The Secretary of State was asked—
Smallholder Farmers (Climate Change)
Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Fifty per cent. of the United Kingdom’s £1.5 billion fast-start commitment will help developing countries to adapt to it, and a significant share will benefit smallholder farmers. In Kenya, for instance, we support research on improved early warning so that farmers can adjust their cropping strategies to increase production.
Two weeks ago 20 pastoralists were killed in central Somalia following a dispute about access to water for their livestock, and people are starving and dying now as a result of the terrible drought and famine in the horn of Africa. Will the Minister press for a specific day to be set aside for discussion of smallholder farmers and food security at the upcoming COP 17, the 17th United Nations conference on climate change?
As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, we do not control the agenda, but she has made a powerful representation—which others will hear—in suggesting that priority should be given to the plight of smallholder farmers at that important meeting. In particular, it must be ensured that the cause of disputes which can get in the way of humanitarian aid is not perpetuated.
Read-across does take place when a huge commitment is made to research enabling DFID to help smallholder farmers. For instance, the Foresight report, which was commissioned by the Government, benefited from a great deal of expertise drawn from UK farmers. The result has been of mutual benefit, which is another reason for concluding that the aid programme is in our mutual interests.
Does the Minister agree that most climate-related finance should take the form of grants rather than loans? That is only fair to people in developing countries who suffer from the effects of climate change but who, in the main, did not cause it. Will the Minister tell us what proportion of our climate-related finance takes the form of loans rather than grants?
As I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise, to start from the premise that finance should take the form of either loans or grants is to start at the wrong end of the question. The first question that should be asked is “What will best achieve the desired result and give the most help to vulnerable smallholder farmers?” That said, most of the finance does take the form of grants, and, as the hon. Lady knows, 50% of it is being provided through the international climate fund to help smallholder farmers to adapt.
2. What recent assessment he has made of his Department’s work in Burundi; and if he will make a statement. (65537)
From 2012, DFID’s work in Burundi will focus on supporting regional integration into the east African community through the British-led organisation TradeMark East Africa, which has opened an office in Burundi which DFID is funding. That is the right way for us to help the people of Burundi, rather than aid being provided through a small, expensive and duplicatory bilateral programme.
During a recent visit to Burundi, the vicar of Romsey and a group of parishioners found that one of the biggest problems was a critical lack of access to fresh water. Would the Secretary of State be prepared to meet them to discuss what they found, and how aid can be provided most effectively?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. I believe that I met the vicar during a visit at the time of the general election, but I, or one of my fellow Ministers, would be happy to meet him and some of my hon. Friend’s constituents to discuss this important matter.
The Secretary of State did not say in his opening remarks that Britain is winding down its aid programme in Burundi, a country in which more than 80% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. What specific assurances can he give that other donors will take up the programmes in which Britain has been involved in so far?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Germany, Belgium and France have much larger bilateral programmes in Burundi than Britain. We are providing only 3.6% of the funding through our bilateral programme, but we have to make tough decisions about how we spend our budget. It is, after all, hard-earned taxpayers’ money, and we do not think it provides good value for money to have such a small programme with such high administrative expenses. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that through multilateral support over the next few years Britain will spend about double the sum of the old bilateral programme.
Bilateral Aid (India)
The bilateral aid review demonstrates that DFID’s programmes with Indian states yield strong development results with good value for money. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact will evaluate the India programme as part of its work in 2011.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s response. He has recently been urged to discontinue aid to India, but does he agree that for as long as India continues to have a third of the world’s poor living within its borders, we will never achieve the millennium development goals unless that aid continues?
The hon. Gentleman is right: India is a development paradox, as I have said before, and we are right to continue the programme for now. We have frozen the figure for the next four years, and we are moving to work only in the poorest states in India. As the hon. Gentleman has implied, there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the International Development Committee recommendation to put more resources into sanitation and nutrition, as they have been shown to be the prime cause of poverty? Half the population of India has no access to sanitation and malnutrition rates among Indian children are among the worst in the world.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Half the children in the state of Bihar are suffering from malnutrition. His point about the programme is a good one. We are looking at increasing the amount we spend on water and sanitation, and all of us are extremely grateful for the strong all-party support his Committee gave to the Government policy on aid and development in India.
The situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable. Perversely, the current access regime benefits Hamas and punishes the ordinary people of Gaza. In the last fortnight, I visited Israel and the west bank, as did the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who also visited Gaza. We both urged Israeli Ministers to recognise that the restrictions are not in Israel’s interests and should be lifted.
I thank the Minister for that reply. First, I am sure that my constituent, David Cole, who is currently in Gaza would like me to use this opportunity to thank those Government officials who eventually helped him to be able to get there. However, I know that he is concerned that the number of trucks going into Gaza is about a third less than the number that were able to go in before the blockade. I am glad the Minister has already made representations, but will he specifically ask the Israeli and Greek Governments why they will not allow unarmed humanitarian volunteers to deliver medical supplies to Gaza by boat, through the flotilla?
I thank the hon. Lady for her appreciative comments. It is the case that about 30 times more cement and 10 times more steel goes into Gaza through Hamas-controlled tunnels than through the crossings. At the current reconstruction rate, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates it will take 78 years to rebuild Gaza. We put confidence in the conversations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Quartet representative Tony Blair, which took place in May, and hope they can have a more successful outcome than they have had so far.
That is primarily a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have not had any such discussions, but I have had discussions with Israeli Ministers. As I said a moment ago, I hope that the representations made by the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, to Prime Minister Netanyahu can ease many of the restrictions that the Israelis are currently imposing.
The UK has contributed to significant global progress in reducing deaths and illness from tuberculosis. Globally, 41 million people have been successfully treated since 1995, saving 6 million lives. The UK reaffirmed its commitment to tackling TB, including co-infection TB-HIV, in “UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results” and in the UK’s position paper on HIV in the developing world. A paper on our broader approach to health, including TB, will be published later this year.
I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome the commitment to addressing TB-HIV co-infection. When will the future health paper be published? When will stakeholders be consulted on it? Will there be specific targets on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB where patients are not co-infected with HIV?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is very important to recognise that there has been no de-prioritisation of TB, as a huge amount of effort is being made to tackle it. That broader health context and the paper that will appear later this year will set out the priorities and how we will attempt to ensure that we are pushing on the right things to bring down the incidence of TB, which is falling globally. Most importantly, we need to recognise that this depends on the interrelationship with other workings of the health systems.
Does the Minister agree that one of the ways in which we will deal with the problems of global TB is through the development of new treatments? Is he aware of the work being done at the university of Strathclyde? Will he ensure that representations are made to ensure that research into the development of new TB drugs is continued?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She is right to pinpoint the fact that one of the difficulties in tackling TB is the emergence of very resistant strains. We are well aware of the research being done at the university of Strathclyde and elsewhere, which has a close link with the very big research commissioning programme for which DFID is responsible. I will be more than happy to pursue that in more detail later on.
Official Development Assistance
The coalition Government have set out in the comprehensive spending review how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as overseas aid from 2013. We have made it clear that we will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.
I thank the Secretary of State for that comprehensive answer, and I wish that all his Cabinet colleagues were quite as enthusiastic and as committed. But can he give us a firm date, as “in the fullness of time” simply is not good enough in these circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman, who is enormously experienced in the ways of Parliament, will know that that is not a matter for me as the Secretary of State for International Development; it is a matter for the business managers and the usual channels. I suggest that he refers his question, on an appropriate occasion, to one of them.
Any Government can spend as much money as they want on overseas aid if they want to do so. Lots of Departments have very important priorities, so why do we have to have a specific target in law for overseas aid and not for anything else? Is this not just ludicrous gesture politics, rather than anything that is actually meaningful?
My hon. Friend is right to this extent: we could spend this hard-earned budget twice over, because there is need that we could satisfactorily address. But the world, many years ago, settled on a figure of 0.7%, and all of us have made a promise to stand by that commitment and the Government are absolutely right, even in these difficult economic circumstances, not to seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world.
I strongly support the Secretary of State on the points he made. Will he join me in making the point that our aid is vital in the terrible situation for the people in the horn of Africa, where there is suffering on a massive scale? Will he also join me in paying tribute to the generosity of the British people in response to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal? I strongly welcome his rapid response on Ethiopia, but what steps is he taking to ensure that other countries play their part, too, and what help is he giving to the people suffering in Somalia and Kenya?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her support. We are looking very carefully at how we can assist in Somalia, particularly in the south-central region where there is a weight of people crossing the border into northern Kenya. I expect to visit the region shortly to see what additional assistance can be given. The right hon. and learned Lady is also right that although there has been strong British leadership in all this, it is essential that other countries that can help put their shoulders to the wheel, too. We spend a lot of our time ensuring that others do precisely that.
Horn of Africa
Up to 10 million people need emergency relief, especially in south-east Ethiopia, southern central Somalia and northern Kenya. We are seeing acute malnutrition in all these places. The crisis is provoked by the failure of the rains for two consecutive years and is characterised by the loss of crops and livestock, exacerbated by high food prices. The situation is unlikely to improve before the October rains.
Will the Secretary of State set out the steps that his Department is taking to build long-term resilience in the national agricultural systems in the countries in the horn of Africa so as to reduce the impact of potential crises such as the one they face?
My hon. Friend is right to make it clear that food security over the longer term is the key way to tackle such disasters. It is also true, however, that it is no fault of the horn of Africa that there have been no rains for the past two years and that a serious situation has been exacerbated by that. I can tell him that there has been significant progress and over the past 20 years, for example, the incidence of acute malnutrition in Ethiopia has gone down by some 50%.
The Minister does not have to visit the region to know what the problem is. Every night on television we are seeing children dying, the elderly dying and livestock dying—it is obvious what is happening. The aid agencies are short of money and surely we can do more right now.
I can reassure the right hon. Lady. We were the first people to make it clear that we would give strong support, helping 1.3 million people in Ethiopia and ensuring that mothers with babies and children—330,000 of them—would receive rapid support. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has kicked into play and we are considering additional support to that which we are already giving to take account of the situation that she described in southern Somalia and particularly in Dadaab, which is now the biggest refugee camp in the world.
The House is full, everybody is chattering, everybody is obsessed by Murdoch but millions of people are in danger of dying in the horn of Africa. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this is an absolute priority for him and that all the bureaucratic restraints that stop help going in this uniquely challenging environment—usually useful things such as value for money and protecting our workers—will be laid aside and that he will go right in there and help those suffering people?
My hon. Friend has eloquently made the case for the world taking urgent action to ensure that what is currently a crisis does not develop into a disaster. He has my assurance that the British Government are doing everything they can to help and I will, as I say, be going to Dadaab at the weekend with the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. Together, we will look to see what additional work Britain and the international community can do to help.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (65551)
We are delivering the results agenda through our 27 bilateral programmes and we are working to tackle the emergency unfolding in the horn of Africa. We are acting quickly and decisively, as I have said, to prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe. We are also continuing to co-ordinate Britain’s contribution to post-conflict stabilisation in Libya for the time when the fighting is over. Since our last Question Time, Britain has chaired and led the drive to fund the next stage of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation for the poor world.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. With a record number of countries applying for vaccine funding from GAVI, what results does he expect to be achieved following last month’s success at London’s pledging conference of Ministers, business leaders and charities?
My hon. Friend is right that the conference was an extraordinary success—exceeding the pledge target of $3.7 billion by some $600 million. As a result, the world will be able to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children over the next five years. Britain will vaccinate a child every two seconds and save a child’s life every two minutes as a result of this initiative.
I am sure that all Members will join me in congratulating South Sudan on achieving independence at the weekend. The Government of South Sudan are now planning to review all their international oil contracts. Does the Minister agree that although our aid is important for desperately poor people in South Sudan, it is vital that global oil companies pay their fair share of their profits in tax in that country? Will he ensure that DFID uses its expertise to help South Sudan to get fair tax returns from the oil companies?
The hon. Gentleman is right that that country has just been born and has $1.7 billion of revenues, and it is essential that the money is used transparently. Britain is a very strong leader on the extractive industries transparency initiative and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he expects the European Union to look at how it can develop its own version of the Dodd-Frank legislation that has been laid in the United States.
My hon. Friend will have had a chance to read the detailed plan that has been set out. Britain is committed, over the next five years, to ensuring that the prevalence of malaria in the most affected countries is reduced by 50%. We believe that tackling malaria, which kills so many children needlessly every day, should be towards the top of our list of initiatives.
T2. I was privileged to be part of a delegation that visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and monitored the last election there and I was really moved when I talked to women there about their experiences of rape and sexual violence. I would be very grateful if the Secretary of State would tell me what support he is managing to offer to Margot Wallstrom, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on sexual violence in conflict. (65552)
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The tackling of sexual violence and violence against women is now embedded in all our bilateral programmes. In the DRC, the International Rescue Committee is doing outstanding work on this specific agenda, as I hope she will have seen during her visit. She has our commitment that the coalition Government have always said that putting girls and women at the forefront of our international development efforts is essential.
My hon. Friend is right. The $800 million is part of the US military budget. All of Britain’s aid that is spent in Pakistan, which is particularly focused on trying to get 4 million children, especially girls, into school, is not spent through the Government. We are very anxious to ensure that there is always accountability to the British public and that aid is transparently used. Those policies will continue.
The hon. Lady is right that the floods had a devastating effect in Pakistan as I have seen for myself on my frequent visits there. Britain was at the forefront of the countries coming to support Pakistan when the floods struck and we have been very strongly engaged, not least in helping people to continue their livelihoods and in getting children back into school in the aftermath of, and recovery from, those floods.
T8. In Afghanistan the depreciation of the afghani has sent the price of basic staples soaring by 7% in just one week. Has my right hon. Friend had conversations with the Afghanistan Government about how to improve food security, with the winter approaching? (65558)
My hon. Friend is right that across the world, not just in Afghanistan, the price of food, particularly staples, has rocketed in recent months and years. Britain is specifically engaged in Afghanistan in trying to help secure the wheat harvest and ensuring that farmers have wheat seeds to plant. We focus on this area keenly for precisely the reasons that she has set out.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Secretly deleting voicemails left for a missing teenager, buying the silence of public figures who would incriminate your business, and publishing the confidential medical details of a disabled child who just happens to have a famous father: I ask the Prime Minister—are any of these the actions of a fit and proper person?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point in a powerful way. We have to be clear about what is happening here. There is a firestorm, if you like, that is engulfing parts of the media, parts of the police and, indeed, our political system’s ability to respond. What we must do in the coming days and weeks is think above all of the victims, such as the Dowler family, who are watching this today, and make doubly sure that we get to the bottom of what happened and prosecute those who are guilty.
Yesterday I met the family of Milly Dowler, who have shown incredible bravery and strength in speaking out about what happened to them, the hacking of their daughter’s phone, and their terrible treatment at the hands of the News of the World. I am sure the whole House will want to pay tribute to their courage and bravery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Does the Prime Minister now agree with me that it is an insult to the family that Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time, is still in her post at News International?
I have made it very clear that she was right to resign and that that resignation should have been accepted. There needs to be root-and-branch change at this entire organisation. It has now become increasingly clear that while everybody, to start with, wanted in some way to separate what was happening at News International and what is happening with BSkyB, that is simply not possible. What has happened at this company is disgraceful. It has got to be addressed at every level and they should stop thinking about mergers when they have to sort out the mess they have created.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. He is right to take the position that Rebekah Brooks should go. When such a serious cloud hangs over News Corporation, and with the abuses and the systematic pattern of deceit that we have seen, does he agree with me—he clearly does—that it would be quite wrong for them to expand their stake in the British media? Does he further agree that if the House of Commons speaks with one voice today—I hope the Prime Minister will come to the debate—Rupert Murdoch should drop his bid for BSkyB, recognise that the world has changed, and listen to this House of Commons?
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is good that the House of Commons is going to speak with one voice. As he knows, the Government have a job to do to act at all times within the law, and my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary has to obey every aspect of the law—laws that were on the whole put in place by the last Government.
And yes, as the hon. Gentleman says, we should look at amending the laws. We should make sure that the “fit and proper” test is right. We should make sure that the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are right. It is perfectly acceptable, at one and the same time, to obey the law as a Government but to send a message from the House of Commons that this business has got to stop the business of mergers and get on with the business of cleaning its stables.
I look forward to debating these issues with the Leader of the House, who will be speaking for the Government later in the debate. I know the Prime Minister is to make a statement shortly about the inquiry, but can he confirm something that we agreed last night—that we need to make sure that we get to the bottom not just of what happened at our newspapers, but of the relationships between politicians and the press? Does he agree that if we expect editors and members of the press to give evidence under oath, so should current and past politicians?
I agree with that. First, on the issue of the debate, we are debating now, which is right, and we are going to have a statement in the House of Commons, and I will stand here and answer questions from as many Members of Parliament who want to ask them. I think we should focus on the substance.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, we had an excellent meeting last night. We discussed the nature of the inquiry that needs to take place. We discussed the terms of reference. I sent those terms of reference to his office this morning. We have had some amendments. We are happy to accept those amendments. They will still be draft terms of reference, and I want to hear what the Dowler family and others have to say so that we can move ahead in a way that takes the whole country with us as we deal with this problem.
I also think that if we are going to say to the police, “You must be more transparent and cut out corruption”, and if we are going to say to the media, “You must be more transparent and cut out this malpractice”, then yes, the relationship between politicians and the media must change and we must be more transparent, too, about meetings, particularly with executives, editors, proprietors and the rest of it, and I will be setting out some proposals for precisely that in a minute or two.
I want to thank the Prime Minister for those answers; they are answers the whole country will have wanted to hear. Can I also ask him to clear up one specific issue? It has now been confirmed that his chief of staff and his director of strategy were given specific information before the general election by The Guardian. The information showed that Andy Coulson, while editing the News of the World, had hired Jonathan Rees, a man jailed for seven years for a criminal conspiracy and who had made payments to police on behalf of the News of the World. Can the Prime Minister tell us what happened to that significant information that was given to his chief of staff?
I would like to answer this, if I may, Mr Speaker, in full, and I do need to give a very full answer. First, all these questions relate to the fact that I hired a tabloid editor. I did so on the basis of assurances he gave me that he did not know about the phone hacking and was not involved in criminality. He gave those self-same assurances to the police, to a Select Committee of this House and under oath to a court of law. If it turns out he lied, it will not just be that he should not have been in government; it will be that he should be prosecuted. But I do believe that we must stick to the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.
Now, let me deal directly with the information given to my office by figures from The Guardian in February last year. First, this information was not passed on to me, but let me be clear that this was not some secret stash of information; almost all of it was published in The Guardian in February 2010, at the same time my office was approached. It contained no allegations directly linking Andy Coulson to illegal behaviour and it did not shed any further light on the issue of phone hacking, so it was not drawn to my attention by my office.
What is more, Mr Speaker—let me just make this point—I met the editor of The Guardian the very next month and he did not raise it with me once. I met him a year later and he did not raise it then either. Indeed, if this information is so significant, why have I been asked not one question about it at a press conference or in this House? The reason is that it did not add anything to the assurances that I was given. Let me say once more that if I was lied to, if the police were lied to, or if the Select Committee was lied to, it would be a matter of deep regret and a matter for a criminal prosecution. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister has just made a very important admission. He has admitted that his chief of staff was given information before the general election that Andy Coulson had hired a man who had been jailed for seven years for a criminal conspiracy and who made payments to the police on behalf of the News of the World. This evidence casts serious doubt on Mr Coulson’s assurances that the phone hacking over which he resigned was an isolated example of illegal activity. The Prime Minister says that his chief of staff did not pass on this very serious information. Can he now tell us what action he proposes to take against his chief of staff?
I have given, I think, the fullest possible answer I could to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me just say this. He can stand there and ask questions about Andy Coulson. I can stand here and ask questions about Tom Baldwin. He can ask questions about my private office. I can ask questions about Damian McBride. But do you know what, Mr Speaker, I think the public and the victims of this appalling scandal want us to rise above this and deal with the problems that this country faces.
He just doesn’t get it, Mr Speaker. I say this to the Prime Minister. He was warned by the Deputy Prime Minister about hiring Andy Coulson. He was warned by Lord Ashdown about hiring Andy Coulson. He has now admitted in the House of Commons today that his chief of staff was given complete evidence which contradicted Andy Coulson’s previous account. The Prime Minister must now publish the fullest account of all the information that was provided and what he did and why those warnings went unheeded. Most of all, he should apologise for the catastrophic error of judgment he made in hiring Andy Coulson.
I am afraid, Mr Speaker, that the person who is not getting it is the Leader of the Opposition. What the public want us to do is address this firestorm. They want us to sort out bad practices at the media. They want us to fix the corruption in the police. They want a proper public inquiry. And they are entitled to ask, when these problems went on for so long, for so many years, what was it that happened in the last decade? When was the police investigation that did not work? Where was the public inquiry over the last 10 years? We have now got a full-on police investigation that will see proper prosecutions and, I hope, proper convictions, and we will have a public inquiry run by a judge to get to the bottom of this issue. That is the leadership I am determined to provide. [Interruption.]
What a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but perhaps we can just have a pantomime interval for a moment. Is the Prime Minister aware that there are now young people in Bradford being quoted, without convictions or claims, £53,000 to insure their first car? These ridiculous premiums are being driven by insurance companies selling fresh details to personal injury lawyers. What are we going to do to outlaw—
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the problem of referral fees that are driving up the cost of insurance for many people. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has made some very powerful points about this. There was a report to the Government calling for referral fees to be banned. I am very sympathetic to this, and I know my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary is too, and we hope to make some progress.
Of course. The point about the inquiry, which I will be announcing in a moment or two, is that it will be judge led, it will take its powers from the Inquiries Act 2005, and it will be able to call people under oath. I think this is absolutely vital. As I say, there are three pillars to this. There is the issue of police corruption, there is the issue of what happened at the media, and there are also questions for politicians past, present and future.
My hon. Friend is right that we have got to stay out of the eurozone. Being a member of the euro would take away the flexibility we currently have. We have to remember that 40% of our exports go to eurozone countries. We should therefore be making constructive suggestions about proper stress tests for their banks, backed up by recapitalisation; involving the private sector to make Greece’s debt burden more sustainable; and earning fiscal credibility through concrete action to reduce their excessive deficits. Basically, in my view eurozone countries have to recognise that they have to do more together and faster; they have to get ahead of the market rather than just respond to the next crisis.
I made this point some moments ago. Of course, the decision to employ a tabloid editor meant that there were a number of people who said that it was not a good idea, particularly when that tabloid editor had been at the News of the World when bad things had happened. The decision I made was to accept the assurances that he gave me. As I have said, those assurances were given to the police, a Select Committee and a court of law. If I was lied to and others were lied to, that would be a matter of deep regret. I could not be clearer about it than that. We must ensure that we judge people as innocent until proven guilty.
This week I received another e-mail from a constituent regarding metal and cable theft. This time, it told of an elderly lady who had a fall at home and was unable to raise the alarm because the cables in the village had been stolen for the second time in about as many weeks. This is a growing problem across the country. The legislation relating to this matter dates back to 1964. Please can we have an urgent review to ensure that scrap metal dealers who accept stolen metal are prevented from doing so and prosecuted?
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. There was a case in my constituency where the lead from the Witney church roof was stolen. I have been trying to ensure that these crimes are taken seriously by the police, because they put massive costs on to voluntary bodies, churches, charities and businesses. We must ensure that they are not seen as second-order crimes, because the level of this crime is growing and it is very worrying.
Q6. The debate this afternoon will be vital, because it will show the House united in its revulsion at what was done to Milly Dowler’s family. May I ask the Prime Minister to make urgent inquiries into whether families of the victims of 9/11 were similarly targeted by the criminals at News International? If they were, will he raise it with his counterpart in the United States? (65526)
I will certainly look at that. In the statement I am about to make, I will give some figures for just how many people’s phones the Metropolitan police currently think were hacked and how many of them they have contacted so far. They have pledged to contact every single one. I met the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson last night to seek further reassurances about the scale of the police operation that is under way. In what was—if we can put it this way—a mixed appearance by police officers at the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, I thought that Sue Akers, who is leading this investigation, acquitted herself extremely well. We should have confidence that the Metropolitan police will get to the bottom of this.
Q7. With its ambition of being the greenest county, Suffolk is already committed to a low-carbon world with offshore wind farms, anaerobic digestion, nuclear power and a recycling rate of more than 60%. The Prime Minister is always welcome to visit. Will he give his backing to our local enterprise partnership’s ambition to enhance skills training to fill the new job opportunities that will be created locally? (65527)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate her on branding Suffolk as “the green coast”. There is a big opportunity, particularly in the light of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said, in green jobs, renewable energy and new nuclear. A vital thing to encourage the inward investment that we want is to demonstrate that we will build up our skills base. That is where local enterprise partnerships can play such a valuable role.
Q8. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether he had any conversations about phone hacking with Andy Coulson at the time of his resignation? Will he place in the Library a log of any meetings and phone calls between him and Andy Coulson following his resignation? (65528)
As I said, perhaps before the hon. Lady wrote her question—or had it written—of course I sought assurances from Andy Coulson and those assurances were given. [Interruption.] Yes, absolutely. Those assurances were given not just at the time to me but subsequently to the Select Committee and to a criminal case under oath. They were repeatedly given. Let me say again for the avoidance of any doubt that if those assurances turn out not to be true, the point is not just that he should not have worked in government, it is that he should, like others, face the full force of the law.
Q9. Can I raise with the Prime Minister a different case of hacking—the computer hacker Gary McKinnon? While I recognise that the Home Secretary has a legal process to follow, does the Prime Minister share the concern for my constituent’s nine-year nightmare? He feels that his life is literally hanging by a thread that is waiting to be cut by extradition. (65529)
I do recognise the seriousness of this case, and the Deputy Prime Minister and I actually raised it with President Obama when he visited. I think the point is that it is not so much about the alleged offence, which everyone knows is a very serious offence, and we can understand why the Americans feel so strongly about it. The case is now in front of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has to consider reports about Gary McKinnon’s health and well-being. It is right that she does that in a proper and effectively—I am sorry to use the word again today—quasi-judicial way.
In these days of a rush to make savage cuts in public spending, the decimation of the police service and the hammering of individuals because of the withdrawal of legal aid, can I ask the Prime Minister to justify the following expenditure? At the beginning of last month, a serviceman from Northern Ireland asked for a non-urgent pair of boots costing £45. They were dispatched from defence base Bicester by private courier to Northern Ireland, at a cost of £714.80. Is it not time the Prime Minister got a grip of this?
I know that former Health Ministers wanted to hear the rattle of every bedpan, and maybe I need to see the order of every pair of boots in the military, but I recognise the point the right hon. Gentleman makes. One of the things we are trying to do in the Ministry of Defence is recognise that there is a huge amount of back-office and logistics costs, and we want to make that more efficient so that we can actually spend money on the front line. The example he gives is a good one, and I shall check it out and see if we can save some money.
Q10. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that all illegal press activity under the last Government will be investigated now, and that that will include the criminal conspiracy between the highest levels in that last Government and parts of the Murdoch empire, including the blagging of bank accounts of Lord Ashcroft in a bid to undermine him and his position as laid out in “Dirty politics, Dirty times”? (65530)
The point about the inquiry that we are shortly going to discuss is that it will look at the relationship between politicians and media groups, across the whole issue of that relationship including as it relates to media policy. I think that is extremely important. The inquiry will have the ability to call politicians—serving politicians and previous Prime Ministers—to get to the bottom of what happened and how unhealthy the relationship was. That is what needs to happen.
On Monday, the MOD permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that the Prime Minister himself blocked the National Audit Office from accessing relevant National Security Council documents. The auditors considered them essential to assess whether the decisions on the aircraft carrier in the defence review represented value for money. That refusal is unprecedented. In the interests of full transparency and accountability to Parliament, will the Prime Minister now agree to immediately release the information that the NAO needs?
The short answer is that we were following precedent, but the long answer is that if the right hon. Lady wants me to come to her Committee and explain what an appalling set of decisions the last Government made on aircraft carriers, I will. The delay alone by the Government whom she worked for added £1.6 billion to the cost of the aircraft carriers. So if she wants me to turn up and not just tell her what we discussed in Cabinet but lay out the full detail of the waste that her Government were responsible for, name the day.
Q11. Following a question from me to the Prime Minister’s predecessor three and a half years ago, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) set up pilot schemes to provide sign language support for deaf parents and their children in Devon and Merseyside. Those have now been completed, and they were a huge success. Will the Prime Minister meet a delegation of deaf parents, their children and their representatives to discuss how that sign language support can be extended to all children and their parents across the UK? (65531)
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. We do a lot to support different languages throughout the UK. Signing is an incredibly valuable language for many people in our country. Those pilot schemes were successful. I looked at what the previous Prime Minister said to him when he asked that question, and I will certainly arrange a meeting for him with the Department for Education to see how we can take this forward.
My question to the Prime Minister concerns the contract for the Thameslink rail programme. As he will be aware, that is of great concern throughout the House, and with 20,000 manufacturing jobs at risk, it is right that it should be. Will he confirm that no contract has yet been signed, and indeed that no contract can be let or signed until the funding package is determined? That is a complicated process.
This is the heart of my question to the Prime Minister: given that the funding package—[Interruption.] Twenty thousand jobs are at stake! Given that 20,000 jobs are at risk, will the Prime Minister look at holding the competition for that funding package with the Secretary of State for Trade—
I know that the right hon. Gentleman cares deeply about this issue. Bombardier is a great company, and it has a great future in our country. We want to see it succeed, but I have to say that in this case, the procurement process was designed and initiated by the previous Government. This Government were bound by the criteria that they set, and therefore we have to continue with a decision that has been made according to those criteria. But we are now looking at all the EU rules and the procurement rules to see whether we can change and make better for future issues like that one.
Q12. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling for the electrification of the Crewe to Chester railway line, which would provide a major and immediate boost to people in Chester and beyond in north Wales? That would also eventually link us to the much needed High Speed 2. (65532)
I am well aware of this campaign. I seem to remember spending a lot of time at Crewe station during the last Parliament, normally accompanied by people dressed in top hat and tails—some of my colleagues will remember that.
My hon. Friend’s suggestion is not in the current programme, but we will look sympathetically at it. We want to see more electrification of railway lines in our country.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman some of the figures. Only nine universities are charging £9,000 for every student; 58 universities will not charge £9,000 for any of their courses; and 108 out of 124 further education colleges will charge less than £6,000 for all their courses. However, the point I would make is this: university degrees have not suddenly started to cost £7,000, £8,000 or £9,000; they have always cost that. The question is this: do we ask graduates to pay—successful graduates who are earning more than £21,000—or do we ask the taxpayers to pay? The money does not grow on trees. We have made our choice, and the Labour party, which introduced tuition fees, must come up with its answer.
Q13. Amid the turmoil in other European economies caused by the euro, is not it essential that this country continues to take steps to reduce its debt, and that it steers clear of paying for any future EU bail-out, whatever advice to the contrary the Prime Minister receives from the Opposition? (65533)
The point I would make is this: the problem is not only the restrictions of the euro, but the building up of unsustainable levels of debt. Although we are out of the euro, that does not mean that we do not have to deal with our debts—we absolutely do. However, we have the opportunity of being quite a safe haven for people. We can actually see our market interest rates come down because of the action that this Government are taking. We must keep that up, but we must also recognise that the eurozone sorting out its own problems is in our interests, so we must be helpful and constructive with the work that needs to be done.
Q14. Last week, I was approached about a fee-paying debt management company that had advised its client to take out a remortgage for £50,000 to pay his debts. The company paid £11,000 to his creditors and went out of business, taking the rest of his money. I have many other examples like this. Self-regulation simply is not working in this industry. Will the Prime Minister urgently consider regulating the sector and provide the Office of Fair Trading with the resources necessary to take enforcement action swiftly so that vulnerable people do not continue to be ripped off? (65534)
I know that the hon. Lady has not just constituency experience of this but managed a citizens advice bureau, and so has huge experience of people with debt problems. Citizens Advice is probably the finest organisation in our country for helping people with debt. I will certainly consider her suggestion to consider whether the sector can be better regulated, what we can do to support citizens advice bureaux at this difficult time, and the issue of credit unions and how we can lead to their expansion.
Q15. The whole House will share the outrage that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) expressed this week about the publication of private medical information relating to his son. He also said that when he was Prime Minister he tried to set up a judicial inquiry into phone hacking. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what detailed preparatory work he inherited? (65535)
I have every sympathy with my predecessor, particularly over the blagging of his details by a newspaper, if that is what happened. In public life we are all subject to huge amounts of extra scrutiny, and that is fair, but it is not fair when laws are broken. We have all suffered from this, and the fact is that we have all been too silent about it. That is part of the problem. Your bins are gone through by some media organisation, but you hold back from dealing with it because you want good relations with the media. We need some honesty about this issue on a cross-party basis so that we can take on this problem.
I have to say that I did not inherit any work on a public inquiry, but I am determined that the one we will set up, with the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, will get the job done.
The 45th international children’s games will come to the fair county of Lanarkshire at the start of August. Some 1,500 12 to 15-year-olds will participate in nine sports across the county. Will the Prime Minister congratulate two Labour local authorities—North Lanarkshire council and South Lanarkshire council—on their foresight in bidding for and hosting the games? Will he send a representative of the Government to the event?
I certainly congratulate the two local authorities. Tragically, there are not too many Conservative local authorities I can congratulate in Scotland. However, I am happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s. It sounds like an excellent initiative, and I wish everyone taking part the very best of luck.
As I will explain in a minute, there will be one inquiry but with two parts, and it will be led by a judge, who will be the one who will eventually agree the terms of reference, set out the way it will work and be responsible for calling people under oath.