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Darfur

4. Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [7784]

5. Mr. John MacDougall (Glenrothes) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [7785]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains one of grave concern. Just under 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, and 2.7 million need humanitarian assistance. The international effort has grown over the past year, and malnutrition in the camps has fallen below emergency levels, from over 30 per cent. a year ago to between 5 and 10 per cent. now. However, the situation could deteriorate during the forthcoming hungry season, when up to 3.5 million people will require food.

Lynne Featherstone: Do the Government recognise that there is now a need for peace enforcement action by the UN Security Council to provide for a substantive increase in the African Union presence in Darfur, and a stronger mandate? Without that, the situation there is so unstable and insecure that hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people will not feel safe and are unlikely to return.

Hilary Benn: The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of civilian protection. I was in Darfur two weeks ago, and given what I saw and what people told me, that is the principal priority. She refers to the mandate, and I went to Darfur with an open mind about that. However, everyone to whom I spoke said that the AU was doing an outstanding job in providing civilian protection in those places where it is based. That is why Britain is providing strong support for the expansion of the AU force. Currently, it has 2,700 troops on the ground, but that number will increase to 7,500. When I was there, I announced an increase in our support. Britain will now provide £19 million to enable those forces to deploy and airlift extra vehicles and logistic support. The most important thing is to get more AU troops there. The people in the camps told me that they feel safest when the AU is close by.

Mr. MacDougall: I welcome the commitment shown by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to Darfur and to Africa, and the initiatives that they have undertaken. I urge them most strongly to continue their commitment to making poverty history in Africa. My Glenrothes constituent Ian McCaulay visited Darfur recently to make a voluntary contribution to education there, and he has suggested that training teachers in Sudan would be of particular benefit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such assistance could play a large part in rebuilding Africa's educational structures? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, I ask that the House come to order.
 
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Hilary Benn: I very much welcome what my hon. Friend's constituent is doing to contribute to Sudan's development. Before I visited Darfur, I went to Rumbek in southern Sudan, where one child in four dies before the age of five, and three quarters of adults cannot read. The need for development in southern Sudan is therefore enormous. There is peace there now and refugees are beginning to return. That is why we are increasing our development assistance, to provide the basics to support the Government there in getting children into school and providing health care.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): The terrible human suffering continues to intensify in Darfur and the Secretary of State has said already that up to 3.5 million people are likely to face food shortages between August and October. We welcome the Government's increased contribution to the AU mission in Darfur and fully support the expansion of the AU force. We are also encouraged by the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes suspects. However, the Sudanese Government have responded by setting up a special criminal court that has met with huge international scepticism. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that court will not deter or deflect the international community from bringing to justice the people who perpetrated such appalling atrocities in Darfur?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He will know that Britain was one of the first and strongest supporters of the ICC, and I pay tribute to the role played by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in getting the UN Security Council to agree to refer the Darfur atrocities to the ICC. By doing that, the world has sent the very clear message that those responsible for the atrocities will not be able to escape. We will press forward with our determination to ensure that they are brought to justice.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the UN announced on Monday that it has only £3 million of the £31 million it needs for its protection work in Darfur? Is he further aware that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Darfur and that further protection measures are needed for children who experience extreme sexual and physical violence, as well as the psychological trauma of war? Can he reassure the House that during Britain's presidency of the G8 he will lead donor countries and ensure that Sudan does not become the forgotten conflict of Africa?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that we will indeed do that. There is a real problem of women in particular being attacked when they move outside the camps. It is highly regrettable that the response from the Government of Sudan was to arrest two people from Médecins sans Frontières who had published a report describing the women's experiences, instead of arresting the people responsible for the rape. The two people have now been released as a result of representations that I and others in the international community have made, but that demonstrates how far we have to go to provide effective protection to those who are now sheltering in the camps.
 
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PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [7766] Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 29 June.

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

Adam Price: Does the Prime Minister still regard Sir Richard Dearlove as having been a reliable source of information on Iraq? If so, is it safe to assume that Sir Richard's statement in the summer of 2002 that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy was an accurate assessment of the intentions and actions of the Bush Administration?

The Prime Minister: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, that memo and other documents of the time were covered by the Butler review. In addition, that was before we went to the United Nations and secured the second resolution, 1441, which had unanimous support. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's view, when I stood next to the new Prime Minister of Iraq, who had five of his relatives assassinated by Saddam, and realised that he was in power because of the democratic votes of 8 million Iraqis, I was glad that we took the action that we did and ensured that Iraq was no longer governed by a dictatorship but by a democracy.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Many retired mineworkers from my constituency have had their photographs in the papers this week. Does my right hon. Friend agree with them and me that every retired miner with an industrial injury claim should receive every penny of their compensation?

The Prime Minister: It is important that people receive their compensation properly. That was one of the changes that this Government introduced when we came to office. Tens of thousands of miners had suffered as a result of having worked in the mines and, thanks to this Government, they received the compensation to which they were entitled. Of course, that compensation should go only to those who are entitled to get it, but billions of pounds has been paid out to people who desperately needed our help in some of our poorest constituencies.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): The Prime Minister and I agree on the importance of both aid and trade in helping developing countries lift themselves out of poverty. The next session of world trade talks takes place in December. The UN Task Force on Trade has said:


 
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In other words, they do not have the money to hire the expertise they need to fight their corner at the talks.

Yesterday, I wrote to the Prime Minister giving him notice that I would raise today our proposal for an advocacy fund that would enable developing countries to pay for the expertise they need. Will he consider that proposal in advance of the G8 summit next week?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for advance notice of that question. The advocacy fund is something that he has raised before and I shall give him my answer to it. He is right to say that part of the problem of developing countries is that they do not have the capacity to argue their case on trade. Nor do they have the capacity within their Governments to make the best use of any opening up of the markets that the G8 and other forums may agree. That is one of the reasons why we have provided over the past few years some £200 million to countries specifically for building capacity in respect of trade. The European Union also provides several hundred million pounds for that task.

The advice that I have is that the trouble with the advocacy fund that the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests is that countries would prefer to receive the aid in the way in which it is given to them at the moment. We have not received any representations from them for such a fund. Obviously, I will continue to look at the proposal closely, as is proper since he has asked me to do so, but the best advice that I have at the moment is that it is better to proceed as we are now.

Mr. Howard: Of course it is important that developing countries get help to build their own capacity, but the UN Task Force on Trade has said that there is a need for resources to be provided for the specific purpose that I have just identified. The Hong Kong talks are, after all, just months away and it is vital that developing countries should not be disadvantaged in those talks. Is it not the case that without the resources that an advocacy fund would provide, those countries risk going into those talks with one hand tied behind their back? Surely we need to take action now, and is not the setting up of an advocacy fund precisely the kind of action that would deal with that problem?

The Prime Minister: We must distinguish between the question of a separate fund and the need to give those countries help as well as make the case on trade and enable them to gear themselves up for the opening up of markets. On the latter point, we are in total agreement, and that is why we have been providing such help. For example, I understand that there was a trade ministerial meeting in Zambia a short time ago in which, together with the Swedes and the Canadians, we specifically gave help in order for developing countries to have the resource necessary to put their case effectively. The question is not whether we should give that help; the question is, is it best to establish a separate fund or are we best offering help as we do now, on the basis of our own bilateral links with individual countries and through the European Union? All I am saying is that judging from the representations that we have received, we are best to maintain our current arrangements, without setting up a separate fund. Indeed, I think the developing countries worry that such a fund would set bureaucratic hurdles in their way.
 
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I totally agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says and, in terms of the general point and what the UN Task Force on Trade says, we are providing that help now. I am asked whether it would be better to provide that help through a separate fund. The advice that I have is that it would not.

Mr. Howard: I am sorry that the Prime Minister continues to reject a proposal that, for a tiny fraction of the cost of the aid programmes that he is rightly championing, could make a real difference to the ability of developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty through fairer trade. But that, of course, is not the only issue that will be before the G8 next week.

On Monday, the Minister for Trade said that we should not allow Zimbabwe to get in the way of helping other countries of the G8. But is it not clear that the two go hand in hand, and that tackling head-on the issue of Zimbabwe would send the clearest possible signal that the west will not turn a blind eye to injustice and repression, there or anywhere else? So when President Mbeki comes to the G8 next week, will the Prime Minister undertake to leave him in no doubt of what the world expects of him in terms of action to help the suffering people of Zimbabwe?

The Prime Minister: I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I will certainly do that, as I have done constantly, and of course the G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting specifically referred to the desperate situation in Zimbabwe and the appalling cases of torture and abuse of human rights that occur there daily. We will continue to exert all the pressure that we can, but I think he would accept, as we must accept, that in the end the best pressure will come from those countries surrounding Zimbabwe. That is why he is right to say that we must ensure that African countries realise that they have a great responsibility to sort this out themselves.

I would like to make another point on this. We are going to the G8 to make the case for helping poverty in Africa. There is no doubt at all that it is harder to make that case while abuses of governance and corruption occur in African countries. I do not believe that what is happening in Zimbabwe should prevent us from still taking action on poverty in Africa; I think that would be wrong, but it is also right to say that we should draw attention not just to the abuses in Zimbabwe but to the urgent necessity to change what is happening in that country, for the benefit of its own citizens.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Bridgend area in south Wales has for a long time been one of the leading places in Wales in terms of job creation, employment and economic growth. Today, however, we have had the devastating news that one of our large inward investors, Sony in Bridgend and Pencoed, which has employed hundreds of the work force over 30 years, has made the sad decision that, because of the decline in old-fashioned tube technology for colour television, it will be sacrificing up to 650 jobs.

Will the Prime Minister join me in extending his thanks to the work force of Sony Bridgend, who are very skilled and hard-working? Will he also use his good offices to work with the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government to do what this
 
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Government do well, which is to put in place a rescue package for that work force to provide the high-paid, high-skill jobs that will lead Bridgend into a good future for that work force and their families?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that my hon. Friend's constituents have lost their jobs at Bridgend, and he is absolutely right in saying that it is our responsibility as a Government to put in place a proper package of support and help. I know that he will have meetings with Ministers, and I am happy to see him myself about and to ensure that we put in place every assistance that we possibly can. The situation is particularly tragic since it comes at a time when, yet again, this country has been designated No. 1 for foreign direct investment in the European Union—so we are drawing in jobs. Unfortunately, however, for the reasons to which he rightly draws attention, the changing way that the market is working means that it is very hard for people to remain secure in their jobs, even with excellent companies such as Sony. However, we will certainly do everything that we can to help people in that situation.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Given that we know from the Government's own figures that one in five people do not possess passports and that very many of them, obviously, are elderly people who are unlikely to require or seek passports in the future, will the Prime Minister just clarify for us how much people in that category will have to pay for their stand-alone identity cards?

The Prime Minister: As we have said on many occasions, there is no question of moving to a compulsory identity card before there is a proper vote in the House. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I do not think that that is new; we have always said that. I have read yesterday's debate carefully and it is obvious that many hon. Members have a great many concerns, to which we will have to listen and respond. I hope that people also recognise, however, that with the advent of biometric technology, there is a real chance of getting, for the first time, a secure identity card that can yield many benefits for this country.

Mr. Kennedy: Following yesterday's debate and the Divisions at the end of it, there is disquiet in all sections of the House about many aspects of the legislation, as the Prime Minister properly recognises. Will he clarify one thing? If it proves to be the case in due course that the House of Lords rejects the legislation, based on his 35 per cent. of the vote—[Interruption.] If the House of Lords rejects the legislation, ultimately will the Prime Minister invoke the Parliament Act to force it through?

The Prime Minister: Let us wait and see what happens in the other place, but the legislation was a commitment of my party that we fought the election on, and we are the duly, democratically elected Government. However, more important is the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making: there are real concerns, expressed in different parts of the House. We will listen to those concerns and respond to them. I simply ask in turn that people also listen to the case that is being made, which is that the advent of the new technology and the fact that we must change our passport system, as the result of
 
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changes happening elsewhere in the world, mean that it makes sense to move to a secure identity card for today's world. That will help us not merely with things such as illegal immigration and fighting terrorism and organised crime, but by bringing direct benefits to the citizens. Okay, we are at the beginning of the debate. Let us have the debate and let us both listen to each other's points of view. I will listen to the points that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but I simply ask that people also assess the arguments on the other side of the ledger.

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to join me in congratulating my own trade union, Unison, on winning a political fund ballot. Does he not agree, though, that it is about time that we did away with them?

The Prime Minister: I assume that the question is not about doing away with either Unison or the political fund, but the ballot. It is always a question of balancing the bureaucracy with the need to ensure that the political fund has proper legitimacy. As my hon. Friend knows, we continue to keep that under review, although we have no pleasant, rather present—pleasant, or present—plans to change the law.

Q2. [7767] Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): On the issue of tax credit overpayments, the Prime Minister told the House that

Can he confirm that that is not actually the case and, one week on from the ombudsman's report, will he say whether he is confident that the Inland Revenue has not acted unlawfully in its recovery policy on tax credits?

The Prime Minister: Of course, the Inland Revenue must not act unlawfully, but my understanding is that the code of practice makes it clear that if the error is on the part of the Government rather than the recipient, there is not a recovery. [Hon. Members: "No."] I will look carefully at the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and come back to him.

Q3. [7768] Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will be aware, he will shortly have to make a decision about whether to invest in a new generation of nuclear weapons. What assurance can he give the House that, before any irrevocable decisions are made, he will take Parliament into his confidence?

The Prime Minister: I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has already made it clear that the Government will listen to hon. Members before making any decisions on replacing Trident. I also have to say to my hon. Friend that no decisions on replacing Trident have yet been taken, but these are likely to be necessary in the current Parliament. It is too early to rule in or to rule out any particular option. As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to retaining the United Kingdom's independent nuclear deterrent, but I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss that before the final decision is taken.
 
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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): The Prime Minister told the European Parliament last week:

However, in his election address for that very same election—I have a copy here—he said:

Which was his true opinion—the one he expressed in private or the one he expressed in public?

The Prime Minister: As I think I explained, it was, indeed, the party's policy to withdraw from Europe in 1983, and I stood on that policy. However, it is also true that I told the selection conference that I did not agree with that policy.

Mr. Howard: I was asking the right hon. Gentleman about his personal election address at that election and about two completely different views that he expressed within days of each other. He is doing the same now. On 8 June, he said that the UK rebate would remain and would not be negotiated away—"Period." Two days later, he said everything was open to debate as long as there was a fundamental review of the common agricultural policy. Now he talks of negotiating on the rebate in exchange for some promise of discussions on the CAP in 2008. On which of those shifting positions will he take a stand?

The Prime Minister: I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, as I have said before, the rebate remains because the reason for the rebate remains. Of course, if we get rid of the common agricultural policy and we change the reason why the rebate is there, the case for the rebate changes. [Interruption.] Well, that is obviously right. The rebate is there because the common agricultural policy distorts EU expenditure. Or is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that, even if we get rid of the common agricultural policy, we should still have the full rebate?

Mr. Howard: Does the Prime Minister not understand the difference between talking about reform of the CAP and getting rid of the CAP? On 8 June, he said that the UK rebate would remain and would not be negotiated away—"Period." Two weeks later he boasts to the European Parliament:

Does it not all prove that, with this Prime Minister, old habits die hard?

The Prime Minister: rose—

Mr. Howard: No, no, no—I have not finished yet. In 1983, the Prime Minister told his selection committee in Sedgefield one thing and the electors the opposite. In 2005, he tells the House of Commons one thing and the
 
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European Parliament the opposite. When will he learn that he cannot carry on saying one thing to one audience and the opposite to another?

The Prime Minister: In my statement to the House after the European Council, I made clear our position on the rebate—that we were prepared to put the rebate on the table provided that reform of the common agricultural policy was carried out. So, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has woken up a bit late, 10 days later, to that proposition. Let me say something else to him. It is of course important that we have a consistent position on Europe, but if we are trading inconsistencies on Europe, I think he is the man who voted for the Maastricht treaty, is he not? And I think he actually voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, am I right? Something about glasshouses and stones comes to mind.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend meets the G8 leaders in Scotland, will he particularly impress on the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Japan that their common agricultural policies are every bit as pernicious as the European ones? Their agri-protectionism and dumping of products on the third world cause great harm to the economic prospects of people in developing countries. Will my right hon. Friend tell them that without some movement, in particular from the United States, the chances of reaching a successful Doha round completion in December are, to put it mildly, quite thin? We need movement from Europe and my right hon. Friend is taking a lead on that, but can he ask President Bush to join him in moving American agricultural policy away from its ultra-protectionist position?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; it is not just the European Union that has protectionist agricultural policies, and we need to get rid of that protectionism whether it is in Europe, the United States or Japan. Of course, the difference in terms of the US and Japan is that we are not paying for their agricultural policies; however, in respect of developing countries my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need more open trade and an opening up of markets generally, and an end to trade-distorting subsidies that are the real problem faced by the poorest countries.

Q4. [7769] Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): As we celebrate—as some of us had the privilege of unashamedly doing yesterday—the bicentenary of Admiral Nelson's magnificent naval victory over Napoleon's France, how does the Prime Minister respond to the concerns expressed by the First Sea Lord who has stated that the Government are taking a risk by cutting the Royal Navy's fleet of destroyers and frigates from 32 to 25? Does not the Prime Minister think that Her Majesty's armed forces have served him better than that and that he ought to reciprocate by giving them the means to do the job that he keeps asking them to do?

The Prime Minister: We are of course giving them the means. In fact, as opposed to a Conservative Government who cut defence spending by 30 per cent.—[Interruption.] Oh yes, and the hon. Gentleman supported those cuts of 30 per cent. We are actually
 
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increasing defence spending, including major new procurement of vessels for the Royal Navy, so we shall take no lessons about either Trafalgar or the Royal Navy from him.

Q5. [7770] Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): When the Prime Minister goes to Singapore, will he pass on to Lord Coe and his team the good wishes of millions of Londoners and, I am sure, of millions of people in all parts of Britain, and the support of nearly every Member of the House for the bid for the 2012 Olympics, which would not only bring the world's greatest sporting event to the UK, but would leave a lasting legacy for sport and for our transport infrastructure, specifically the East London line extensions—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Prime Minister can answer now.

The Prime Minister: Well, I agree anyway. The work being done by Seb Coe, Keith Mills and the 2012 team is absolutely magnificent and we can be really proud of the bid that has been put forward by the UK for the Olympic Games. It will be a tremendous event not just for London but the whole of the country. I think there is tremendous enthusiasm. We have a strong technical bid and the most powerful part of it is the legacy that it would leave, not only for London but for sport in this country and for the spirit of the Olympic movement.

Mr. Speaker: Sir Patrick Cormack.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As every Member of this House, including the Prime Minister and, indeed, you Sir, Mr. Speaker, could have been faced with little local difficulties similar to my own, will the Prime Minister and his Government look with sympathy upon the ten-minute Bill that I will present to the House to address those difficulties?

The Prime Minister: First of all, I will always look with sympathy upon the hon. Gentleman—[Laughter.] Well, there are not many hon. Members who would get more of a welcome from most Members than the hon. Gentleman. I will certainly look carefully at what he says, although I honestly do not know the answer at the present time. I understand that he has found himself in a strange and difficult situation, but as his presence here today demonstrates, he has overcome it.


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