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5. Valerie Davey (Bristol, West) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the humanitarian situation in northern Uganda; and if he will make a statement. [197144]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The humanitarian situation in northern Uganda is an emergency, but overall rates of mortality and malnutrition suggest that it is currently under control across the north as a whole. However, we have just received a report from Médecins sans Frontières (Holland) of alarmingly high mortality rates amongst displaced people in one part of the north. We are urgently investigating. Since December 2002, the UK, which is the second largest donor, has provided
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£15 million of humanitarian assistance, channelled mainly through the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the Uganda Red Cross.

Valerie Davey: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and for his interest in this largely unreported disaster. Can he be confident that the aid is reaching the north, as the latest BBC news talks of the staggering death rate in northern Uganda, especially among the under-fives? Is he sure that the Ugandan Government's funding is prioritising northern Uganda?

Hilary Benn: Based on my visit to Gulu earlier this year, I can tell my hon. Friend that I have seen the benefits of the aid that we are giving, not least the support given to the children who are so blighted by the conflict. Work is also being done to reintegrate into society the children who have been abducted, traumatised and brutalised by the Lord's Resistance Army. The excellent Gulu Support the Children Organisation is in operation, with support from ourselves and others to help those children.

Clearly the potential for development in northern Uganda is being blighted by the conflict and I very much welcome reports that the Lord's Resistance Army now wishes to bring the conflict to an end and to open dialogue with the Government. We support efforts to make that happen but, based on past experience, the question remains whether it really means it. We must work with might and main to ensure that, if that opportunity now exists, it comes to fruition.

World Trade

6. Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): What action he has taken to ensure the success of the interim accord in furthering negotiations in the Doha round; and if he will make a statement. [197145]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will continue to talk to the European Commission, other EU member states and developing country Ministers to encourage progress towards a successful development outcome on the Doha development agenda. We continue to provide substantial ongoing assistance to developing countries to support them in these negotiations.

Mr. Sayeed: I am sure that the Under-Secretary means what he says, but we have had the talks at the general agreement on tariffs and trade, Uruguay and Cancun, and now we have Doha. Yet all the time agricultural protectionism and dumping are making the poorer nations poorer. When will the EU and the US understand that the richer the world is, the more people can afford the goods and services that we produce? Is not it common sense, and in our common interest, to end policies that make the poorest poorer?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out the need for us to make progress and to get a good outcome from the Hong Kong ministerial meeting in December next year. Although there has been rapid growth in world trade over the past 10 years,
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Africa's share has halved in that time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs successfully negotiated a deal on reform of the common agricultural policy in 2003, and that was a significant step in the right direction. We continue to press the Commission and our friends in the US to go further.


The Prime Minister was asked—

Arctic Star Campaign Medal

Q1. [197155] Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con) : If he will make it his policy to recognise the service of personnel on the Russian convoys by the award of an Arctic Star campaign medal.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Perhaps I can answer this question in a little detail, if I might. First, we owe the heroes of the Arctic convoys an immense debt of gratitude. They risked, and in many cases gave, their lives under some of the harshest conditions imaginable in order to keep this nation free and democratic in the second world war.

The Government at the time honoured those who took part in wartime convoys to the Soviet Union with the award of the Atlantic Star, and that explicitly included service on the convoys to north Russia. The difficulty that arises is that the eligibility criteria for the range of medals instituted to recognise second world war service was drawn up by the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals. The King approved the proposals in the late 1940s, and subsequently ruled that no further medals should be instituted for second world war service. However, questions have been raised about the relative difficulty of qualifying for the Atlantic Star through service on the convoys. We continue to look at this matter, but it is extremely difficult, at the moment, to see a way through.

Dr. Lewis: I thank the Prime Minister for that thoughtful reply, but that is not the answer that these courageous men were hoping to hear the day before Remembrance day. He is right about the problem with the Atlantic Star, and that story really will not do. A man had to serve for six months to qualify for the Atlantic Star, but most of those on the Russian convoys who received that medal did so despite the fact that they were on the convoys. Hundreds of men who were on those convoys did not get the Atlantic Star, because they were not on them for six months. Finally, may I remind the Prime Minister that hundreds of hon. Members—including the Home Secretary, the leader of my party and many members of all the other parties in this House—have said that they want this medal to be awarded? He has it in his power to overrule the bureaucrats: will he now do so?

The Prime Minister: First, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am as anxious as anyone else to resolve the issue, and of course I should like to resolve it in the way that he and many other hon. Members have suggested. However, he will know that the six-month
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qualifying service required at the time has been reviewed independently on many occasions, and the recommendation has always been to retain it. I repeat that we are trying to find a way through this difficulty. [Interruption.] It is not simply for me to decide. We have to act in a way that satisfies the armed forces. That continues to be the subject of discussion.

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that next year is the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Does he agree with me that, with each decade that passes, it becomes ever more important to remember and commemorate the sacrifice of that great generation of the 1940s? They fought in the Arctic, Europe and Asia to defend our liberties and democracy, and to create democracies in countries that previously did not know democracy.

The Prime Minister: I entirely share—as I am sure does the whole House—in my hon. Friend's tribute to the bravery and dedication of all those who served our country during two world wars. The Minister of State with responsibility for the armed forces will today announce plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the ending of the second world war. With British troops serving in Iraq and in many other places, Remembrance day will take on a special significance for this country at this time.


Q2. [197156] Sarah Teather (Brent East) (LD) : If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10th November.

The Prime Minister: Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join with me in sending our deep condolences to the family of the Black Watch soldier killed by a terrorist bomb in Iraq on Monday and our sympathy to those soldiers injured in the same attack. Once again, we praise the courage and heroism of our armed forces and, once again, we say that this country can be very proud of them.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Sarah Teather: I associate myself with the comments made by the Prime Minister.

The College of North West London has a reputation for excellence in construction, is one of the largest providers of skills for life courses in the country and has been called the Cambridge of plumbing. The Government want the further education sector to provide courses in those priority areas on a demand-led basis, but have not provided the money to meet demand in my area. What advice can the Prime Minister give to the principal of my local college? Should she turn away the students that he has asked her to recruit, or risk the financial viability of the institution?

The Prime Minister: I cannot comment in detail on the funding of the college in the hon. Lady's constituency. However, I can say that we have massively increased the
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investment in further education. There are now 250,000 modern apprenticeships, and that will rise to 300,000 during or by the end of 2006. There are always difficulties with exactly how funds are allocated, but in addition to all the money that we are putting in, we are making a new offer to people of free level 2 skills funding for all who need it. I am aware that that will not cover everyone in her college, but we are increasing investment massively and I will have to get back to her on the precise details of her college.

Q3. [197157] Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware of the depth of feeling across Scotland about the future of Scottish regiments. Can he assure me that the Government will listen to public opinion and respond positively to the desire to retain their historic identities and traditions?

The Prime Minister: I fully understand the concern expressed about the uncertainty affecting the future of the regiments in Scotland. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, is considering at present how best to implement changes designed to modernise the way in which infantry regiments are deployed, and he will continue to do that. No final decision on the future structure of Scottish regiments has yet been made and I ask people to wait a little longer until the final decision is made.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in expressing my sympathy and respect to the family of the latest member of the Black Watch to lose his life on active service in Iraq, and I wish those who have been injured a full and speedy recovery.

The whole House will have been disappointed to hear the Prime Minister's answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar). The Black Watch is doing a heroic job in Iraq. Why cannot the Prime Minister confirm now that he will reverse his policy on the regiment's future? Why cannot he tell the House now that the courage and dedication of the Black Watch will not be rewarded by the abolition of the regiment?

The Prime Minister: It is not a question of reversing the policy. The decision has to be made by the Army, because it wants to configure itself in the best and most effective way possible. No decision has yet been made. We are well aware of the concerns that have been expressed and we have expressed our own admiration—it is not a matter of difference on either side of the House—of the Black Watch's heroism and the work that it is doing. However, it is important that the Army be allowed to make its decision in the right way. It will do so and announce it shortly.

Mr. Howard: But cannot the Prime Minister see that the way in which this whole issue has been handled is a complete shambles? The Secretary of State for Defence has said repeatedly that the Scottish regiments will be abolished, but the Prime Minister has briefed newspapers in Scotland that they will be saved. I have the headline here: "Saved!"—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the Opposition speak.
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Mr. Howard: The headline reads: "Saved. Blair orders about turn on the Black Watch and 3 other Scots regiments". Does the Prime Minister not understand how shameful it is to treat the Black Watch and their families in that way at a time when they face such great danger in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman's behaving in this way. He knows perfectly well that the Army has to make that decision and is considering it now. The Army will make that decision in due course. No one has announced that the regiments are to be abolished; a decision has to be taken by the Army on the most effective way to do it. We are well aware of the concern, but it has to be done in the right and proper way, and I simply regard what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying today, in particular his attempt to say that somehow we are undermining the Black Watch in Iraq, as completely wrong and just another example of his shabby opportunism.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) (Lab): While I appreciate that the big drug companies spend an awful lot of money on research and development, it is also a well-known fact that they make hundreds of millions of pounds from the national health service, so is it not about time the Government got a better deal for the NHS and the British taxpayer?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely for that reason that I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that, as a result of the deal secured by the Secretary of State for Health, there will be savings in the region of £300 million or more on the drugs bill. That is extremely important and it shows how we are getting good value for money in a health service that is improving and expanding capacity, treating more people and treating them better. We are well on the way to the renewal of the national health service in this country.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): I associate myself entirely with the Prime Minister's initial comments about the further loss of life of a member of the Black Watch and the injuries sustained by others in their support. May I ask the Prime Minister about the current duties of the Black Watch in Iraq? It is reported that the Prime Minister has been assuring his colleagues that further British troops will not be required to replace the Black Watch when its 30-day redeployment is complete. Is it the case that he has been briefing his colleagues to that effect and can he tell Parliament whether British troops, generally, will continue to operate outside their southern sector after Christmas?

The Prime Minister: I have not been giving any particular briefings to colleagues about that, so all I can do is repeat what I said to the right hon. Gentleman on Monday, or perhaps last week: there are no plans to redeploy further British troops once the Black Watch has ceased those operations in the particular area the regiment is in at present. That was the case then and it remains the case now. It is obviously important that the Black Watch is there for the moment, as it is an integral part of the operation in Falluja.
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Mr. Kennedy: In addition, given that we know that leading Iraqi insurgents have, in many cases, already left Falluja and that violence is flaring across the country, would the Prime Minister be prepared again to authorise the redeployment of British troops elsewhere in Iraq in support of other American-led military operations?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that it would be sensible for me to speculate about what might happen in the future in relation to British troops. Perhaps we should say this. First, we should pay tribute not just to the British forces but to American and Iraqi forces for what they are doing in Falluja. Let me make three things very clear. First, many of those in Falluja are foreign jihadis from outside Iraq; they are people who have no right to be in Iraq at all. Secondly, the operations—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but al-Zarqawi was in Iraq before the end of Saddam Hussein's regime. So, first, many of the people in Falluja are foreign, outside terrorists. Secondly, let me say again that we would cease operations now in Falluja—immediately—if they would lay down their weapons and agree to participate in elections; and, thirdly, the real desire of those terrorists is to stop the elections, because they know that if there are elections in Iraq, as there have been in Afghanistan, that will be a huge blow to them, as terrorists.

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I cannot start making predictions or talking about what future operations there may be, but he knows that this was a special operation for particular reasons of immense importance to making the elections secure in Iraq. There are no plans to redeploy British troops in replacement of those.

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): My constituents want police officers who know the local area and are known by local people. Will my right hon. Friend back extra resources for community policing in Warrington?

The Prime Minister: We want to increase support for community policing, not just in my hon. Friend's constituency, but elsewhere in the country. We have now got record numbers of police. We are supplementing them now with community support officers and neighbourhood wardens, and what we are trying to do is bring back proper community policing for today's world. As I saw myself when I visited some of the community support officers yesterday, they are doing a magnificent job, and for the future they, along with fully warranted officers, will be a major part of a modern police service.

Mr. Howard: Last week, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats urged voters in the north-east to vote yes in the referendum on the regional assembly. The next day, 78 per cent. of them voted no. Why does the Prime Minister think that more than seven out of 10 people in Sedgefield rejected his advice?

The Prime Minister: It had not escaped my attention that they voted no, because they obviously decided that a regional assembly in the north-east was not the way that they wanted to go. Fair enough. We said that we
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would give them the vote. They voted. We abide by the result, and we will now continue to strengthen local democracy in other ways.

Mr. Howard: Is it not clear that the lesson of last week is that people want local government and less government, not more government? There are now eight regional assemblies in England. They cost millions of pounds. We now know that they have no popular support at all. When will the Prime Minister abolish them?

The Prime Minister: We will not abolish them, because they perform a perfectly good task of co-ordinating action in the regions. Of course, what they build on are the Government offices for the regions, established by the previous Government, which actually cost five to six times the amount of the regional assemblies.

Mr. Howard: We did create the Government offices for the regions. We moved civil servants from Whitehall to the regions. The Prime Minister should do rather more than that, but I am not asking him about the regional offices; I am asking him about the regional assemblies. Has he not learned any lesson at all from last week's vote? People do not want important matters, such as planning and housing, taken away from local councils, which people identify with, and given instead to regional assemblies, which they do not identify with. The people have spoken: regional assemblies are dead. Why does not the Prime Minister bury them?

The Prime Minister: The vote was not on the regional chambers, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so against them, can he please explain to me why so many Conservatives serve on them?

Mr. Howard: Because as long as they are there, Conservative councillors have to minimise the damage that they do, but Conservative councillors, like me, want them abolished. Why will the Prime Minister not abolish them?

The Prime Minister: If the Conservatives want them abolished and they think that they serve no purpose, I am surprised that they sit on them. The fact of the matter is that they most certainly do serve a purpose, but the reason why the previous Government established the Government offices for the regions is that they recognised that there had to be a regional dimension. That is precisely what we have recognised with the regional chambers. There will not be a regional assembly in the north-east, because they did not vote for one. What will remain are the Government offices for the regions and the regional chambers.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend to look urgently at reports that some civilians caught up in the fighting in Falluja cannot access urgent medical treatment? May I ask him again to say that surely the main objective now must be to ensure that as much of Iraq as possible is made safe so that free and fair elections can take place next year and the people of Iraq can choose their own elected representatives?
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The Prime Minister: The points that my hon. Friend makes are absolutely right. We are doing our best to get supplies, especially medical supplies, through to people in Falluja, but the current problem is that some of the terrorists and insurgents are trying to kill those who are bringing the supplies through. As Prime Minister Allawi made it clear, the Iraqi Government are going to redouble their efforts to achieve that. My hon. Friend's point is absolutely correct, because if the terrorism stopped, many things could happen in Iraq. The reconstruction could proceed more easily and investment in Iraq could be there. The elections—locally and nationally—could take place properly. That is why it is important that whatever the difficulties and people's views on the conflict in Iraq, we stand firm and see this through, because that is in the interests not only of the Iraqi people, but of the wider world.

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