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The Prime Minister: It is important that we occupy the high ground, although we must be sure that it is firm as well as high. We as a Government have set out for the first time how we can meet the UN's 0.7 per cent. GNP objective. The international finance facility that we have proposed is one way to raise that money and trebling our aid to Africa is also important. However, we must make sure that any measures that we take ultimately help the international economy and do not hinder it, which is why we must consider some of the proposals with a certain amount of care.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware of an initiative being launched in the House of Commons on Wednesday after Prime Minister's questions, when a House of Commons all-party group will draw attention to the need for increased consumption in this country of Sri Lankan fish, with fish being specially flown over for the occasion? It will also raise funds for Sri Lanka's decimated fishing fleet10,000 to 20,000 boats have been lost. Money can be raised for individual boats, with the boats named after the donors. Will he give that initiativenicknamed "fish and ships"his imprimatur?
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): As one who has total confidence in Sir David King as Government chief scientific adviser, may I ask whether we are absolutely sure whether hazard protection is best achieved on a national, rather than an international, basis? What are the terms of reference of Sir David King and his group of experts and what is the time scale for their report?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased to see my hon. Friend back in his place again. To answer his question about terms of reference, because some of the experts on the subject are here in this country, I have told David King to bring them together so that we can make proposals, probably to the United Nations, in a reasonably informal way. I think that much of the work will be done at international, rather than national, level and that the UN will be able to lead it. What I thought was interesting about the presentation that Sir David gave me the other day was that he did not feel that the costs would be that greatin other words, the precautionary cost would be quite small, given the extraordinary cost of the disaster that has occurred.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that during Defence questions today the Secretary of State for Defence, responding to the second question, took it upon himself to make a substantive announcement about the deployment of more troops to Iraq. You witnessed the reaction on the Opposition Benches and the silence on the Government Benches. No formal notice was given in the question asked, which was about post-war reconstruction, not troop deployment, nor did the right hon. Gentleman ask to make a statement, even though in the past the matter would have merited a full statement. The only notice that the House had was the shamelessly trailed information in the media over the weekend.
I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker. On an issue of such importance, the practice of the House has been that notice is given of a statement, and a detailed statement is made, in response to which hon. Members are entitled to ask detailed questions. On this occasion, we understand that an extra 650 troops are to be deployed to Iraq, but we have no further details of their objectives or their location. That is unsatisfactory[Interruption.] Someone is saying that we are in favour of it; we probably will be, but how can we know until we know the details of what the Government are proposing? Unless we have your protection in these matters, the Government will increasingly get away with slipping out such information, showing disgraceful contempt not only for the House but for the soldiers and their families.
Mr. Speaker: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for raising that point of order with me, the custodian of the rules of the House of Commons. The Secretary of State was in order. There was no abuse of the rules.
I point out that of the first 10 questions to the Secretary of State for Defence, six were related to Iraq. The purpose of parliamentary questions and Question Time is to allow hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, to draw information from Ministers, and they had at least six opportunities to do so.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When the Secretary of State made his statement in response to Question 2, only two Labour Members rose to ask supplementary questions. You, Mr. Speaker, showing exquisite balance throughout the subsequent supplementary questions, called the same number of Opposition Members as Government Members. On such occasions, would it be appropriate, when there are many Opposition Members seeking to question the Government, for the balance to be suspended, to enable the Secretary of State properly to be held to account?
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Mr. Speaker: Sometimes the hon. Gentleman observes things that suit his case and does not observe things that do not. He may have noticed that the Opposition Front Bench, at short notice, was able to ask two supplementary questions. I say that because it was the intention of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to seek to ask a supplementary question on another question. To ensure that there would be a fairer number of questions coming from Opposition Members, I allowed the privilege to be given at short notice.
The central purpose of the Bill is to improve the local environment, which directly affects people's quality of life. In my Department's five-year strategy, which we published last month, I set out our key objective of achieving environmental leadership. That is at the heart of our international agenda, but care for the environment begins at home.
When asked what is most important to them about the environment, most people mention the state of their own neighbourhood. That is not to say that there is not general concern about instances or levels of pollution, or concern about environmental hazards. When asked whether they have anxieties about the environment, the vast majority of our fellow citizens answer yes, but go on to talk about their locality, and especially about comparatively small-scale defacement of streets and parks, about run-down and decaying areas and about litter and dumping, over which it appears to them that no one takes action and no one cares.
Contrary to the reasoned amendment, that concern is felt and expressed just as much in rural areas as in urban areas. I was surprised to learn from their amendment that the Opposition appear to be so little in touch with concerns in rural areas as not to realise that.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Are those concerns reflected by the generously endowed Labour Benches this afternoon, with Labour Members representing rural and urban areas, compared with the sparse attendance by Opposition Members?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that there are about 180 Labour Members in rural and semi-rural constituencies. I have long believed that this was in notable part due to the fact that people living in those areas felt that their concerns were not understood. They feel that their concerns are better understood now. He is right to point out that that feeling is reflected in the Chamber.
If we are to create a genuinely sustainable society, we must tackle the more local aspects of environmental degradation and damage as well as dealing with our contribution to global warming. The Bill is an integral part of our environmental strategy. It is also an integral part of the Government's strategy for dealing with antisocial behaviour. The damage done to the community by such behaviour is clear: dirty streets, burned-out cars and piles of fly-tipped rubbish have a self-evident effect. What may be less immediately obvious is the financial aspect of such damage. It costs
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local authorities and other agencies, and thereby the taxpayer, more than £3 billion a year. The greater and, in some ways, more damaging costs may be hidden, as they are not evident in the physical appearance of our streets and neighbourhoods or in any effect on council tax or other bills. That greater cost lies in the contribution of such behaviour and of the attitudes behind it to wider criminal behaviour and to making a community feel neglected, powerless, unsafe and insecure.
The Labour party has long taken the lead in identifying and tackling that complex continuum of behaviour, which ranges from comparatively low-level environmental offences such as dropping litter and fly-posting to spraying graffiti, vandalism and more serious crimes. To deal with crime effectively, we have increasingly recognised the need to tackle the full range of criminal and antisocial behaviour. It is essential that we do not ignore low-level offences and allow a degraded local environment to give both victims and offenders the message that antisocial behaviour does not matter.
The measures in the Bill should help all those involved in local communities, rural as well as urban, to create neighbourhoods in which people are happy to live cleaner, safer and greener communities. That means clean and safe streets, well-designed public buildings and spaces, welcoming parks and village greens, and a countryside free of fly-tipped waste. All those contribute to people's sense of well-being and to their overall health. The purpose of the Bill is to contribute to people's quality of life. Our belief that it will do so is based on extensive consultations led by my Department over the past two years, including our "Clean Neighbourhoods" consultation last summer, which aimed first to identify the problems and then to explore the solutions.
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