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Africa (Aid)

5. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): What his priorities are for aid expenditure in Africa. [204700]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The UK will provide over £1 billion in aid to Africa next year. Our priorities are to help build the conditions for development by promoting peace, democracy and economic growth, to help Africa progress towards the millennium development goals with HIV/AIDS—reducing child and maternal mortality and tackling hunger as priorities—and to help build Africa's capacity to develop itself. We will provide substantial assistance to the African Union and to support the recommendations of the Africa Commission.

Dr. Turner: Having also visited Malawi recently, my hon. Friend will be as aware as I am of the appalling difficulties facing health provision in that country due to the sheer lack of human capacity in terms of trained health workers to deliver the goods. What plans does he have to increase the human capacity of countries in Africa such as Malawi? Without extra trained people, all the free or cheap anti-retroviral drugs in the world will not help the massive problem of AIDS in those countries.

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes a very important point about a country where, over the past 10 years, average life expectancy has fallen from 48 years to 39 and where there is a public health emergency. On 3 December, I announced a new programme worth £100 million that we have developed with the Government of Malawi. It will increase salaries for doctors and nurses by 50 per cent. and in part is aimed at helping to recruit the 800 or so qualified nurses living in Malawi who do not currently work in the health service. The programme will also increase Malawi's total aid budget by 30 per cent. and train more doctors and nurses. In the meantime, to fill some of the very many vacancies in the Malawian health service, it will pay for volunteer doctors and nurses to go to that country, and they will start arriving over the next six months. Ours is a very practical programme and we are able to pay for it because we have a rising aid budget in Africa.
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Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Because of the scale of poverty in Africa, and because aid resources are obviously limited, priorities have to be set. However, it appears that the Copenhagen consensus, with a team of eminent economists, chose a set of priorities different from those just outlined by the Secretary of State. The Copenhagen economists said that the top three priorities were the need to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, the need to combat malnutrition and hunger, and the need to encourage freer and fairer trade. On what academic basis has the right hon. Gentleman's Department reached such a different conclusion?

Hilary Benn: I do not agree that we have reached a different conclusion, because we are working on all three of those matters. The hon. Gentleman will be only too well aware that in 1997, the UK was spending £38 million a year through its development programme in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to promote reproductive and sexual health. Next year, and in the two years after that, Britain will put £500 million a year into the fight against HIV/AIDS and to promote reproductive and sexual health. By any measure, that is a very substantial increase and it is due to the fact that we have a rising aid programme. We are doing all the things that the Copenhagen consensus outlined in its document, but we are also investing—unapologetically—in improving health and education. If we do not improve the health services, it will be very difficult to get treatment to people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Duncan: Let us assume for a moment that we accept the Secretary of State's priorities. If he accepts the need for prioritisation such as he has described when determining how our aid budget is allocated, why is he happy to give a quarter of our total aid budget to the EU, which spends only half of its funds on tackling poverty in the poorest countries? If the Government want to apply their poverty reduction criteria effectively, how can they justify the diversion of a quarter of the aid that they give through a channel that applies completely different criteria?

Hilary Benn: First, as my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in answer to the first question this afternoon, there has been a real process of reform in the European Union, which I welcome but which needs to continue. Secondly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in supporting the Government's push to get the arguments that he has just advanced heard better in the European Union, because it is unacceptable that a falling proportion of the EU's development budget is spent on the poorest countries in the world, including in Africa. All of us need to work hard to increase that proportion, because the need is greatest in those countries and we need to ensure that all our resources, including those that go via the EU—

Mr. Duncan indicated assent.

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman agrees with me; I am grateful for his support.
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The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [204681] Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 15 December.

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.

Angela Watkinson: Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to allow a free vote to his colleagues on the Mental Capacity Bill. Why did he not vote himself?

The Prime Minister: Well, I do not always vote on measures, but of course I supported the Government's position. I will explain why I did not feel that it was right to have a free vote on the issue. I understand that there are strong feelings on both sides of the House on the issue, but there are also very important public policy considerations. Just as we must ensure that we protect people and their interests properly—the amendments that we will table in the House of Lords will see to that—it is also important that we do not end up in a situation in which doctors and consultants are confused about the law and may lay themselves open to prosecution in circumstances in which no sensible person would want that to happen.

Q2. [204682] Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): Unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997. However, we still have twice the national and regional average unemployment in my constituency. One of the projects that may regenerate Great Yarmouth is the new outer harbour project, which has been in being for the past five or six years. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Department for Transport when a decision will be made on that project and encourage it to provide an affirmative answer in terms of the public funding for that project?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend and I have discussed the outer harbour project in his constituency and I know the very strong feelings in the area about it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is considering at present whether public funding for a new outer harbour at Great Yarmouth is justified and no doubt he will get back to my hon. Friend shortly.

My hon. Friend is right to say that unemployment has fallen in his constituency. Today's figures show that there are now nearly 2 million more people in work than in 1997; unemployment is at its lowest rate for 30 years; and the new deal has helped 1 million people into work. That is why it would be so irresponsible to do what the Leader of the Opposition wants and cut the new deal programme that has helped so many of our constituents up and down Britain.
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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): The Prime Minister promised that Labour would do everything in its power to end the scandal of families sleeping in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has almost doubled since he came to office. How does he explain that failure?

The Prime Minister: First, in respect of homelessness, many of the families that are characterised as homeless do actually have accommodation, but it is temporary accommodation. The numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets have been cut dramatically by two thirds. As opposed to the situation in 1997, more than 80 per cent. of homeless households in temporary accommodation are in good quality, self-contained homes, and the vast majority are not in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Let me make one further point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are going to increase the housing budget and the budget for the homeless over the next few years. Under the proposals of the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is set to freeze the housing budget—perhaps he will confirm that—and that would cut £400 million from that budget.

Mr. Howard: But none of that answers the question. The Prime Minister has had seven and a half years. He called it a scandal and promised to end it; it has almost doubled. He promised to cut truancy by a third. Figures yesterday show that truancy has gone up by nearly a third: 1 million children play truant each year. How does he explain that failure?

The Prime Minister: Let me come back to the promise about housing. It was to cut rough sleepers and we have done that very substantially indeed—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry. I am not letting the right hon. and learned Gentleman get away with this. In respect of temporary accommodation, the change today is that the vast majority of those 100,000 people are in good quality, self-contained homes. How does he square his supposed commitment to the homeless with cutting their budget? He did not answer that question. Perhaps he will now.

In respect of truancy, it is correct; we have accepted that we have not met the truancy target. However, there are in fact 43,000 extra pupils attending school today, which is important. Double the number of pupils are in the pupil referral units. I accept that there is much more to do on truancy, but overall in respect of education we have improved investment, all school results are up and according to the latest report our primary schools have succeeded faster than any other country in Europe. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is committed, under his voucher scheme, to take £1 billion out of the school system. Perhaps he will confirm that that is the case.

Mr. Howard: Once again, the Prime Minister has failed to answer the question. He has not explained the reason for his failure. Let us look at another of the Prime Minister's promises. He promised to increase the rate at which criminals are caught, but detection rates, which improved by more than 10 per cent. when I was Home Secretary, have worsened by more than 10 per cent.
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under his Government. It is now easier to commit a crime and get away with it than at any time in the last 25 years. How does he explain that failure?

The Prime Minister: That is simply not the case—[Interruption.] No, no. We have been having correspondence on the crime statistics, and I am delighted to tell the House that I have been looking in a little detail at what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been saying about them. The British crime survey shows that crime has fallen, not risen, under this Government. He keeps saying that recorded crime has gone up and has prayed in aid the Crime and Society Foundation paper, which he says proves that crime has gone up under this Government. Unfortunately for him, the director of the foundation has written the following letter:

Mr. Howard: The Prime Minister did not even mention detection rates. Three questions asked; none of them answered. Let us try another one.

Those are the words of the Prime Minister's first Pensions Minister. How does he explain that failure?

The Prime Minister: We have put more than £10 billion a year into support for pensioners. The poorest 10 per cent. of pensioners are some £40 a week better off as a result of the measures we have taken. Women have benefited particularly from the pension credit; two thirds of those who get it are women. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will confirm that he plans to abolish the state second pension. If he does that, it will make those women £40 a week worse off.

Mr. Howard: The Prime Minister has not explained any of those failures. Let me see if I can help. I know that he is going abroad over the holidays and I have some holiday reading for him—the new biography of the Home Secretary, hot off the press today. The front cover says that it paints a portrait of an enigmatic man that will surprise even those who think they know him. I particularly recommend to the Prime Minister the Home Secretary's helpful assessment of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues. Will the Prime Minister promise to read the book carefully, so that when he comes back to the House in the new year he can give a full explanation of his Government's total failure to deliver? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: Actually, I have some holiday reading of my own lined up, a volume of diaries by a certain Woodrow Wyatt. [Laughter.] We could do a swap of reading matter. In the diaries—this is not a laughing matter because of what it says about the
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Tories; just listen to this—he recalls a meeting with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on 19 March 1991. [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I want to hear the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: That was when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Employment Secretary. Just listen to this:

[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] And it did not matter to him, because when he was Employment Secretary unemployment went up by 1 million; now he is committed to cutting the new deal that has helped 1 million people. He can make his jokes about that book, but unemployment does matter to this Government and that is the difference between this Government and that Opposition. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): Despite the welcome engagement between the Lord Chancellor and His Grace Archbishop Peter Smith on the issue of euthanasia by omission, including food and fluid, there is still a concern among a number of Members on this issue. Can the Government give us an assurance that they will embrace the spirit of new clauses 1 and 2, for which I did not vote? To ensure that we bring clarity and sense to such a complex and sensitive issue, will the Prime Minister meet a delegation of concerned Members so that we get on the statute book a very welcome and appropriate Mental Capacity Bill?

The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. Friend for the very reasonable way that he puts his point. I would of course be happy to meet him and his colleagues. Importantly, the Making Decisions Alliance said yesterday—it is an alliance representing some 40 charities whose words should at least carry some weight for us—

There is obviously an issue of concern and this is what the Catholic Archbishop raised with me yesterday. We will do everything we can to meet that concern and make sure that we avoid any doubt about the purport of the Bill, but let us be quite clear that what is right is to make it clear that someone's life cannot be ended intentionally. That must be right. I hope, though, that the whole House understands that what would be wrong—this is what we were advised that the amendment that we voted against yesterday would do—would be to end up in a situation where the Tony Bland judgment was overturned. That would be very damaging for relatives, for individuals and for the medical profession. So we need to make sure that we take account of the very sensible points that have been made by my right hon. Friend, but that we do not end up giving ourselves and, indeed, the medical profession, a serious public policy problem. That would be wrong and I could not endorse it.
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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): On the Government's proposed identity card system, two weeks ago, when I asked him, the Prime Minister failed to rule out of consideration for the running of that system any company that had been previously associated with earlier computer fiascos, such as those involved with the Child Support Agency or tax credits. To put people's minds at rest, will he give us that assurance today?

The Prime Minister: No, I have simply got to say that the tendering procedures will be done in the normal and proper way. I cannot give undertakings about that now. We have simply got to ensure that we get the most cost-effective way of delivering the system. I really do not think that this is about the contracts for the system; what it is about is whether hon. Members support the idea of identity cards as being of some use in the fight against illegal immigration, terrorism and the abuse of public services. I happen to believe that, in this day and age, particularly because we are moving towards biometric passports, it sensible to have identity cards.

Mr. Kennedy: On the latter point, is that not one of the problems particularly associated with compulsory identity cards for people living in outlying areas—for example, pensioners or disabled people—who will face long and expensive journeys into cities to go to the secure centres where they will have their iris scans or their fingerprints taken to get the ID card? That leads many of us to ask this question: have the Government actually thought through the practical implications for people of the scheme that they propose?

The Prime Minister: First, as we know in the House, this issue has been debated over many years, and compulsory ID cards will not come in for several years in any event. So there is a long period in which we can get this right—it is obviously important that we do. The point that I would make is that what has changed my mind on identity cards is that we now have the technology and, indeed, will effectively be obliged to use it for passports, which represents the bulk of the cost—£70 out of the £85 is for the passport, which we will have to introduce in any event. It makes sense in my judgment, when we have this biometric technology and when it really can make a difference on some of these issues—this is a common consensus certainly among the police and enforcement services—that we make it clear that ID cards will be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, however, to raise a series of practical difficulties and objections. It is exactly those that we need to iron out over the next few years.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): A number of my constituents have reported to me the theft of their telephone lines, which comes to light only when they get their bills and people threaten to cut them off. The numbers are intercepted via the internet and then used to make international premium rate calls. Will my right hon. Friend use the UK presidency of the EU and the G8 to take international action to stop that theft, which causes great distress to hard-working families and could fund international terrorism and organised crime?
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The Prime Minister: I understand the importance of this issue, and I am aware that it is a big issue for many hon. Members. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government have asked Ofcom to review the regulation of premium rate services to tighten things up in response to these complaints. That review was published on 9 December, and it makes new recommendations that, I hope, will help to deal with the problem. On the other hand, the legitimate use of premium rate numbers, for everything from weather forecasts to TV shows, is a £1 billion-a-year industry, so we have to ensure that that regulation strikes a sensible balance.

Q3. [204683] Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): This year, four children and their families will spend Christmas in St. Christopher's hospice in my constituency. I am sure that the Prime Minister will want to join me in paying tribute to the children's hospice movement and its work with life-limited children and their families, but the hospices receive no Government funding. Money from primary care trusts just does not get there. Will the Prime Minister consider options to ring-fence health service funding to guarantee children's hospices an equivalent level of funding as that received by adult hospices?

The Prime Minister: I certainly would pay tribute to the children's hospice movement, which does an extraordinary job up and down the country in many different constituencies, but I simply say to the hon. Lady that I do not think that I can promise to do what she asks. We are obviously increasing the investment in the health service very considerably. We do look at what more we can do for the hospice movement, but I do not think that ring-fencing would be the right thing to do.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab): Dame Janet Smith published her final report on Harold Shipman's murders last week. Does the Prime Minister agree that the House should have an opportunity early in the new year to have a full debate on all her recommendations? Will he pay tribute to the meticulous and sensitive way in which she and her team have done their work? In particular, will he consider her recommendation that the review of the coroner service should be fully funded, because that is the least that we could do for the victims of Harold Shipman and their families?

The Prime Minister: May I first say that I am grateful to Dame Janet Smith and her team for the care and attention that went into the preparation of each of her reports? I reiterate the Government's sympathy to the relatives and friends of Shipman's victims and express our thanks to them for their valuable contribution to the inquiry's work. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is meeting Dame Janet Smith today. Her reports make several recommendations, which we will obviously study carefully. Some are complex, but we hope to be able to make a considered statement on them reasonably shortly.

Q4. [204684] Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Bullingdon prison was built to accommodate 600 people, but it now has to house 900 men. The Home
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Office appears to be so cash strapped that the governor has been told that she cannot spend even a penny on improving conditions, yet the same Home Office, on the other side of the road, is about to spend £60 million on an asylum centre, which the Refugee Council says is totally inappropriate for the needs of refugees. I appreciate that there are few votes in prisons, but does the Prime Minister think that we should all be ashamed by the extent of prison overcrowding?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about prison overcrowding. It is a serious problem, which is why we will expand prison places by several thousand over the next few years. We are actually setting aside additional money for that—several hundred million pounds. That is precisely to ensure not only that people who should go to prison do so, but that those who are in prison are given proper help and rehabilitation. I agree that overcrowding causes a problem with that, but surely it is better to increase investment, as we are doing, than to freeze the Home Office budget, which is his right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor's suggestion.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): The Department of Health environment access team assessed Heanor Memorial hospital in my constituency as having cleanliness of a good standard throughout and providing delicious, excellent quality food. Will my right hon. Friend investigate how that audit was presented to make it appear that Heanor hospital was one of 27 allegedly dirty hospitals—thus meaning that it appeared under lurid headlines—although its poor ratings had nothing whatsoever to do with cleanliness, but were solely concerned with design and its limited space for such facilities as car parking, storage and the hospital shop?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate everyone who works at my hon. Friend's hospital on their excellent work. On lurid headlines, however, if I had it in my power to avoid them at any time, I would probably start somewhere different, but I would certainly end up sorting her ones out.

Q5. [204685] Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) (Con): Will Sir Alan Budd's inquiry be extended to include the latest allegations regarding a second visa for travel to Austria?

The Prime Minister: That is a matter for Sir Alan Budd.

Q6. [204686] Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): May I welcome the Government's policy on the building of new, affordable housing, especially in the light of last week's report by the National Housing Federation on homelessness, which highlighted the challenges facing many of the poor in the UK? I know that the Conservative party does not support that policy at all. Will the Prime Minister assure me that his Government will consider more flexible and lower targets when necessary for areas such as Southall in my constituency? That area is already overcrowded and
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overdeveloped and its local services and infrastructure are stretched to the limit in meeting the needs of the community. Furthermore, can I ask—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is allowed only one supplementary.

The Prime Minister: First, of course we keep carefully under review exactly how such targets relate to particular areas of London. We have increased the provision for affordable housing in London by somewhere in the region of £650 million to £750 million. We are also doing a lot for thousands of key workers and public service workers—some will live in my hon. Friend's constituency—by helping them with housing finance from the Government. In addition, we will publish new housing plans in the new year, which I hope will help first-time buyers to get their feet on the rungs of the housing ladder. Again, I simply point out to the House that although I am sure that there is a lot more that we have to do, freezing the housing budget and thus cutting £400 million from it, which is the Conservative party's policy, would be a disaster.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As it is essential that there should be widespread public confidence in any identity card system, does the Prime Minister agree that that Bill is an ideal one to be committed to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses?

The Prime Minister: I will not give that commitment now, but I undertake to consider that suggestion carefully.

Q7. [204687] Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Liverpool has been transformed under a Labour Government, with unemployment halved and the city designated European city of culture, yet the Rowntree Foundation has shown that there are still far too many children in Liverpool growing up in poverty and in households without work. What can the Government do differently to change this unacceptable situation?

The Prime Minister: What my hon. Friend says is right. Liverpool is a city in the process of transformation. I know that its designation as a city of culture has generated enormous enthusiasm in the city. Unemployment rates have come down considerably and living standards have risen, but my hon. Friend is right—there is still a great deal more to do. That is why it is important that we keep programmes such as the new deal for the unemployed and Sure Start, and the record investment going into our health, education and services, on the basis of people's need, not their ability to pay. Those are all policies that we as a Government will continue to implement. In the light of the huge spending commitments and then spending cuts that have been proposed by the Opposition, the people of Liverpool will have a very clear choice at the next election.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Prime Minister will recall that I have raised with him on a number of occasions the fact that our planning laws clearly fail to deal with determined Travellers who buy
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green-belt land and then illegally and speedily develop it. As a result, many law-abiding residents living close to those illegal encampments are being discriminated against. Following our meeting, to which he kindly agreed, will the Prime Minister now respond to my letter to him dated 20 October, for which I got an acknowledgement but no substantive response? The letter set out further details about my private Member's Bill on the issue, which had good cross-party support but was blocked by the Government without explanation.

The Prime Minister: First, I should explain why I have not got back to the hon. Gentleman since 20 October, other than the normal courtesy reply. The reason is that in the next few weeks we will bring forward proposals that deal specifically with the issues that he raised. The question is whether the new power of local authorities to get a stop notice quickly and to implement it quickly will be sufficient, or whether we have to take the further steps that the hon. Gentleman suggested. I said when we met that the points that he was making were perfectly reasonable. I need to check, however—and it is right that the Department checks— what the implications of that are, and in particular whether the new powers, which I believe have been brought in over the past few weeks, are adequate, or whether we need to take further steps. I will get back to the hon. Gentleman shortly, but there was no point in responding until the final decisions had been made.

Q8. [204688] Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): Many parents will welcome the fact that in the new year the child trust fund will be payable to babies. It is welcome news over Christmas, but could the Prime Minister make it even better news, as the Chancellor is sitting next to him, by asking the Chancellor to make sure that any backdated payments have interest paid on them, and also by preventing money being taken from people in the future by any party that seeks to abolish the trust fund?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend's question has had a rapid effect as I understand that interest will be paid from the date of accrual, September 2002. The child trust fund is an important proposal. It should be supported in all parts of the House. It is an extremely regressive move on the part of the Conservatives, who I believe are opposed to it now, as are the Liberal Democrats—united in error. The child trust fund will be welcomed by many families throughout the country, and of course by children as they grow up.

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind): Does the Prime Minister agree that the Government's handling of yesterday's Mental Capacity Bill debate was lamentable, and that it leads to a decision that should have been made by this House being passed weakly to the House of Lords?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It was important for us to be able to respond to the claims that were being made. The legal
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advice that we have is very clear: the Bill as originally framed would not have had the effect that those who are campaigning against it say. However, when it is clear that there is a widespread doubt as to whether that is the case, it is surely sensible for the Government to listen to that doubt and take account of it, and to come back
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to people and say that we will table amendments at the House of Lords stage that will make it clear that, while the Bland judgment will remain in being, we will not in any shape or form countenance the deliberate killing of people. I would have thought that that position would recommend itself to everyone.
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