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Engagements

Volume 538: debated on Wednesday 18 January 2012

Q11. I welcome this week’s announcement of closer co-operation between financial centres in Hong Kong and London, which will help to make the City a hub for the Chinese renminbi currency market. Does the Prime Minister agree that that helps to highlight the opportunities for trade in Asia and the importance of promoting this country’s commitment to free trade, and shows that this country is open for business? (90171)

My hon. Friend makes a vital point. Clearly, the markets in Europe are going to be difficult: 50% of our exports go to the EU, and we are seeing a freezing effect across the European Union. The rest of the world economy, however, is growing, and we need to get out there and sell to those markets. I am pleased to say that exports to China were up by 20% last year. The arrangement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has come to, which will make London one of the great renminbi trading centres, is an important breakthrough, but we need many more like that.

Q12. Will the Prime Minister clarify the position of the coalition Government on inheritance tax? My constituency recently received correspondence from the junior partner in the coalition Government, stating:“If the Tories were governing alone, they would be cutting inheritance tax for millionaires and they would pay for it by reducing public spending even more.”Is that true? (90172)

Q13. Last week, on the Syrian border, I met Syrian army deserters who had refused to kill their fellow citizens, and a small child wounded by that regime. If things there are to get better, not worse, the world must stop selling arms to Syria. What evidence does the Prime Minister have of countries shipping arms to that regime? (90173)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Britain needs to lead the way in making sure that we tighten the sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes on Syria. On who is helping the Syrian Government to oppress their people, there is growing evidence that Iran is providing a huge amount of support. Some shipment interceptions by Turkey are particularly interesting in that regard. People should also know that Hezbollah is also an organisation that is standing up and supporting the wretched tyrant who is killing so many of his own people.

The Prime Minister will no doubt be aware of a report from international aid agencies this morning saying how the crisis in the horn of Africa was made worse by the delay in the international community responding. It warned that a similar crisis is threatening in west Africa. What will the Government do to try to ensure a speedier international response?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will study the report carefully. My understanding is that the British aid effort was swift at getting aid into the horn of Africa and was leading the pack, both in the extent—the money committed—and speed of the response. Clearly, the horn of Africa is a very difficult place to deliver aid to, not least because of the control al-Shabaab—in effect, a terrorist organisation—has in large parts of Somalia. I will look carefully at what he says about west Africa, and I will ensure that we learn any available lessons.

Q14. On 26 October, I raised the case of my constituent, 14-year-old Lillian Groves, who was killed outside her home by a driver under the influence of drugs. The Prime Minister kindly met her family to talk about the case, which I believe has support across the House, for changing the law to deal with the menace of drug-driving. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress? (90174)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on this issue. It is important that we take seriously the issue of drug-driving. As he knows, we are committed to making the drug-testing equipment available for use in police stations as soon as possible. The case that he is making, which is that we need an equivalent law to that for drink-driving, has great strength. The Government are examining that case closely. Clearly, we need to look at whether there will be an opportunity in the second legislative Session to take forward the measure, which I know he will be campaigning for hard.

Does the Prime Minister share my concern at yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Abu Qatada cannot be deported? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to initiate all-party discussions focused not on rhetoric about ripping up the Human Rights Act but on how, in practice, the Court could operate more proportionately, so that rights are respected but the safety of the public is always paramount?

I agree wholeheartedly with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I think that the judgment is difficult to understand, because British Governments—both the present Government and the one in which the right hon. Gentleman served—have gone to huge efforts to establish a “deportation with assurances” agreement with Jordan to ensure that people are not mistreated. In this case, the European Court of Human Rights found that Abu Qatada was not going to be tortured but was worried about the process of the court case in Jordan. It is immensely frustrating.

I think that a country such as Britain, which has such a long tradition of human rights, should be able to deport people who mean us harm. That principle is vitally important, and we are not just going to have strong rhetoric about it. I am going to Strasbourg next week to argue that as we are chairing the Council of Europe, this is a good time to make reforms to the ECHR and ensure that it acts in a more proportionate way.

Q15. On 26 March 2010, a two-and-a-half-year-old boy named Jobe Felton was kidnapped from his home in Cannock Chase and taken to Thailand by his mother. Six months later, his father finally tracked him down in a remote village. He found that his son could not speak, had had his teeth broken, and had bruises all over his body. He believes that had he not got him back then, Jobe would have been sold. Each year in the United Kingdom, more than 500 children are kidnapped in similar circumstances. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Jobe’s father, Sean Felton—who has set up a charity called Abducted Angels, and who is in the Gallery today—to discuss what the Government can do to help parents of abducted children like Jobe? (90175)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that case. It is a simply appalling case, and any parent cannot help being chilled to the bone about what happened to that poor boy.

I think it is vital for us to put in place the best possible arrangements. As my hon. Friend knows, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is to be part of the National Crime Agency. I very much hope that we shall be able to legislate for the agency and ensure that it is properly resourced, because—as my hon. Friend says—it is vitally important that when these appalling acts happen, we get on top of them right away. Early effort is absolutely vital to saving these children.

When does the Prime Minister expect to be cross-examined by the Leveson inquiry? Does he not agree that the British people deserve an answer to the question of why he appointed one of Murdoch’s top lieutenants, Andy Coulson, to the heart of the British Government?

I shall be delighted to appear before the Leveson inquiry whenever I am invited, and I am sure that other politicians will have exactly the same view. I shall answer all the questions when that happens.

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman on such good form. I often say to my children, “There is no need to go to the National History museum to see a dinosaur; come to the House of Commons at about half past twelve.”

Order. We now come to the statement by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Secretary Clarke. Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman begins his statement, I appeal to Members who, unaccountably, are leaving the Chamber—who, for some reason, do not wish or are not available to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman—to do so quickly and quietly, so that the rest of us can listen to the statement.