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Socially Responsible Behaviour

5. Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): What steps she is taking to support socially responsible behaviour by companies operating in the developing world. [69877]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We are strongly supporting initiatives to progress socially and environmentally responsible business practices, and many leading companies are committed to significant reform. Our largest UK initiative, which is supported by my Department, is the ethical trading initiative, which is a partnership of trade unions, development charities and British retailers with an annual turnover of £100 billion. Together, they are monitoring respect for core labour standards throughout their supply chains across the world. That is potentially an enormous force for good in poor countries.

Mr. Havard: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I especially welcome the establishment of the business partnership department in her Department and the appointment of a Minister for corporate social responsibility in the UK. What action will she take to ensure that her Department works closely with other Departments and the devolved Administrations and further develops relationships with the trade union and co-operative movement in monitoring—and developing—policy, activities for which that movement is well qualified?

Clare Short: I agree with my hon. Friend. In the past, funnily enough, we did not have a private sector department in my Department. A healthy private sector is crucial to the reduction of poverty, as is a healthy and effective government system. We are putting much more effort into that area. I can confirm that we work strongly across UK Departments because we want to be part of a Government who are committed to sustainable development across the world, not just one Department in the Government. We have partnership programmes with the Transport and General Workers Union on shop steward education. We are about to organise a programme

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with the Trades Union Congress, and we are trying to deepen the understanding of development in all sectors of British society so that we can make a better contribution.

Heavily Indebted Poor Countries

6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If she will make a statement about her policy on the provision of aid towards heavily indebted poor countries. [69878]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): There are 37 countries that are eligible to qualify for debt relief under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, because they are so heavily indebted that their debt can never be paid and is creating a barrier to reform. Some 26 countries have qualified and receive $62 billion of debt relief. The process has led to improved economic management and increased social spending. The remaining 11 countries have serious problems of conflict or bad government, but we hope to make progress with them, too.

Mr. Swayne: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Does she agree that improvements in trading arrangements for those countries will be of much greater benefit than any direct aid that can be given? What is she doing to improve the rules that govern world trade to the benefit of those nations?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that improved trading opportunities for poor countries are crucial to their economic growth, which is essential to the reduction of poverty. I do not agree that improved trading opportunities are an alternative to aid. Aid to help countries build up the capacity of their Government systems, increase their capacity to negotiate trade agreements, and have a thriving private sector that can take up those opportunities is also key. We are doing what was agreed at Doha. A deal was agreed that would really enhance the training opportunities of developing countries; now we must ensure that that is delivered.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [69903] Matthew Green (Ludlow): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further such meetings later today.

Matthew Green: With hours to go before the summer recess, the Prime Minister may be aware that some Members may be planning to take holidays in Florida. Despite the Prime Minister's dangerously close relationship with President Bush, does he think, in the light of yesterday's shuffling of the deckchairs on the

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Titanic by the Conservative leader, that Florida is still a safe place for British politicians to go, and should they take their mobile phone?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question is out of order. John Mann.

John Mann (Bassetlaw): A recent internet poll suggested that few or no young people were using heroin in Britain—well, they obviously did not poll anybody in my constituency. If it can be shown that there is a particular problem with heroin abuse in former mining villages, will the Prime Minister look at finding additional resources to tackle that problem?

The Prime Minister: I shall certainly look into the point that my hon. Friend makes. I think that he knows that a lot of money is going in, through the new deal for communities for example, to regenerate former mining communities. Part of that money is put into the community infrastructure, and obviously some of that can be used to help tackle problems of drug abuse, which, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, are not confined to the inner cities but are in parts of our rural and former mining areas as well.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): No doubt the Prime Minister will already have seen today the report of the all-party Select Committee on Defence, on domestic preparedness, in which the Committee says in the conclusion that

not taken the

Does the Prime Minister agree with that?

The Prime Minister: We shall obviously make a full and detailed response to the Defence Committee report, but I do not accept that we have not made the most urgent preparations following 11 September. Indeed, the report begins by saying:

We shall, of course, study carefully the additional things that the Committee says that we should do.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister is right; the Committee does not take issue with the fact that there has been work done, and much good work too. But the Select Committee did go on to say—this is the critical bit—[Interruption.] A lot of it is quite critical, but this is very critical. It says that


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The Prime Minister: What we have done is that all the emergency services have reviewed their capabilities. A massive amount of training of police officers, ambulance staff and people in the health service has gone on to ensure that we are prepared. In addition, just within the last year we have allocated from the reserve about £250 million extra for all sorts of things from the Ministry of Defence through to the Metropolitan police and to strengthen the UK's anti-terrorist-financing regime. So an awful lot has been done, but of course we shall consider carefully what further suggestions the Defence Committee made.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The point about the Select Committee report is that, as the respected Labour Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), said on the media,

from the Government on this matter. The crucial point is not that there has been activity but that, as they said, it is a mistake that activity supplants real direction and real drive. So will the Prime Minister, to reassure the country, which will rightly be concerned, now take personal charge to ensure, as the Committee says, that there is adequate "central co-ordination and direction", and bring it under his control, not leave it to others to war and fight with one another?

The Prime Minister: Of course, as Prime Minister I am always ultimately responsible for making sure that these things are done properly, but the whole purpose of setting up the civil contingencies secretariat and the recent appointment of Sir David Omand as the permanent secretary to co-ordinate the security and intelligence work was so that we brought together the various bodies and made sure that we had the best possible preparations for whatever potential terrorist attack we may be facing.

Mr. Duncan Smith: It is not happening.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says that it is not happening; it is happening actually, but of course we have to make sure that we try to do everything that we can to strengthen that capability. I would say to him that—although he says that the activity is there, but not the actual direction—the money, for example, that we have allocated to the Ministry of Defence or to the Metropolitan police is precisely for real activity on the ground to strengthen our defences against whatever might be done. But I hope that he would ultimately agree with me that the best defence is, in fact, what happens with our security and intelligence services. For that very reason, the intelligence agencies will increase their spending by 6.4 per cent. in real terms annually.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I support that.

The Prime Minister: I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman supports that. We can add that to the list of the spending that he does support. It is important to make sure that we have the best possible security and intelligence capability, recognising as I think everyone

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does post-11 September that there is a limit to what we can do. As I said in front of the Liaison Committee a short time ago, we are in a dilemma between protecting ourselves against every potential threat and possibly spending millions or billions of pounds to do so, and making no proper preparations at all. We believe that we have got the balance right, and with the additional appointment of a specific permanent secretary to co-ordinate this issue right at the heart of Government, we have done as much as we possibly can at this stage, but we will consider carefully the specific recommendations of the Committee.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley): Following the publication of Dame Janet's interim report on Harold Shipman last Friday, will the Prime Minister join me and other hon. Members in expressing sympathy and support to the victims' relatives? Does he also agree that the failure of the General Medical Council to strike off Harold Shipman following 77 counts of drug misuse and prescription fraud in my constituency led to many more deaths in Hythe? May I ask the Prime Minister to take a personal interest in the final report when it is published in the autumn and to expedite the recommendations as urgently as possible?

The Prime Minister: Of course we should study carefully and learn the lessons of the inquiry report, and I join my hon. Friend in expressing our deep sympathy to the families of all those who lost their loved ones as a result of the murderous activities of Harold Shipman. I am sure that the General Medical Council and everyone will try to learn the lessons that the inquiry has established for us. I would just like to say at the same time as mentioning the horrific case of Harold Shipman and all the evil that he did that it is worth paying tribute, however, to the vast majority of our general practitioners who do excellent work for our constituents up and down this country.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): In the very happy absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who did not need to leave a phone number, may I ask the Prime Minister about the fact that the Chancellor announced a major increase in the ability of central Government to take over local services last week? Failing schools will be taken over. Poorly performing social services departments will have new managers sent in. Failing local authorities will be taken over. The Home Secretary wants to do the same to the police. Is the Prime Minister not worried that those powers will destroy accountability to the local electorate and stifle local initiative?

The Prime Minister: First, perhaps on behalf of the House, may I send congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend on his marriage and best wishes for his honeymoon?

Secondly, we have in fact devolved more money to front-line schools and devolved a greater percentage of their budget for them to spend, but I make no apology for saying that, where schools are failing, it is important that

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there is intervention because every single failed school means that children in that school are being deprived of the chance of a decent education.

Mr. Beith: Bearing in mind the devastating criticisms made in the Anderson report into the foot and mouth outbreak about the performance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the fact that DEFRA has failed to meet 83 per cent. of the performance targets set for it by the Government, can the Prime Minister tell us who takes over a failing central Government Department?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about DEFRA—[Interruption.] From that cheer, perhaps he will be doing rather more of these Question Times in future. On the DEFRA targets, he is wrong; it is not the case that 83 per cent. of them have not been met. It is precisely because of the problems that were associated with foot and mouth that we set up the civil contingency secretary and that we changed the Ministry of Agriculture. As my right hon. Friend made very clear, we accept responsibility for the mistakes that were made. Let us be clear, however: we managed to get rid of this outbreak within six months—less time than the 1967 outbreak—even though it was the worst outbreak that this country or any country had known. I hope, at least, that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there were many people, not least in the Army and in the Ministry of Agriculture, who worked extremely hard to bring the epidemic under control.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): In the eventuality of the United States commencing military action in the middle east during the recess, will the Prime Minister undertake to recall the House before any British forces are committed?

The Prime Minister: I have to say that we have not got to the stage of military action. If we do get to that stage, at any point in time, we will, of course, make sure that Parliament is properly consulted.

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