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6 Nov 2002 : Column 273continued
5. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If the Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement on the development aid that she is providing to Ethiopia.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Ethiopia has a population of 67 million people and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with gross domestic product at only $100 per head. We are now building up a development partnership with Ethiopia, which has been delayed by the war with Eritrea. We intend to support Ethiopia's poverty reduction strategy, which provides a strong basis for partnership and dialogue. The Ethiopian Government are showing a strong commitment to poverty reduction, and we plan to expand our programme of assistance significantly over the next few years.
However, Ethiopia has a history of highly centralised Government, human rights abuse and continued reliance on food aid. The Government are committed to reform and democratisation, but the reform effort will be difficult and will require sustained support.
Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response. However, she will be aware that the war with Eritrea has been over for some while now and the Government in Ethiopia are showing a commitment to democracy and reform. Ethiopia is anxious to know exactly how the Government will help with the poverty reduction strategy and when the Department for International Development expects to implement the
Clare Short: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the war has been over for such a long time. We had plans to expand our programme in Ethiopia that were delayed by the war, which we also tried to avoid. Nearly 100,000 young men lost their lives and the economies of both countries were damaged in a war over a barren piece of land. That was a tragedy for the people of both countries. We are in detailed discussion with the Ethiopia Government and have advanced plans. They will be published very shortly, and I will make sure that a copy is sent to the hon. Gentleman.
Q1.  Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 6 November.
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 will have further such meetings later today.
Mark Tami: Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the need for a United Nations resolution to secure the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq? What progress has been made to this end and, if progress has been made, as press reports indicate, when can we expect their return?
The Prime Minister: I understand that at 3.30 today a United Nations resolution will be tabled in the Security Council. I spoke to President Bush about this a few moments ago. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the United Nations team who have worked so hard to secure this resolution. I hope very much that it is passed and has support. It will be a tough new inspection regime; it will be free from the problems of the past and it will make it very clear that there must be complete and total disarmament in Iraq of weapons of mass destructionchemical, biological and nuclearand that if not, action will follow. However, it is not conflict that is inevitable, but the disarmament of those weapons of mass destruction. The best and surest way to avoid conflict is for Iraq to comply with the will of the United Nations, to let the inspectors back in and to have the disarmament process begin.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): I join the Prime Minister in welcoming any such resolution that will deliver peace in that region and also the full disarmament of Iraq.
Will the Prime Minister now rule out legislation in this Parliament for top-up feesyes or no?
The Prime Minister: I have made it clear that we shall abide by our manifesto commitment.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister did not answer the question. I specifically asked him if he would rule out legislating in this Parliament for top-up fees. Will he, yes or no?
The Prime Minister: I have just told the right hon. Gentleman that we will abide completely by the manifesto commitment that we gave. As for the proposals that the Government come up with, I am afraid that he will have to await the outcome of the review.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Before the last election, the Prime Minister said:
The Prime Minister: They can believe it precisely because the language that we used in the manifesto is language that I am happy to repeat now. Before the right hon. Gentleman accuses us of any particular course of action, I suggest that he awaits the outcome of the review, when he may find that some of his strictures are unjustified.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): The Prime Minister and other party leaders in this place will represent us and the nation on Remembrance day on Sunday. Will my right hon. Friend take a few minutes before Sunday to review the handful of cases that Members on both sides of the House have on war veterans, most of whom are now in their 80ssome from the Enigma project, the Arctic convoys, Suez and other campaigns. They are still denied the medals and the recognition that they morally deserve because the Ministry of Defence has a mean-minded, pettifogging interpretation of the rules and regulations, some of which are half a century old. Will my right hon. Friend, in the spirit of remembrance, use his power to cleave through that bureaucracy and give those elderly men and women the recognition they deserve, while they are still with us?
The Prime Minister: First, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who made such sacrifices during both world wars so that this nation could remain a free and democratic country. He will know that the policy on that has been the policy of successive Governments over a long period. He will know too that we have done a great deal as a Government to improve the position of veterans and their dependants. Of course, we will keep those issues under review. I have heard what my hon. Friend has saidI am sure that the
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Given the proper priority, which the Government continue to claim to give, to the protection of vulnerable people in care in our society, will the Prime Minister explain why 300,000 people providing that care have had their Criminal Records Bureau background checks abandoned indefinitely?
The Prime Minister: We are trying to focus on those who may have implications for the most vulnerable in our society. It is important to realise that the Criminal Records Bureau is handling far more cases than ever before, and we should concentrate on people in the categories where there may be the most risk. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with that.
Mr. Kennedy: Surely the thousands of families who have vulnerable relatives in precisely that position of care deserve better reassurance from the Prime Minister? Can he therefore give us a commitment or a time scale? When will those checks be resumed and, most importantly, when will they be completed?
The Prime Minister: We will do the necessary checks as soon as possible, but we have withdrawn certain categories because we believe that it is important to concentrate on those categories of people where there may be the greatest risk. Incidentally, may I tell the Liberal Democrats that I have no doubt that if we did not take a more flexible and sensible attitude, the right hon. Gentleman would be up on his feet accusing us of unnecessary bureaucracy.
Vera Baird (Redcar): After the trial of David Shayler, which ended yesterday at the Old Bailey, will my right hon. Friend consider whether a public interest defence ought to be available to somebody who discloses unlawful conduct by the security services? I am making no comment about Shayler's case, but would not a carefully drafted public interest defence offer a sensible extra means of control over the intelligence community and, at the same time, give protection to people of conscience by allowing a jury to assess whether on the whole the public has been benefited or harmed by disclosure?
The Prime Minister: With respect to my hon. and learned Friend, I am afraid that I do not agree. It is right that people who work for our security services undertake certain obligations of confidentiality. There is really no way in which we can protect our country otherwise. In these troubled times, it must be clear to peopleI will not comment on the individual casethat if they work for the British security services they
Q2.  Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): The Prime Minister has suspended Stormont. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland says that next May's elections will take placeto what?
The Prime Minister: The elections are for the Assembly, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I very much hope, however, that we can get the process up and running again. The Executive has been suspended because, I am afraid, we do not have the proper consent to run it at the moment. I very much hope, however, that we can get to a position in which the peace process is up and running again, as frankly that is the only way forward for people in Northern Ireland.
Q3.  David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are legitimate questions to be asked about the case that collapsed last Friday? Why was it started in the first place? Were the Law Officers consulted about the prosecution, and why, apparently, were public interest immunity certificates applied for to the judge? Was it considered that the evidence of the person concerned would be harmful to the state? There should be a statement. There seems to be a lot of mystery about the matter and it should be cleared up.
The Prime Minister : I think that I am right in saying that public interest immunity certificates did not arise in this case, but I do not really have anything to add to what I said on Monday. Obviously, as I said then, the Crown Prosecution Service will want to learn the lessons of the case that has collapsed in those circumstances, but I do not see any reason for changing our constitutional conventions or precedents.
Q4.  Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Does the Prime Minister recall that on 16 July he was presented with a petition, highlighting the fact that Devon schoolchildren are worth #195 a year less of standard spending assessment than the national average? On receiving that petition the Prime Minister told head teacher Helen Nicholls:
Can the Prime Minister say when she will receive that response and will he now guarantee that the funding gap between Devon schoolchildren and those in the rest of the country will be closed?
The Prime Minister: We will announce the outcome of the review of local government funding in early December, as the hon. Gentleman knows. That is when the response will be. When I met people from his constituency and from the county of Devon, they made extremely reasonable points, but I pointed out that reforming the system of local government finance was difficult. I understand their concerns, but I know that he will agree that Devon's education standard spending assessment has increased by nearly #60 million during the past few years. That is an average increase of almost 6 per cent. a year. I understand the issue about the gap,
Q5.  Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does the Prime Minister agree with me and the many constituents who have contacted me this month that it is time that the Government introduced even tougher regulations on the sale of fireworks and, in particular, that they permit the licensing of shops that sell them, in order to control the dangerous and irresponsible behaviour that blights so many in our communities and causes so much distress?
The Prime Minister : I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have similar concerns. My hon. Friend will know that, earlier this month, a number of measures were announced by the Department of Trade and Industry to cut the number of firework injuries. They included such things as a crackdown on illegal markets in fireworks and the use of fixed penalty notices, which are being piloted at present and, hopefully, will be rolled out across the country. We have also launched a national safety campaign.
We keep the rest of the law under close review. Obviously, we need to balance people's desire for safety and for dealing with the antisocial behaviour aspects with the need not to be overly bureaucratic or regulatory. We are looking at the matter and we keep it under constant review, but I understand my hon. Friend's concern.
Q6.  Mr. Gary Streeter (South West Devon): Is the Prime Minister aware that in Plymouth and in various parts of the country waiting times for a heroin addict voluntarily to access detox treatment can be well over six months? Given police estimates that 80 per cent. of all acquisitive crime is drug-related and bearing in mind the misery and concern for the addict, for families and for victims, will the Prime Minister take another urgent look at this matter and, if necessary, redirect resources so that any person who takes the brave decision to kick the habit has immediate access to treatment?
The Prime Minister : The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is right. We are doing two things about it. First, we have established the national treatment agency to try to ensure that what is available in certain parts of the country is available in all parts. Secondly, we are putting hundreds of millions of pounds extrathat is being rolled out over the next few yearsinto treatment for drug addicts. The hon. Gentleman is right: it is essential. Although we may be able to do this only in the highest crime areas to begin with, I want to reach a situation where people are tested for drugs when arrested; if they are tested and found positive, they should be given the opportunity to have treatment quickly; but if they refuse that treatment, it should be taken into account when considering their bail or their
Q7.  Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Has the Prime Minister had the chance to read my speech in a recent Adjournment debate on antisocial behaviour? What measures does he intend to take to ensure that the polices that we are introducing to tackle antisocial behavioursuch as antisocial behaviour orders, antisocial behaviour contracts, parenting orders, stricter tenancy agreements and on-the-spot finesare being implemented on the ground by crime and disorder partnerships in the UK?
The Prime Minister: I have not read the speech[Interruption]. I have not read the speech yet. From what my hon. Friend saysif that was a summary of itI entirely agree with him. There will be a series of measures on antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour orders have been successful where introduced, but they have been too difficult to introduce. Therefore, we are looking at a series of reforms to make them easier to get, to implement and to enforce.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith: Will the Prime Minister abide by the result of the referendum in Gibraltar tomorrow?
The Prime Minister: More than that, we have made it absolutely clear that there can be no change in the constitutional position of the people of Gibraltar without their consent. At the moment, there are no proposals on the table. We know what the referendum result will be[Interruption.] We know because it is very clear. In the end, people in Gibraltar should realise that there will be and can be no changeit is not merely a question of proposals that we come up with nowwithout their express consent.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister said in this House that he would
The Prime Minister: I have just made that clear, and I entirely concur with the statement that he quoted earlier. It is for that reason that I say again that there can be no change to the constitutional position of the people of Gibraltar without their consent. I said what I did about the referendum because there are no proposals on the table. However, let me make it clear to him that the process that we began of discussion with Spain and with people in Gibraltara process that began under the last Conservative Government; that is why it is the sheerest hypocrisy for the Conservatives to oppose it nowis right because it is in the interests of people in Britain, in Spain and in Gibraltar. But as I repeated a moment or two ago, it is their free expression of will that has to count.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The people of Gibraltar do not want the Prime Minister's grubby deal. I remind him that the international observers at tomorrow's
The Prime Minister: First, if I were the right hon. Gentleman I would not go against grubby deals too much. He may have need of a few of them, I think. Secondly, this is not a grubby deal. We have not actually tabled proposals. However, we have continuedin my view, absolutely rightlythe process that began under the last Conservative Government. We continued it because I happen to believe that it is in the interests of the people of Spain, of Britain and of Gibraltar. Having said that, the one thing that is abundantly clearI have said it throughout and I repeat it nowis that there can be no change in the constitutional position of the people of Gibraltar without their express consent. I should have thought that that was clear enough, even for the right hon. Gentleman.
Q8.  Caroline Flint (Don Valley): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the BBC XGreat Britons" poll, and to the number of scientists and inventors nominated? Those people not only contributed to the wealth of the UK but created many jobs for others. Bearing in mind that Doncaster does not have a university yet, and many young people do not see the relevance of science to their future job prospects, how can he ensure that, in future polls, we will still see the importance of science and that it will help to contribute to more jobs in south Yorkshire?
The Prime Minister: A huge amount of additional resources will go into science over the next few yearsabout #2 billion. Not only is that more than under the last Conservative Government, but it is investment to which the Conservatives are opposed, as they are opposed to the additional investment in education. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of teaching science in schools. That is one of the reasons why we are not just putting more resources in but allowing specialist schools to develop, particularly in relation to science and technology. That, together with the other policies that the Government are pursuing in science, gives us the best chance of repeating in the future some of the huge successes of British science in the past.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Prime Minister has acknowledged in a recent response that the drugs rehabilitation question is urgent. May I urge on him the need to look again at resources, and particularly at a simple change in current tactics? All drugs money confiscated should be ring-fenced to go into rehabilitation, as there is dire needat this moment, there are fewer than 40 rehabilitation places available throughout the whole of Wales.
The Prime Minister: We do need to make sure that there are more rehabilitation places. However, a vast amount of additional resources is going into drug
Q9.  Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfair that clergy and ministers of religion have no employment rights, and no redress against unfair dismissal? Can I tell the House about my constituent Paul McNab, who was dismissed from the Salvation Army when he was sick without any medical examination. His wife also lost her job in the Salvation Army, and they have no redress to anti-discrimination legislation whatever. Will he extend employment rights to all ministers of religion in all faiths and denominations, so that they have the same rights as all other occupations?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend may know that we are currently conducting a review into the extension of employment rights to give job protection to people who are particularly at risk in certain walks of life. As part of that, we are looking at the issue of those who are employed by religious faiths. I cannot tell him the outcome of the review yet, but clearly the case of Mr. McNab is germane to that review, and I am sure that it will be taken into account.
Q10.  Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Why has the Prime Minister abandoned his support for urban sub-post offices? Two years ago, he said that he would work positively to ensure that all sub-post offices were able to become government general practitioners. He has now abandoned that and is instead bribing sub-postmasters with #180 million of taxpayers' money to close down their services. Is not that a great disservice to the pensioners in Christchurch and many other boroughs?
The Prime Minister: In fact, we have an agreement with the sub-postmasters, and we will be investing hundreds of millions of pounds in the postal network over the next few years. It is inevitable, I am afraid, that some sub-post offices will closeincidentally, under the last Conservative Government thousands closed up and down the country. It is therefore absurd to pretend that there is an easy solution. However, we are putting in a lot of extra investment so that those sub-post offices that can survive and that have a viable future are given one. The very reason we entered into the agreement with the sub-postmasters is that they recognise, unlike the hon. Gentleman, that there is a genuine problem to be tackled.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): A 14-year-old boy, Matthew Sheffield, died in my constituency as a consequence of an accident with an airgun. Will my right hon. Friend outline his thoughts as to how these weapons, which have a potential lethal capacity, can be controlled, if not banned?
The Prime Minister: May I express through my hon. Friend my condolences to her constituent's family?
Q11.  Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Will the Prime Minister look again at the guidelines given to the national lottery award-giving body, the community fund, so that those organisations that care for groups such as war veterans and the elderly get their fair share of the money? Those are the most vulnerable people in our society and they gave so much to our country. It is about time we repaid their service to Britain, rather than giving to some of the politically correct organisations which seem to be getting large sums of money.
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman would want to acknowledge that the community fund has given an awful lot of money to veterans' organisations and others. In the end, there is a simple choice: either we can have a body that objectively gives that money out to groups or we can do it by involving politicians. I think it is better that it is done objectively through the community fund. The concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses have been expressed by other hon. Members too, but we should not let one or two cases mislead us into thinking that the lottery money is not, on the whole, extremely well used for the benefit of community groups throughout the country, including veterans' groups.
Q12.  Ian Lucas (Wrexham): How can there be a more important public interest than that a defendant should receive a fair trial? Lord Justice Scott made his position on public interest immunity certificates very clear following the Matrix Churchill trial. Given the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), can my right hon. Friend confirm that there were no discussions between the Attorney-General and the prosecuting authorities in the case of the Crown v. Paul Burrell to authorise an application for a public interest immunity certificate?
The Prime Minister: There was no application for a public interest immunity certificate. Obviously, when such a case arises there are all sorts of wild theories about what might or might not have happened, but that is not why the case collapsed. I assure my hon. Friend that the issue of public interest immunity certificates is not relevant to either the case or why it folded.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): On Sunday, it will be six months since the rail crash at Potters Bar in which two of my constituents died. The bereaved, those who were injured and those who travel on that line every day still have no conclusive answers to why that crash happened and how it can be prevented from happening again. What personal steps have the
The Prime Minister: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns and those of his constituents. A process needs to be undergone to ensure we know exactly what lessons can be learned. Of course it is important that that happens as quickly as possible, but it is also important that it is as thorough as possible. We simply have to let the process work its way through and come to a conclusion. As soon as we can give answers to those questions that concern the families of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, we will.
Q13.  Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): Given the fact that there were 20,000 violent attacks on shop workers last year alone, will the Prime Minister support the campaign by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers to make the tackling of retail crime a key performance indicator for the police?
The Prime Minister: I think I should have a discussion with the Home Secretary before I commit myself to that, but my hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of the issue. USDAW has properly highlighted the problem over the past few years and we certainly believe that action against retail crime is one very important part of the action against crime generally.
Q14.  Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Is the Prime Minister aware of the great concern among hon.
The Prime Minister: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will know that we are trying to balance ensuring that we have the broadest possible consultation with the urgent need to get decisions. As I think that he will accept, there is a genuine and urgent necessity to ensure that we get decisions on those issues.
Q15.  Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): Will my right hon. Friend look again at state assistance for the British coal industry? As he will be aware, in our on-going review of our energy requirements there is huge doubt about the future viability of that industry and further state aid is required, under the scheme that ended a few months ago. Will he look again at that?
The Prime Minister: I can only say what, as my hon. Friend will know, discussions are taking place with the coal industry within the Department of Trade and Industry. He will also know that in the past few years we have given additional support to the coal industry. We have to do that against the background of the tight limits on public spending, for reasons that he knows. However, discussions are under way and I hope that they will be fruitful.