review of British aid spending, which we are conducting at the moment. She specifically mentions India, but India is different from China in that an Indian’s average income is only a third that of a Chinese. India has more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, and, through the Commonwealth, we have deep links with India. We will consider all these matters in the context of that bilateral review. [Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. A number of Members, including very senior and distinguished Members, are conducting animated conversations from a sedentary position, but I want to hear Andrew Gwynne.

Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act

11. When he plans to assess the effectiveness of the operation of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010; and if he will make a statement. (6271)

I acknowledge the success of the hon. Member in initiating this important Act, which is a key part of action against so-called vulture funds. It means that UK courts of law can no longer be used to pursue excessive claims against some of the poorest countries on their historic debts, ensuring that resources are available to tackle poverty. We will review the effectiveness of this new Act before the sunset clause expires next June.

May I take this opportunity to place on record my thanks and appreciation to Sally Keeble, who successfully steered the Bill through while I was recovering from illness? Given the importance of this legislation to the 40 most indebted countries, will the Minister please ensure that it continues so that these important measures remain in place in the UK and that never again will a British court be used to take the third-world debts from these countries?

I acknowledge the work of the hon. Gentleman and the former hon. Lady in putting the legislation on the statute book. It was there as a result of the wash-up in the last Parliament, and so enjoyed cross-party agreement. The Act has been in place for only a month, and we will examine its effectiveness in the hope that it can be shown to work and can be renewed in the future.

Poverty and Hunger Eradication

12. What his most recent assessment is of the effectiveness of his Department's contribution to the achievement of the millennium development goal on the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. (6272)

While globally MDG 1 is the most on-track MDG, we recognise that in Africa and some parts of Asia it is still well off track. DFID is fully committed to meeting the target. For example, in Ethiopia we are helping 7.5 million people to access more and better-quality food, and in Bangladesh we are providing 1 million people with agricultural services, helping to increase incomes by 50%.

Is not the most effective way of achieving those millennium development goals to stabilise world population growth? What focus is his Department giving to that programme?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I pay tribute to his expertise in the House on population, and, above all, to his recognition that, as part of all our reviews and DIFD programmes, we are embedding the choice for women to decide whether and when to have children, and to ensure that that helps to underpin not just MDG 1 but many of the other MDGs.

As the millennium development goals have been developed, what financial and technical support will the Department give to the newly created UN Women’s Agency to make a genuine difference to women in poverty in the third world? It is well recognised that direct help for women is the best bet for both families and communities.

We pressed for that to take place, and I am aware that the candidates who will be considered for the post are well forward in the process. We are encouraged that that is going to be taking place, and it has our full support.


13. What steps he is taking to seek to ensure that the millennium development goals relating to education are met. (6273)

Achieving the millennium development goals, including those for education, is at the heart of the Government’s development policy. We are reviewing all our programmes to ensure we focus on those that deliver maximum value for money.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but may I also commend to him the Global Campaign for Education’s work on this matter, in particular its request that the UK Government commit themselves to a 10-year sector plan for education? If there is one thing that education needs, particularly primary education, it is stability in those funding streams.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about consistency and clarity of funding, and we will be looking at all these points in connection with the bilateral review of how we spend money in each of our target countries. As he knows, an important conference is taking place this weekend in South Africa, which I hope a Minister will be able to attend.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


As the House will be aware, today is the fifth anniversary of the 7 July terrorist attacks on central London. I am sure that everyone in the House and people in the country will remember where they were, and what they were doing, when that dreadful news came through. Our hearts should go out to the families and friends of those who died. They will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are also with those who were injured, physically and mentally, by the dreadful events of that day. It was a dreadful day, but it was also a day that will remain—I believe—a symbol of the enduring bravery of the British people.

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.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the people of Somaliland on the successful, peaceful and transparent election of a new President? As the Somaliland republic has now been a beacon of democracy in Africa for nearly 20 years, will the Prime Minister ensure that the UK keeps its promise to increase engagement with a new Government with democratic credentials?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this important issue concerning an area of the world of enormous importance for our own security. I join him in welcoming the peaceful and credible elections in Somaliland. They are an example of genuine democracy in an area of the world not noted for it. The UK provided funding for election supervision, and we are keen to engage with the new Government. I believe, and I am sure the whole House would agree, that the key is to prevent terrorist groups from establishing a foothold in Somaliland, as they have done in Somalia. That is vital, and, yes, the Government will continue to engage.

The Prime Minister will not be surprised to hear that I intend to continue campaigning to keep the Hercules fleet at RAF Lyneham in my constituency as long as I can. However, if, at the end of the day, it moves to Brize Norton in his constituency, and takes with it the jobs and economic prosperity that go with it, will he at least use all his good offices to ensure that we find some way of bringing jobs and economic prosperity back into the vacated site at Lyneham?

My hon. Friend has fought a long and noble campaign on this issue, and has made very strong arguments—I know how strong they are, because every time I get into a Hercules, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the pilots always immediately complain about having to move from his constituency to mine. He makes a good point about economic development, and we will ensure that, if this goes ahead, we will see good, strong economic development in his constituency.

I support what the Prime Minister has said on the fifth anniversary of the terrible 7/7 bombings. Today we remember those who were killed and injured, and their families and friends. We pay tribute to the emergency services, which responded with such care and such courage, and we stand with the Government in our determination to defeat those who would bring terror to our streets.

There has been a lot of progress on tackling domestic violence, but still every year hundreds of thousands of women are victims of it. Many of the perpetrators are sent to prison—rightly, in my view—but now the Justice Secretary has embarked on a sentencing review, and has suggested that short sentences do not work. However, often what is needed in domestic violence cases is not rehabilitation, but a clear message to the perpetrator that it must not be repeated, and a clear message to the victim that the justice system takes this seriously. That is what a short sentence can do. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the sentencing review will not stop magistrates giving short prison sentences for domestic violence?

First, I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for what she said about the anniversary and the tribute that she rightly paid to the emergency services, which played an unbelievably brilliant role on that day, and to the many people who helped them.

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue of domestic violence. For too many years it was an issue that police forces and prosecutors did not deal with properly, and to be fair to the last Government, good progress has been made over the past decade. I agree that there are occasions when short sentences are required, and indeed the Lord Chancellor takes exactly the same view. He said in the speech—[Interruption.] It is very important to read the speech, not just the headline. He said:

“In my opinion, abolishing all short-term sentences altogether…would be a step too far. We need penalties for the anti-social…recidivist.”

We need to ensure that magistrates have that power, but the review is important to try to ensure that we get this right.

I thank the Prime Minister for that reassurance. It is reassuring that the promise that the Liberal Democrats made at the election is not going to be carried forward. I notice that the Justice Secretary is not looking very cheerful; perhaps he should go down to Ronnie Scott’s to cheer himself up.

May I congratulate the Prime Minister on, instead of listening to his new partner, listening to his mother? In the election he told us that his mother was a magistrate and that she told him that magistrates needed the power of short sentences. Quite often, it is the right thing for somebody not to listen to their new partner but to listen to their mother, so I am glad that he has done that on this occasion.

I turn to something else mentioned in the election campaign. The Prime Minister said that any Minister who comes to him with cuts to front-line services

“will be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.”

Does that apply to the Home Secretary?

First, may I say that in my experience there are very few people more cheerful than the Lord Chancellor. He is celebrating his 40th anniversary in this House, and he likes to point out that he was elected before the Chancellor of the Exchequer was born. He brings enormous experience and good humour to all our counsels.

I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Lady has brought up the issue of my mother, who served on the Newbury bench for many, many years. I have to say that one of the biggest challenges she had—[Interruption.] As well as me, one of the biggest challenges that she had, and one of the reasons why she needed to hand out so many short sentences, was badly behaved CND protestors outside Greenham Common. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Lady was there. Anyway, if she wants to have more episodes of “Listen With Mother”, I am very happy for that at any time she would like.

On the Home Office, of course we have to make savings. We have to make savings across Government. It is not going to be easy, but absolutely we must ensure that we do everything we can to protect the front line. However, I simply do not believe that when we look at the Home Office budget there are not examples of waste and inefficiency and things that we can do better. The right hon. and learned Lady went into the election calling for 20% cuts in every Department. That was her policy—a policy of 5% cuts each year. Ours is 6% cuts each year, so these are Labour cuts as well.

We went into the election very clear about protecting police numbers. I am asking the Prime Minister a straightforward question, which he has so far failed to answer. At Prime Minister’s questions, he was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) this very simple, straightforward question:

“Will there be fewer police officers at the end of this Parliament”—[Official Report, 23 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 287.]

compared with now? He skirted around her question and did not answer it. Will he answer it now?

Of course there will be difficult decisions, but let me—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] A simple question was put to the shadow Home Secretary before the last election. [Interruption.] Wait for it:

“Andrew Neil: Can you guarantee if you form…the next government that police numbers won’t fall?

Alan Johnson: No”.

But my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) went on to say—I think that that was selective quoting—that we would guarantee the funding that would ensure police numbers and the numbers of police community support officers. We were absolutely clear about that. The Prime Minister’s Lib Dem partners said that they would have 3,000 more police officers on the beat, while he said that he would protect front-line services. Is either of those promises going to be kept? People who are concerned about crime want to know.

There is nothing selective about the word no. That is what the shadow Home Secretary said when he was asked whether he could guarantee that there would be no cuts in police numbers. Let us remember why we are here. We have a £155 billion budget deficit. The Labour party went into the last election promising 50% cuts in capital spending and 20% cuts in departmental spending. We are clearing up the mess that Labour made. I sat at the G20 table last weekend and, looking round the table, thought, “Who’s got the biggest budget deficit? Is it Brazil? No. Is it Spain? No. Is it Argentina? No.” Labour left us in a situation where we get lectured by Argentina on the state of our budget deficit.

If the right hon. Gentleman had read the Office for Budget Responsibility report, he would have seen that its forecast for Government borrowing was lower than the forecast that we made before the election—if he had read it, he would probably also have found that the Chair would not have resigned immediately after being appointed. Is it not clear that these are the Government’s crime policies—that the right hon. Gentleman is threatening to take away the police officers people want on the beat, cutting down the right of local residents to CCTV and making it harder for the police to use DNA evidence? Those are his policies. Let me ask him a straightforward question: does he think that those policies are more likely to make crime go down or go up?

The point is that under the last Government violent crime and gun crime went through the roof. The right hon. and learned Lady—[Interruption.] They almost doubled.

The shadow Foreign Secretary is shouting and shaking his head. Gun crime and violent crime almost doubled under the last Government. There is going to be a rush of new Labour memoirs coming up, so perhaps hon. Members should start with the report of the spin doctor who worked for the last Prime Minister, who—

Before the election, we were hearing all about tougher policies and more police from the Conservatives; now all that seems to have sailed off with those prison ships that the right hon. Gentleman was promising to buy. We were clear: we said when we first came into government that we would bring crime down, and we did. Will he promise that under his Government he will keep crime coming down? If he will not make that promise, it is only because he knows, as we all know, that his policies will put crime up.

Mr Speaker, I was only trying to boost sales.

I can promise the right hon. and learned Lady one thing: I will not be wandering round my constituency in a stab-proof vest. That is what it came to under the last Government. Gun crime went up, violent crime went up, reoffending of prisoners went up, every prison place cost £45,000, more than 10% of prisoners should not have been there because they are foreigners, half of them are on drugs and 40% of them commit a crime on the way out of prison. That is the record that we have inherited, and that is what we will be clearing up.

The latest report from the US Department of Defence to Congress highlighted the speed and decisiveness of insurgent propaganda in Afghanistan as a key threat to allied forces. What can the coalition do to counter this threat, given that the longer it goes on, the harder our task becomes?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we are not just fighting a war on the ground; there is a propaganda war as well. We have to demonstrate the progress we are making in training up the Afghan army and the Afghan police, and in spreading security and governance across Afghanistan—particularly, in our case, in southern Afghanistan. I can tell my hon. Friend that we will be publishing a monthly update and having quarterly statements in the House to ensure that we keep the British public fully informed and on side as we take difficult decisions in this conflict.

Q2. In the run-up to the general election, the Conservatives claimed to be the party that would support small businesses, yet in their first Budget they cancelled tax breaks for the computer games industry, which is crucial to my constituency. Can the Prime Minister tell not only me and the House but the hundreds of people in Dundee who are employed in the computer games industry and the students who study at Abertay university exactly why his Chancellor feels that that tax break was poorly targeted? (6247)

We believe that what matters is having low tax rates, and what we did in the Budget—which the House voted on last night—was to cut the small company rate of corporation tax back down to 20p from 22p and set out a path for getting corporation tax down to 24% by the end of this Parliament. That would give us one of the lowest tax rates in the G8, the G20 or anywhere in Europe. That is what we will benefit from, but I note that the Labour party voted against those tax reductions.

Q3. How can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents about the planning system? Under the last Government, my local councils turned down some massive developments such as the Pyestock mega depot, only to have those decisions overturned by Ministers who had never even visited the site. How can we re-engage local people in these local decisions? (6248)

I want to reassure my right hon. Friend, because it is right that local authorities should be taking decisions that affect people and that those decisions should be taken as locally as possible. We are scrapping the targets and the bureaucracy that we inherited from the Labour party. I can tell him that, since the election, we have managed to scrap the new unitary councils; the comprehensive area assessments have gone; regional spatial strategies—gone; regional assemblies—gone; home information packs—gone; and Labour’s ports tax and bins tax have both gone.

If the respect agenda is to mean anything, surely it should include proper consultation with the devolved Governments and legislatures on fundamental constitutional and political reform, which affects all parts of the United Kingdom and will affect the composition of the devolved legislatures. Will the Prime Minister therefore undertake urgently to enter into discussions with the representatives of the devolved Administrations and, if necessary, revise his proposals in the light of what they have to say? Let us have a proper respect agenda.

Of course these discussions need to take place, and they will take place—[Interruption.] Let me answer the question very directly, because I listened very carefully to the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) on this issue. The date and the nature of the referendum are Westminster Parliament issues and it is right that they should be brought before the Westminster Parliament first; it does not make sense to take them in front of other Parliaments and Assemblies first. That is the way to do it—[Interruption.]

Order. Members should not shout at the Prime Minister in that way. First of all, it is rude. Secondly, it delays the progress of our proceedings, and we really must not have it.

Q4. Can the Prime Minister reassure concerned Equitable Life victims in my constituency that the Government remain committed to ensuring justice for policyholders? (6249)

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We are committed to a Bill in this Session. This needs to happen. It was in 2008 that the parliamentary ombudsman referred to a “decade of regulatory failure”. The fact that we have had to wait until now for this to be done is wrong. The last Government had plenty of opportunities to grip this, but I am afraid that, in quite a cynical way, they were just waiting and waiting, so that more of the Equitable Life policyholders were dying off. That is disgraceful, and we need to get this done.

Last Saturday afternoon, I joined the community of Stonehouse in my constituency to welcome home Sergeant Gary Jamieson. Sergeant Jamieson, from the Scots Guards, lost both legs and his left arm in an explosion in Afghanistan. The most humbling aspect of meeting Sergeant Jamieson was his distinct lack of bitterness. He fully supports the mission in Afghanistan, and strongly believes that the British forces there are making a difference. May I ask the Prime Minister to join me in paying tribute to a true British hero, and does he agree that the most fitting way in which to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who have suffered the most terrible injuries, is to stay in Afghanistan until the job is done?

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying the tribute that he has rightly paid to Sergeant Jamieson and to all who have served. Anyone who has met some of the soldiers—when visiting Headley Court, or elsewhere—who have lost limbs in combat, through improvised explosive devices or in other ways, cannot help being incredibly impressed by their spirit and bravery, and their determination to go on and live as full lives as possible.

We have set out very clearly what we want to achieve in Afghanistan. This is the key year, when we surge up the military forces and surge up the political pressure. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement later today about how we can best do that, and how we can ensure that our forces are properly spread across Helmand province so that we can really have the effect that we want.

Let me be clear. Do I think that we should be there, in a combat role or in significant numbers, in five years’ time? No, I do not. This is the time to get the job done, and the plan that we have envisages our ensuring that we will not be in Afghanistan in 2015. We have already been in Helmand for four or five years, and, obviously, we have been in Afghanistan since 2001. It is time to maximise the pressure now, and then to bring our forces home as we train the Afghan army and police force to do the job that needs to be done, which is to keep the country secure. That is our goal, that is in our national security interest, and that is what we will do.

Q5. Park home owners are often elderly and vulnerable, and some suffer greatly as a result of the actions of a small minority of site owners. They suffer threats, intimidation and neglect. Will the Prime Minister meet a small delegation, and me, so that we can discuss how park home owners may be better protected? (6250)

I have every sympathy with what the hon. Lady has said. I suspect that many Members—including me—have encountered problems with park home owners who have been really badly treated by, frankly, pretty disreputable site owners. We all know of cases in which people who want to sell are put under pressure, and the rules are used to prevent them from obtaining fair value. It is not right, and it is not fair. The Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), is looking into the issue, and I think it is probably best for the hon. Lady to meet him in order to ensure that we have robust rules and the right approach, so that the rights of park home owners are respected.

On Friday, my constituent Zac Olumegbon was murdered in a planned attack close to his school. He was just 15, and I know that the thoughts of the entire House will be with his family at this very difficult time. He was the 13th teenager to lose a life needlessly in our capital city. Can the Prime Minister tell me, the rest of the House and the country what his Government are doing, and will be doing, to stop this happening in our communities?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that case, about which everyone will have read. It is absolutely horrific, and it seemed so planned and premeditated. It is appalling to think that things like this happen on our streets. What will we do about it? I think that we need short-term measures, and then much longer-term measures as well.

In terms of the sentencing review, it is clear to me that we need to send the strongest possible signal that carrying a knife on our streets is just unacceptable. We need to send the signal that it is not a defensive measure, that it is not a cool thing to do, that it should not happen, and that the punishment will be tough. That, in my view, is the short-term measure that we need. As for the longer-term measures, we must do more to strengthen communities, to strengthen families, and to give people an alternative to the gangs towards which they will otherwise be drawn. Too many young people join a gang because they do not have other networks, help, respect and hope in their lives. That is a long-term agenda, it is an agenda that I know is shared on both sides of the House, and we must pursue it.

Q6. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will resist further moves towards economic governance of the United Kingdom by the European Union, and that we will not see the vetting of our Budget plans by the European Commission before those plans are presented to the House? (6251)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The UK Budget should be shown to the UK Parliament—the Westminster Parliament—before it is shown to anyone else, and that will always be the case under this Government. I am pleased to report that subsequent to the publication of our Budget, a number of international bodies—such as the OECD, the EU, the G8 and the G20—have recognised that it is an extremely good Budget that will help to put this country back on track.

Can the Prime Minister give the House a clear pledge today on child poverty? Will there be fewer children in this country living in relative poverty by the end of this Parliament—yes or no?

We are absolutely committed to meeting the child poverty targets. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this Budget, despite all its difficulties, does not add a single family to child poverty, in contrast to the last Government, who put up child poverty by 100,000—[Interruption.] They shake their heads. Check the figures and come back to me.

Q7. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that all new academies that will be set up will be obliged to accept children with special educational needs? (6252)

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Academies will be required to ensure that pupils with special educational needs are admitted on the same basis as other schools. Children with special educational needs have special needs, and a compassionate, decent and tolerant country will ensure that they get the help, support, education and love that they need.

The chief executive of Sheffield Forgemasters, Dr Graham Honeyman, was last year presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Institute of Directors, but various Government Front Benchers have made unwarranted personal attacks on him in the media. Will the Prime Minister apologise now for those unjustified attacks on a highly regarded business man?

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady, but no one has made an attack. This is an excellent company. The question is whether it is an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money to give it to a business that could raise that money by diluting its shareholding. Labour simply does not understand. It handed out money before the election without asking whether it was value for money. No wonder we are in such a complete mess.

Q8. The UK has a splendid reputation for the quality of its agricultural science and research, and these skills will be needed to face up to the challenges of climate change and an increasing world population. Will the Prime Minister confirm that Government and EU policy decisions on such matters will be taken on the basis of sound science and proportionate regulation? (6253)

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the all-party group on science and technology in agriculture. These are difficult issues, but my view is that we should be guided by the science. We should also be guided by what consumers want, and it is vital that we have accurate labelling. That will really be the key to ensuring that we make progress with this issue in a way that keeps the public on side and allows them to understand what it is that they are buying and consuming.

The whole House will be aware of and concerned by the ongoing incident in the north-east. The killing of Chris Brown and the wounding of Samantha Stobbart took place in my town of Birtley, and our thoughts and prayers should go out to their families and friends, and to PC David Rathband and his folk. Can the Prime Minister update the House on this issue, and can he assure us that all lessons will be learned from this incident? Can we especially look again at getting guns off our streets?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this case, and the whole country is thinking of those who have lost their lives and those who have been injured. It is a horrific case. I do not think that it is right now to start to talk about learning lessons: this is an ongoing case. The Home Secretary has been briefed by the chief constable and I know that the House and the country will wish the police well in their search for this individual, so that we can put a stop to the horrendous spree that is taking place.

Q9. Voting by non-resident home owners in regions such as Cornwall is becoming a contentious issue. Councils are not checking whether people are voting in two locations in the same election, and local residents are worried that sometimes election results might be skewed. Will the Prime Minister meet me, or invite one of his ministerial colleagues to do so, to discuss this issue? (6254)

I am very happy that one of my colleagues should have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we make sure that electoral registers are accurate. It is also important to recognise that it is an offence to vote at a general election in two different places. However, I think that there are problems with saying whether second home owners can vote. I think that a number of hon. Members might take rather a dim view, as some of them might not be able to vote in their own constituencies, but I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to have a meeting with the Minister responsible for electoral registration.

Decent Homes Programme

Q10. What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the future funding of the decent homes programme. (6255)

First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to the House?

Good quality social housing is vital, especially in areas such as her constituency. It is completely unacceptable today that 58% of the housing in her constituency is not of a decent standard. We have a huge backlog of work to be carried out. We have ploughed £170 million back into social housing schemes this financial year, which the last Government promised but did not fund. Clearly, the decent homes programme will have to be looked at in the spending review, but I understand the force of argument in her constituency particularly.

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Is he aware that some 7,000 council homes in Tower Hamlets still need to be brought up to the decent homes standard? The previous Government committed £220 million towards addressing the problem. Will his Government honour that commitment to my constituents?

As I said, we have filled in some of the black hole left by the last Government because a promise of extra spending was made but the money was not found. While we made the £6 billion-worth of cuts to start sorting out the finances, we used some of the saved money to fill in the black hole so that those social housing schemes could go ahead. Clearly, the decent homes programme is important. We have to make sure that it provides value for money, but the hon. Lady’s constituency has very great needs, with so many substandard houses.


Q11. My nine-year-old constituent, Paisley Ward, says that she and her brother learned to swim because it was free. Paisley is worried that her little sister will not be able to learn because this Government want to charge. In her letter, Paisley says, “please, please stop this madness”. Will the Prime Minister listen to Paisley and have a rethink? (6256)

First, may I congratulate the hon. Lady? Many people in this country think that this is a good time to leave politics and go into the media. May I congratulate someone who left the warmth of the GMTV sofa in order to sit on a green Bench here?

The hon. Lady raises an important case, but I have to tell her that not all Labour councils were able to deliver the free swimming pledge. I am afraid that this is one of the things, like many others, that it will not always be possible to guarantee in the incredibly straitened times that we are living in, when we have a £155 billion budget deficit to deal with.